My most recent playing: Eric Eve’s Shelter from the Storm. The major gimmick is that you can set the narrative voice to first, second, or third person, using past or present tense. Eric’s announcement of this makes it sound as though it’s more experiment than game, which isn’t at all fair. It’s a short but complete story about espionage, with lots of twists along the way, and it moves along at a pretty good pace.
It comes along at a perfect time for me, since I’m in the middle of an old series called The Fourth Arm, which is all about soldiers and agents in training in the south of England during the second world war.
Gameplay-wise, it’s not too hard: most of the interesting interaction is in the form of conversation and other highly-directed scenes. There are some puzzles, but they’re mostly of the variety that involves inspecting everything carefully and collecting keys when you find them. (I managed to get stuck at one point, but it was largely my own fault — I didn’t examine everything closely enough and then misinterpreted what the hint system was telling me to do next.)
I had some odd reactions to the way that the end of the story plays out, which I’ll probably cover later in a spoilery venue. Still, it’s well worth a play in its own right.
Now, on the topic of the experiment itself: I played around with this a fair amount, but eventually settled into playing second person present for a while and then first person past. The second present seems natural to me (too much IF, I guess), except that at some point I started to feel some cognitive dissonance between what I would do and what my protagonist had to do, and it became more comfortable to play the game in first person past tense.
That said, I think more could have been done with the experiment (though at the cost of considerably more time and effort). As far as I was able to tell, the choice of person and tense changes the grammatical form of the sentences, but it doesn’t affect things like interiority and descriptions of motivation. It would have been very interesting, and made the narration styles much more distinct, if the first-person past voice had been more strongly characterized and contained more overt hints of the protagonist’s feelings; or if the third-person voice had been a bit more estranged and cinematic.* (Not that third-person narration can’t do character thoughts — I just mean, as a contrast.) It seems to me that a game that is written so that all the text can be swapped between persons and tenses is not going to take maximum advantage of any of those choices — so it might not actually prove as much as one hopes about their relative value for IF.
But I could be totally wrong. I hope Eric gets some interesting feedback from this, so I hope people do play and let him know what happens.
* Or perhaps what I’m envisioning is really a different game, where instead of the commands FIRST PERSON or PAST TENSE, the player is allowed to type OMNISCIENT VIEWPOINT…
(At which point the temptation would be to get all meta and require viewpoint shifts to solve puzzles.)