IFComp 2010: The 12:54 to Asgard

J. Robinson Wheeler is a familiar name within the IF community, although it’s been a while since he released anything apart from SpeedIFs and Whispers. In fact, his last real IF game was written in 2001… which, coincidentally, is also when my last real IF game was written, so I suppose I shouldn’t throw stones. Anyway. Spoilers follow the break.

My first impressions here were extremely favorable. Sent to fix a leaky roof in a TV studio at night in the middle of a downpour, the protagonist is deliciously surly, his attitude reinforced by most of his interactions with the environment. (I particularly liked how some items were flagged as needing to be put away. I don’t know if putting them in their proper places provides any benefit beyond making the PC feel better, but I tidied up as much as I was able as I went along.) The game induces us to climb up onto a plank above a catwalk, rainwater pouring onto it like a faucet, and then, when you can’t quite reach, to stand on top of a suitcase balanced on the plank, and then turn around to get a better angle for swinging a hammer, and at every step you see what’s coming, but you do it anyway, and boom, suddenly it’s a game about the afterlife.

The afterlife is a mishmash of tradition and invention, organized hub-and-wheel: there’s a plaza containing several turnstiles leading to sub-scenarios, which you can pursue in any order, although there’s a sidekick-like NPC (an amiable red-headed girl) with some opinions about which you should choose first. It was in these sub-scenarios that I started encountering bugs. Actually, that’s not true: there were noticeable bugs in the opening scene, such as a message about not knowing where a lost object was that kept appearing even after I had found it. But the first really troubling bug was in the sub-scenarios, when a sort of monster swallowed a bronze key that I had picked up the previous turn. I had picked it up specifically to keep it away from the monster. Had the monster gotten it out my inventory? No, I still had the key. Later, in a sort of game-show scenario, the host asked me several yes/no questions, which I answered successfully up to a point. Then he asked a riddle, but also asked another yes/no question on the same turn, and I found I couldn’t answer either. Giving up and going to a third scenario, I knocked on a farmhouse door, and a voice within asked me who I am. I tried all sorts of commands to answer the question, but I couldn’t talk to the voice. I did, however, discover a syntax that brings up contextless responses from the host back in the game show scenario. And at this point, I gave up. It isn’t just that there are bugs here, it’s that there are stealth bugs, things with lasting effects that you don’t notice until later. I don’t know where this game is going, but I can’t trust it to do what the author wanted, and thus, I can’t play it. It’s a shame, because it started so well.

The game credits five testers, including people who I know have higher standards than this. I don’t know what happened here. It’s possible that I just did something weird that threw the whole game off and that none of the testers experienced what I did, but it’s also possible that the testers reported the problems I found and the author didn’t leave enough time to fix them. I recall having an experience like that as a tester in the 2008 comp.

Rating: 3

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