Black as the Text on this Alabaster Screen, Red as the Exit Button

Emily Short, who designed the interactive fiction that took over my life for days at a time, Galatea, collaborated with ten other people to create another great interactive fiction work, Alabaster.

The set-up is similar to Galatea, but this work combines the conversation with a side image and follows more of a narrative sequence. The image shifts as the story develops, but for me it was a bit of a creepy distraction lurking on the edge of the screen.

Another major difference is the more expanded level of options available to the reader-player. Does the bright white screen hurt your eyes? Change it. Don’t feel like reading it? It can read it for you in a selection of voices and speeds! The best addition is the possibility of tutorial mode and the constant hints. Though, the hints did irritate me when I felt I wasn’t completly lost.

As an added bonus, the transcript of the entire game session can be viewed thanks to the new IF program, “Git.” I loved this because I like to see the whole picture and I love the possibility of permanence it creates.

Warning: Clicking the help menu will clear the screen and return you to the default description of your setting, but your game play still happened and you can view the transcription to refresh your memory about what happened. I learned this by opening the menu to check who worked on this game and then freaking out for a bit about losing all of my progress and I thought I would spare everyone else this unpleasantness.

The hinting continues throughout and while I try to ignore it, those lines of italicized text do prevent the hitting your head against a wall feeling of rephrasing your question ten different ways only to have the art critic “not know how to phrase the question” or “prefer to hear galatea’s opinon on the subject.” The best part is you can deviate from the hinted options if you ask something related to the events at hand in the right way.

Sometimes however, the hints get ahead of you and provide information you haven’t yet figured out and I found these spoilers very frustrating. This aspect of the game is a compromise between getting stuck and getting cheated out of discovery.

Alabaster takes on themes like gender roles through elements like the demon Lilith, whom, by the way, the Queen has invoked to help her be “the fairest in the land.” In this story, Lilith was made of fire and still as independent as in other writings. Eve is referred to as “the milkmaid Eve” by Snow White.

Snow White is in some ways a more lively conversationalist. There is more tension between the reader-player’s character and the parser character because you don’t know if Snow or the Queen is the villain. And, depending on the way you play, either way can become the truth.

As the narrative progresses, a focused observer who hasn’t just tucked the creepy image bar to the side of the display, might notice something interesting. The image reflects the subject of the conversation and Snow’s mood. When we discussed the Queen, A second feminine face loomed behind the original woman I had taken to be our fair maiden. When the conversation about her step-mother made her unhappy, rain fell acros the image in all its jagged penstroke glory. It became a good barometer for how to react and when to tread softly.

talking to snow about the queen and being unhappy about it

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