The Backlot by A. Bomire
Adult Interactive Fiction Game
I have to admit that I shied away from AIF for quite some time. Not so much because of the shady reputation it has among most of the IF world but because the few games I had tried (one with lots of underage sex and another written by someone who grasp of the English language would have embarrassed a five year old) had left me feeling that AIF games were every bit as bad as I had been led to believe. But then I stumbled across The Backlot and all that changed.
Or changed eventually anyway. I didn’t even play the game when I first saw it because a) it was a TADS game and I generally avoided TADS games because I couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use the system to write my own games and b) it was AIF and my previous experiences with AIF games hadn’t impressed me a whole lot.
But when I finally did get around to playing it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was good. Very good. Better, in fact, than most of the non-AIF games I had been playing in the meantime.
The Backlot has a strange storyline: you’re a writer of AIF games yourself but seem to have run into the problem which beleaguers every writer sooner or later - writer’s block. You want to write something but just can’t for the life of you figure out how. So you take a break, head down to your local bookstore for some inspiration (maybe they have a large AIF section or something) - and then things start getting decidedly weird. In the back of the bookstore you find a box containing some old books. Also inside is a tome and a parchment which, when read, transports you a fantasy world made up of several different fantasy worlds which have appeared in text adventures throughout the years. Quite a few of the characters you encounter in this world are from those games as well and part of the fun of playing The Backlot is remembering just where you came across them first. I recognised the axe-throwing dwarf from Adventure (even though I didn’t play the game until years after it first came out) and the building at the end of the road (also from Adventure) but a lot of the others didn’t mean a lot to me until I checked the rather handy ‘Info’ section in the game.
The idea behind The Backlot is to find your way home although just how you go about this isn’t at first obvious. A lot of effort has been expended on making the game amusing and easy to play but for the most part you tend to wander around from one location to another without a clue as to what is going on. And there are a lot of locations besides, more than enough to become lost in if you’re not careful. Fortunately the game comes with a handy map which you can check from time to time and this helps tremendously with keeping track of where you are in relation to everything else. Eventually you will inevitably reach the stage of having visited every location you can reach and amassed several items but have no real idea what you’re going to do next. Or maybe that was just me missing the obvious things.
Hints are provided by way of the tome you pick up in the bookstore at the start of the game and use of this is pretty much vital to making any progress. Even so, a few times having to rely on the tome to move matters on is a tad annoying. In one location I found a wand but wasn’t able to use it until I had looked it up in the tome, although what the tome told me wasn’t especially helpful.
Guess the verb problems struck in a few places. Most of the time, “get” and “take” mean exactly the same thing (as they should do) yet in one location I was unable to “get” a light bulb. As the light bulb was clearly visible to me and there was nothing to stop me taking it, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was wrong. I even went as far as wondering if perhaps there was a major bug in the game which prevented me picking up the light bulb, or maybe this was one of those strange puzzles you tend to find in games every now and then which make no sense whatsoever. But then I typed “take light bulb” and got it. In another location I found a button which I couldn’t “push” but which I was able to “press”.
One thing I liked about The Backlot was the fact that it was more a “regular” IF game than most of the other AIF games I have played. The emphasis here is on exploration of the game world, puzzle solving, interacting with other characters and less, thankfully, on guess the verb issues relating to which part of the anatomy you grope/fondle/kiss first. Which is a good thing, funnily enough. A game feels a little on the cheap and tacky side to me when the whole point behind it is to have sex and although I’m sure 90% of an AIF game’s core audience play the games purely for that reason, it’s also nice when you come across a proper game amidst all the porn-disguised-as-games. That doesn’t mean there isn’t sex in The Backlot - there is - but that here it’s handled in a more interesting manner than a straight “see a girl, shag her” scenario. For an amusing look at what constitutes bad AIF, take a look at the script you find in the room with the fairy. Scarily enough, I’m sure quite a few of the ‘ideas’ within have been used for AIF games in the past.
There are a fair few puzzles in The Backlot ranging from the fairly easy (getting the hose off the shelf in the garage) to the complicated-but-easy-to-see-in-hindsight-how-logical-it-was (figuring out a way to get the disc in the director’s office without him stopping you). Most can be figured out with use of the ol’ grey matter but there were a few that completely stumped me until the trusty walkthrough came along. Although as with the director puzzle, most of them you can see afterwards how logical they were and often find that you’re kicking yourself for not figuring them out sooner.
Certainly the best AIF game I’ve played and a healthy benchmark against which future games should be judged.
7 out of 10