Dark Fall: Wrong Orders

Not much progress in my last session, beyond revisiting places and taking better notes this time. I’m starting to think I’ve been approaching this game wrong. I started out the way I’d start any mystlike: by exploring the entire accessible environment. In fact, most of the rooms of the hotel are empty and uninteresting, apart from atmospheric details like ominous and incomprehensible muttering heard in one room, or a pair of scissors embedded in the wall in another. Only a few have details you can inspect more closely, drawers you can open, and so forth. When I went back to the lobby again (finding a few more clues in the process), I think I finally understand the purpose of those breakfast orders I had noticed before: each one mentions a room number. Those specific rooms are ones of interest. It makes sense, I suppose. The orders show that those rooms had guests in them immediately before the hotel was completely abandoned.

Then there’s the matter of the telephones. There are two: one in the lobby that rings spontaneously when you enter the room, one by the station waiting room that you have to use a coin on. In both cases, on my first interaction with them, all I heard was a sound like a radio being tuned. It turns out that I was too impatient. If you sit and wait on the phone long enough, eventually you get a voice on the other end, giving you some slight orientation. One of the voices says to find a key that he hid in a teapot, although he can’t remember where he left the teapot. This could have lent some meaning to my earlier explorations. There are multiple teapots around, so every time I saw one, I could have been thinking “Maybe that’s the one!” But in fact, by the time I heard the hint, I had already found the key.

There’s a problem here, and it has two halves. One half is that the stuff that the author wants to hint at is too easy to find without those hints. The hotel isn’t large enough to discourage exhaustive exploration. Interactive details are sparse enough that each one of them attracts interest even if you don’t have the context that’s supposed to motivate that interest. The other half is that the motivating context is far too unobtrusive. I suppose that the ringing telephone was supposed to be a solution to this, and it certainly got me to head straight for the phone and pick it up, but it was derailed when I didn’t hear anything useful. Put the two halves together, and you have solutions that are easier to find than clues. There’s actually a general source of gentle hints, an invisible friendly ghost who hangs out on the bridge over the train tracks, but he’s the worst of all. As the ghost warns, he can only help you if you come directly to him from the thing you want help on, but there isn’t any obvious direct route to the bridge from most of the hotel, so I’ve only managed to get him to comment on one puzzle located very near the bridge. It all seems like the sort of thing you get when an author makes assumptions about what players will do, instead of doing adequate playtesting.

There are other cases where things went in the right order, mind you. For example, I found the correct coordinates for the theodolite puzzle by reading a journal, rather than by twiddling the theodolite at random. But that was just good luck. I did find the theodolite and spend some time twiddling it first.

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