IFComp 2008: Ananachronist

Spoilers follow the break.

This is the sort of game I really like: the sort of game with its own rules that you have to learn to think in terms of. Going back in time to an abandoned Roman encampment, I explore and find some objects but ultimately make no real progress. Switching to modern times, I find myself in a modern military base, and it isn’t long before I have one of those moments of dawning realization: the layout is identical to the Roman fort. Where the one has a stable, the other has a garage. A forge is replaced by a machine shop. There’s some kind of connection going on here, but what? This sort of thing is the main reason I play IF.

Unfortunately, it’s let down by poor implementation. Objects are movable that shouldn’t be; rooms lack descriptions; reasonable alternate syntaxes of nonstandard commands are left unimplemented; occasionally there’s an outright system error. One object has the descriptions of its past and present versions swapped. At one point I almost restarted the game because I couldn’t get off a vehicle. (Eventually I tried the verb “dismount”, which worked.) Even the connection between the eras, the heart of the game, contains some contradictions to the patterns you’re supposed to be noticing. This really breaks my heart. I really hope that the author takes the time to fix the game after the comp, because there are some really good concepts here. It hooked me enough to keep me playing for the full two hours, but toward the end I had no choice but to use the walkthrough for everything, simply because the implementation wasn’t robust enough to play normally. (The game contains a “hint” command, but it seems to always just repeat the same useless text about “exploring the relation between the three time periods a bit more”.)

One other thing: The premise is so contrived that it didn’t even occur to me that it actually meant what it said until very late in the game. You have three time-paradox-inducing items that must be destroyed; toward that end, you have a time portal that can send you to the three items’ time periods. I assumed at first that each time period would have something special to find relating to the time paradoxes — like, maybe I had to find versions of the three items on-site and destroy those, or something like that. But no, your goal is simply to smash the three objects that are given to you at the beginning of the game, and your jaunts through time simply serve to supply you with the necessary tools, such as pliers. In other words, it’s Caesar’s ladder all over again, except that this time it’s the whole point of the game rather than an incedental detail. Why can’t the time cops just keep a set of sledgehammers on hand? A word or two of technobabbly excuses would have been enough to satisfy me.

Rating: 3

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