IFComp 2010: Rogue of the Multiverse

This is the only game this year written in TADS! TADS used to be one of the major text-adventure systems, Inform’s rival and equal. Heck, the very first IF Comp, back in 1995, had a TADS division and an Inform division, and nothing else. But now, it seems to have fallen victim to the brevity of fashion. Ah well.

Spoilers follow the break.

If there’s one place where this game excels, it’s the humor. It’s the sort of breezy, offhand stuff that’s based not so much on punch lines as on following silly notions wherever they lead. The most oft-cited thing seems to be Dr. Sliss’ fixation on bananas, or rather, her concern with what she imagines to be your fixation on bananas: Sliss is a lizard-like alien with only a cursory familiarity with primate psychology. It’s a little like GLaDOS and her cake, but less malevolent and more scatterbrained. Sliss is something of a mad scientist, or at least a scientist who’s willing to overlook small matters of legality. You’re her human experimental subject/victim/accomplice, plucked from space prison (and deposited in a different space prison) and sent to “salvage” “abandoned” valuables from other worlds via an experimental matter-transference device.

The salvage sections are a kind of randomly-generated minigame. You’re in a Cartesian grid armed with a scanner that reports the coordinates of nearby valuable objects (note: bananas are not valuable) and a device to “tag” them for retrieval. Some of the taggable items move around on the grid. In fact, some of them chase you. You’re informed before embarking on your first mission that the medical systems back at the prison can put you back together if you lose an arm or something, and in fact this can happen. Probably most of the game’s inner logic is devoted to these jaunts, but I honestly didn’t spend a lot of time on them, because the whole thing feels rather cursory and barren in the way that randomly-generated content often does. There’s an in-game motivation for doing missions, earning money to buy stuff like alien furnishings for your cell, but once I found out which particular items I needed to advance the plot, I didn’t bother trying to afford anything else.

Outside of the missions, one peculiarity: instead of absolute n/s/e/w directions, you navigate with forward/backward/left/right (abbreviated to f/b/lf/r, the two-letter abbreviation for “left” necessitated by the fact that “l” is already taken by “look”). These relative directions change according to which way you’re facing, as determined mainly by the last direction you moved in. There have been occasional experiments with systems of this sort in the past, and it never fails to confuse and distract. Even here, where the map is small enough that there are only a few points where you can change your facing, I had to stop and think every time I hit one of those points.

At the start of the game, Dr. Sliss is the antagonist, keeping you captive and cheerfully subjecting you to tremendous danger. The main goal of the first part of the game is to get rid of her, so I was a bit surprised that once she was fleeing the authorities, I seemed to be railroaded into fleeing with her, and furthermore, the game seemed to be hinting that it would be okay if I made out with her. She’s still an alien lizard, mind you. There’s not even any sign that the experience of being expelled from her lab has caused her to reconsider her reckless, self-centered, willing-to-sacrifice-others ways. Did I kiss her? Heck yeah. Maybe I’ve read too much Narbonic, but on the other hand, this is fundamentally a game about hilariously unwise behavior, so why not play along?

Rating: 6

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