The Witch's Yarn
Genre: Graphical Interactive Fiction
Developer: Keith Nemitz
PC Requirements: Windows98/200/XP, DirectX 7.0, CPU 400 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 20Mb Hard Drive, 2Dgraphics 800x600, Millions of colors.
MAC requirements: Mac OS 10.3+, CPU 400 MHZ, 128MB RAM, 20 MB Hard Drive, 2Dgraphics 800x600, Millions of colors.
It seems to this reviewer that there are Adventure Genres and Game Engines to satisfy the broad demands of Adventure Gamers with their unique and specific tastes. True, as well, within each genre there are different types of what we refer to as Adventure Games: Entertainment – Edutainment –3rd Person Point & Click – 1st Person Point & Click - Keyboard Adventures - Mixed Keyboard plus Mouse Adventures - Adventures with Voice Overs – Adventures with Music only – Action Adventure - Virtual Reality – Simulation - Interactive Fiction; the list goes on and on. Usually it is either the characters or the subject that drives the storyline in these games: mazes that may hold us captive, and puzzles or conundrums, which may confound us for while. But throughout all, one point remains clear; it is a game because we the “Gamers” make it so. We participate within the gameworld on some level within the boundaries of its universe. However, it is sometimes refreshing when someone comes along and introduces something new or different into the Adventure gaming circle.
Enter “Indie” Developer Keith Nemitz and his new concepts of “DirectNject” and “CineProse” (both of which I’m guessing are already under or will be under his own patent). How do they relate to Interactive Stories and what is their possible impact on Adventure Games and the Casual Gamer?
“The Casual Gamer” – now, who is that? Someone who plays games in their Levi’s? Barefoot? – I have to say, I have upon the odd occasion played even in my PJ’s with my comfy “lite-em up pink fuzzy bunny slippers”.
But only upon the odd occasion of severe stress, of course…
Okokokok – My guess is that Mr. Nemitz is referring to those strange but normal sectors of the population who aren’t considered “Gamers” (adventure or otherwise) but those who will play the odd short game every once in a blue moon when the mood strikes them. Why then, the seeming need to categorize his offering? Directing it toward this section and not toward the Adventure Gaming Community as a whole absolutely confuses me. Is it because he himself feels that his style of presentation would not be accepted? This is strange to me, but then so is the Mousechief gaming engine. Not “strange” bad – weird – yucky or any of the other derogatory terms one could come up with, but rather “strange” – different.
All The World’s A Stage…
The Mousechief gaming engine appears to be a system which combines a program devised by the developer as “CineProse” and a particular gaming action (again coined by the developer) known as “DirectNject”. Upon beginning the interactive story, one is presented with a viewing area in the center of a black screen which is outlined both top and bottom by the main character’s, Wednesday, Magical Golden Knitting Needles. This is the viewing area or “Stage”, if you will, with which the narrative will unfold. It is complete with nicely rendered backdrop scenes of exteriors such as the night sky, the storefronts of Cherokee Avenue, or interiors of The Yarn by Darn Shop – Video Store – Ice Cream Parlor, etc (you get the picture). The “Sprites” or various non-animated characters of the story are “superimposed “ onto the stage as needed. These Sprites will almost always be “cued” by the “player”. One will find however, that it is not possible to interact with the viewing area or “Stage” at all. In fact, if one clicks on anything inside this area, the story will pause and the program directs you to the “DirectNject” outline directions.
Above this “Stage” or viewing area is the “DirectNject” system. Here you have rewind buttons to either rewind a chapter or start from the beginning and bookmarks to save a place to come back to. –
However --- be careful here --- if you are at, let’s say Chapter 7 and you want to recheck something in Chapter 3 ------ poof! The evil witches make your progress disappear and as fast as you can say: “Bob’s your Uncle and Aunt Fannie’s a Witch”, you’ll have to start from where you are. One of the biggest problems I have with CineProse is its lack of save or permanent bookmark functionality. I suggest that the player should be allowed to keep his bookmarks for the duration of the story unscathed until a brand new tale commences. This would cut down considerably on unnecessary frustration levels and would add to the general enjoyment of the piece. But then, this is just my own opinion...
Underneath these icons are the “cueing” buttons (pretty green gloves pointing right for forward and left for “do-over”). The right hand glove will pulse to let you know when a certain “scene” is finished and it’s time to click on it. To the right of these four icons are the possible choices the player can make, whether it is an object or a character with which our heroine “Wednesday” may interact during the course of a particular scene. Below this area and just above the top knitting needle is a small Spinning Wheel, which dances merrily to and fro, signifying the availability of plot exposition. The area below the viewing screen is further divided into a place for the collectible inventory to be sorted, spanning from the left to just past the center as needs be. The far right section holds a button for quitting and a spool for “Preferences”.
Preferences in this case include: Credits – Cryptic Hints -- Suggestions of Play – Sound Volume – and most importantly, “Speed of Play”. The “Speed of Play” is key to the overall enjoyment of the literary piece and is designed to be adjustable according to the individual “reader’s speed”. The speed can be further enhanced by the “reader” by tapping on the “Tab” key to further move the dialog along. The Mousechief Game Engine allows for either mouse or keyboard driven use and a combination of the two may be used if one desires. The CineProse Interface is quite pleasing to the eye and draws the “reader” into the story quickly. This allows those who “read” The Witch’s Yarn an immediate sense of “ease of play” whether they are expert, novice or persona non grata in the world of Adventure.
And All The Men and Women Merely Players
This “cueing system” takes the player or “interactive reader” through a developing text-based narrative, or “play” which displays the script by the use of text balloons that appear near the speaking character. Now when I first noticed these they didn’t bother me one iota, but as the story progressed I noticed that occasionally there were typographical errors – misspelled words, and text balloons which were too small for the length of the script. These are just oversights and forgivable in free programs – but not in programs for commercial sale. These should have been corrected. By “cueing” or clicking on a “forward” hand icon when it’s pulsing at the top of the screen (or rewinding when you have made either an incorrect or poor choice) the “play” or “story” will advance along sometimes quite nicely.
There are eight chapters within the story. And the “player” may not advance to the next chapter until the goal of that particular section is reached, whether it be plot exposition and character development as in Chapter 1 and 2, or completing at least three out of a possible eight sequences (though I only found seven sequences in Chapter 3.) There are two Chapters that are entire puzzles within themselves, those being Chapters 5 and 7 -- and both of them can be difficult, depending on your level of patience.
Double, Double Toil and Trouble
This is a story of a modern-day, middle-aged widow with three grown children and an overbearing mother. Newly widowed, she is just trying to make it on her own. Her name is Wednesday (Wednesday’s child is full of woe). Wednesday is a witch. She comes from a long line of witches, in fact. In her grief, she turns her back on her family; so too consequently upon herself by denying her own origins and what she is. She feels that she must go it alone without witchcraft in deference to her recently departed mortal husband (except of course for the guidance of her pet mushroom), and this becomes the “hubris” for the story and hence the occasion for the myriads of nonsensical woes and complicated character relationships that coalesce around the Grand Opening of her new store: The Yarn by Darn. The “interactive reader ” or “cue-er”, by introducing the various characters into the “script”, colors and moves the story along. The end point being: can she find out the “business secrets” of her fellow shopkeepers on Cherokee Avenue? Can she gain back the love and respect of her children and mother? Will she survive the “visiting witches”? Will she come to terms with the truth of what she is? And most importantly, will Wednesday be successful in making her first dollar for the store and prove herself to her family?
It isn’t easy to write Interactive Fiction and Hypertext stories, especially when they are almost all dialogue and there are so many characters. There were times, particularly throughout the first two chapters, where I was becoming weary of all of the necessary verbal exchanges and dialog trees. Aggravation was matchless when, time and again, after a long exchange I realized that I had hit a dead end and had to “rewind” and start over because the story branch was making no sense and going nowhere. But I persevered and things did pick up rather nicely in Chapter 3.
Adder's Fork and Blind-Worm's Sting
There are many elements, which go into an interactive presentation such as The Witch’s Yarn. One of the most important is the visual. The artwork of Anuerin Wright is expertly articulated with his use of a lively color palette, strong lines and his own indomitable panache and wit. Each Sprite is complete, well-rounded and visually unique showing off the style and mood of the character. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of each of the precise, nicely detailed backdrops for the various chapters. The ever so slight skewing of the architectural angles made the presentation that much more enjoyable. Mr. Wright has quite a following in the world of Comic Books and Graphic Novels. If I’m not mistaken, I believe he is responsible for the Graphic Novel: Lex Talionis: A Jungle Tale. Wonderful stuff. It is my sincere hope that we see more of his talents in our Adventure Gaming World. Welcome Mr. Wright! You have a fan here.
By The Pricking of My
One of the most delightful attributes of this literary piece for me was the music. Organized by the multi talented Benoit Mansion, the Belgian jazz vocalist and songwriter (who, I swear, has one foot firmly planted in Brazil!), the soft liquid undercurrent of Jazz can be heard through out The Witch’s Yarn.
Oh, cut me a break! Do you really think that witches only listen to disjointed and asymmetrical spooky music while howling at the moon??? Please…
…Well, not all the time. Not this witch anyway, I can assure you.
The uniqueness of the different musical dispositions is absolutely delightful, robust and yes, even wistful upon occasion. Various independent jazz artists performed the musical sections and underscores; each one of these very talented musicians is worthy of note. They are, in no apparent order:
Blessed Be! And Well Done, all y’all!
The use of Jazz music brought a wonderful nuance to The Witch’s Yarn. By introducing characters and often reflecting Wednesday’s moods as the story progressed, I felt that it helped moved things along during the slower moments of the story.
There Are More Things Here Than Are Dreamt of in Your Philosophy
If you’ll notice, I have
been referring to The Witch’s Yarn as either a “literary piece” or
“story” but not as a game. That’s because it just isn’t what I’d
categorize as a game… not even a casual one. Does it qualify as “live
theatre”? – Uh, nope. If some form of human interaction had taken place
--- such as FMV or Voice Overs it could have, possibly. But the Hypertext
knocks it out of the running. It does qualify as a fully interactive
storyboard with music and copiously developed artwork, which can be
Theatre”. For anything that tells a story, good, bad or indifferent;
anything, which creates a mood,
even "Teletuibbies" are theatre. “Theatre” is different from
"entertainment " --- In that it strives to create a mood and evokes a
response from its audience. Whether it evokes a positive or a negative
response makes little difference. The process is only to “evoke”. Poor
theatre is when no response or reaction to the subject is created, and the
Certain death to many a Broadway Production, I can assure you.
The Witch’s Yarn is a charming and innovative offering of “Graphical Interactive Fiction”, which has the potential to interest the “player” for any number of hours. Which by no means makes it a failure at all in my eyes, quite the opposite. Does it have entertainment value? Most definitely. Plot exposition? You bet, at times much more than its share. Character development? Assuredly so. So then, why do I not count this as a new innovative type of Adventure Game? Possibly because there is little if any exploration within The Witch's Yarn made by the "interactive reader”, which in my mind is the key to the genre of Adventure Gaming. I was merely an observer throughout this piece, never was there a feeling as though I was a “gamer”.
Semantics, you say? No, I don’t think so. When I play an Adventure Game, at some point during the experience that elusive feeling will wash over me and I will feel as though I’m participating in the game in my own right. I’ll lose myself inside of it. For me, that is what makes it a game. No participation? I ain’t got game. It’s that simple. This abstract feeling is what keeps bringing me back again and again to Adventure Games. It’s what keeps me gaming.
During my experience with The Witch’s Yarn, while I found it for the most part entertaining, I felt that I was only “watching” as one would with a Cinematic Presentation, or book. It reminded me of an old Laserdisc presentation I had during the early 80’s. I believe it was called “Murder” or “Murder Inc”, which you interactively viewed by using your remote control, moving it forward or backward when you saw a particular “cue” on the TV screen to move the story along. It wasn’t advertised as a “game” but an “Interactive Movie” … So too, in later years were the Adventures for the PC: Psychic Detective and A Fork in the Tale known as “Interactive Adventures”.
Trip away; make no
I commend Mr. Nemitz on the new Program CineProse, which he has created. It has a seemingly marvelous potential, and I am very interested to see how it will develop in the future. While The Witch’s Yarn was not my personal cup of tea, I must also commend what must have been a tireless journey for these three men: Keith Nemitz, Anuerin Wright and Benoit Mansion to bring their interesting creation to its fruition.
Would I recommend The Witch’s Yarn? As an Adventure Game? No. But, as a work of Graphical Interactive Fiction? Most definitely. I would say there are many Adventure Gamers who would be willing to give this GIF the go ‘round, and just may be pleasantly surprised in spite of themselves, once they realize exactly what it is, what it isn’t and more importantly how it works.
My recommendation is to visit the site and have a look around. The download for The Witch’s Yarn is only 8Mg. (With my pitiful dial-up it only took 20 minutes – another plus.) The first two chapters are the demo, which you play for as long as you like, cueing and rewinding to your heart’s content totally free of charge. If you like what you see and hear, then go ahead and unlock the next 6 Chapters in the book for $19.95. My opinion is that the price is appropriately spot on when you consider all the work that has been poured into it.
Suggested System Requirements