Exhibition by Anatoly Domokov(1999)

The Little Evil, Ugly Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: Yeah, I can't think of anything more exciting than pretending to be one of four people pretending to look at imaginary pictures in an imaginary gallery. Gee whiz, I'm gonna have a heart attack over here.

The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: A beautiful, carefully designed work of art.

My Verdict: It's interesting, but not much else.

The Review...

This is one of several HTML TADS games in this year's competition which challenge our very conception of what a "text" adventure is by skillfully combining text with graphics and audio. It's also a fascinating, evocative story that doesn't claim to be a game and certainly is not - it's interactive fiction at its least interactive and most literary. I am quite impressed by the idea: the setting is an exhibition of the Russian artist Anatoly Domokov's work following his untimely suicide. The player has the option of alternating between four characters as they go through the gallery and look at the paintings and the gallery itself. Each character, naturally, has a well developed personality and they each see things very differently from one another. Two of the characters were the late Domokov's lovers: one a young male prostitute who worked occasionally for Anatoly as a model, and the other his Russian wife, who speaks no English and was quite unaware of the "boy"'s position(no pun intended) in her husband's life. The other two did not know Domokov personally, but they were well aware of his work: there is the critic who admires Domokov's talent but despises his flaws, and the liberal arts girl student who feels something close to hared towards Domokov for his chauvinism and mental imbalances. The man who wrote this game is none other than Anatoly Domokov, though my guess is the game is not entirely biographical...at least I hope not, for if it were Mr. Domokov would be too dead to pay any attention to what we comp voters thought of his work. The graphics(portraits of each of the main characters) are drawn by an outside artist, and reasonably well at that, though they do not play a very important role in the game. The music is supplied by the famous Russian composer Mussorgsky - his piano music provides constant background to the story if you chose to download the MP3s with the game. At points I felt the combination of Mussorgsky music and Domokov's prose intensely affecting - at other times, however, I felt quite bored with the whole thing and wished to shut the music off. I would guess that it was Mussorgsky who inspired the title and perhaps the concept of this game - his most famous work is entitled "Pictures at an Exhibition."

So, I find the game's concept interesting enough...but does it work as an interactive story? I would say, with reservations, "no." This game lacks plot continuity - it's too loose for its own good. The player may step into the role of any of the four characters at any time - they do not seem to be allowed to interact with each other at any time. It also doesn't matter which character you follow first, or last, or if you go from room to room and switch between each of them to test their reactions. Aside from reading each of the characters reaction to certain things, especially the paintings themselves, I found little else to do. The author does mention something like there being twelve possible endings, but I found far fewer than that. If I find some more of these other endings, possibly I'll be a little softened towards this work...but so far I've found nothing of the kind. I also found very little story in this work. Characterizations a'plenty, but story? None. The artist Domokov remains an enigma...in parts a devout Russian Orthodox, a latent homosexual, a tortured soul, a loving husband, an abusive husband, a genius, a fool. What is he? We don't know...all we have is what the four characters think he was, and none of them really understood him.

My usual discussion of game features is basically out of place here. The parser only expects certain inputs, so one can't expect it to have a particularly wide vocabulary. Indeed, it has a wider vocabulary than I first suspected, so I suppose it's pretty good. "Gameplay" and "puzzle difficulty" are completely inappopriate to discuss here, for this just isn't a game. This work lives and dies based upon its literary quality alone, and, for me at least, I found it interesting and intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying and meaningless. You, however, might feel different. The quality of the prose is fairly high, it should be said.

One last note: it is nice to see some Russians writing IF. Most of my favorite fiction writers are 19th century Russians (Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol, Turgenev, and my favorite Dostoyevsky), though my interest dips considerably with the advent of the Soviet realists. So that's fine, but I'm still sticking with India and Finland in this year's competition myself.

Simple Rating: 6/10<

Complicated Rating: 31/50

Story: 6/10

Writing: 7/10

Playability: 3/10

Puzzle Quality: 1/10

Parser Responsiveness: 6/10

Special Ratings For This Game

Character Development: 8/10

Reader Remarks

Quentin D. Thompson sprach the following on December 5th, 1999:

Ha, ha, guess what? This game was actually written by a Yankee. Looks like the Cold War's officially over :-)]

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