Editor’s note: I’d never played an interactive fiction ‘game’ before trying Alabaster — it’s kind of like a well-written Choose Your Own Adventure book meets Zork. Take a break from explosions and space marines and check it out. -Demian
If there is one genre of games that I’ve never understood, it’s interactive fiction. I’ve never been able to get into a game where my only interaction with it is rudimentary text commands saying “pick up the key” or “travel north.” I’m not saying the genre is bad, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I attribute this to the lack of a graphical interface and a story which never pulled me in, since I spent most of the time stumbling in the dark, quite literally.
Enter Alabaster. The description calls it “a fractured fairy tale” and presents you with the familiar tale of Snow White but with a sinister twist. You play a woodsman who is tasked by the Queen to take her daughter into the forest and take her heart. As you reach the forest though, Snow White informs you that she has a safe haven prepared — all you need to do is untie her. What follows is a battle of wits, truths, lies, and riddles, and you must decide to kill her, let her go, or maybe something entirely different.
The game is an experiment in open authorship. The introduction was written by Emily Short, a prominent contributor to the interactive fiction genre. Afterward, 10 more writers came in and added more content. It was then compiled and edited into the game.
What I immediately liked about the game is that there is no rigid story structure or objectives. You’re not tasked with saving the kingdom or finding lost artifacts. The game is between you and Snow White. You can ask almost any question pertaining to the situation, or even change the subject if uncomfortable. Anything that she says that interests you can be pointed out or questioned. She may even question you, asking your motives or provoking you into action. It makes you feel like you are talking with someone real and absorbs you into the story. I was intrigued to find out more about the situation, constantly asking questions and assessing the situation. Once I came to my ending (of the 18 possible endings), I felt like I truly played a role in the events that transpired.
The game’s atmosphere is fantastic, painting a dark and cold picture of your current surroundings. The writing is superb, keeping it short but very detailed. Instead of a status bar at the top, an evolving portrait sits to the left of the screen, showing major developments in the story. It paints an abstract view of what is happening that is equal parts creepy and beautiful. This all comes together in a haunting experience if you let your imagination seep into the story.
I was very happy with my experience with Alabaster and excited to try different paths. The game doesn’t make me a fan of interactive fiction, but it certainly makes me understand it better.