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Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2002 XYZZY Awards
18th Place - 8th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2002)
>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
[Q]uibbles aside, When Help Collides is a clever, innovative, and fiercely funny joyride.
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A work of spectacularly ill-advised genius, packed with horrible, horrible design decisions but still pulling off some excellent ideas.
It's really four games, rather tenuously linked. This is not a terrible idea per se: if it had been called When Help Collides And Other Stories, no problem. The trick is that the first, When Help Collides, dispenses the codes required to unlock the other three when you win it. When Help Collides is a clever idea, but the implementation is disastrous: a smorgasbord of unintuitive new verbs combined with very low levels of feedback and a lot of death. But the codes are available from an accompanying file, which meant that it seemed pointless anyway -- except that getting the codes the hard way is necessary to make the games cohere. So. Yes. Horrible decisions piled on top of each other.
Of the remaining three games, Level 50 is a game about heroic-fantasy RPGs, and more or less forgettable; Parched Mesa is a too-brief horror Western; and A Bleach of Etiquette, the notable one. It's an organise-your-training-calendar game about a (somewhat alternate-world) geisha; in a week you have to brush up your skills enough to pass your Geisha Exams, or use patronage to cheat. The writing's strong if terse, and the game's strategic core makes for an engaging, deep puzzle; worth putting on the shelf beside Textfire Golf. It's still heavily flawed: the interface is awkward, it doesn't have enough hand-crafted content, and it's somewhat offensive.
This is a shortish parser game that has a main game and three subgames. You are the help system for several interactive fiction games, but something keeps malfunctioning.
I tried this game with and without the walkthrough, and it was honestly bewildering. You can spend a long time on things that turn out to be completely unimportant. You frequently have to repeat commands multiple times without feedback that you are on the right track. Several areas require you to wait and wait and wait and wait.
The three minigames are interesting; I believe they represent games that you could give help for.
One is a Geisha simulator, where you don't have the regular verbs, and you can only schedule clients and reserve rooms while training for your Geisha exam. This is randomized and hard.
Another is a Lovecraftian western. This one was confusing, but fun.
The last game was really very creative and fun. You are playing Dungeons and Dragons one-on-one with a Dungeon Master, and he becomes the parser. You have a character sheet, and quests, and so on. It was really fun, especially because the Dungeon Master is purposely bad.
Overall, a mixed bag. I feel like others would be less confused than me, but I found this game very confusing. The minigames were fun, though.
I want to like When Help Collides. Honestly, I do. But it goes far out of its way to make itself unlikeable. I realize that this is largely my problem. The game is well-written, for what it is. It wasn't game-killing bugs or boredom that kept me from finishing. It was the simple fact that the entire game is essentially a puzzle. Figuring out what you're meant to do and how to do it seems to be the primary challenge.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It just frustrates me as a player when a game plants its feet and adamantly refuses to give any indication of... well, anything, really. At the beginning, at least, you can't even get a complete description of the room you're in without bullying the parser.
An example, spoiling only the very beginning: (Spoiler - click to show)You start, after a turn or two of half-exposition, in a TARDIS-like ship, as an anthropomorphized IF help feature. The game tracks your approval rating, based on feedback from the stock adventure characters you can provide hints to with your automated help dispenser. Only there's something wrong with your equipment, making it only give out banal, nonsensical self-help advice.
Each disappointed character lowers your rating, and at less than 40%, game over. The uncooperative PC gets more frantic about the plummeting rating, growing more insistent that something must be done to fix things.
I played through this sequence three times, running out the timer looking for something, anything to indicate what needed to be done, fighting with the PC for something as simple as a thorough room description. Bear in mind, this is not lazy writing or coding, it's an intentional part of the puzzle.
After giving up and consulting a walkthrough, I discovered that the answer to my problem? (Spoiler - click to show)Exit the ship. The PC refuses to do so, twice. This leads you to an entirely new, but equally unintuitive part of the story.
My first timer-based death in that bit was as far as I got. I have no interest in typing in a walkthrough.
Despite all my frustrations, When Help Collides does have some things going for it. The writing is interesting, and the concept is fantastic. I just wish the gameplay was not as experimental as the idea behind it.
The bottom line: Well worth looking into if you're patient, or perhaps just better at thinking like the author than I am. If you want a game that makes Hitchhiker's Guide look downright friendly, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
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This is version 2 of this page, edited by Paul O'Brian on 21 April 2008 at 5:41pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item