[IF Comp 2014] Eidolon

Eidolon, by A. D. Jansen, is an interactive HTML story/game. You can play/read it online here.

When you wake up, something is passing through the night sky.

Spoilers after the cut.

Wow I loved this.

Okay, having gotten that out of my system for the moment…

Eidolon is a story told in second person with hyperlinks embedded within the text. Sometimes only one word or phrase is a link, and the player/reader progresses through the story linearly. At other times, the player can choose what objects to examine or where to explore by which link is selected. This has a subtler feeling than a traditional choose-your-own-adventure list of actions to select from, and suits the dreaminess of the story.

Eidolon screenshot

I don’t want to spoil too much of the story; either you’re reading this review after experiencing it yourself, or you really should go play it. The game begins, as the tagline suggests, with awakening in the middle of the night and noticing something amiss. What follows is surreal, childlike, dark, philosophical, hopeful, lovely. The writing was beautiful. It begged to be read aloud, a request I indulged repeatedly.

I appreciated the shape of the story. It opens and closes: a stretch where I only experienced the story, clicking onward one linear step at a time, then blossomed into an exploratory phase where I could wander freely. Then the story narrowed again, then widened, then narrowed… The contrast made the linear stretches feel both meditative and urgent, while the choice-based parts felt immense.

I thought (and wrote) a lot last year about parser-based vs. web-based IF. This is a piece that uses this medium so perfectly. A command line prompt wouldn’t have allowed for the same dreamy feeling. The linear portions of the game would have either been big blocks of text, or have felt significantly more limiting if I had had to type specific commands in to get the next piece of the story. Paradoxically, I had fewer choices but felt freer.

A downside I still see to web-based games is that many of them, this one included, don’t allow for saving a game in progress. I was too busy this week to play the whole way through in one evening. While I could leave the browser window open indefinitely without the game terminating on its own, when unrelated events required me restart my laptop, I lost my progress. In the end this turned out not the worst, because when I began again I found part of the story I’d overlooked the first time, but it still wasn’t ideal. Unless a piece is so short it would only ever be played in one sitting – say, less than 15 minutes – then it really should be saveable.

Despite that technical challenge, I have to recommend this piece wholeheartedly. I think it will be one of the ones that sticks around in my brain long after the competition.

I’ll end with a slightly tangential open letter:

Dear game authors who include bookshelves in your game,

I will always read all the books on the shelves. All of them. Your time is not wasted. I’ll keep X BOOKSHELF-ing or clicking that same link until you tell me I have to stop or I’m sure I’ve seen all the randomly-ordered books. And I’ll relish every moment.

Thank you.

Love,

Elizabeth

p.s. I will also surreptitiously look at all the books on your actual bookshelves if you ever invite me into your actual homes. I won’t pull them all out one-by-one, but I’ll definitely eye their spines.  Just so you know.

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