My Night is a text adventure, which uses a web interface with limited features to communicate with a backend server. By limited, I mean that many of the commands normally available for a parser-based game are not implemented or do not work correctly. There is no status bar, the parser’s understanding of words is limited, some common verbs like “search” are not understood, and out of world commands like “undo” do not work (although there is a restart button). After every command is sent, the screen clears and new text is displayed, so there is no way to scroll back to see previous text. So, I would term the user interface “punishing”.
[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]
The story starts with a long bit of dialog formatted like a script. It is enough to paint a general picture: it is late, six friends in their late teens have gathered at a country cottage and are messing around with a ouija board. The power is out due to a blown fuse and the teens are trying to spook each other — a familiar enough setting for a summer teen horror flick.
When it comes time for the player to start entering commands, there is no guidance within the game, just a text entry box. Commands like “about”, “info”, “help”, “hint”, etc., are not implemented, so the player is left to experiment. Unfortunately, in addition to the crippled interface, the game does not adhere to parser conventions with regard to typical command verbs, movement, and updating of scenes. Unfortunately, this makes the game unplayable.
My first few attempts at playing involved looking around, trying to have conversation and to inspect objects in the room. Beyond that, I tried exiting the room in various directions despite no listing of exits. Every time I managed to walk out of the room, the game ending a couple turns later with my character’s death.
I fell back almost immediately on the walkthrough and reading through it, there is no way that any player would intuit these commands.
Here is the entire walkthrough with commentary:
|turn on phone||The player could not start with this command because their inventory is not displayed. For the player to know that they have a phone, they would need to issue the inventory command. Usually, this is one of the first commands that I type while playing, so I did know that I had a phone, and presumed it was a cell phone. However, it would have taken me a while to think of turning it on — I just assumed that if I were carrying a cell phone, it would be on. I understand that the author meant that the player would use the phone as a light source. The story is set in 1998, so this probably means the phone’s backlit LCD display, although I think some of the Nokia models of the era might have had an LED flashlight feature. Regardless, if this was the intent, it would have been helpful for the inventory listing to specific “mobile phone (switched off)”.|
|go corridor||Unless otherwise specified, movement in parser games is assumed to use compass directions. When I tried using compass directions, I kept dying, so I don’t know how compass directions map to the direction of the corridor.|
|go corridor||A player might figure out “go corridor” the first time, but if the PC is already in the corridor, how could the player possibly know to type “go corridor” again? If the game insists on using “go [room name]”, the two ends of the corridor should have unique names.|
|go dining room||The dining room is explicitly described as being down from the corridor, but trying to go down elicits a “You can’t go down form here.”|
|go garage||At this point, the goal is to get to the garage to replace the fuse. I am not sure how the player knows how to get there, but I suppose it could be a matter of exploration. In the previous room, the front door to the house is open — my inclination would have been to walk outside as the likely shortest path to the garage.|
|put fuse in the light box||This is just a translational issue, but “fuse box” would have been more clear.|
|turn on light box||Screwing in a new fuse should have restored lights. I don’t understand what is being switched here unless maybe there is some safety feature that trips an upstream circuit breaker to take the whole panel offline. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea — maybe the Spanish electrical code requires this? Benefit of the doubt on that one.|
|go hall||More navigation. If the go [room] syntax is used, it would be nice to be able to name a previously visited room and just skip through any intervening rooms that do not contribute to the story.|
|go dining room|
|go room||Room is too non-specific; the room is called bedroom, so why not use that term?|
|show crucifix to shadow||In this scene, your best friend is being raped by your dead uncle. While I agree with grabbing the heavy wooden crucifix off the bed as above, I am sure that my reaction would not be “show crucifix” but “bludgeon repeatedly with crucifix”.|
|go gallery||How about scream?|
|go kitchen||Nothing makes you hungry like an encounter with an undead sexual predator that has murdered your friend.|
|show crucifix to shadow||Another missed opportunity for crucifix-mediated blunt force trauma to the head.|
|go gallery||At this point, I think a smart player would head for the front door and not look back until they arrived in Madrid.|
|go dining room|
|use glass in ouija||I understand that messing around with the ouiji board is probably to blame for provoking the run-in with the ghosts, but not sure how it fixes the situation.|
I don’t know how many of the issues above relate to translation, but having seen a number of games that would surely have been more enjoyable in the original language, I think the IF community needs to think about how to approach this for IFcomp, whether to make more resources available across languages for help with translating and testing ports to English or whether IFcomp needs to encourage more submission of the original version of stories in other languages. If suitable collaborators could be found, perhaps some games could be entered as original version but accompanied by ports to other languages.
I don’t think that this game’s playability issues are solely related to translation, but it could be that fixing the translations issues would open the game up to a larger pool of playtesters that could bang away on design features.
Preliminary Score: 2.4