IFComp 2012: J’dal

Spoilers follow the break.

It takes a little while to get the measure of this world. The first thing we learn is that the player character, J’dal, is black. This is followed shortly by finding out that she’s female and an orphan (with a foster father who’s a major character), and that, although the game is set in a different world or an unknown age, all these things are at least as stigmatized and disrespected as in ours. None of this really makes a lot of difference to what happens the story that follows, except in that it informs how the NPCs act towards you over the course of it.

After a character-establishing tavern scene, the game turns into what you could call a dungeon crawl, but that usually means something inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, and this story feels more it was inspired by the things that D&D itself was inspired by: the writings of Jack Vance and his ilk. Adventurers are bastards, magic is forgotten technology, and any artifact that’s abandoned in a cave is there because someone more sensible than you understood how dangerous it is. The cave itself is small by adventure game standards and devoid of contrived obstacles — the only deliberate attempt at keeping people out seems to be a padlocked gate, which can be overcome through brute force. But it’s pitch dark in there, and that’s the reason J’dal is on the expedition. For some reason, she has incredible Riddick-like night vision.

As such, the whole party is entirely reliant on her. In a very literal sense, she’s the leader: she leads the others through the darkness, and sometimes even tells them what to do. And of course, as the player character, she comes up with all the clever ideas. But so far from garnering her respect, this all seems to just make the others more eager to put her in her place, to make sure that she can’t rise above them. It’s not a happy tale. Even your triumph in the end is just a matter of fixing what everyone else has managed to screw up. In short, although the story is fairly cliché, it’s got some interesting stuff going on just underneath it.

As a game, it’s pretty linear. In the beginning it suggests the commands that will advance the story by highlighting them in the output text (a technique I’ve seen in a few other games lately). It drops this after a while, but still remains pretty narrow about what it wants you to do, in ways that got me temporarily stuck more than once. On an occasion or two, I entered commands that produced no response at all. This seems to be a problem endemic to Inform 7, probably resulting from authors providing action rules that handle specific cases without ever covering the general, or something like that.

1 Comment so far

  1. matt w on 15 Nov 2012

    I’ve seen it suggested that the reason J’dal is black and has incredible night vision is that she’s really a drow.

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