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Puppets
Review by: Jonathan Rosebaugh
Game: Common Ground
By: Stephen Granade

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Emily Short IF-Review
Note: I will be going fast and free with the spoilers here. If you don't like that, maybe you should read Emily's review. I will also be somewhat spoilery for Adam Cadre's game Photopia.

Common Ground is about, assuming you're going by dictionary definitions, a mother, a father and a daughter. Given this, you'd expect it to about a family. This is true, but only when using dictionary definitions.

A family tends to have certain things in common -- Common Ground, as it were. They also tend to show signs of loving one another. This is not so much a family as it is three people living in a house together.

As you might guess from what you've read so far, Common Ground focuses more on the fiction than the interactivity; there's only one real choice you can make that changes anything, and that happens at the end. This, along with the changing PCs, reminds the player of Photopia.

In some ways, though, it's the exact opposite of Photopia. These people don't love each other; they barely tolerate one another. (In one scene, the daughter is given a chance to steal from her father. That this makes no impact on the game whatsoever is more telling than the fact that the theft can occur. This _is_ status quo, in this family.) You can make an effect on the game's ending, but because it's at the end, you don't really see the effects of your actions. Strangely, this choice -- an "added feature" -- seems to be the main detraction for me in this game. Photopia had no such choice, but did have characters that made me _want_ to have such a choice.

That's getting to be the way I judge a game -- Does it have characters which make me want to help them? Photopia did, Worlds Apart did, So Far did, heck, even Time Bastards and Happy Ever After did. Common Ground didn't.

Naturally, that says nothing about the technical quality of the game -- Happy Ever After was buggy and had a horrible plot; it was the concept that I liked -- but it is a rather reliable guide. If the characters aren't real, then it's likely that the story isn't real either. You can do things with symbolic characters and archetypes, but you have to be _very_ good at it. Stephen Granade isn't that good, yet.

But there's hope. The plot is surprising enough, without being too surprising. The game is well put together, one annoying non-typo disregarding. Losing Your Grip, by the same author, was, I hear, a very good game, just not in the same genre as this. (By the way, what genre _is_ this?) I expect that with this experience under his belt, Mr. Granade will produce more appealing works in the future.

Even as it is, it's not bad. It's rather short and what is in there is done fairly well. It makes use of stereotypes in ways which, if not new and refreshing, are at least unusual and interesting. Download it and play it; it won't take more than half an hour. While it's not the sort of game that will leave you feeling happy after you're done, I felt strangely satisfied after making the choice at the end. It wasn't a great game, but it wasn't mediocre either. It was, well, good.

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