Saucers of Mud

October 20, 2009

IFComp: Byzantine Perspective

Filed under: IFComp — matt w @ 9:32 pm
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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 “Byzantine Perspective,” which can be downloaded here or played online here or here, if you’ve got the right plug-ins.

It comes with a nicely designed map, which you can get here (pdf file). In many games the map is a spoiler, but not in this one — it’s an in-universe object. You’re going to need it to finish the puzzle, unless you are some kind of puzzle god. Did I mention that it’s mildly irksome that the “Play online” page doesn’t tell you which games have extra files? This is one of a couple of ways in which I think the comp isn’t the friendliest for newbie players.

If you want to download these games and play them, you’ll need an interpreter. Some things about interpreters can be found here. I use Zoom for the Mac when I’m not playing online (and at least one of these games needs Zoom).

So, the consensus is that this game has one central puzzle, and that when you solve the puzzle, you’ve done what you have to do in the game. The consensus is also that the puzzle is pretty awesome. The consensus is right — except that when I solved (what I think was) the main part of the puzzle, I still couldn’t figure out what to do next, because my IF-fu is weak. But I got a nice toasty feeling about what I did solve, and felt appropriately chagrined that I hadn’t figured out the next step when I looked at the walkthrough.

Some people (I forget who) said more or less that it was a great puzzle but they couldn’t rate the game very highly because the puzzle was all there is. This seems a little shortsighted to me — the game does what it does very well, what it does is something only IF can do, and adding in a whole mess of extra story would only have distracted from the good part. Its achievement may be smaller-scale than that of say Photopia or Spider and Web, but small is beautiful. And I didn’t think many of the other games (that I’ve played) were a Photopia or a Spider and Web.

The game’s world is a bit under-described, perhaps — since the PC is an art student in a museum, she might reasonably want to drink in more prose — but too much description might have distracted from the main puzzle. (I did have one complaint related to this, which will be after the last spoiler space.) And I did get at least something of a sense of the PC’s character, communicated effectively in not many words.

The game had a couple of bugs (weird output in response to some commands), but nothing that affected gameplay. A nice game overall.

Since talking about the puzzle spoils the game more than usual, I’m putting in two spoiler-spaced sections. Reading the next one probably won’t wreck the game for you. The one after that might.
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It might seem that a game like this, which is a puzzle that you get or you don’t, can’t possibly fit in with what I said about how I like games that teach you how to play them. And to some extent that’s true. But there’s a way in which the game does teach you how to play it, as well. You start in confusion, and will stay confused for a while, but eventually you can sort your confused movements into a pattern. There’s also a bit of having learned what to do from other IF, which partly explains how I managed to need the walkthrough even after solving the main puzzle.

Also, I managed to lose the game. I think that required actual effort.
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The thing that irked me a bit was the multitool. In a game with basically three objects, one’s a red herring? Harrumph. Perhaps I should work on my red herring detector. Also, there was one point where a door handle probably should’ve been implemented and wasn’t, though if it had been I probably would’ve spent ages trying to unscrew it with the multitool and got annoyed.

[THIS ONE’S A BIG SPOILER] Unlike Jenni, I didn’t find it unconvincing that I had a pair of goggles with a button I didn’t know about. I once lived in an apartment for a whole year without figuring out how to turn down the radiator — when I was moving out I discovered that the whole top of the radiator cover flipped open, allowing me to reach the knob thingy. This was in Milwaukee, so there was pretty much an unlimited supply of cold air outside to use to adjust the temperature. You will have gathered that I wasn’t paying for heat myself. [And yes, I feel guilty about using the extra carbon. I really thought I couldn’t control the radiator. I suppose I failed to examine the right object.] Actually there’s a little buggykins here; you can’t press the button until you read the note, but you can feel the button.

[ALSO A BIG SPOILER] And unlike everyone else, I didn’t find looking up “Byzantine Perspective” helpful. I mean, that’s not actually what the goggles did, is it?

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3 Comments »

  1. Hey Matt,

    The Play Online page is just something quick I put up on the wiki, it isn’t anything official. But it is also a wiki, so feel free to add in a note about the pdf if you want.

    Also, if you come across future bugs in Parchment http://code.google.com/p/parchment/issues/list would be the best place to report them. I only thought to check Atul’s blog because of your post on Emily’s.

    Comment by Dannii — October 29, 2009 @ 7:56 am

  2. Thanks Dannii! Somehow the “It’s a wiki” thought didn’t come on for me. Now that I’m (gulp) a member of the IF community, I guess I can add those in (gulp) future years. (I should also finish writing my reviews.)

    And thanks for the tip on the bug list — I couldn’t figure out who to contact, though I guess the strategy of leaving random comments and hoping someone saw them worked out OK this time. But if I find any more I’ll report them on that site.

    Comment by matt w — October 29, 2009 @ 8:02 am

  3. […] Links go to my reviews. I’ll explain the scale below. Rover’s Day Out: 10 Resonance: 9 Byzantine Perspective: 9 The Duel in the Snow: 8 Interface: 8 The Duel that Spanned the Ages: I’ll be submitting a […]

    Pingback by IFComp Scores « Saucers of Mud — December 5, 2009 @ 11:45 am


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