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Blue Lacuna (Mac) artwork

Blue Lacuna (Mac) review


"Don’t think that Blue Lacuna works simply because it doesn’t have graphics or a bunch of explosions, though. Not all Interactive Fiction can claim to have achieved what Blue Lacuna does. This isn’t some throwback to sensibilities that have long gone out of style. This isn’t typing “east, west, and open chest” in a meaningless dungeon romp with some comedy thrown in. This is serious writing. This is next generation programming. This is gaming that is inspirational and lasting."



Blue Lacuna begins with a choice.

You lie in the warmth of your bed, buffered from the mountain air’s winter chill by layers of warm furs and by the soft breath of your lover, their head resting against your breast. The touch of their soft skin excites a predictable desire in you, a jolt that pushes past your still sleepy mind to electrically charge your body with desire.

A sudden ache as strong or stronger as your first impulse thrills you with another desire. It is the desire to paint, create, bring life and form to the images coalescing inside you, no matter the consequences. It is the Call and, once answered, there will be no going back. Beside you, your lover shifts again, edging closer in their sleep, blood pulsing faster in their veins, and you must choose.

Do you choose love or art?

Such a choice seems like it would be game changing and, in a way, it is. To imply that you have complete control over your destiny here is a misnomer. Regardless of how this first scene plays out, you will find yourself separated from your lover by an infinite distance when you end up on the ancient shores of beautiful Lacuna. More important, though, than where you end up is how you are shaped by the choices you made prior to getting there. Every gamer will be told roughly the same story in Blue Lacuna but no one will play the same game. If emotion can be said to be a matter of choice, than it is the emotions you choose to feel that determine what experience you have on the journey.

It is such a personal journey that I often find myself at a loss for the words to describe it properly to others. How can I describe that moment of leaving my lover behind with only my thin, clichéd, parting words to comfort her? How can I explain my visceral reaction when I discovered, quite by accident, who the old man on the island was? What can I say that will make you understand why I choose to spend my first night on the island staring out to sea, watching the sun flash green as it touched upon the endless ocean? These aren’t things I can talk about in any meaningful way. They were my experiences. They may not be your experiences.

It’s a little bit like Myst, in that you travel to Lacuna through your painting of the island. Once there, it’s a little bit like one-man Lost, as every location seems to contain a new mysterious landmark and you slowly begin to piece together the history of the island. But that doesn’t do it justice at all. Maybe it will help if I explain that a decent percentage of the game is spent looking for certain trees to sleep under, trees that sigh in the wind and can capture the dreamer and put them in touch with other forces. If I tell you that these forces are fighting for your attention, each one promising that the other is trying to control you, while you desperately try to discover who they are... but no, that doesn’t capture the depth of emotion to be found here. Should I talk about the mechanical puzzles that dot the island, how solving one gives you a rush of excitement while opening up new locations to explore? But that isn’t right either. This isn’t just a game about solving puzzles.

But, then, what is it?

For a start, it is Interactive Fiction, which means you control the game by describing to it what you want to do. If you want to get a view of the entire island, typing in “see whole island” won’t work... but writing “climb tree” might, depending on where you are. Thankfully, the game is very good at deciphering your commands. The struggle comes from trying to figure out how you are going to do things and not from trying to figure out the right way to tell the game what you want. Look is the command you’ll use most often. Not only because it shows you what you can interact with in any given scene, but also to see what changes in the same place at different times, when different people are there, and when you’ve just experienced something new. It is the look command which gives you access to the vivid descriptions, not clichéd or overwritten, that create the framework of the island.

Lacuna is not a stoic environment. Tsunamis and storms strike the island. The pale moon of the night turns into the blistering sun of day. All of these things can affect the locations on the island, changing what you can do or see there. They aren’t completely random, either. What actions you take influence what is introduced into the story and when. Around the time you start to feel like there’s nowhere else to explore, a character will arrive with something to tell you, or you’ll stumble across a clue for the puzzle you’ve been working on, or a woodland creature will inadvertently reveal a new path. All of this is done as subtlety as possible, so that it never feels like a solution was thrust upon you, but that you were simply in the right place at the right time.

I mentioned characters. You are not alone on the island of Lacuna. There is a man there, a man who seems to stand as a metaphor for the artistic fathers of the world; men who are possessed by a vision. Like the changing environment, the encounters with this character feel completely natural. More impressive, though, is that he feels alive even when you aren’t interacting with him. As you wander around the island, you’ll find signs of where he has been and what he has done with his day. You might spot him standing on a large boulder in the distance, staring out to sea, or crouched over a set of sea shells, desperately searching for something that is no longer there. Through this silent observation, you can see an entirely different facet of his personality than you would gain through talking to him. Slowly, you will begin to form some kind of relationship with this other person. That is where the heart of the game lies. How you feel about this man and how you choose to relate to him could be said to be the point of Blue Lacuna.

More than anything, Blue Lacuna feels free. That isn’t just a pun on its availability. It is a comment on the way it allows the player to steer events based on how they feel about them. It is a reminder that the best graphics engine on the market is our imagination. It is a reminder that, no matter how vivacious the characters are, the most powerful emotions are going to come from the player. Don’t think that Blue Lacuna works simply because it doesn’t have graphics or a bunch of explosions, though. Not all Interactive Fiction can claim to have achieved what Blue Lacuna does. This isn’t some throwback to sensibilities that have long gone out of style. This isn’t typing “east, west, and open chest” in a meaningless dungeon romp with some comedy thrown in. This is serious writing. This is next generation programming. This is gaming that is inspirational and lasting.

So make your choice, art or love, and experience a tale that, could I physically do so, I would set on my bookshelf next to James Joyce, Orson Scott Card, and Patrick Rothfuss and also on my video game shelf next to Ico, The Longest Journey, and Alundra.

Rating: 10/10

zippdementia's avatar
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (October 24, 2010)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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aschultz posted October 27, 2010:

I wanted to play this game a lot and want to play it even more now. Looking forward to your interview with him too.

Not much else to say, other than that I will, however, be playing it on a PC.
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zippdementia posted October 28, 2010:

Yeah, if you like IF games already, you shouldn't miss this one. It might not let you "take world" but it does some very cool things with the medium. Aaron Reed is swiftly becoming the spokesperson for the IF community... what little community exists. Not that there aren't a lot of IF writers out there, but they don't communicate with each other yet...
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wolfqueen001 posted November 06, 2010:

Ok, I finally read this. I have to say, this is very descriptive and well-written. If it really has no graphics and is a text adventure like Zork or some such (I assume that that's what the IF genre is), then this really shows just how strong your imagination really is.

I can't say that this would be a game that I'd want to play... mostly because I'm just not completely used to the whole IF grenre. But it does definitely sound compelling.

It also sounds like one of those games that'll really make you think. Why can't you have both love and art? To me, both are connected in a way. A very interesting point is being made with the concept of this game, then; it's cool that it actually works as well as you say.

I'm also impressed that games without graphics can still make it in the market. Just because of the current state of demand and technology. Not that I'm saying the game is worse for not having them. In fact, not having them is more commendable than anything because it means the developers have to excel at what makes games the most important rather than relying on some cheap trick to fool the consumer. It's just cool that the concept still appeals to people, and not just fans of the old text adventures of the 80s / 90s, or whenever they came out.
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zippdementia posted November 06, 2010:

Thanks for reading. I think the concept appeals because it has developed since those early days. It's no longer just silly dungeon romps with some confusing puzzles (well, for the most part). A game like Blue Lacuna is more like fiction that you read next to the author, asking them questions and having them steer the story based on how you want to hear it. It does bring up some interesting questions, too, philosophically without being overbearing.
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bloomer posted November 06, 2010:

Something I have realised recently is there are people in IF who are embarrassed about its past. They almost don't want random passers by to see or be reminded of a Scott Adams game, etc.

I don't like this attitude, but I've also learned it's not like there's any kind of consensus amongst all the people interested in IF. If you want to consider the opposite position, visit Classic Adventure Game Solutions (CASA) where you will find a community of folks who would rather play any old game than any new one.

Perhaps it's because there's the current quest to recommercialise IF (or 'monetise' it, to use the more vomity parlance constantly thrown at musicians like myself) that some exponents feel the need to draw strong lines between old and new. 'Hey, you wouldn't pay for those past games anymore, so here's something that is clearly not them (and therefore that you might pay for.)'

I.F. author Andrew Plotkin has just raised 18k+ dollars in about a week when he proposed folks pay him to get out of his dayjob and work fulltime on a brand new IF game for the iphone. And to also develop a platform by which future IF games could be delivered to handheld devices. A very impressive feat.
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zippdementia posted November 07, 2010:

Sorry, I may have come off as seeming like I don't appreciate Zork, Adventure, Hitchhiker's Guide, or The Hobbit. But that's not really true. I love those games. But they've been made already. I wouldn't try to make a BETTER Zork.

I think the community appreciates them, too. All you have to do to see this is browse the inform forums or read Aaron Reed's book. Or anything by Andrew Plotkin or Emily Short.

All I'm saying is that IF has survived by constantly adapting to try new things that other games can't, mostly because big companies can't take the risk while with IF it's just some guy in his parent's basement (or upstairs, in my case).
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bloomer posted November 07, 2010:

No worries Zipp, I wasn't actually saying you are one of the aforementioned people, or intending to say that :) My intent was to say that I only recently learned that this embarrassment exists at all, and I learned this from those forums you just told me to visit, and associated blogs... Yes! I am already there, lurking in the shadows the past couple of months.

I don't think Infocom games have lost anyone's respect. (They remain gold standard for many.) It tends to be games that are either sparse in delivery, or have simpler parsers or aggro puzzles or a certain quality of unfairness, or no real story (the way Space Invaders doesn't have a story) or all of these together. I find the odd IFfer who really sniffs at these older games, in a way that for instance I don't think an action gamer would sniff at Space Invaders. I think it's because action games are a big concern for gamers now, but IF is not. But again, it's not a community you can generalise. All I'm really saying is - there are individuals in the community who have this bias.
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zigfried posted November 07, 2010:

Just from reading some of the IF 2010 comp feedback, it's pretty clear there are factions in the IF community. I've actually seen the "Scott Adams style puzzles" comment myself, used in a derogatory manner. Personally I enjoy "find the object and figure out how to use it" puzzles, although I do see the appeal in a "guided story" approach, as well.

My IF game will be an oldschool sword-and-sorcery tale. Or maybe that's just a trap to lure people into a false sense of comfort. I'm afraid I can't share the title just yet -- it would reveal too much!

//Zig
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bloomer posted November 07, 2010:

Here are some game ideas I have in development. Tell me if I stole yours.

- The Train That Couldn't Stop!

- Random Time Disappearing Man

- Cocksure McSwaggerington (he is the best spy)

- Earring Girl and her magic earrings


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