IF Comp 2012 – The Island

Ricardo_Montalban_Herve_Villechaize_Fantasy_Island_1977IFcomp 2012 is suddenly upon us. Last year, I played a bunch of games, assembled comments and never put them on the blog. This year, I’ll try blogging each game as I play it. I may not get through them all, but at least there will be some record of my impressions of the games.

I downloaded the zip file of games and did a quick overview. Looks like some are meant to be played on the web, so I’ll play those later. Some seem to work best under windows, so likewise, I’ll put that off for now. I see only one game, The Island, written with TADS, so I’ll somewhat randomly start there. No maps, feelies, or READMEs in that games directory, so I can hop right into the game, which suits me fine. From here out, expect spoilers.

The “about” reveals that the story is an attempt to evoke a spooky, gloomy atmosphere, and the style of the text and the isolation of the player in the piece does convey this sense. The structure is linear, with the player solving a series of location-based stages using local resources to get beyond an impediment to the next area. No background is given, so the player’s motivation to advance isn’t clear, but it seems reasonable to want to keep moving since once an area has been played out, there isn’t much reason to stay there, and you can infer that the player would eventually die of ennui if not hunger from being stuck forever in one location.

The puzzles are generally reasonable and cued by environment one or two rooms away. The story is not consistent in providing descriptions of all objects or providing aliases, so some experimentation is required and the player can’t always trust that a failed action means that they were pursuing the wrong solution. The parser requires some fairly finicky verb selection and combinations, but the puzzles are of a familiar type for the genre, and most people will try enough phrasing to get past each puzzle.

Sometimes, the puzzle does not describe all the items in the scene, and the strategy and objects are obscured. I ended up working through a number of the stages, but I finally ran out of options and was stuck. The story does not feature a hint or help function, so I stopped playing at that point. I suppose that in some existential sense, perhaps I’ve hit the end of the story, but if so, it isn’t cued, and I’d prefer a more traditional signal that the game is over.

Here’s my not very formal approach to scoring. In my head, I have a normalized curve centered on 5 for the typical IFcomp submission.

Story: 3 (not much the situational or character background. Apparently, our character is someone who is willing to stab crazy people as needed, without any emotional reaction)

Voice: 6 (generally bleak, lonely atmosphere, as the author intends)

Play: 6 (multiple issues with lack of descriptive aliases, fragile parsing, uncued mechanics)

Polish: 6 (better than average copy editing)

Technical: 7 (the intended solutions do work; somewhat heavy handed limitation of object interactions to limiting need to code interactions. For example – the dagger can’t cut the rope, the dagger cannot be recovered once used for stabbing).

Avg: 5.6 

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