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'Elegy for a Dead World' Hands-On: The Pen is Mightier

"You control the action," most role-playing video games will try to tell you. "You write the story." But when it comes to actually writing a story, no other games have anything on "Elegy for a Dead World." Non-creative minds need not apply.

This indie game by Dejobaan Games seems at first glance like your most basic of platform games: you control a space explorer as he or she goes left-to-right across a screen depicting a beautiful alien landscape. There are no items to find, enemies to fight or answers to find. As you walk, all you can do is stop and write.

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"Elegy for a Dead World" has three modes: story mode, poetry mode and free writing mode. The first two are similar to Mad Libs: at various points in the game you can call up text boxes with incomplete sentences, and fill in the blanks.

There is a very loose story framework in "Elegy of a Dead World" that helps guide players: your character, the writer, is the only survivor of a crashed exploratory spaceship. Now the writer must speculate on, or wildly invent, the history of this alien planet. As the player, all you have to go on is the game's art and whatever comes to mind.

During our hands-on time with "Elegy for a Dead World" at the PAX East video game convention in Boston, we chose the free writing mode. We played as a green-clad astronaut walking through the ruins of a civilization beneath an orange sky. Dejobaan later told us the level's art was inspired by the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

"Elegy for a Dead World" didn't start off as an experiment in video game narrative. It was originally intended to be a week-long "palate cleanser" for the Dejobaan team between other projects, as designer Ziba Scott told us.

However, the team soon realized that they could do something different with the platform-style game they had created. "We realized our story wasn't worth basing a game off of because it wasn't better than so many other stories," Scott told us at PAX East. "We accidentally stumbled on something bigger than what we started doing."

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