Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pytho’s Mask

Author: Emily Short
Availability: Free / Download
Format: Text Game (Interactive Fiction)
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Rating: Everyone
My Scores: (Writing: 4, Gameplay: 3) out of 5

Found at or


In Pytho’s Mask, you are Soteria, an agent of the secret Order of the Phoenix.  A mysterious masked man has invited you to the royal celebration of a comet that appears once every hundred years.  Your orders are to use this opportunity to investigate a possible threat to the king, which may have something to do with the comet...


Pytho’s Mask is a text game.  Although the more popular term for this genre is apparently “Interactive Fiction", I personally prefer to stick with “Text Games”:  arguably, most of these games are interactive works of fiction.  The main difference is that while most of these games have graphics and clickable items and whatnot, text/IF games deal primarily with, well, text.  The narrator gives you a description of where you are and what’s going on, and you type what you want to do in response.  True, some may have illustrations; but it’s like the difference between a book with pictures and a comic book.  Anyway, since Pytho’s Mask is all text with no pictures whatsoever, the Art score is absent for this review.

I like the writing in this game.  The plot is interesting, the mystery is well-clued without being too obvious, and the strange setting is beautifully detailed.  While some details can seem confusing at first, one quickly and easily gets a feel for this fantastic alternate-Earth.  Better still, the story and setting seem to “bleed off the page”, as it were;  hints of old stories and personal dramas creep in, giving the feeling that there’s more in the distance.  The characters are nicely distinct with strong personalities, requiring only a couple of sentences to establish just what sort of people they are.  And yet, there is more to each of them than meets the eye, for this game is all about hidden facets and dualities.  Also, I like that the main character is a bit like a Renaissance noble-woman version of Batman: Soteria doesn’t just idly solve mysteries as a way to pass the time between harpsichord lessons; she is a highly-trained agent whose job it is to kick butt.

The gameplay, on the other hand, I consider to be middling: not very good, not very bad.  One of the problems text games face is that they are highly vulnerable to “What Am I Supposed To Do Here?!” and its cousin, “What Am I Supposed To Type?!”.  Pytho’s Mask does a fairly good job of prodding you in the direction of the plot.  Admittedly, there are moments where you feel the game putting you on rails, but this is balanced out with times where you get to wander and explore at your leisure.  As for typing, there are blessedly few commands that you will actually need, although first figuring out how to phrase some things was a bit of a hiccup for me.

>Read Guide To Spotting Conspirators
What do you want to read that in?
> ???

Bear in mind, this is usually the fault of the tools used to make the game more than the author him/herself.  I currently recommend TADs, as it has a decent system for handling and creating actions, and it doesn’t ask me what I want to read things in.

One bug that’s more likely to be on the author’s shoulders, though, is the tendency to try to pick up a given book in the library only to later find yourself holding a completely different one.

On the shelves, you notice The King In Yellow.
>Read King In Yellow
(First taking The King In Yellow) It details how to roll out the dough, and what ingredients to use for sauce.
You are carrying a copy of How To Make Pizza.

Fortunately, things like that do not make up the majority of the game.  If anything, you spend most of the game talking to other characters.  The conversation system is introduced very early on, and it’s actually an NPC who initiates your first conversation.

Conversations are mostly handled in dialogue trees.  You first address a character by typing “Talk To (Character)", and then you’re given a choice of things to actually say.  You choose by simply selecting A, B, C, etc.  This helps make conversations easier to navigate, as it solves the “What Am I Supposed To Type?!” problem.  I discovered by accident, though, that you can also introduce different topics by typing “T (ThingYouWannaTalkAbout)”.  It took me a while to figure out what T was supposed to stand for (Talk About?  Tell About?); then I stumbled across a help section that said T was short for Topic.  “Topic Prince”?  Weird.

On that note, some of these characters have unusual names.  While that’s par for the course in fantasy, it brings up the problem of actually being able to remember said names.

>Ask Minister About Venetia
>The Hussy Hanging All Over The Prince

As it happens, though, the aforementioned Help section -- which I found so late in the game, that it’s embarrassing -- disclosed that, at any time, I could have typed “P” and been given a handy list of all the characters I’d met so far.  Why, oh why, did it not occur to me to type “HELP” sooner?  It could’ve saved me so much headache.

The last minor complaint I’ll bring up is that it’s a bit tricky to keep track of where the exits are.  Some text games have a built-in compass that tells you which directions you can go at any given time:

You are in a dungeon.  Exits are North, South, and Dennis.  
 Exits: North, South, Dennis
>Go North
You come to a room with an inadequately written description. 
 Exits: South, West

The version of Pytho’s Mask which I played (on Frotz) has no such function that I could detect.  Exits were only mentioned as the room was being described (“to the west is a door, and you see a...”), and room descriptions only appeared automatically when you first visit a room.  This means that if you go back to a room you’ve already been to before, you’ll have to explicitly type “Look” (or just “L”) to see where you can go from there.  (Or, of course, you can try going in a direction that doesn’t exist there, and thus be told “You can’t go that way.  You can only go North, South, or Dennis.”)  It’s a minor-to-moderate inconvenience, but it doesn’t make the game unplayable.

There are multiple endings to be had in this game, and at least two different men you can end up with.  Several of the endings fork from the same point.  Basically, toward the end of the game, you have to switch one item with another, and what you switch it with will determine the outcome (And let’s just say you really want to have a grip on who’s who at this point).  Of course, merely figuring out whodunnit isn’t enough to ensure everybody goes home safe and happy...

Pytho’s Mask is a fantastic intrigue flavored with romance and a little action.  It has its share of hiccups, but nothing so debilitating that you can’t finish the game.  “HELP” is your friend, and will save you from much woe.  On the whole, it’s worth checking out.

The Fortune Teller holds up a card.  On one side is an image of a reader agreeing with everything that the girl with the blog has just said.  On the obverse is an image of a reader shaking their head, tossing the blogger out of a convenient window, and going off to start their own blog, a better one, that will have blackjack and hookers.

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