All Roads: Interactive Fiction and Experiments with Perspective

Consciousness is slowly returning to you.  You wake, but are then suddenly standing on a scaffold in a city square with a noose around your neck.  So begins Jon Ingold’s All Roads, with much confusion, but just as much intrigue.  It is interactive fiction in style similar to Colossal Cave Adventure and Galatea, where the reader/player enters text commands to explore and navigate the environment as well as interact with other characters.  The piece has already been blogged about here, and as Kevin notes, All Roads builds its world — Venice — with incredible attention to detail.  Unlike Galatea, where the player mainly interacts in the single room of the exhibition, the player here must navigate several environments: from escaping imprisonment in a cellar to seeking refuge in a church and wandering the city streets.

Also unlike Galatea, which offers many different paths and allows the player to explore multiple conversational styles through each replay, All Roads is a bit more confined.  You do not get to choose what you say to the characters, instead you simply enter the command to talk to them and the dialogue unfolds.  The piece is much longer than Galatea and seems to stick to a pretty rigid storyline without much variation in further playthroughs.  There is a catch, however: there are few conventional puzzles in the game and you are not forced to find all the clues you need before you move on.  I played it through to completion the first time without gathering some of the essential information and was utterly mystified by the end when I still was not sure who I was.

Yes, you read that right.  The biggest puzzle of All Roads seems to be figuring out who your character is in order to make sense of its convoluted, nonlinear plot.  As you work through the world, it becomes clear (or not so clear) that you are being hunted by assassins.  Then it seems as if you are the assassin.  My first inclination was that I was playing an assassin who was also being hunted by enemy assassins.  I could also, seemingly, time travel.  Finally, it turns out I was not so much time travelling as I was perspective travelling. The trick is that the game hinges on understanding your identity/identities, by bits and pieces, as you work through the plot.  In order to understand this, you must pay close attention to details concerning your name in certain environments: when you enter the church, for instance, you can decide to pray.  In doing so, you get a clue about your name, but it is also possible to bypass this hint altogether.

If this all sounds terribly confusing, it’s because it is. If you’re not invested enough in the world to be incredibly thorough, it will probably remain so (walkthroughs and various hints on the internet will be helpful!). But if you like your literature/games/etc of the mind-bending persuasion, it’s also quite rewarding.

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