Wot I Think: The Sea Will Claim Everything

By Adam Smith on May 31st, 2012 at 5:04 pm.

Currently debuting exclusively in the Bundle in a Box, which contains several superb adventure games, The Sea Will Claim Everything is Jonas Kyratzes’ first commercial game. With illustrations by Verena Kyratzes that could happily sit in the kind of book that would have made ten-year old Adam very happy indeed and overflowing with imagination and creativity, it’s wordy and, at times, wonderful, but then there are the other times. Here’s wot I think.

Jonas Kyratzes makes games in at least two distinct varieties. There are the bleak minimalist fictions of The Infinite Ocean and Phenomenon 32, and there are the storybook adventures set in the Lands of Dream, a series of geographically connected games. Perhaps phantasmageographically connected would be more accurate as there’s a distinct lack of sense to the locations. These lands are less of dream and more of deliberate nonsense, aiming for the wonder that can bring but, for a variety of reasons, not always quite grasping it.

If you haven’t played previous entries, which include The Book of Living Magic that disappointed John but pleased a great deal of people, here’s what you need to know. Each area of the game has an illustration with scores of things scattered around it that the player can click on. Interacting usually leads to nothing more than a textual description and this is a game with a great deal of text, although often delivered in snack-sized phrases. A room may have mushrooms growing on the floor and walls. Clicking on each individual one will lead to a tiny joke, dollop of wordplay or slice of surrealism.

There are puzzles, mostly involving more back and forth fetching than a golden retriever’s perfect day in the park, but it’s a game to be read as much as to be solved. The ‘fetching’ doesn’t necessarily involve objects, it’s more often topics of conversation, added to an eventually massive list as progress is made. Despite the graphical interface, which is designed as a window for the player to peer through into the world, most of the enjoyment is found in the many words, both descriptive and conversational. It stands to reason, then, that any individual appreciation of The Sea Will Claim Everything will depend almost entirely upon an appreciation of those words.

Here’s the problem. Sometimes it’s touching, sometimes it’s comic, sometimes it’s cheerful, sometimes it’s a little bit glum – whatever else it is, it’s always strange and that strangeness often fails to cohere. Some sentences are riddled with the game’s own brand of biotechnobabble while others rely on the joy in unexpected rhymes and inventive interpretations. There’s a huge amount of creativity in all of this but at times it can feel directionless.

With a plot about a living building, home to a biotech druid, in the process of having a foreclosure forced upon it, Jonas blends concerns with creation. At times there are tantalising links to the real world, not least of all in the discovery of works by genuine authors alongside books of pure imagination, and there are many allusions to writings and happenings from our world in all manner of unexpected places, not just in the title itself. The actual quantity of stuff to discover and consider is impressive but there are so many strands that instead of complexity of thought or feeling there’s an eventual sense of disarray.

At times I found myself dismayed by the number of neologisms, not necessarily amusing or meaningful, that were being dished out, causing my brain to shut down and skip over them. They became empty space, gaps between communication, reminding me of how much of Neal Stephenson’s work took on the same quality in Anathem.

It’s a shame that the worst excesses of this sort are in the game’s first chapter. The game as a whole is a sizable beast, with an enormous amount of detail to see and absorb, but the first section, which introduces the Underhome location, is probably the least compelling. Fronted by The Mysterious-Druid (The is his first name) who sets the quest in motion, it’s a place partly reminiscent of Wonderland and partly of Moya, Farscape’s living space vessel.

Once you reach the great outdoors, the world opens up impressively and dipping in, talking to a piece of toast for a while and then leaving for a few hours, becomes much more enjoyable. The game is certainly at its best when treated as a kind of gallery to be sauntered through and sampled rather than a quest or narrative to be followed.

Treated as such, it’s Jonas’ finest exhibition to date, with a beautiful soundtrack and a consistently attractive appearance despite the almost overwhelming business of some screens. That initial slog through the Underhome aside, there are fascinating characters to discover and an eventual feeling that the many parts are becoming almost equal to their sum.

Tackled at the right pace, which will be different for everyone, it has many rewards and perhaps the best way to sample them is to ignore the parts that aren’t instantly rewarding. Don’t enjoy a lengthy conversation with a particular dog or a turtle? Skip it, skim it, find someone more interesting to talk to or take a tour of the islands and study any of the thousands of things that appeal more. I can’t help but feel I might have enjoyed it more if I’d treated it as an occasional companion over several weeks rather than consuming it in a few sittings.

The game itself strongly suggests that it would like to be played that way, to be sampled rather than exhausted, and for all my reservations, I stuck with and found pleasure in The Sea Will Claim Everything. I stuck with Anathem too, mainly because I’m an admirer of Stephenson’s output. The same is true of Kyratzes and while this is his best work in the peculiar digital tourist destination that is The Lands of Dream, I don’t find it half as exciting as his more experimental output. Still, it’s a first commercial venture so cheap it’s almost free and currently available bundled together with some very good company indeed.

The Bundle in a Box is available for almost six more days on a ‘pay what you want, more or less’ basis, with the current minimum at a ludicrously low $1.39. It also contains: Gemini Rue; Time Gentlemen, Please; Ben There, Dan That!; and 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery. Pay $5.51 and you’ll receive Metal Dead and The Shivah as well.

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22 Comments »

  1. OfMiceAndMods says:

    I really really really enjoyed this game. I went into it with some doubt but I cannot reccomend it enough! The price is so so cheap too! All of you! Go buy this now!

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    Arathain says:

    I liked Anathem a lot. It’s hard for me to judge Stephenson critically, though. There’s something about his enthusiasm for everything ever combined with the way he uses language resonates with me. I think he could write a book on gardening and I’d like that a lot too.

    Which isn’t to say I don’t think he’s a brilliant writer.

    • Hematite says:

      I really loved Anathem, and the similarly controversial Baroque Cycle but I think you have to be a very particular kind of person to get the most out of it. All of those neologisms in Anathem are corruptions or hypothetical alternative derivations of real world concepts from the history of science and philosophy (which is one of the main themes of the book). To really enjoy it you have to be versed in science, philosophy and linguistics before you even pick up the book so that you can have the joy of spotting all of the obscure allusions.

      If you’re that kind of person it’s an absolutely amazing read, but if you’re not – not through lack of intelligence, just through being specialised in anything other than those three subjects – it’s a good read with an irritating amount of technobabble thrown in and never explained.

      • Adam Smith says:

        I loved the Baroque Cycle, which tends to surprise people when I tell them I didn’t much care for Anathem. Maybe I should revisit it. Maybe I will!

        • Hematite says:

          Hi Adam! Big fan of your work!

          Anathem’s definitely drier, it’s rather like the Baroque Cycle bits involving the Royal Society, so if those didn’t click with you I wouldn’t recommend stoically persevering. It’s a rare kind of book though, and I selfishly wish there were more like it.

        • Guvornator says:

          I wouldn’t. It suffers from Neal Stephenson’s ever declining sense of fun (Cryptonomicon being massive fun (apart from the japanese army bits), then the Baroque Cycle which had a fair few Boy’s Own romps , then the largely unfun Anathem, which sort of killed my enthusiasm for any future works.

          EDIT Just as an aside, he handwrites everything. I bet his poor assistants have loads of fun hauling this lot around http://www.nealstephenson.com/photos.htm

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            Arathain says:

            I can’t quite make that work for me, given how much raw fun was packed into Reamde.

    • devlocke says:

      Loved the Baroque Cycle but also loved Anathem? Maybe I’m weird. I had this love/hate relationship with Stephenson until Cryptonomicon, cuz’ I hated the latter parts of everything up to that point. Then he wrote Cryptonomicon and I was all “Hooray! He finally figured out how to write a last-half that didn’t suck so much he ruined the first half!” and I have enjoyed everything since.

      Just finished Reamde last week. I still feel like the Baroque Cycle was his high point, but I loved that so much that I don’t really expect he’ll ever write anything I like better. Anathem managed to be consistently fun throughout, after a rocky start, as far as I can recall, and it’s possible that I enjoyed it less than the Baroque Cycle stuff just because I wasn’t in on as many references and witticisms in it. The Baroque Cycle played to my strengths and interests, a lot.

    • SurprisedMan says:

      Loved Anathem entirely. I’ve read it twice and even now the thought of a third read isn’t entirely unappealing to me. I want to be a science monk.

      Anyway, I do think that the neologisms had a point – a lot of the later plot points would have been more difficult or impossible to convey without them, and I also enjoyed them just from the way they sounded like authentic words because of the attention paid to etymology.

      In my first read, it took me 100 pages until I felt well enough versed in the lingo to read it at full pelt, and my second time through everything came back to me very quickly and I gained a fresh appreciation for those opening sections.

    • Apples says:

      Anathem is one of my favourite books but I can’t get into Stephenson’s other stuff. I read through The Diamond Age and was left cold, and I have Cryptonomicon but just can’t wade through it at all.
      The neologisms in Anathem were really good (they weren’t just fantasy gibberish) and contributed immensely to the theme of it, but I can see lots of people unfortunately immediately going “this is stupid” and not getting far enough to realise WHY it’s like that. I didn’t have much trouble understanding any of it because I could spot the linguistic derivations most of the time, but even I almost put the book down after that guy named after “Jules Verne” – you really have to trust that there ARE reasons for all the bits that seem stupid.

      I didn’t think it was dry at all after the introductory “let me write 5 pages describing a clock” section, and I really enjoyed Raz’s “voice”, but maye you have to be the kind of person who legitimately enjoys flipping to the back of the book to check out a geometry lecture?

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    Keirley says:

    Adam, unless I missed it you didn’t mention the fact that the game was made by Jonas AND Verena Kyratzes. She did all the game’s art, and since it’s presented as a joint project on Jonas’ website I figure it’s only fair to mention her.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Stupid oversight, now corrected. I’d meant to mention it when talking about the visuals in one paragraph or another and ended up missing it out. Thanks for the nudge.

  4. iLag says:

    TSWCE is a lovely, lovely game that everyone should play. It’s also quite political, which I really liked, since few games ever dare to have such a heavy political subtext. But you can completely ignore that one thing and focus on all the other wonderful things here. Go and buy your boxy bundle, people.

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    RobF says:

    Yes, tis a wonderful thing. It’s nice to have a game that deals with grown up things well too.

  6. MistyMike says:

    Judging by the sample on the third screenshot, the game’s writing resembles quite a lot the style of RPS’ own editors.

  7. Yehat says:

    Solid review. Wasn’t sure what to make of this game (or the bundle in general considering I already own most of the other stuff in it) but I guess I might as well get it.

  8. Skabooga says:

    I was excited to see this game in the bundle and purchased it immediately. I cannot say that there is a distinct element of the Kyratzes’ games which makes them stand out, but they just seem to have so much heart and soul poured into them. I know that sounds like a weak compliment, but as a matter of personal preference, this factor carries great weight, and is a higher compliment than any other I could pay.

  9. frightlever says:

    I like that sometimes these WOTs tell us to steer clear, but politely. I like politely. Not in this instance, which I will definitely buy very soon. But other times, when we feel too embarrassed to say outright that this is not something I would ever play because it is clearly bad.

  10. Angel Dust says:

    The ‘voice’ in the paragraph in the third image reminds me a little of David Markson’s Wittgenstien’s Mistress -which is a very, very good thing. Might have to pick this one up.

  11. Gormongous says:

    I love the title of this post! It sounds like Adam is prophesying doom.

  12. n3burgener says:

    The first I’d ever heard of Jonas Kyratzes was when I played The Infinite Ocean. It was technically a point-n-click adventure game, but it was so heavy on text (reading computer logs, mostly) that it almost didn’t even feel like a game. That seems to be a trend with his games; great atmosphere and writing that manages to stir some kind of emotional or intellectual response, despite not having the most engaging gameplay.

    The Sea Will Claim Everything has the most conventional gameplay of any of his games that I’ve played, which makes it the easiest of his games to recommend. If you like traditional adventure games, and especially if you’re someone who appreciates inspired indie productions (with great atmosphere and writing), then you should consider giving this one a shot. It’s a pretty unique experience that really deserves more recognition.

    Like Adam, my brain kind of shut off after a while from reading all of the descriptions of everything. The game really does go a little overboard at times, with frequent (and voluminous) bio-techno-babble-jargon and cultural / political / scientific / philosophical references. They do add a lot to the experience, but they can be overwhelming in some places.

    I wrote my own review of the game, in case anyone’s interested in a second opinion (or you can read it in the June issue of Adventure Lantern).

  13. JonasKyratzes says:

    Now that the bundle is over, the game is available via the Lands of Dream website: http://landsofdream.net/games/the-sea-will-claim-everything/