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Digital: A Love Story


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Rating: 4.8/5 (95 votes)
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Digital: A Love Story

TrickyAs the name would suggest, Digital: A Love Story by Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story author Christine Love, is a downloadable romance/mystery set against the backdrop of 1980s online technology. Part interactive fiction, part Uplink-style hacker game, and part nostalgic pastiche of a time of low-res graphics and crackling dial-ups that many current gamers never got to experience (which, for the record, this includes me, and, presumably, the author herself!). Digital: A Love Story (originally shown in a Weekend Download feature) offers a short, sweet and occasionally heart-wrenching trip back in time.

digital_a_love_story_screen.gifThe premise is a powerfully good: You are the owner of a brand-spanking-new 1988 42kb hard drive Amie Workbench computer, complete with modem and dialer. After "dialing" into the local text-based Bulletin Board System and navigating the message boards there, you strike up a somewhat quick relationship with aspiring poet named Emilia. From there, the plot takes enough twists and turns that saying anything more runs the risk of spoiling.

Analysis: Recreating the blocky-lettered dial-up systems of the past is a form strong enough to be intriguing, even if the game had mediocre content, but Love's writing is more than up to the task. It has just the right mix of affection and parody for its subject, and the plot has the right amount of heart and research behind it. Indeed, the main criticism I have for the writing is that there isn't nearly enough of it. The opening bits of romance feel a bit rushed, as if the game wants you to fall in love with Emilia as quick as possible so that it can get on to the rest of the story. When you "send" an in-game message, you never get to read what "you" wrote, only the replies you receive. It's fun to mentally fill in the blanks of the plot, but it's just as likely to leave you a bit lost. As a result, the player may not feel they have much efficacy on the plot beyond typing in a few puzzle answers. The writing is always of high quality, but for better or worse, it definitely leans to the "fiction" side of interactive fiction a great deal.

digitallovestory2.gifThe interface for this tale is a faithful recreation of the Amiga 1.0 and the BBSs of days gone by, (as far as I can tell), and therein poses a conundrum for the erstwhile commentator. Just as it seems not quite fair to decry the poor graphics of a game that intentionally uses a pixelated art style to great effect, it seems wrong to criticize Digital for accurately recreating the clunkiness of computer inputs of day gone by as part of its aesthetic. The game would not have the same appeal without it. However, clunky it is, and typing and retyping BBS phone numbers and passwords and struggling with immovable text-windows that block key information may become tiresome. There will likely come a point when you have done all you can think of, and are reduced to calling various BBSs and sending random messages hoping for something to happen.

Perhaps this feeling would be mollified if there was help offered for the interface, but Digital throws you into the deep end. This makes the feeling of investigation palpable, but some aspects of gameplay really needed to be spelled out. (Protip: You can skip the dial-up sound-effect sequence by clicking the "Dialing..." window. Going through the beeping sounds of the modem is a great inclusion, but considering how many different numbers you need to call, you might lose your patience with this particular historical tidbit pretty quickly.)

With its collection of hacker in-jokes and lore sprinkled throughout, Digital is as much a love story about a bygone era: a time when the internet was primitive, but also a mysterious unknown, its capabilities untested. Communicating with strangers thousands of miles away has become mundane, and because of that, we forget how magical our sufficiently advanced technology is. If you're looking for a recreation of that early magic, ASCII and you will receive Digital: A Love Story.

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33 Comments

Dark_Surf Author Profile Page April 17, 2011 7:27 PM

This is one of my favourite games! Christine Love has so many great abilities - from graphic design to great dialouge writing - which greatly enrich her games and make them so powerful and emotional.

On another note, it's probably not the right place to put this here but I submitted a review of another one of her games (Lake City Rumble II) and I was just wondering, when will it be acknowledged?

Great review, as well! ^^

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Hasn't this game already been reviewed here?

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Angelade Author Profile Page April 17, 2011 7:34 PM

Ah yes, I remember this game... it was featured in a Weekend Download last year: http://jayisgames.com/archives/2010/03/weekend_download_128.php

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InsanePenguin Author Profile Page April 17, 2011 7:36 PM

I love this game so much. ^^ Found it from a link on Viricide made by a commenter a while ago. I like the review, but shouldn't the asterisk be put before Emilia, as her name appears in-game?

It is funny. I just played Digital again, and then this review showed up... weird.

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Dark_Surf Author Profile Page April 17, 2011 7:42 PM

Another funny thing: I recently changed my password, and chose my new one as *Emilia. Very bizarre.

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this game has a really cool atmosphere, but I disliked the lack of control. you spend most of the game pressing buttons, and I think it would be nice to be able to chose exactly how you respond to a person rather than just clicking "reply" and waiting for their message having no idea what you said.

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Yep, we mentioned it before when it was released. Which is why I said so and linked to the Weekend Download article in the review. :-P

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Dark_Surf Author Profile Page April 17, 2011 8:02 PM

I just hope she does a sequel...Which could potentially ruin it, or make it twice as good. Depends.

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A friend of mine recommended this game to me a little while back. Given the title, I was expecting something sappy and melodramatic. You know, the sort of thing that you could pull the story out of and mock thoroughly (particularly given the track record of recommendations given to me by this particular friend in the past).

Suffice to say, I was wrong. The dialogue is actually quite natural. A handful of plot-related things aside, most of it was stuff that I would easily imagine coming across on the internet. The romance itself felt a little odd and forced, particularly when combined with the one-sidedness of the dialogue system, but when taken into context with a few twists that come later on it makes a bit more sense.

The real issue I had with the game is that the puzzles, for the most part, aren't really puzzles at all. The majority of the gameplay is dialing numbers, then pitching replies and private messages around to everyone on the BBS, then logging out, dialing another one and doing the same many, many times, hoping the next one you send out will trigger the next quest flag so you can get on with things. Really, it almost feels like the stuff was tacked in to add to the atmosphere and act as a way to tell the story other than just making you read a big block of text.

Regardless, there's one heck of a good story behind the flaws. I laughed, I cried, I freaked out at one particular moment, and ultimately I loved it.

Oh, yeah, and the music is great.

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Anyone know the password for the underground library? I'm a bit confused with using the *CoreBBS glitch on the password I've got to get a working one :/

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Dark_Surf Author Profile Page April 17, 2011 8:49 PM

@Waggles

From what I can remember, the password is initially a long line of digits with the numbers 833 (or something like that) at the end; each time you want to access the Underground Library, merely add one onto 833 (so after it'll become 834, then 835 &c.).

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@waggles

You have the password in your text-edit, right? Take that password, add 1 to the last digit. Like instead of 882, 883. Instead of 889, 880.

I'm stuck on the part right after that. Any help on not getting kicked?

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kgy:

You can download all the messages you want without getting banned. It's the little arrow thing next to view. As for moving ahead, send PMs to everyone on the server before trying to read anything. One of them should start a thread that goes somewhere.

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It's been a while since I played it, but it's definitely a good game. (I liked it much more than its "spiritual successor" by the same author, Christine Love.) It can be frustrating to use trial-and-error, but it was fun to figure stuff out and fill in the blanks with my imagination.

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Wanna hear something crazy?

I just finished a puzzle/digital novel thing without looking online for spoilers.

I never figure these things out on my own! Sad ending tho!

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I played this when I saw the Weekend Download review, and it's the only one I've played more than once. Just amazing. The puzzles aren't really puzzles because it's more of a hunt than anything else. I would love a longer version, one you could sit and play for an hour or so, maybe two. The best I.F. I've seen.

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I thought this game was technically and creatively impressive, but it just missed its mark with me. (Spoiler'd for criticism; no actual plot spoilers.)

I didn't feel like I was involved in it at all, and reading responses to messages "I had sent" to other characters was frustrating because I often didn't feel the same way about those characters that the narrative needed me to. There was also too much clicking through different messages and BBSs trying to figure out what I needed to do just to trigger another plot advancement. I'm sure it's a good story, but it didn't succeed for me personally, especially because of how I was by turns ambivalent and annoyed with the story's mopey "heroine", which meant falling in love with her was basically out of the question.

It felt like, personally, the narrative might have been stronger if we were playing a specific character so you had more personality in your interactions. Or even (and I know this would have needed a lot more coding and writing) if you had been given a set of response types to choose from... "Serious", "Playful", etc. Just anything to make me feel like I had a choice or an impact at all. I said in my review for Christine's most recent game that I felt like I was listening to one side of a stranger's telephone conversation, and that holds true. Sorry, just not for me.

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Heatwizard Author Profile Page April 18, 2011 3:57 PM

I think I'm stuck. Hm.

Emilia's been compiled with the anti-reaper, and I have to call ARPAnet to deploy it. The issue with that is I've run out of valid long distance codes, and the Matrix has been reaped so I can't restock.

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Heatwizard:

Even if it's crossed out, it might still work. A crossed out one worked for me.

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Heatwizard Author Profile Page April 19, 2011 3:33 AM

Eedev:

Yeah, that's all it took. Bluh. Grazie, sir.

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The thing that really clicked for me? The Amiga Workbench-inspired interface.

Never used a BBS in my life, though. Bloody thing didn't even have a modem. But I had such fun times on my Amiga 500. I still maintain that it had the best version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? ever.

Also Lemmings, Thexder, this splendid Gradius clone whose name escapes me, Goldrunner II and its awesome single music track, Chip's Challenge (which had some funny interludes missing from the Windows version), Ebonstar...the list goes on and freaking on. I think I might have more Amiga 500 games boxed away than PS3 titles. O_O;

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Anyone else notice that the sysop of Lake City Local is "J. Rook"? That's the teacher in It Just Ain't Your Story. :3

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Founded1992 May 31, 2011 6:49 PM

Overall it was quite a nice development of 20th century online chaos.

Her Cold Blade I-VII was epic :3

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DarkDragon59 Author Profile Page June 11, 2011 6:20 PM

this game is good, but i think it would make more sense if there was a gender question at the beginning so in the game if u were a girl u could fall in love with a boy, cuz im a girl and it doesnt make sense for me to love emila...

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gromulke July 5, 2011 5:30 PM

The more I read about i read about Christine Love, the more I like her work.

The end is REALLY sad though. That's why I would say that "don't take it personnally..." is better, in my opinion.

I was light-hearted at the end of that one, while at the end of Digital, i feel just sad (which is the point, i know)

Still, awesome work. Actually raises questions about internet, social networks, life itself (kinda), etc.

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dmboogie Author Profile Page July 24, 2011 2:53 AM

I recently downloaded this game (a bit late, I know) but I loved every minute of it!

I actually like how your "Character", though you never actually see his/her messages, definitely has a personality.

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I just realized that Eriko Yamazaki in Digital is the same Eriko Yamazaki in Don't Take It Personally Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story. I love Christine Love, really.

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I am stuck on the Library I have done what it told me to do in the message but I still cant figure it out

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Remember when J Rook from It Just Ain't Your Story said he was a lot older than he looked, and that he didn't grow up in the age of facebook? ;)

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Pretty good.

The one-sidedness was off-putting to me, especially during the long conversations with Emilia. "Digital" is less game-like than I would like it to be.
Emilia's writing didn't seem especially realistic either, at least to me.
I liked how the music changed during certain events.

Apparently, the author is going to release a game called Analogue: a hate story. http://blog.scoutshonour.com/tagged/Analogue%3A-A-Hate-Story

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Elijah2200 Author Profile Page June 5, 2012 2:58 AM

I am twelve years old and deem this emotionally hard-hitting.
I am also looking for AI builds compatible for macs. ._.

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mehmuffinuh Author Profile Page February 6, 2013 12:58 AM

The link in the post no longer works, instead I found the author's official site, with free download for all three operating systems: http://scoutshonour.com/digital/

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How sadly is this game. T.T

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