Remembrance by Casey Tait [Comp99]

IFDB page: Remembrance
Final placement: 27th place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition

Unlike all the other entries in this year’s IF competition, Remembrance isn’t a story file or program. Rather than the product of an IF language, or even a standalone executable written from scratch, the game is a collection of web pages, each one leading to the next. At the bottom of each web page is a little piece of JavaScript, sometimes just a button reading “Continue”, other times a pull-down combo box with a list of possible actions (never any more than three) and a “Try Action” button. Many attempted actions bring up input boxes, asking for further clarification (e.g. “What would you like me to get?”). Once the command has been fully entered, the page will do one of two things. One possibility is that the browser will display a JavaScript message box indicating the results of the command, either the generic failure message “Your action has no effect” or some longer response which advances the plot. The other option is that the browser will simply bring up the next web page in the sequence. This web implementation has some advantages. Guess-the-verb problems are entirely eliminated, and for one particular puzzle in the game that is a distinct benefit. The web-based approach also allows the author all the traditional advantages of a web page — colors, pictures, fonts, etc — though I can’t say that the game did much with the possibilities. The plot concerns World War I, and the pages do have a color scheme which matches (black on olive drab), but that’s about as fancy as it gets, aside from the JavaScript parts. In addition, there were some serious problems with the web-based approach. For one thing, I found that the chosen color scheme made the text pretty difficult to read. Also, the pages are hosted by, which generated an inexpressibly irritating pop-up window every time the game moved to a new page. On top of that, whenever the JavaScript message boxes would appear, my browser would sound a chord; this is the same chord that Windows 95 sounds for urgent warnings and notifications that the hard drive is about to melt, so hearing it over and over was a pretty unpleasant experience.

But the biggest problem with the web approach is that the interface itself dramatically curtails interactivity. At its worst, the interactivity is limited to a “continue” button, which is about as interactive as turning the page in a book. At its best, the interface is reminiscent of the “command menu” interface of some point-and-click commercial adventures, only with a drastically limited menu. Compounding this problem is the highly linear design of the game itself. Not only is there just one path through the game, but there is really only one path through each substep of the game as well. For example, in the opening sequence there are three commands which must be entered in order. It isn’t tough to guess which three, because the combo box at the bottom of the screen only contains three options. Nonetheless, choosing the wrong command to start with, no matter what further explanation you put in the input box, just gives one response: “Your action has no effect.” Choosing the right command, but putting the wrong thing in the subsequent input box just gives the same terse (and improperly punctuated) hint line every time. Once you get the first command right, the process starts again for the next command. After a few iterations of this process, it becomes eminently clear that Remembrance is less interactive fiction than it is forced-participation fiction. That is, to see the next page of the story, you have to enter the magic word. There is no possibility of exploring the landscape, no opportunity to attempt other routes, and very few things to even try along the way. To further enforce its boundaries, the game uses the technique of regularly shifting viewpoints and settings, a la Photopia.

In fact, the comparison between Remembrance and Photopia is a fruitful one. Remembrance feels very much like it wants to emulate Photopia, changing Alley to Alex and the dangers of irresponsible driving to the dangers of trench warfare. You might even say that it starts down the trail blazed by Photopia and walks it all the way to its logical conclusion: highest level of tragedy, lowest level of interactivity. However, there are some important differences between the two as well. Foremost among these is the writing. Where Photopia maintained a consistently excellent level of prose, Remembrance is more uneven. The bulk of the writing is clean and well-done, but there are also a number of misspellings, punctuation errors, and awkward phrases. In addition, where Photopia‘s scenes are non-sequential both chronologically and in terms of point-of-view, in Remembrance it is only POV that shifts, with the exception of a short prologue. This difference probably contributed to the fact that the twist in Photopia is quite surprising the first time through, whereas in Remembrance the climactic event is visible several miles off. However, all that aside, I still found Remembrance touching. Perhaps I just have a soft spot for World War I stories ever since I saw Gallipoli, and certainly the type of tragedy depicted in Remembrance is an easy target for a tearjerker, but the interplay of letters and scenes, encompassing the trenches, the planning rooms, and the homelands, made for a nicely affecting overall presentation. It’s not the sort of thing I’d want to see very much of, but it was definitely worth my time once through.

Rating: 6.7