IFComp 2012: Lunar Base 1

The judging period for the Comp has been over for nearly a week, and the results are posted, but I still have a few games left to comment on. Of those remaining, Lunar Base 1 is the last one with a parser. Spoilers follow the break.

Let’s talk about airlocks. Airlocks have a long history in IF, going back to Infocom’s Starcross if not farther. Back then, the whole idea was novel enough to constitute a puzzle, but this didn’t last long. I recall a minor backlash against airlocks in text games at one point. It wasn’t nearly as strong as the backlash against mazes, but it ultimately stemmed from the same sentiments: that it’s an irksome exception to normal navigation, and (with very few exceptions 1I think of Jinxter (Magnetic Scrolls, 1987) as a stand-out here. It had a clever multi-room puzzle whose solution hinged on using an airlock incorrectly. Solving puzzles by doing things wrong was something of a theme in that game. ) doesn’t add enough to the experience to justify its irksomeness. Once you’ve seen one airlock, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Or at least, once you’ve seen one airlock, you’ve seen that particular airlock, and gain little by being forced to go through the same motions again. Repetition in games can be a good thing (particularly as a way to introduce meaningful variation), but cycling an airlock is the sort of chore for which any decent modern game will elide the details after you’ve done it manually once, if that.

Lunar Base 1 takes place mostly in two rooms. The story requires you to repeatedly go back and forth between these two rooms. They have an airlock between them, which you have to cycle manually every single time. The game even makes you take off your space suit before going inside, even if you intend to just grab an object and go right back out again. The author presumably didn’t intend this to be the thing that dominates the experience of the game, but that’s what it is.

Other than that, it’s basically 2001 Lite. You go to the Moon for some routine sciencey stuff, you see something weird, and your sole crewmate goes a little crazy, so you scrub the mission and go home. The style feels like a slightly awkward imitation of hard sci-fi. Yes, even more awkward than the prose it’s imitating, although I find it hard to pin down what makes it feel that way. At the very end, during your debriefing, it brings in some moon-landing-hoax conspiracy stuff that I can only assume that the author takes seriously.

The game holds your hand for most of the proceedings: either you’re explicitly told what to do by your companion or by Mission Control back on Earth, or what you need to do is just extremely obvious (for example, hitting your crewmate when he attacks you in a fit of alien mania). The interesting part is that there’s an exception to this: if you disobey orders to get back on your rocketship immediately, and then — acting more or less on a hunch inspired by narrative necessity — attempt to analyze an alien device by replicating actions observed earlier, you can see bit of the secret history of the human race and its primordial gods. This is the only real puzzle in the game, and not only is it optional, it’s something that a player could easily pass by without noticing. Thus, it’s a close approach to the “game with a secret” idea I’ve mentioned before.

   [ + ]

1. I think of Jinxter (Magnetic Scrolls, 1987) as a stand-out here. It had a clever multi-room puzzle whose solution hinged on using an airlock incorrectly. Solving puzzles by doing things wrong was something of a theme in that game.

No Comments

Leave a reply