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14th Place - 11th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2005)
Inky's IF Stuff
Stories about supercompetent badasses who have No Time For Love always make me feel a little dirty, like I'm seeing parts of somebody's psyche it is embarrassing to be looking at, but nevertheless Vendetta is pretty fun. There's this bad guy who kidnaps your girlfriend, see, and even though it's not much of a relationship because your duty to humanity gives you No Time For Love, this is no job for the police. No, it is up to you to sneak into the building, kill a bunch of people, and save the day, because that is what supercompetent badasses do best. There is some subplot about your memory slowly returning or something, but this didn't seem to be particular important. The subplot about genetic engineering, on the other hand, provided some cool scenery and guys to fight and stuff. It was kind of irritating that the game required so much traipsing up and down between the different floors of the building (even by the walkthrough it requires a fair bit, and if you're not following it, it's more, since you keep having to go back to poke around for stuff you missed earlier). In summary, zam pow biff exciting conclusion.
P.S. I hate the game forever for disabling undo, especially since there is no gameplay reason for it.
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Five minutes into this piece, I was in complete agreement with Dan Shiovitz's assessment: "Stories about supercompetent badasses who have No Time For Love always make me feel a little dirty, like I'm seeing parts of somebody's psyche it is embarrassing to be looking at..." The prose style and dramatic content reminded me of that B-movie kind of adventure fiction where men are men and women are ornaments with incomprehensible emotions. It almost seemed like the style found in pre-pubescent fiction, and my estimate of the author's sophistication -- as well as my interest level -- kept dropping.
Anyone who feels the same way at that point is encouraged to continue(Spoiler - click to show), because shortly thereafter, comes a surprising plot twist. It's revealed that the narrator is an artificial being built for military purposes whose personality has been "modified" (or maybe just mangled) by the removal of key human elements like empathy and love. It's also revealed that the narrator's memory is mostly composed of the memories of another, much older person, which were artificially "written" to his brain. This revelation knocked my judgment for a loop; so many things that had seemed odd and out-of place, from the child-like interaction with Sally to the incongruous use of "young man" to describe others to the casual disregard for recent accomplishments, suddenly seemed appropriate. This sort of resonance between the large and small details is brilliant, but I'm not 100% certain it was intentional. Accepting this premise immediately raises the question of why an artificial being is walking around the world unsupervised in a world where such beings appear to be nearly unique.
The writing style is strange and uneven. Fluid and competent prose alternates with stilted, forced writing sprinkled with spelling and grammar errors. In several places, there is repetition of a word (or variations of a word) that can be jarring. In others, the exposition takes abrupt detours to work in a bit of background that probably should have appeared earlier.
As a work of interactive fiction, it has several weak spots. For the first half of the game, much of the player's time is spent waiting for multi-turn "conversations" to complete. One glance at the walkthrough should have raised red flags; there are far too many z's in it.
While on one level I thought it was interesting to be doing other things while the conversation takes place (like multi-tasking on the phone in real life), the object implementation is so shallow in some scenes that there's not really anything else to do but wait. Eventually, it crossed a line. The sensation was similar to how I once saw someone describe an RPG GM who gets too active with the party NPCs he controls: At some point, the players begin to wonder if they're just there to watch the GM entertain himself.
However, all of this changes (another significant discontinuity) when you get to the second act. Immediately, the player finds himself in the middle of a sprawling map full of interesting scenery objects. It's such a change in the nature of the play, and the depth of object implementation is so spotty, that adjusting to the transition is somewhat annoying. You find yourself trying all of the mentioned nouns, never sure which commands will result in a "no such thing" message, and which will result in two or three layers of irrelevant detail. Most of the object descriptions are done well -- more consistent implementation depth might have made for a very interesting effect(Spoiler - click to show) as you ransack the area while racing the clock. After all, when you're in the unknown, you don't know what's significant at first, and a real office would be filled with plenty of useless objects.
This part feels like a more traditional piece of IF, and it takes a while to explore. Just when my previous irritation at being inexpertly railroaded in Act I had started to fade, the sudden introduction of a CYOA format during the endgame left me shaking my head in disbelief.
The level of realism, like so much about this work, is lopsided in its application. While I was impressed with many details like the "bit player" NPCs in the hotel environs and the changing weather as you venture outside, they stand in stark contrast to the cartoon-like interaction with later hostile NPCs, who seem to be implemented as little more than combination punching bags and bowling pins.(Spoiler - click to show) As an example, I spent several turns goofing around with a locked gate, while the occupant of a nearby guardhouse patiently sat there staring into space, waiting for me to walk in and break his neck.
Vendetta was developed using ADRIFT, which my limited investigation leads me to believe is a sort of point-and-click code generator intended for non-programmers. Perhaps the author, James Hall, had no background in programming when this was written, in which case some of the problematic parser interactions that I encountered are easier to understand. Some choices in verb-to-action mappings, as well as the author's tendency to translate your apparent intent into a series of actions you did not specify, lead to a strange kind of abstraction to what you do. From time to time, it's almost like you're just offering suggestions instead of controlling the PC.
There are also some out-and-out problems with the code or writing, such as:
* an important (if optional) item is placed in scope(Spoiler - click to show) (the cell phone when you kill the first guard), but you are not notified and could easily miss it if you don't "look" again,
* the response to one critical command makes it appear as though the verb is not recognized, when in fact it simply requires an indirect object(Spoiler - click to show) ("reflect laser" vs. "reflect laser at x"),
* some descriptions are misleading, in a way that is out of character with the rest of the work.(Spoiler - click to show) (e.g. "In the corner of the room is the reception desk, which has nothing of interest on it other than a few pieces of office stationery." -- which gave me the impression they were blank pages, though I admit that's subjective.)
If the entire work was written as well as its current best parts, Vendetta would definitely rate three stars. With better consistency and some additional conceptual and thematic development, it could have hit four. I'm left with mixed feelings about this piece, as well as curiosity about what Mr. Hall has been up to for the last 5 years -- it seems like he has not released anything since Vendetta placed 14th out of 26 in the 2005 IF Comp. If Mr. Hall has continued to practice and develop his writing skills, I would expect his next work to realize much more of its potential than Vendetta does.
As you can tell from the length of my review, this piece managed to get under my skin. I want to give it a higher rating than I can objectively justify. For a pure player, there are enough negatives to warrant avoiding it. For new authors, there are valuable lessons to be seen in studying what's done right and what's done wrong. My suggestion: Decide which camp you're in, and choose accordingly.
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This is version 2 of this page, edited by OtisTDog on 8 April 2010 at 11:20am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item