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Video Game / Photopia

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First you're a bombed-out guy in a car with a friend. Next you're an astronaut on Mars on a mission. Then you hear a splash. Then the narrator and plot shift again to match with the color of the times...

Such is the nature of Adam Cadre's Photopia, a 1998 Interactive Fiction work unique in the execution of its narrative and gameplay elements. While relatively brief and puzzle-light compared to many other Interactive Fiction (being more like a linear Visual Novel minus the visuals), it uses that time to give you pieces of a large picture that gradually fills in as the game progresses. And when the pieces finally click together... let's just say that there's a reason for the game placing 1st place in its year's Interactive Fiction competition.

In the history of Interactive Fiction, Photopia marked a Genre Turning Point; before Photopia, games often used Mind Screw surrealism or High Fantasy loosely bound by a huge Story Arc. After Photopia, plot and puzzles became more important to the feel of a game, and slice-of-life realism overtook surrealism as the most popular environment in Interactive Fiction.

Download links for the game are here. Cadre has dropped hints of an in-progress movie adaptation.

This game contains examples of:

  • The All-Concealing "I": It's not immediately clear who "you" are. Best example: "The cool breeze ruffles the feathers of your wings."
  • Anachronic Order: The sections between the astronaut story are told out of order, starting with the crash that kills Alley and ending with Alley in her crib, as a baby.
  • But Thou Must!: While you can make some different choices, the narrative is extremely linear and nothing you do affects it significantly. This is most noticeable on a replay if you try to prevent the car crash.
  • Color Motif: The astronaut story. To brilliant effect, each section of the real life story segues into the astronaut story by a common color. For example: the red of the stoplight from the accident in the beginning segues into Mars' red soil...
  • Contemplate Our Navels: In-Universe: While Alley and Alley's father are standing underneath the stars, and when the real Wendy asks Alley why her story's kind of apocalyptic and weird.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Drunk guys in beginning? Nope. Wendy the pirate astronaut on an LSD adventure? Nope. Alley's father? Nope. The nervous nerd trying to ask her out? Nope. Guess who?
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The Queen that rules over the strange land the pirate astronaut is trapped in is a borderline Humanoid Abomination that kills almost everything with her sight. Anything that enters her realm dies or leaves. Subverted in that the realm was already like this when she arrived.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: You won't fully understand what's going on until later on in the game.
  • The Maze: One of the most discussed aspects of the game is how it subverts this. Specifically, the maze is entirely meaningless in its layout, and the way to get out is to simply take off your space suit and fly out.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Wendy, the pirate astronaut scavenger who knows kung-fu.
  • No Ending: Well, there is, but with anachronistic order above, the game ends with Alley's father using the titular device - a kid's observatory/constellation projector - while Alley's in her crib, watching the colors blend together to make the whites of the stars. It ends abruptly as you turn off the lights to her room. The farthest point in time is Wendy's father waking up at the hospital after the car crash that killed Alley.
  • Non P.O.V. Protagonist: Alley, the central character of the story, never gets her POV.
  • Precision F-Strike: There are a few in the introductory scene in the original version, but not in the newer versions.
  • Rewatch Bonus: A lot. For example, the opening takes on a whole new meaning towards the end when you realize the car is the one that kills Alley.
  • Same Face, Different Name: Adam Cadre submitted this game to the 1998 Interactive Fiction Competition under the name "Opal O'Donnell", out of fear that people would associate Photopia with his earlier sex farce game I-0.
  • Slice of Life: When you're not the astronaut. Most of the story interludes deal with mundane events in the lives of Alley Dawson's family and acquaintances.
  • Story to Gameplay Ratio: Heavily favoring the "story" side. Don't worry, it's a mix.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: One appears to be a Mind Screw, the other a relatively straightforward plot.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Justified, as the science fiction plot is revealed to be a story Alley is telling the kid she's babysitting.
  • Unwinnable: Completely averted; it's impossible to get permanently stuck in the game aside from a bug in the competition version. The only thing closest to this is the maze.