18 Rooms to Home (Carolyn VanEseltine): rooms 18, 17, 16

Carolyn VanEseltine is releasing a serial parser IF project called 18 Rooms to Home. The serial is working backwards in time: Room 18 was released first, than Room 17, then Room 16. So Room 18 represents the ending of the story, the point where the protagonist has arrived at home. Room 17 starts you in the room just before you get home, but includes the 18th room. Room 16 is a three-room game that, again, starts a bit earlier than Room 17.

This backwards, Memento-esque story structure might seem counterintuitive in IF, especially since it makes the player replay the story’s ending over and over. But Carolyn is doing something very ingenious with it. In Room 18, there is, as far as I can tell, only one way that the story can end. Room 17 introduces new information, skills, and possibilities, which in turn means a new possible outcome. Room 16 layers on yet a third (at least — it’s conceivable, I suppose, that there are even more variations I’m not aware of). Even when the player gets back to a room or prop she’s already seen in a previous episode, there are new possibilities.

This in turn does a great job of building up the player’s sense of consequence. Even when there are a lot of branches in a traditional-format story game, there’s no guarantee that the player will see all the variant endings, or that she’ll realize all the points at which branching could occur. But playing through 18 Rooms an episode at a time means learning exactly what is allowed to go differently, and why, as more and more past branch points are introduced.

As for the story itself, much remains shrouded in mystery at this point, but it seems to involve competing powers — whether superhero-style powers, or something more Nobilis-like and mystical, I am not yet entirely sure. I’m enjoying guessing, though, and staring at props in certain rooms that aren’t useful currently but that might become useful at some future date…

If you decide to play and speculate along with others, there’re a couple of related threads (hints, general discussion) on the intfiction forum. Selfishly, I am hoping that others will help encourage Carolyn to finish the project — I really want to see where it goes…

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