by Joe Mason (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 1996
This article was posted on the newsgroup rec.arts.int-fiction on August 8, 1996.
All right! I just finished Andrew C. Plotkin's So Far. AND (for the first time in a long time) I did it without cheating! Just one gentle prod from L. P. Smith's Invisiclues. So here's my thoughts on the game - including the ending, so if you haven't finished it, read on at your own risk!
Too bad I didn't solve it soon enough to react to the other messages when they were ther, but here's my personal take on it (and yes, it does repeat a lot of stuff):
The title "So Far", is indeed part of "so near and yet so far". Which is your state at the beginning of the game - you still feel very close to Aessa, but you seem to be drifting apart. Probably there's another man involved, making it parallel to Rito and Imita. To solve the situation, a catharsis is needed - some way to put the tension behind, and either be reconciled with Aessa or move on to something else.
In Rito and Imita, this catharsis is the killing of Tito. But afterward, Rito forgives Imita totally, and everything is syrupy sweetness and love:
"The audience sighs, released. The rest of the play is accomplished with commendable speed: wedding flowers, declarations of passion, bells and drums."
The sigh is the catharsis, but the rest it sped through. I mean, does anybody else agree with me that "wedding flowers" after that duel and hatred is just sickening? Kind of like the altered version of King Lear: the original ended up with Cordelia being murdered, and King Lear dying of grief. Somebody thought it was too much for audiences to handle, so they changed the ending so that Cordelia marries Edgar (or was it Edmund? The good one, anyway.) and King Lear gets his crown back. It was horrible, apparently.
I think that's the point of the end-game. If you go with Rito's answer, you're being unrealistic - in the real world, love doesn't always triumph over evil, and the woman you love won't always love you back. When tension of that magnitude exists, you can't just wrap everything up in a tidy little package, much as we might like to. And THAT is why Andrew put the "interactive" part of the game to good use - is there anybody here that answered "no" right off the bat? I know I didn't (in fact, if I hadn't read something about an "afterward" I wouldn't have noticed that "no" wasn't the right answer!) But it was your choice to try to force everything into a little package. By manipulating you into picking "yes", Andrew is making a point about how you think of things. With static fiction, the author could only show you how he thinks of things. (Russ Bryan, if you're reading this: don't say a word!)
Now, truth be told, I detested the treacly end scene of Rito and Imita so much that I'd probably have said "no" out of spite in the endgame if I hadn't been playing for six hours solid at the time and anxious to finish. So I picked the "fairy tale" answer because our fairy tales have conditioned me to believe that's the "correct" answer. I wonder if I'd have gotten the same insight if I'd done that?
Back to the situation of you and Aessa - where was I? Oh, yes, the arguing voices. They were in the beginning to add to the tension - to show that the beginning of the game is a (place? time? aha! I know the word to use -) situation with a lot of hatred present. Your task is to move past this hatred. Because you're working with the fate of the entire world, your actions will reconcile this argument as well as your own. Sorry, END this argument - not reconcile! :-)
Once you pass through the shadow, you go around doing various things. One common thread I noticed with almost every puzzle is that something in each case doesn't work the way its supposed to (kind of like your relationship with Aessa.) Let's look at each of them:
The gate: as it is, the pillars are apart. If they touch, the gate won't open. To solve the puzzle, you have to get them almost touching, but not quite. So near, and yet so far? But in the beginning, this situation was a bad thing! Why is it good now?
Now, if the gate worked, you wouldn't have to worry. But its broken, so you have to find an alternate way.
The dome: again, almost touching, but not quite. Why? Also, notice the lichen overrunning the place - obviously something gone haywire. And, as someone pointed out, the original people probably used the shower. Now its broken, so you have to use the plants.
The castle: You can't get in the gate (which is the accepted way), you have to use the "web" at the side. I wonder if you can fit "so near and yet so far" in here too? Any thoughts?
The ring you find has a broken chain, and the "orange leather" has been discarded. The ceramic square is just something that was lost, and the triangle piece should be garbage. All these things are, again, imperfect - but you have to use this imperfection. The ring counts, too - even if it is broken, you can use it to participate in the ceremony. This is a slightly different situation from the last world, where you had to work around the imperfections - here, you work with them.
The tethered animals are also an example of "imperfection". The animal outside balked at going in, so they had to tie it up outside - an imperfection for you to exploit. I think the other two were tied up in the outer area of the barn because they were too dangerous to keep inside - another imperfection. And in order to get across the river, you make these imperfections in the animal storing system worse, by freeing the animals.
The contraption in the park: I'm not sure how this relates to the theme of imperfection. Obviously the two poles relate to "so near and yet so far", but somebody already mentioned that so I'll say no more. I interpreted the bronze disc to mean the world's climate changed and the water level rose, shrinking some islands and a peninsula and completely covering others, but I'm not sure how that relates (I was tickled to see Water World in the Invisiclues, though. Great setting for a movie - too bad Costner ruined it).
I'm getting pretty tired of writing (been at this all day), so I'll cap off these conclusions. Tomorrow I'll talk about the Grasslands and Darkness. But first, this "imperfection" theme:
At the ending, like I said, you have to realize that the world is not perfect like Rito and Imita portrayed. And all through the game have been these clues about that. I mean, to get across the river you have to exploit every imperfection you can! "It's a blatant clue, isn't it?" (One lousy point for anybody who can give the source of the quote!)
Enough for now - except to say that I thought casting Aessa aside was a good move. Like somebody said, she haunted your steps through the game like a ghost, but she didn't fit in - she wasn't really there - except in your imagination. It was just your character yearning for her, and that's not actually going to get her any closer. He can say "I forgive you for leaving me" all he wants, if she doesn't want to come back that won't change it! The "no" answer let's you realize this, explosively, and move on to someone else.