Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Autumn's Daughter by Ali Sajid & Shumaila Hashmi

Click here to play Autumn's Daughter online

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(Version reviewed: Original)

The lyrically titled Autumn's Daughter is an Undum hyperlink story taking the form of a series of social encounters in the life of a young Pakistani woman named Areesha, played by yourself. Though you apparently hail from an okay-to-do family, various threats to your future independence and happiness are looming quickly, and their sources are not always obvious.

This game seeks to educate about the difficulties faced by women in Pakistan by engaging the player in a story with outward touches of romance and intrigue. This is a good strategy, given that some of the obvious alternative ones – like involving the player in a story which is grim and didactic – might just turn players off or bore them. Thus Autumn's opening scene seeks to get folks onboard immediately and build up the heroine's happiness. When you greet your visiting friend Samina, the tone heads towards conspicuously exuberant soap opera with lots of squeals and exclamation marks. The writing is broad in its exposition and a bit ripe, but the situation is inviting. The challenge for the game, then, is to be able to convincingly take the drama to the bleaker places it wants to go in a short span of time, and I don't think the challenge is fully met. Possible spoilers ahead.

The overall design of mostly binary choices, all tied to single pieces of dialogue or action, is pretty good, especially in retrospect; the dynamic between that first happy scene and any of the endings tends to be a smooth but swift downward slope with a gradient of -1. I even imagine I can see the dynamic on the screen manifest in Undum's slidey text transitions. But I think the game as a whole is lacking the kind of subtlety which could better convey its message. The characters have the specificity of types (earnest heroine, complicit girlfriend, potential shining knight boyfriend) but don't have the specificity which would illuminate them as individuals. And specificity is really needed to imbue obvious binary choice pairs, like whether to gush at the handsome lad or forget how to speak in his presence, with much meaning. This becomes a bigger problem in the sticky ends of the game when some extreme choices are presented, like whether to commit suicide or not. The story is about a real place and context and possible situations, but somehow this choice struck me as ludicrous in the moment because it made me feel that I didn't know who my character was, or that enough work had been done to put me in this position in a meaningful way. (And also because when I did cut my wrists, I did it right where I was on the bed in one fell swoop.) So while I don't doubt that most of the situations here can and have happened to people, I found the portrayal of them too broad to feel them deeply.

Autumn's Daughter already exhibits some good design for its aims over its relatively short playtime, but it is shooting for a lot and would really benefit from stronger characterisation, from which would grow some less generic feeling choices, or at least less generic iterations of them.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for your kind review. We are new to the IF writing scene and I appreciate you taking the time to make such detailed remarks about our game. We will be sure to fix the problems both in the next iteration of the game and in our future games as well.

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  2. I thought it was a thought provoking and original story. Makes you think about how one little change can completely affect everything. Nicely done.

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