Wolfbiter reviews IFComp 2023 (latest: finished with reviews, wrap-up thoughts)

Milliways: the Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Max Fog
Playtime: 1 hour 30 minutes (did not finish)

Note: I’m a big fan of the books but have never played the Infocom game.

TLDR: Continue the absurdist adventures of Arthur Dent in this complex puzzler.

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  • I had fun revisiting the Hitchhiker’s Guide setting. We get improbability calculations! We have a babel fish! Slartibartfast shows up! There is a Guide item and you can look things up in it! A towel makes a plot-relevant appearance! This definitely felt like it was made with the same love that I have for Douglas Adams.

  • I thought several of the puzzle designs were really creative and interesting. For example, I thought the cupboard swapping puzzle was a really fun concept, and what you were supposed to do was clued well through the in-game text by the descriptions of the first-class passengers all with glasses of sherry and the cupboard saying “you don’t have anything to replace that with.” Likewise, the morpher puzzle concept of playing spot-the-difference in the rooms is unique and enjoyable. I didn’t quite finish it, but I think the one I was on was going to be reading the letters spelled out by the shape of the map, which is also a good concept. Clearly a lot of effort and thought has gone into generating the puzzle concepts.

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  • I would have enjoyed more time with the grace notes of the setting. For example, I wanted to hear Trillian, Ford, Zaphod, and Marvin say entertaining, in-character things (I talked to them at a few points but they didn’t have a lot to say). There’s also things like the blank menu at Milliways and the blank stage at Milliways that feel like they could be filled in with a fun, colorful element even if it wasn’t plot-relevant.

  • I liked a lot of the puzzle concepts but several of them had rough spots that increased friction in how they were implemented. I think a few tweaks to make them a bit more player-friendly would go a long way to increasing engagement. For example, I got the cupboard puzzle concept on my own, but I seemed to get into some kind of “no cupboards will open” bug after I gave the cupboard the sporfe? Or maybe because I left and entered the kitchen too much? I had to reload to resolve it, and after that I decided, like a coward, to just open the walkthrough and use the exact item swaps in there, but that was less fun. Similarly, I wasn’t sure what to do in the ship with the gun, but as soon as I opened the walkthrough and saw that area was called “morpher ship” I got it, I just needed a smidge more cluing in the environment to expect things to morph. I think if just a few more on-ramps were provided for the puzzles the game would play a lot smoother. The puzzle difficulty feels compounded by the fact that the in-game hints have a somewhat hostile tone—when the player is desperate enough to seek hints they’re at a low point in their experience! They seek encouragement!

  • I wish there had been somewhat fewer trips through the dark / repeat visits to locations.