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20th Place - 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2012)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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American football is tough to write a simple game about. Many early computer game tries stunk as One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird soared. Even other Americans are baffled by the men in motions, the Wildcat formation, bubble screens, illegal procedure, or what's the point of extra points, anyway, since people make them most of the time except when they don't.
Kicker doesn't really deal with any of this. It doesn't try to. It's more about observation, without any direct humor. You're probably the least macho player on the squad--a placekicker. His good kicks are taken for granted and expected. He sees even less action than the punter, who is an NPC in this game and who looks down on the kicker less than the linebackers, the special teams coaches, and other people. And it's not recommended he try anything fancy.
So most of the game is spent observing, except for the time your team scores a touchdown or their drive stalls within field goal range (that's the last third of the field) and you're called into action.
The game even has a nice little scoreboard in the upper right, with the field position in the upper left, but the game text doesn't actually show this. I suspect it's a comment on how you're probably wrapped up in yourself.
The game seems totally random as to who wins or loses, but it's more interesting how your teammates try to ignore you or put you down. So actually, instead of going through the game, you're better off just hitting Z.UNDO to see what everyone is doing.
Sometimes the game is a bit too light on detail--it's not even clear if you're a pro or college kicker--and unfortunately there aren't enough scenarios that might make the game more interesting. Merciless undoing seems to show the game accounts for safeties and also makes long field goals tougher and even lets you incur a concussion, and the plays account for when there is little time left. The mad libs for the plays are pretty good, too, although sometimes a (slow) linebacker successfully covers a (fast) wide receiver.
I've probably said more about this game than the author intended, and it's an amusing curiosity. But given how the game started--my team went down 9-0 and I kicked a field goal--I sort of expected a dramatic end. And I think it would be amusing if someone could rig together a string of fake field goals, two-point conversions and so on to try to capture a game's feel and do more than this observational piece.
Given the author wrote a game about waiting in line, I think his game gave the intended effect. Nevertheless, there's the possibility for more, with maybe giving, say, the special-teams coach a turn, though I don't think a text game from a more active player's perspective could be effective.
Also, I really want non-default responses for (Spoiler - click to show)score and any sort of swearing, both of which are integral parts of the game, for better or worse.
This game shows the life of a football kicker. Which is super boring. You are on the sidelines for about 120 turns, and you are called on to kick a few times. In the mean time, no one wants to talk to you and you can't do much.
It's supposed to be that way, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable. The game is really well polished, though, which makes sense given its constrained play area.
(I originally published this review on 22 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the last of the 26 games I reviewed.)
I would have preferred the last competition game I play to not be about sport, let alone Gridiron. But now that I have played – nay, won! – Kicker, I'm glad it was my last game because it managed to surprise me. This is a game in which you play the placekicker on a Gridiron team, but it's an easy game to play for the sporty and the unsporty alike. It is also, after a fashion, not what either camp would expect from the premise. Or perhaps exactly what they'd expect.
The game's thorough message is that the role of placekicker is tedious and thankless, and close to being a joke in the eyes of one's teammates. You RUN ONTO THE FIELD, GIVE THE SIGNAL, KICK THE BALL and then RUN OFF THE FIELD. Then you mill about on the sidelines for twenty turns or so before the coach urges you to repeat the kicking process. In the style of a conceptual art piece, the player has to ride out an entire interminable game of football in this manner, boringly entering the same commands again and again to reinforce the idea as lived practice, with the extra joke that any and all attempts to find stimulation on the sidelines, whether through conversation or action, are doomed to failure. Other players shun you, a film crew ignores you, cheerleaders ignore you and there's basically nothing else to do.
Driven to the boredom the game seeks to muster, I tried to bring down my team by disobeying the coach in various situations. For instance, by not running onto the field when he asked me to run onto the field, or by not running off the field when he asked me to run off the field. My stratagems didn't ruin my team's prospects but I was fired twice. Happy to find that the game was not completely unyielding, I undid my tomfoolery and pressed on with entering "Z" or "WATCH THE GAME" a zillion times to see if anything wacky would eventually happen. I had grown quite weary by the time my team won, and our winning was the thing that happened.
The programming of the football game's progress is good and the prose is clean. A few commands I tried weren't recognised, but otherwise this is technically a solid game which is explicit about the commands you need to type if you want the match to keep going, but also relaxed enough to assure you, with good cause, that "You'll figure it out."
I've always thought of Gridiron as that ridiculous game where the players' physical attributes and skills are completely ghettoised. The kind of sport where one guy might have a massive right arm that he spends all his life pumping, except when he's on the field doing nothing but standing on a prearranged spot and waiting for a chance to clothesline some passer-by with that arm. Playing Kicker certainly did nothing to change my prejudices, but what it did do was let me win a sports IF game without understanding or caring about the featured sport at all, and it took a swing at at least one element of that sport while it was at it. For these things I am grateful, even if the game worked its magic by daring me to give up in the face of intense boredom.
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