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Making your day with a visit to McDreamland
Review by: Emily Short
Game: The Retreat
By: J. D. Clemens

Related Links
Game Info @ Wiki
McDream Info

David Cornelson recently started a minicompetition, then converted to a monthly anthology, of games based on dreams. So far, there have been three short pieces written for this anthology, whose home page is at http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/IF_Dreams.

"The Retreat" starts with the player arriving at a party that is intended to take everyone's mind off the coming apocalypse. The player character knows this much in the prologue, and we never really find out that much more about what is going on.

In this respect, the dream-quality of "The Retreat" goes a little way toward resolving the usual dilemma about how to let the player know as much as the player-character: the protagonist of a dream often has isolated bits of knowledge, just enough to interpret the dream, but lacks a coherent back-story. This is precisely the experience of the player, so, for once, the player and the protagonist are equally well- informed.

As retold dreams go, "The Retreat" is reasonably coherent, with a consistent narrative and no major scene changes or plot discontinuities. It doesn't quite feel like an ordinary story, though. Sometimes there's a lot to do. At other times, the pacing goes slack and a tight, timed passage gives way to waiting: though the action does move on again when the player has explored enough, he has no particular goal, and the exploration itself isn't very revealing. This is very like a dream, even if it violates some of the usual expectations about IF design. Which is to say: I felt undirected, but maybe that was part of the point.

"The Retreat" is sparely implemented. There is little scenery in each room; few items respond to detailed interaction. What's there, however, is put together cleanly: talking to any character gives a few pointers about what we might want to discuss, for instance, so that conversation tends to be fairly directed. The about text indicates that this is Clemens' first game, but it contained no bugs and few omissions that I found, and avoids many of the pitfalls of a first work. There are several variations on the way the game plays out, and they are handled without a hitch, as far as I can tell.

For all that, I finished the game feeling a little flat.

The about text discusses the original dream that inspired the game, and this is worth reading, after you're done. (Cleverly, spoilers are omitted the first time you select the menu item about the game, but if you come back to it you can see the full explanation.) The text makes it a little clearer what's missing. Clemens captures a generic dreamlike atmosphere, but doesn't quite get the full emotional punch of the particular dream he narrates here. For that to have worked, I think I would have needed to feel a stronger sense of connection with the other characters who are in danger -- though I wound up caring more about the cat than about the other people. (Perhaps because the cat is more interactive and more demonstratively affectionate.) On the other hand, it seems as though the original dream didn't really flesh these characters out either -- so there may have been nothing there to draw on.


Review by: Emily Short
Game: No Famous
By: Erik Wennstrom

Related Links
Game Info @ Wiki
McDream Info

David Cornelson recently started a minicompetition, then converted to a monthly anthology, of games based on dreams. So far, there have been three short pieces written for this anthology, whose home page is at http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/IF_Dreams.

Less a single dream than a patchwork of different dream-pieces, "No Famous" doesn't even try for a sensible storyline; it would be difficult to describe the premise, though the game does have a plot arc. Like "The Retreat", it is solidly implemented and tested: in particular, the game's odd situations encourage the player to experiment with a bunch of non-standard commands, and I was delighted to see that most of these were indeed understood.

"No Famous" also does a good job of getting the player to learn and act on dream-logic. There are several passages that flow a little too smoothly and intuitively to be called puzzles, exactly, but which do lead the player into some non-obvious interaction. As a result, "No Famous" maintains a more consistent pace and greater sense of continuous engagement than "The Retreat".

"No Famous" is explicitly framed as a dream, whereas "The Retreat" plays out the content of the dream straight, with no framing structure. This is a reasonable choice, especially since a lot of the interaction turns on those moments where the dream becomes lucid, but I felt that there was some wasted opportunity here too: elements of "No Famous" are so evocative that I found myself wishing the author had run with them, spinning out a full story to explain what they meant.


Review by: Emily Short
Game: Dreadwine
By: Eric Eve

Related Links
Game Info @ Wiki
McDream Info

David Cornelson recently started a minicompetition, then converted to a monthly anthology, of games based on dreams. So far, there have been three short pieces written for this anthology, whose home page is at http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/IF_Dreams.

"Dreadwine" takes place in some odd dystopia: you are talking to a friend of yours, you discover that she is under some kind of threat from those who run the place, and you attempt to rescue her.

"Dreadwine" is technically well-constructed, which comes as no great surprise: Eve's work is consistently polished. Like "The Retreat", it feeds the player bits of information which have no context or backstory.

Also like "The Retreat", "Dreadwine" takes place in a sparse world and relies strongly on atmosphere and an external threat that is never fully explained. I found the pacing to be a bit more consistent, though: there are constant reminders of the dangers to come, rather than bursts of activity followed by slackness.

"Dreadwine" uses the expectations of IF to emulate the frustration of a dream. There are places and props in the game that look like pieces of a puzzle solution, only the player is never allowed to put them together, to resolve things as he wants to. Instead, other events unfold and the player is swept along with them. At the time, I found this a bit baffling, but in retrospect I think I see the point: dreams are full of struggles like this, attempts to do things that never quite become possible. The best we can accomplish is to wake out of that state.

In the end, I found all of these a tiny bit disappointing, even though they were all polished, evocative, and effectively dream-like. Possibly what I'm reacting to is exactly their success as dream-IF. Most memorable dreams leave you a little wistful for the backstory that got left out, the world you never got to finish exploring, the resolution that never came.


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