IFComp 2008: A Date With Death

A bit of déjà vu here: like last year, the first game on my docket is an Adrift game about the Grim Reaper. Only this time he’s the antagonist. Spoilers follow the break.

[ADDENDUM: It turns out that I’m mistaken about A Fine Day for Reaping being the first game I played for last year’s comp. It was the third.]

And after griping about inadequately-tested games, what better way to start than with an inadequately-tested game? Here is a partial list of the things I would have included in my beta report if I had been a tester (and remember, this is all stuff I noticed without explicitly looking for problems):

  • Inadequate synonyms: “Armor” isn’t accepted where “armour” is. There’s a piece of “uff bark” (bark from an uff tree) that can’t be referred to as “bark”. This sort of thing seems to be endemic to Adrift, so I can’t fully blame the author here, except to the extent that he chose to use Adrift.
  • Awkwardly- or Incorrectly-used words. “Your chambers currently comprise of just a single room”. I’m not one to get excited about the difference between “comprise” and “is comprised of”, but this halfway-between approach jangles on the ear. “Portraits of your former ancestors” — what, they stopped being your ancestors at some point?
  • Insufficiently reactive NPCs: There’s a librarian who you can ask about certain topics; when talking to him, you get a varying list of obvious topics, kind of like in Lost Pig. The game’s basic “getting started” hints urge the player to ask him about things not in the list, because he knows about a lot of things. Well, I asked him about a great many things mentioned in the game and never hit on a topic he understood. It’s the classic Starship Titanic problem, I suppose: it’s easy for an author to implement responses to everything he can think of, but the author’s notion of the obvious things to ask about may not have much in common with a player’s. In addition, there is a servant who can supposedly obey commands you give him, but no matter what I told him to do, he just stood there and acted confused (which at least told me that I was getting the command syntax right).
  • Insufficient information: At one point, you’re told that “something just fell off the plant you were looking at”. OK, what? A fruit? A leaf? You can’t find out by examining the plant a second time, and “examine thing” isn’t understood. I had to “get all” to figure it out.
  • Poor handling of special cases: There’s a character who reacts to any attempt at picking things up — well, almost any attempt; I found one object that he let me pick up, and have no idea if this was a deliberate exception or a bug. At any rate, he reacts to commands like “get in bed” as if there were an “in bed” object that you were attempting to take (perhaps intending to append it to a fortune cookie message). This raises fresh doubts in my mind about Adrift. Most IF systems make it easier to override commands like this on the basis of their sense, not their text.
  • Severely broken game logic: At one point, an assassin invades the castle, and your bodyguards lock you in your personal chambers. This is the first time I had been in there without my bodyguards interfering with my actions, and with this freedom, it’s easy to get yourself killed before the assassin shows up. Minor non-plot-related deaths of this sort are temporary, and the court magicians bring you back to life in your throne room. From there, you can re-enter your personal chamber, and once you do, the door you just went through is again securely locked and the assassin is still trying to break through from the throne-room side.

I imagine the author at this point saying “But what did you think of the game’s content?”, which is about as useful a question as “But what did you think of the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” Still, let me comment about the content a little. Looking at the in-game hint menu, it seems that I’ve seen only a small part of the game. And even in the fraction I saw, there was reams and reams of text — I’ll be surprised to see a game this year with a higher prose-to-input ratio. It puzzles me a little, because it means that the author put a lot of time and effort into this game, but either didn’t think it was worth finding problems in the end product, or didn’t think it was worth fixing them.

Rating: 2 (I’m inclined to be harsher on bugs this year than last, partly because because Panks isn’t around to lower the baseline.)

1 Comment so far

  1. Merk on 18 Oct 2008

    Honestly, I didn’t read anybody else’s review of this game before writing my own, but every review I come across says something that’s pretty much exactly like I noticed (in this, the prose-to-input ratio). This says to me that a good beta tester would probably have said the same things.

    Next year, I might take up your torch of offering to test IFComp games. I just didn’t have the free time this year, for various reasons. I suppose, though, that it only works if the participants take you up on the offer.

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