IFComp 2007: The Immortal

A self-described “sci-fi mystery” by Rob Anthony. Spoilers follow the break.

Too many times now in this comp have I been through the unpleasant experience of getting stuck, consulting a walkthrough, and being so disappointed by what the walkthrough reveals that I abandon play and rate it a 3. This time, I was determined to rate the experience of playing the game without cheating, even if that meant spending the entire two hours stuck at the very beginning.

The game starts off with a perfectly useless introduction — six paragraphs of vagueness like “Dark figures retreating. Too fast, the scene evaporates. Did that really happen? Other random feelings, images and thoughts fly by like daggers in a hurricane” — then settles into an amnesia plot in a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid setting: a war-torn asteroid fortress, apparently occupied in the past by immortals with names like “Death” and “Mother Nature”, now overrun with hobgoblins. The gameplay seems to be fairly typical adventure-game stuff — a door with a combination lock here, an NPC who wants to trade one item for another there. Nothing to complain about in that regard, but nothing to write home about either. There are some visions and flashbacks, and at one point a “lost soul” started following me around.

That’s about as far as I got. I was still making new discoveries until very near the time limit, so yay for that, but they were discoveries along the lines of finding a screwdriver on a shelf (and then not having any use for it). The lost soul seemed to know the combination to that door, but I couldn’t get it from him. Every time I tried talking to him, he just demanded to know who and what he was, and then increased my score by 1. Yes, every single time. It wasn’t long before I had 12 points out of a maximum of 11 just from that.

That’s just one of the bugs. The game is positively riddled with them. Mainly they’re the sort of bug that results from failing to make responses conditional. Another example: one room has a number of sleeping hobgoblins and a bag. If you examine the bag, the hobgoblins wake up and kill you. They do this even if you take the bag to a different room first.

Just one more complaint: the text often puts commas right after prepositions. “Your footsteps echo dully off of, the ancient covered walls.” Irksome!

All that said, I agonized a bit about whether to rate this game higher or lower than the games where I had given up after consulting the walkthrough. On the one hand, it’s the buggiest game I’ve seen so far in this year’s comp. On the other hand, I didn’t see anything fundamentally wrong with it. I felt it likely that this would be a decent little game if it were cleaned up a bit. But in the end, I decided to rate the game that was delivered, not the game it could have been.

Rating: 2

After submitting my rating, I looked at the walkthrough. It turns out that you’re expected to “listen to voices” in one room where I didn’t know there were voices to be heard. As far as I can tell, the only clue to this is the text:

…The wind seems to carry words from some other time or place. The words fill your mind. You hear: “We are at war! The humans cannot help you.”

You rest at the railing for a moment and try to ponder these words…

This appears in the middle of a longish passage that you see only once. The command “listen to words” (using the noun that appears in the text three times instead of the one that doesn’t appear at all) doesn’t work, and the command “listen” misleadingly indicates that you hear “nothing of note”. I feel my rating is vindicated.

3 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 10 Oct 2007

    While I found the setting to be rather mishmash, there were hints of things I might have liked if the author’d spent some more time polishing. The writing’s rather awkward, and yeah, things like that “listen to voices” bit come completely out of the blue. There’s also at least a few death situations you can get into where the warning that your action is a bad idea comes in the same block of text as you dying. E.g., wearing the spacesuit while trying to descend ice-coated stairs.

    And for the record, you don’t enter the code yourself or learn it from the spirit. Instead, when you discover the spirit’s corpse, the spirit will automatically do the honors when needed. Totally counterintuitive.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 10 Oct 2007

    Looking at the walkthrough further, it seems that my sticking point was giving the fish bones to the wounded hobgoblin. Now, I had in fact tried this: I typed “give bones to hobgoblin”, and was told that the hobgoblin didn’t want them. It turns out you have to use the word “fish”. As far as I can tell, this is the only command where this word choice makes a difference.

    I honestly don’t know how the author managed to do that. It’s not something that comes naturally to the Inform parser.

  3. Merk on 18 Oct 2007

    Anybody else find this game similar in style and function to “On Optimism” and “A Light’s Tale?” It’s probably nothing, but somehow they *felt* like Zach Flynn’s games. Might just be me, and I doubt there’s anything to it.

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