IFComp 2010: Oxygen

Spoilers follow the break.

This is a one-room game that centers around a single puzzle and related moral decision. You’re a military technician on a space station during a labor dispute. The striking miners, penned into one section of the station, set off an explosion, resulting in an air leak. After solving some minor puzzles to get your console working again, you have orders to divert the remaining oxygen to the parts of the station occupied by your commanders and away from the parts where the strikers are penned in. Even though the crisis is the miners’ doing, the game clearly wants you to sympathize with them rather than with the Galactic Empire. Still, whether you comply or resist is up to you, and the game provides multiple endings (at least four) without a lot of judgment.

The biggest problem with this game is that the system for controlling the oxygen is so difficult to understand. You have two override cards that can be placed in two slots, and you have a table that gives the results for pairs of cards (the results themselves being a pair of numbers of non-obvious significance), so it’s easy to make the mistake at first that the table refers to pairs of cards. But no, the table refers to the two override stations, the fore station, which is the one under your control, and the aft station, under the miners’ control. I still don’t understand the function of the two slots on your console. The entire status of the system is reported as a bunch of numbers in the status line, and by the time you’ve figured out what they all mean — if you do — it’s probably too late to make any serious changes before the oxygen reserves run out. It was only on my third play-through that I realized that the line reading “Oxygen transfer in” was a countdown to an oxygen transfer, rather than a rate at which oxygen was being transferred in.

While this is going on, there are distractions. There’s radio chatter from both sides, and at one point, you have an opportunity to rescue, and talk with, an injured miner who’s made it to the corridor outside your station. I like the way that this stuff helps to make the station into more of a living world, but I do think I would have been able to figure out the oxygen systems better if the game didn’t keep on asking me to pay attention to other things.

One major bug: in the initial phases of my first attempt, I experimentally put an override card that started off in my inventory into the slot where I found the other override card. I was subsequently unable to remove it. It took me a long time to realize this, because the game misleadingly replied to my attempts at removing it as if they were successful. This limited my options later in the game, and I had to start over from scratch.

Rating: 5

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