Review – Guttersnipe: St. Hesper’s Asylum for the Criminally Mischievous

This game lives up to the expectation set by the professional quality cover art. Fun writing style and a slick in-game map feature wowed me. Lil’ Ragamuffin is a vibrant character, although not one I would let anywhere near my valuables. The period setting of the piece and her dialect give this work a strong voice. I had a little difficulty with some of the puzzles and had to peek at the walkthrough to get the phrasing right, but overall had a lot of fun.

Having played some of the other Quest games in the comp, I had my doubts about the system when I came to this game, but now realize that it’s not so much the tool as how you use it. I did not make extensive use of items in the right column lists, but I did find them useful to indicate which items in a scene were implemented as game objects and as a reminder of what I had in inventory.

Out of habit, I spent most of my time on the command line. I wasn’t sure when I started playing this game what the convention would be for verbs linked to objects. At first, I thought that maybe all necessary verbs would be displayed in the drop down list for hyperlinks or in the buttons for objects listed in the right column. Most objects had associated verbs like “look at” or “drop”. It soon became clear that this list is not exhaustive and that the game could not be played mouse-only; some actions need to be typed in the command box. I could imagine implementing stories without requiring text entry, but I think that constraint would hobble the author and make it unnecessarily difficult to develop a game as rich as this one.

The zoomable map is the cat’s pajamas, bee’s knees, and duck’s guts. I was continuously oriented with regard to available directions, which removed the burden for both author and player of listing every exit. Unlike the compass rose display, the map gives a view of possible movement more than one turn away, so it allows more strategic movement. Using the map’s ability to scale, it was obvious after a bit of exploring what areas were inaccessible in this game.

One suggestion I would have for this mechanic — and this might be a matter of personal taste — would be to have some sort of graphic to distinguish directions that lie open versus those that are barred by some sort of impediment, be it a nasty cat, a cranky dezhurnaya, or a fingerprint scanner. I’d propose a red bar across the connecting line. I’m not sure if this is something an author would have control over within the authoring tool, or if it would require some sort of tinkering under the hood.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

For most of the puzzles, the cluing was on the mark, but I had no idea what to do with Good Little [but profoundly weird] Eustace, and I had to glance at the walkthrough for that one. In other cases, as a player of interactive fiction, I recognized a puzzle waiting to be solved, but didn’t know in game why I was tackling it. I obtained the item from the incinerator and the papers from medical records before knowing how these items would be useful, but meta-reasoning that they would come in handy (literally, for the incinerator item) later. In any event, at some point, the player would be forced to explore these options to get past geographic barriers.

If there’s one area in the game that could be polished a bit more, it would be broadening recognition of permissible actions. The interaction with some items was finicky, requiring just the right phrasing or in some instances working on held but not just visible items. Some examples:

> x reel
You see a film reel stashed on the shelf. There’s a label on the side of the spooll, presumably the film’s title.

> read label
I can’t see that. (label)

> read spool
I can’t see that. (spool)

> read film
“The label says ‘Great Gams Googie and the Sexual Harassment Tree in: Whizzbang Holler Follies, or That Dizzy Broad! (1923),'” says Percy.

I had a similar issue with reading pamphlets that were left out. I could see them, but couldn’t read them until I picked them up.

Here’s another example, with my buddy Eustace:

> give eustace milk
I can’t see that.

> give milk to eustace
I can’t see that. (milk)

> give teapot to eustace
Good Little Eustace claps his hands together in excitement. “Milk! Of course! The first element of the ritual! Oh, how lovely! Now all I need is some cookies and Santa Claus shall be here tonight!”

And finally, a example where broadening synonyms for an object would be helpful, particularly for people who have become accustomed to skimping on typing into parser games:

> give discharge to caligazzi
She does not want them.

> give discharge papers to caligazzi
“How ’bout you sign these here discharge papers so I can jest skadoodle outta here?” you say, pushing the discharge papers toward Dr. Caligazzi.

“Yes…yes, of course,” she mumbles. She signs the papers without a fuss.

These are minor issues and I don’t think they would prevent most players from making their way through the story, but this is a way that the player experience could be improved.

This is a large work, and generally very well edited, although some errors are still present. Maybe the work was edited thoroughly at an earlier point and some typos crept back in with later updates. If there were a way to generate a transcript and attach it to the review as I do for locally run parser games, I’d just asterisk these in the transcript, but since there isn’t, here’s a few examples:

  • St. Hesper’s. the only
  • It just says ‘Buddy,'” says
  • Noded wires,  {knotted?}
  • “So a clock would be just fine, then, It’s settled.”
  • You can see a psychiatrist and a chaise longue.
  • There’s a label on the side of the spooll,

Speaking of playing online rather than locally – I wonder if the author has access to game sessions played on the server. That would be a huge benefit in terms of seeing which objects and puzzles need polish. If players know someone might review the game sessions, they might also be able to make remarks for the author while playing.

Evaluation:

Story: 8. An escape scenario, but in a rich, quirky environment with over the top charters.

Voice: 9. Period pieces have an inherent advantage in this category if they are done well, and I’d say this one was. In addition to physical items of the period such as ice boxes, film projectors, and postum, the author gets some mileage out of exposing the benighted approaches of the time to social justice, criminal reform, and medical treatment of mental illness. There are a couple anachronisms. I have to write the finger print scanner off as a surreal flourish and more in the steampunk vein. The plastic bags in the ice box have to go though. Plastic food storage bags weren’t really a thing for another few decades.

As for dialogue, I have a strong mental image of Lil’ Ragamuffin as an almost feral streetwise orphan who constantly feels the need to project her toughness. Her speech is consistently brilliant, although in my head she seems to have a cockney accent (a lot of Oys! and Wot’s). Percy’s highfalutin speech contrasts, and provides some comic relief. Given the drawing of Percy as a very mangy looking rat, I have to wonder if he actually is very educated, or if that’s made up.

Play: 9. Minor issues with cluing and some finicky objects.

Polish: 8. There’s a lot of material here, and most of it has been carefully proofed.

Technical: 10. While I haven’t got my head around routine use of all of the interface elements, I thought they were used effectively. Big points for the map. I hope maps like this start cropping up in other works.

JNSQ: 1. Yes, this game has it.

Preliminary Score: 9.8

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.