IF Comp 2012 – Murphy’s Law

This is the story of an unlucky, overworked, and mentally exhausted salesman, who is just a single installment shy of paying off a mortgage. The story begins in an apartment scenario, where he needs to write that check, and at first I thought that this might be a three move game. When that turned out not to be the case, I assumed that this would be a game in which minor errors would snowball towards a calamitous end. That’s not quite what happened either.

More after the spoiler cut

There is a calamitous end, but there’s not much the player can do about it because it all happens in one move.

This is a terrific premise for an IF game: a comedy of errors that plays out Murphy’s Law, which can be stated as “what can go wrong, will go wrong.” This game breaks that law — there’s plenty that could go wrong, but does not.

Take for instance jump starting the car. Up to this point, there are a ton of annoyingly detailed steps to get the car started. But when it comes to actually supplying high current electricity to a lead acid battery, there’s no problem? What? People actually do screw up jump-starting their cars all the time, and it could be a dangerous activity if done incorrectly. What if there were an open gas can around and a spark set it off? What if the cut-rate starter kit’s terminals fell off and you had to guess which side was positive or negative?

In a real comedy of errors, the errors should build on one another. Fixing one thing should break something else. Getting something right now (eating the pizza) should backfire later (throwing up during the bank robbery).

Story: 7

It’s risky to take an everyday event like mailing a bill and to develop it into a full game, but this is a reasonable attempt. Similarly, the “apartment” setting is difficult to spice up.

Voice: 7

The story conveys clearly the middle-aged dead end existence of the main character, which evokes sympathy and probably pity for the character. This puts the player in the position of trying to help him out by overcoming the curve balls that Murphy throws his way.

Play: 6

The lack of implicit actions detracted from my enjoyment of this game, as did the variable degree of implementation. Some items and descriptions were very well done, but often items that sounded like they might be important were not represented by objects. The granularity of actions was very variable: many steps to do something simple, few steps to do something complex (like drive from here to the bank). People who are familiar with the conventions of parser-based IF may also be surprised by the choice of verbs for some common actions.

Polish: 7

The location descriptions are pretty good, and it’s always clear what is in the location and what exits are available. The text looks like it has been proofread, and reads well. My quibbles with polish are not the quality of writing, but IF-specific implementation: lack of minor object implementation, paucity of reasonable synonyms, failure to streamline play through implicit actions.

Technical: 7

The story does include a number of extensions, but I’m not sure of their purpose in this work. I didn’t run across any major programming errors or problems that would derail the story, but more attention to basic object mechanics would have made this story more enjoyable.

Average: 6.8

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