By: Derek Yu

On: June 16th, 2009


Alabaster is a new interactive fiction game from Emily Short and various other authors that takes place in the world of Snow White. In the game you’ve been asked by the Queen to execute Snow White in the woods and bring back her heart in a box. Snow White, however, has another plan. Now that you’re out in the woods and alone with Snow White, which of the two women do you trust?

There’s a lot in this game to be interested in, starting with the game’s dark fairy tale setting and the themes that the game touches upon throughout the course of your conversation with Snow White. Secondly, there is the conversation system itself – it’s designed by Short, who laid out some of the concepts behind the system in her article about conversation in games. Alabaster also utilizes simple procedural illustration to lend a little more depth to the story without showing up the player’s imagination.

Finally, the creation of the game was rather unique in and of itself – although Emily Short wrote the introduction of the game, the conversation pieces, or “quips” were written by numerous contributors (John Cater, Rob Dubbin, Eric Eve, Elizabeth Heller, Jayzee, Kazuki Mishima, Sarah Morayati, Mark Musante, Adam Thornton, and Ziv Wities) and then tied together stylistically at the end of the development. The result is 18 different endings and over 400 quips, many of which have alternate versions, depending on the situation. The entire conversation tree is available for download, along with the game’s source code.

But is the game a success? Well, my early impressions of the game is very favorable. The story and writing are, naturally, very good. I love the idea of unraveling characters through conversation and the way you must use this information to ultimately make a decision to trust one person or another. Short’s conversation system is adequately complex, too, although the recurring problem in IF games – namely, how do I phrase what I want to say so that the interpreter understands it – is there. Conversational hints and the “CHANGE THE SUBJECT” action are very useful, but I’m still slightly resentful of them (they can be turned up or down). Still, this system is a step forward from the other (admittedly few) IF games I’ve played, and the story is well-worth following through.

TIGdb: Entry for Alabaster

  • Zenanon

    Eh, I find the IF genre as a whole to be inherently flawed. It allows for any input but can only handle a few finite options, which are usually hidden from you. It wants you to try anything but you aren’t ever rewarded for coming up with something that the developer didn’t think of, because the only meaningful paths are the ones set by the developer.

  • Skofo

    @Zenanon: Isn’t that true for any game?

  • Covenant

    To some extent, I’d say yes, but most games show the “vocabulary” you can use up-front and aren’t about rewarding imagination but other skills (trigger finger, puzzle solving, logic, etc)…
    As I see it, IF is about letting a person loose themselves in a game world created not only by the writer, but by themselves, but unfortunatly that co-operation is kind of gimped from the start by the fact that the “vocabulary” is usually hidden…

    That said, I’d like to see improvement on this area, and we’ve seen some interesting things in the last years… hopefully, the rest of the games will start picking up on some of the techniques and improve their idiot “aliens vs us”, “bring the ring back to that place”, “you’re an ex-cop with an attitude” stories and storytelling…

  • Deacon Blues

    Three minutes into the game, it keeps telling me “You could ask if she is getting colder”, but no matter what variation of “ask if she is getting colder” I put in, the woodsman asks if the night is cold or not.

    So much for that.

  • alastair

    I love this game’s name, reminds me of my own

  • Paul Eres

    “Three minutes into the game, it keeps telling me “You could ask if she is getting colder”, but no matter what variation of “ask if she is getting colder” I put in, the woodsman asks if the night is cold or not.”

    usually there’s some kind of key word to speak that they’re looking for, like

    ‘say are you cold’

    without the ‘say’ or whatever it doesn’t recognize it as something you are saying

  • Nathaniel Edwards

    It definitely takes a bit of practice to get to where you can play IF well, talking in the right way. But, hey, you don’t need reflexes, so it’s probably less practice than you needed to get good at FPS’s online when you first started playing them.

  • jc

    Unless someone can make some new gluxl interpreters that aren’t so buggy or slow, IF seems like a doomed scene.

  • Ezuku

    Hmm… speaking about the game itself :P… *spoilers in my post, please don’t read if you haven’t completely finished the game*

    I really enjoyed this game. However, it did end up making me feel like this game was all about dialogue trees. Infact, there were only really 2 things that you did that made a difference outside of the dialogue tree.

    The game had a few bugs with it too, especially if you ended up doing things out of order. The conversation with Happy was particularly so, and a pretty frustrating experience too. Especially considering that Happy knew everything, which I personally felt like a bit of a kludge (dead person knows all, high level demon is relatively useless with regards to important information).

    I also found fact of snow white = vampire vs lilith thing pretty confusing too. I suppose that lilith was making her a vampire and all, but I felt there was a disconnect between the two factors.

    All in all, the game left me with mixed feelings, although I enjoyed it none the less.

  • Boy

    It’s sad how little IF has evolved in terms of game design and accessibility.

  • JV Andres

    This one is actually pretty interesting, in that progression is mainly through branching dialogue as opposed to inventory swapping puzzles or exploration.

    It’s worth a read if you can grapple with the interface, I’ve only found 2 endings so far though.

  • Lyx

    “It’s sad how little IF has evolved in terms of game design and accessibility.”

    Even though i am intuitively drawn to the idea of IF, that is how i overally feel about the “scene” as well. The techniques have been improved, the interfaces improved, the stories improved – but besides of a handful of exceptions (You know what i’m talking about, Emily :) the idea itself hasn’t really evolved much. The “vehicle” and the “purpose” in principle has remained unchanged since… i dont know how many years.

    With this, i dont want to imply that the current scheme doesn’t have its appeal – but well, imagine the shooter genre only consisting of vertical top-down shooters with only minor variety in gameplay mechanics: Sure, it has its appeal, but at some point it becomes a horse which has been beaten deader than dead, and the mind seeks some variety – unless you’re a “fan”.

  • Lyx

    P.S.: To give an idea what kind of “variety regarding the concept” i’m talking about:

    In almost every IF, you play a character and interact with other characters and items. How about trying a different approach: You play the environment, and the characters in the environment react to your actions. You know, a bit like sandbox of god.

  • Sparky

    I’m by no means part of the scene, or even a regular player of interactive fiction. However, I’d like to suggest that the genre has a lot of strengths that those of us more familiar with other genres would do well to learn from. There’s something very right about a game world where everything is left up to the player’s imagination, the focus on character development, and quality storytelling is more central than artificial ‘gameplay’ activities. I’d definitely recommend digging a little deeper and reacting to what the genre’s really about instead of getting hung up on any shortcomings of the text parser.

  • Sparky

    typo: “…the focus ‘is on…”

  • Lyx


    I definatelly agree with this and it is also the major reason why i’m interested in IF. The freedom of action, the well developed characters, the imaginative aspects – all things which IMO shouldn’t be changed. I just think that one can use these “tools” in more than one way. Those alternate approaches certainly exist in IF, but they’re rare – and i dont think that they need to be rare, as soon ad the game-designer no longer *only sees himself as “an author writing a story”. IF can be more than just F plus some puzzles and player choices.

    For example, Emily’s games, except of one, are wonderfully executed and deep stories, with deep characters. From an execution POV, they are top notch. But from a gameplay POV, it seems that she is satisfied with a concept, which has been repeated over and over. And she is no exception in that regard: It seems that the IF-scene is satisfied with the core concept which has been established, and now only is interested in coming up with new content for that “vehicle”.

    Of course, if they like that, then it is their choice to go that route. I personally consider it the waste of a lot of potential, because: That IFs are not limited by creating visual/aural representation for the content, and interfaces for every single game-type, means that it is free to do all the things, which nowadays games cannot do because of tech/interface limits.

  • Flamebait

    Every time I tried saying anything, no matter how explicit or topical, it just reported that I “have nothing to say about that now” (or something similar). I’ll give it another try later on but I suspect this game is severely hampered by traditional IF presentation.

  • Anthony Flack

    I guess the major strength, and weakness, of IF is down to its text-based interface. Text is probably the most efficient way of creating a detailed world, asset-production-wise… but it’s a terribly inefficient and imprecise way of giving the player feedback about the game state.

  • Flamebait

    ^ Right. It’s curious that there have been few attempts to interpret text-based games differently. You could spatially arrange text, use a GUI to take the player’s input, etc. Text remains text, whether I clicked a button with text on it, or typed something in to a prompt.

  • JoshRose

    I am having a lot of fun with this title. I find it to be one of the better IF interfaces I have used yet. After a few minutes, it becomes very easy to use. All you need is the word “ask” followed by another relevant word or two.

    Also, you can do some pretty cool stuff. I used my dagger to cut my own wrist… I’ll spare you as to why, but it makes sense in context.

  • Ezuku

    If you turn tutorial mode off, does the game offer you hints in the dialogue branch? Ie, talk about the mirror, and it’ll suggest asking if the queen killed for the mirror, or if the mirror’s broken? Because if you didn’t, I could see that being much more difficult.

  • Gainsworthy

    I’m rather enjoying it. Except it crashed. To think, an IF crashing! Heh, I physically jumped – thought I’d been suddenly killed or something.

  • Ilya Chentsov

    Lyx, have you tried The Space Under the Window? There, you control not the character, but the focus of the story.

  • defacid

    @Gainsworthy: XD


    Yeah, I liked this one but it wasn’t as awesome as I thought it would be. Though it did have many end, many felt the same and you really didn’t do anything to get to them, you just asked the dwarrow different information. I did like the overall idea of the story though.

  • Flamebait

    Now that I’ve played a bit more I reckon it’s one of the best IF games I’ve played. An effective theme and considerable interaction (given that conversation is the focus). Well worth multiple playthroughs.

    Still think traditional IF presentation is effective here. It makes to use arbitrary input in a games with more environments, objects, and actions, not so much when mostly talking to a single character.

  • guywhoplaysgames

    i fail to see how this is a game

  • Cliftor


    Absolutely not. The very best games have some semblance of emergent gameplay or are “breakable” in ways the creator didn’t intend. Thief, Deus Ex and Metroid come to mind.

    That said, this is my first IF game and I enjoyed it very much. Once I learned my way around the interpreter it was a good story to follow. I did feel a little uncomfortable with the way certain things were phrased, though, as if I chose topics out of some “intended” order.

    Also, the ending I got didn’t seem to be illuminated at all by what I had learned or include any of it (I followed my conversation threads and learned alot, but decided to kill her regardless). I felt that the ending would have been the same if I had just killed her immediately, so I felt unrewarded for the conversations I had.