The writing of the Elegy begins…
This past month I put my money where my mouth was and backed the Kickstarter for Elegy For a Dead World. The folks at Dejobaan Games pulled a last minute route, managing to hit not only the basic goal but to rake in a few of their stretch goals as well. Now that the project is 150% funded, the beta keys are out after a slight delay – and I’ve played it.
So let’s have a look.
The idea behind the game is that humans found portals to three alien worlds, all devoid of sentient life – though there is every sign that intelligent species were there as there are loads of ruins and signs of vast sweeping cultures. In trying to reach these worlds though, there was an accident. Of all of the personnel sent through the gates, only you have survived after a freak accident. You can still complete your mission though. Your job is to explore the ruins and report on what you find.
The game is very different. There’s no bad guys to shoot. There’s no puzzles. You don’t level up or otherwise find ways to pwn n00bz. The game is explorative and, dare I say it, educational.
No, wait, come back! The educational genre doesn’t have to mean a game is bad. Oregon Trail did just fine. So sit back down and give this a shot.
The way you interact with these worlds is by writing down your findings. As you traverse the landscapes of the alien vistas, you occasionally will find a feather quill icon. When you reach them, you are prompted to fill in the blanks on a journal entry. Once composed, you hit the Esc-key and move onto the next prompt. there’s no right or wrong, no score – just the words you’ve chosen that are inspired from the visuals provided. It’s a game about writing, and that in and of itself has a kind of charming aspect to it.
Elegy has some great things going for it in the beta. The most apparent one is the inspirational source material they present you with. It’s not flashy with 3D design, nor is it particularly edgy. It uses standard, layered 2D design elements to great effect though to provide interesting locales to observe and report on. They clearly spent a lot of time and effort in the design process, and it assist greatly in coming up with your own interpretations of the desolation of the worlds found.
I was pleasantly surprised as well to find several narrative modes. I started with one mode in which it seemed that prose was very straight forward. It didn’t give you too much format. It started with a statement that was left open ended and you just went on as long as you felt was needed. On a second pass through, I tried ‘The Dark Couplet’ in which it was largely bent toward poetry (which went better than I expected it would). Lastly, you can free form as well. Wherever it makes sense for you to drop down and write you can do it. Each mode leads to its own avenues of thought. I found one of them ‘On the tenth time’ to particularly challenge me. You’re faced with a world in ruins around you and as the only person there you’re forced to describe using ‘we’ as a subject, and that is counter-intuitive. It took me a bit to get into a pattern I could use with that one, and it made me flex my chops a little bit in the perspective change.
Once the writing is done, you can also choose to publish it so other players can read and commend your work. It was interesting to see how some people went out of the box in their stories, choosing to emphasize things they caught that I didn’t, or to interpret what was in front of them in ways that I couldn’t. It’s fascinating to see how other people work things out in the space between their ears.
Additionally, even with the prompts telling you where to write, you can make little changes – or big ones. If you want, you can completely nix out parts that don’t fit what you’re doing and no part of the narrative is off limits to change.
So, it’s a beta. And yes, there are problems here and there. Fortunately, they’re minimal.
The most notable issue that I found was that sometimes the prompt text becomes jumbled. You’ll receive your first instruction only to have another prompt overlap it. The result is like looking at the Cyrillic alphabet. While the game is about writing, I need to be able to absorb something that doesn’t look like it was born of a drunken Russian penmanship class. Ultimately, I imagine this will be handled in the 2015 release – so good news there. Finding little bugs is what a beta is for.
There is also a matter of limited content, which is also expected in a beta. There is only one world presently available which can lead to a bit of a repetitive experience. There’s multiple modes to work in as a means around this, but if you’re sitting down to play for any length of time you can find yourself writing the same stories again. I’m assuming that there may also be more options forthcoming. While the Kickstarter stretch goal for more worlds wasn’t met, it’s not too far out of the box to think that it’s a simple matter to add more prompts. We’ll see what comes in the next three months.
The only thing that I think comes up as a more persistent problem is the way in which you edit your material. Most writers will tell you that in order to write good work, you must allow yourself to write crap first. Writing is one of the few mediums in which it is possible to polish a turd, mainly through editing. I tend to write really, really sloppy first drafts. As a result, typos and the occasional grammatical error creep in there, and I sometimes get sentence fragments and run-ons. But, editing is always easy in a word processor program. Scroll to where the error is and fix it as you proof. Elegy has no option for this at the end of a writing prompt. If you review the story after you’ve finished a trip through a world and find that a few gremlins of syntax or spelling have gotten through, you’re looking at having to walk all over the map again to make your changes. Not really convenient – though I suppose it teaches you to try and get things right on the first try.
The Sum Up
I have to say I’m really jazzed about this whole thing. It’s a really great idea that promotes a building of literary skills while encouraging players to flex their imaginations. The mechanics of it seem simple enough that Dejobaan Games could add in as many worlds as it cares to once they have their basic infrastructure down in terms of game play. The possibilities seem limitless, and with time I could see this expanding with enough of a sales track to warrant it.
So let’s make that sales track happen. If you missed the Kickstarter project, you can still pre-order the game on Steam and join in the fun come 2015 Q1. I’ll be there, and I’ll have stories to tell. Look ’em up if you like under Burtacamoose. I look forward to reading what others have to say!