IFComp 2011: Fan Interference

Spoilers follow the break.

So, I’m a baseball fan. In the game, I mean. In real life, I’m about as far from a baseball fan as it’s possible for an American to be. And therein lie some problems. This game would probably be a lot more interesting for baseball fans than for me. It certainly goes into a great deal of detail in its presentation of the game, putting the current game state into the status line, replacing the Infocom-standard “SCORE” command with one that produces a full readout of the scoreboard, and providing a play-by-play description of the activity on the field that you could follow if you’re into that. But it’s all very background, and the play-by-play is delivered in a dry, sports-announcer-like way which I wound up paying as little attention to as I would if I found myself at a baseball game in real life. That’s a pretty big failure to identify with the PC.

The dryness of the baseball content is a little puzzling when you compare it to the strong point of view used to describe everything else about the baseball-fan experience: the hucksters outside the park, the overpriced snacks and crowded bathrooms, the unwritten code of how much animosity it’s appropriate to show fans of the other team. This is a game that’s full of lovely color, especially in the randomized observations of the crowd. So I think it’s probably within the author’s abilities to make me care about baseball, if he didn’t underestimate the task so badly.

Which is not to say that he doesn’t try. He practically bends over backward to make this game accessible to the baseball-ignorant, providing copious footnotes explaining the significance of what’s going on, as well as player bios and a glossary of baseball terms available via the “WHO IS” and “WHAT IS” commands. But it’s not enough. A person who knows baseball doesn’t know what a person who doesn’t know it doesn’t know. Let me describe the plot a little so I can give specifics.

The whole idea here is that you have the opportunity to change a particular moment in baseball history, to make a particular game, played between the Cubs and the Sox in 2003, go the way that apparently a lot of Cubs fans think it should have gone. (The attitude here reminds me a lot of Lost New York, the author of which is a considerable baseball fan himself.) Near the beginning of the game, you’re handed a sheet of paper with three tasks you need to perform. The first item has the explanation “Don’t let the 7th inning stretch anger the baseball gods”, followed by the explanation “Guest singer arrives booth mid 6th. Minor inconvenience enough. Nice man. Do not permanently annoy.” Enigmatic. It would have been less enigmatic if I had consulted the “HISTORY” command mentioned in the HELP menu, but I didn’t think to try that until playing for about an hour and a half.

Now, what exactly is meant by “7th inning stretch”, and what does it have to do with a guest singer? The command “WHAT IS STRETCH” produces the following:

An inning consists of each team’s turn up to bat. Each team gets three outs, and the visitors bat first, in the top of the inning. Then the home team bats in the bottom. A regular game has nine innings. If a game is tied after nine, teams keep playing until the game is not tied at the end of an inning.

…which, you will note, doesn’t define “stretch” at all. When I first entered the park, after spending perhaps too much time poking around outside, I was startled to find there was singing already in progress, and thought that I might have already failed at my first task. It turned out to be just the pre-game national anthem, but the mere fact that I considered the possibility shows how ready I was to believe that I was already doing things wrong.

The second task specifically mentions “left field line A4 R8”, a notation that I assume refers to a seat number, but there’s no confirmation of this in the game. I spent some time in the stands, not quite sure what “stands” means in this context, looking for any mention of such numbers and not finding them, which made me doubt that I was looking in the right place. The third task says “can’t enter clubhouse/dugout but must move something there”, but the game apparently just expects you to understand where this is without it ever being mentioned in any room. The “WHAT IS” command is pretty much confined to the rules of the game, and leaves out the features of the field, which are the things you actually need to know about.

In short, I spent much of my time in this game feeling like I was expected to perform tasks on the basis of vague and incomplete information, and furthermore, to do so within a looming deadline. This is a kind of stress I get too much of in real life, never mind games. Towards the end, I did start to feel like I was getting a handle on things. The “HISTORY” command did help a lot, and I had a seed of a plan for keeping people away from the foul ball as per task 2. But then I consulted the in-game hint menu for a problem I had no idea how to solve (a Sox fan blocking my passage upstairs), and found that I had locked myself out of victory by failing to buy a particular novelty T-shirt before handing over my ticket. (I couldn’t go back and buy it because you’re not allowed to leave the park and re-enter. I assume this is true to life.) The kicker is that I had in fact told the game to buy it, and it had refused. I had taken this as final, but apparently you’re expected to ask twice. And that’s the point when I quit, with none of the tasks completed: three strikes, I’m out. Sports history is safe from my oddly disinterested meddling.

2 Comments so far

  1. matt w on 7 Nov 2011

    Maga compared another baseball-based game (Bonehead) to the Gostak. I thought that might amuse you.

    The seventh-inning stretch is when people sing “Take Me out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the seventh inning, between teams’ at-bats, and… yeah, I have the feeling that this would be like playing Cana according to Micah if you didn’t know, say, that Jesus’s mother was named Mary.

  2. Andrew Schultz on 16 Nov 2011

    Thanks for this thoughtful review–I recognize there were a lot of ways my game could be utterly blasted. It’s frustrating that I didn’t fix the inning/innings/7th inning stretch disambiguation fully, because I saw a bug and thought I tried the cases.

    But I came to accept quickly there are bigger problems. I know I have a lot of cluing to do, and I appreciate your mentioning where you got stuck and how and why.

    I just had a huge blind spot as to what was tough and what wasn’t. This sort of thing is helpful to me in making the game something closer to what I want it to be–not that I expect it to move the world or have a huge revival post-release, but that I’d like to Do Things Right, and I see a few things that I could’ve seen, or asked the right questions to see, about how the player viewed my game.

Leave a reply