IFComp 2008: Lair of the Cyber-Cow

Spoilers follow the break.

The first thing this game provides us is some annoyance with the format. The Adrift 4.0 runner — the one you need in order to run this Comp’s other Adrift game — apaprently isn’t backward-compatible with Adrift 3.9, although it does come with a tool to convert 3.9 data files to 4.0 format. This is strangely roundabout. I don’t see any Z-code terps demanding that you use a separate tool to convert your .z5 files to .z8 before running them. But this isn’t the author’s fault, except, of course, in that the author chose Adrift. I said the same thing about A Date with Death, and I expect I’ll be saying it about more Adrift games in the future.

This is a small game in the “wacky” anything-can-happen mode, and pretty shoddily put together. One of the first things I see after I get off the bus is a character called “Vluurinik”. Examining Vluurinik reveals that she’s a fairy. Okay, are fairies something I’m supposed to be expecting? Apparently the player character knows her name, but we never learn anything else about any history they might or might not have. One location, called “Chapel Yard”, has a description consisting solely of the words “Chapel Yard.” There’s a crucially important well in that location, but you only learn it exists when it’s mentioned in reaction to things you do elsewhere. Pehaps this was the result of mistake — I can easily imagine accidentally overwriting the room-description field in the Adrift authoring tool. But if so it’s the kind of mistake that anyone playing through the game would notice, and therefore not the sort of thing that should wind up in a released game. The in-game help asserts that asking characters about things is a “good source of information”, but it’s not; the only responses I ever got from any NPC were gestures of various sorts.

Input is shaky, too. There’s one bit where you have to lever up a church bell, and only one command out of a variety of imaginable synonymous works. The only way I managed to get through that part was by reading the hints. And what are we to make of this exchange?

> x packet
This is the packet you found taped to the inside of the church bell. It looks like you could unfold it.

> unfold it
(the packet)
I don’t understand what you want me to do with the packet.

> unfold packet
The packet unfolds into plans for building an invincible robot. According to this, construction is all but complete.

Adrift has a feature whereby the author can tell it to pause in the middle of printing text. I don’t mean making the game wait for the player to press a key, I mean making the player wait for a second or two, and not accepting input of any kind during that time. I’m not convinced that it’s ever actually a good idea to use this feature. But even if you think it can be used well, you have to admit that it can also be overused, and that’s definitely what happens here, especially toward the end.

The last line in the game, “It wasn’t her”, is a complete enigma. What wasn’t who? Was I supposed to understand that? Was it even printed on purpose, or was the preceding paragraph supposed to be the last thing I saw?

That’s a lot of criticism, but I still feel like there’s an OK game in here which could be salvaged with some work. I did like the absurdly over-the-top nature of the ultimate revelations in the Cyber-Cow’s inner sanctum. (Unfortunately, the game only gives you a limited number of turns in there, and it isn’t enough time to examine everything.) But it’s pretty clear that the game received no testing whatever, and the Comp has higher standards than that. It would have made a decent Speed-IF, though.

Rating: 3 (Although when I think about those forced pauses, I think I should have given it a 2.)

4 Comments so far

  1. Harry on 13 Oct 2008

    You used the Adrift 4.0 game runner, so you’re able to use the Adrift system: Was there a reason you didn’t use the Adrift 3.9 runner, which the game was native to and which was distributed with the Comp?

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 14 Oct 2008

    Just that I already had the Adrift 4.0 runner installed. And so when I double-clicked on the game, Adrift 4.0 came up and told me that I could convert it with the Generator, which I also already had installed.

    Is there a reason I should have gone to the extra trouble of downloading and installing Adrift 3.9 instead?

  3. Harry on 29 Oct 2008

    As you know, I’m constricted in what I can say until the end of the Comp. However, Stephen Granade has issued the following statement:

    LAIR of the CyberCow was written using ADRIFT 3.90, and apparently only properly runs under the Windows ADRIFT 3.90 runner. Converting it to 4.0 or using non-Runner interpreters can introduce bugs in the game.


    Stephen Granade

    (see: http://tinyurl.com/5lop5t)

    –To which I’ll add a note about using Adrift:

    The 3.9 and 4.0 file formats are not inter-compatible; unfortunately, they have the same extension (*.taf). So, clicking on a game file written in 3.9 may well cause your OS to fire up 4.0, which then won’t be able to handle the 3.9 game.

    The correct interpreter (filename “run390.exe”) is available through the Comp download package.

    Again, I regret that this is as directly as I can speak on this matter while the comp is running.

    Thank you for the review,


  4. Carl Muckenhoupt on 29 Oct 2008

    OK, I have just played through the game unsing Adrift 3.9. I find that this fixes the Chapel Yard description, but in no other way alters the experience I describe above. The weirdness with unfolding the packet can be reproduced in 3.9. The church bell is still a guess-the-verb puzzle. The inexplicable “It wasn’t her” still occurs at the end. The forced pauses are even worse than I remembered. I could add more stuff to this list if you like. (For example, trying to talk to the cow after the battle is over produces the message “The Cyber-Cow can’t talk in the heat of battle!”)

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