IFComp 2007: My Mind’s Mishmash

A work by veteran author Robert Street. Spoilers follow the break.

This one starts with the intriguing chapter heading “EPISODE 5: The Final Battle”. You’re playing the role of a teenage psychic mecha pilot fighting aliens, but it turns out that the “you” who’s playing that role is the player character, not the player. It’s a two-layered narrative: the story of the war is told within the story of playing it as a VR simulation. That’s pretty cool.

Episode 5 really is the end of the inner story, but circumstances immediately force the PC back into the beginning of Episode 1, this time without a role to play. Your goal is to get back out the exit in Episode 5 without losing your avatar, but the nodes connecting episodes go both ways, so there’s effectively a time travel element. You have an item, a “ghost cap”, that renders you invisible and intangible when worn (but not capable of walking through walls). Without it, any NPC who sees you will have you arrested as an intruder, but with it, you can’t pick up or manipulate items. Since the player needs to toggle the cap frequently, it’s given a couple of custom verbs (“wc” and “rc”, for “wear cap” and “remove cap”). These are all really good ideas!

So let me describe now my experience of the game. I played through the prologue described above, then had some difficulty figuring out how to get on a conveyor belt — I never did figure out the correct phrasing, but discovered a bug that let me get past anyway 1Instead of just “e”, type “go e” — then explored a ring of rooms, figured out more or less what I had to do in what sequence, but was missing one crucial item, something to provide “computing power” for a prototype psychic listening device I had picked up. I was stuck for a full hour, and the built-in hints didn’t provide enough information to help me. I eventually consulted the walkthrough and found that I had missed a door. There are a bunch of doors scattered around; some of them can be opened, some cannot. I honestly thought I had tried them all, but apparently I had tried all but one. I can’t fully blame the game for this one.

So, at this point I was about an hour and twenty minutes into the judging period and hadn’t gotten out of Episode 1. The next bit was something that I was pretty sure I had to do, but didn’t know what the effect would be: listening in on those psychic teenagers, who were all in one room playing videogames and presumably chatting telepathically. I knew I had to get them out of the room they were in somehow, and hoped that their thoughts would give me a clue. In fact, they just spontaneously leave the room right after you listen in on them, a bit of Sierraesque nonsense causality. I quickly made it to Episode 2 and immediately got stuck again. I managed to pick up some more equipment by going back to Episode 1, but didn’t figure out how to usefully apply it.

So, all in all, even though I like a lot of the ideas here, I can’t really say I really enjoyed the experience all that much. There really seemed to be a substantial story going on, but I only got the barest glipmse of it. Maybe my experience here is atypical, but then, that’s the point of having the comp judged by popular vote.

Rating: 5

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1. Instead of just “e”, type “go e”

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