“Elegy for a Dead World”, a game about writing weird fiction

Review by K.G. Orphanides.

Create a history of dead alien worlds in this 2D scrolling write’em up!

Elegy for a Dead World is, in essence, a series of writing prompts in the form of a game. You control a nameless figure in a space suit, freely exploring the 2D landscapes of three different worlds, each bearing the ruins of a long-dead race. Part game, part writing exercise, Elegy lends itself to creating weird fiction.

You can play by answering set prompts at various points on each level, or in a free-form mode that allows you to explore and write as you please. Some prompts encourage you to weave a story about the fate of each desolate planet you visit; others invite you to fill in details of an existing story, correct grammatical errors as a learning exercise, or create your own version of a well-known poem.

If you play with writing prompts, white quills appear in locations where there’s a prompt to complete

The worlds are named for, and very loosely inspired by the work of, Shelley, Keats, and Byron. However, the inhospitable wastelands and ruined cities you’re given to explore bear as much resemblance to Lovecraft’s Yuggoth as they do to, for example, the apocalyptic and funereal world of Lord Byron’s Darkness.

Although the graphics aren’t hugely complex, they’re evocative, and the planets you explore are beautiful. They successfully create an otherworldly atmosphere that genuinely inspired us to build a story around them. This is particularly helpful if you’re battling writer’s block, or want a tool to help you get into the habit of writing regularly. Unlike the sometimes-crippling experience of staring at a blank page, exploring and writing about Elegy’s worlds is genuinely fun, and the words to describe them come easily.

When you’ve completed a story, you get to view it, beautifully formatted as pages of text. You can also publish your creations online for other users to read. By the same token, you can read the work of other players, but it’s hard to navigate through the many stories already submitted. In order to save your stories, you have to publish them. Unfortunately, there’s no export option, so your best bet for saving local copies of your work is to take screenshots.

Completed stories devote a page to each section you’ve created, illustrated by stylised images from the game’s landscape

Completed stories devote a page to each section you’ve created, illustrated by stylised images from the game’s landscape

While the game provides great encouragement to write and explore the idea of dead civilisations and alien worlds, it’s somewhat limited. There are only three different worlds to visit, and there’s a certain stylistic similarity between them all. Although there are a number of different writing activities available for each world, there’s a limit to the number of fresh ideas that you can extract from each setting.

We’d obviously have liked a Lovecraft’s World in the mix, and perhaps planets for Poe and Dunsany, but more worlds of any kind would have improved the game’s longevity. Similarly, while the ambient soundtrack is initially evocative, we’d have liked different sounds for each world, or at least a bit more variety, as the aural background can become repetitive.

Although it’s an unconventional game, Elegy for a Dead World is certainly entertaining, and has the potential to be inspiring. Although you’ll eventually get tired of writing about the same three locations, it challenges both the imagination and the traditionally passive nature of a gaming experience.

Purchase Elegy for a Dead World here.

Price: €14.99
Platform: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

Review by K.G. Orphanides.

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