Review – Ferryman’s Gate

After forty-five minutes, I found that I had explored a large number of competently implemented but bland locations in this parser-based game, but felt like I had made no real progress. I dutifully searched all the places that one searches and conversed with as many characters as I could find about all supplied topics, but still had no clue what to do to advance the game.

It was clear where the game wanted to go: the blurb advertises it as a gamified tutorial on grammatical rules for use of commmas, and in the game I had encountered many set ups that were obviously puzzles where the object was to fix comma placement, but the game is not well clued in terms of how to go about this.

I am guilty of having written games that are underclued at the start and which ask a lot of faith from the player in plodding through some monotony to get to the meat of the game, but I felt like after forty-five minutes that if I has not having fun, I had given the game a good shake and could move on. Before throwing in the towel, I did try the built-in help and after closing the game read through the walk-through, but I still felt somewhat clueless.

I recognize that substantial work must have gone into producing this game, so rather than just add some negative comments, here are a couple suggestions in case there is to be a post-comp release or perhaps for future games.

* The player needs more support and encouragement at the start of the game. My suggestion is to initially gate off a tutorial portion of the game with restricted geography. In the current game, I was overwhelmed with the layout of the huge mansion and the large number of puzzles encountered without any sense of which ones to approach first. In such a tutorial it would be helpful to force the player to solve a watered down version of the sort of puzzles to be encountered later. A focused in-game hint system could progressive aid the player in accomplishing this single goal. This would assure that the player leaves the starting area with a success under their belt and some idea about how to approach the rest of the game.

* While some players are amazingly determined to play a game to the finish, most (me included) have a low threshold for boredom and frustration. The start of the game needs to hook and retain the player by providing some early payoffs and keeping things lively. As has been pointed out to me by many reviewers, nobody will care about the second half of your game if they don’t get through the first half.

* Some players will want more story, character and plot, while other players will be attracted by a more puzzle-heavy mechanistic game. Ideally, the game could satisfy both camps, but that is hard, and it may help to pick one or the other. I feel like this game was more in the puzzle-fest category, and if that is the case, I would suggest looking at techniques used by, for example, Andrew Schultz and Arthur DiBianco, e.g., how they carefully introduce game mechanics and gradually build on complexity, always being very respectful of the player and trying to optimize the game experience. In particular, try to avoid situations where the player knows the answer to a puzzle, but can’t figure out how to convey that within the game.

* Shorter is better. Puzzles are always harder than the author expects, play takes longer, and the only way to assess the play time and difficulty of a game is to have fresh beta-testers that have not seen the game earlier in development.

I hope that didn’t come off as a too preachy. Every game is a chance to improve, and there are plenty of other punctuation marks, so I look forward to this author’s next effort.

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