WORLDS APART by Suzanne Britton Reviewed by Quentin D. Thompson
Sammy Hagar's Verdict: "And I'm feelin' No, I don't like what I've been told I'm feelin' And I'm dealin' I'm dealin' with these things I'm feelin' And I'm bleedin' Like no one else will ever know I'm bleedin' And I'm seein' I'm seein' things that don't know what I'm feelin'..... .......and I don't understand it!......." Jean Rhys' Verdict: "I intend to write a book portraying Lashiaran's unfortunate childhood and the trauma he suffered at the hands of hasidjas. Let it not be said that I never saw two sides to a tale." My Verdict: It's not a masterpiece, but it's a damned good attempt. Hooboy. I feel bad writing such a short review of "Worlds Apart" - a game that's been in the development for three years. To give you an idea of how much work that involved, my own comp game - which was one of the longest entries - took just a little over three _months_ to develop. Another longish Comp entry, Ian Finley's Babel, though much better developed than my game, still took just about six months, or so said Ian on Usenet a while ago. Three years on a game - assuming it's not the way I would spend three years, in very sporadic coding - means a very dedicated and concerted effort on the part of a serious IF author to create something above the ordinary. The fact that I could write a similar-sized review of Common Ground doesn't make me feel any better. On one hand, I can easily understand people calling this the most significant IF release for a long time: it's got a complex and well-handled story, very good NPCs, atmospheric writing, new ways of interacting with characters, excellent programming, and it even raises one or two "serious" issues. On the other hand, to some players, the Sammy Hagar quote up on top just about sums up the game for them. Hmph. Now, if Sammy Hagar can review Worlds Apart better than I can, perhaps I shouldn't be doing this, but I'll soldier on. I'll do this in subheadings, though, so that you get the right idea. Gameplay and Interaction: (9/10) Worlds Apart is very much a piece of story-IF, meaning simply a piece of interactive fiction where the plot, narrative and unfolding of events take predominance over puzzle-solving. That's just fine with me: I like story-IF as long as there's at least a modicum of interaction, otherwise the whole thing might as well have been written entirely with PRINT commands, or as a straight piece of fiction if it comes to that. In this respect, Worlds Apart probably works best: the story is long and complicated, and most of it is handled in flashbacks - I'm fond of flashback IF. Most of the puzzles are fair once you take the time to understand the 'game world', though some of them are a bit counter-intuitive. There's no gross 'guess-the-verb', though, and a lot of the situations  are very well clued. There's also an excellent hint system, that I used a little less than I thought I would, and on the whole the game, though long, moves well enough to hold one's interest. Participation: (6/10) A grey area for me. I did keep on going at this game, but it was more the wish of the player - me, myself, Quentin D. Thompson - to see the story unfold, than to see the player _character_'s fate resolved. In that respect a game like Photopia, though it might come across as gimmicky to some, worked better for me. The game keeps on throwing out broad hints that the player character's going to accomplish great deeds, but the story ends abruptly (see Design Decisions) and leaves a sense of, well, incompleteness. In summary, this game was a 'page-turner', but I didn't really get into the player character. Story and Writing: (7/10) Another grey area. Most of the writing is good, but a bit of it is over the top. Some of the writing seems to be overplaying its hand, gilding the lily - heck, you get what I mean. Also, there's a tendency to do _huge_ text dumps at times, and though some of them are genuinely worth the interruption, some of them verge on monotony. I accept there are few ways of getting around text dumps, so I'm not being too hard on it here. Also, I have very ambivalent feelings about game worlds that are the private and personal domain (and/or refuge) of their author, but that's just my own quirk. The story wasn't very original - at times it seemed to come out of a Japanese sci-fi cartoon - but it flowed smoothly, and that's enough for me. Programming: (10/10) Easily the best aspect of the game. Good parser responsiveness, lots of innovations to facilitate NPC interaction, no bugs, very little scenery-not-implemented trouble. The game took maximum points in this category, which is not something I hand out too often. Version 1 had one fatal bug (I think it forgot to launch a daemon somewhere) but Version 1.1 seems free of any such thing. NPCs: (7/10) Hooboy again. See, when I see the word 'jester', I expect a few laughs. Even if the game is supposed to be tragic, a jester is supposed to be funny. (Anyone remember the joke about Grimaldi the Clown?) And, well, he didn't even do anything vaguely funny. This is, I admit, a very minor criticism. Most of the NPCs are very well drawn: Yuri (even though he wasn't funny), Saal, Kitara and Azaera. A deep bow to Suzanne here for NOT GIVING HER CHARACTERS UNPRONOUNCEABLE AND IRRITATING NAMES, which is what made me stop reading "The Silmarillion" after 40 pages or so. Compared to Tolkien's tongue-twisters, names like Kef, Chayle and Liande were sheer euphony. That earns this game a point right there. The NPCs are very responsive, though. Saal, in particular, is an excellent conversationalist - which is why it's sad that most of what he's leading up to never comes to fruition in this game. Sole complaint - and this is a biggie: Lashiaran. I take back all the cracks I made about Miss Sierra after seeing him in action. Most of the other characters were two-dimensional - Lashiaran had BAD GUY written all over his face from just about the beginning, and that was pretty jarring given how the others worked. Humour: (No rating) I agree, IF isn't supposed to be fun all the time, and this was one of those games. I found no Easter Eggs either, so no comment. Originality: (8/10) A game about self-discovery just screeeeams "Delusions" to me, and I wasn't too surprised when the endgame text cited Delusions as one of the author's influences. Other influences cited were So Far, Sunset Over Savannah, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Fear, Losing Your Grip and Tapestry - but I found the latter unconvincing: Tapestry gave the player the option to choose his path, while Worlds Apart rushed the player headlong along it. Only one vaguely Tapestry-like decision occurred in the story (I couldn't "undo" it, so I assume it was significant), but it was too close to the end to have much bearing on the actual game as it stands. And I'm not sure how your choice here can be integrated into the sequel. In my opinion, it's a bad idea to quote some of the Top Ten Freeware IF Games Of All Times in a lengthy list, considering that without such a list, the whole game seems very original, but with one, I tend to jump to conclusions.. Design decisions: (5/10) 1. No unwinnable situations - a very good decision in a game of this sort and this size. My inventory kept on changing, sometimes for obscure reasons, but that made sense later on. 2. Linearity. You can't get away from this in story-IF, and besides I like a linear game as long as it isn't a "Heist" clone. 3. Leaving the story incomplete and advertising a sequel. I'm sorry, but this was a bad design decision. Raising the player's hopes and expectations and then saying "Wait until Episode Two!" is not the way to win friends and influence people. 4. Game hooks. This game relies heavily on emotional impact and the player's sense of wonder, so I dare say it's not for all tastes. Science: (9/10) Mentalic powers formed a huge part of the plot, but were implemented well, and though they've been done to death in conventional fiction, this is the first time I've seen it in IF. Also, the word "fugue" was used in a correct sense - not at all a given with all the pop psychology that floats around nowadays. Very good indeed. Social Structure: (7/10) Well, it's well-detailed - at least, what we see of it - but in the scenes with Saal there are hints at a higher superstructure that we never learn about completely. But then, I'm expecting all this stuff in the sequel. Philosophy: (6/10) Nothing too weighty (surprisingly, considering that Tapestry is cited as a major influence), but then I'm not digging too deep; I won't fall into the trap of applying literary criteria to every work of IF that comes out. At one or two points the game's author seemed to be identifying herself with a particular NPC, but I won't delve into the psychological or philosophical implications thereof. There seemed to be a faint New Age flavour to the whole thing - the game quotes Enya at one point, even - but that may be just my prejudices speaking. Overall Impression: Worlds Apart was an attempt to write "something like a traditional novella" in the IF medium, and it was also an attempt to stretch the boundaries of that medium. It succeeded on both counts, and though I did find a few weaknesses, the overall impression was of a finished product. The low score perhaps reflects the fact that I become more exacting as a game becomes more ambitious. All things said and done, I respect the author's ambition and efforts, and the programming was a wow. The fact that this is not a complete game but Part I of II was, in my opinion, a definite negative, but while I wouldn't call this the best or most significant work of IF ever, it certainly can take its place with the games it cited as influences. It banks heavily - a bit too much, I felt - on emotional involvement and the player's sense of wonder, and had one rather annoying NPC, but that's a matter of taste. It's got plenty of meat on its bones, and deserves credit for making most of its experiments work. My score for "Worlds Apart": 7 out of 10. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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