A House in California


DoraA House in CaliforniaCardboard Computer's (Jake Elliott) interactive narrative, A House in California, originally appeared in a Weekend Download. Following a young boy who can't sleep as he speaks with four women who recount stories of their own, the game is a surreal nostalgic tour down memory lane... sort of. Each story transports you to a slightly different location and presents you with a deceptively simple puzzle to solve; find a way to light a streetlamp, for example, or entice a flock of birds to sing.

Like an old-school adventure game, you have a tray of different actions at the bottom of the game window, such as "Look", "Remember", "Play", and so forth. Click an action, then click something on screen to carry that action out. It's a more abstract approach to the traditional style of point-and-click play; instead of "use fireflies", you might try to "remember fireflies" and be treated to a bit of text that provides some atmospheric flavour, or even transported to another place entirely. It's figuring out what you need to do to trigger those transitions that's the key, and easier said than done. You'll have to be willing to explore and play around with even seemingly nonsensical action/item combinations, especially if you want to unlock more actions.

Analysis: Seeing the community's reaction to anything that might be termed "interactive art" is always interesting because it tends to generate some of the most in-depth discussion around. The thing about calling something "art" is that the word has different meanings for different people; I'll never understand Andres Serrano's appeal, but my ambivalence doesn't (and shouldn't) detract from the enjoyment and emotional/intellectual reactions of the people who do appreciate his photography. Likewise, there are going to be people for whom A House in California doesn't make any sense, and those with which it'll resonate. It's all up to the individual.

A House in CaliforniaFrom a gameplay standpoint, A House in California is potentially frustrating to those of us who like (and indeed expect) our games to follow logical courses. The game's habit of teleporting you around from seemingly inconsequential actions can make progression a little difficult to follow, especially since you need to experiment with action and item combinations that don't really make much sense.

But for players who enjoy that sort of experimentation, then A House in California's dreamlike environments are an absolute treat to explore. It's nowhere near as drenched in layers and hidden meaning as other titles in the genre can be. Each scenario takes place in a similar location, but the actions you take throughout the game slowly begin to transform it. To say more would be spoiling things, since a large part of the pleasure to be found in the game comes from just discovering things. For me personally, it did create a surprisingly powerful sense of nostalgia; I can't say I've ever caught fireflies for lighting or made friends with a flock of birds, but there's something about the sleepy, meandering narrative and use of sound that conjures up memories and sensations for me of time spent with my own Grandmother as a child and the stories she used to tell me.

A House in California is a sleepy little game that won't take you long to play, but you can spend a while wandering around inside the different narratives and exhausting all your options on each item you can find to interact with. The last chapter and the ending feel a little abrupt, but from beginning to end it's a lovely, sleepy story worth experiencing.

Play A House in California

18 Comments

I'm still in the first chapter, but... wow! I played "The Manhole" when I was younger! Never did get anywhere in it though...

Got the flies from the dome, the jar, and near the lamp post. Can't fix the lamp! What am I missing?

Never mind, got it!

Hooray! Jake's stuff is fantastic. A House in California has the same feeling as reading good poetry. I really liked it.

Congrats on the writeup, Jake!

Hey, this is actually GREAT! In a slow, soft and friendly (but somewhat confusing) way.

Hmm... definitely having trouble with the birds... I swear I've tried every combination, but clearly I'm missing something.

I've gotten the birds from the house on the hill with the peanut butter, but can't find how to go anywhere except for on the street, the clouds, and the house on the hill.

I hate to admit this, but I need some help with an analysis... I seem not to be able to interpret this one yet.

To help, here's a walkthrough:

Please note: This is a simple and barebones guide for this 'game'. It does NOT go into the interpretation. I suggest you strongly to do things that is not written below, as I strongly suspect that the script from these discoveries will influence your interpretation.

Walkthrough

Chapter 1: Lois
Script:

A boy said, "Grandma, the house is too dark! I can't sleep."
Lois said, "The lamp has just gone out."
"Once, we searched for fireflies and caught them in jars."
"The fireflies will light the street lamp now."

Game:

1. Catch the loose fireflies on the right (A House in California)
2. Remember the Moon (A House -> The surface of the Moon)
3. Remember the small fountain (The moon -> A fountain in a back yard)
4. Play with the table, then catch the loose fireflies (A fountain)
5. Remember the window (A fountain -> A Computer in a Guest Room)
6. Play with the floppy disk, then Learn about the kicking machine by clicking on the computer screen. (A computer)
7. Play with the strange painting, then play with the boy on the computer screen, then catch the loose fireflies. (A computer)
8. Forget the computer screen, then forget the fountain. (A computer -> A fountain -> The moon)
9. Repair the broken kicking machine (the device near the dome) then catch the loose fireflies. (The moon)
10. Forget the stars, then light the lamp. (The moon -> the house)

Chapter 2: Beulah
Script:

A boy said, "Grandma, the house is too quiet. I'm scared."
Beulah said, "The birds have just gone to sleep.
"Once, we fed the birds and sang along with them."
"Let's think of some snacks that birds like to eat."

Game:

1. Cook the billboard then befriend the 3 birds. (The house)
2. Write about the clouds. (The house -> Up On a Cloud)
3. Cook the recipe on the airplane with a banner, then befriend the 3 birds. (The cloud)
4. Write about the house on the hill. (The cloud -> A House at the Top of a Hill)
5. Read the cook book [this is the white book at the bottom], befriend the boy who likes peanut butter, cook the jar of empty peanut butter, then befriend the 3 birds. (House on the hill)
6. Read the book about clouds [top book], then read the cloud [on the right], then sing with any of the birds. (House on the hill -> The cloud -> The House)

Chapter 3: Connie
Script:

A boy said, "Grandma, the house is too gray. I'm bored."
Connie said, "The butterflies are just distracted"
"Once, we watched the butterflies and listened to them mumble."
"When their daydreams are over they'll color the house."

Game:

1. Watch the TV. (The house -> A TV Show About a Cathedral)
2. Watch the cross, then listen to the cross. (Cathedral -> The house)
3. Save the orange butterfly, then watch the TV. (The house -> Cathedral)
4. Watch the car, then listen to the cathedral. (Cathedral -> The house)
5. Free the green butterfly, then watch the TV. (The house -> Cathedral)
6. Watch the sleepy boy, then listen to the cathedral. (Cathedral -> The house)
7. Rest with the blue butterfly. (The house)

Chapter 4: Ann
Script:

A boy said, "Grandma, I'm not sleepy now."
Ann said, "You're just paying too much attention."
"Once, we sat still, closed our eyes, and listened to our breath."

Game:

1. Remember the lamps, then forget the lamps.
2. Read any bird, then write any bird.
3. Watch any butterfly, then listen to any butterfly.
4. Finally, enter the house.

Before the game ends, you will see the boy that has been there for the 3 chapters...

Am I the only one who can't get it to load?

Little Ghost, I can't get it to load either

Should I be worried that whenever Dora describes a game as making no sense, I am able to finish it without looking at clues? No, seriously, the combinations felt pretty intuitive to me.

However: We do not have cardinals in California. Should have been a scrub jay.


"The Apple II? It's much to fast to catch."

:)

unique game ending kinda confusing

That little guy does befriend some strange things...

Fireflies (at least the bioluminescent kind) are almost nonexistent in California, for that matter.

Although I did really like this one. I felt it made a lot of sense. Remembering and forgetting mostly moves you around but the custom "other" information, plus the detailed "learn" actions makes it a treat.

God... I'm stuck at the fireflies! I caught them, and... nothing! I don't know what to do!
I guess I need a "A House in California for Dummies"...

It was...nostalgic. I liked it. For some reason, I found it touching.

I thought I'm stuck in the game..but oh no, I left a bird on te ground! Lol!

This is incredibly gorgeous. Some of the writing just took my breath away with it and never gave it back. Ever.

I loved the fireflies. And the simplicity of the art. This is the most beautiful thing I've seen in a while.

^ Scroll Up | Homepage >

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