“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” —Jodi Picoult
Starting from nothing is hard. Think about the difference between building a chair from Ikea—with its neatly diagrammed forms and pieces—versus cutting down a tree for lumber and crafting it into a chair without any guides. As exciting as it is to create something from scratch, the sheer absence of anything to develop upon can be daunting at times, especially for beginners. It helps to have some basic building blocks to forge from.
This is the sort of thinking behind Elegy For A Dead World, the latest from Dejobaan Games. While Dejobaan’s past titles were arcade-like experiences focused on speed, action, and high scores, Elegy is a softer, quieter adventure intended to provoke the audience’s imaginations. This is not a game about scoring goals or saving princesses. This is a game about writing fiction. Whether that fiction involves scoring goals and saving princesses is up to each player to decide.
Taking the role of a nameless astronaut, players are free to explore three long-since uninhabited planets. Each is sprinkled with its own crumbled ephemera of what once was, and each is inspired by one of the great English Romance poets—Percy Shelley, John Keats, and Lord Byron. At certain junctures in exploration, players will come across writing prompts—sort of like Mad Libs, only presented in context with the environment they’re describing. Standing in front of what looks like a statue of three strong men holding a large rock, the prompt may read, “You’d like it here; ______. There are worse places that ______.” The game is simple: Fill in the blanks.
If this sounds a bit shallow as a play experience, that’s because it is. There really isn’t a lot to do in these expired cities except reflect and imagine. The brilliance of Elegy For A Dead World, however, comes in those minimal prompts. Just the stem of an idea is enough to goad players into conjuring wild and fanciful tales all their own. The same set of foundational sentence fragments could lead to a farcical vacation diary or a panic-filled confession of sin, an expression of forgotten romance or a poem about cats.
Each subsequent prompt is able to extract more information out of the player. What starts as a silly joke on the first screen becomes serious lore by the third or fourth. At one point, I looked around my own real-life kitchen and typed that the people on this planet were masters of baking macarons. Within a few minutes, I had crafted a story about the generations-long civil war between rival factions of pastry chefs. I don’t know where this idea came from; the game just pulled it out of me somehow.
The three worlds offer a variety of basic prompts as starting points. There are love letters and diary entries, royal proclamations and musical lyrics. There are famous poems by the worlds’ namesakes and there are grammar workshops for students. These prompts aren’t set in stone, either. All of the pre-scripted bits can be deleted and re-written as the player sees fit—these are only just suggestions, after all.
There isn’t a great deal of game to be had here, with only three barren environments and no surprises to speak of. When Elegy connects with the player’s subconscious, though—when it draws something out that the player didn’t even know was there—that’s when Elegy For A Dead World shines. It encourages the idea that, with the proper amount of prodding, anything can be turned into a good story. In an environment where so many games are about achievement and experience, Elegy For A Dead World proves to be a game about inspiration.
Elegy For A Dead World
Developer: Dejobaan Games, Popcannibal
Publisher: Dejobaan Games
Platforms: Linux, Mac, PC
Reviewed on: Mac