IFComp 2011: Escape from Santaland

Well, the Comp is over, and the results have just been posted over at ifcomp.org. But I still have one more review to belatedly write. And even though the Comp rules no longer require me to put my spoilers after a break, I might as well maintain consistency here.

Escape from Santaland is a nice tight little puzzle environment — the sort of place where everything is related in some way to an implausible mechanism for unlocking a door. The artificiality makes me think of Hollywood Hijinx, but the premise is more like Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina: you’re at the mall, having finished some last-minute Christmas shopping, but your coat, and the car keys it contains, are stolen by a laid-off elf, who stashes it in a hidden chamber underneath the throne where kids get their picture taken with Santa. (It’s the off-hours, though, so the entire thing is deserted.) It should be noted that the protagonist acknowledges that poking around in forbidden places like the employee break room probably isn’t the wisest or most efficient way around his predicament, but there’s something of a “I’ve come this far and I’ll be damned if I give up now” element to his quest.

There’s a lot to like here. The prose is lightly comic, the implementation pretty thorough, and the theme pervasive: pretty much all of the puzzle elements relate to the Christmas in some way, if at times superficially. I particularly liked the reindeer — some mall employee thought it would be a good idea to have a real reindeer at the site. It’s portrayed as an ill-tempered brute, capable of moving about independently but normally with little reason to do so (it knows where its food is). It’s also worth noting that you start the game with an inventory full of newly-bought gifts — a scented candle, a Hickory Farms cheese-and-sausage assortment, an expensive flashlight — and that they all wind up being used in puzzles. Somehow, their usefulness seemed like a special insight whenever it occurred to me. It’s like how in an adventure game about searching for treasures, a treasure that’s also a useful tool always seems like a clever trick. The only difference is that you’re not searching for the treasures here; you have them from the very beginning.

The game’s central puzzle involves three dials, found in different locations, that together form a combination lock. Each dial has only nine settings, and once you know the settings for two of them, it’s a simple matter to twirl the third one around until it clicks. It even seems like the author went out of his way to make this easy: you operate the dials by advancing them one setting at a time instead of by specifying a setting, so you can just enter the same command repeatedly, and you get a message informing you of the effects when you get it right, rather than having to go back to the throne room and try the door to see if it’s unlocked. But when you brute-force the solution, the game politely reminds you that you’re missing out on the fun of getting it the right way. And when I hit this point, I agreed, and undid the last turn. Anyway, I’m kind of impressed that the author took this possibility into account, and chose this way to handle it, rather than something more draconian.

No Comments

Leave a reply