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Smooching 101
Review by: Jonathan Rosebaugh
Game: Pytho's Mask
By: Emily Short

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Spoilers: There are parts of this review that may spoil some parts of the game for some people people. These parts are triple-rot13 encoded for your protection.

If a game has a property defined by (quality of game) / (time it took to make), then Pytho's Mask has just beaten Shade's record. It's a bit rough around the edges, but it's much better than what you'd expect from a game that took only one week to write, even from the master that is Emily Short. (Of course, I loved her SpeedIF entry, as well.)

The plot is what we've come to expect from Emily. Take something that's embedded in the background of our worldview, add a few twists, stir in a unique way of looking at it, and let settle into IF form. Serves everyone. (Ok, the Rats of NIMH ref in her SpeedIF entry is not quite as universal as Greek myth and Platonism, but I still loved it.) In a world reminiscent of the Romantic universe-picture, the earth and heavenly bodies influence events at court. The Comet, which comes only once a century, shatters the balance, both in heaven and on earth. This is the time when chaos can reign and those with a mind for dirty politics can exert their will. (Reading Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture has really paid off.)

The king has not been doing so well physically, and your Order (of which little is shown save that it is a force for order and justice) wishes that he remain capable of his office. The PC remains somewhat mysterious, though I believe that most of this is due either to the author's constrained schedule or my inability to puzzle out some of the more badly coded parts. (Which are better than average IF, even so.) Also mysterious, though with a greater reason, is the man who got you an invitation to court on the Night of the Comet. He's a Zorro-like figure with a black mask. V trg gur srryvat gung gur snpg gung ur vf va snpg gur cevapr vf fhccbfrq gb or zber boivbhf guna vg vf, gubhtu ntnva guvf znl or whfg zl onq yhpx. And the fortune-teller provides a very nice confirmation of the mythology of this world.

Speaking of characters, Emily has created another very nice conversation system. It mixes the best parts of ASK/TELL and menu-based conversation, though it doesn't always work quite right. It's been explained in detail in other places, so I won't go into it here, but it's really very good. I was sometimes left with the feeling that my character had zoned out for a bit and missed some conversation, but these few mimesis-shattering bugs are small, and can easily be fixed in future versions.

Speaking of character and plot, perhaps now is a good time to mention that Pytho's Mask was a SmoochieComp 2001 game, and as such it has not a little bit of romance involved. Here Emily's skill with multiple endings especially shines through. You aren't railroaded into any particular ending or relationship, though like the rest of the time, sometimes the interactivity seems sparse. This is, of course, the necessary side effect of a shortened development schedule.

Ok. Those of you who read my Galatea review may be asking, "Does it mean anything?" to which I respond, "Doesn't everything?" However, since answering with a question fails to satisfy anyone but Socrates and Jesus, I'll say this. I'm not going to try to read deep things into this. Avril says that Soteria has a part to play, and she'll play it the way she's supposed to, come hell or high water, no matter what she does. This is not the way things actually are -- you can do many different things, resulting in endings all along a spectrum. Still, if she just sits back and lets the party unfold, nothing happens. This is mostly just due to the way Emily implemented this game, i think, but it can still mean something here. If you want to care. I like to think I do.

I liked it. Will you? That depends. If you, as I do, think Emily is the best thing since sliced cheese, (zarf and Adam Cadre are bread and salami, respectively) by all means play this game. If you'd rather wait for a more finished product, Emily has said that she's planning to fix it up a bit and release a version 2. Also, for budding IF authors, you should not try to write your game a week before deadlines. But if you do, this is what you should aspire to. I really liked this game. That's a small catagory: Emily, zarf, and Adam star regulary here, and a handful of other authors show up too. Ah, what the heck. Just go play it.

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