IFRO

Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
Mark Twain


Login | Register


Username:
Password:

Who is Online

We have 671 registered Members.

There are no Members online.

There are 19 Guests online.

9 Stars IFReview Rating Muse: An Autumn Romance

IFReviewed by Paul OBrian on 2006-07-19 06:33 

Game Profile

Author
Christopher Huang

Idiom
English

Authoring System
Inform6

Release Year
1998

IFR Overall Rating
6 Stars IFR Overall Rating
Separator
I've been sitting here for 10 minutes trying to find the right words to begin a review of Muse, but I can't seem to come up with anything that speaks as eloquently as the game's own prose. Muse is the most gorgeously written piece of IF in the competition -- I've still got several games left to play, but I would be very surprised if any of them even equaled Muse's marvelous skill with words, let alone surpassed it. The game is like the IF version of a Merchant-Ivory movie: quiet setting, stellar production values, highly character-oriented, and deeply, deeply felt. It's been a long time since I've been as moved by a piece of IF as I was by the "optimal" ending of Muse -- even some of the less satisfying endings are crafted so well that in themselves they can be quite emotional. The game takes place in a French village in 1886, as viewed through the eyes of Rev. Stephen Dawson, a 59-year-old clergyman from Barchester, England. It is not a typical IF setting, and Dawson is hardly the typical IF hero, but Muse is far from a typical game. It is a story, one of the most successful pieces of interactive fiction I've seen for pulling off the fiction as much as the interactivity. Its characters feel real, including its main character; it is the story of Rev. Dawson's own struggle for acceptance of himself and his role in life, of his journey past regret and into contentment. Through its masterful writing, excellent coding, and some clever techniques, Muse creates a story of someone else's emotional transformation, made all the more affecting by our direction of that character's actions.

One way in which the game accomplishes its goal is to eschew the traditional second person, present tense IF voice, settling instead on a first person past tense narration. A typical exchange looks somewhat like this:

>I
I had on my person the following items:
my pocket New Testament

>READ BIBLE
I practically knew its contents by heart.

>GET TRUNK
Oh, but the trunk was heavy! I managed to lift it just high enough for the
purpose of moving it around, but I was getting far too old for this sort of
thing.

At first, I was surprised how little a difference this made to me. The game still felt quite natural, which I think is another testament to its writing. On reflection, however, I think that the changes did make a difference. By choosing a first person voice, Muse sidesteps all of the controversy surrounding assigning emotion to the player character. In fact, the game is constantly ascribing emotions to the PC, but it never grates because the first person POV assumes this role quite naturally. Having a game say things like "you practically know its contents by heart" or "you are getting far too old for this sort of thing" would cause much more dissonance for me, especially as the game moved into its deeper emotional registers. The past tense achieves a similar sort of distancing from the player, as well as heightening the "period" effect, not that the game needs it. Muse evokes the Victorian feel extremely well, and the spell is never broken by any piece of writing, any detail of setting, or any development of character.

There's only one problem. One part of Muse's realistic, natural approach is that events go on without you if you aren't in the right place at the right time. On my first run through the game, I was off doing text-adventurely things like examining all the objects, trying to talk to various characters about dozens of different subjects (an effect which the game also pulls off remarkably well -- its coding is quite deep in some areas) and exploring the landscape. Even though the game was giving me gentle nudges to check into the inn, I didn't do so, because for one thing I couldn't find it right away, and for another thing I was having too much fun exploring the very rich world of the game. As a result, one of the major plot points happened without me, putting me into a situation where, as far as I can determine, the optimal ending was unreachable. What's worse, I didn't know I couldn't reach the best ending; because it was my first time through, I didn't realize I had missed anything I could have participated in anyway. I ended up wandering around, quite frustrated with my inability to cause the story to progress. When I finally looked at the hints, it became clear to me that I had failed to perform an important task, and that as a result the happiest ending had been closed to me. Now, this is of course very realistic -- we miss things all the time that could change our lives significantly, and we never know that we've missed them -- but I don't think it's the best design for a game, even a game so story-oriented as Muse. The loss was affecting in its own way, especially when I replayed it after completing the game with the happiest ending, but I didn't like it that I had "lost" without having any way of knowing I had done so. I don't think it had to be that way -- I can certainly envision how the game might have at least pushed (or strongly nudged) me into a less optimal ending, so that I might realize more quickly that I had missed something, or perhaps the game could even have left the optimal path open even when the plot point had been missed. I would have loved the chance to complete such an incredible story my first time through, without having to resort to hints.

Paul OBrian Profile

Name Paul OBrian
Gender Male

Also IFReviewed by

Andrew Plotkin

This IFReviewer IFReviews

- 1-2-3...
- 2112
- A Bear
- A Crimson Spring
- A Day for Soft Food
- A Day In The Life Of A Superhero
- A Good Breakfast
- A Light's Tale
- A Moment of Hope
- A New Day
- A Night Guest
- A Paper Moon
- A Party to Murder
- Aayela
- Acid Whiplash
- Ad Verbum
- Adoo's Stinky Story
- Aftermath
- Al Otro Lado
- Alien Abduction?
- All Things Devours
- Amnesia
- an apple from nowhere
- And the Waves Choke the Wind
- Arrival, or Attack of the B-Movie Cliches
- Asendent
- At Wit's End
- Augustine
- Aunt Nancy's House
- Babel
- Baluthar
- Bane of the Builders
- Beat the Devil
- Begegnung am Fluss
- Being Andrew Plotkin
- Bellclap
- Best of Three
- Bio
- Blade Sentinel
- Blink
- Bliss
- Blue Chairs
- Blue Sky
- BOFH
- Breaking the Code
- CaffeiNation
- Calliope
- Carma
- CASK
- Castle Amnos
- Cattus Atrox
- CC
- Cerulean Stowaway
- Chaos
- Chicks Dig Jerks
- Chronicle Play Torn
- coffee quest II
- Color and Number
- Colours
- Coming Home
- Comp00ter Game
- Concrete Paradise
- Congratulations!
- Constraints
- Crusade
- Curse of Eldor
- Curse of Manorland
- Death to my Enemies
- Delusions
- Desert Heat: A Romance Of Sorts
- Dinner with Andre
- Domicile
- Don't Be Late
- Down
- Downtown Tokyo, Present Day
- E-Mailbox
- Elements
- Enlightenment
- Enlisted
- Episode In The Life Of An Artist
- Erehwon
- Eric's Gift
- Escape from Crulistan
- Evacuate
- Exhibition
- Fear
- Fifteen
- Film at Eleven
- Fine Tuned
- For a Change
- Fort Aegea
- Four in One
- Four Mile Island
- Four Seconds
- Friday Afternoon
- Fusillade
- Futz Mutz
- Getting Back To Sleep
- Glowgrass
- Goofy
- Goose, Egg, Badger
- Got ID?
- Gourmet
- Grayscale
- Guard Duty
- Guess the Verb!
- Halothane
- Hell: A Comedy of Errors
- Hercules First Labor
- Heroes
- House of the Stalker
- Human Resources Stories
- Hunter, in Darkness
- I Didn't Know You Could Yodel
- I Must Play
- Identity
- Identity Thief
- In the End
- In the Spotlight
- Informatory
- Internal Documents
- Invasion of the Angora-fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of Jupiter
- Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces to Win
- Jane
- Janitor
- Jarod's Journey
- Journey from an Islet
- Jump
- Kaged
- Kallisti
- King Arthur's Night Out
- Kissing the Buddha's Feet
- Koan
- Kurusu City
- Leaves
- Letters from Home
- Life on Beal Street
- Lightiania
- Lists and Lists
- Little Billy
- Little Blue Men
- little girl in the big world
- Lomalow
- Lovesong
- Lunatix
- Lurk. Unite. Die. Invent. Think. Expire.
- Madame L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit
- Magocracy
- Maiden of the Moonlight
- Marooned
- Masquerade
- Metamorphoses
- Mingsheng
- Moments Out of Time: Explorer Type
- Moonbase
- Murder At The Aero Club
- Music Education
- My Angel
- My First Stupid Game
- Mystery Manor
- MythTale
- Nevermore
- Ninja V1.30
- No Room
- No Time to Squeal
- Not Much Time
- Of Forms Unknown
- On the Farm
- Only After Dark
- Order
- Out of the Study
- Outsided
- Pass the Banana
- Persistence of Memory
- Phlegm
- Photograph: A Portrait of Reflection
- Photopia
- Phred Phontious and the Quest for Pizza
- Piece of Mind
- Pintown
- Planet of the Infinite Minds
- Poor Zefron's Almanac
- Prized Possession
- Prodly the Puffin
- PTBAD 3
- Punk Points
- Punkirita Quest 1: Liquid
- Purple
- Ralph
- Rameses
- Ramon and Jonathan
- Rape, Pillage, Galore!
- Redeye
- Remembrance
- Rent-A-Spy
- Research Dig
- Return to Zork: Another Story
- Reverberations
- Rippled Flesh
- Risorgimento Represso
- Ritual of Purification
- Ruined Robots
- Sardoria
- Scary House Amulet!
- Scavenger
- Schroedinger's Cat
- Screen
- Shade
- Shadows on the Mirror
- She's Got a Thing for a Spring
- Silicon Castles
- Sins Against Mimesis
- Six Stories
- Skyranch
- Slouching Towards Bedlam
- Small World
- SNOSAE
- Sophie's Adventure
- Spacestation
- Splashdown
- Spodgeville Murphy and the Jewelled Eye of Wossname
- Square Circle
- Stack Overflow
- Stargazer: An Adventure In Outfitting
- Stick It to the Man
- Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country
- Sting Of The Wasp
- Stone Cell
- Stranded
- Strangers in the Night
- Stupid Kittens
- Sun and Moon
- Sunset Over Savannah
- SURREAL
- Sweet Dreams
- Sylenius Mysterium
- Symetry
- Tapestry
- Temple of Kaos
- Temple of the Orc Mage
- Terrible Lizards
- The Adventures of the President Of The United States
- The Atomic Heart
- The Beetmonger's Journal
- The Best Man
- The Big Mama
- The Big Scoop
- The Case of Samuel Gregor
- The Cave of Morpheus
- The Chasing
- The City
- The Clock
- The Coast House
- The Commute
- The Cruise
- The Djinni Chronicles
- The Edifice
- The End Means Escape
- The Erudition Chamber
- The Evil Sorcerer
- The Fat Lardo and the Rubber Ducky
- The Frenetic Five vs. Sturm und Drang
- The Gostak
- The Granite Book
- The Great Xavio
- The HeBGB Horror!
- The Isolato Incident
- The Land Beyond the Picket Fence
- The Last Just Cause
- The Lost Spellmaker
- The Masque of the Last Faeries
- The Meteor, The Stone And A Long Glass Of Sherbet
- The Moonlit Tower
- The Newcomer
- The Obscene Quest of Dr. Aardvarkbarf
- The Orion Agenda
- The Pickpocket
- The PK Girl
- The Plant
- The Realm
- The Recruit
- The Tempest
- The Temple
- The Test
- The Town Dragon
- The Trip
- The Water Bird
- Thorfinn's Realm
- Threading the Labyrinth
- Till Death Makes a Monk-Fish Out of Me!
- Timeout
- To Otherwhere and Back
- Tookie's Song
- Trading Punches
- Transfer
- Trapped in a One-Room Dilly
- Travels in the Land of Erden
- Triune
- Typo
- Unholy Grail
- Unnkulia X: Escape of the Sacrificed
- Unraveling God
- Vicious Cycles
- VirtuaTech
- VOID: CORPORATION
- Volcano Isle
- What-IF?
- When Help Collides
- Where Evil Dwells
- Who Created That Monster?
- Winter Wonderland
- Withdrawal Symptoms
- Wrecked
- Yes, Another Game With A Dragon!
- You Are Here
- You Were Doomed From the Start
- Zero One
- Zero Sum Game
- Zombie!