IF Comp 2014: Eidolon (A. D. Jansen)

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Eidolon is a choice-based game with a mix of fantasy and real-life elements. I played for about 30-35 minutes, but did not finish.

First impressions from the blurb: almost none. “When you wake up, something is passing through the night sky.” Not a huge amount to go on. Is it a story about witches? Interactive nonfiction on the life cycle of the bat? X-Files fanfic? The title isn’t telling me a lot either. An eidolon in Greek is an image or sort of ghost of a person, and my strongest word-association is with the story that Helen of Troy did not run away with Paris at all: she sat out the war in Egypt, faithful to Menelaus the whole time, but the gods sent an eidolon of Helen to Troy, to incite a war that would relieve the earth of its burden of excess people. (Euripides often does not portray the gods as particularly sympathetic to mankind.) I’m guessing that this is not the eidolon the game is talking about, or the blurb would give more of a hint.

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The story seems at times to be about insomnia, or about a broken family, or about inhabiting the space between sleep and waking; the color palette in black and white and grey is suited to its initial setting, a moonlit house. Though I wasn’t sure initially what it was trying for — slice of life? horror? — it eventually settled into a form of dream-logic fantasy that I associate with Labyrinth, with perhaps also a little touch of The Owl Service.

The world model is moderately complex for a choice game. There are rooms; there are objects in the rooms, which can be in different states. There’s a model of light, and rooms are described differently at different light states. The code here was confusing or possibly buggy in spots, though. There were some small tasks I had to do in order to get the piece to progress, but I found the coding of these a bit bewildering: when looking for a pizza container in the cupboard, the game had me take down a water glass, and then later when I was looking for some bread, what I found was a container for pizza I’d already given up and shoved bare into the refrigerator. At another point, I was looking at the contents of the china hutch in the dining room and found that Back suddenly acted as though I’d been looking at a portrait in the living room. Confusing.

A small technical annoyance: For some reason the text always pushed past the edge of my browser window so that I kept having to scroll right with each new screen; eventually I managed to get rid of that by resizing the window larger than I really wanted it to be, but a more adaptive stylesheet would be nice. Along similar lines, the text would sometimes fade out, then come back in when what it was really doing was adding another line to the bottom of the same page. I find that a bit disorienting, since I expect a fade to mean “now we are moving on to all new text”, so I automatically move my eyes back to the top of the screen. It’s a small thing, but it somewhat disrupted the continuity of the reading experience for me.

Eventually, I reached a point in the story where the setting had become even more surreal and illogical, and I wasn’t sure what to do to make the game progress further. I wandered around and changed the state of a lot of things, but after a while it didn’t feel like I was making progress, so eventually I stopped. There wasn’t a walkthrough, and short of spending some time picking apart the game’s source, it wasn’t obvious what I was missing.

Despite what may seem a somewhat discouraging play report, I think this author has a lot going for them. The writing sometimes felt a bit over the top, but there were other points where it was quite evocative. The description of the afterimage when a lamp has been turned off particularly sticks with me. The problem with the sky was also genuinely unnerving, enough so that I wanted the protagonist to do something more drastic in response: turn on the news and see what’s going on! wake up mom! Meanwhile despite the glitches here and there, it seemed as though they were mostly doing a decent job of supporting a complex model with variables and so on under the surface of Twine. So, good.

The biggest issue, though, was the goallessness of play. Perhaps this was meant to capture the quality of dreams, but it did not work very well for me. Comments post the spoiler section.

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As far as I can tell, what allowed the story to progress past the initial wandering-around phase was me making myself a snack in the kitchen. But there was a lot of other interesting stuff to see, some of it more evidently puzzle-like (locked door upstairs, should I be trying to get past that?), while several times I received a message about going back upstairs to work more on my homework when the link into my bedroom seemed to be disabled when I got to the upstairs hallway. There was nothing that said “you need something to eat before you go back to your bedroom.”

Likewise, later on, I was told to do some tasks for the girl-king, but not what those tasks should be or what I should be looking for. I discovered some interesting objects and various buttons that changed the state of things, but without a sense of what I was trying to do, this became increasingly bewildering.

On the larger scale, lack of goal and direction also cut into my motivation somewhat. The hints about my mother were the most humanly motivating pieces of the work — it sounds like she’s having a really rough time. But most of what I need to do in the game seems to be pretty much orthogonal to that. I don’t have nearly such strong feelings about the girl-king because she feels like a construct more than a person, a fantasy figment who behaves outrageously because that’s what folk from the land of Faerie (even if Faerieland is called Through the Looking Glass or Eidolon this time) do.

Anyway, possibly others had more luck with this than I did. I’d like to encourage the author: there was a lot here that I did think was good, and I had the sense that they gave quite a bit of thought to their model, to their presentation on the page, and to their writing. Even in the cases where I felt the final result was imperfect, the attention to all those different issues is a good sign.

2 thoughts on “IF Comp 2014: Eidolon (A. D. Jansen)

  1. I did get direction about what the first task is, right when it was assigned, and it harkened back to an interaction I had with the visitor at home in my bedroom; I stopped playing before completing the task, however, so I don’t know how well it is implemented.

    • Curious. I suppose it’s possible that I either misunderstood or clicked through something and missed a bit. (But that wasn’t the first point at which I felt under-directed, either.)

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