Watercrown Productions

Fall Into The Azure Gap?

by on Mar.11, 2009, under Reviews

Happy 2009, everybody!

…Oh, wait. It’s three months late for that. Nevermind.

Anyways, my first non-BoF2-related update of the year concerns an unusual subject: a game review. Usually I don’t write reviews except about games I feel very strongly about, for or against, and this game is no exception to that rule. I speak of Blue Lacuna, an interactive fiction title that debuted in demo form during the 2008 Spring Thing competition and finally saw a full release in the past few months. You can download the game at the author’s website; you’ll also need an interpreter (think of it as an emulator, only for a system that doesn’t actually exist), and I highly recommend Gargoyle for the task.

The superbrief version of the story is this: A Wayfarer Is You!

…Okay, let’s try for the brief version. (The verbose one can also be sort of found on the author’s website; Blueful is the story of how the protagonist came to be who and what he is, told in fragments scattered across the Internet. It makes sense once you’re familiar with the story, but I vastly preferred how it was originally all put together in one convenient place. Stupid shame I never thought to copy-and-paste it.)

You are a painter of incredible talents; you have displayed these phenomenal abilities ever since childhood. Of course, your painting didn’t bring you happiness; you were a curiosity, your artwork a source of income to exploit.

And then you learned to Wayfare, and left this world behind forever.

Wayfarers are artists armed with the ability to journey from world to world, creating gateways to new realities through their art. Painting, sculpture, music…any talent that can be called art can be a Wayfarer’s tool. As a result, you are something of a cross between Atrus from the Myst series, Scott Bakula’s character from Quantum Leap and Doctor Who: an adventurer whose path is defined only by imagination, but for whom every step along the road is irrevocable, and damned to an eternity of solitude. Wayfarers are one in a trillion; you’ve met a few in your travels, but such encounters are brief and bittersweet, and everyone else you meet just ephemeral wisps in the fabric of the universe. But then you found Rume.

Rume is not a Wayfarer, but is nevertheless the love of your life; you’ve lived on Rume’s world for a year when the story begins. You’re still an artist, but Wayfaring is something you’re content to leave behind: life with Rume, a joy and adventure in itself, is far sweeter than your previous, solitary existence. Naturally, this is where destiny comes knocking at the door.

In case I haven’t made this clear already, once a Wayfarer Wayfares, it’s a one-way trip; the artwork gets left behind, but is no longer a doorway, and a Wayfarer cannot simply “art” his way back to a world; you can’t simply duplicate your own work. However, there’s nothing stopping a Wayfarer from ending up on a world with another Wayfarer…in fact, a Wayfarer may find himself drawn to another Wayfarer’s world. This is what’s called “the Call”: a Wayfarer may find himself compelled to Wayfare to a particular world, one where a fellow Wayfarer is in distress. You’ve experienced it once before, and the Call has struck again, just as you were beginning to settle into life with Rume. The choice is yours whether to heed the Call or stay, but should you heed it, adventure awaits…

Blue Lacuna is an ambitious work, sometimes straining the boundaries of its own implementation (I played Release 3, which was still not quite glitch-free; an NPC who was supposed to be bedridden was walking around, giving messages for both his normal and his injured states, the beehive puzzle becomes unsolvable without guesswork after a point, when the actual “bees traveling” descriptions stop getting printed, and the bridge/staircase’s functionality is horribly broken), but what works, works solidly. The aforementioned inexplicable experience aside, most of the game is spent in the company – or with the nearby presence – of an NPC with a vast array of random actions and subjects of knowledge; virtually every time you encounter him, he’ll be in the middle of doing something and will very likely have something new to say. He manages to serve both as comic relief and the story’s key dramatic figure: in many respects, Blue Lacuna is the tale of this Ben Gunn-esque survivor more than it is your own, and much of your time on his island will be spent piecing together who he is and what he’s doing here.

The important thing to note here is that when I said “the choice is yours”, I meant it. The game gives you many choices, some more subtle than others, and a variety of nonstandard commands and unusual (but appropriate) inputs are recognized. The game tracks your behavior on many levels: every choice you make has its repercussions towards how the story proceeds and how it will end. True to its Myst-inspired origins, there is a choice to be made at the end of the game, although the nature of the choice itself is more reminiscent of the Shin Megami Tensei series, and truer to MegaTen than Myst, how you choose to enforce that decision also plays a role in things.

In addition, the game has what its author calls a “Drama Manager”; think of it as the story’s guardian angel, throwing things into the mix whenever there’s a lengthy lull in the action. It’s hard to get stuck in Blue Lacuna; an event will inevitably throw itself in your face and get the story back on track, and the necessity of sleep, normally a problem to be worked against, is instead vitally important to advancing the story.

Depending on who you ask, Blue Lacuna is either a work of art or a great big bundle of pretentious, sesquipedalian nonsense. Naturally, I view the latter group as a bunch of cretinous troglodytes who should not be allowed within ten feet of a parser. I’ll admit that I had some unkind words for the author after playing the demonstration version: it ends without fanfare or summation, dropping a “thanks for playing!” message in the player’s lap without even ending the game properly. Now that I have played the full, final version, however, I take it back. I take back every single foolish thing I said, and I apologize profusely. Blue Lacuna stole my heart and broke it, but the finished version put it back together again better than ever. Interestingly, the finished version covers almost the same territory as the demo, but there’s more to it: the story is fleshed out better, there are more events and numerous additions to the scenery, and despite featuring the same general locations and puzzles, once the new content comes into play, the finished version feels like a completely different game.

In short? If you like Interactive Fiction, play Blue Lacuna. If you don’t, play Blue Lacuna. It’s a wonderful balance between story and challenge with a compelling plotline and a beautiful setting. (Yes, it’s all text, but you can imagine, right? Well?) To be honest, glitches aside I’d like to call it the best interactive fiction I’ve ever played, and I’ve played quite a bit. (Sorry, Andrew Plotkin.)

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