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4th Place overall; 2nd Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 10th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2004)
Winner, Best NPCs; Winner, Best Individual PC - 2004 XYZZY Awards
>INVENTORY - Paul O'Brian writes about interactive fiction
Assuming that "Jason Devlin" isn't a pseudonym for an experienced author, we have a very satisfactory debut on our hands. Sting Of The Wasp brings one of the year's nastier PCs in the person of wealthy socialite Julia Hawthorne. In the grand tradition of Primo Varicella, Julia is a vain, preening snob who looks with utter disdain at almost everything around her, including the country club in which the game is set...
SOTW is one of those games that let you gleefully and maliciously wreak havoc on a wide variety of places and characters, all in the service of advancing a thoroughly rotten character. As I said, the most prominent example of this sort of game is Varicella, but this game is Varicella played purely for laughs -- very few darker undertones burden the spree of unrestrained villainy.
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Number of Reviews: 6
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It is not too often that one encounters IF with cultivated social criticism. Sting of the Wasp can be considered such case, wrapped in a ludic shell of surprising success.
The author's writing deserves a special mention. It is well sophisticated, somewhat close to Emily Short's historical style samples. Responses are always enhanced with a touch of witty satire, yet never falling into descriptive excess.
The puzzles are fair. An advanced reader might consider them simple, excluding the final. Overall, most of the problems are integrated with delightful thematic functions -- a feature not too common in fiction puzzle design in general. Taking a couple of hours to finish, Sting of the Wasp becomes a short novel with a steadily paced challenging narrative.
When reading aspiring IF, it is important not to compare them to canonized literary texts like those of Thackeray's as such. IF is a distinct cultural form with its own aesthetics. How works of IF engage in satirical expression is an art that has no points of comparison outside the history of the form, and in this context, Sting of the Wasp can be seen as one of the postmodern pioneers.
(This is a repost of a review I wrote on the IF newsgroups right after the 2004 Comp)
If ever a game were a guilty pleasure, Sting of the Wasp would be it; the overall plot is pure soap-opera, the NPC interactions are all about eking out the maximum amount of cattiness, and the puzzles derive their enjoyment value from pure spite -- all of which is to say that it hits its design goals exactly. Guiding the super-snob player character on a rampage through a high-end country club inhabited by people even more deserving of comeuppance than you do is entertaining on its own, and it's all the more so when combined with the viciously funny descriptions and withering repartee on offer.
Indeed, the game's great success is in setting the mood. Part of this is due to the author's strong writing skills — there are some laugh-out-loud moments, such as the PC's observation that a half-eaten bowl of salad bespeaks some rival's lack of willpower in sticking to her diet, and the dialogue is razor sharp — but much of the heavy lifting is done by the robust world simulation. NPCs will remark on the items you're carrying around, smells are implemented, and the scenery is both dense and well-described.
This very much reinforces the sense of immersion, but it's the puzzles which really nail the feel. Without exception, every puzzle you solve winds up advantaging you at somebody else's expense, whether it's through property damage, blackmail, exploiting a dangerous allergy, or just destroying some poor old lady's hair. The PC goes about her wicked business with flair and panache, and it's hard not to cackle at her exploits as long as one isn't encumbered by too many moral objections (which isn't hard in a farce this enjoyable).
There are a few flaws — I think there's a bug with the exit descriptions on the dining terrace, and the social comment is a bit too easy to be worth anything other than a few cheap laughs — but they do little to detract from the overall experience. The author knew exactly what he was going for, and the prose, puzzles, and implementation all work together flawlessly to convey his caustic vision.
The puzzles in Sting of the Wasp vary in fairness, and none of the major characters are really sympathetic: this is dark comedy, with a scheming, cheating social climber as its protagonist. For general awfulness she falls somewhere between Varicella and the Bastard Operator from Hell.
The modern country-club setting is a refreshing change from the usual, the writing has some high points, and the game plays with a certain self-assurance.
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