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[Review] Common Ground *SPOILERS*

by Mark Musante

Posted 7 January 2000 to

Here's my mini-review of Stephen Granade's new game "Common Ground". Copy-n-pasted from

* * SPOILERS * *

Common Ground tells the story of a girl, Jeanie, who's on the verge of running away from home. Two other characters are part of the game, her mom and Frank. What sets this story apart from your average interactive fiction game is the way Stephen allows you to play each character, but still center the story around on Jeanie.

The game is divided into four parts, Jeanie's character playing the bookends, with Frank and Jeanie's mother the parts in the middle. Stephen makes use of the HTML version of TADS by including some elegantly simple chapter headings, a title graphic and an Inform/Infocom-like set of menus for useful meta-information.

I'll briefly touch on that last item first. Typing in the command 'hint' brings up a menu with the choices being "instructions and information" and "fine print". To move the pointer between the two choices, you use 'u' to move it up and 'd' to move it down. For some reason, though, my fingers kept wanting to go for 'n' (for next) and 'p' (for previous). I'm not aware of any other game that uses U/D to move the arrow. But it's only a minor gripe.

The story itself is an engaging one. Told initially from Jeanie's perspective, you meet her mom and Frank and her attitude. That attitude is almost a character of its own -- Frank and Jeanie's mom come across a bit flat beside it. As we pass through the first 'chapter', we find that Frank is a loser and a jerk, and that mom is something of a nag.

Then the game switches gears and you're playing Frank. Stephen does a good job of presenting Frank's point of view without making the game into a sappy he-said-she-said grudge match. Frank thinks and behaves as if he's a caring man, a bit dismayed that Jeanie doesn't appreciate how hard money is to come by. Which is the truth? Jerk or responsible guardian? Probably somewhere in between.

Switching into mom gives us yet another point of view. Suddenly mom seems like the kind of woman who is always thinking of her child first. She's not nagging Jeanie about eating food with the family -- she's trying to make sure that Jeanie gets everything that she (the mother) and Frank can provide.

In the final part of the story, we find out that Jeanie is planning on running away. It's up to you, the player, to decide which happens. Which should Jeanie choose? If she stays it's more of the same, dull life -- but security. If she goes, adventure, freedom -- but danger. Through the magic of the 'undo' command, which Stephen helpfully provides at the end, it's possible to see both outcomes in one sitting. A nice touch.

The bottom line is that the interactive fiction world needs more games like Common Ground. It's a short, easy game to play, it tells an interesting story, and it's well written on top of all that. When you've got 15 minutes or so to idle away, give this game a shot. I think you'll like it.

This article copyright © 2000, Mark Musante

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