IFComp 2010: The Chronicler

Spoilers follow the break.

One of the first commands I execute in any work of conventional IF is “x me”. I do this because the player character’s description is often useful for setting the mood, as well as my expectations. Here, it produced an uncustomized default reply. This isn’t a terribly bad thing in itself, but it’s something of a warning sign, like a brown M&M. If the author hasn’t bothered to tend to that little detail, what else might they have neglected?

Quite a lot, it turns out. The help text for this game says “Unfortunately, due to time constraints it’s only half finished, or perhaps three-quarters.” I hate to disappoint you, kid, but it’s not half finished. Finishing a game is in the details. This game desperately needs some.

At the very least, it needs to support some more synonyms. I found it impossible to solve even using the enclosed help file, because in the room called “Great Machine”, the word “machine” isn’t recognized: it turns out you need to call it “machinery”. And that’s not even the start of it. The whole conceit here is that you’re in an abandoned complex with a handheld time machine that toggles you between two periods. Again according to the walkthrough: “This may not always bring you to a past/future version of the room you started from.” Until I read that sentence, I had no reason to believe that it ever sent you to the same room you started from; it always seemed to send you to the “Transfer Room”, regardless of where you used it. There’s a point where you have to time-travel to a room’s alternate version in order to progress, but the specific room where you need to do it is the only one up to that point where it works, so you’ve had no opportunity learn that it’s even an option. And the room where you have to do it is a hallway.

There’s a section in the walkthrough titled “HOW DO I GET INTO THE STOREROOM?” — which isn’t a question that the player could possibly ask, because until you enter the storeroom, you don’t know that there’s a storeroom; all you know is that there’s a locked door. This strikes me as emblematic of this game’s basic problem. The author isn’t thinking like a player. He’s assuming that the player knows things because he knows them. If he isn’t completely discouraged by this game’s reception, I strongly suggest he find some good beta testers, and listen to them when they tell him what needs to be clued more strongly, or at all.

Rating: 2

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