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In-jokes and Easter eggs, December 26, 2023
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).
I Don't Feel Doomed, December 22, 2023
Interactive fiction, we’re told, can be conceptualized as a crossword at war with a narrative (this obviously isn’t true for much, if not most, contemporary IF, but please just go with it). All Hands Abandon Ship is what happens when they’re enmeshed in a three-front war with an all-encompassing pile of Easter eggs and pop-culture references, and actually neither of them are putting up much of a fight.
This sounds like I’m saying the game is bad. It isn’t bad! Mind, it’s not great, either: the escape-the-doomed-spaceship premise isn’t just old enough to drink, it’s got a Facebook account it uses to post photos of the grandkids and share awkward grumbling about foreigners; the implementation is pretty thin, with lots of generic descriptions and unimplemented synonyms; and there are no characters or much in the way of environmental storytelling to liven things up. But there are attractive feelies with a cool map of the ship, there’s a pretty solid amount of geography to explore, and I didn’t notice any bugs. So it’s got solid enough bones for a low-narrative sci-fi puzzlefest.
The trouble is, there aren’t really any puzzles. Okay, I guess there’s an overall time limit that counts, but since that just makes escape impossible (after 100 turns, you drift beyond a black hole’s event horizon so life pods can’t get out) and you can continue running around the ship exploring, all that means in practice is that you’ll run out of your time on your first go-through, figure out how to win, then type RESTART to do so. Outside of the countdown, though, all you need to do is (Spoiler - click to show)wriggle down a dumbwaiter, which doesn’t require any commands more exotic than ENTER DUMBWAITER and D, then get an electrical system working again by the simple expedient of (Spoiler - click to show)OPENING a panel and then TURNING ON a circuit breaker. I spoiler-blocked the details to be polite, but trust me, this is stuff that anyone with even minimal experience with parser games would do in their sleep. In fairness, there is one alternate path to victory that involves a tiny bit of problem solving, but this is marred by some guess the verb issues (Spoiler - click to show)(you need to put a yoga mat on some live wires to provide insulation, but various iterations of PUT MAT ON CABLES fail; only DROP MAT works) so I think best not to count it.
This isn’t to say that there’s nothing to do, though, since the game actually has a reasonable amount of things to mess around with and places to explore. Some of these include some reasonable jokes – when you’re told, of an unremarkable head, that “[y]ou wouldn’t be at all surprised to see its design aesthetic featured on the front cover of Brutalist Architecture Monthly” it’s inevitable but still entertaining that you’ll eventually come across an issue of just such a magazine. And there are lots of little optional interactions, like microwaving various inappropriate foodstuffs or getting a physical from the holographic doctor.
But mainly what you do is notice references. Past a certain point, my notes just became a litany of all the in-jokes I’d seen – there’s a strong 80s/90s pop-culture angle here, since I came across a Soundgarden CD, a Presidents of the United States lyric, a Scarface reference, and of course a couple from Aliens. But lest you think there’s a consistent retro pre-millennium revival across the futuristic society, there are also prominent mentions of the Doors and the Great Gatsby.
Look, I know I sound like a scold. And I can’t lie, it is a fun idea to have a holodoc that goes by T.J. Eckleburg. But, like, what am I, as a player, to do with that idea? The doctor doesn’t have any dialogue, I don’t think, beyond “open up and say ahh” (I thought he was an optician, not an ENT); he doesn’t have a fascination with the book, or provide a thematically similar role by witnessing and judging the player’s activities. Like all the other references, it’s an empty signifier, there to provide a frisson of recognition and that’s it. This sort of thing can be entertaining in moderation, as a break from more engaging business, but again, the game doesn’t have a story to speak of and lacks much in the way of challenge. To risk a culinary metaphor, the author phoned in the entrees and spent all their time on the side dishes instead – but actually, the side dishes are junk food, conveying an instant pop of flavor but containing no nutrition – so go figure, I didn’t leave especially satisfied.
Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review
Part 3 of the “Here There Be Poopdecks” sub-series, this one on a spaceship. This is a light ‘escape the doomed ship on a timer’ joint. The playful tone of the thing is its dominant feature, and who doesn’t like that? From object descriptions, to the increasingly sassy emergency voice, to the voluminous easter eggs you are encouraged to meet the game on its own feather-light terms. Even the puzzle play is pretty unadorned, ‘get X, goto room Y, use X.’ This is not a terrible choice, it ensures the focus is on the playful miscellany, not just the [orchestral sting]MAIN PLOT[/orchestral sting].
A game with the lightness of a feather its going to succeed on how well it can tickle you. Don’t pretend you don’t see what I did there, I know you saw it. And boy did I try to meet the game on its own terms. I tried all the things, I snarked back to the overhead voice, I did Star Trek stuff in rooms that begged it. I also solved the main puzzle and speed ran it. I read the accompanying feelie (which, awesome production value) and tried a lot of the recommended things.
I really went above and beyond to embrace the work’s spirit, if I say so myself. And I came away thinking ‘Maybe this is TOO light?’ It doesn’t help that there are some common implementation issues - unimplemented nouns, overtight verb space, at one point asking for disambiguation between ‘south’ and starboard’? Recommended Easter egg commands that didn’t work ((Spoiler - click to show)>TAP ON GLASS), though later did without clear reason why. A dumbwaiter that was clumsy to navigate. To the game’s credit the light tone did a lot to minimize the impact of these artifacts.
I think where I most wanted more was the Easter eggs themselves. You can do a wide variety of silly things as you amble your way to rescue, but the most common response to doing them is “Yup, you’ve done it!” Ok, but maybe goof with me a little about it? Like, even the most tepid attempt at joke would work, I’m not holding a high bar here, just something more than 'Dunnit!" In the end, I felt like I was doing more work than the game to keep things fun and that kinda lost me.
I will say, there was a vertiginous moment when I thought the game was talking to me directly. (Spoiler - click to show)Jumping into space unprepared led to a death message: “You’ve been sucked out into space. This does not spark joy.” For a mad moment I thought it was talking directly to me and my scoring criteria. That’s how big MY ego is. It was clearly referencing Marie Kondo though, another deflation for me.
Sparks of Joy (MINE, not Kondo’s) and Notable Intrusiveness in implementation, and yearning for just a little more playfulness to realize its goals. That’s where we land. I did get a soft chuckle at “USS Icarus.” I mean, second only to “New, More Unsinkable Titanic” in hubristic boat names.
Playtime: 1hr, escaped once, died once, stranded twice
Artistic/Technical ratings: Sparks of Joy, Notably Intrusive
Would Play After Comp?: No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
- Egas, December 2, 2023
1 people found the following review helpful:
Escap a crashing starship, November 22, 2023
This was another game of interest, as one of the last things I’m programming in my game is a similar scenario to this: trying to flee a ship that is being destroyed and trying to make it to an escape pod. It was interesting to look at this and try to see what worked for me and what didn’t.
This is a timed game, with approximately 100 turns. I found that time ran out pretty quickly for me; I had explored about half of the ship when I first found out the game had ended.
That time is marked by frequent messages from the ship’s computer. The messages start normal but become more and more unusual. I found that for my tastes it was a bit too frequent and intense; I felt like I barely had time to do anything before it was pushing me to go and run and do.
The layout is large enough and the puzzles complex enough that it felt weighty and had that feel of ‘don’t know if I can do this’ before the puzzles were solved and ‘ahh so that’s how it is’ after. There was clear competency in coding; I didn’t encounter problems where puzzles malfunctioned or interactions were misleading. However, there was somewhat of a deficit in polish; many objects are undescribed, and the game could have had more scenery items implemented. A particularly rough example was the holographic doctor, who had no description and didn’t reply to TALK TO or ASK DOCTOR ABOUT DOCTOR or stuff like that.
But the manual was really cool, as was the multiple paths, and it gave me some ideas. The overall craftmanship was high, I think I had different expectations from the author. So I definitely think if the author did another game, I’d expect it to be really good.
- Edo, November 6, 2023
- jaclynhyde, November 1, 2023
- Jade68, October 11, 2023
- Zape, October 5, 2023
2 people found the following review helpful:
Funny, simple puzzler, October 1, 2023
This is a simple puzzler in the classic fashion. You are a crew member of a space ship. While you are sitting on the toilet an emergency strikes (doesn't that always happen!). You have to figure out a way to abandon ship, but there are a lot of things broken that you might have to fix first.
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That's pretty much it, a simple, straight-forward puzzler. You are playing against the clock, so it might require multiple playthroughs to beat the game, learning from the failed playthroughs (much like how I found Zork to be). In the end (Spoiler - click to show)the solution is pretty simple, you just have to know the correct order of operations.
Honestly, the game/puzzle part of this is nothing to write home about, but what I appreciated was everything else that the game was wrapped in. The humor and pop culture refences in the game made me laugh out loud several times. The game's code was very robust and allowed you to do a number of things that didn't matter to solving the main puzzle (sidequests and easter eggs if you will). I also appreciated the author's attempt at making feelies to go with the game (which can be accessed on the game's website) as well as the very polished hints and walkthrough document.
I hope to see more from this author in the future.