Monday, April 21, 2014

The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost, by Briar Rose

The title in this effort worried me--the potential for full-on didactic screeds is high. Fortunately, there's not a lot of overt judgement in this game, where you are a Greek boy sold into slavery to the Romans, by your father, no less.

There are about 20 decision points in the game, and while most revolve around gaining (or losing) approval of the people you meet, some allow you to gain or lose strength and speed, which affects the result of the arena fight at the end. You get different endings based on how many of your band of six teens (or younger?) survive, although, yeah, you can die, yourself.

Emily Short already pointed out how different all three CYS games are in subject matter. Unfortunately none of them really *sang* though they all feel competent and all showed me something different. I suspect they'll do decently, and they made me curious about CYS. It's good to see a community like that I never knew about. It's good people are cranking out meaningful works. If these works are representative of the community as a whole, I'd say the next step is to have people give tougher criticisms of WIPs so there aren't big barren patches of bland exposition & so the games flow better. Because as of now it looks like Twine is quicker and more lightweight and has stronger authors, but CYS may well have a lower barrier to entry, and I was impressed by the forum activity.

As for the game: I'd qualify surviving it as easy, but finding the right "best" ending can be tricky. Chugging through is standard don't-be-a-jerk fare, although there's the possibility of doing the bare minimum to win, or to see what happens when everyone except you is killed. The story wasn't spectacular but kept me coming back a couple times to see different endings, but the big problem may be a lot of text--a lot that could be cut down--that hampers replay significantly. Players get introduced quickly, and the game spends time on stuff it should let the player imagine.

That's not to say there aren't good choices of what to do, here. I like how the arena weapons work better based on what your best attribute is, and there's a neat maximization problem here, though it's a bit on the easy side. But that's the problem...I saw this as "maximize and move on" instead of seeing what makes the characters tick. There's the upper-class family of Titus/Rhode and Septimus/Caecelia. It seems you have one companion from each reach of the Roman empire, and you become the de facto leader.

Perhaps a little more drama earlier--a death here or there, or maybe getting punked by someone who REALLY hates you--would give the game more intrigue. Because the game is clearly meant to be replayed to see alternate endings, but with so much exposition before and not lots of variance, you feel more like you're angling to see different last bits than that you're seeing all the story. And that really clashes with the quick pace the game tries to establish. I mean, I enjoy being able to pick an adventure like this apart and see what I can do better. I just think there's a lot of busy work to do, and some of the choices only mean so much or can even cancel your gains/losses out. And when everything funnels you back to a main storyline, you feel like you're thrashing around and not doing all that much.

I could see myself picking this game up later to try for the remaining 2- and 3-death endings, or to see what happened when I annoyed someone (I assumed it would help me survive to be nice to people, but it didn't.) It didn't quite make me care enough to do everything right away, though, and I'm worried that I wound up speedreading through certain options to get the gist of it after a bit too much dialogue.

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