Review: Harmonia

(A choice story that drew me in deep. Exceptional in every way. Harmonia (

Utopian Literature

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Yes, you can. I judge books by their covers all the time. And by the size and type of font, the colour of the ink, the amount of whitespace on the page, the texture and smell of the paper, the illustrations if there are any, and any number of sensory details that influence my feeling about a book.

I wasn’t able to ascertain the smell nor the texture of Harmonia 's pages, but I found it an aesthetically pleasing work in all the other areas.

It has few but beautiful graphics that look like charcoal or leadpen drawings which complement the “old” feeling of the game perfectly.

Specific to the beauty of a mouseclick-driven text, the new paragraphs fade fluently into view, giving the eye half a blink’s time to adjust and expect the coming words just before being able to legibly pick them out.
Perhaps my faux-tactile experience would have been even better if my cursor arrow were the nib of a quill pen, or the relaxed finger of a hand following the lines. Small nitpick, to be sure.

But of course, the saying has a point. No matter how prettily clothed and wrapped, the story must stand on its own when abstracted from all these adornments.

Harmonia surely can stand on its own. It is a SF steampunk time travel story looking back to the past. It makes excellent use of foreshadowing to heighten the suspense throughout, and adds a small twist in the end. The main character is a clearly drawn young woman with a strong voice. To talk more about the content of Harmonia would be to tell too much. Let the reader do the reading.

I do want to speak of the craft the author shows. It is considerable, especially in its pacing. As I was reading the first paragraph, I pressed “restart” after only a short while, having been tickled by the text. I sat down properly, took a deep breath and settled into a slow and focused mode of reading.
It’s a treat to let the languid, comfortable sentences come over you at their own tempo; they have a musical rhythm that invites mumbling along or even reading aloud.

I should also like to dwell a short while on the form the author adopts in writing this story. In keeping with its inspirations, the late 19th century Utopians, Harmonia reads as a first person account of supposedly real events. In the principal narrative line, several other sources are found, read and discussed. Each of these in turn takes the form of an eyewitness account or a journal entry. Again, first person singular. These accounts are commented upon and annotated by other characters, or in the case of the main line, by the main character herself. The effect is that of a nesting or layering of first persons in dialogue, creating an intricate web of story threads.

Now, all of the above could as easily have been said about an ordinary, “static”, work of fiction. Wherein then lies Harmonia’s interactivity?

For one, it has choices. At my leisurely but concentrated pace, it took about two hours to complete one reading. In this time, I encountered but a handful of defining choices. (Beware, reader, for these are not accompanied by bells and whistles. Pause before you press.) As is my habit with these choice-based games, I only played it once through. I therefore cannot tell how far the other paths may diverge from the one I travelled.

Far more importantly in my impression were the annotations in the text that come into view as mere scribbles in the margin upon a press of salient words. Because they are not present at the first viewing of the page before the reader, but only become apparent as one actively presses, it feels as though the character scribbling the annotation is reading along, and, at the click of a word, whispers side-thoughts and elaborations as one moves a finger along the lines.

This technique invites a deep engagement with the text, where the interactivity takes the form of discovering more profound meaning in a joint reading of the story with the characters that feature in said story. A vivid reading experience indeed…

This game written as a first person account contains excerpts of eyewitness novels and scraps of personal journals and annotations in the voices of the characters and whirls around and around… until the game recedes from view and one is truly immersed in the experience.

A superb piece of interactive writing.