Commonplace Book Project: Ecdysis, The Cellar

Reviews of a couple more games from the Commonplace Book Project:

“Ecdysis”, by Peter Nepstad

“Ecdysis” takes on the premise “Insects or other entities from space attack and penetrate a man’s head”. Nepstad’s description continues,

“Ecdysis is a text based game by Peter Nepstad that drives you forward on the power of your own primal urges, only half understood and increasingly non-human. Can you fight the changes that are overwhelming you? Do you even want to?”

This is a piece — I’m not sure “game” is the right word — whose effect comes almost entirely from the way it gets the player to comply in his character’s madness and destruction. We know from the outset that things will go badly, but since the game offers no other way to make progress, we take the options available. Nepstad does a good job of making each step feel natural, though: the player is well-cued about what to do, and it was only on my second playthrough that I realized just how completely constrained my actions were.

The piece wasn’t flawless. I would not have minded a few more alternate ways to respond to my physical discomfort; it seemed natural to try washing my face or taking a shower, and these possibilities were not accounted for.

It’s such a short work that there’s not a great deal more to say without spoiling the thing.

“The Cellar”, by David Whyld

Based on the premise that a man dies but his corpse continues to be functional (though giving off a tell-tale rotten smell).

This one disappoints. The interaction is minimal: the player is occasionally given the task of fetching something for an NPC, but most of the commands consist of typing >TALK TO PERSON over and over until a long story is told out.

It’s not an especially compelling story, either. Lovecraft’s strength lies in the strangeness of his visions and the fact that he tends to avoid simple moral points: characters have grotesque things happen to them not as a punishment for their own corruption (as they do in many of the Gothic stories by Poe, Hawthorne, et al.), but because the universe is incomprehensible and morally void. Whyld takes his Lovecraftian premise and makes it into a conventional morality tale about Things Man is Not Meant To Know.

Whyld’s writing also tends towards the careless and obvious: he tells the player to be afraid, rather than evoking fear; he puts implausible thoughts in the player character’s head and then only belatedly remembers that the PC is supposed to be eleven years old.

This is still a game by someone with a lot of IF writing experience, and it’s far from dreadful — but I didn’t find it scary, and it was the least Lovecraftian-seeming of the three entries I’ve played so far.

One thought on “Commonplace Book Project: Ecdysis, The Cellar

  1. Postscript: thanks to some prompting from Peter Nepstad, I was able to find a second ending to “Ecdysis” after all — but in fact what I said here pretty much still holds…

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