Cacophony: Uhhhh

As my regular readers may remember, I had a lot of complaints about games in the previous two Comps, games with egregious bugs, inadequate feedback, and unreasonably narrow expectations of what the player would do. The main reason I decided to skip the Comp this year was to avoid that stuff. So Cacophony makes me sad. I really can’t recommend that anyone else try to play this game until the bugs are fixed, and probably not even then.

Severely stuck, I turned to outside help — specifically, Club Floyd. This is a group of people who who play IF online as a team, using a special IF-interpreter-gateway MUD bot so that they can all enter commands in a single game session. They’ve been doing this on a mostly-weekly basis for more than two years now. I’ve participated in Club Floyd a few times, but only a few, as I generally prefer to figure things out for myself. Anyway, Club Floyd records their sessions, and a couple of months back, they played Cacophony. I used their transcript for hints, and I find the experience far superior to using a straight walkthrough, as it provided the solutions in the context of the thought process that led to them — which was, admittedly, mostly random flailing in this case. But also, unlike the walkthrough, Club Floyd pointed out the bugs, and how they affected things for both them and me. Spoilery details follow.

There’s a whole sequence spent sneaking around in an office building. I had managed to get inside the building once, but on subsequent attempts, was told that I needed some way to avoid detection before I could enter. It turns out that I was supposed to have an invisibility device before I could enter; on the one occasion that I had gotten through anyway, I had phrased my command in a way that accidentally bypassed the check for that. This explained a whole bunch of mysterious behavior inside the building — for example, whenever I tried to take something out of my bag, I was warned that people would see it disappear. Actually, that’s another bug: the warning makes sense if you’re invisible and trying to pick something up off the ground, but the game failed to recognize that I was trying to get something I was already indirectly holding. Without knowing I was supposed to be invisible, the warning was incomprehensible. But the thing is, there’s so much about this game that deliberately defies common sense that it’s hard to tell the parts where you don’t understand the logic from the parts where the logic is just plain broken.

Another example: There’s a locked chest, with a square depression its only feature. When you finally acquire a small cubical object, you’re likely to try to use it to unlock the chest, and you’re likely to fail. Club Floyd identified the reason why: the action only works in the room where you find the chest. Presumably you weren’t supposed to be able to pick up the chest. Without outside help, the player who has brought the chest to another room is likely to conclude that the cube isn’t the right object to unlock it after all, and wait in vain to find another square item.

I mentioned in my last post that a trophy case appeared spontaneously in one location, and I had no idea why. I think I understand how that works now — it’s related to another item, a nightcap, which is applied in a way that you’re likely to do only if you’re not actually trying to use it to solve puzzles. Ah, but how do you get the nightcap? I don’t know, and apparently neither does anybody else. It spontaneously appears in your inventory if you do the right thing, but it’s unclear what that is, even after you’ve done it. The author’s walkthrough implies that it’s caused by dialing a certain number on a telephone, but while this is probably a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient one. Given the other problems, I suspect that it’s supposed to be sufficient, but a bug prevents it from working some of the time. But it’s hard to be sure without knowing the intended logic. Graham Nelson’s 1993 “Player’s Bill of Rights“, somewhat disowned since then by its author, includes the right “To be able to understand a problem once it is solved”. I’ve never craved this right more than I do now.

When I realized that this game, already by design a very difficult exercise in deciphering the author’s intentions, had bugs that made it even more inscrutable, I almost gave it up. I’ve said it before: a game in the surreal mode has to tread very carefully in order to retain the player’s trust. I ultimately turned to the author’s walkthrough when the Club Floyd transcript gave out. It turns out that I could have reached an ending before I had even looked at Club Floyd if I hadn’t misspelled a nonsense word that the game throws at you at one point. I might possibly have noticed this if I had thought that I had any reason to believe that I actually understood the author’s intentions. As it was, it just seemed like one more failed attempt among many.

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