Brass Lantern
the adventure game web site


Common Ground Review

by David Glasser

Posted 29 December 1999 to

I was part of the "Dudes, you gotta write non-competition reviews!" squad, so here's one for Stephen Granade's new game "Common Ground". I think it's my first non-comp review ever; my goal in comp reviews has usually been constructive criticism, especially when a game is its author's first. Since Stephen has already written four games (and two of them in recent years to high praise), I didn't think that was appropriate, so I ended up with something more like an analytical essay without much criticism at all. Maybe next time I'll actually write a review :-)

[Complete spoilers for Common Ground, and some for Photopia]

So, does anybody really want to play *another* multi-perspective game about a teenage girl and motor vehicles?

Well, if it's Stephen Granade's "Common Ground", I sure do.

Luckily, Common Ground was completely different from that other game in all but the most superficial matters. While Photopia seemed to be about the forces leading up to and repercussing from one chance event, "Common Ground" leaves the future in the hands and mind of the player: it allows the "crucial event" to be "prevented" and leaves the results purely in the mind of the player. Both of these alternatives are interesting and led to good games. (I will now stop comparing CG to Photopia, since it really should be taken on its own merits.)

Right after having finished playing CG, I thought that, while it was fun, there wasn't much in it that couldn't have been done with a simple four-part multi-spective static fiction story. I restarted it and played around a little more, and eventually I realized that I couldn't have been further from the truth. CG uses the standard conventions of IF to portray the differences in perspective in a somewhat-average American family in a way that would be impossible in a short story, because short stories do not have the same level of standard expectations as IF does.

We've all heard of the "lying narrator" in IF; I'd list some examples but don't want to create spoilers. CG uses something similar to this: the biased narrator. Of course, all narrators in IF are biased, but since most games only have one narrator, or at the least only one narrator for any given piece of game-time, the bias is invisible because there is no reference point. As far as I remember, even Photopia only overlapped one short scene. (Um, I really won't bring up Photopia any more.)

In CG, though, the first three sections are mostly overlapped, doing something that many (myself included) have been thinking about for a while: showing a scene through more than one perspective in IF [1]. The IF conventions are used to show the differences in the characters' life views; for example, when mother Deb enters the living room, Frank's dirty pair of boots stick out to her as the most important thing in the room. Neither Jeanie nor Frank notice them, even if the player types X BOOTS [2]! Similarly, when in the parents' bathroom Jeanie's sole fixation is their tub, whereas Frank barely sees it. The standard IF logic that all important objects are listed when you type LOOK shows what each character considers important!

All in all, I consider "Common Ground" to be a successful attempt at comparing the perspective of different character in IF. And it's fun, too!


[1] There's something in the back of my mind that says this has been done before, but since I can't think what I'll assume that Stephen is the first to actually make a game using this.
[2] ...though Stephen has told me that he really should have implemented X BOOTS for Jeanie. But even had he, she wouldn't *notice* them and Frank would still not be able to see them, so I'm going to consider my point valid anyway.

Last note: I'm about to go out for the evening, and tomorrow morning I'm leaving and won't get back until the second, so unless I go on the Internet late tonight this is (bleah, cliche time) my last post of the 1900s. I hope all you raifists, rgifers, ifMUDders, and assorted IF mavens have a happy and safe New Year's. Assuming the Internet as we know it still exists, see you on the second. (If society does descend into complete anarchy, I'll try not to burn down any of the houses or workplaces of any IF people unless it's definitely necessary, OK?)

This article copyright © 1999, David Glasser

About Us | Contact Us | Technical Info | History
Copyright © 1997-2010, Stephen Granade.