You are the final astronaut left from your spacecraft. All of the others are dead.
This is all the story you’ll get for your character in Elegy for a Dead World. It’s a title that bravely walks a rope between being an experimental writing exercise, and an experimental game. As a game, it could be defined as a 2D side-scroller, in which you begin in an enclosed area of space, surrounded by a white, cloud-like substance.
With a jetpack, you can navigate around (the controls are suitably floaty), and there’s actually a little joy to be felt as the astronaut floats amongst the colourful, star-stricken darkness. Before long you discover three portals, each leading to planets named after romantic poets: Keats, Shelley, and Byron. Suitably, it’s on these worlds where you can test your writing skills.
Before you enter one of these stages, you must decide the writing prompt you want to use. The options vary from planet to planet, and diverge considerably from one another. The aim is to get you to think about the environments in different ways; and, considering there are only three worlds, it seems necessary to enjoy a few prompts, otherwise players may end up bored quite quickly.
When the prompts do work, they work quite well. Take for example two of the exercises on Shelley’s planet; one will have you writing about the proud history of a dead world, while another has you rushing a studious pupil’s poetry assignment as she rides the bus to school. Switching between prompts can create very different pieces of work. But, it also may not. It all depends on you, the writer, and how you engage with the canvas you’ve been given.
As you land on one of the planets, you’re greeted with beautiful, expertly drawn backdrops. While each similarly represents the theme of a dead world, they also contain dramatic varieties of colour. Certain aspects have fantastic amounts of detail, and others resonate subtle atmospheric sound effects and music. There’s a definite alien feel of it that will have sci-fi fans marvelling at their surroundings, and the sheer quality on display lessens the blow of a having only three worlds.
Walking forward, designated writing areas are marked by quills. These typically stop in areas of importance; areas that will make you think about your surroundings. By pressing enter, you’re provided with text relevant to the chosen writing prompt. While most of these give only small blank spaces to fill in, there seems to be no barrier to the way in which you can transform any given text. In fact, should you wish to write as much as you want, wherever you want, all three planets have an option for freeform writing.
The tools are all there to allow freedom to engage with your environment. Nevertheless, it’s easy to find yourself relinquishing freedom, and attempting the challenge of conquering the prompts given. Some pieces you’re given to fill in will leave you pondering for minutes, contemplating what to write next.
It’s unfortunate that this is let down by the gameplay; the way you must trudge through the planets. Stating that a 2D game, particularly one which focuses on writing, is linear, may seem a pointless criticism. But, as you walk slowly around a stage, you’re never given a reason to go any way other than forward. The only interaction with the world is that you can go through doors. The inclusion of the jetpack, which allows you to float above the ground, seems pointless and only exists as something to entertain yourself with when you get bored. There are no platforms to float up to – not even a solitary step to climb – instead, you just keep ploughing forward on the level’s straight line; hardly befitting the idea of landing on an alien planet.
When you do get through a stage, you’re given the option to cycle quickly between different parts of the piece you wrote, and edit each one to your whim. Then, upon finishing it, you can give it a title, and publish it online. It’s all simple and accessible, giving even the most nervous of writers an easy way to get a piece out there.
Going into the reading option, you can look through others people’s work. It’s great fun seeing how others reacted differently, or similarly, to the given prompts. There really are a lot of entertaining pieces up at such an early stage since the title’s release. The tool isn’t perfect, though, and it can be quite irritating getting to specific pieces based on certain prompts – and to get past anything other than simply commending an author.
For now, Elegy for a Dead World seems like a neat idea, but more of a base to improve upon; an expanded reading system, and a more rugged landscape, could improve the game greatly. It’s a beautiful, interesting title, which lends itself to being build on by its community. It makes one hopeful that further planets will be made, along with even more inventive prompts.
Looking at the developer’s website, they seem dedicated to the project; for example, you can apparently get books made of your stories. In the forums, there’s a thread relating to Elegy in the classroom. It’s all evidence that a great amount of work seems to be being put into the game, and I know I personally hope to return to it many times, even if only to grace more of the inspiring, and sometimes hilarious, written contraptions.