With Those We Love Alive

As might be expected from this author, the game -- the opus, rather -- is stuffed to overflowing with imagery that is at once fascinatingly beautiful and disturbingly horrible. We're a craftsperson in the employ of an inhuman "empress". At various points, we're called upon to craft things for our patron; in the meantime, we have the freedom to wander the city and work on our own projects.

An interesting conceit is that the game asks you, at various points, to draw an icon representing a recent event on yourself. The idea is to engage with the story on a visceral level, I think: it introduces a tactile dimension to the story, while appealing to your creative right-brain to interpret the action. Certainly, there is something much more personal about drawing on oneself than about drawing on paper ... which is why I chose not to participate. Still, it makes clear that, ultimately, the point of the story is whatever you make of it, through your own interpretations expressed on your skin. It's a clever way of turning the "death of the author" concept around, by making the player complicit in the authoring process while not actually letting him direct the story.

One thing I didn't like was the pacing. You are given the freedom to poke into various places, but, for the most part, these places do not change from day to day. The items you craft will show up in the throne room, and now and then a slime girl appears in the city; but even these seem inconsequential. Once you've made one tour of everything, possible within the first day, there's nothing much to do other than work on your telescope (which is soon finished) and wait for more story. There is, I think, no need at all for the blank days where nothing happens. These fulfil the same purpose as excess corridor rooms in the maps of more traditional interactive fiction: they pad out the play space, and that's it. The overall work would feel less static, I think, if the explorable world changed more drastically from day to day: perhaps if certain places became accessible while others ceased to be.

Breakfast is crepes with English cream and slices of papaya, over-ripe and a little too sweet, washed down with lemon tea.