IFcomp 2016: Aether Apeiron

“Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles”. What if ancient Greece had spaceships?

The setting is interesting, at least: it’s a science-fiction thing on another planet, but the culture seems to be basically mythical Greece. The opening preface looks promising, a bit like those “Conan the Barbarian” endplates informing us that the whole adventure is but a segment out of the life of someone who is now marvellously powerful and far removed from the ground-level conflicts we’ve just witnessed. Our Conan-esque heroine is Zephyra, and this is going to be a story of her heroic struggles to….

It breaks down pretty quickly. I don’t know who Zephyra is or what she’s about. I had to end that introduction on an ellipsis because I simply do not know or remember what her heroic struggles are in service of, which is kind of dire when you consider that it should be central to the story I just played.

We start with a scene which looks like her trying to take control of the dashboard of a spaceship in great distress. It looks like she’s failing–I think? I get the impression that this is supposed to introduce us to various factors and characters that make up her resources and allies, but it is only on reflection long after that I see this. There are a lot of hyperlinks to follow, most of which only provide expository information. I’m not sure if any are directly related to our goal of Not Dying; if the objective is to learn about Zephyra’s background, then this is an objective that can only be accomplished incidentally to the nominal goal. Allowing progress only in the case of this important information being disclosed gives the segment a feeling of arbitrariness–the results feel disconnected from the actions that trigger them.

Things start to feel a little more certain once we get to the city. Aha, we need to catch eels to sell and make money! And then, that done, we start to lose focus again as we go to explore the city. Now, city exploration is not, in itself, a bad thing: I’ve really enjoyed some games which focussed entirely on exploration. But by this time I was feeling a little starved for focus, so I suppose I had a little less patience for it than I otherwise would. I figured, though, that this would end with Zephyra on a ship, coming full circle to that first scene. But that’s not what we get. It looks like we wind up in an outtake to someone else’s point of view entirely–goodbye, focus, I hardly knew ye–and the end.

It does not help that the text feels very dense, and is so full of references to aspects of the world–the name of the sun, the names of pretty much everything–that it’s a little hard to wade through with much understanding of what’s happening. It’s hard to distinguish between incidental background and things that are actually important. I get the sense that the author has spent a lot of time either on the world-building or on research into ancient Greece, has layered it on more thickly than they realise, and is now too anxious to show off what they’ve got.

The end result is something that feels kind of rich and complex, but so poorly put together as to ruin all enjoyment of it; a sauce so thick you can’t tell if you’ve got fish or beef on your plate. Comparing it to breakfast, I’d guess … oatmeal, yoghurt, ham, and turkish coffee … all mixed together into a solid, massive cake.

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