IntroComp 2011 reviews


Note: minor spoilers follow.

“Seasons” isn’t really an introduction to a larger game; it’s more like an unfinished version of that larger game, a snapshot of the source code on the author’s hard drive with a final reply grafted on. As such, it doesn’t do what successful IntroComp entries do: advertise, whet the appetite, give a sense of what the full game will look like.

It’s hard to say exactly what’s going on in the game. You play a software engineer who wakes up in an adjective-soaked magic-realist landscape. You meet a couple of NPCs, find a few objects, and are given a small fetch-quest that, near as I can tell, you can’t complete. From reading the help text and talking to the NPCs, it seems that your goal is to “complete” four seasons, but it’s not at all clear what that means or how one is to go about it. There are “sun crosses,” which presumably indicate areas of importance, but which are not actually implemented, and can’t be interacted with. After much wandering through lavishly-described but essentially empty rooms, you may eventually be told that You Have Won, having achieved nothing and learned almost nothing about the world you’re exploring.

I think a more successful design for IntroComp would have limited the player to a small section of the world with a clearly defined quest. The player could have completed one season, perhaps, or at least made headway towards that goal. As it is, I played the game for more than an hour, but still have no idea what I would be doing in the finished game, should it ever appear.

The bigger issue, though, is that the game is extremely buggy, to the point of unplayability. Minor bugs in an IntroComp game are expected, but it should at least be tested for showstoppers, and this game wasn’t. For example, upon taking a lantern, the game prints debug messages every single turn thereafter:

z:496613 (the) z:the Cherry Orchard z has light: 1
z ofclass Room:1
z ofclass Orchard:1
[** Programming error: (object number 41) is not of class <illegal object number 1> to apply.ofclass. for **]

z ofclass Outdoors:0

Trying to pick up a pine needle generates the following reply: “You don’t see any reason to ferry around the 494245 .” Trying to fill a canteen at the Lakefront nearly crashes the interpreter with hundreds of error messages. There is a thirst daemon in the game which triggers at very short intervals, until at some point, you’re told “something changes, and you no longer feel thirsty.” This message is printed every turn thereafter. I am not sure what triggers it, but once it happens, it opens up a vast continent of previously unavailable rooms. Some of these rooms are almost completely unimplemented, with no descriptions, or descriptions like “The” (literally, just that). The effect is like sneaking past a sign reading “Please excuse our mess while we’re under construction,” and wandering through miles of exposed wiring, PVC pipe and sheet rock.

There’s some potential here, and I’d encourage the author to get some testers post-haste, but right now Seasons offers very little to make a player want to come back.


I wonder if this game is a put-on.

In Parthenon, you play a tourist visiting the edifice in question, accompanied by your spouse. The introduction is quite small: you explore a few rooms, pick up a couple of items, and then the game takes a sudden turn before ending.

There are many misspelled words and unimplemented nouns, and there’s an unresponsive NPC (the spouse) with gender confusion issues (the parser recognizes only “him,” but the endgame seems to refer to “her”). These are common enough issues. What makes this game memorable is its gleeful disregard for its subject. I have never been to Greece, and I am no classicist. I do have Wikipedia and Google Maps. Based on these resources, I would suspect – someone please correct me if I’m wrong – that the Parthenon did not have priests’ quarters. I would guess that it did not have stables. And I am pretty sure the north end of the temple is not perched atop a rocky cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, where one can hear waves crashing. Despite this apparent indifference to the real-world Parthenon, the author took the trouble to look up what I assume is the Greek word for taxi, and printed it in the proper characters. It makes me wonder what’s really going on here.

Unlike most of the games in IntroComp this year, this game does feature a puzzle of sorts, although it is not obvious that it is even there. When you solve it, things change rather dramatically, but perhaps not for the better.

Speculative Fiction

This is a really effective IntroComp entry. It’s polished, limited in scope, has a clear hook, and gives a good indication of what gameplay would be like in the finished version. And it’s a lot of fun.

It appears at first glance to be an escape-the-room game, but subverts this expectation immediately. You play a wizard whose body is locked in a tower. Your mind, however, is in the body of your raven familiar, who acts as a narrator and follows your instructions. Your goal is to collect cash, and lots of it, to avoid execution for thievery.

What stands out here is the writing – clever, witty, and engaging, right from the first sentence. Most of the writing effort has been put into characterizing W.D., the raven whose body you’re sharing. His perspective is endlessly entertaining:

x sandie
Sandie is a short, round woman. To a first approximation, she’s a sphere.
To a second approximation, she’s a sphere with hands. She’s got a
greasy apron on and she smells fantastic. I love her and her meaty ways.
She only loves me when I have money.

I’d have no problems nominating W.D. for an XYZZY as Best NPC (or perhaps PC), just for this introduction.

The game is well-coded, with no bugs that I could detect. There’s one puzzle in the intro, and it’s on the easy side, but satisfying.

Overall, it’s a very fine effort. I’d like to urge the authors to finish the game, and also to please list the exits in all the rooms.