IFComp 2000: R (Pron: Arrr…)

Spoilers follow the break.

I’m a few days behind on these write-ups now, and it has a lot to do with this game: I’ve already done a rant on retro in this comp, and don’t feel like doing another, but that’s R‘s most prominent feature. You want to see a real Scott Adams imitation? R goes so far as to use the same game file format as Scott Adams, and is packaged here with a couple of interpreters that can also be used with the original Scott Adams games. At least this means the comfort of playing the game in a modern environment — the terp provided even displays some nouns as hyperlinks. On the other hand, this terp is really intended for use on cell phones, and comes in a fixed-size window that’s a fraction of the size of my computer’s screen. I suppose I could have gone and downloaded a different Scott Adams terp, but I didn’t bother. Besides, that would have run the risk of introducing bugs. By using the author’s recommended terp, I guaranteed complete compatibility, or at least allowed the author to keep the responsibility for it.

So: Two-word parser, minimal descriptions, mechanical puzzles, a certain number of filler rooms that serve no purpose but to make it take longer to get to the important stuff. I don’t always call non-essential locations “filler” — you can do a lot with an empty room, from setting the mood to reiterating recurring themes. But that stuff works best if you pile on the detail, and this is not a detailed game. The engine just doesn’t support a lot of detail. This is a game where freeing a “wench” from captivitiy means obtaining a WENCH object in your inventory as a kind of treasure. It’s old-school, and not even in the sense of exploring the underutilized potential of older forms, or of recapturing the wonder of more innocent times, but in the sense of just rehashing the long-superseded. It even uses old puzzles — there’s an instance of the old make-a-raft-out-of-vines-and-poles gimmick, which I haven’t seen lately, but which used to be a staple. I suppose that for the author it’s a nostalgia thing. He mentions in the readme that he was inspired to create this game by watching Jason Scott’s recent documentary on IF, Get Lamp, which shows that he was already interested enough in IF to watch a documentary about it, but at the same time sufficiently out-of-the-loop on the Comp for that documentary to be his initial point of contact. One major concession to modern sensibilities: the game doesn’t seem to let the player mess up too badly. Where there’s a point of no return, you can’t cross it without everything you need.

R is a game about pirates, and thus, given what I’ve already said, it naturally brings to mind Pirate Adventure, Scott Adams Adventure #2. I don’t mean any disrespect towards Pirate Adventure, which was an important early step in bringing adventure games out of the dungeon, but frankly, R‘s pirate content is more convincing. Not that this means a lot — we’re still basically talking children’s-story pirates here, and one way it tries to produce the right feel is by describing things in a sort of pirate accent, where thar be uninflected infinitives an’ apostrophes all over the place. This even affects written materials within the game. It reads a lot like the menu in a certain theme restaurant I remember visiting once, and the theme of that restaurant was cowboys. Still, the story involves a rival pirate boarding your ship, stealing your stuff, and abducting your wench, which already makes it a lot more piratey than a simple dig-up-the-treasure scenario.

Rating: 3

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