Escape from Ice Station Hippo

by Jason McWright profile

Science Fiction

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Makes interactive NPCs look easy, January 24, 2013
by strivenword (Utica, New York)

Although partly intended as a coding exercise, this game revolves around a central mechanic and a central puzzle that are very natural to the parser-IF format. As such, the game is short, fairly easy (and has a hint system), and fun.

Gameplay is about making an NPC do things for you. This is something that has always been part of the parser-IF design philosophy but rarely sees the light of day in published works, probably because it is difficult to program. The simple "PERSON, DO WHATEVER" structure is built-in to most of the IF systems, but that structure is almost an anachronism in many games.

"Escape from Ice Station Hippo" makes this too-neglected mechanic natural and intuitive. You can give the NPC a general goal, and the NPC will revert to its previous goal after following the order. Like many games, "Escape from Ice Station Hippo" sort of cheats with the NPC interaction as a whole by making the NPC something that wouldn't do much besides what it needs to do for the limited purposes of the story and design. There were some actions that I thought the NPC should reasonably respond to given the setting, but the verbs I tried were unimplemented. Still, the experience of interacting with that NPC is almost completely seamless.

The player character is interesting and relatable. The story is about professional people acting very unprofessionally in a bad environment. The setting of a professional crew working in an isolated scientific setting made me think of Start Trek, but really the story is almost an anti-Star Trek in theme. The technology turns out to be old and crappy. Instead of strange new worlds, there's a cold barren wasteland. Instead of getting along and using their specialities to solve complicated problems, the crew members can barely tolerate each other.

The ending text seems to carry a well-portrayed theme about delusions of grandeur. The fact that this code example presents interesting portrayals of characters (although largely off-stage) and setting, and that it can be seen as having theme, proves that it deserves to be taken seriously as an interactive fiction.