Exploring the 'Best Games': Aotearoa, by Matt Wigdahl

Aotearoa is an unusual game, set in an alternate present where dinosaurs living in New Zealand helped the Maoris avoid British rule. You are a young boy chosen to visit the islands of the dinosaurs and learn about their ways.

Aotearoa holds the record for most XYZZY awards won by a single game. While the game is very well-polished, with good writing, I found this to be a bit of a puzzle, especially as the games One Eye Open and Rogue of the Multiverse were very strong that year. But this game had made a big impression on voters. What did it do right?

== Polished until it shines/Depth==

This game runs to 100,000 lines of code or more, almost 3 times the size of Slouching Towards Bedlam. But it isn’t too long; most of the code goes to depth.

The game has a color coded exits bar, a keyword system and tutorial, and other features designed to help newcomers. It has a portable phone that allows communication over long distwnces, and several very interactive NPCS. All reasonable actions have been accounted for.

One thing the game does is have a series of puzzles where your actions are recorded and then repeated to you by another source, with small variations. This alone must have been quite tedious to program, as you would have to write two descriptions for every action.

==Strong NPCs==

The game has a variety of NPCS, including dinosaurs, mammals, and humans.

The main NPC, Eruera, serves as a guide and as a help system. Conversation seems natural with him, and he responds to a variety of topics. The flow of speech is paced well, and you’ll generally know when to talk to him and what to talk to him about.

Another main NPC isa furry critter who follows you around. This animal copies everything that you do, and some puzzles are centered around this. The game uses unspoken communication to build a real bond between you and the animal.

The dinosaurs are less well-developed, each tending to be focused on one thing, which you have to influence. The puzzles involving them almost all involve indirect manipulation, an interesting challenge.

==Writing and worldbuiliding==

The author has clearly put a great deal of thought into this setting. The historical part has been researched enough to be convincing, as has the biological part. The jungle island is described well.

One thing I enjoyed about the writing was the use of the 5 senses. The taste of salt water, the smell of food and plants, the sensation of plants and animals, the cries of birds and dinosaurs. I noticed it on my second playthrough, and it was very good.

==Conclusion==

Aotearoa still stands as the most-awarded game in the XYZZY’S, although it is mentioned less frequently now. Its user friendly features great NPCs and storytelling techniques still mark it as one of the ‘Best Games’.

The Aotearoa year (2010) was my first IFComp and first involvement with any new IF since the old commercial days.

Aotearoa was also one of the first of the games I played that year. The very first might have been Calm [EDIT - except that was from the 2011 comp, so my memories are gumming together)] or Divis Mortis, I forget now (though I remember trying to make a cup of tea in Calm – the first release of Calm – and laughing hysterically.)

With the huge time gap between me playing any contemporary parser games, Aotearoa was the one that made me go: ‘Whoa, look at the tech marvellousness and accommodation possible in these games now!’ So Aotearoa was a major guiding force for how I handled making Six the following year. My impression was that Aot. struck everyone similarly that year with some kind of tech and approach freshness, even people who weren’t new to new IF.

PS - A good # of games from that year have been appified and/or commercially re-released - Warbler’s Nest, Death off the Cuff, Leadlight.

-Wade