Thief of the Thousand Suns by Dom Kaye
Ok this looks fun! A combination of interactive fiction and Shakespeare. I was a playtester for Jimmy Maher’s IF game The King of Shreds and Patches, and have an extremely soft spot for the Elizabethan period.
First impressions are very good, with the Dramatis Personae at the start. I tend not to try to remember things from these long lists, but it’s atmospheric and most intriguing. I also like how clicking on footnotes reveals that text at the bottom. As a Scot I am most curious about Grimm, an Albidosi barbarian.
One minor point: Elizabeth wouldn’t have used the regnal number I during this period. That wasn’t the practice in the English monarchy for the first of each number.
Moving into the story proper the writing is strong, as the characters are drawn into a treasure hunt. But I found it rather difficult to tell characters apart, and didn’t feel fully engaged in events. I think it might have been more engaging if I had been playing one of the characters directly, either Billy or Grimm.
As I say the writing is strong, but the problem I had was with interactivity. There are a number of places where you can control things, in particular a key puzzle later on. Though it isn’t always clear how to do this, with text options that you can cycle through before making a final selection. Until I realised this I was flailing around rather blindly in places. Against that there were long passages where I had no agency in the story.
I think a nice way things could be reworked would be to allow the player to explore the geography. This would be quite a lot of work for the author, but being given a route to follow at the start I would have been a bit happier choosing the steps followed, rather than having things play out on rails for me.
The story does go into some very interesting places though, and I really liked the way things went later, without giving any spoilers away (I sort of want to talk about this so much, but am keeping spoiler free!). It is also nicely emotive in that section.
I just wish things had been a bit more interactive throughout, and that I’d felt more involved in the story.
But it was a nice first play for me for this year’s competition. Thank you to the author!