Ceremony of Innocence

Developer/Publisher:  Real World Multimedia
Year Released:  1997

Review by Steve Ramsey (April, 2002)
Nick Bantuck's "Griffin and Sabine" trilogy of books revealed through letters and postcards the interwoven lives of a London postcard designer and a South Sea island artist. Each richly illustrated postcard was plucked from a real envelope, the relationship between the characters unveiled by rummaging through and reading their personal correspondence. It was a unique presentation, childlike in many ways, yet intensely grown-up in others.

Ceremony of Innocence is an interactive version of the trilogy, put together by the same studio that did Peter Gabriel's Eve (I think in fact he owns the company). The touch of the cards and letters is replaced by the "sound" of the characters and a set of animated puzzle postcards. It is not better or worse, just different.

Griffin Moss resides in London, and has a fundamentally lonely and ordered existence, in a largely grey and bleak environment. By contrast, Sabine Strohem is in the lush and exotic Sicomon Islands, living an almost mystical life, drawing insects and communing with green sea beetles. Yet their lives intersect in a strange and confronting way, and how it affects their lives and their resulting relationship is what this multimedia experience is about.

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold"
There are two parts to the experience. The first is the cards themselves. To be able to "read" one, you have to turn it over or remove it from its envelope, which is achieved by interacting with the card in some way. This aspect reminded me of Alice: An Interactive Museum. You might push (or pull) the card, tear it, or spin it. You may have to take control of a bird or a fish, and have it complete some task. Your cursor may be eaten or spat out; at times you might not even have a cursor. All manner of images and drawings will cavort across the richly illustrated cards, and what you get them to do will ultimately reveal the writing on the back.

This is the second part. As in the books, the cards reveal the tale that is Griffin and Sabine. The cards are generally quite short, and there are about 58 in all. You don't read the cards though, rather they are read to you. Isabella Rossellini voices Sabine and Paul McGann voices Griffin. They are both marvellous; Rosellini's accent brings a perfect exotic quality to Sabine, and McGann's tones are only ever one step away from the madness that you fear might infect Griffin. I even thought the actors themselves suited the characters perfectly; they "looked" like Griffin and Sabine.

They are two parts, but they are not separate. The images have a role in the tale being told, some deeper than others. They might be illustrative or interpretive - snakes crawling into the head of a figurine is reflective of what is going on in Griffin's mind at the time. The titles of the cards too allude or refer to aspects of the discourse.

"The best lack all conviction whilst the worst are full of passionate intensity"
But for a short but important intercourse by Ben Kingsley as one Victor Frolatti, Griffin and Sabine are alone in telling their story. What you take from the story will be a personal experience (as will what you take from the whole thing). Maybe it is nothing more than a whimsical love story, albeit one fraught with strange moods and manias. Maybe it is a rallying call that love will find a way, or perhaps it is a sombre treatise on the illusory lengths to which loneliness will go to escape the confines of its prison. Then again, it may be a metaphysical study of the joys of a blossoming relationship, or a gossamer coated examination of a consuming and obsessive mind. Perhaps there is no "them". Each to his or her own.

The quality of the writing is excellent and at times it is exquisite. There is a lyrical quality to some passages, infused by the actors with just the right depth of yearning or madness as required.

"The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned"
One aspect of this version that seemed more pronounced than in the books (at least to me) was the WB Yeats poem "The Second Coming". Whether it is the visual medium or whether it does indeed have a more prominent place in this interpretation I can't say, as it is too long since I read the books. Suffice to say that Yeats' prophecy of impending inhumanity loomed large, and tended to make Sabine's general optimism all the more impotent and Griffin's fatalism ever more likely. But maybe that was just me.

Ceremony of Innocence is short (4 hours will see you through) and it installed and played without a problem. It requires Quicktime, DirectX and something called RSX 3D (Intel 3D sound software), all of which are on the CD. If your CD ROM is lettered other than "D" drive, you will have to tell the game where to look each time you start.

The game autosaves for you, so you recommence where you left off. You can go back over all the cards as you collect them by accessing the menu. As the cards are read to you, subtitles are not used, and many of the cards you can read yourself. However with some the words dance all over the screen, or flicker in and out of view, so reading along is not possible.

I seem to be have played a fair few of these "non-games" lately, and they have generally provided an enjoyable interlude. This was no exception. It would be awfully boring if everything was the same. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95/98, 16Mb RAM, 2x CD ROM, 16 bit colour graphics at 640 x 480 resolution, Sound Blaster 16 compatible sound card.
Macintosh PowerPC, System 7.1 or greater, 16Mb RAM, 2x CD ROM, 16 bit colour graphics at 640 x 480 resolution, 16 bit audio card.