IFComp 2011: Death of Schlig

Spoilers follow the break.

And it’s another private detective in novel circumstances! This is definitely shaping up to be the theme of this year’s Comp, almost as if the entrants coordinated it. This time around, the notion that the PC is a detective is kind of irrelevant to the story, except insofar as it gives the authors an opportunity to base jokes on his exaggerated lack of perceptiveness, as in the beginning when you see a bunch of blue-green aliens with antenna and mistake them for rowdy local teens.

These aliens abduct you, intending to fatten you up and eat you. But first, they tinker with your DNA, intending to make you more delicious. It goes wrong, however, and you instead wind up with prehensile eyestalks that you can poke into adjacent rooms and even use to manipulate objects. These abilities prove key to escaping back to Earth. Well, a detective’s eyes are his greatest assets, as the game occasionally reminds us.

The roving eye mechanism is the game’s greatest strength. I have no complaint about the way it’s implemented, and it gives the whole game a focus it can build puzzles around (although it could probably be taken farther than it is here). Moreover, it’s a good illustration of how a zany game can go beyond superficial zaniness in the output text. So kudos there. On the downside, the game really needs polish. Even just a few more days of testing and debugging would, I think, make an enormous difference to the experience. This is a game with a largish amount of custom code behind it — not just the eyeball thing, but wandering guards and status effects that time out — and most of it has problems. Nothing game-stopping, but there are messages repeated at inappropriate times, and illogical bits like a guard arresting you while you’re inside a closed shuttle without opening it.

Those wandering guards get to be annoying, by the way. You can use a zap gun to temporarily freeze them, but it wears off after a few turns, and they always seem to be in the most inconvenient places. Perhaps there’s a more permanent way to dispense with them that I haven’t figured out; if not, I recommend that the authors add one. It wouldn’t need to be something you have access to immediately. It’s just that, the way it currently is, a largish fraction of my play time was spent repeating the same ritual of dropping the gun, extending an eye, picking the gun up, poking into an adjacent room, zapping the guard, retracting the eye, and going into the room. Doing that once or twice should be enough to prove that you understand the puzzle.

But then, perhaps you could regard this behavior as the game’s core activity, the repeated action that the game is really all about, the same way that a platformer is about jumping and a shooter is about shooting. This would mean that you value very different things in IF than I do, but there’s some independent evidence that this is the case for the authors. Like the death scenes. In addition to giving you eyestalks, the genetic manipulation has made the PC as unkillable as Captain Jack Harkness: every time the aliens catch you, they kill you in some very definite way, and then you wake up in a meat locker, no worse for the experience. But the authors lavish attention on the descriptions of the deaths. The aliens have quite a few execution methods, all culinary-themed (DEATH BY MEAT SLICER! DEATH BY PICKLING!), chosen at random with a wheel-of-fortune setup and then given a couple of pages of detailed description. So apparently wacky death is something that the authors felt was one of the game’s major assets, worth devoting real attention to. Me, I frankly stopped reading them once I felt I had the gist.

1 Comment so far

  1. IFComp Reviews, Part 6 « Saucers of Mud on 13 Nov 2011

    […] your playing experience should be zany. Zany is the opposite of fiddly. This was fiddly. Like Carl, I found myself trying to execute a long sequence of commands to do what the walkthrough suggested […]

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