Not A Review Whatsoever – Adam Cadre’s Photopia!

December 7, 2009

Everyone says you have to play Photopia.  I have been thinking about what an interesting word “everyone” is.  It sounds like it should mean everyone on the planet, doesn’t it?  Definitely all the humans, and maybe some of the more personable robots.  The only time it ever does mean this, though, is when people are talking about, like, what happens if the sun explodes.  Generally “everyone” just means “a considerable majority of the situationally-relevant people we care about,” as in “We were gonna go to Casa en Fuego but then everyone decided they’d rather have gyros,” totally disregarding your friend Bob’s gyro allergy and the fact that you yourself would pretty much always rather have Thai food.  (“You” in this hypothetical is code for “me.”)

Where were we?  Oh, right, everyone says you have to play Photopia, and I am apparently not allowed to play IF games without blogging them, so here we are on the wordpress at two in the morning.  Wait, hang on, lemme get some cookies.

[spoilers begin here]

Why can I not fucking open a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies without severely mangling the top?  It’s like the bag designer just plain did not think of that bit.  “Well, the glue is down, and the cookies are nestling happily in their crinkly white paper beds, secure in the knowledge that they will never again be touched by human hands.”  Ah, there we go.  Oooh.  Coconutty.  Pepperidge Farm, you have so very much to answer for.

Right.  Playing a game.  Looks like I’m just coming out of a drunken blackout to gaze in horror upon the atrocities I hath wrought while I was in it, a situation I am not unfamiliar with from real life.  From the matter-of-fact way it’s written, I’d imagine Adam Cadre isn’t either.  (For one thing, a women is not sleeping on my couch.)

Huh.  My friend ran a red light and now I am Wendy Mackaye, first girl on the red planet, talking to myself as though I don’t know what words mean.
(“Salvageable” means you can save it.)
Is he going for something with the vocabulary lesson?  I’d wonder if the game was intended for younger players if I hadn’t spend the last scene trashed off my ass chasing tail.  I do like hunt-the-eggs quests, though.

(“Astronautical” doesn’t really mean anything.  I just made it up.)
Okay, that’s pretty funny.

Oh, shit, now my spaceship’s crashing!  So far both PCs have been sad doomed bastards.  I wonder if I get a new one now?

I do.  One who can never have any more children and whose job involves “the Peterson account,” which is the only sign necessary to indicate that a fictional character makes their living doing something incredibly boring that will never be fully explained to you because you would want those minutes of your life back.  I wonder what terrible thing is going to happen to this one?

…oh, phew, thank God for CPR.  Hey, Wendy’s okay!  Her text is blue now, and a little harder to read, but when a game asks you if you want colors, how can you possibly say no?

Still with the vocabulary lesson.  I wonder if Wendy underwent some traumatic experience as a kid and the only thing that calmed her down was looking at the set of flash cards that told her what words meant?  Or maybe there’s someone listening to her internal monologue who’s only up to the part in their English classes where you learn “thank you” and “I can’t find my hotel” and “the pants of your mother’s aunt are ugly and also on fire.”

I’m in an undersea castle?  Am I a fish?

This made me smile:
> take pickaxe

The pickaxe clings firmly to the wall. You tug on it again and this time the handle moves a few centimeters; then you feel a distinct click. The castle begins to rumble, with the shaking most pronounced in the direction of the keep. The shovel which was wedged behind the pickaxe clatters to the ground, and the rumbling stops. After that, the pickaxe swings back into place.
> take shovel
That shovel thinks the pickaxe is such a showoff.

> listen
“…fratboys completely uninjured…”
Oh, good, I always worry about those fratboys.

This box of dirt is very convenient, considering Wendy’s been carrying this seed pod around since Mars.  So was that shovel in the underground castle.

Man, you know what I hate about IF?  Every time I’m presented with a child under age, say, twelve, I am generally correct in assuming they’re going to die horribly (or worse) in a car accident.  I may have to issue a moratorium on games with kids in them, if people are going to keep murdering them for pathos.  The game seems to be hinting that the drunk kids from the first scene hit the Peterson-account lady’s family, killing the daughter and turning her into an astronaut.  Something like that.

Oh, wait, her name’s Mary, not Linda.  Well, now I just don’t know.

I am learning so much about neutrinos and shit.

A maze?  Seriously?

The cool breeze ruffles the feathers of your wings.

You are hovering above the crystal labyrinth; from this perspective, it looks like a mind-bogglingly complex mandala. (A “mandala” is a pattern that some people use in prayer.) There is no way your could have possibly navigated it on the ground — in fact, it almost gives you a headache.
Okay, best maze solution ever.

Ohshit Bartlett Hill Road.  I hate Bartlett Hill Road.

I am justified in hating Bartlett Hill Road.

> feed wolf
Whom do you want to feed the wolf to?

She pauses. “You see,” she says, “I remember this conversation. From the other direction.”
This game is starting to get kinda spooky.



No, seriously, what just happened?

(Edited to add:  the previous three sentences were partially triggered by the ending being somewhat abrupt and me thinking there was more to it than there was, but mostly they were a reaction to the interpreter closing itself, a thing I was not aware they could do.  Please don’t assume I was unable to piece the narrative together and leave a comment to that effect.  I’m sort of already having a shitty day.  Maybe tomorrow I will be having a better day and you can call me stupid then.  I will let you know.)


  1. I liked Photopia okay but they way longtime IF people talk about it makes me feel like it’s also something where You Had To Be There In ’98 to get its significance to the community.

  2. I was pretty blown away by Photopia even though I Wasn’t There — in fact it was probably one of the first ten games I played. Actually that might help, since “kid dies in car crash” wasn’t a cliche for me (and maybe not for the community either, back in 1998). Also, best maze solution ever.

    For your last question, I think the answer may be “We started to see a bit of Allie’s hidden depths, which maybe are glossed over by all the PCs who idolize her in various ways, but which are part of growing up, which unfortunately isn’t going to happen” or “It’s a flashback to her infancy.” Depending on when you asked it. You probably meant something more than that, though.

    • Yeah, I was going to come back and do a more thoughtful dissection, or at least one more likely to be turned in as a three-page paper in a 101-level class, but I spent all my momentum growing imaginary turnips to give to imaginary people so they’d like me more and playing the new Harvest Moon. I did like the game for being a really well-crafted affirmation of the value of life, although frankly I think that’s waaaay too easy and anyone who does it is cheating.*

      I think I just confused myself at the end trying to wrap the story up with a science-fiction twist that wasn’t actually there. If all the Photopia does is show pretty colored images to infants, we’re on the same page, I think. (Also I have never had an interpreter close itself on me before, so I spent a couple bewildered seconds looking for it in the air around my monitor.)

      * This is a joke. I don’t want angry letters from Roberto Benigni, although that would be a good story to tell at parties.

  3. I don’t want angry letters from Roberto Benigni

    I… I don’t know what to say. My whole picture of you has been overturned.

    I also kind of feel like saying that a kid who answers “You know what a star is, right?” with something other than “A mass of incandescent gas” or “A miasma of incandescent plasma” hasn’t been raised right, but I’m a little too sniffly to actually make the joke. (Also: we’re on the same page.)

  4. yeah, there are people who don’t get Kubrick’s 2001 either. The narrative, like this one, looks like a collage of disparate events that they simply have to squeeze their brains too much to put together in any meaningful way.

    I think the “game” is brilliant, at least as a short story told as the two girls say in the beginning: “Will you read me a story? I have a better idea: let’s tell a story together”, meaning the narrator and the player.

    It was very meaningful at the time, like Galatea, in that the literary aspects of interactive “fiction” were finally taking front stage rather than cardinal directions, puzzles or mazes and spelunking. Completely puzzleless IF is not that engaging except if the story is really good and I think Photopia is a win here.

    • Ouch, what a slam! To clarify, I liked the game, did in fact understand it (except for the purple bit; not even gonna lie about that) and will probably post something more in-depth about it once I’m done with CGDC games. There’s been a lot written about it already, but it’s an interesting narrative, so I’d like to get my thoughts down.

      Having missed a lot of the transitional period between text adventures and interactive fiction, I can’t do much more than close my eyes, try to imagine, and ultimately believe people when they say “at the time, this was a really big deal.”

    • Yeah, and there are other people who don’t get Kubrick’s 2001 because they prefer their movies with pacing. Oh snap, counter-burned! 😉

  5. I have this trollish tendency, sorry. 😛

    • S’cool, self-awareness is a good quality. : D

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