It’s that time of year again: the time when I try to write short reviews of all the comp games before the comp is over and inevitably fail. (Maybe this year will finally be the year I succeed??? … nah, I doubt it.)
[spoiler]I think I am exactly the wrong person to review SPY INTRIGUE, as it manages to involve not one, but two common Twine writing styles that I dislike (the vaguely Homestuck-esque tongue-in-cheek TOTALLY RADICAL type that always sounds like a guy in his late twenties who likes a lot of shitty pop culture “ironically”, and the moody, introspective, “disaffected ennui-filled young adult (usually with some kind of mental health issue)” kind). I did not like it, but for the people who like that kind of thing, it may be the kind of thing that they like?
The low-contrast text with staticky background gave me an actual headache, which may have biased me further against the game’s content, but when you make that kind of design decision, you should probably be prepared for the fact that it will put some people off.[/spoiler]
I wasn’t a big fan of Bell Park, Youth Detective–I found it snarky enough to prevent any emotional involvement, but not (unlike You Will Select A Decision) funny enough to be compelling in spite of the characters and plot being two-dimensional parody. So I went into this game, in which Bell is a major character, with some trepidation… and ended up loving it. It still has that weirdness (robotic-sounding bird aliens infiltrating the already-odd dream scenarios of a teenage girl will do that), and the secondary characters are still kind of one-note caricatures (though entertaining ones–I kind of love the teenage Tumblr fangirl, I won’t lie), but Bridget and Bell feel human, and their awkwardly budding teenage romance, which was sweet and believable, provided a solid emotional core to the weirdness of the larger plot. I also thought the mechanic of having the choices in the dreams reset Bridget’s stats at the beginning of each day was pretty neat, and it’s not something I’ve seen before. Basically, I really enjoyed this game and will probably play it again when I’m not trying to plow through several dozen games by November 15th.
The idea of this–a human on what seems to be an alien-colonized Earth playing amanuensis for an alien advice blogger whose advice he doesn’t agree with–was interesting, but the execution seemed somehow… too thin, or too lightweight, for what it was trying to do. Possibly it’s because each individual playthrough is so short, or possibly it’s the lack of background on the whole human-alien situation and what exactly the power dynamic is there, but I just never really felt the ethical dilemma as keenly as I think the player was meant to.
[spoiler]I’ll admit it: intentionally old-fashioned IF is a hard sell for me. I mean, there are actual old-school games that I like, but no one ever makes throwbacks to, like, A Mind Forever Voyaging or Douglas Adams’s Bureaucracy–it’s always the same old cookie-cutter high fantasy quest stuff. And Questor’s Quest is a perfectly competent entry in that genre, it just doesn’t, as far as I can see, bring anything new to the genre or to IF generally. It’s not bad, it’s not frustrating, it’s just not interesting.
Also, the magical artifact for which Questor is questing is misspelled as a “pendent” throughout the game, and maybe that’s a petty thing to get hung up on, but I’m an editor in real life and it drove me nuts.[/spoiler]
This is basically a short chapter book for younger readers with a framing story about a girl who has a bad time at a Girl Scout meeting and a main story about the adventures of flying cats. The book is nicely put together, works smoothly and without glitches, and has lovely illustrations, but interactivity is extremely minimal–mostly limited to poking things and having them make noise. I had picture-book CD-ROMs in the '90s where you could click different places in the picture and get animations and little dialogues, and I think that’s more or less what this wanted to be, but frankly it’s not even as interactive as those CD-ROM picture books were. And while the story might have been fascinating to seven-year-old me who really loved Catwings, it doesn’t grab me now. Again, it’s lovely and it seems like the creators put quite a lot of work into it, but I’m not the target audience and it leaves me cold. And while people have different places they draw the line about what’s sufficiently interactive, I’m really not sure an interactive fiction competition was the best venue for this piece.
[spoiler]“At any time during the game (especially now) you may type:
HELP to see the standard commands used to read/play Interactive Fiction.
ABOUT to see the non-standard commands created especially for this game.
CREDITS to see the acknowledgments for this game.”
I type “about”; nothing happens. This game is not getting off to a good start.
And then four moves in I get this:
SYSTEM ERROR: Unknown attribute for literal (0).
<If you are the creator of this piece of Interactive Fiction, please help debug this Alan system
error. Collect all the sources, and, if possible, an exact transcript of the commands that let to
this error, in a zip-file and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!>
All right, I’m done. This thing is apparently unplayable, at least by me.[/spoiler]
This is an entertaining little game with fun writing, very much in the usual Choice of Games vein, but little enough changes in each playthrough that it gets a bit tedious if you’re having trouble not dying in Chapter 9. Also, if you do survive (and then die of scurvy? I’m unsure whether there’s a way to not die of scurvy), you get a button that says “Coda” and that just takes you back to an earlier choice with all your current stats, and as far as I can tell, that loop just goes on forever as long as the sea serpent doesn’t eat you. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not. It was fun at first, and I like the blurbs on historical pirates at the end, but the more I played it, the more confused and frustrated I got.
The Baker of Shireton
And speaking of things that have fun premises but get kind of tiresome in execution, we have this bread-making sim in which you’re an NPC in an MMORPG, just trying to provide delicious HP-restoring baked goods to the players. Once I figured out I could just BAKE BREAD instead of having to OPEN OVEN, PUT DOUGH IN OVEN (x however many pans of dough I had), CLOSE OVEN it went a little quicker, but you still have to MAKE DOUGH for each pan individually (and for some reason the “g” shortcut doesn’t even work for that particular command? At least, not for me), and it eventually got too annoying for me to even bother finding any of the endings that don’t involve death.
In conclusion, apparently I’m a crotchety so-and-so and I don’t like anything. Except Birdland. Birdland can stay.