Slasher Swamp

Slasher Swamp



Summary: An enthusiastic attempt which lacks polish

[spoiler]A game called “Slasher Swamp”, if it does what it seems to promise, is not really up my street. And this game certainly was trying to do what it promised. It is an unashamed homage to a particular horror genre. We hardly need to be told what we will find in slasher swamp – crazed rustics, of course; a cocktail of madness and badness; something evil and primaeval; much death.

Although it’s not my thing, I couldn’t help but be disarmed by the enthusiastic effort that has evidently gone into this. Whatever negative comments one may have, it’s clear that the author has written the sort of game he or she enjoys playing, and assumes you will enjoy too, and wants you to enjoy. That is a good thing; but it is also the source of some of the problems the game has.

Consider the following exchange:

>x sink
The sink is a bloody mess. Underneath it is a pipe.

>x pipe
You see no pipe here. 

>search pipe
You see no pipe here. 

>search sink
You can clearly see stuff down the pipe, but you have no tools.

This sort of exchange rather illustrates what can go wrong with parser games. The problem is not actually with the parser: this is a game written in (I think) TADS3 (though it does not seem to credit system or library), and TADS3 has a fantastically capable parser. So the problem is not the tools. But that doesn’t help the player. This sort of thing just should not happen in a well made game.

Nor is this the only trouble. The map is also often confusing, with one-way paths and apparently illogical mappings. There are many places (I didn’t find them all, but certainly more than thirty), and again and again they are confusingly arranged. And, predictably enough, with so many locations the implementation is patchy: in most places there seems to be nothing, or almost nothing, to do.

I suspect these problems have a single root cause: the author has tried to write a game as he or she would wish to play it, but has not reckoned with the amount of work that requires, or really seen it from the player’s point of view. The result is large, but shaggy.

But what of the game itself? Well, it seems to be doing exactly what its title suggests, and it is a hot mess of cliches. But they didn’t really seem to hang together. Indeed, in some sense, no real attempt had been made to get them to hang together – it seemed to be more a question of providing an environment in which various set-pieces could be placed than a coherent narrative.

The actual solution to a puzzle often depends on brute force: search and save. Or, rather, save and search. Searching, while it is essential, is dangerous. Death, usually sudden, comes frequently in Slasher Swamp. So the only way to proceed is to save, then search, and then (often) restore, with a lesson learned.

This doesn’t make for satisfying play. Nor does it really make for suspense. Surely one of the tricks of horror is the way that tension is built up and released. The occasional sudden death may keep one on one’s toes – but equally important are the expectations (whether of death or salvation) which are slowly built up, and then satisfied or disappointed. Slasher Swamp doesn’t seem to have any well-constructed way of building up that sort of tension.

This mechanism includes some frequently-used techniques that seem simply unfair:

You are standing on an empty Florida highway, and your
broken-down truck is here. Thousands of frogs and insects teem, and on
either side of the road is a dark swamp. The sun is very hot.

The truck contains a scrap of paper. 

>take all from truck
scrap of paper: Taken. 

>search truck
The truck contains a flashlight and a wrench. 

>take all from truck
flashlight: Taken. 
wrench: Taken.

I object to this sort of trick. This is my truck. I shouldn’t need to SEARCH it in order to find out it contains a flashlight and a wrench. No-one has hidden them: they are things I put in my truck, and which I should know are there. Just typing SEARCH is simply busywork.

As for the story? Well, I couldn’t really find one, though perhaps that is because I got stuck too soon. As one would expect, it ain’t pretty in this swamp: there are body parts, and bodily fluids, and hints of cultish behaviour and abuse, and predatory flora and fauna, and the whole ‘lost in the woods’ horror schtick. But there’s not really any feeling of tension. What’s in the sink? Oh, just a key and a tongue. Better take the key. Even the vocabulary didn’t seem quite right for me: is ‘feces’ really the right word here? Is ‘vomit’? Is this a horror game, or a medical textbook?

Then, I’m afraid, I got stuck. The walkthrough didn’t help (because it told me I needed a particular object, but didn’t tell me where I could find it). I gave it a fair crack, but in the end I gave up, lacking the motivation to continue.

This feels like a first time author who has underestimated how much work it is to make a solid parser game, and whose grasp of the system does not extend much beyond simple object and room descriptions. It’s got the makings of something. But as it stands, it cannot really be regarded as properly polished. It has breadth, but not depth, and it is harmed by some imperfect design. I’d definitely like to encourage the author to take their evident enthusiasm, and try to discipline it and produce something more player-friendly and polished.

(Also: Why was this released as a Windows executable? It may be because Gargoyle doesn’t seem to work with the latest generation of TADS3, which is a pity; but there are other interpreters, and this should have been released as a tads executable as well as in its Windows form.)[/spoiler]