Blue Lacuna: Finishing Up

I suppose it’s inevitable that a hive mind would develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder. When the only people you routinely communicate with are other pieces of yourself, you’d forget that the world doesn’t revolve around you and that outsiders aren’t automatically interested in helping you fulfill your epic destiny. So it is in the trees’ homeworld, where the player is asked to help them spread peace, harmony, and a diminished sense of individual identity to the far reaches of the galaxy. It’s a far cry from the oppression wrought by some trees I could name, but humanoids are definitely subordinate here, connected to the trees but not to each other. There’s even some suggestion that co-evolving with the trees has left them genetically predisposed to ceding control. But they’re as happy as house pets, and the trees are certainly satisfied with the situation, so their proposal comes without guile or apology: forest life is the best, as surely you must realize now that you’ve seen it first-hand. It’s like the conviction found in some religious sects that the only reason that the whole world hasn’t converted yet is ignorance, that anyone who reads the scriptures will see how obvious it all is.

Things are very different in the treeless humanoid colony. They’ve made an impressive go at creating an entire society from scratch in a historically recent span of time, and their first city (called First City) seems to consist mostly of libraries and museums and the like (although it’s made clear that their greatest scientific and technological advancements lately have come from eavesdropping on the trees). But the crash that left them stranded has left its scars. Bereft of masters and facing the problem of liberty for the first time, the colonists wasted no time in polarizing into fascists and anarchists, with no middle ground. It’s the fascist side that makes contact with the player, and their leader is quick to offer predictable excuses about how the curfews and censorship and rounding up of dissidents and so forth are just temporary measures, made necessary by the existential threat posed by the other faction. He also claims that their ultimate intentions are peaceful, that once I had helped his people to the stars, they would try to establish a live-and-let-live policy towards the arboreal empire. I have to wonder if he’d say the same thing if I had come off as more anti-tree myself. 1Or, well, I don’t actually have to wonder. I can always go back and make different choices. He’s a politician; he’s used to telling people what they need to hear in order to get what he wants from them.

The author makes a brave try at endowing each side with a sympathetic point of view, but the whole thing left me feeling rather pox-on-both-their-houses, and I chose to deny both the Forest and the City the boon they wanted. I suspect that most other players have done likewise, particularly the Myst fans. If I had to choose one of them over the other, I think I’d side with the City, because they’re the underdogs here, and because the Forest desperately needs some kind of credible competition to break the complacency of its mental echo chamber, and because they’re the side that’s still evolving, and therefore the side that’s more likely to overcome their current problems. But as I acted on that choice, I’d be aware that I’m unleashing a planetful of authoritarian followers on the universe.

So, what is it that both sides were so desperate to get from me? The location of Progue’s planet, the only known place where “somenium carcerate”, or “bluerock”, is found in abundance — apart from the trees’ homeworld, where they’ve nearly exhausted their supply. Bluerock is the key to communicating over interstellar distances. Every particle of it is mysteriously connected, each to all. And in the end, it provides the bridge back to Rume, if you choose to take it. Which is a little disquieting, if you ponder the implications. Scientists in the City did some experiments into the effects of exposure to it, and found it could produce “symptoms of dementia, susceptibility to suggestion, and memory loss” — the very symptoms of Progue’s madness. Progue had been carving large sculptures out of the stuff, bathing regularly in a pool surrounded by it, etc., but it’s powerful in small quantities as well: those scientists had access to only 16 milligrams of it. And it’s implied that Rume has it in her body. It’s the blue pigment in her eyes. Is it affecting her mind? Is it affecting the PC’s?

After the story is over, you get a brief but thorough report on the important choices you made, neatly avoiding the problem I mentioned before of players not understanding the range of narrative variation. Except that it’s questionable how significant some of the choices are. I’ve read some other people’s comment on the game by now, and everyone seems to comment on how the “art or love” thing pretty much drops out after the first chapter and only returns at the very end, where it still doesn’t have any obvious effect. If you choose to paint your way back to Rume’s world once you can, you’re effectively choosing both art and love. Complaints about the pacing are also common: you start with a premise that promises world-hopping, then you stay in one world for seven chapters, only to get a big rush of new stuff at the end. (I suspect that this perceived problem could be partially fixed just by putting fewer chapter transitions into the middle section.) Still, this is clearly game-of-the-year stuff in the IF world, and will probably be the game that I recommend to new players for a while.

One more thing: I’ve already started playing the next game on my list, and I’m finding myself wishing it had some of Blue Lacuna‘s conveniences, such as noun-only commands. This is something that more text games could stand to do. It’s not even a new idea — Infocom was experimenting with it in 1987.

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1. Or, well, I don’t actually have to wonder. I can always go back and make different choices.

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