Reviews by Felix Larsson
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The author of Snack Time! puts herself under Speed IF restrictions (“I’ve got three hours to write a game about … an olympic medalist, a public bath and a skunk), and this is the result. Like most any Speed IF the result is, I suppose, a trifle; but this one is a pleasurable trifle to while away a few minutes.
You play a former olympic medalist, now swimming instructor, who has to get a skunk out of the pool. Removing the skunk is the one puzzle of the game. I guess it will not present many difficulties even to an absolute beginner. But the writing is pleasing, the skunk is cute, there are footnotes to the text (and I love footnotes), and there’s even a certain amount of psychological development on the part of the protagonist who comes to grips with certain aspects of her olympic past.
Why! There was another kind of maze to be had after all!
Here you play the role of an art student gone burglar, eyes set on that gem-studded Byzantine chalice in the museum. The main puzzle of this clever little game consists in figuring out how the maze is constructed (and how to familiarize yourself with the things you carry); after that, gameplay is very straightforward and the mission soon completed.
It’s definitely not a game to try unless you are reasonably familiar with IF conventions, though.
(If you want to prolong the fun or just more of a challenge, I suggest you try make do WITHOUT the map feelie provided by the author.)
This is IF in a surreal setting, as such it exploits the lack of logical and natural constraints typical of dreams: the geography of the fictional world does not respect natural laws; NPCs act irreducibly strange etc.
At his website Barker tells us that «Chaos was meant to be a descriptive and unsettling work». And at times he does succeed in being unsettling in just the surreal way intended, especially, I think, if you happen up in “the Infinite”, which soon becomes full of surreally sinister things.
The characterization of the piece as a ‘descriptive work’ is correct (and the writing, by the way, is quite able) and this, I think, puts the finger on it’s weak spot, viz. the lack of plot. The work is descriptive rather than narrative; actually it’s a nearly plotless puzzle piece. The problem is that the PC never is presented with much in the way of motive for acting at all: no treasure hunt, no monsters to defeat, no mystery to solve. You’re sent out to find food for a starving vulture; but I’m not sure if you do it out of pity or out of fear of being eaten by the bird. In the end, I felt I was doing it simply because there seemed to be very little else to do in that game world.
Barker, at the web site, tells us his piece was influenced by filmmakers working in a surreal vein. Perhaps the kind of surreal sequences of events that work well on the screen simply won’t work in interactive fiction. As a reader of IF it’s (of course) simply not possible to sit back and observe the series of events as they unfold; you have to take active part in it and influence it, or nothing will happen at all. But to do that in any interesting way, you’re pretty much bound both to have an in-fiction purpose to guide you—the kind of purpose that can, perhaps, not be had without a storyline. Again, I think, it’s the lack of plot that seriously marrs Chaos as interactive fiction.
The surrealism of it all even means that you can’t be perfectly sure that things that seem to be puzzles really are. And at the same time the plotlessness makes it hard to know whether you are making any real progress through the game or not. The scoring system didn’t help me much either. What does a negative score mean in this game’s context? That the game is now in an unwinnable state? Or that I am farther from completing it now than when I began?
Besides, the work has its fair share of bugs, underimplementations, inconsistent descriptions and technical flaws that could surely have been avoided with some beta-testing. That said, however, there were also some nice, unexpected details here and there.
There’s a really original idea behind this puzzle piece: you go around transforming things by taking a letter away from its name or by adding one to it. As soon as its name is changed, the thing itself is transformed accordingly: for (non-spoiler) example, if from the hillside you see the imperial fleet approaching, you can take the ‘l’ from it, and instead you will see the imperial feet approaching; you now have an ‘l’, which you can add to the man eating grue that you’re faced with inside the cave, and all of a sudden it’s a man eating gruel you’re faced with in that cave. The puzzles in the game are all of this kind.
The idea, I think, is really great; regrettably, the game doesn’t quite match it. Not that it lacks ‘good-making characteristics’ even apart from the fresh puzzle mechanics: at the bottom of the screen is a nice running commentary to the events of the game in the form of the PC’s silent thoughts (often funny, sometimes helpfully giving hints); it starts with an excellent interactive in-game training sessions that accustoms the player both to its novel kind of puzzles and to the continuing need to talk to NPC:s (when you’re not transforming things, you’re talking to NPC:s. You should do a lot of talking to most anything and keep talking to it till you don’t get any new answers); also, the author manages to make all of these many and extended (linear) dialogues with NPC:s entertaining. However, I still didn’t find the game as a whole as appealing as many of its details.
Obviously, a game built around this kind of puzzles will only work in a very fantastical setting. The problem is that Earl Grey often passes the border from the fantastical into the arbitrary. And this is true in regard to puzzles as well as storyline.
All too often the solutions to puzzles are arbitrary: there simply exists no reason whatsoever to expect certain transformations to solve the problem at hand. Still you perform those transformations—merely because they are possible but without the slightest clue as to why they should be of any help at all—and POOF! you’re told that the transformed objects work some magic that happens to take care of the PC’s present problems.
The story, too, takes a lot of arbitrary turns and unmotivated twists that, as player, you can’t avoid, try as you might. Indeed, in the linear parts of the game even the PC takes actions that not only appears arbitrary and unmotivated at the time but also seem at odds with what he does, thinks, and feels at other times. (Spoiler - click to show)To begin with you’re very flattered to have been invited to a certain monk’s tea garden party and he gives you your magic powers of transformation in order for you to collect varieties of tea down in the village. Then for no reason at all the PC uses these powers to ruin the monk’s precious garden. The monk gets mad and wreaks havoc upon the poor village, then disappears. Now the PC decides to save the village, but, after quite a halfhearted attempt at that, you set off after the monk instead. Before you catch up with the monk, you happen upon an impoverished prince whom you promise to restore to his throne; and when you do find the monk, all wrongs are forgotten and the two of you are readily reconciled. Now, all you have to do is put the rightful king on his throne, then go save the villagers … perhaps.
To me at least the virtues of the game didn’t quite make up for the lack of direction in the story and the lack of foreseeability in the solution of puzzles.
So you thought you were in for a cave crawl? Actually, it is more like a quiz show, only set in a Steve Jacksonesque fantasy dungeon and presented by a mysterious Guardian of the Goblet.
You wander through a series of rooms, each containing a puzzle. By solving the current puzzle you gain entrance to the next room. In the last room looms the Goblet of your dreams.
The puzzles are varied in character, difficulty, and fairness, but none strikes me as really ingenious; and presented ‘raw’ like this, out of any particular narrative context and without any other in-game motivation, they fail to hold my interest.
The world, sparsely furnished as it is, is only minimally implemented: if, say, the heavy treasure chest in the middle of the room is not needed to solve the puzzle of that room, then, try as you might to open it, “you can’t see any such thing”.
This is most certainly not a game to put in the hands or computers of anyone new to IF.
(And the ending! Is that the sound of the author laughing at me?)
‘Objectively’ the game is nothing but a series of easy puzzles set in a silly nonsense environment: you play a beta tester of a virtual reality world called “the Toybox”.
The whole thing lives solely (and well) off it sense of humour and its central gimmick, viz. the long—sometimes very long—and funny descriptions of items and certain actions (spoon)fed to you by your hitting any key after having read so far. This allows a kind of timing of jokes and punchlines that the author uses to very good effect.
However—there’s a first and a second part to this game. The first part is great fun (if you like silly fun) thanks to the witty writing. After solving the 1st puzzle though, things become more buggy and less implemented. Actually, the game seems simply unfinished—at least in the version entered in IF Comp ’09. Suffice it to say that I really do look forward to a final version where Game Dame Hellaine and her Fun&Games-room is anything like implemented and where I can’t put Jorry the famous stand-up comedian in my backpack.
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