Writing about interactive fiction is always dangerous, because the hardcore IF crowd immediately appear to abuse you for liking something that’s merely a derivative of Galtaria VI or something that you’re supposed to have played if you want to be in their gang. Well guys, I’m not in your gang, and if I appreciate playing a game, then you can all live with that. There – I told them.
With that established, I strongly recommend you put aside forty-five minutes to play Photopia. Adam Cadre’s game won first place in the 1998 Interactive Fiction Competition, and comes to my attention now thanks to the ever excellent Play This Thing. It may well have come to your attention when it was mentioned in Kieron’s IF feature. Also, it features space, and this is SPACE WEEK!
However, to describe it is to destroy it, so forgive the vagueness and assume I’m right about its being good. You play as various characters, initially a frat boy, later a mother, at times an astronaut filtering through rubble on Mars, a father, a daughter, a driver. Each piece tells the story, and it’s in its construction that Photopia really shines. As the pieces come together, and you construct its narrative, the impact is quite remarkable.
While there’s a lack of things to do beyond be drawn down its inevitable path, your actions do make a difference to how a scene will play out, even if it’s to reach the same destination. Often, inspired ideas within scenes have been thought of, meaning there’s room to try things out and the game will often respond accordingly. (Whatever you do, when you’re trying to get Alley to come in to the house, talk to her about astrophysics. Trust me.)
It’s a really lovely piece of storytelling, designed in a way that simply wouldn’t work in any other media, with some truly inspired moments. The use of colour is just splendid, and the moment where you realise the way out of the crystal labyrinth… Just perfect. Have a look.