IFComp 2011: Cursed

Spoilers follow the break.

First, let me state that the premise of this game is a good one. In a fantasy kingdom, you’re falsely found guilty of murder, but your judges take pity on you and, instead of executing you, turn you into an animal. You’re given a choice of fox, rat, or snake, and allowed to slink away, fearing for your life, because all three animals are disliked by the population at large, and anyone who finds you will kill you if they have the chance. But you know a place you can go for help, if you can get there in your new form. So, right off, you’ve got a constraint that prevents you from interacting with the world in the normal ways, but also opens up new options, like crawling into holes in the wainscotting. Furthermore, the three animals play significantly differently. A fox can’t hide in all the places a rat can, but it also doesn’t have to fear the same predators.

That said, I gave up playing this game fairly early in the first chapter (out of three, plus two interludes and an epilogue), at a point when the two hour judging period wasn’t even over yet. Some will object that I’m not being fair to the game, that by giving up I didn’t give it a chance. To which I reply, sleep is an opinion. If a game makes me want to stop playing, then stopping is the only fair response.

The first thing that really caught my attention about this game was the number of text glitches I was getting, things like “The guard [guardmove=%room%]” and “#invisible4 plan hallway#”. It turned out that this is a result of trying to run it with the Adrift 5 terp rather than Adrift 4. There are three Adrift games in this Comp, and two of them require Adrift 4, but the Adrift 5 runner was the one included in the Comp Windows interpreters package. Ah well. Goodbye, rotatable 3D automap. Hello, prompt that asks me if I want to re-associate file types every time I start up the game, even if I click the checkbox telling it not to ask me again. If I’m going to be accused of unfairness, this is the place to do it, because I got a poor first impression that’s not really the fault of the game content. But then, Adrift has a history of this sort of problem, and the author chose to use it anyway.

Speaking of Adrift problems, there’s a remarkably prevalent stylistic problem with Adrift games: excessive verbosity. I don’t know if there’s something about the authoring system that encourages this or if it’s just something more accepted in the Adrift community, which is more or less a distinct subculture from IF enthusiasts in general. This game actually strikes me as relatively restrained about it, but on the other hand, it heightens the effect by having a guard shove you through several roomfuls of description before you can even really interact. I do like the idea of showing us what we’re going to be interacting with later, sort of like the opening of Half-Life, but I felt like I was being given too much to take in, especially when this was followed by a bunch of not-really-interactive dialogue by the “seven Lords of the Kingdom”, all of whom had fantasy-names and titles and roles that I couldn’t be reasonably expected to keep track of, but which I felt like I had to try to remember in case they became relevant later.

And maybe they do, but I didn’t get that far. Once the prologue sequence is over and you’re finally in full control of your actions, the focus of your interactions isn’t the politics of the kingdom, but the physical attributes of the furniture, because that’s what a rat or snake or fox can interact with. It made all that prologue seem irrelevant, and thus that the game had been wasting my time and attention. And that’s a big part of why I gave up.

The other part is simply that I wasn’t getting anywhere with the puzzles. The puzzles here are possibly more difficult than the author intended, because you’re at the mercy of patrolling guards. Shortly before giving up, I consulted the hints, and found that one of the things I had tried and abandoned was in fact something that should have worked, but didn’t because a guard just happened to show up at an inopportune moment. I don’t know how I was supposed to differentiate between guards that are avoidable and ones that are not.

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