The Online Interactive Fiction Review Site
By: Nate Cull
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all
In general, I hate TADS games. I'm not sure exactly why, but even in the best games, I find myself wishing that I was playing an Inform game. It is extremely rare that I find a TADS game capable of making me forget this. In fact, there have only been two. Glowgrass is one of those games.
Like every game, Glowgrass has its flaws. Like a very few games, the story in Glowgrass covers over these flaws. The story packs a huge punch for such a small game, covering as it does themes of hope for humanity and for the individual.
In many science-fiction books where humanity is out among the stars, Earth has been forgotten. Whether due to rendering the planet inhabitable or just plain leaving it behind, humanity quickly loses sight of its roots. Foundation visited this by describing archeologists' searches for the original planet of mankind, but even then, they could not pin it down. In Glowgrass, they have found that, but have lost track of what humanity was.
You play an archeologist, crashlanding at the site of an Ancient dwelling. You lose almost all of your tools, requiring you to lean on your wits alone to find some way to get back to civilization.
Note: From here on, there may be spoilers for various parts of the game. If you do not want to read these spoilers, go play the game. It's worth it. Thank you.
Humanity has fallen. Normally this would entail a story somewhat like The Postman, with a strong young man leading humanity out of a neo-dark age. Unfortunatly, there does not seem to have been a strong young man available at the time, as humanity quickly went extinct. All that's left are houses and cars and such -- and one young girl who turned herself into an AI.
Marie is your guide to Post-Apocalyptic Earth, which looks a whole lot like Pre-Apocalyptic Earth except that you and she are the only people alive on the planet. You initially find her skeleton, with the mind-downloading device still sitting on her head. When you bring her up for the first time, she is scared -- her whole world has fallen to pieces. She goes through the stages of grieving very quickly, perhaps too quickly. She decides to trust you, and the two of you set about finding a way to get back to civilization.
The game worked for me, not because of the flashing prose, but because of the themes. I've always been partial to a good AI story -- in fact, I have a WIP with one on the backburner right now. And I like a good end-of-the-world story, when it's done well. And, of course, I like a good alien story, both with metaphorical and literal aliens. Let's take those in order, shall we.
AI has showed up in a few IF games, usually good ones. There may be a correlation here; I hope so. There's something alluring about the prospect of creating something in our image. Zarf said it; We are made in the image of God, and what is God but the Creator? An AI would, by definition, be a very alien thing, but to my mind, the most successful AIs have been the ones that were like us.
Marie is very much like us. She has been dragged into the future head-long and forced to adjust to radically different situations, and in typical monkey-fashion, she copes. What's more, she manages to take charge of the situation, and get the PC back to civilization.
Mankind is dead; long live mankind. We're tenacious. Even when we do wipe ourselves back to barbarism, we tend to stick around. In Glowgrass, all that's left is Marie and whatever the PC's people have become, but even still, we remain.
The most alien thing in this game is the PC. At the end, we are given a glimpse of how much has changed over the years. Humanity has altered even the very basic compounds on which our bodies operate, yet we remain able to relate to humans from before the plague. The most distressingly alien thing about them is that they seem to have forgotten Earth and what we were like, though this is understandable, given the time spans that must be involved.
And in the end, it's the story that takes the prize. We have characterization, we have plot, we have, here and there, a few puzzles, we have tension, and we have a resolution. We also have what I interpret to be a promise of a sequel, for which I am waiting eagerly.