City of Secrets

City of Secrets is a text adventure by Emily Short, written on commission for a band that wanted it as an extra on their CDs (although this plan fell through for various reasons). It’s one of the few games on the stack that I did not, technically, buy.  It was never for sale; it’s freely downloadable from the Interactive Fiction Archive.  However, I did purchase the feelies, and that gives me the same sense of commitment-to-play as if I had paid for the game itself.

Feelies are tangible objects from the gameworld, a tradition dating back to Infocom and still indulged in from time to time. I purchased the CoS feelies back in 2003 because I enjoyed Emily Short’s previous works and wanted to do my part to support their production. Then I played the game for about fifteen minutes, got intimidated by how much information it was throwing at me, and didn’t get back to it until now.

I shouldn’t have been intimidated. Although the game possesses a great deal of depth of detal, it does a good job of keeping the player from getting lost in it. Plot-crucial information is often available from multiple sources, so it’s seldom if ever necessary to ransack a particular NPC’s entire dialogue tree or read every book on a shelf. This is contrary to adventuring habits, but once you’re used to it, it’s quite liberating.

As to the content: it’s set in a fantasy world with both magic and high technology, trains and robots and illusions.  The player character is a visitor to a big city who gets ensnared in a conflict between the city’s possibly fascist ruler and a mysterious rebel, both of whom are magicians. There are plots and counterplots. One of the first things that I learned was that I had been drugged, although the drug turned out to be an antidote for another drug.

I’ll say more when I’ve completed the game.  Despite the author’s estimation that it takes about three hours to play, I’m about five hours in now, probably because I spend so much time poking at inconsequential details, an activity which the game rewards.

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