It is worth making a special effort to play Irvine Quik and the Search for the Fish of Traglea. For me, it meant downloading the Adrift 4 player and running it under Parallels on my Mac. This story is on par with the best of the parser-based games that I’ve played in this year’s IFcomp, although humor doesn’t always work across broad audience, and this might not suit everyone’s taste. In this story, your back story is impossible,the characters you encounter are strange and your mission ridiculous, but somehow it all works.
All joking aside, there is a lot of structure to this piece. There is a quick bit of exposition at the start: enough to set the tone, but not screen dumps of back story. The game is broken into five chapters, which play seamlessly if you run through them in sequence, but could allow a player to skip around, for instance, to replay a specific chapter.
More after the spoiler break
The first chapter introduces the way the game handles verbs, what to expect in terms of conversation in the game, and how to interact with Hirby, your floating robotic companion. Hirby’s ability to fly to different heights and retrieve items with its pincers is put to good use in a number of puzzles later in the story.
One of the middle chapters is all about learning how to fight. It sets the stage for a subsequent chapter in which the story takes on an RPG slant, with HP displayed at the bottom of the screen, and combat rounds required to advance through a hostile environment, leading up to what can only be described as a boss encounter. The chapter in which the PC, Irvine, learns to fight seems a little contrived. After a couple chapters that describe in depth every room on your spaceship and every area between the space ship and the city, the city itself seems stark: there is a path that leads to a dojo, and another that turns towards the palace. Does everyone entering the city stop by the dojo? Maybe, as it does seems to be a martial civilization.
Many games that stray into RPG territory don’t fare this well because they become too much like a D&D simulator, and lose track of story. This game strikes a reasonable balance, providing some fun fight scenes, but not getting carried away.
This is a get-the-item story, but there’s a long and indirect journey between knowing the goal and realizing it. The PC in this story reminds me of the 4th Doctor, another scarf-wearing intergalactic traveller whose mental flexibility (some would say borderline insanity) allows him to do well in a perverse universe.
The author’s voice is strong and consistent throughout the game. Irvine also has a distinct, somewhat persecuted voice. What sets this game apart from many others is that the bit players get their own personalities, despite having only a few lines of dialogue. Even Hirby, who is silent, has is own behavior and by the end of the game, there is a bond between Hirby and Irvine.
This game is laid out well in terms of introducing concepts and building on player knowledge about the game mechanics and world. However, at a couple of points, I broke the game and the only way I could get the game back on track was to restart from either a saved position or the beginning. I think a multi-level undo was to blame for the most severe breakage, but in other instances, I might have done something that the game didn’t expect and couldn’t handle.
One other minor criticism: I found directional navigation inside the ship to be confusing because of the overlay of ship directions (forward, aft, port, starboard) and compass directions (n,s,e,w). A given paragraph could state that the bridge is forward, but that Hirby arrives from the south. There is a correspondance between these direction systems, but it is not the one that is expected: forward does not map to north. It’s entirely reasonable that the ship is not “pointed” north, but it would make everything more intuitive if that were the case, particularly for people who bring up the control panel, which shows directions as north, south, east, and west. I don’t know if it is even possible within Adrift, but ideally, these directions would be labeled with shipboard directions while the player is in the ship.
In a few places, I had difficulty picturing relationships based on their descriptions. In some instances, if I hadn’t had the control panel up, I might not have realized what directions were available from the text alone. I can’t really see how I could stuff the tiger suit into the “baseball-sized” robot, Hirby. Similarly, how did it help me to climb on a crate to get items back from the monkey, when I used my flying robot to do the grabbing?
This game is polished not only in the paragraph-by-paragraph sense of being well written and edited, but in the sense that the higher order structure of the game is well thought out. Aside from the programmatic issues that I encountered, the game was of top quality.
I am not familiar with Adrift, but I was impressed by what could be done using this game engine. Nonetheless, some bugs I encountered were game breaking. Thankfully, the ability to restart from a saved position or to start fresh with each chapter allowed me to complete the game. This is an ambitious game, and anytime there is multiplicity of interactions and game states, there’s the likelihood that bugs will creep in. This game appears to have had extensive beta-testing, but some bugs persist nonetheless. I hope the author will undertake a post-comp release, as this game is worth fixing before it gets archived.