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All Alone

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs




Copyright 2000, Ian Finley

All Alone is a great short work of interactive fiction from Ian Finley, author of Babel and Exhibition, two modern IF competition favorites. As for why All Alone is another must-play, I’ll let Duncan Stevens’ great SPAG review speak for itself:

“All Alone,his latest effort, has echoes of both [Babel and Exhibition]: like Babel, it’s highly atmospheric (and dark), and like Exhibition, there are no real puzzles as such. But this one is from the realm of horror/suspense–the author calls it “play-in-the-dark-ware” and says that “it MUST be played at night, in a quiet room, with the lights off”–and to the extent it works (which, for the most part, it does), it works on a different level.

The plot, by initial appearances, is conventional stalker horror: you’re waiting for your husband to come home, listening to the TV announcer talk about the serial killer who’s on the loose, but then, of course, the power goes out, and you start hearing noises. The tension builds nicely, with all the requisite horror touches–a storm raging outside, a strange phone call, etc.; in fact, the only problem with the plot is that it doesn’t do much that could be considered surprising (with the possible exception of a cockroach crawling over your foot at a key moment). The point, it seems safe to say, is to create an atmospheric game, not to experiment with the genre, but it’s also true that the trajectory is familiar.

On the other hand, All Alone does do one thing that’s interesting: it leaves several details of the plot so murky that you probably won’t catch on the first time through, and you may not even pick up on them after that. Of course, horror/suspense plots require some degree of murkiness about what precisely is going on, but usually there’s a moment where Everything Becomes Clear; here, there’s no such moment. As such, the ending of the game may leave you a bit flatfooted, especially since the game sort of skips directly from the climax to the ending: the tension builds, the moment arrives, and suddenly it’s over, with the details almost as obscure as they were during the buildup. It’s an odd strategic choice, really–perhaps the author means to encourage replay to figure out the fuzzier bits, but horror loses a lot on the replay. Whatever the rationale, it moves the game out of the realm of familiar stalker horror into something more unusual.

There are no puzzles in All Alone, as noted. You experience the story differently if you react to the various stimuli in different ways, but only marginally so, and you can’t actually change the course of the story (at least, as far as I can tell). The author calls it a “mood piece,” and that’s how it works: your inability to affect what goes on actually enhances the mood, since it enhances the feeling of being the prey. In that respect, it’s a good illustration of how interactivity and player involvement can be achieved without the aid of puzzles: true, this sort of story doesn’t have to be very interactive to keep the player’s interest, but the author does tell it well.

All Alone is a short but well put together effort that adapts the horror genre to IF nicely, with some unusual elements. Give it a try if you have a spare 10 minutes late at night.”

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