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Unraveling God Reviews
Author: Toddwat
Date: 2002
ADRIFT 4.0


Reviewed by Duncan Bowman

Unraveling God is linear, but non-chronological, puzzleless, story-centric IF (some have questioned whether or not it is truly IF, though I would vote 'yes'). It shares a lot in this way with Photopia. In fact, its opening uses a single, thematic word (optionally in color), almost exactly like Photopia. I think the game is different enough, though, that we can see this as an homage, a clear acknowledgment of Unraveling God's predecessor rather than merely a copy. Generally anything other than Photopia is going to fall short of Photopia, and I'd like to try to look at this game on its own merits, but the comparisons are inevitable.

That being said, I admit that Unraveling God's religious themes initially made me (an atheist) hesitant to give it a play. I expected it to be preachy and poorly-written, with foregone conclusions, as in some other religious IF I have attempted to tackle. That is not to say that religious IF can't be done right, but I hadn't seen one in the ADRIFT community capable of grabbing my interest. Still, Unraveling God has a high star rating, it placed well in 2002's IFComp, and it's been on several lists of recommended ADRIFT games... so I had to be wrong, right? Well... mostly, yes.

The specificity in setting pulled me in, especially being at a university. The writing is well done, and I finished the game with a feeling like, “Hm. Yeah. That was good.” In particular its protagonist, Gabriel Markson, a distinct character voice and style. This especially comes through even early on, after reading a fluff piece he's written about his experiments (in which he necessarily sounds upbeat), followed immediately by intensely cynical-- even sinister-- internal dialog. From the first few interactions I saw him in, I already got the sense that the protagonist was a ruthless cynic and a power-hungry jerk-- Varicella with less flair and more tenure. Especially in an ADRIFT game, a character of this style-- and this strongly written-- is a rarity. I had to play on.

Lots and lots of little things kept chipping away at my will to see the game through, I admit. A couple spelling or grammatical slip-ups I was willing to abide, but mostly I don't think the game's design has aged well. In particular, the granularity of the actions the game is willing to accept is super annoying. One must stand from a chair before looking at a bookshelf, you have to explicitly open doors before going through them, have to open a folder before reading an article, have to be holding the folder to open it, have to look at the desk to see the folder so you can pick it up first... these things really grated on me more than I suspect they might have a decade ago. At the very least, though, this character still intrigued me enough that I wanted to see his story to its end, so I persevered.

Then we hit the game's dialog. Again, these sections are all linear-- you can express Prof. Markson however you like, but you'll get the same outcomes anyway. The writing is believable to an extent. The supporting character, Claudia, is a stock religious alarmist character, questioning whether or not the advances of the professor's experiments should move forward. But she's also supposedly a science grad student, so I don't buy her dialog when, for example, she calls Galileo's notions “obscene.” (Really? So she believes in a geocentric universe?)

Admittedly, Mr. Watson likely had some difficulty putting himself into the shoes of a Christian believer in writing this dialog (he mentions his own leanings in an afterword), but it doesn't come out sounding incredibly natural. The dialog choices for Markson do feel more natural, especially given his character, but that feeling is damaged a bit by the fatalistically linear structure of the game.

Unlike Photopia, the writing lacks the subtlety and sympathy necessary to make me want to explore my expression of this character. I might have felt it mattered a little more had I interacted with Markson as another character, the way players jump between characters in Photopia, but this never happens. While the flexibility of the dialog does make me (as the player) feel the author has considered his audience rather than just feeding them all of the plot while they're tied to a chair, as a player I felt more concerned with just seeing what Professor Markson would do and what would happen to him.

Although Unraveling God is structured in such a way that it offers players an either/or moral choice at the end, the value of these choices is so clearly telegraphed-- and the quality of those endings varies so drastically-- that it can't really be imagined as a choice. The game's events, its cosmology, everything points at one answer and says, “Choose this because it's right.”

By contrast, (I guess this is a spoiler unless you've already played Photopia and have an idea what's coming)
(Spoiler - click to show)Markson makes a drastic moral choice on his own in the climax of the story which the player is powerless to stop. Instead, it's more like we're an absent conscience watching, but unable to inform. The latter of these moral decisions by the player character is the more powerful of the two in terms of affect.

On the whole, I think this might have been a 4 star game back in 2002-- even a 5 star game amongst the ADRIFT community-- but I'm just not sure it holds up as well today. It's still definitely worth a look, especially for those who like strongly characterized player characters, but do I judge it according to its importance and uniqueness from 2002 or against the relative quality of just other ADRIFT games or do I judge it on how it stands amidst a wider, evolving field of IF today? This seems more like a choice with no clearly right answer to me. I think the answer for me is to fall back on my own personal IFDB rating system: 3 stars-- I enjoyed it, but your mileage may vary.

 


Reviewed by Dan Shiovitz

I got into a discussion with a friend over whether or not this constitutes IF. It didn't really establish anything definite, but I still think that if this is IF, it is so by the narrowest of margins. There are a total of two choice points in this entire game, and one is at the very end of the game. So it's the other one that makes this IF, and, curiously, if you choose the wrong option, it denies your choice, like Rameses writ small. Anyway, ignoring the interactivity question for a moment, this is a reasonably standard science-fiction story with a new slant on an idea and, alas, the side character who says "But wait, don't you think we are dabbling in Things Man Was Not Meant To Know?" 

For some reason, these characters infest science fiction stories, usually ones written by people who are not by nature science fiction authors. This would not be so bad, except that the authors never choose to show them objecting to scientific advances that we all now take for granted. There's never a character saying "But wait -- surely by sending electicity through the filament to produce this 'light-bulb' of yours, we risk setting ourselves up as equal to the very lightning bolts of heaven?" No, even though these characters are clearly stick-in-the-muds by nature and would object to anything more complicated than a can-opener, the authors choose to bias the thing by showing them objecting to a weird invention and then they bias the outcome so, surprise surprise, the doubters are right. Isn't that weird? It's as if they had some premonition that something was going to go wrong. Ooeeeooo. 


Reviewed by David Whyld

Unraveling God is a strange and unusual game in that, for the most part, it reads more like a novel than an actual piece of interactive fiction. It is also unusual in that it doesn't play in a single time frame: it begins towards the end of the storyline then jumps back to the middle before moving on to the start. While the changing time perspective is often a little confusing (particularly in trying to remember what has happened to the player and what is yet to happen), it's certainly an original way to write an adventure. And it works very well indeed.

The premise behind Unraveling God is that you, as a professor by the name of Gabriel G. Markson, have created a unique and original science which allows people to be essentially frozen. They don't age or require sustenance and can be kept this way for an indefinite period of time. Travel to different star systems is now a possibility as is the idea of "freezing" people with incurable diseases until such a time as a cure can be found for them. As the story unfolds (SPOILER ALERT!!!), it turns out that Markson was not in fact responsible for the discovery of this science but one of his lab students instead although, following an unfortunate accident, Markson takes credit for the discovery which, he tries to convince himself, he would have made given the time.

The gameplay in Unraveling God is very linear. The story follows a set path and there is no way to change the events that have already occurred in the player's life. That said, there is a considerable amount of attention given to detail in the locations in the game, even the ones which you are not required to enter in order to complete it. This attention to detail is one of the ways in which Unraveling God distances itself from the majority of text adventures: there are few instances of the dreaded "you see no such things" popping up. Indeed, it is obvious that painstaking effort has been made to make the locations as believable as possible and the effort really pays off.

As far as the style of writing Unraveling God is a winner from the very start. There is an incredible sense of realism about it. And also an unpleasant scene or two. Markson's actions after the accident in his home involving the lab student are quite chilling and you wonder at just what he would have done had not the accident occurred. In a way, it's a shame having so little control over what your character does because I would have liked to see what Markson would have done if the lab student had not had the accident. Would I have been involved in a potential murder attempt?

This isn't a game that really falls into any one category: it could be described as science fiction or horror but in fact it doesn't really fit into either field. While there are undoubtedly moments of both science fiction and horror, Unraveling God reads more like a thriller that has supernatural and horrific elements thrown in for good measure.

At the same time, this isn't a game that fits into the traditional idea for text adventures: there are no quests to save the world (although, choose the correct path, and that is essentially what you end up doing), no magic swords to collect or prizes to gain. There are items in the game but as the game plays through several different time frames, these items tend to disappear when not needed.

In summing up, I'd recommend Unraveling God to anyone who wants to play a well written game. Well written it certainly is and while, due to the linearness of the storyline, replay value is not high I suspect anyone who really likes this sort of game will play it at least a few times just in case there was anything they missed the first time.

Logic: 8 out of 10
Pleasantly straightforward. There are very few actual puzzles which require much thought in the game and the storyline moves along in a pleasing and logical manner. 

Problems: 10 out of 10 (10 = no problems)
Not one thankfully.

Story: 9 out of 10
An enthralling and at times quite bewildering storyline which is different from most adventures in that it doesn't play out in one time frame. Instead, it jumps from point to point in the player's life. A quite inspired idea.

Characters: 8 out of 10
Interaction with characters was different from most ADRIFT games in that there was none of the "ask 'character' about 'subject'" style of things. Conversation was instead handled by a more simple "talk to 'character'" followed by a list of possible replies. While some people might find the lack of interaction a downside, I thought the way it was handled was very good.

Style of writing: 9 out of 10
Superb from start to finish. As said above, Unraveling God reads more like a novel than a text adventure and if this is any indication of how well the author writes he should definitely think about a career as a writer.

Game: 9 out of 10
Undoubtedly one of the best games ever written for ADRIFT though I imagine the linear storyline might not appeal to everyone. Personally, I loved it.

Overall: 53 out of 60


Reviewed by Demian Katz

This is undoubtedly the best game I've yet encountered using the Adrift interpreter. This is probably largely due to the fact that the game is a highly linear story-oriented adventure of the Photopia variety, and as such, it doesn't require a terribly sophisticated parser. It's extremely helpful, though, that the author is a good writer. Although there's some pointless twiddling around with doors and folders at the beginning of the story, it is fairly engaging throughout. I hesitate to give the game wholehearted praise, as the plot and structure sometimes lack originality and I'm a bit uncomfortable with some aspects of the message that the author seems to be trying to send, but I can't help but respect this as a solid effort.


Reviewed by Edward Lacey

Like a number of the other competition entries, Unraveling God is heavily story-based; in fact it contains essentially no puzzles at all. This is more than compensated for by an original plot and a generally high quality of writing that depicts the game's characters very effectively. The author also deserves credit for attempting to discuss the science behind the plot; while this isn't done totally convincingly, it places the scientific aspects of the game well above the "this works this way because I say so" style of explanation that characterises some science-fiction. 

The narrative jumps back and forth through time in a manner apparently inspired by Photopia, although the player controls a single character throughout and most of the game takes place in a single set of locations. The first of these differences was, for me, welcome, and I found it easy to empathise with the character, but the second difference is the cause of a couple of problems. While I didn't notice any inconsistencies in the text for the different time periods, the shifts aren't quite handled perfectly; for example, it's possible to get a phone call in one time period that should have been received in another. I would also note that the ADRIFT parser used by the game is not the best. 

However, these relatively minor criticisms would not on their own have prevented me giving the game more than the four points I awarded it. My real problem was with the game's endings. It was obvious that there was a right choice and there was a wrong choice. First, I tried the right choice, and got more or less the ending I'd expected. But the ending that followed the wrong choice was really quite shocking -- not because, as I'd expected, my decision would cause great harm, but because its final sentences as I read them seemed to suggest that my decision had essentially been irrelevant. This seemed both to undermine the key idea of the plot and made me feel angry that I was expected to regard what now seemed a needless sacrifice as the "right choice". Arousing strong feelings in the player would generally not be a bad thing, but in this case it felt that the game was trying to promote a particular moral/theological argument, and this left a bitter taste in my mouth that was reflected in my score. 

The author afterwards explained to me that my interpretation of the ending wasn't what he'd intended at all, and perhaps the lesson can be drawn from this that the reader of any text shouldn't attach too much weight to its final sentences. Looking back, I may note that I would not have reacted as I did if the game had not been so successful at making me sympathise with my character. Indeed, that the game appeared to me to support a worldview that, it turned out, was actually very different from that of the author is testament to his creativity. I look forward to playing any of the author's future offerings. 

My Rating: 4 


Reviewed by Emily Short (1)

Unraveling God offers some fairly strong writing, making use of narrative techniques -- a high degree of linearity, switches between scenes, and movement back and forth in time -- reminiscent of Photopia. It manages to achieve some highly effective moments. 

At other points, it slips into the ludicrous and/or preachy, relies on some tired cliches of science fiction morality and What Man Was Not Meant To Know, and ultimately forces an ending that is not entirely satisfactory. 

Rating: **** 


Reviewed by Emily Short (2)

Rating: 7 This was a distinctly bizarre game, turning on a story and a moral choice in a way that reminded me of Tapestry a few years ago. I thought parts of it were rather silly — Satan dressed in cowboy boots and calling himself Lou was amusing. Tapestry I thought was somewhat preachy; this one is if anything more blatant, in the sense that it provides you with an Obviously Right and an Obviously Wrong choice to make, in the ultimate analysis. I'm still not sure I've seen a game that manages to deal seriously and successfully with moral choices on this level. 

Nonetheless, this was more interesting and better executed (though I'm still not a big fan of some UI aspects of the Adrift Runner) than many of the other games available in this selection, and it attempted (for instance) some real characterization. It also contains one of the few attempts in IF to show a sexual scene without pornography — that is to say, in a way that contributes to the overall shape of the story. (Granted, it's not terribly explicit, but most non-AIF IF tends to avoid even this kind of thing.) 

So I thought this was definitely an interesting attempt, though I found the gore overexplicit in a way that was not actually frightening, and I didn't find the ultimate moral choice very revealing. The queasy moment where you realize that you have chosen to let Justin die is much more disturbing than the end-of-game material, whichever choice you make there. 

Side Note: I know that people in the Adrift community have been hoping a well-written game, entered in the competition where it would garner lots of attention, would vindicate the system against the common complaints that rec.arts.int-fiction tends to muster against it. I don't know whether these 
games will do that; certainly I still find some aspects of the Adrift interface annoying, no matter how meticulously-assembled the underlying game is. I am also usually unable to play Adrift games at all, what with the Macintosh and so on. 

However. My conclusion on playing the three games submitted to the competition is that the latest version of Adrift does seem to be significantly more powerful than its predecessors, or else that the game designers put in significantly more work than the designers of previous Adrift games I've played. At this remove, it's not clear to me which is the case. It seemed to me that the games that turned on puzzles and examining scenery — especially "A Party to Murder" — were betrayed by the templating parser of Adrift, because actions that worked in some contexts did not work in others, and there were mysterious problems with the way scenery was implemented, which made it hard to get into the puzzle-solving aspects of the game. Unraveling God, however, worked (to my mind) quite smoothly. Perhaps a plot that turns on triggered events and conversation menus 
just happens to function better with Adrift's capabilities. 

Anyway, this is the first Adrift game I've played where my response wasn't one of "yuck!" or "well, it's pretty good given what they had to work with". I thought this genuinely worked at what it was trying to do, being not just "good given this system" but "as good as it would be if it were written in one of the mainstream languages". The remaining quibbles I had with it — with the writing in some of the hell passages, and the simplification of the moral choices — would have been an issue no matter what he'd used to write the thing. 

Is that vindication? I don't know. Maybe. But if you want a game with a lot of objects and puzzliness, I still think you're better served by Inform or Hugo or TADS. 


Reviewed by Jessica Knoch

It took me a little while to figure out what was going on with the storyline of this game, but once I did, well, it was cool. It's more story than it is game, and we are presented with the scenes in non-sequential order, but when you get to the end you understand it all. Which is how non-sequential stories should be. It really helps that there are clues about how things fit together in the scene transitions: "Two weeks earlier..." "Two years before..." "Three days later..." etc. 

Playing through some of the scenes was a bit boring, especially talking to Claudia in the bedroom. It doesn't make any difference what you say, so you just type "talk to Claudia" several times and you're done. What she has to say isn't too interesting at the time, but in the larger context of things it becomes quite interesting indeed. For example, the scene ends by saying something about "she'll support your plans, and that was why you decided to make her fall in love with you after all." Then, a few scenes later (not the next scene--good touch), you find out exactly why you decided that. Very, very nicely done. 

I had no trouble with the ADRIFT parser, although the nifty sentence completion was missing. There were tons of missing articles ("the"), mostly at the end of descriptions. "It's a plain manilla folder. Manilla folder is closed" or "You open office door" sort of thing. 

The story definitely is made more personal by being an interactive work; however, there is one moment where I wanted to do something and would have, if the game hadn't interrupted with "No, you can't change the past... what you really did was..." which only works because the whole thing is pretty much a flashback from the first scene where I'm in Hell. Speaking of which, because the character doesn't make the same choices that I would have made and has, in fact, a different moral makeup, there's a slight glitch with the ending where I have to choose whether to go back to Hell and save the world or go back to Earth for my own personal gain. It's almost too easy to say, sure, send me back to Hell, because I (the player) know that the character is a creep and deserves it. 

Thinking back, the extra time in the PC's house while waiting for someone to show up was just the right amount of time. I walked around the house, looking at things, thinking, and got a great sense of the character just before the doorbell rang. A great decision by the author. And the endings were both well done. 

Story: 9. I liked it. Cool physics and stuff (a bit hand-wavey, but they were there). 

Writing: 8. Pretty good, with a few typos and punctuation problems. 

Puzzles: 4. What score do you give for puzzleless IF? I mean, really and truly puzzleless. There were no hints, but I was able to go through the whole thing without looking at the walkthrough. 

Coding: 7. Some problems with doors and folders. 

Parser: 8. Seems fine to me. 

Humor/Enjoyment: 4. No humor to speak of, and not actually that much fun to 
play. 

Participation/Involvement: 7. Pretty good, which actually surprised me. I think the sequencing of the scenes really helped this. 

Lack of Annoyance: 9. Almost nothing annoying (but a few problems with doors and folders). 

General Idea: 8. Fine. 

Wildcard: 4. Okay, so it's a cool story and it's got physics and stuff, so why didn't I like the game overall? Is it too brief? Is the character too different from myself? Not sure. 


Reviewed by LizM7

(This game triggered a pet peve of mine - or, multiple pet peves. Hence the longish review.) 

To give the game credit: it didn't go for the typical conversion experience. OTOH, it didn't go for much at all - the entire story leaves something to be desired. (Apart from the proper use of articles, I mean. "The" and "a" aren't really necessary to communicate, but they *are* necessary if you want to look professional.) The garbled combination of scenes was a clear derivation from "Photopia" - but in this case, it made things seem forced and hurried. And the "Spider and Web"-like 'replay' didn't add to the effect either: part of Photopia's effect (and that of Ramses and all the other derivitive classics) comes from the fact that, though your PC has more-or-less free will, you aren't able to change any of the events that follow - because everything that happens is out of your control. [*] 

What could this game have done to impress me? Well, more beta-testing would've helped. The appropriate use of articles might have helped, too. A deeper exploration of the ethical issues involved here would be nice - something different from the "God said so, therefore it must be right" thinking that's prevailant in this subgenre. Better science, as well - "dizzy spells" are not near-death experiences, and near-death experiences are *definately* 
biochemically induced. By ketomine, IIRC. (At the very least, you can get the parts that *aren't* handwaving correct.) The characterization was also more than a bit weak - would you *really* have been lovers with someone for several years without knowing their religious beliefs? [**] And for that matter, a message for all you trying to write religious IF: if you've never been an atheist or agnostic (and I do *not* mean merely questioned your faith), then by all means *please* don't try to write one. Lines like, "You decide not to add that you are certain that the traditional view of God isn't correct, and it's a good thing, too. You sure as hell don't want to be judged for some of your actions after you die" just make me wince.[***] I would be *much* more impressed with a carefully-drawn religious character - one who is questioning his or her faith or not - than I am with a poorly-drawn nonbeliever. 

And as a final note, the game doesn't live up to the title. God is *not* "unravelled", IMHO, because the game offers no coherent explaination for his actions. Some of the game suggests a nearly-Deist divinity, a watchmaker who creates a world and then walks away - and this is never reconciled with the far more active Christian deity suggested by the final scenes. (In fact, a *lot* of this isn't reconcilable, now that I think about it. The entire "Wrfhf pna rfpncr sebz uryy jvgubhg pbafrdhraprf, ohg lbh pna'g" thing boils down to "God did it, therefore it must be right". Or, possibly, in this case, "God did it; therefore it must make sense.") 

[*] More on this: The crucial flaw here is that while *some* actions are predetermined, others allow you a fairly wide array of possibilities. If the player isn't able to 'change the past' and [spoilie], then why should he be able to decide what he should say in a given conversation? 

[**] Pet Peve: For some reason, a lot of strongly religious people seem to be convinced that the rest of us regard them as moral prudes. Seeing as this (as far as I am concerned, at least) doesn't seem to reflect any *external* reality (prudishness being, in my personal experience, something directly proportional to one's age rather than one's religion), one has to wonder about whether this reflects some sort of personal insecurity on their parts, or, perhaps, the belief that one cannot trully be devout until one has managed to irritate everyone who *isn't* religious. (Admittedly, I did this myself for awhile. But it still doesn't excuse it.) Alternately, it might just be a persecution complex. 

[***] Do YOU go around feeling relieved that, say, the Greek gods don't exist, since you haven't bothered making the proper sacrifices? No? Then why the hell should an atheist or agnostic feel relieved that *your* god doesn't exist? 

Score: 5 


Reviewed by Liz Parnell

Very different from any other text game I have encountered. Intriguing. I would love to know what the inspiration was for this game. 

Logic: 9/10 Mostly straightforward. Not really many puzzles. 

Problems: 9/10 I had a problem with opening a saved game. Maybe it is a game problem, maybe it is a program problem. 

Characters: 9/10 Well thought out and developed. 

Style of writing: 10/10 brilliant! 

Game: 8/10 Not as interactive, but it kept me until the end. 

Total: 55/60. 


Reviewed by Quintin Stone

Score: 5 

"Unraveling God" has a provocative plot involving a mix of science and religion, as well as the self-destructive pursuit of fame above all else. Unfortunately, there were two reasons that the game didn't draw me in. First, the story was incredibly brief, even for a competition entry. This is especially true since it is effectively a very linear puzzleless game. Second, you play the bad guy. You play the fiend who sits back and watches a young man die just so you can take credit for his discovery. The game effectively boils down to the choice at the end, but at that point in the game I just didn't feel pulled into the story enough to really care which one I picked. The fact that it was a no-win situation didn't help matters. Technically, I didn't see any glaring problems with the game, and I think that if the author had maybe fleshed out the story a bit, this game could have earned a higher score. 


Reviewed by MathBrush

In this game, you play a scientist who has been part of discovering suspended animation.

In the game, you discover the true implications of suspended animation, and what it meas for you, for God, and so on.

The game has some sensuality and participatory violence, which are both portrayed in a negative light.

The game is short, and has large text dumps.

 


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