Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremony

Naomi Hinchen


Summary: a likeable but lightweight puzzle game

[spoiler]The ostensible starting point of this game is novel and interesting: can you, a diplomat, get to grips with the etiquette of an alien visitor in order to win her support for a diplomatic project. This seemed to promise a game focussed on NPC interaction, with a sort of anthropological (or should that be zoological?) twist.

As it turns out, Tea Ceremony is not that game. There’s not really much opportunity to communicate with the alien, because although you can (sometimes) understand what she says through a translation device, you can’t speak to her. You are to discover the necessary etiquette not by observation or communication, but simply by finding and reading about it in a book that is conveniently to hand. And once one has worked out the (rather silly) things one has to do, the game involves a succession of simple puzzles working out how to achieve it.

Although this is not, then, a piece that pushes any boundaries, it does what it does smoothly and nicely. It’s solidly coded: objects are implemented; the writing is clear and free of distracting errors; it responds to correct and incorrect instruction sensibly, at least usually. (I had a bit of problem with the drawers: OPEN LOWER DRAWER producing the typically obtuse response “I only understood you as far as wanting to open the lower drawer”!)

The central puzzle involves a piece of machinery and liquids which have to be measured and poured, and I had no problem operating it. The puzzle is very simple to solve (perhaps too simple, for a game that is essentially a puzzle), and I never felt abandoned.

It very much feels like a game in which an author who understands the difficulty of implementing a parser game has deliberately adopted a design which she knows she can make work. So, for instance, the one-way communication means that she doesn’t have the task of implementing a highly responsive NPC. Admittedly, that makes for a less interesting game than if she had implemented, successfully, a highly responsive NPC. But it also makes for a better game than if she had attempted that task, but failed in it. In other reviews I have been critical of authors whose ambition outruns their ability to code and test. Here is an author who has not fallen into that trap.

And the result is, as I say, solid; well-crafted; a fun, short, simple, likeable puzzle game which would be good, for instance, to play with a child.

Still, I wonder if a bit more might have been possible. For instance, it might have been nice if Brc’nl had commented on things we were doing: it seems odd that such an opinionated person should stay quite silent as we run around her living quarters moving things around. Even hitting her produced only a comment that she “appears scandalised” by our actions, and thinks them “uncouth”. Well, sure — but I’d hope that repeatedly beating a guest might produce something more pointed and verbal. And what of kissing her? Well, that turns out to produce exactly the same reaction as hitting her. In a short game such as this, where it can be predicted that annoying players like me are going to try plainly inappropriate actions, it would be nice to have more: what actually happens when you hit a mauve amoeba? What does it fell like to kiss it?

It would also have been nice to have, perhaps, more red herrings, more opportunities to experiment with things that don’t work … in a sense, just more. But there are some solid skills on display here, and I look forward to seeing them deployed on a rather larger canvas.[/spoiler]