Merk's Review: In The Mind Of The Master

The “official” version can be found at my website:

Too many unanswered questions? That’s what sequels be for!

Yeah, true. It’s just that this didn’t seem like a game that’s setting itself up for a sequel. I’ve ended some (most?) of my games with unanswered questions (there’s even a cliffhanger (among other unanswered questions) at the end of Trading Punches that really won’t be answered until the 3rd or 4th game in what’s intended to be a five-game series), but I don’t think in those cases I built the game’s premise around those unanswered questions.

Think about it this way. If a game centers around the question “why did the sky turn green?” then it’s fair to expect an answer to that at the end, even if lesser questions encountered along the way (like “why did Jill run from the cat?”) aren’t answered. It’s very possible that others aren’t bothered by this the way I am. I’ve been looking for other reviews to find out.

I’ve been trying to think if other games I’ve played do the same thing, and I think there are some. Among my own, I’m not sure. Trading Punches doesn’t really ask a central question. It’s just part of an eventual epic where those answers aren’t central to the introductory story. In Distress, I’m asking “will the PC survive to be rescued?” and that’s pretty much answered. In Swordsman, there might be a mystery around the swordsman’s identity and past (although it’s not played up as a central focus), but even so, that’s answered at the end.

What ITMOTM does, I think, is ask the question “who is The Master?” but instead answer the lesser question “what’s so special about The Master?” It’s better than nothing, but you may have gathered from my review that you sort of have to know (or have figured out) that answer before you can get to the winning ending.

It doesn’t destroy the fun, but players will probably have to use the walkthrough to deduce the final move. I still found it very enjoyable and rated it highly. It’s not a 10, because I always look for that one “wow” game (although I’d go for more if more wowed me in that way). It’s not a 9, because I’m looking for a higher polish in a game, and something that “feels” smooth the whole way through. This one is pretty good, but there are enough minor issues in the writing (see emshort’s review for a good example) that they stick out and break the “mood” at times.

I think that’s what trips up most IF authors – myself included. It’s easy to dismiss problems in the writing – if you’re the author – because you feel the game stands on the strength of its story and the atmosphere it presents (this is true in another of the games I’ve reviewed so far as well, where it’s doubly important to maintain that mood). But if a player keeps tripping over sentences, it’s a problem. I rely on spell checking quite a bit (which is why you’ll find misspellings and typos in my forum and newsgroup posts so easily – they’re entirely raw), but I can still recognize misspellings in some words. Comma splices tend to jump out at me. Words missing in sentences or replaced with the wrong words (a problem I really have in my own frenzied typing) make it hard to remain immersed in the story without being drawn back into the writing itself.

Anyway, David could polish this game up, maybe even extend it with the parts he had to skip or remove, perhaps revise the ending and work on keeping players from misunderstanding the structure of the game somehow (thinking you are supposed to play multiple times might just have been my own bad assumption), and it would be an even better game. It’s good. I liked it. I recommend it. But I do think the complaints I have with it are valid ones.

It’s not just the technical aspects of the writing that bothered me (though from time to time they did). I also look for a kind of poise or confidence that tells me that the author knows exactly what he wants to achieve with his prose: what mood he’s trying to evoke, where he wants to direct the player’s attention, what he’s setting up as important questions or themes. If that confidence is present, I find I can forgive a lot of other flaws, because (as a player) I feel secure that the author knows what he’s doing, that I’m not wasting my time, and that the story is going somewhere. Several of my favorite games this competition had various implementation or design problems, but did have this confidence, and that was made them stand out.

For that matter, I’ve played some Whyld games that did strike me this way. Silly as it was, “Paint!!!” (which I reviewed relatively positively) seemed to me to know exactly where it was going and why. “In the Mind of the Master” did not. Descriptions sometimes ran too long, were too vague, and did not convey a strong sense of attitude or direction. Dialogue dragged or contained errors, as though the author did not quite know what the point of the scene was before he started writing it. That sort of thing.

I know what mean. It can make the difference between thinking “whatever problems there may be, the author is still in control” and “uh oh, this author is just winging it as he goes along – can I really trust what’s going on here?”

I had more of a sense for the former than the latter here, but it sounds like you didn’t. Maybe it’s because he ended up cutting things out or skipping things that had originally been intended. There are different “notes” available at the end that talk about the design and these exclusions, but you’d have to get the winning command to reach that point.

A clip from that text:

Thanks for that very nice review. I’d love to comment on some of the points you raised… but I’d better wait another month till the comp’s over with.

You can always email me in private, or post a PM here.

I felt quite confident when I wrote the game, or seem to remember I did, but maybe the fact that when I started writing the game I didn’t have any clear idea of how it was going to end spoilt things. To begin with, all I had in terms of the game’s general outline was the main character being hunted by agents of the Cardinal and having to effect a disguise in order to elude them. Most of the game was written as I was writing it, not planned out beforehand which is really what I should have done, so maybe that’s why it comes across as less confident-sounding.

I really enjoyed this game (though I really like games like this). But the last move was very, very hard for me to figure out. The mystery of the Master and his back story I thought were best left out. Sometimes things are more interesting when you are not entirely sure of anything except what is going on in the moment.

Anyway, I do agree that the last puzzle was wickedly evil.

The last puzzle seems to be the one place where everyone has problems. When I wrote it, I thought that it was quite a logical thing but my testers disagreed. So much so that I ended up putting extra hints in to try and clue people in to what needed doing, but even then I think I left it way too vague. So far I don’t think I’ve found a single person who actually managed to solve it without the hints, which probably tells me I really should have listened to my testers when they said it needed cluing a lot better.

Oh well. Back to the drawing board I guess.

I had taken the clues over the game to mean that over time, the Master takes on the full identity of the person, 1) it was a passive ability, 2) the Master wasn’t totally conscious of it, and 3) it still required wearing the target’s clothes.

The only clue I’m aware of is near the beginning, in a book that you can overlook (a book which, in fact, I overlooked). Or else I saw it but paid it no mind. There was something about being able to completely “become” another person, right? Were there other clues later on?

The problems with the book as a clue are

a) There’s no reason from the description of the books to think that any of them of worth reading right now.
b) The game is telling you to hurry up and get out, not mess around poking at stuff.

It might work better if the book were lying around loose, not just one of many. Even better if the book were lying open, so that just examining it lets you read the passage the Master highlighted. I suppose that would look like egregious exposition, though.

As to winning the game, I’d discovered the command you need quite early on (even though I didn’t read the book), but since it never did anything interesting I’d forgotten about it by the time I got to the end. However, the reply it gives if you try to use it ahead of time does clue you fairly heavily that you’ll need to use it later on, so I should have remembered.

Questions, agh! >_<

Once again I have to agree with the majority of what’s been stated. The last puzzle is /glare-worthy trying to figure out (though really pretty spiffy once you do), and for the life of me, maybe I just fail at life and text adventures, but I couldn’t seem to get to the Cardinal’s home without losing my initial disguise, which annoyed.

On a slightly related note, I found the second-best ‘winning’ ending to be very satisfying…though of course, questions questions questions!