Abbess Otilia’s Life and Death

cover (29)

An odd coincidence! I’ve literally just finished reading The Gargoyle (a book I did not particularly enjoy), when I started to play this game.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. This choice based game is presented in a blackletter Gothic script that is hard to read. With my failing eyesight, very hard. I am playing this game with my face six inches from the screen. It’s beautiful to look at as a ‘thing’ but, for me, almost entirely unusable as a user interface. There’s a reason fonts have changed over centuries. An online passage of text, delivered in a browser with a specific number of pixels to represent a character is no longer a valuable work of art that has been developed to be purposefully non-inclusive.

It is a case where an artistic choice by the author is entirely counter to a realistic game experience. I’m sorry to bang on about it but it breaks pretty much every rule in the user experience rulebook.

And it’s a shame, because what the author has produced here is an extremely beautiful thing. I like the fact that, in a similar way to The Broken Bottle, it is presented in book form. I love the colors, the covers, the fact that there is integrated imagery. The font, with its large illuminated capitals looks wonderful on the page. The fact that there’s music. But it’s a case, I think, of the author’s desire to produce a beautiful artifact overcoming a common sense approach to creating a usable game.

But as a game? It actually works very well, font aside. We are, effectively, guiding the career of the titular nun, and can make choices as she goes through her life – these choices, presented at each stage as binary options, do have an effect on the later sections of the game. In particular, the ending is a reflection on the choices we’ve made throughout.

I persevere and reach two endings – then my eyes begin to bulge. I have to say, I did like the voice that the author has used – obviously a lot of research has gone into this game, and the prose style felt relatively authentic. I stumbled over a couple of the passages where it felt a little overblown – as if the author was reaching for a ‘pure’ form but getting their feet tangles over tenses and thee’s and thou’s, but, in general, it passed the verisimilitude test.

I also like the fact that the whole game, as presented, is to a scholar, leafing through an ancient text. It feels like a second narrative. We’re not just guiding Otilla, we’re also guiding the scholar in his quest to uncover the secrets of this life. Marginalia are used. These are entirely unreadable to me, but can be clicked on and this transforms them into a modern font. They don’t had much to the narrative, but they do provide another layer of verisimilitude.

As an artifact, this is a lovely thing – 10/10. As a game, if this game were more accessible, it would be an 8/10. As it is, with the font that the author has chosen – 6/10.


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