IFComp 2020: Captivity

So, this is a perfectly decent adventure game for the most part, but I wound up docking it a couple of points at the end for its expectations of the player — and by that, I do not mean that the puzzles are too hard. We’ll get there, but first, a summary:

The story concerns a damsel in distress escaping from the clutches of an evil duke intent on “ravishing” her, who’s trapped her in a tower and bound her with an enchanted necklace, provided by his resident wizard, that will strangle her if she leaves. The first couple of rooms make it seem like it’ll be all about locked door puzzles, but once you’ve gotten into the main part of the duke’s manor, you start meeting characters — most of them terrible people in one way or another, either evil or bad at their jobs or simply annoying, but well-written comic roles. I was particularly taken with the dowager duchess, who insists that her son is a good boy and that kidnapping women is just a phase he’s going through.

The puzzles are generally fair, although some are overly picky about phrasing — I had to get hints to figure out how to use a mirror to read some mirror-writing, even though I knew perfectly well what I needed to do. Occasionally, you’ll run into a puzzle where actions have to be completed within a time limit, or in a particular order, and if you don’t do it right, the game resets the state to before it went wrong, with a statement like:

Oh, dear. You lured the cook into the pantry, but then you failed to take advantage of the fleeting opportunity to do something really important in the kitchen. As a result, you will never be able to escape the duke’s sweaty clutches. You’re doomed. Because your author is amazingly charitable, he’s going to let you try it again. We’ll rewind to the spot just before you told the cook about the rats. Ready? Here we go….

Which is fatuous, particularly in this specific case, where there’s nothing preventing the game from doing the Monkey Island thing and letting you lure the cook into the pantry multiple times. But I didn’t really think about this much until the climactic confrontation with the duke, where I was told:

Oh, dear. It seems you neglected something — something important, and it was way back at the start of your escape attempt […] Nevertheless, the author in his nearly infinite benevolence feels inclined to take pity on you. Waving his magic wand, he generously provides you with the resources you’ll need. Whether you can figure out what to do with them — well, that remains to be seen.

This puzzled me. Even after successfully escaping, I had no idea what “resources” it was talking about. At no point in the rest of the game did I seem to need anything I didn’t already have. Only after some experimentation did I figure it out. To escape the duke, you need to stab him with a pair of scissors you found earlier. At that point, you’ve been forced to drop everything, except the reticule 1Coincidentally or not, many long-time IF fans learned the word “reticule” from Infocom’s Plundered Hearts, which also involves escape from potential ravishment by an aristocrat. you’re wearing, and its contents. The reticule is initially found under the bed in the cell where you start the game, where I suppose the author thought it would be easy to miss. The thing is, though? I hadn’t missed it. I had the reticule. I just hadn’t put the scissors in it, because I had no way to anticipate that I would need them there at that moment. But the message quoted above doesn’t take this possibility into account — it expects you to not have found the reticule yet, so it can chide you for your neglectfulness. The whole situation is engineered to provide the author the satisfaction of looking down at the player, like a bad DM. And it didn’t even work. That cell is fairly bare, and you need to search it pretty thoroughly just to get out, so I suspect a lot of players are going to be in my position.

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1. Coincidentally or not, many long-time IF fans learned the word “reticule” from Infocom’s Plundered Hearts, which also involves escape from potential ravishment by an aristocrat.

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