Posted on December 16, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Elegy for a Dead World Review: A Novel Approach to Creative Writing
Peruse the marketing speak attached to many recent triple-A games and you’ll often hear about how players can “create their own stories” when adventuring through those titles’ lush environments.
Mostly what those games are referring to are the sort of water cooler moments created by driving your jeep off a cliff only to leap out and glide to safety using your wing suit, or battling a particularly eager orc who stupidly dogged your steps for hours despite having his head removed on several occasions.
Elegy for a Dead World takes the “create your own stories” idea a great deal more, uh, literally. It is a game about actually writing stories, prompting players to tap their own creativity to create fiction based on three beautiful, alien worlds. All those worlds were once home to great civilizations that have since passed on, and at its simplest, you’re left to tell the tales of those who died.
It’s a novel (heh) concept, and games that inspire their players to create rather than to passively experience someone else’s creation often produce some incredible stuff: think of Minecraft, or the deep and extensive modding communities surrounding titles such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Games that turn players into creators often help unearth amazing, untapped potential.
Elegy is a bit too thin in total to reach quite so lofty heights, but it does get players inspired and creating using some simple, elegant and often beautiful tools.
Elegy for a Dead World
Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Dejobaan Games
Publisher: Dejobaan Games
Release Date: Dec. 10, 2014
You’re an astronaut in Elegy for a Dead World, venturing through special portals to three different places, each inspired by the works of 18th Century Romantic poets.
There’s not a lot of fanfare setting up what’s “going on,” mostly because Elegy is wide-open from the start. The video game trappings here are meant to get you to the page and help you put something on it. The rest is mostly window dressing that uses the language and tropes of video games to trick you into thinking you’re playing.
What you’re really doing is responding to writing prompts. As you fly to each world, you choose a prompt at the start. For example, you might pick the prompt that lets you complete the astronaut’s mission to document each civilization, where you’ll be given sentences to expound upon or featuring blanks that you’re meant to fill in. Another prompt asks you to write the journal of a teenage girl, flipping the sentence starters for something more appropriate. Or you can just wander around, writing on your own, without any help.
Each planet is a side-scrolling world filled with landmarks and buildings. You walk or fly from left to right, occasionally stopping when you see a small feather prompt on the ground. That means you can write something (unless you’re freewriting, at which point you can drop your notes anywhere), attaching that bit of fiction to the location and the nearby sights.