IFComp 2019: For the Moon Never Beams

It’s 1993. You’re driving your girlfriend, Kelly Peterson, to the high school prom. There’s nostalgia-bait scene-setting and mention of corsages and class rings. Then she starts turning into a werewolf. What do you do?

That’s kind of the big question of this game. It’s not always entirely clear about what the player’s goals should be. Your first task is obviously to stop the car in the middle of nowhere and get yourself out of harm’s way before the transformation is complete, but after that, you’re mostly left to your own devices. There’s some guidance to the little things, sure. When you find a book that describes how werewolves are attracted to the scent of blood, for example, it’s obviously giving you a hint about what your options are. But it doesn’t help you understand where you want to attract the werewolf to, or why.

To be fair, that’s pretty much the puzzle. This is the sort of simulationy parser-based work that just throws you into a situation and expects you to come up with a plan of action on your own. Maybe I’m just spoiled lately by all the Comp’s choice-driven games where your options are few and handed to you directly, though, but I feel like the author overestimated how easy their intentions were to interpret and how much the player’s thought processes would follow theirs. The in-game hint menu is well-thought-out, which is a really good thing, given how often I needed to consult it.

Compounding this, this is a game with an active world, rather than a purely reactive one. Things happen while your attention is elsewhere. That’s not a bad thing, but the result here is fiddly time limits, along with frequent deaths. When you fail, you’re never quite sure if it’s because you didn’t do the right thing or just didn’t do it fast enough.

Other than that, it’s a nice little teen-wolfish camp monster-genre story with good descriptive prose, and if needing to ask for hints doesn’t bother you, it’s recommendable. I haven’t been talking about the cover art included with the Comp games, but I find it notable here: it’s plainly imitative of the old Infocom boxes with the grey stripes. (The cover even identifies it as “Standard Level”, which I dispute.) I tend to frown a little on Infocom nostalgia these days, as it seems like a way to ignore everything else that’s gone on in the IF world for the last thirty years, but this time, it seems a little appropriate, since the game itself is something of a nostalgia piece, with its high-school memories and it box full of cassette tapes of period bands. Infocom packaging is thus not primarily in service of worshipping Infocom, but merely one of the ways it evokes an era. Except it’s a bit off for that, isn’t it? 1993 is after the Infocom era; in fact, it’s the year Inform was first released.

1 Comment so far

  1. malkav11 on 8 Nov 2019

    It’s true that it’s a bit after when Infocom was actually making games and releasing them in that sort of packaging, but I imagine the gray boxes were still knocking around in thrift shops and used game sections, and I for one first encountered Infocom’s stuff around then or maybe a little later. (Zork, running on an old greenscreen PC.)

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