IF Comp 2012 – A Killer Headache

Well, the first line certainly draws the player in, “Ever since you died, the migraines have been getting worse.” Sounds like my kind of game.

I always record a transcript as I play through games, both for my own record and because I am a dyed-in-the-wool betatester and can’t play a game without part of my brain (brainns!!!!) thinking about the medium itself. I usually try to send these transcripts on to the authors even if there are no problems because I’ve always appreciated receiving transcripts. As an author, receiving a transcript lets you know firstly that someone cares and is playing the game, but also gives some insight into how others apprach the game. After writing a game, an author is so close to the game that an external perspective often turns up surprising twists.

Anyhow, when transcript recording starts, the version information scrolls by, and I was stunned to see the number of extensions that this game uses. It’s nice to see that this author has built upon work by others and furthermore that he’s managed to get all the extensions to play nice with each other, which I know can be a challenge.

Okay…from here out, spoilers…

Zombie games seem to fall into two categories: gory, ennvironmental horror and more playful exploration of the ups and downs of undead existence. This game had elements of both, but leans strongly towards the latter, where you have to think like a zombie (braiinnnss) to get by.

In this game, you can’t get too hung on your condition. If a limb falls off, so what? You can always stick it back on later. You have to make certain allowances for being a zombie, and forgo some social conventions like eating other people. All that is fine. There are some benefits to being dead, of course. Siphoning gas has never been easier now that you don’t have to worry about swallowing or aspirating toxic fluid. Head butting through a plate glass window is a viable option.

So, I enjoyed the flavor of the game, and was able to do a reasonable amount of exploration before I got stuck. I’d encountered the dog, but hadn’t defeated him and wasn’t sure it was possible. It turns out that I was on the right track – I had tried to detach my own hand after he’d bitten it, but hadn’t gotten quite the right phrasing to make that happen. So, I assumed that he was a block and went eastward towards the auto accident.

I liked the mechanic of getting gas, fueling the generator, turning on the jukebox, etc., and entertaining the kids, but I couldn’t figure out how that helped me. No matter what, I seemed to get eaten by them. I assumed that the answer somehow involved luring them to the diner and immobilizing them there, perhaps listening to a song.

I spent a while trying to get them into the freezer since I assumed that it could only be locked from the outside after the door was closed (which seems like a reasonable safety precaution for freezer design since prior to the zombie apocalypse, trapping people in freezers was a bad idea). I spent a while trying to get the speaker from the ceiling, with the hope of putting it in the freezer and drawing the dancing mob in there.

When power is restored and you enter the freezer, you receive a warning that you are shutting down due to cold, and I took that as a hint that going in there when it is cold is a bad idea. I was hoping to freeze my little buddies, though.

I would not have figured out a lot of the steps in the walkthrough. It does seem fair to me in this sort of game to allow that a skull could function as a container for small items, although I’m surprised that larger items can fit in its volume (e.g., the siphon). Bending locking the freezer before getting into it and bending the key would never have crossed my mind. Aside from the freezer design issue, I didn’t think I was strong enough to bend a metal key given my experience in trying to get out of the trailer.

I would also not have hit upon the idea of praying my way out of the situation. With my verbal ability reduced to sentences of one or two words, I doubt that I’d have known what to do with a rosary, much less remembered how it works or the words to various prayers (or perhaps, that ability came from eating the nun’s brain, since most Catholics wouldn’t know one end of a rosary from the other).

The flashback sequences did work well, and while at first disorienting, they provide some back story and add to the experience.

Overall, I found the story entertaining, but the solutions a bit specific. From a technical standopint, I was very pleased with the capability of the parser to accept a range of synonyms, and the text was well-written and carefully edited.

Story: 7
I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s going on in this world, but I know the overall situation and through flashbacks, I know some of the events in my personal history leading up to the present.

Voice: 8
The author conveys a good sense of what it’s like to walk in the footsteps of a zombie. There isn’t much going on in the zombie’s head, but that’s appropriate. Each time, after eating brains, the zombie powers up a bit and gains some insight from the ingested grey matter.  I love my familiar, the severed foot.

Play: 7
I don’t want to take off points for my inability to solve puzzles, but I think that some of the solutions to this game were a touch too obscure. I realize there’s a fine line between clueing a solution and outright giving it away, but I needed either better clueing or additional ways of solving the blocking situtations in this story. Aside from a these few choke points, however, I enjoyed the action in this game.

Polish: 8
A lot of work has gone into this game, with an extensive hint system and excellent copy editing. It is clear that substantial beta testing must have taken place, but perhaps with only one set of testers who became accustomed to the solution and did not push for a more flexible range of solutios.

Technical: 7
The game is implemented very competently, and a number of potential pitfalls such as disambiguaton are handled seamlessly. I would have preferred a more extensive ability to interact with NPCs (i.e., to talk with my buddy the severed head, the nun, etc.)

Average: 7.4

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