Whom the Telling Changed — a player's review originally appeared in SPAG #43 on 2006-01-07. The story file is available at the IF Archive and on the author's website.
I don't normally review interactive fiction because I'm very picky, not to mention an awful puzzle solver, and I'd rather not be unfair as well. Often, I would type
quit as the first and only command in a game. Especially when the work announces itself as experimental.
Not this time around. Whom the Telling Changed begins so... relaxed. You're a prominent member of a shepherd tribe in the ancient times. Every full moon, everyone gathers to hear a tale of even more ancient times. Only, tonight the telling will change the fate of the tribe, and it's up to you to get it right. The tension, virtually inexistent at first, builds up in perfect gradation. You can't miss the climax, it's obvious.
Right at the beginning I thought I was facing a guess-the-noun situation but the vagueness was in fact intentional. At first, I didn't know what I was supposed to do, either, but it became clear soon enough, thanks to the well- placed characters, and by that time I was already hooked, anyway. Speaking of nouns, the writing uses few but effective words, and some of them are keywords; typing one of these by itself performs the most obvious action for it at the time, usually ask about. The full command works just as well.
This system showed its strength as the story proper began. My, I love conversation-based games. It's just that sometimes these are too subtle for me. Again, not this time around. I really liked how the game decided to convey important information when I didn't ask about it (here's that command again). My reactions were probably inappropriate at times, but Telling... weaved them gracefully into the story. Not that I had many reasons to react: through most of the second part, the only required command is
z. Which was so much the best, as I didn't quite agree with the player character's views.
Not everything's perfect, of course. At one point, I was told I speak too much, though I had been silent for most of the time (as another character later confirmed). At the peak, it finally saw the opportunity to alter the course of the story, as the author had promised, but choosing the right keyword for the desired effect required a bit of guesswork; and until the very end, I wasn't sure I actually made a difference. But the story came out the way I wanted, so I guess the game works as intended after all.
Telling... is a short, but fresh and satisfactory experience. Play it to the end, read the afterword, then play it again. You'll have a big (and pleasant, I hope) surprise. I know I liked it, and I'm waiting for more games in the same vein.