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Message from a stone tower

  • NTC3
  • 05/08/2017 08:53 PM
  • 123 views
Stranger than Fiction is, as its name implies, less of a full-on “game” and more of an interactive fiction experiment. It’s short, and fully playable online, which explains the small download count, and it’s made in Construct 2, the same engine as the far more famous No One Has To Die. While Stranger than Fiction is quite different thematically, (not to mention shorter and more linear in its structure), both are games centered around uncovering a central text-based mystery from multiple perspectives. In all, it shouldn’t be a stretch to say that if you liked one, you should like the other as well.

Aesthetics (art, design and sound)



There's just this one interface screen where you get all the semi-translated info to decipher. The font and the selection sounds fit the purpose, and the animated scrolling stars in the background are a nice touch as well. Otherwise, there’s not much else to say. I think there is a music theme as well, but I’m not entirely sure, so it’s safe to say it was rather unmemorable (by comparison, I can still recall No One Has to Die final playthrough theme.)

Gameplay

Have you ever been in a foreign language class, had to hand up a written assignment quickly, and just wrote what you intended in your native language then fed the result into Google Translate? (Well, I personally haven’t, but had enough classmates who tried that at one point.) Or indeed, had to translate a foreign document quickly for whatever reason? Either way, you’ll know that the resulting text will have enough sentences that mostly make sense, but also contain several words/phrases that are gibberish and require manual clean-up. This clean-up is what you are basically doing, as the archeologists’ language processing computer managed to convert alien symbols to English words, but wholly screwing up the letters in process. Your task is to use the context provided by the intact letters to switch pairs of the defective ones around, restoring meaning and context, up until the page is completed and you can move onto the next.



It’s actually a rather simple gameplay. Only the last few screens (one pictured above) had me pause for a little while, and I still overcame them quite quickly. In all, it’s quite pleasant as well. Sure, the way the exact same words are suddenly written completely differently on the next page is silly when you think about it. However, the process does make you focus more on every word, and thus lets you take in the writing better, which is its real purpose.

Storyline



There are four parts of the story, “The Advent”, The Believer”, “The Scientist” and “The Ascent”, consisting of 4, 7, 7 and 9 screens, respectively. All of these are different tales left behind on a now-barren exoplanet by an ancient civilization: the writings are so old, that three of them are on stone tablets. As their name implies, these are religious myths, and they are quite convincing as such. They are all concise, and their style brings to mind first the Shumer myths, and then the stories of Abrahamic religions. All of them are found on various floors of a large stone tower – a fascinating artifact that stands alone, goes up for a perfect 200 stories, and doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose, which is why the researchers have now turned to these myths. Context like this is provided through the short messages from your supervisor, Lavender Rosewood, always present at the start and end of every segment.

Each segment is driven by a single character (always male, reflecting the typical religious tradition) who is clearly defined in spite of how concise the whole story is. While it’s not a spoiler to say it clearly shares parallels with the Tower of Babel tale, it thankfully diverges from it soon enough, and ending is quite different to say the least. I liked it, even if the concluding tone clashes with the rest of the tale a little, and there’s a plothole of sorts (inasmuch as this can be said of the religious texts.) You can probably find some thematic parallels with The Book of True Will[/i] as well, even if the structure is quite different.

Conclusion



Lavender's message at the end of "The Advent". Her demeanor changes as you progress.

Honestly, just check it out. It won’t take up much of your time, and while you might not find it as compelling as the creator intended, it lacks any real weaknesses.