Review: Eat Me.

Never have I wanted to see a Breakfast Review of a game more desperately than for this one…

Let me start at the end, and say that my preliminary score for this game is “wow”. I would need to move to a logarithmic scale to rate the quality of writing in this game and still be able to see my scores for most other games in this competition.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

This game satisfies the StarKist Tuna Criterion — it is both a tuna that tastes good and has good taste. Not only is the writing top notch, but it plays well as a game.

I am not sure if I have just played the winning game for this year, but it is certainly among the best that I have played in IFcomp. My guess is that some judges will be turned off by the central theme, which objectively is pretty gross. In the game you eat. That’s what you do: food, doors, people… and worse. Much worse.

So, maybe a minority of scores will fall away from the mean representing folks that saw a few paragraphs and bailed. The story may also score lower for non-native English speakers who may find this prose particularly challenging. Much of the culinary vocabulary is specialized and Chandler taps into some archaic English and borrow words; I suppose that could also have a minor impact on overall score.

Evaluation:

Story: 10. The writing is sensual in a literal sense; while focused on eating, scenes are described in terms of all senses. Chandler has a good sense regarding pacing, length of descriptions, and actions to be taken upon repeating an action. The prose comes across as more literature than game. This is the sort of game where I say to myself, I wish I could write like that — and that is my definition of a ten in this category.

Voice: 10. The unrelenting, compulsive hunger colors every moment of this story. The protagonists wastes no time in reflection, self-doubt or pity. Not even the most remote parser responses have been spared.

Play: 10. The game starts with a brief word to the player that the game cannot be put in an unwinnable state, which is helpful because there are times when a glance at the map will not indicate a way to go from point A to point B, and a player may have their doubts. That concern for the player is manifest through the entire game as subtle but incremental hints woven into the text and gradual funneling of the player towards locations by changing geography. The game provides a verb, think, to provide clues, but it probably should not be necessary. It helps that the game consists of employing one verb ninety-nine percent of the time, so mostly it is a matter of figuring out which object, where, and when. The player starts with the knowledge that the game will consist of six courses, and the way the game unfolds, the player should be able to anticipate each goal as it becomes accessible. It’s good to always know where your next meal is coming from…

Polish: 10. This is a large work, but has been meticulously proofed. Everything works mechanistically. The cover art work fits the story perfectly. The map handout is very helpful and of professional quality. I thought the inclusion of actual recipes from an historic cookbook were icing on the cake, so to speak.

Technical: 8. I can’t bring myself to give tens across the board to a game with such narrow use of the parser. As mentioned in other reviews, there is a clear trend over the last few years towards imposing limitations on the scope of parser games: last year’s TAKE, for instance. This year it’s EAT. In two years, at this rate, we’ll be down to single letter commands. Hmm, I’m actually tempted to to write “X” next year and get a jump on the competition….

Many, me included, find it easier to write under a constraint: a single room game, a game that exploits a MacGuffin like a magic wand with a short list of spells, or in this case, a very limited command set. In this game, the player should always know what to do next, because it’s *the* thing that the player can do. Not to take anything away from the author on that account: while the game may appear simpler from the player’s point of view, casting all of the puzzles and goals in terms of one verb is surely not an easy task.

The other reason this doesn’t get a nine or ten is that I reserve those for games that break new ground in a technical sense. This game demonstrates fluency in standard Inform: working with characters, objects, scenes, the map, and so on, and flawlessly incorporates these elements into a story. However, it does not make substantial use of extensions or introduce a new one, and does not innovate in a programmatic sense (or, maybe it does, but so sublimely that I missed it).

JNSQ: 1. This game has it.

Preliminary Score: 10.6

Transcript: eatme

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