A perfumer keeps a private collection of scents, each tied to a memory. Decide what they mean.

Scents & Semiosis makes heavy use of procedural generation to create strange perfumes, full lives, and potent associations, with some alternate history around the edges.

A single session is perhaps ten minutes. Its tone is mostly light or bittersweet; it's meant as an indulgence.

Version 1.3: Fenugreek.

Produced by Cat Manning, with contributions by Yoon Ha Lee and Caleb Wilson.

Made with Inform 7 and Vorple.

2021 Nebula Award finalist for Best Game Writing.

For Emily Short.

Rated 4.9 out of 5 stars
(37 total ratings)
AuthorSam Kabo Ashwell
GenreInteractive Fiction
Tagsperfume, Procedural Generation, reflective, Relaxing, Text based

Development log


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This game helped me find my breath and reconnect with the joy of language at an incredibly difficult time. Mahalo!


The theme and writing is very pleasant. I found it hard to go through all the choices not because there are too many, but because I didn't know many were left. Also, I would have liked a sort of framework, basic knowledge on how to "build" my perfume, or basic categories for the perfumes I chose. All in all, the experience was pleasant and I will recommend it.

Delightful. I wish I had taken a screenshot of my results, but I'll have to play through again and see what comes up. The final list of scents makes a fascinating reflection on the player, or the character they are playing at, and that duality is an interesting reflection in itself. Do you play as with your own choices, or as a fictional character you are constructing as you play, and who is that if not you?


Moss, gaiac and rue; a summering of cajuput and thyme; old paper, a wintering of chestnuts and galbanum. I made this scent after exploring my casket in a holistic attempt with dangerous patience to fundamentally empathise with an obsession while my shameful familiarity with a fear of missing out experienced a mutual metamorphosis to lay before me my sincere decision.

(3 edits)

First off, how could I not like the concept of writing for an audience of one? Of course this makes my own comments superfluous, but, as you wrote, the whole exercise is an indulgence, anyway, so indulge me, too, please.

I admire the idea of putting the output together from single words, but I do believe that your comment on the legibility of the source code for non-programmers is a bit overoptimistic. Usually, Inform code is indeed much easier to read than it is to write, but this (Vorple + Tracery) is a special case that is more likely to scorch the unsuspecting, hopeful visitor lured in by your promise of intelligible mechanics and implementation. This is nitpicking, though: of course only swots would look at the source code.

What struck me with Scents and Semiosis is that for my tastes (irrelevant as they are), the mechanics are kind of backwards. I would suspect someone sensitive to olfactory impressions to associate a generic smell with a concrete memory instead of a concrete smell with a generic feeling. Given the way it works here, it seems questionable why the protagonist would even need to open the bottles. The result is abstraction, which, while it is certainly a way of assigning meaning to symbols, disjoints the various components of the finished perfume in my mind, instead of unifying them to a narrative about the protagonist's past. That might be my own preference, but this kind of fundamental critique is not overly helpful. It also doesn't mean I didn't enjoy your work. I very much did.  

This is a gorgeous game with a lovely, meditative atmosphere. I've ended up with some really interesting combinations so far. One of my partners said it was kind of like a procgen tarot, and I agree that it feels that way. Wonderful job!

I've run into a bug that I can reproduce both in the downloaded itch.io client, in Chrome Version 80.0.3987.132, and Firefox 73.0.1 (all on Windows 10).

  • If you click on "About", "Modes", or "Content" more than once, it loads more than one instance of the content. Content will remain on the page, even when going to "Play". 
  • Multiple instances of "About" will disappear if I click on "Modes", but not on "Content" and only will sometimes disappear if I click on "Play". 
  • Multiple instances of "Modes" will condense down into one extra instance when you click on "Play", which ends up in an extra, non-working instance that remains there while I play a working instance of the game.
  • Multiple instances of "Content" will disappear if I click on "Modes" or "Play", but not on "About".

I think that's everything and I hope it was clear enough. Thank you again for this beautiful experience.


Glad you're enjoying it, and thanks for the very thorough bug report! I'll get a fix done once I get time to catch my breath.


OK, this should all be fixed in the latest version. Thanks again!