Friday, November 10, 2017

"Alice Aforethought" (review)

"Alice Aforethought" is a hyper-text type game written by Hanon Ondricek for the 2017 Interactive Fiction Competition.

I started to play this in the first week of competition then came back to it again several times in the last week. I wanted to wait until I completed the game entirely before passing judgement because so many of Ondricek's past games have had turn-around moments and surprise endings. I didn't keep careful track of my time, but I surely spent more than two hours on this.

"Alice Aforethought" (Hereafter "AA") is a piece Lewis Carroll fan fiction. Alice travels through time and other dimensions to repair her father's fine pocket watch which she accidentally destroyed this morning. AA calls to mind many scenes and characters from the original Alice books, but falls somewhat short of channeling Carroll's distinctive voice.

I read "Annotated Alice" (an annotated version of Carroll's original work) when I was ten or eleven. Several decades later, I remember it being child-friendly and fun. If Lewis Carroll were alive today, he'd surely be writing interactive fiction.

The modern fan fiction I know (American McGee's Alice and Tim Burton's Alice) age Alice by a decade or more and replace much of the "fun" with symbols of gothic horror. Ondricek's Alice falls somewhere in the middle. She remains a child, but the images in the first pair of rooms include a Raven, a black mirror and an iron maiden (torture device) which put me immediately in the frame of mind to expect something darker than this turned out to be.

There is a funny scene later on where Humpty Dumpty is used as a symbol of the current US president.

Ondricek is a creative programmer. His earlier games have used novel interfaces and audio effects ("Final Girl" and "Alice Aforethought") complex interactions between multiple PCs ("Baker of Shireton" and "Fair") and implementation of time travel or other dimensions ("Baker of Shireton", "Fair", "Alice Aforethought"). Yet in some of these games, it feels like technical ambitions take precedence over careful game design. I love that you can travel back in forth through time in "AA", but I never felt like there was any use for it. This is no "All things Devours" or "Fifteen Minutes" where time travel was integral to a puzzle. Here, it is more like "Midnight Swordfight", where time is merely another direction to travel. Regrettably, the puzzles in "AA" are mostly of the menu maze variety in which the solution is to exhaust most of the options on a list or to replay a scene several times until a new more productive option appears. This is not to say that the game is easy. Players will probably want to keep the walkthrough nearby, just to reassure themselves that they are moving in the right direction.

So this is not a game for puzzle geeks (which I'd hoped it would be, since Carroll enjoyed puzzles so much). But the writing and screen effects are solid and I would recommend it for those aspects.

No comments:

Post a Comment