I like role playing games, but I am not a big fan of simulations of role playing games. Ironically, I found this simulation of a simulation of a role playing game fun. This was not the highest-end RPG in the comp this year in terms of production quality, mechanics, or implementation depth, but it really played well and I found it strangely addictive.
In this parser-based game, the player visits a near-future casino in which one of the attractions is a virtual reality role playing game, along the lines of a holodeck. It is a veneer, but the running gag sprinkles flavor throughout the story. For example, complimentary drinks continue to be served to the player even while he carries on slaying and pillaging his way through the adventure.
[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]
Even though the emphasis is defeating enemies in combat, this game holds its own in terms of puzzles, all of which are very well clued. While most adversaries will meet their end through force of arms, at least a few require more creative solutions. The moral: violence is not always the answer. Sometimes the answer is a dancing panda.
The RPG mechanics become second nature almost immediately. Battles involve combat rounds, in which the player and the opponent each make probabilistic attacks. If a hit lands, the damage goes first to armor and then to the player’s hit points. The casino drinks are also healing potions, so they can be used tactically in a pinch. When a monster is defeated, it leaves behind items or gold.
The goal of the game is to collect gold, which can be cashed out for the real thing back at the casino. Of course, casinos are not charities, and the player needs to pay into the game when it starts. So, success could be defined as exiting the virtual reality game with more gold than it cost to play it. In those terms, I was unsuccessful, but I suppose you could also define success as having a good time, which I did.
I didn’t realize it when I was playing the game, but it is distributed with a map. I don’t think that having the map available for reference undermines the game at all, so I would recommended using it.
In general, this game seemed well-proofed and play tested, and it was a pleasure to play. One feature that I particularly appreciated in this game, and I don’t think I saw in other games in the comp, was an in-game walkthrough. While walkthroughs are unavoidably spoilery, they are a final recourse if a player is stuck and can’t find any other assistance. Walkthroughs for many of the games in the comp are provided as accompanying files, while others link to cloud-based documentation. However, years down the line, it is not unlikely that some of those websites will have gone belly-up, or that the game file will become separated from the walkthrough file. Having the walkthrough baked into the game assures it will always be there.
I did encounter one oddity regarding combat. The combat usually takes a few rounds, and I would start off a combat by issuing a command like “attack Poodle”. Every turn after that, I would just hit “g” to keep repeating the action. Since combat is a roll of the dice, sometimes it would go poorly for me, even when stats were in my favor. If after a few rounds I issued the “undo” command, the entire combat would be rewound. This proved to be a great boon for my survival, but I don’t think it was intentional. It may have been a bug, but I actually thought it helped. This really isn’t all that different from saving before a combat and restoring if the combat went poorly — but it is faster. It still felt like cheating. But I still did it. Don’t judge.
This is the only game in this year’s competition that ran in the Alan interpreter. I initially tried to play it on a Mac, but could not get it to run using either MacARUN or the Gargoyle plugin for Mac. I was successful, though, using the winarun interpreter under Windows 7. I had the impression as I was playing that commands slowed down more and more — I am curious if other people had the same experience. My play sessions went nearly two hours and I was recording a transcript, in case that matters.
And about that last lousy point: I fought my way through all the monsters up to the ice elemental and after several drubbings came to the conclusion that I could not defeat him in combat. Being on the edge of a fire lake, I spent quite a while trying to figure out if there was a way to use the environment against him, but if there was, I never found it.
After I cashed out and looked at the map, I realized that the ice elemental was the only thing between me and THE BIG PAYOUT, so I have to wonder — can he be defeated? I haven’t peeked at the walkthrough. I’d prefer to think that he can’t, and that this game is true to the rule that “the house always wins”.
Preliminary Score: 8.4