1.) SPOILER ALERT: Don't read this if you don't already know what happens, you pillock.
I'm sitting here a little bit dumbfounded by what's been laid out before me. Trying to imagine the feelings I might have if I didn't know Gower, or this website. I have to admit, it would be really strange. I'm trying to get into the head of someone, who, upon seeing this 90s-ass website for the first time, maybe feeling like they're sort of in the middle of nowhere on the internet, which is always a fun but apprehensive feeling, scrolling down to the New Storygames section for the first time to see what's up... And finding this.
I have to say, this might be, at first, one of the more unsettling things I've read on the site. Sure, the actual horror genre is all well and good, and there are some good examples on this site, but nothing here has made me feel as *uncomfortable* as this story. And I think that's clear from the very beginning. Everything written here is clearly written for somebody else- And whether you assume the familiarity is scary and uncomfortable, or whether you feel like you're an unwelcome voyeur spying on two people who are closer than you realized, there's a sense of dread from the very first page. You're not supposed to be here, and maybe Natalie isn't either.
Maybe it's just that I have experience reading the writings of internet creeps who have entire relationships sheerly in their heads, but the writing felt so indicative of it that I felt compelled for "Natalie" to tell a side of the story that didn't match up with his. And after a few depressing endings, it started to become a game less about learning about these two people, and more a game of trying to find out what's real and what isn't. And, just like a real conversation with an infatuated individual, that answer is never really clear. You won't know if what they tell you about the subject of their obsession is real or not if they're your only source of information on the relationship.
Of course, the paths are not consistent between each other. They don't have to be! But sometimes Gower will contradict Natalie even within the path she's currently on. And it leads to conclusions of all sorts. From the heartwarming, to the perverse, to the malicious, to the downright lonely. And you can never really 'win'. The more things go in the favor of romance, the more uncomfortable the *reader* is for their voyeurism. The more things go into the negative or bizarre, the more sympathy the reader will have for Natalie, and the more unreliable the "good" paths seem.
All in all, it feels a bit like an experience designed purely to put the reader just that little bit on edge, whether it's through subtle details or more blatant twists. Or maybe I'm just paranoid after so much past experience with internet creeps, and how real this might feel to the uninitiated on their very first playthrough. Either way, I, personally, found this to be a delightful exploration of all sorts of relationships, and perhaps a bit of a fun romp through the feeling of seeing things I'm not supposed to.
I also have to add how refreshing it is to have an interactive meta-narrator that isn't just some twelvie that thinks they're Lemony Snickett. You have no idea how satisfying it is to see that after so many of the 'troll' games we used to have.
2.) This actually took me a bit to get into. At first it was strange, like I was reading a personal journal that I was not supposed to read, but that was the authors intention (I assume) and it added to the intrigue of the story.
Since the game was written by Gower I have to mention that the grammar was very good, with a lot of interesting sentence structures. There were a few words here and there that were wrong (usually it was the case where a real word, just the wrong one, was typed). I apologize, but I am having trouble finding an example to call out. I think a few were in the "Quinn" branch. It did not affect the story or readability. I only noticed because in one case I thought the same word was typed twice by mistake, but one was supposed to be a different word. Something like "She she, 'X, Y, Z' to me" rather than "She said, 'X, Y, Z' to me."
As for the story it was very cute, with a lot of humor. I thought it was a very witty story! I am still trying to figure out if there really is a Natalie this was written for, and if the stories are somewhat true, or if it is complete fiction. Considering that I would believe either case was true, I think it is genius writing. The true love story appears to be in the simplest path, and the other paths are "fantasy" in most cases. It gave a ton of options and branches that were interesting and very different. There was also a realness to it that was spot on--it was relate-able.
The paths with the graphs about frequency of sexual activity had me laughing as well. I feel like as a married man this was also relate-able. One person (or both) usually feel like this in a relationship at one point or another. The exaggerated method of dealing with it through research and a story game was amazing.
There was a set of options that led to darker plot lines, like the reader killing someone or the author killing someone. In my opinion these paths were more silly/entertaining than dark though. They were as if the author knew his loves sense of humor and how "she" would respond. They did not have the same realistic feel (to me) as the other paths. That could also be the optimist in me not wanting to believe the characters are psychotic though.
I also should mention that you got a good sense of the characters: their interests, desires, frustrations, wins, sacrifices, etc. in a very unique way. For example, it never said, "the narrator was sexually frustrated," but on that paths that he was his narrative made it very implicit (via the extensive research into the correlation between temperature and lack of sex, as one example).
I laughed a lot while playing this game, mostly at the exaggerations. The relate-ability and realness was good on most paths. It was not my favorite story, I can't say why though. Perhaps it was not my style.
3.) This is an intriguing, experimental game. It doesn't follow the typical second person format, but is written as a pseudo-conversation between two people reflecting back on their relationship. You play as the woman/wife replying back to the recollections and questions of the man/husband. It's a fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, glimpse into the psychology of the two characters.
Choices are not inconsequential here. Depending on your responses, you might end up in a world where the man is a near psychopath manipulating his wife/ex-girlfriend, or a world where the man claims his wife is slowly descending into madness. The tale might be an almost painfully sweet account of two high school sweethearts facing a crossroads and deciding love is enough, or one where the two of you never really got together at all. Even the choices change in dynamic. Sometimes the options are sweet or teasing, but other times they sound like the response of a battered or controlled woman.
I've played through it a handful of times, but chances are there are a lot more endings yet to find. On the first play I didn't have time to finish, but I'd picked all idealistic answers of a high-school love-at-first sight romance, and so the man was always sweet. When I played again the next day, I tried the other extreme path of being controversial and defiant. It was here that the game really started to shine! The man would argue, contradict, lose his temper, manipulate, control - he was anything but the 'high school sweetheart' my first play-through depicted. By the time he claimed I was losing my mind and regularly going to the madhouse, I was pretty sure he was the one drugging me to melt my brain.
In later play-through, I tried to pick a more realistic balance and choose options to portray a typical love story; not 'love at first sight,' but still meeting and facing challenges. I avoided the extremes, and the stories accordingly became more realistic and bittersweet. I even managed one ending that seemed pretty near to happily ever after, though it had a melancholy undertone.
The game is definitely worth playing through a few times, or even more. It has great replay value since there are so many branches and paths, and each one has its own unique slant, circumstances, and dilemmas added to the story. It reminds me a bit of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind in that it takes a deeper dive into the dark side of the mind, and how in some relationships the people lie or hurt or manipulate each other, and how for many relationships the couple is stuck in a cycle of coming together and drifting apart.
It is also impressive that this game can get genuinely creepy in places, in an 'is this man going to kill me and cut up my body and dissolve it in acid if I contradict him one more time about how much I supposedly 'love' him' way.
4.) There's a sweet, simple little love story of nostalgic reminiscences to be had here...if you choose wisely, and don't stray from the expected path.
Now if you don't play along, and start to contradict the narrator, if for some perverse reason you (as Natalie) insist on remembering things *incorrectly*, things get a little thorny, fast. If you're coming to this or to Gower's previous game after having only followed along with the superb Tally Ho LP, I imagine it can be a little surreal. If there's one thing I'm learning about his CYS storygames anyway, it's that you can expect him to do some neat tricks with the POV and structure of these, and you can expect to be unsettled.
The previous game presented itself as a quiz and (for most of it) was Gower as the author speaking to you, the player. This time the 'you' is Natalie, playing the game that was written for her by the narrator and sometimes speaking directly through the choices. (And this is the source of the only flaw I found in the game. It was supposed to have been written in advance for her to play through, and that's confirmed in most of the endings, but it didn't always seem that way as it was actually happening...and of course certain choices changed the actual 'reality' of the relationship and some didn't. Although, this being a CYOA, I'd be at a loss for coming up with other ways to handle it.)
Overthinking the structure aside, the game and the different takes on the characters' relationship is just fascinating to explore. Sometimes it hits that fond, nostalgic tone of a 20 year anniversary just right, sometimes it's twisted and hysterically funny, and sometimes...well, often...it swerves on a hard left and turns dark af.
(Weirdly, the 'baked ziti' conversation was the most uncomfortable one for me, perhaps because it's a much more familiar and realistic example of a terrible relationship than some of the uh, other options.)
The automatic dishwasher scene meanwhile is bizarre and hilarious and not at all what you'd expect to encounter in a story like this, but it was a great moment for a change of pace after pawing through so many other twisted memories, 'distortions', and what have you.
This is undoubtedly one of the best written stories we have in the L&D category, but anyone looking for a safe, traditional romance is going to be in for a shock, and I'm looking forward to reactions.
Btw, the Quinn and Floyd choices are very much worth unlocking, and not difficult. Just go back and choose a bit differently near the beginning. (Scrolling through the comments for the exchange between 'Natalie' and Gower is also recommended after reading this a few times, it's good enough to belong in the story itself and definitely should be part of the experience...)
This was a great read, the kind of thing you have to get through all in one sitting once you realize what's going on with the responses and endings. Although, because the nature of the existing relationship can change so much depending on what you pick, I never got that clear, unified picture of it all the way I did in the OTHER story. Gower may or may not have been married to Natalie for 20 years, but it's obvious his true first love will always be Kelly. Nothing can match the intensity of the spark they had.
5.) Gower is a master at creating moods. This story is really a collection of them, without much of a plot to get in the way. They range from pleasant and loving to darker, full of anxiety, anger, and outright horror (especially when things get quiet...). Each of the endings I reached had a different tone, but there was a subtle discomfort in even the happiest. I was very impressed with how easily Gower conjured up these feelings- the bit about baked ziti was only a few sentences, but I can't remember reading anything quite as menacing for a long time (KUaF does something similar, but the dominant mood there was grief or longing). I doubt you can play through the game without getting at least one hint that the narrator is not exactly a thoughtful husband, and probably much more than one.
The structure was well-suited for this kind of psychological study. Single sentences from Natalie prompt long, revealing digressions from the narrator. After a few choices, we're pretty confident of how he will react if we contradict his account, and we have a good sense of his likes and dislikes. Still, mood trumps character here- just as we don't really need to know every last thing that happened in this relationship, we don't need to know much beyond the basics about the narrator as a person. All Gower provides are the essentials, enough to his words about his undying, perfect love for Natalie sound convincing (or, at least, convincing up to a point).
6.) This is honestly a great read. The fact that apparently the author wrote all of it in three days just furthers my amazement at both his productivity and the quality of the content he has been putting out. Then again, we are talking about The Gower, so that's a given. This story is written in a very creative way, by putting the player in the shoes of Natalie, whose husband has written her a storygame in commemoration of their anniversary. It's all very sweet. Or is it?
The way the story is set up, is by having the narrator, AKA the husband, reacting to the choices picked by the player, AKA Natalie. Going along with the "typical" college romance path will in turn garner a positive reaction from the narrator, pleased at his wife's memory of this special moment. Trying to pick different paths, however, will usually result in the narrator's confusion, annoyance, and straight-up infuriation. The narrator's comments are usually hilarious, and all the writing displays that witty, funny and charming style that just makes it all the more enjoyable to read.
Some choices lead to seriously funny bits where we can see the narrator really losing his cool, bringing out another side to this marriage than the sweet love story we're presented with at first. The fact that Gower can make the "mood" of the narrator affect the style of the writing is worthy of praise.
All in all, this is an outstanding story that is sweet, hilarious and sad all rolled up into one. Everyone here would do themselves a favor by reading it. 8/8.
7.) Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve seriously reviewed anything of this standard. This story is so many things, just as the best interactive fiction should be.
The story begins twee and reminiscent of a lot, A LOT, of love and dating on this website. I don’t browse love and dating but christ... the number of ‘love’ stories with a front page and a ‘in the cafeteria’ option is just painful. Seriously, what is it about the fucking cafeteria? Do you Americans spray pheromones in those things!?
Which segues onto my main point: this isn’t a love story. This is an eclectic range of consequences that could arise from a love story, or a fantasy of a love story. The love story isn’t particularly moving if you play the choices that the writer of the story would expect their spouse to pick. But some of the endings outside of that single path vary from horrifying to petty in a compact, dynamic way.
What struck me on playing through a few times was the deliberating, nuanced voice of the protagonist along the expected path. The writer quotes his younger self speaking with articulation, smooth and uninterrupted. Then, when you pick options beyond what the writer expects of his spouse, the narrative shifts to a more broken staccato, which is really how a person would speak when the response isn’t known beforehand. I think that’s great; I really love reading dialogue written in, and I can’t stress this enough, the way people actually speak.
But then with this is a complete absurdity: the writer presents these outrageous options and responds to them outraged nonetheless. Moreover, some options are presented with an awareness of doing so, yet others the narrator speaks as though reacting in real time to the conversation happening, as opposed to the actual preemptive written form. I loved this, and generally love any fresh and creative way to utilise interactive fiction.
I saw one spelling mistake, something about a corn chowder. That’s okay though, I don’t even know what chowder is.
Very well thought out story in total, I especially liked how visceral the ending can be depending on which choice you pick right before the expected love ending is reached. You are deservedly featured, Gower.
Gower, you're really, really clever. I read this in a well-lit bedroom, with closet doors closed and no space under my bed for monsters to hide; yet I still had shivers crawling up my spine like centipedes. You may have exploited a new "phobia" I wasn't aware I had. This takes the eerie style of the Unicornstrider quiz, and raises the stakes by making you the direct object of the narrator's fixation.
I'm not sure exactly how you wrote this in three days to be perfectly honest with you. This game would NOT have worked, had the level of detail and metaphor in any of the branches been lacking, because the style of the writing was made to perfectly mimic the narrator's mindset. The creepiest part of this game, and maybe I'm alone in saying this, are not the jarring (in a good way) endings where the narrator basically admits to be responsible for murder in pursuit of a reaction from Natalie. Instead, it's the uncanny and gross way he remembers encounters with you, including ones that hadn't actually happened. If I had to hear about how "slender, small, and kittenesque" I was one more time, I might've pulled an 'Earl' to end my suffering.
There's a lot of examples of really strong writing in this, but specifically I like the comparison of a brain affected by Alzheimer's to bread dissolving in a soup bowl. Often times metaphors are either too silly or lighthearted or too cliche in horror stories, and it's tough to make them work. This one works brilliantly though, I love it.
And of course, in Gower-like fashion, each choice feels like a step in a Rube Goldberg machine, where the loser is invariably me. Playing out someone else's fantasies is terrible, and terribly fun. And as I sit in the aforementioned room with the lights on and the distinct lack of monsters in sight, I clicked the "I swear, I don't know. I don't know!" option. As I did, my laptop went from 21% to 20%, triggering an automatic screen dim. I've not jumped that much in that long and I'm thankful for it. I mentioned it's a step up from Kelly Unicornstrider before, so fittingly this deserves an 8/8. Well fucking done.
9.) This story is like a box of chocolates ... except with a box of chocolates you know what you'll get; chocolate. Here though, even the seemingly least important choices often lead down a different, completely unexpected path. So it could only be like a box of chocolates if some of those chocolates were sweet, some bitter, some salty, some poisoned, some with a taste quite like blood ... but all pretty damn good!
Comparisons are hard, OK?
I had a lot of fun playing this over and over again, finding all the endings I could. On the first playthrough, I followed the path the narrator wanted me to without even being aware of it. He seemed slightly odd, but a nice enough husband. Then I found the ending where he kills the children, the one where he kills me, the one where he's angry at me because I'm too ace for his liking ... and I realized that this might distract me for a while.
I enjoyed every single word of this story. Some of the paths were sweet, some funny, many downright terrifying; and the first two slowly became the last as I couldn't help but remember when reading about some happy ending that just a few choices away I'd be a dead Natalie.
I'm not sure which ending is the "real" one. Is Natalie (Valerie?) real? Is the narrator a monster? Is Natalie a monster? But regardless, this's one damn weird couple.
I only spotted a few small mistakes; Natalie being called Valerie once or twice, a few repeated words, and I think I found a typo somewhere. Nothing important, basically, and nothing most people will notice. What they will notice, however, is a bunch of amazing storytelling. I definitely noticed it too, so have an 8 from me. I hope this gets commended and featured soon!
Personally, I vote for:
Gower, how many times do I have to tell you? I am NOT your fucking girlfriend! I tried being nice to you in college because I felt sorry for you and spent the rest of my life regretting it. All you did was tell me that everything I liked was stupid and try to get me to play your nerdy little computer games. I hate computer games, I’m not interested in those creepy true-crime documentaries, and I don’t want to join your little Magic the Gathering club!
Besides, we haven’t even been friends in like 20 years! I blocked you on everything after you started telling everyone that we were dating, even though you knew I was going out with Quinn. Then you just turned into a full blown crazy stalker! You know, me and my friends used to get together and laugh at all that shitty poetry you wrote me, and then burn them after we were done. I’m not your soul-mate Gower. I don’t even like you! I thought I made that VERY clear at Darren’s party after the little incident with the toenail in the birthday cake.
And what the hell is this shit about you love me when I’m asleep and you love watching me eat breakfast? You know the terms of the restraining order! You’re not allowed within fifty feet of me or my house. I’m going to be showing this game to the cops, so expect a visit from them soon.
Now, for the love of God, will you please leave me alone? I’m happy. I’m married. I have three beautiful kids and I don’t want anything to do with you. Never contact me again.
-- Natalie on 9/25/2019 9:55:02 AM with a score of 2
... Other than that, I'll go with 1, 4 and 9... REALLY difficult choice though. Those were some damn good reviews. ^_^
I vote for this.
Agonizing choice, but I would pick #1, #4, #8.
... Kinda think you should just go with Gower's choice, since it's his game and all. ^_^
No, I'm cool with keeping the polls open. Let the public speak! This time tomorrow, the people will have spoken loud and clear, I imagine.
They have been at times, but generally speaking they aren't desirable if better member comments exist so they usually get replaced.
Oh my comment made it on there!! It is the worst one, but I’m in the vote! Lol
This game was great, and the comments are all pretty good evaluations! If you read the story, you know EXACTLY what they are all talking about. I like 1, 4, and 8 (none of those are mine). I think Gowers vote should atleast count as two, since he produced the game.
> when you express your feelings with completely unrelated images
The cat was crying? I just thought it was playing Angry Birds. ^_^
That would make me cry...
Birds, birds everywhere, but not a bite to eat. :'(
I mean... I am a fan of bacon...
I am kind of in awe of Gower's ability to produce some of the most unique and entertaining games I've seen on the site in the space of a handful of days. ^_^
Four comments we can not have,
Four comments we can not have,
But Cows vs. Aliens has four featured comments. Is there any specific reason that that story has more comments featured than the usual I've seen?
Nope, someone fucked up (Not me of course) and kept Steve's comment featured. Unfeatured his.