IFComp 2007: Orevore Courier

A spaceship piece by Brian Rapp. Spoilers follow the break.

For the second time in the comp, I find myself attacked by space pirates, this time with space zombies complicating matters. You’re the sole security officer in a skeleton crew transporting a valuable alien life form in a small ship armed only with a self-destruct mechanism, and even though failure to self-destruct the moment the pirates show up constitutes dereliction of duty, your personal goal is to protect the cargo and survive. The tone is pleasingly sardonic. This is an ill-planned future. And it’s got completely unexplained zombies in it.

The chief novelty here is that you spend the whole game locked in the ship’s security station, a sort of safe room with a console that lets you monitor every area of the ship, lock and unlock doors, and a few other functions. Almost all you do in this game is push buttons on that console. I’ve seen text adventures with individual scenes like this — the ending of A Mind Forever Voyaging is probably the most familiar — but when you build an entire game around such a conceit, it reminds me mainly of certain early CD-ROM “interactive movies” like Critical Path and Night Trap. Seldom do I play a text adventure and think that it would have been improved by a graphical interface, but this is one of those few cases. After a while, I realized I could shorten the button-pressing commands to just the word on the button (“lock” instead of “press lock”), but that still means I’m pressing five real buttons for every simulated one.

The other main thing about this game is that it’s really, really hard. It’s one of those games where things keep happening whether the player does anything about it or not, and where the player is expected to play through it multiple times to get things right, each play-through being fairly short. The thing is, the timing is really tight, and there are some crucial moments when you have to grab a transient event from the security camera output in order to show it to someone in another room. These crucial moments aren’t necessarily obvious, and once they pass, they’re gone. The author has thoughtfully provided a command to tell us whether the game is still in a winnable state or not, but this mainly served to increase my apprehension about doing anything. It got so I was checking the winnability after every command. Every once in a while it would change from winnable to unwinnable and I would have no idea why.

The game has a hint system that tries to provide help for your current situation only; whenever you’re not in a hintable situation, it gives you hints on how to use the self-destruct button. Now, if you’ve been reading the rest of my comments on the comp, you know how I feel about hints. In most cases in this comp, I’ve followed hint-consultation by giving up. But by the end of this game, I was checking the hints constantly. The game just somehow gave me a steady impression that I was always on the verge of a breakthrough.

Rating: 5

[ADDENDUM] Merk’s review points out that the reason this game is so much harder than other learn-by-dying games is that, well, you don’t actually learn by dying. In most games in this vein, every failed ending gives you some notion of what you could do to avoid the same failure next time. That just doesn’t happen here.

2 Comments so far

  1. Merus on 28 Oct 2007

    For maximum enjoyment, readers of this particular post should mentally add ‘space’ before every noun.

    Comments: if you can’t say anything useful, you might as well be funny. (And if you can’t say anything funny, you might as well be spam.)

  2. DSimon on 5 May 2012

    Merus, so the opening sentence would be: A space spaceship space piece by Space Brian Rapp. Space spoilers follow the space break.

    I dunno if that’s maximum enjoyment, but any day where I’m reminded of The Space Core is a good day. Luckily, that’s most every day. Spaaaaaaaaaceeee!

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