IF Comp 2012 – The Test Is Now Ready

My next attempt was a Z-machine based game, The Test is Now Ready.

The post contains spoilers after the break.

The game has a nice, quick start, which conveys the situation and sense of urgency. Although disconcerting to not start my game in the usual way (about, help, hints, x me, etc.), it does make sense that this sort of introspection would take back seat to staying out of the slavering jaws of a zombie horde.  Glad to see from the about/help that the author has had the game play tested and welcomes feedback.

The first chapter is a lifeboat situation – one vial of antidote, for two zombie-bitten vicitms. There is limited ability to explore the relationship between the two actors, which seems a shame given that the scope of this scene is limited to just two people and effectively no props other than the gun which ends the scene. There are hints at back story – presumably, the significant others of each survivor, who have died in the attack, the attack itself, etc.

Although the “about” indicates that the story will provide moral choices, until the end of the first chapter, the player doesn’t know that this will be a series of vignettes, rather than a story arc about the zombies. Given that the focus is on moral choices, I would have preferred that more options be available in each scenario. In the zombie scene, I assume there are two choices – shoot myself or Frank. But what about each taking a half dose of the zombie antidote? There’s not a lot of info about the antidote, and at first I wondered if it would even help me to get it, if the antidote were injectable rather than oral.

In the second scene, torture of a suspected terrorist, the most obvious way to advance the plot seems to be to acquiesce to torturing. The personality of the written main character seems dominant over the free will of the player, particularly the way the scene concludes. In both this scene and the next, there are other more altruistic options, but these options are often less accessible — it takes repeated attempts in this scene to just walk away, or to throw the railway switch in the next scene. If the intent of the scenarios is to present an equitable choice of moral actions, it would seem more fair that those choices be equally accessible, otherwise the “instrument” of the moral test is asking leading questions.

In the third scene, the choice is between sending a train towards your son, whose ankle is wedged in track, and a minivan which is stalled on the tracks. Here, some reasonable interventions would seem to avert the moral choice — push the van out of the way, lever your son’s ankle out of the track (or, even cut off that leg). The range of choices is again reduced to a binary “us” or “them”. While this throws the question into contrast, it sacrifices any nuanced or clever solutions.

The fourth scene seems too contrived to believe. I’m the only blood donor for a virtuoso violinist and she’ll die if I disconnect our linking IV line? What? Why do I have no recollection of why I’m here? How could I believe this explanation from a nurse — why not just transfuse O-negative blood (or is this some kind of weird minor-blood group incompatability)? Even so, this isn’t how transfusions are given. Why would I need to be hooked up continuously rather than donating blood, having it processed in the usual manner, etc.? I mean, my marrow can only make blood so fast? Why does she need to continous infusion — is she not making blood, or destroying it? This scenario just makes no sense, so there’s no moral issue. No hospital would implement this solution, so I have no compunction about ripping out my IV. Clearly, someone is lying to me.

Because the author is focused on this single choice, implementation that would enable other choices is not present — some reasonable actions would be to yell to the family in the minivan, so they could abandon their vehicle, to wave at the train to begin braking, but these actions are met with stock responses. Items described in this encounter are not implemented, so it is not possible to open or push the van, to talk to the family, etc.

Despite these criticisms, the game is well written and edited, and the conclusion of the game provides an unexpected context that makes some sense of these otherwise unconnected vignettes.

Story: 7

I found each of the individual scenarios to be interesting, limited in scope. If it were just there scenes, I would have given a 6 because the writing is good, but I bumped to 7 since the final reveal ties them together and does make this a cohesive story.

Voice: 7

The only real voice comes through at the end, although each scene has its own internally consistent voice.

Play: 6

The play was smooth, but there were unimplemented objects and a feeling of being railroaded towards limited options. I did play through a few times, and there are options available that are either not as appetitizing or which are not apparent on first play. I’d recommend trying the variants that are suggested in the AMUSING.

Polish: 7

Good attention to the writing and editing, but each scene is limited in scope and depth of implementation. A short, but helpful “about” section.

Technical: 7

There were no glitches, and the autotyping in the first scene and interstitial quotes worked well. The story did not make of advanced techniques.

Average: 6.8


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