IFComp 2016: Ariadne in Aeaea

Spoilers follow the break.

Ariadne is a familiar name from the myth of Theseus, the princess who provided the hero with a much-needed clew for escaping twisty little passages. Aeaea, while perhaps less generally-known, is a peculiar enough name that you don’t soon forget it. It’s the island where Circe lived in isolation, enswining sailors. A cursory look at Wikipedia shows these myths to be more closely connected than I knew: Circe is sister to Pasiphaë, the Minotaur’s mother, as well as Ariadne’s.

But this piece isn’t the standard myth. Rather, it’s speculative history, or at least history-adjacent — it provides a delightful excuse to use real archaic or archeological words like “daidala” and “potnia”, while still letting the author make most things up. Aeaea is reimagined as an outpost of a bustling Minoan empire, where Crete and Egypt come together to trade copper goods and saffron. Its nobles and priestesses will later be refigured into gods and monsters by Greek storytellers, but for now they’re just people, concerned with politics and diplomacy and other mundanities. At one point, Ariadne complains about the ridiculous rumors that have started to collect around her and Circe even within their own time — although she also insists that it’s simply a matter of established fact that the sun is her grandfather.

Ariadne is the player character. She’s supposed to be training as a priestess with Circe, the better to serve her family’s interests, but with the license that royalty affords, she spends her time carousing with local goatherds instead. This leads to serendipitously discovering evidence of Achaean spies on Aeaea’s shores, resulting in a secret mission to learn more, and it’s kind of cool how that happens. In the first scene, you find a gold brooch with an unfamiliar design of a lion, incongruously sitting in a goatherd’s rustic hut. Later, when you check in with Circe, she’s contemplating a map table with figures on it representing military deployments. Some of the figures are in the shape of a lion. To advance the plot, you have to make the connection between these two things, realize that Circe might see significance in the brooch if you show it to her. To help you out, if you talk to Circe for a few turns, the end of the conversation conspicuously mentions the lion figures, drawing your attention to them while still letting you make that final mental leap on your own.

One thing the game does to make moments like this easy: the set of productive commands is small. That is, it recognizes all the standard Inform verbs and replies to them appropriately, but with just a couple of obvious exceptions (such as WEAR applied to your ceremonial garb), the only commands that you ever need are directional movement (N/S/E/W/etc), EXAMINE, TAKE, TALK TO, and GIVE. Most of the game (as I played it, anyway) consists of using TALK TO repeatedly to produce a page or so of conversation per use, giving it something of the same feel as a Twine game that gives you just one forward link per page — except when you break it up with the occasional GIVE. GIVE is the solution to nearly every puzzle, whether it’s getting a jug filled with water or confronting someone with damning evidence.

If the interaction reminds me of Twine, the prose, and especially the conversations, remind me of a Visual Novel. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I guess it’s partly the way that it’s so crammed with both world-building and offhand exposition about character relationships. But also, I just feel like there’s something indefinably anime about the characters — maybe just the fact that the PC is young and rebellious but still treated with respect by her elders, and entrusted with vital missions. There’s definitely a fantasy of being important in there.

The game was written as a prologue to a yet-to-be-released larger work, and alas, it shows: it ends just when things are starting to get interesting. But I guess my desire to keep playing means that it’s succeeded in its intended purpose.

1 Comment so far

  1. Victor Ojuel on 31 Oct 2016

    Hi there!

    Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the write-up :)

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