Review – One Way Out

The blurb hints that this will be a conceptually interesting piece, and indeed, I have to give the author credit for unusual format. When I went to downloaded folder for this game, I saw a bunch of files, including the inform source text, but did not immediately see a game file. Conveniently, there is a README file in the same location that explains what’s going on: the source file *is* the entry itself.

To experience this story, the intention is that the reader have the source code open in one window and the compiled story open in another. For most people, that would mean loading the source into the Inform IDE and compiling it. The default view in the IDE is source on one side and running story on the other. Since I already had Inform installed on my Mac, I just double clicked the story file and the IDE launched; then, I hit “GO”, and the story compiled. I assume you could do the same for other platforms.

Screenshot of the game in the Inform IDE on a Mac. Click to enlarge.

In principle, the author could have distributed the compiled game as well, which would have allowed people without the IDE installed to look at the source in a text editor and open the game in any of a number of interpreters. However, unless the editor were set up for Inform syntax highlighting, the intended formatting of the source would be lost.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

Why this convoluted set up? The source itself tells a story from a man’s point of view in the embedded comments, while we can see what was running through a woman’s head by playing the story itself.

At the start of the story, the woman describes herself as imprisoned in an egg-shaped prison, and then moves between various rooms labelled with phobias; in the source, these correspond to areas of the brain. For those who have taken the Riddles 101 course, we understand the egg-shaped container to be the skull.

The top to bottom flow of the source directed my movement within the game, moving anatomically from the front part of the brain responsible for abstract though to the most primitive structures in the brainstem responsible for autonomic function. To reinforce this, there is an in-game recording that reiterates the neuroanatomy. The game ends with the woman’s death, when she escapes the brainstem.

There can be no sense of suspense in the game because even with the two texts scrolling in parallel, I could see how everything was set up in the source code. This made game play economical in that the author did not really need to describe exits or what key would unlock which door. In most games probably half of my commands are “examine [thing]”, but in this case, I knew the responses before I typed the command.

Because the game was playing in the IDE and “not for release”, I also had full authorial debugging Superpowers — the ability to grab anything I needed with a purloin command, to be able to see the true nature of objects with a showme command, and the ability to teleport anywhere with a gonear command. I’m not sure whether this was the author’s intention or just a happy byproduct, but I enjoyed having these powers while playing someone else’s game, and didn’t think it spoiled anything because I already had the source in hand.

It’s refreshing to run across a parser game about brains that does not also involve shambling. The blurb alludes to two spheres, and given context, presumably the cortical hemispheres of the brain. In the game model, each text window looks into one hemisphere. If that’s the case and I’m not straining the analogy too far, the IDE border between the two would be the corpus callosum, the “data bus” across which the two hemispheres communicate. Getting into speculative territory, I wondered if this story as a whole represented one person, who had undergone callosectomy, after which the two hemispheres would effectively have separate personalities. In that case, the right side would typically tend towards more spatial/quantitative reasoning and the left towards more verbal/associative. Are these the two characters telling their story in parallel?


Story: 6

Voice: 7. Two of them.

Play: 7

Polish: 9

Technology: 7

JNSQ: 1. For being first of it’s class.

Preliminary Score: 8.2

Transcript: 1way


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