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Played On: 10/19/04 (8:30 PM to 10:35 PM)
Unofficial Score: 9.5 (8.5 base with +1.5 skew and -0.5 skews)
I finished it (for multiple endings) without the hints or walkthrough. I looked at both after the fact, because I was certain I missed something. I did miss a few things, but I managed to find many of the nine endings (including the early ones), including a few things not covered by the walkthrough. I have a few questions, such as what would have happened if I had mailed the letter instead of opening it? Would it have impacted any of the possible endings? I found the fortune, but it's gone at the point where the walkthrough suggests reading the additional information printed on it.
The writing in "Blue Chairs" is exceptional. The story, although a little confusing even in retrospection, is also top-notch. I believe it's probably open for some interpretation, and I'll offer mine later in this review. Before I continue, though, I should explain the score. I was tempted to give the game a 10.0 base, at first. It's so involving and thought- provoking, that I can't help but think an even deeper level of understanding will present itself to players more astute than myself. Where "A Light's Tale" didn't quite work for me in its attempt at surrealism, "Blue Chairs" does. I just couldn't decide if it was an excellent game, my "wow" game, because I was never quite sure I "got it" all. At the same time, it wasn't a wannabe. The author knows how to weave a tale, even if I'm uncertain as to whether or not I fully understood it. I have based it at 8.5 (which is very likely too low), with a +1.5 skew (because I could not stop playing, I was so focused, even when my wife was urging me to give it a rest and come to bed). It completely drew me in. I've added an additional -0.5 skew, which I feel guilty about, for the excessive profanity. No, I'm not a prude, it's just a matter of preference. In "Blue Chairs," the strong language works, and it's even realistic in the story. It's the same reason other games might be docked by other authors for including music and/or graphics. It's possible that "Blue Chairs" wouldn't pack the same punch without it, but I think it would be just as strong an entry if it had been toned down somewhat.
Now, it's time for speculation. A few times, I tried going down one path, only to back up and try another. As a result, some of what I tried wasn't actually factored into the "final" course that led to my ending(s). What stands out, in particular, is that I attempted to drive the car, before finding a ride. What happened then is a strong clue for the opinions I have formed about the story, although I restored a save and continued the story without ever having driven away. Perhaps I shouldn't have, but it proves that the section I saw, while adding to my understanding, was optional. I did what I was warned not to (near the end), backed up, and continued on the longer path for a different ending.
The clues to make sense of it all may exist, and I missed them. Or, maybe I've misinterpreted them. Maybe my understanding of the story is nothing like what the author intended. Maybe it really is open for interpretation, with no clear indication of what really happened and why. It's hard to talk about it without spoiling the story, but for those of you who have played it, I think some discussion on the story is warranted.
Skip ahead to "Okay, that's all..." if you have not yet played "Blue Chairs."
I think this game has a Photopian feel (although I haven't played "Photopia" in years -- just my vague impression). What I mean is, it's meant to evoke an emotional response. The story is multi-layered. Understanding comes from multiple (optional) paths, and possibly from repeat plays (after finishing, watching the brief intro again shed some light on the events). It's not always clear what's real and what isn't, because reality is colored and shaded by Dante's state of mind, and because dreams sometimes take over completely. I could be completely nuts, or I could be stating the obvious, but I think "Blue Chairs" is partially a ghost story. Dante takes a drug that's promised to provide the best dream of his life. This puts him in touch with his lost love, who reaches out to every cell phone in the vicinity in search of him. She was the victim of a recent house fire (here's where my understanding gets even more speculative). While Dante finds a way to Beatrice, he dreams -- sometimes his own, but sometimes hers, and sometimes reality just seems like a dream. When he finds her, he has a choice: follow her, or don't. What's learned in the optional section I mentioned earlier comes into play here. She has predicted this moment.
Alternately, Dante's drug-induced dreaming could be a connection with things yet to happen, although I doubt this, because the author makes a point to insist that certain parts are real (outside the convenience store), and certain parts are not. Still, some clues seem to suggest that what was experienced in the dream are simply future events. I lean more towards my first theory, however.
Okay, that's all... end of the spoilers and plot speculation.
As for bugs, I only have a few notes. It's either very bug-free, or it was simply so entertaining and able to keep me on the right path, that I didn't really look for problems. A typo in the hints shows "ypu can't proceed..." Asking Chris about the book results in blank text (ah, the woes of blank text). One sentence, starting with "it's sort of warm in here..." doesn't begin with a capital "I" although it should. I tried sitting on the blue chairs in the basement of the office building, but got a default "that isn't something..." message. In the kitchen with the girl, attempting to "say" the word that answers her question follows with a weird result line -- "(to the girl(party_alice))".
But for every bug, it seems "Blue Chairs" features ten more unexpected positive responses or handlers. Attempting to push the bookcase doesn't just say "you can't push that." The back-stories for the characters in the supermarket maze were a nice touch (if a tad disturbing). When moving through different rooms of the party house, the music is almost a living entity, perfectly described in a "you are there" kind of way. The game features a trick similar to one found in "Typo", in that the game alters your responses in a portion of the beginning, to better fit with Dante's likely reactions to the phone call. The introductory ASCII screens are a great touch, and I recommend viewing them a second time after finishing the game.
I'm anxious to hear the opinions of other players. "Blue Chairs" has a strong chance of winning the competition, provided the judges are open-minded. I expect a few judges won't get it at all, and it'll receive low marks as a result. But I think that's going to be the exception, not the norm. I wouldn't be at all surprised if other post-competition reviews cite this as the best story in the competition, complete with the best writing, marking it as one of their only 10's (if not the only one). I'm a little disheartened, really. All modesty aside, and the numerous minor problems in my entry notwithstanding, I've been holding onto hope that my game is solid, original, and well-written enough for a chance at a high finish. "Blue Chairs" really dashes those lingering hopes. Good luck, Chris Klimas. I think you have a winner. Great game!