I’ve been playing some of the games from the 2009 IF Comp. These are text-adventure games, arty to various degrees, meant to be be judged in under two hours of play. The games can be found here. My reviews will be categorized under “IFComp.”
This is a review of Gator-ON, Friend to Wetlands! which can be found here or played online (via Java).
Good things about this game: Awesome title, which actually is borne out by the game. Some clever puzzles.
Bad things about this game: Could’ve used about a tenth the locations and ten times the descriptions. Made me swear out loud once. Fails to live up to its stated principles so violently that I suspect that the author left out a “not” in his statement of the principles.
Redeeming feature: Author wrote a transcript so I could see the ending without having to replay the whole thing after getting stuck in a dead end.
In “Gator-ON”‘s hints page the author says that “a theme to Gator-ON is that missteps, both ecological and otherwise, can often be reversed. This philosophy informs the story as well as the solution to many of its puzzles.” Except that I’m not sure this is true — we need to preserve the Everglades, because if we lose them they’re not coming back — and I couldn’t figure out any way to recover after messing up the puzzles. So I wonder if there was supposed to be a “not” in there.
For instance, the second big puzzle is that you need to find a way to follow the crow that has stolen your key. Which means putting your transmitter in your bag of corn chips and using a beacon to track him down. This was a clever puzzle. Except if you give him the corn chips (because, say, you think it might mean he’ll drop your key), there’s no way I can see to get a new bag of corn chips. Is there a vending machine somewhere I can find? I would’ve tried taking a bag of chips from the children in the parking lot, but the children weren’t even implemented.
Which reminds me: the game was obviously made out of a great love for the Everglades. So it seems weird that you can’t actually investigate any of the things in the Everglades. Why use the word “periphyton,” if you can’t x periphyton?
Also: Nice that you gave us a homing beacon in order to help us get to the hatch at the beginning. Except after the crow puzzle, we’re in the middle of the forest and the homing beacon is pointing at a transmitter in a bag of chips. That’s like, subverting the wandering around in a maze cliche and then unsubverting it in the same game.
But the worst part is the timed puzzle at the end, after the legitimately pretty awesome transformation into GATOR-ON. Timed puzzles tend to annoy me in general. Yes, realistically I don’t have time to try out everything I can think of while in the grasp of a mecha-python, but — well, I just used “realistically” and “mecha-python” in the same sentence. You can see how those don’t go together, and I think “mecha-python” is the one that should win. So I’m saying, no need to put a clock on my finding the way to defeat the python.
And there is really no need to do that if you’re going to make the solution take two moves. (Especially if one is obscure and hard to guess from the hints, which don’t give the solution.) Because if you do that, I’m already doomed the move before I die. So after I die, when I realize I must “UNDO,” I am still in an unwinnable state. And when I realize the online interpreter won’t let me take another step back to a winnable state, I will swear out loud. Then I will write something nasty about your game on my blog.
Though I will be somewhat mollified when I realize you have written a transcript, so that I can read the ending even though I can’t finish the game. After all, mecha are cool.
Actually it wouldn’t take too much to fix this game — add lots of descriptions, make the map smaller, put a vending machine somewhere you can see it so you can get another bag of chips, implement GO TO HATCH after the crow puzzle, make sure it’s clear that you opened the hood on the alligator, lose the timer or the first step of the solution, and hint or clue the last puzzle better. Then the cool parts would shine like, um, something cool that shines. Like ice on a body of water which is not in the Everglades, which don’t ice up much, I don’t think.