IFComp 2017: Harmonia   5 comments

By Liza Daly. Completed using iPhone. Played to one ending.

Harmonia is set in a small college in northeast Massachusetts, where the main character, Abby Fuller, is invited as a “substitute” for a missing professor. The professor’s disappearance turns out to be a deeper enigma than expected. I would call this an “academic thriller” halfway between a raid-the-classics mystery like The Dante Club and a conspiracy story like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

This is a “light interactive” style design where the only interaction is clicking underlined links. There are some definite decision points (including a major one near the end) but there’s a lot of straight reading in between. The text includes “footnotes” which pop up side text. There’s also lots of passages from journals and books. (The image below shows both; I had to click on “Looking Backwards” for the side text to appear.)

This was excellent! I enjoyed it nearly as much as the author’s prior work (Stone Harbor) although I felt like the characters were weaker in this one. The main character in Stone Harbor had layers of depth that fed into the plot, but Abby Fuller keeps the reader more at arm’s length — even though this story is written in the first-person. (Specific example: a character guesses where Abby’s from, and she responds it is something like that, but is clearly nervous to admit it. Nothing more comes of the interaction. There’s some general class-tension issues, but the idea never gets past “I had to work hard in state schools to get where I am”.) The side characters are also only vaguely sketched in, and one plot point (involving keys) made me go “wait, who is that?” on a character the game assumed I knew. The only thing I remember about the missing professor (the main McGuffin in all this) is that Abby thinks his gender views are slightly off.

One definite plus (for me, anyway) was the large number of 19th century authors quoted. If you can keep the fictional material separate, you can learn about late 19th century utopian movements and speculative fiction from playing this. The author estimated an hour of playtime but I actually took two because I spent my time poring over the historical excerpts.

A nitpick about the choice-points: because there’s quite a few footnotes and there’s no reason to avoid reading them all, it’s easy to blunder into a choice without realizing. It would be very helpful if there was some difference between the two kinds of click. It wouldn’t be too hard to make the footnotes single-underline and the choices double-underline, or something of that nature.

I am certain there are at least two endings, but I only played to one; this is the sort of story where I felt like I had to make my choice and stick with it no matter the consequences, as opposed to exploring the whole story tree.

Posted October 2, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “IFComp 2017: Harmonia

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  1. How do you decide which of these to play, and in what order?

    (it will be easy for me to make that decision: I’ll just follow what you do. Thanks for leading the way!)

    • I use random.org, although the IFComp site has a built-in randomizer you can use as well.

      I also am just picking stuff that looks interesting and mixing it in, because in prior years I occasionally went on a bad dry spell which made it hard to keep going. I’m not even going to approach the full list (79) so I’m not going to run out of good picks near the end.

  2. I was relieved to find out that the browser Back button does the right thing, and backs up to your previous link-selection. So it’s pretty straightforward to go back to see the alternate ending. I think they’re both worth seeing (whereas the other alternate branches are fairly minor differences, though I still found it interesting to compare them).

    What did you think of the final choice? I didn’t find it to be a difficult decision, except in terms of which would make the more interesting story.

  3. Pingback: IFComp 2017: Summary and Mini-Reviews | Renga in Blue

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