IFComp 2007: Across the Stars

Next we have a spaceship piece by “Dark Star” and Peter Mattsson. Spoilers follow the break.

The first thing you’re likely to notice about this game is the auxiliary material. There’s a bunch of it: the player character’s diary, an ID badge which you can print out and fold up and wear if you’re so inclined, a couple of desktop wallpaper images, an Infocom-style sample transcript, and more. Now, my personal feeling about this stuff is that it’s part of the documentation, not part of the game, and in the comp, I’m rating the game, not the documentation. (This is also part of my reluctance to use walkthroughs.) But the fact that it’s there is a good sign. It shows that (unlike in some games) the authors weren’t scrambling to get this finished just before the comp deadline. The game bears this out; it’s pretty solidly crafted.

Like the feelies, the game itself seems very Infocom-influenced. I suppose that’s a somewhat vacuous thing to say about a text adventure; the whole form, for all its innovation in the last two decades, owes many of its basics to Infocom (including the Z-code format itself). But some works try to emulate the Infocom style more than others. Usually they go for Zorkian jokey-fantasy when they do this. This game, however, is a descendant of Planetfall, with its stranded-spaceship-crewman storyline, but in its own style, with less gratuitous humor and robots and more space pirates and forgotten mystical artifacts. In fact, the game is pretty much divided into two chapters: one set on a spaceship which has been captured by pirates, and one after your escape from the pirates, involving a derelict temple on a desert planet. In my two-hour judging period, I just got far enough for the temple section to really start opening up, and I was enjoying it enough to keep playing after submitting my rating instead of proceeding to the next game. It’s a nice one.

One small innovation I appreciated: the “think” command. This provides a nudge in the right direction — not a hint to solving puzzles, but rather, a reminder of what your main goal is supposed to be at the current point in the story. It strikes me that I’ve seen this done in a lot of action games and CRPGs, usually in a menu option called “objectives” or “quests”, but seldom in IF. I’d like to see this in IF more. Arguably, it could make things worse by becoming a crutch, a substitute for giving the player real motivation. But frankly, some of the works in this comp could benefit from such a crutch.

Rating: 7

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