IFComp 2012: Andromeda Apocalypse

Marco Innocenti gives us a followup to last year’s Andromeda Awakening. Spoilers follow the break.

Andromeda Awakening, you may recall, told the story of one man’s efforts to survive the cataclysms wracking the planet Monarch, capital of the human colonies in Andromeda. I personally didn’t get very far in it, as I found the game’s puzzle content obtuse enough to make me give up, but Andromeda Apocalypse provides a recap of what I missed: the complete destruction of the planet, with the player character as the only survivor, fleeing in a small alien spacecraft. In the beginning of the present game, this collides with a much larger vessel, giving us a puzzle basis along the lines of Starcross and its ilk: exploring what’s effectively a ghost ship, repairing its systems and learning to make them work for you, and discovering its backstory.

Now, this story is a pretty major break from the previous one, which was set on the protagonist’s home planet. He had an emotional connection to that environment, and you got to watch him see it all crumble in front of him. But he has no more emotional connection to the ghost ship than the player does. It would be easy for the plot to turn into mere monkeying with machines, but the author has other ideas, and implements those ideas by sticking in occasional flashbacks to the old days back on Monarch before the first game. But these flashbacks basically provide nothing to do but type “talk to <NPC>” repeatedly until the game runs out of canned conversation and puts you back into the present. To my mind, this just heightens the disconnection to what you’re actually doing in the game. But that’s a pretty high-level complaint; the fact that this is the sort of thing I find to object to is a mark in the game’s favor.

Stronger connections to Monarch are found when you reactivate the ship’s computers and can question the AI about the ship’s history, and I feel like this part works better, involving as it does both your past situation and your present one simultaneously. The same AI provides a great deal of guidance for the rest of the game about what you’re supposed to be trying to accomplish. Perhaps Innocenti is compensating here for the problems people had with the previous game. I certainly find it an improvement, even if it does feel a little like being led by the nose sometimes.

I can’t say it’s a perfect experience. Sometimes the prose is a little weird. I managed to lock myself out of victory early in the game, and only discovered this towards the end. But of all the games I’ve played for the Comp so far, this is the one that feels fullest, the most like it’s a complete game and a complete story. I mean, it’s definitely just one chapter in an ongoing story, but at least it takes the time to develop that chapter as much as it needs to.

One point of curiosity: Achievements. This game keeps an Achievements list. Which is to say, it keeps a list of significant actions (some of them optional) performed in the current session, which is something that a lot of Inform games do. But usually this list is accessible via the “FULL SCORE” command, and here it is instead conceived as Achievements. Because why cling to traditional IF terminology when you’re writing for a wider world? Something to think about.

5 Comments so far

  1. matt w on 15 Oct 2012

    . I managed to lock myself out of victory early in the game, and only discovered this towards the end.

    What did you do, rot13ed? I can’t think of an obvious way, though maybe there’s a place where you can drop a crucial item.

    About the achievements, it’s not always exactly the same as Full Score, because (so I hear) at least some of the achievements are only attainable by dying.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 19 Oct 2012

    As you request:

    V yrg gur vaivfvoyr xvyyre bhg bs vgf pntr. Lrf, lbh pna qb guvf naq yvir, cebivqrq lbh yrnir gur ebbz vzzrqvngryl.

    Speaking of which, failing to survive that produces one of the Achievements from dying you mention. So I know what I’m talking about when I say that it doesn’t stay in your Achievement list when you undo your death. This is one of the few points where I’d expect a proper Achievement system to behave differently from Full Score, and it behaves more like Full Score.

  3. matt w on 19 Oct 2012

    Hmm, my guess is that the resulting unwinnability is a bug. There was definitely a bug or two in the version I played — at one point I was wandering around erzbivat gur plyvaqre sebz gur cbjre trarengbe naq chggvat vg onpx va, which led to some goofy messages in which a certain device was said to be off, but switching it on yielded the message that it was on, though this turned out not to change anything. And the other bug was that the hint system had completely run out of things to tell me there (though it turned out that all I needed to do was revisit a certain location after tripping a plot trigger).

    I think that undoing reverses the whole game state (unless you engage in some deep trickery), so the Achievement won’t stay on your list unless it’s kept track of in an external file rather than in the game state. And I, er, suspect that the author just didn’t have time to program in the external file business. So it might aspire to be a little more Acheivement-y.

  4. Emily Short on 31 Oct 2012

    I don’t think the game is actually unwinnable at that point, though the hint system doesn’t tell you the alternate answer. rira vs lbh’ir ybfg gur vaivfvoyr xvyyre, lbh pna nyfb trg evq bs gur gbbgul zbafgre ol yhevat vg gb whzc npebff gur yrqtr-tnc nsgre lbh. vs lbh’ir uvg gur gbhpucnq va gvzr, vg zvffrf gur whzc naq qvrf, pyrnevat lbhe jnl onpx gb gur jntbaf

  5. matt w on 3 Nov 2012

    Oh wait, the thing that Emily says is totally the thing that I did. What’s the vaivfvoyr xvyyre?

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