Review – Tuuli

Following my customized playlist, I can see that this story falls into the same category as the previous one: parser-based epic fiction based on a Scandinavian saga. I guess that’s a category now. So be it.

This game has an inconsistent feel to it — some parts are really excellent, but other parts seem neglected or play poorly.

The game opens strong in a well-implemented room, which provides some understanding of the game’s setting, of the main character’s place in that world, and about what has just transpired. Most players will probably look in detail at everything in the room and collect everything not nailed down before exiting the hut. Once they are outside, though, the level of detail plummets.

It is understandable that the game plays out using a limited number of locations, but if the world is so limited in terms of geography, the existing locations should have some detail. In particular, I felt hemmed in by the generic-sounding responses I received walking in any direction towards the borders of the map.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

I appreciated that the game allowed some open-ended exploration at the beginning without a time constraint. However, moving to the next phase of the game hinges on the player taking a fairly specific action, which I almost missed. In my case, having explored for a while, I decided to examine the birds nests seen in the distance from the Cliff location. Because of varying level of implementation in the game, I thought that they would probably not have a description, or if they did, they would just be a backdrop. However, getting past this bottleneck is essential to unlock the rest of game. There are other ways of phrasing this — I think the walkthrough says “look down” and “examine rocks”, but it still seems like a brittle step in the game design. The pace really picks up after this point, so this is a point where a designer could consider some sort of progressive hinting or other prompting event based on turn count to spur the action onward.

When Lenne returns to the village, she has some words with Chief Arvet using a menu-based dialogue system. As is often the case, this mechanism sometimes means that the player has to just run through the list of possible topics until they are exhausted, but the content of the dialogue is central to the story. Arvet emphasizes protocol and their relative positions in the tribe’s power structure: he is chief, she is merely young Lenne-that-would-be-the-witch. She must walk a fine line between self-confidence and insubordination. To be taken seriously, she needs to maintain a tone of authority, but is there any basis for her to do so?

Does she know what’s she’s doing? It isn’t clear. She’s been a witch in training for some time, and at one point says she knows the words, but when it comes to performing the ceremony, she seems to be winging it.

It would be a very different game if Makke had left behind an instruction scroll with detailed instructions about the ritual. The tension and excitement that the player experiences as Lenne gathers the storm is closely tied to performance anxiety — will she get the process right and will she be powerful enough? The personal stakes are high: if she fails, she will not be village witch, just a girl — which may be moot since the whole village will be slaughtered.

In my initial play through, I enjoyed the description of the brewing storm, but was disappointed as it all fell apart and fizzled over a few turns, despite my best efforts. I assumed that the point of the game was not to teach a lesson about over-reaching and pride, but to actually have the ritual work, so I looked for the walkthrough… and did not find it. My usual practice is to play the original distribution of the games from the beginning of IFcomp, and no walkthrough was provided.

Normally, I don’t look at other reviews before I write mine, but I did peek to see if other people had gotten any further and I saw comments critical of how the ceremony is implemented, particularly use of non-standard verbs. To the game’s credit, these verbs are listed in the game’s help system. Nonetheless, I don’t see why the game chose to use unusual verbs when the built-in ones already cover the actions. For example, “rub” is typically synonymous with “clean” and could pull double duty in this game with “anoint”. Similarly, do we really need “stab” if we have “attack”, which could entail “cut”? Does the game really need to differentiate superficial lacerations from penetrating puncture wounds in a game about medieval witches?

The game insists that as an initial step in the ritual Makke’s limbs must be straightened out. The game wants the player to warm her by rubbing to generate friction; then, her clothes can be removed as part of the ceremony. Assuming that Lenne had any sort of EMT training, the obvious course of action would have been to cut the clothes off using the ceremonial dagger, however the game blocks this. I only got past this part of the game because I rubbed the witch not to generate heat, but because I thought I was following the ceremony’s requirement to rub her with oil. I am surprised these road bumps made it past play testing, since this is the most dramatically crucial part of the game.

I did manage to make it through the rest of the revised version of the game (time stamped October 8) on the website by following the walkthrough to guide me past the specifics of the ritual. I enjoyed the rest of the game, and even though I had some difficulty playing it, I thought the game’s overall structure, writing, and atmosphere were strong.

Evaluation

Story: 8

Voice: 9

Play: 6

Polish: 7

Technical: 6

JNSQ: 0

Preliminary Score: 7.2

Transcripts:

tuuliScript (first session; original release)

revisedOct8script(second session; Oct 8 release)

 

2 thoughts on “Review – Tuuli”

  1. Thanks a lot! As I said int he forum, this is very useful.

    Let’s comment on some points of the review.

    I think Tuuli is the kind of game that is not convenient for the common text adventures player. You know, the kind of cleptomaniac that examines everything and tries to lift all furniture not nailed down. So, quite soon, players fail to get the proper motivation for the first phase of the game: to find Mákke. I can always put more hints about, to direct the player, but, there are already plenty hints about, you can examine the snow, or just search for her rigorously, and her mantle is dropped nicely in the proper place to motivate the player to look further. But… you know, that kind of players are difficult to put into the story if it is not for strong clues.

    I think this whole situation could be solved just examining the snow automatically as soon as Lenne step-outs of the hut, but you know… I thought a lot about this and finally decided that I should reward players who have two qualities: to be capable of roleplaying and not dropping the motivation of looking for Mákke, and players who are inquisitive enough to find her just looking for clues in the environment. Fortunately, I think the game is successful in that aspect, that there are plenty of hints about, so even players who are not instantly inside the story manages to find her. Even if they find her unexpectedly it works as a shocking surprise.

    Hmmm, I see. Well, the walkthrough was there since day 1, or 2, but yeah, because of time constraints I had to prepare the solution after the deadline.

    About the unusual verbs. I’m a little torn in two. I can understand that this is a guess the verb problem, but on the other hand, we are adventurers, we use an opaque user interface so we could express our own ideas into actions expressed in natural language, and do that in a fantasy world for the purpose of feeling great about it. So it saddens me a little that a standard set of verbs has made a great impact on our behavior as players, so we restrain ourselves to try different things from the ordinary, even when we have the proper motivation, we refrain those to a handful of common verbs. I understand it, but it is a design philosophy I don’t share. I prefer to look for the motivations of the player, and then implement the proper verbs that fit those desired actions. Of course, it is not a sane philosophy, not even a good practice, because no matter how hard you program those desires, in the context of having limited time for a competition, you (I, as the designer) will always fail. There’s will be always someone who would fail to express their motivation (Lynnea Glasser playthrough of Tuuli is a good example of that, the game failing in every mechanic for a concrete player).

    Of course, all guess the verb problems in any game could be solved training the player to use those verbs previously, with a training scene or something. Unfortunately, Tuuli has no space for that kind of scene. Although in the updated version a hint about the verb is given more easily than in the original release, so, again, I think the game has several and several layers of hints to the proper motivation, action and finally, the proper verb. However, as always, there will be players that miss it (a lot right now). Definitively I will add more of those layers when the comp ends, thanks to all the feedback I’m receiving.

    About the rubbing problem, although the thing has new synonyms in the updated versions, definitively I will program your suggestion, as others have pointed me the convenience of cutting the clothes independently of the state of the body. That is a great idea.

    Again, thanks a lot! I will take good note of those transcripts, and improve the game post-compo using them.

    Regards!

  2. Yes, there were clues there in the environment that I didn’t pick up on. Other players might have noticed them, but missed other bits. I believe that for a game to play smoothly for a general audience, it has to overcompensate. To seem fully implemented, it has to be 150% implemented because no player will think exactly like the author. I know from the writing side there is always reluctance to “give away the farm” in terms of cluing. This is where fresh beta-testers help late in the development cycle.

    Anyhow, most of my comments were pretty minor and I’m looking forward to seeing the updated version, which I’m sure will rock.

    – Jack

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