Reviews by Wade Clarke
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After the last few games I played, all of them CYOA and none of them spectacular, I was glad of the arrival of Lunar Base 1, a parser-based adventure of more voluble quality. Coincidentally, the last IF game I tried before this competition began was Hallow Eve, also by Michael Wayne Phipps Jr. who wrote Lunar Base 1. LB1 casts the player in the role of Captain Stan Rogers, one of two astronauts commencing a mission in 2080 to inhabit earth's moon for the long term. The game could benefit from more proofreading, more nuanced writing, and probably from the use of a bigger canvas (the base only has a couple of rooms). What it has going for it are the qualities of suspense, earnestness and some mystery, though I really wish it didn't take an average of four commands to get in or out of the airlock every time.
The physical setup on the moon is relatively simple, and the two heroes, yourself and Dr John Klose, are good-natured types strongly connected to their family and their past. This is reinforced all through the game in the dialogue, your own character's recollections and a nostalgic photo which Klose brandishes. The presiding feeling is a likeable one of respect for the history of space travel and the human desire to explore the unknown. That said, I wish there had been more detail about the mission. How were the two men going to exist on the moon? What were they going to do there? My personal hope is that we will have tried to send people to Mars by 2080 (if you're reading this after 2079 - are we there yet?) so for me to get into this game's mythology more plausibly, I would need some reasons and details to be given for the mission, whether real or fictional.
These issues get sidelined almost immediately in the game due to Klose (Spoiler - click to show)entering a state of delirium after seeing something out the base window on the first night. This also made me think that I would expect the people selected for this mission to have demonstrated a sturdy psychological constitution. It's not implausible that a supernatural(?) occurrence would rattle Klose to this extent, but again, it's the lack of detail in the game that doesn't help to fortify plausibility. As in many films, the characters here don't communicate sufficiently when significant things happen. You are only able to try three conversation ploys on the clammed up Klose before giving up, assessing him as thoroughly disturbed and contacting Mission Control.
Accepting the flow of the game's events, the puzzles weren't that difficult and they moved the action forward in a satisfying fashion. I only had to look at the walkthrough once; when I felt adamant that I should be able to give Klose's spacesuit to him at the time when it was crucial that we both leave the base. The game was adamant that his space suit should never be removed from its hook in the airlock. Thus the spacesuit was a source of persistent annoyance throughout LB1. Removing it and putting it on the hook to go through the airlock was fun the first time, alright the second time and a nuisance every time after that. This sequence should have become automated.
On the finale: (Spoiler - click to show)I found the extra terrestrial revelations towards the end of the game exciting as they approached, but somehow mishandled after their apex. Following the captain's amazing Mission to Mars / 2001 / Stargate-ish vision, would he really not speak of it to the other man for the whole trip back to earth? Or rather, if he decided not to, and was able to will himself not to, shouldn't we, in playing him, be privy to the inner struggle that led to this decision? These are the kinds of dramatic details that the game could use to beef it up.
Back on earth, I found the "best" ending to be strange. I didn't clearly understand the import of either of the significant things the debriefing guy said, and one of them was outrageously significant, that bit about us being the first man on the moon. If most humans are actually the descendants of the aliens seen in the vision, how is it that we are a "man", or human, instead? Or maybe I got the wrong end of the Space Food Stick entirely?
Overall I had a lot of logic, plausibility and drama questions about the events of LB1, but it's a smooth playing game for the most part and an enjoyable experience, especially if you're also into the noble pursuit of space exploration.
In many ways, I found sci-fi adventure Changes to be the highest quality game amongst the IFComp 2012 entries. Its prose flows transparently and conveys the vivid, natural beauty of an earth-like planet. It presents the point of view of many different lifeforms in original ways, even from within the point of view of other lifeforms. Its animal cast are realistic and finely programmed, reacting to each other in interesting ways and demonstrating instinctive, independent behaviour.
Unfortunately I also found this game to be incredibly difficult. It worked me into a state of significant frustration on many occasions and eventually I gave up. The difficulty operates mostly at a subtle level, except in the case of one marauding animal, but it is thoroughly persistent in nature, and I stopped when I could no longer make progress even with the walkthrough. There are adaptive hints in the game but they operate on such a large scale as to be of little use in helping with any specific problems. If you find yourself hesitant or struggling in Changes, I recommend examining the walkthrough much sooner rather than later.
After acknowledging at game start that I was a human trapped in the body of an extra terrestrial rabbit, spawned by some weird organic cocoon to boot, I began to explore the planet I found myself on. Other rabbits sniffed and browsed about their burrows and a flock of deer sought out food. A fox pursued me and the other deer, but we were able to outrun him, and he shied away from the beavers trying to plug up their dam. The interplay of all these creatures is so well programmed and fascinating to behold that I ran around exploring and experimenting with them all for a long but unspecifiable amount of time. Eventually, once I had thoroughly surveyed the land and staked out my (Spoiler - click to show)crashed human spaceship, my attention began to turn to the ever marauding fox and the plight of being a rabbit in general.
I think the first important steps the player must take in this game are gargantuan ones in terms of the demand on the player to come up with the ideas required and to then progress from assessing their feasibility to actually working out how to execute them. Many spoilers on this topic: (Spoiler - click to show)Once you have witnessed other animals dragging corpses into the cocoons, you must then decide that you want to obtain an animal corpse yourself. This is obviously a major challenge if you are a rabbit and every other non-rabbit land animal in the game is larger or more powerful than you. The only fatal animal encounter you are likely to have witnessed at this point would be your own death at the hands of the fox. So while you might have decided that you want to kill something, you have seen next to no killing.
The first material step on the path to murdering a bigger animal is to attack a fish flopping about in a pool. The flopping about behaviour is what may give you a clue that the fish is vulnerable and that this is possible, but attacking fish is not behaviour I associate with rabbits, nor have I seen any of the other animals in the game doing anything similar. And the fish is still just a prop for a greater abstract murder plot targeting the otter. Taken individually, I consider many of these steps to be difficult to conceive of on the player end, and they form a chain in a fairly elusive scheme which will eventually involve burying a fish in a hole as bait to trap another animal.
The subtle difficulty I spoke of earlier is that there isn't much feedback from the game that any particular step is bringing you closer to a goal, and you may not even realise what your goal is. There are also moments in the game which give misdirective feedback. There was a stick I saw and wanted to pick up, prompting the response, "There's nothing there worth having." In IF games, that's about as clear a fob off as I've ever seen. I was mad when I later discovered from the walkthrough that the stick is vital for progress but can only be collected after you have examined it.
The final problem I had with the game's first major puzzle ((Spoiler - click to show)kill the otter) was that it took me perhaps twenty or more attempts to just pull off the feat of (Spoiler - click to show)leading the otter to my fish trap without encountering the fox on the way. The fox forces a plan abort, since it is necessary to wait with the otter for a turn to activate the trap, and waiting results in death if the fox is present. Each time I encountered the fox I would retreat, hide from it, emerge and then restart the whole plot from the first step of catching the fish once again, taking it north, dropping it for the otter, waiting, leading the otter away... I couldn't believe how hard this was, but at least the fox's behaviour during this section of the game should be easy to tweak for the author.
So in various dimensions, the game's first puzzle is the hardest one. Having survived it, the player must now (Spoiler - click to show)evolve through a series of other animals by killing them and/or dragging them into the life cocoons to eventually become the drug-addicted lemur whose fingers are long enough to work the numeric keypad on your broken shuttle. These puzzles are all very clever, but the game just keeps missing out on giving the bits of direction and feedback necessary for most people to be able to have a shot at clearing them without cleaving to the walkthrough. In the end I did cleave to the walkthrough, but the game insisted I was not tall enough to reach the spaceship hatch, though both the sticks and the branch were in place, so I'm unsure if I hit a bug or missed something important, but I felt too drained to attempt to play on at that point.
I have barely touched on the human elements of the game's plot here, and while they're obviously important overall, they didn't factor in either the massive difficulties I had in playing Changes, nor in its wonderful presentation of a believable alien planet teeming with life. The game has the overall quality of something exceptional, but it's too hard to play at the moment.
The prose is good at evoking the geographical strangeness and splendours of the mystery planet, and does so at length. The dialogue for the robot's practical observations and bad jokes is also effective. However, it should all have gone in for more proofreading; sometimes it's evident that an automatic spellchecker has made the wrong choice and that the result simply hasn't been picked up.
What may cause a few old hands to smirk is that the game's puzzle content is very traditional. It includes a maze that can be solved by dropping things and a text version of something akin to the old Lunar Lander game, where you must burn fuel at the correct rate to touch the ground at a safe speed. There's also an oxygen limit attached to your spacesuit, but you can refill the suit whenever you return to your ship and you're unlikely to find yourself in real danger of running out.
The puzzles must still be viewed as being of potentially extreme hazardousness, given that there's no proper save feature. You can save the game and return to it later, but you can't manually restore an old saved position; to die is to return to the start. Once I'd confirmed this, I felt no compunction about using the COMMANDS HERE option at critical moments, which handily lists all valid commands for the current situation.
So there is a novelty angle in the game after all, in that it builds on a popular modern film and uses it as an opportunity to demonstrate some old school entertainment to a lot of that film's audience who will be unfamiliar with it. But importantly, what surrounds these puzzles is a genuinely interesting narrative about what may be necessary to support human life on an alien planet. There is also a moral choice to be made about what you will do if you are forced into the position of being the bearer of bad news about this planet's habitability.
The game's parser is certainly clunky. It hardly knows any synonyms, and expects a mixture of simple and very complex commands to be entered in turn. Fortunately these problems are mitigated by the presence of the COMMANDS HERE feature, along with its inevitable embrace by anyone serious about completing the game. There are a few other bugs about, the robot's variable settings are under-utilised, and there are puzzle moments that don't work because important text scrolls away and can't be retrieved.
In spite of these problems, the story delivery works. The potentially complicated business of installing environmental probes around the planet is made accessible and comprehensible. The environmental science musings are interesting. The astronaut's relationship with the robot can be affecting, even within this short span of game, and I found the finale moving. The whole game fits as a satisfying elaboration of one aspect of the film. The weird physicality of the robot is probably the only element you won't perceive if you haven't seen the film, as it is not described in the game, but I think that the rest of the content is capable of standing alone. You'll just comprehend it faster if you've seen the film.
This is a dense game even for Adams, whose Classic series entries each had to fit into 16kb of RAM. Many objects have multiple uses and need to be carted back and forth between different worlds. Time pressure comes in the form of the finite air supply in your spacesuit, and working out how and where you can refill it is a significant puzzle. Odyssey also has more locations than most of its siblings, but the reason it feels more expansive than them is because of its intergalactic nature. Its little text strings have to act as seeds to help the player imagine whole environments at a time, rather than just one room or a corridor.
The fundamental puzzle in Strange Odyssey, the one which is most likely to cause players to stand around for awhile going "Hm," is the one involving working out how to move between worlds. It is quite an abstract puzzle (dare I say Zorkian) in a game canon that rarely supported abstract puzzles due to the simplicity of the game engine and the necessary briefness of all the prose. Another interesting element of this puzzle is the way it mobilises split-second glimpses of text. Unfortunately, this special effect only exists in the original Apple II, Atari and TRS-80 versions of the game. I recommend against playing versions of the game which are missing it (C64, Inform, Spectrum) since the game's quality and sense are hurt by its absence.
Dying and dead-ending are frequent occurrences in Odyssey, so it's wise to save frequently. Just stepping through a door can kill you if the gravity or air happen to be unfavourable on the other side. Several objects can run out of gas or power, it's possible to destroy crucial items with your phaser and most of the wildlife is aggressive. When I was a kid, I loved all of this unheralded danger because I always liked stories in which you never knew what bizarre thing might be on the other side of a door or teleporter. This quality of the game still speaks to me today, and while Adams's games have come in for a lot of criticism over the years, Strange Odyssey's alien dangerousness seems to coincide perfectly with the relatively hostile nature of adventure games from this era. A major reason that a lot of old school adventures are disliked today is that players find it too aggravating that they can mess up by taking actions they might reasonably expect to have inoffensive consequences within the world of a particular game if that game had much logic about itself. In Strange Odyssey, all of the hardships make sense and thus does the form of the whole. Space is dangerous, the worlds you visit aren't explained and alien hardware doesn't come with instructions. In retrospect, I think Strange Odyssey was one of the designs which best fit Adams's minimalist game system.
If you regard the cute cover image for Death of Schlig (drawn by the author's brother) you'll have a good idea of what's ahead telescopic eyeballs and green aliens. The latter give you the former in an experiment gone wrong after kidnapping you from your day job at the deli counter, though your real job is Great Private Detective. Your super eyeball powers allow you to EXTEND and RETRACT your eyes, to send them around corners to spot alien guards and even to occasionally use them to wield objects.
The tone of the writing is consistently zany, with lots of non-sequiturs, little pieces of misdirection and exaggeratedly amusing characters. It has the appropriate spirit and personality for the subject matter, and while its uneveness is increased by the game's incomplete proofreading (and the fact that Zaniness is an area subject to even more subjective individual response than its parent category Humour) there are a lot of parts in Schlig which made me laugh, and which I was able to remember almost verbatim even a year after first playing the game. My favourite, still: "You attempt to slice the world's thinnest slice of ham. With atom-splitting precision, you gently push the ham towards the spinning blades."
Unfortunately the timing of a lot of the jokes is thrown off by surrounding bits of writing which remain too sloppy, or by the unpolished gameplay itself. The extend-an-eyeball gimmick should be uniformly cool but proves extremely fiddly to deal with, and is underpowered as a tool to help you outmanoeuvre your enemies in this game. The patrolling guards only seem to move at the moment Schlig or Schlig's eyeball enters their presence. I have tried following them around with Schlig's telescopic eyes, trying to zap them, but they always remain one move out of reach and will ultimately complete a circuit and step into the original room containing Schlig. This "good guy's eyeball chasing the bad guy chasing the good guy" image is an appropriately cartoonish one in this cartoonish game, but the programming of this mechanic wasn't sufficiently massaged by the author.
Death of Schlig's prose has a consistent aesthetic which suits it, and it's one of those adventures that makes me really want to like it. But it's still a game that needs more work in the programming and in the writing to pull it out of that territory where it is often work-work to express or achieve what you want to do in it, and unfortunately it is unlikely to get that work.
Related reviews: ADRIFT, ADRIFT 4, IFComp 2012, comedy, science fiction
In a competition close shave, I completed Irvine Quik & the Search for the Fish of Traglea in exactly two hours. This absurdist space adventure, whose title causes my mouth to do everything it doesn't want to do at once if I say it aloud, puts the player in the role of its eponymous goofball as he and the Interstellar League of Planetary Advocacy try to save an endangered fish in order to save an endangered planet in a universe mostly populated by cat people. With its distinct aesthetic of cute humour, diverse environments, a big roster of NPCs (including a fully staffed ship) and cat-fu karate sequences, this adventure is potentially one of my favourites this year, but I have to temper that statement with observations of its bugginess and the attendant difficulties. The only ADRIFT-based game I'd previously played with a bigger scope than this one was 2011's mighty Cursed, and perhaps in a similar manner to Cursed, it's the ambitiousness of Irvine Quik which opens it up to a greater range of bug possibilities. I played the game using the aging Mac Spatterlight interpreter, which I've noted is solid for ADRIFT 4 games (ADRIFT 4, Irvine's platform, is now a static development platform) but which was incapable of recording any transcripts in the case of this particular game.
IQ, as I'm now going to call it, makes a strong impression of novelty and helpfulness through its opening screens. Alliterative taglines that would work well on sci-fi B movie posters describe the options available. It is surprising to find that you can start playing from any one of the game's six chapters. If you admit that you don't know how to use a HiRBy (your floating, grabbing robot pal in IQ) the first chapter will begin to play itself, slowly typing out the introductory commands before your eyes to show you what to do. On the other hand, if you answer "No" to the broader "Have you played interactive fiction before?" question, you seem to get almost no additional tuition at all, but the game does offer a VERB command which will list a minimum set of commands needed in the current chapter.
The first significant puzzle, helping the captain land the ship, meow, has an impressive five possible solutions according to the nicely presented PDF walkthrough. At least one of those solutions is a mini game involving quick memorisation and typing of numbers. Offering this much variety is obviously a pretty industrial strength way to start the game. In fact, the presence of a whole explorable spaceship for the good guys to live in is a pretty industrial strength gesture, and could almost be regarded as strange, considering that this ship is not where the bulk of the action takes place except that this gesture is (a) neat, and (b) will probably be of use for any sequels, EG the one promised by the game's outro.
IQ is written in the third person, an interesting choice which seems to amplify the clumsiness of the hero and of the game's humour in general, as if Irvine is being viewed omnisciently and pitilessly from a distance above. My own playing troubles really began in Chapter 3, in which Irvine explores the jungly planet of Tragear with the broad purpose of trying to solve the case of the missing fish. The puzzle involving the coat-stealing tree monkey had all kinds of bugs in it. (Spoiler - click to show)One time the solution didn't work, so I thought I was stuck. After restoring a game, the solution did work but I didn't know that it had because the game still said "The monkey refuses to give Irvine the tiger coat!" A fruit I had previously taken from the monkey was also capable of teleporting back into the monkey's hands. Before I broke out the walkthrough for the first time, and as I continued to wring my hands at my troubles, I went back to the ship to talk to other characters in hopes of getting some help from them. Here I found that the captain was still talking about my chance to pilot the ship, the story from the previous chapter. In summary, it's apparent that IQ has many different states and events whose interrelationships it needs to keep track of, but it currently isn't on top of a lot of them.
After Irvine acquires karate in a sensei sequence he can bust it out as required. It's a fun system combining a bit of random damage with the not overtly stressful demand that you learn which of the moves particular opponents are immune to. Chapter 5 is a 100% combat chapter set in a tunnel, and pretty exciting for it, though I swear there was a moment when I was reduced to 0 hit points but still alive and kicking. Also, (Spoiler - click to show) regarding the passcode which got me through the locked door into this area in the first place, I don't know where that number actually occurs in the game. After I learned of it from the walkthrough, I went looking for it but failed to find it. Running out of time to clear this game in under two hours, I caved in and just typed in the code which-I-still-don't-know-where-it-came-from. This typing wasn't easy, either. I accept in retrospect that the game did define the PRESS command for pressing buttons, but none of PRESS KEYPAD, UNLOCK KEYPAD, (the number itself) or PRESS NUMBERS worked.
In spite of all its bumps, which kept making me worse and worse at the game as I approached its finale, what IQ possesses is a very charming and coherent aesthetic which seems to extend beyond the already decent chunk of universe presented in this game. Even though communication with the other characters could be better programmed, each character seems to have his or her own concerns and purpose, and there are a good number of characters. And while the cat people are highly capable in their roles, it is left to the human outsider, Irvine, to falteringly observe the silliness of this world which is invisible to them. That the highly sought after fish is asleep nearly all of the time, that the characters who claim to be giving instruction barely give any, or that the villain's rant explaining his motivations doesn't make a lot of sense.
I found the funniest and cutest scene to be the one where Irvine helps a kitten which is fishing(!) in a brook. Given the general absurdity of this game, I really thought that the fish I was looking for might turn out to be the one in the water here, since its description said it was. But it turned out to be a Red Herring instead. This moment sums up the feel of the game for me.
In some ways Irvine is my favourite game so far at the halfway point of the comp, but its bugs did slow me up and hamper my experience of it. A lot of me struggling to finish this in under two hours was due to me rewinding to earlier points because of uncertainty about the game state. But the world of this game is a wonderful creation, and I will line up for a more polished version of this game or a sequel.
Andromeda Awakening (The Final Cut). Awakening saw the player take on the role of a scientist exploring an alien underground in the wake of a planetary disaster. In Dreaming, a new character, Aliss, wakes to find herself quarantined to a bunk in cylindrical space pod 19-Q, bound for somewhere. As Aliss, you're unsure of where you came from or where you're going, and so you begin to engage the other bunk dwellers in one cryptic-seeming conversation after another, sliding in and out of a sleep in which dreams reveal fragments of unsettling memories.
Dreaming has a wonderful structure, a nervous-making and palpable trajectory, its own very funny slang language (sported by the loquacious NPC Kadro) and extra frisson for people who have played Andromeda Awakening, though doing so is not a prerequisite. Extra frisson can also be derived retrospectively by playing Awakening after Dreaming.
Dreaming uses the quarantine pod as a hub location, a necessarily sparse and isolated one. Even if there was something in here to fiddle with, you couldn't reach it as you are strapped down in your bunk. All you can do initially is talk to the other pod inhabitants or go to sleep, yet these are the only actions needed in this location to drive the story forward, as it is your conversations and dreams which fill in the blanks of your predicament. Through just a handful of changeable features in the pod different bunks being open or closed at different times, different characters being awake or asleep, a TV screen being on or off the author is able to convey that groggy sense of time passing in a hermetically sealed space that anyone who has flown will recognise.
The conversations are managed by the same menu-based quips system Joey Jones has used effectively since his sci-fi adventure Calm. Aliss mostly has hesitant queries at her disposal, and they're mostly hesitant queries that are similar to each other because they all have the same goal of trying to elicit any and all information from the other party. Thus the interest is carried by the other characters' responses. My only technical quibble with the game is that it's possible to lose your bearings a bit if you UNDO during a menu conversation.
The various dream locations Aliss finds herself in demonstrate different levels of vividness, with temporary restrictions on the parser working perfectly to deliver an aesthetic of the intangible or incomplete; dreams with holes in them, or in which forgotten details are replaced by familiar ones. Another good trick on display is the technique of describing specific details before the broader ones, as if the memories are like close-ups that are stuck on certain things. In purely mechanical terms, the dreams are simple and linear, but their effect is entirely involving. The transitions from dreams back to the now are also well executed. Crucially, the returns to consciousness aren't announced. All the game has to do to achieve this is not reprint the room description, resulting in the player inevitably bumping back into the present with a command that doesn't work because the location has changed. It's a simple but totally effective aesthetic trick achieved with the parser alone.
To speak on the game's revelations about the situation it presents would be spoilerage. Instead, I'll just say I think Andromeda Dreaming is one of 2012's best IF games. It makes a virtue of its strong linearity by expressing its meaning through its structure. Trickiness is conveyed simply. Limitations turn out to be assets. The game is funny, unsettling and affecting.
If you complete it once, you may then wish to read the following: (Spoiler - click to show)There are many endings. Not several at least twice that.
The game has a core of two busy lab rooms sporting computers, scanners, medical miscellany and one specimen cage containing your charge, the horrible Scorpig. Your goal is to implant a chip in that little bastard, a procedure which does not go routinely. This main part of the game is very satisfying, coming on like a significant but not overly tough set piece from a larger adventure. There's good interactivity amongst the many props at your disposal, a fair bit to do and a fair bit to work out. The game successfully conveys a feeling of the dangerousness of the PC's situation without ever killing the player. I did get stuck once, at which point I consulted the walk-through and discovered that (Spoiler - click to show)a particular object which common sense had told me would never fit inside another particular object actually did so I blame the game's failure to make clear the size of this object.
Unfortunately, the post-Scorpig section of the game is poor. It may also be short, but it dragged down my experience with its relatively lame implementation (EG a vital noun makes no appearance in the prose at any point), vagueness of purpose and possible bugginess. I was stuck in one room for ages, and when I turned to the walk-through, it didn't work (Spoiler - click to show)nor did its instructions on getting either of the game's endings.
I was tempted to lop a star off my score for the messy endgame, but I felt that would fail to accurately reflect the fun I had in the laboratory section, which comprises the bulk of Critical Breach. I had also been expecting a small game from the outset, and wouldn't have minded if it hadn't continued beyond the lab anyway. It's a good and basically satisfying dose of puzzle in a sci-fi setting. An update to the endgame would be great, though.
Author Marco Innocenti absorbed the considerable volume of feedback the game generated, generated feedback on the feedback in his expansive way, then revised Andromeda and released the new incarnation as Andromeda Awakening - The Final Cut, neatly using movie director parlance to emphasise the degree of change between the versions of the game most people played during IFComp and this new one.
Your role in the adventure is that of a scientist who has put together a doom-predicting report on the state of the planet Monarch. As you rush by train to deliver it to folks who might be able to do something about the impending disaster, the disaster strikes, leaving you in a crumbling underground of magma and strange technology. Mysteries and revelations lie ahead. The imagery and construction of the underground world is fascinating, and feels very real. Many objects and entities you encounter can be researched on your E-Pad, Andromeda's answer to the Hitchhiker's Guide, and this mechanism allows the game to significantly increase the amount of information it delivers while remaining interactive and also motivating you to investigate that information. The overall atmosphere and behaviour of Andromeda is not unlike some of the explorative stretches in the first-person incarnations of the Metroid games, all cavernous areas, natural features and unexplained alien technology.
As a fan of the original Andromeda Awakening I can say that The Final Cut makes good on its promise to fundamentally smooth out the experience. The original was studded with moments where it was broadly clear what needed to be done but difficult to do it. Tricky implementation, casually mentioned but crucial props and unnecessarily fiddly interactions kept tripping up a great story. In almost every case, these problem props have now been fixed up or clued with infinitely more grace, or just made automatic and removed altogether.
Other improvements include the addition of a quality help menu and a 'go to' command for immediately returning to previously visited locations. Some of the prose's weirder expressions have been excised, though I was glad to find that the 'cyanotic lights' were still present.
There are also a couple of significant structural changes/additions made in the Final Cut. A sequence near the end allows for some new third person perspectives on the game's backstory, and the basic 'leave your house to go on your mission' intro has been replaced with something more dramatic.
Even as a returning player, I still found it difficult to work out what to do with a lot of the alien machinery down in the underground, but at least those puzzles are now challenging for valid reasons, and not attended by the general querulousness that hovered over the original game. Andromeda's effect is not spoiled by heading to the walkthrough now and then; its outcomes feel too big for that. If the game's high quality was originally obscured, The Final Cut makes it much more apparent.
This mythology is fascinating but complex, necessitating a lot of exposition; a Philip K Dick kind of premise with some of the black humour of Total Recall. The Hours moves quickly through many different moods, successfully conveying the disorientation of the Hours agents as they step in and out of their time-gating pools of water. The twitchy tonal changes between suspense, danger, mystery and paranoia kept me interested and on my toes through the whole game. The Russian doll-like development of the story's varying realities and the characters' clones is excellent, given the swiftness and smallish size of the adventure.
While the pacing and delivery of the writing is pretty good, the tone of the player's conversational choices sometimes proves elusive. I don't recommend choosing any of the "none of the above" conversation tree options because they can cause your protagonist to behave unpredictably, and The Hours is a game which subtly pays attention to how you treat the other characters.
I only became stuck twice, and in both cases, one use of the "help" command immediately got me unstuck. Both cases occurred during the game's introductory sequence (one involved an exit appearing that I didn't notice - there can be downsides to keyword based movement schemes) so the rest of the game flowed forward very well. Some obvious commands and synonyms don't work, or lead to (harmful to the suspension of disbelief) default-ish responses, but this is no big deal for someone's first Interactive Fiction game.
I imagine some of the import of The Hours's expositional dialogue could be moved into imagery or action, but I'm fine with the game the way it is. The number of complexities that open up as the mythology is described creates a kind of pleasurable tension (can I follow this? what will happen next?) which is then relieved by parcels of explanation. Some of the explanations are lengthy, but I can imagine this game being pretty hard to follow if it became too cryptic. It could in fact become an entirely different kind of game, a far more abstract one where you're left to ponder what the hell just happened. The game that is balances forward movement, action, doses of mystery and doses of explanation. And I think action can be hard to drive without motive. I always had a clear sense of what I was doing in each scene in The Hours, based on my understanding of my particular situation in that particular moment - which was often apt to change during the next moment. These are the surprises of The Hours.
Starborn now returns in a high budget Undum+Vorple form that fills your web browser screen with an atmospheric and clickable map graphic and your ears with a couple of spacey pieces of ambient electronic music. The keywords of the original version have become clickable hyperlinks.
The game content remains unaltered, and is a brief evocation of the life of a human born in space in the future who is contemplating what it might be like to return to the old homeworld, gravity and air and all. The writing does a good job of placing you "outside of the Earth" in a short space of time, but short is the defining word for the experience. There's just not that much to do or see or read, and it's all over in a few minutes, making it a tiny mood piece.
Having played both versions of the game, and at the risk of stating the obvious, I found that the new one certainly demonstrates that graphics change the effect of a piece, and so does sound. The aesthetic of the screen colours and sounds was actually quite unlike whatever I had made up in my head the first time I played the game, which was mildly jarring. The more high-tech delivery generated a sense of what might be described as high production values, which the simple text only original did not connote at all. By the same token, the game hasn't gotten any bigger, so the relatively lavish new delivery feels a bit overkilly after the fact.
However, that the game might come across a little weirdly to a person who played the old version first is not really the point. This new version is more effective to me as a demonstration of how a game like Starborn can be implemented by Undum & Vorple, and also shows that this implementation is very appropriate. Given that the game is mostly a CYOA, was originally driven by keywords, has movement around a map and also low interactivity (one gettable item) I found I did prefer playing it in its new format than the old. When the parser is unnecessary and you can click keywords rather than type them, why not do so? I found this design and the attractiveness of the interface appealing, though there was one thing I missed: the ability to undo. Not because of any difficulty in the gameplay, but because more than once I found myself interested in wanting to isolate what performing certain actions would do to different parts of the interface, and there was no way to undo then redo to test such actions.
I think Starborn itself is a little small for the new format, but its basic nature is well suited to the format, and playing it this way got me thinking about the possibilities.
Rogue of the Multiverse is a humorous sci-fi adventure with some wacky/peculiar dynamics which guarantee that its story maintains unpredictability for its short to moderate duration. Whenever you start to feel you might be getting a handle on your situation, the space carpet is likely to be pulled from underneath you in a slightly Hitchhiker's Guide fashion. The result is a mixture of pleasant surprises and disorienting turns which will cause each player to identify different bits that they enjoyed the most, and disagree with others about which bits made them go, 'Huh?'
(Spoiler - click to show)The game will also prompt arguments about whether one should make kissy faces at alien lizard doctors or try to sock them between their stupid beady eyes as soon as one gets the chance. In this game you play the eponymous rogue, and while "Rogue of the Multiverse" sounds like a real badass title, the kind to be bestowed upon a Han Solo, the segment of your life portrayed here happens to be one of the mushier ones. In the space prison where the game begins, none of the other inmates react to you as if you have any street credibility at all, and pretty soon you're the lab monkey in the rather unimpressive experiments of one Doctor Sliss, a condescending lady lizard who is convinced that bananas are your god. I did feel a little annoyed at my own confusion at having to move about the science complex with the commands 'forwards' and 'backwards', but this ultimately wasn't a huge issue. Thus a rogue's lot in life appears to be that of playing second fiddle to a reptilian scientist, searching randomised grids of alien turf for interesting people and things to tag at her behest. The descriptions of the alien inhabitants and their behaviours are pretty cute, and each bout of exploration feels not entirely unlike a game of Hunt The Wumpus. Once you work out what you're doing, this section is fun but pretty easy, so it's good that it doesn't outstay its welcome. I was disappointed, however, that I was not able to butter up some of the aliens with goodies procured from the Doctor's complex to convince them not to remove their tags. Just when you think you've got this grid searching thing nailed, a helpful space agent shows up in a space toilet and assures you he can bust you out of captivity if you just buy him the stuff that will allow him to cobble the escape thingy together... Eww, but he's in the space toilet! Moving toward your escape is arguably the most tense part of Rogue, but afterwards, proceedings get - relatively speaking - even weirder. My own sense of aggro towards Doctor Sliss, my former jailer, after the tables were turned (or at least shuffled around) never did find release. At first I thought the game was strongly signalling that I could not avoid casting my lot in with her, to the extent that when I had an opportunity to do something contrary to her wishes, I missed it. Plus I was probably distracted by the recent excitement of a chase on jet bikes, another sequence which arrived with the game's customary surprising-ness. What's obvious though is Sliss's presence as a well-written, if inscrutable, character, whether you feel amorous or murderous towards her. The game's last scenes on another planet (assuming you go that route) feel like the unheralded ending of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, the one where you forget about the adventure you were having for the last 80 pages and suddenly travel to another time, meet new people and assume an entirely new role, all within the space of one page and one illustration. Of course this isn't literally what happens in Rogue, but it generates a similar sensation. And this is not an inappropriate final sensation for a game whose story structure and interests have hardly been traditional beginning, middle and end. The game feels more like a window onto the amusing and chaotic adventures of a rather put-upon individual, adventures which were probably just as strange before the game began and will continue to be as strange after the game ends. The title could almost be a joke, or at least ironic. Or it could be the po-faced earnest assessment of the main character's view of him or herself.
In this game you play the eponymous rogue, and while "Rogue of the Multiverse" sounds like a real badass title, the kind to be bestowed upon a Han Solo, the segment of your life portrayed here happens to be one of the mushier ones. In the space prison where the game begins, none of the other inmates react to you as if you have any street credibility at all, and pretty soon you're the lab monkey in the rather unimpressive experiments of one Doctor Sliss, a condescending lady lizard who is convinced that bananas are your god. I did feel a little annoyed at my own confusion at having to move about the science complex with the commands 'forwards' and 'backwards', but this ultimately wasn't a huge issue.
Thus a rogue's lot in life appears to be that of playing second fiddle to a reptilian scientist, searching randomised grids of alien turf for interesting people and things to tag at her behest. The descriptions of the alien inhabitants and their behaviours are pretty cute, and each bout of exploration feels not entirely unlike a game of Hunt The Wumpus. Once you work out what you're doing, this section is fun but pretty easy, so it's good that it doesn't outstay its welcome. I was disappointed, however, that I was not able to butter up some of the aliens with goodies procured from the Doctor's complex to convince them not to remove their tags.
Just when you think you've got this grid searching thing nailed, a helpful space agent shows up in a space toilet and assures you he can bust you out of captivity if you just buy him the stuff that will allow him to cobble the escape thingy together... Eww, but he's in the space toilet! Moving toward your escape is arguably the most tense part of Rogue, but afterwards, proceedings get - relatively speaking - even weirder.
My own sense of aggro towards Doctor Sliss, my former jailer, after the tables were turned (or at least shuffled around) never did find release. At first I thought the game was strongly signalling that I could not avoid casting my lot in with her, to the extent that when I had an opportunity to do something contrary to her wishes, I missed it. Plus I was probably distracted by the recent excitement of a chase on jet bikes, another sequence which arrived with the game's customary surprising-ness. What's obvious though is Sliss's presence as a well-written, if inscrutable, character, whether you feel amorous or murderous towards her.
The game's last scenes on another planet (assuming you go that route) feel like the unheralded ending of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, the one where you forget about the adventure you were having for the last 80 pages and suddenly travel to another time, meet new people and assume an entirely new role, all within the space of one page and one illustration. Of course this isn't literally what happens in Rogue, but it generates a similar sensation. And this is not an inappropriate final sensation for a game whose story structure and interests have hardly been traditional beginning, middle and end. The game feels more like a window onto the amusing and chaotic adventures of a rather put-upon individual, adventures which were probably just as strange before the game began and will continue to be as strange after the game ends. The title could almost be a joke, or at least ironic. Or it could be the po-faced earnest assessment of the main character's view of him or herself.
The game's peculiar turns felt weird while I was playing it, but they evoked a small portion of universe held together by wonky chance rather than sense. It was the vision of that wonky universe which stayed with me after I completed this well written and executed adventure.
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