Off-Season at the Dream Factory

by B.J. Best (writing as ďCarroll Lewis") profile

2021

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Number of Reviews: 5
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A lovely melange, January 12, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

The ingredients in this Adventuron game arenít especially novel by IF standards Ė a dungeon-crawl with a combat system, an Alice in Wonderland riff, an inversion of the typical adventurer-vs-monster moral framework, a pun-filled scavenger hunt Ė but thereís something about the way theyíre stewed up in Off-Season at the Dream Factory that feels fresh and coherent. The clean prose and fantastical yet grounded visuals help create a unified aesthetic that equally fits the orc protagonistís dead-end job (he gets repeatedly slain by paying adventurers looking for a thrill) and his occasional visits to his fetch-quest setting uncle, whoís straight-up Lewis Carroll in orc drag. And the one element thatís thematically out of place Ė the occasional dungeon-delving segments where youíre a customer, not an employee, of the Dream Factory Ė is set off by bespoke vector graphics that make these sequences visually distinctive too.

(Side-note on my expectations on Adventuron games Ė by this point Iím unsurprised to find one with great visuals, but I also mentally prepare myself to struggle with the parser. But this time I didnít, and thatís been true of other more recent Adventuron games Iíve played too. Iím guessing this is some combination of authors gaining familiarity with the platform and the system maturing, but itís awesome to see).

The other thing that makes the disparate pieces work well together is momentum. I tend to like IF Comp games with a good number of easy puzzles Ė they make me feel like Iím a clever person making good progress through the big competition (this is not a flattering observation about myself) Ė and itís an effective choice here. There's a good variety of puzzles, from figuring out viable combat strategies for different opponents to some maze navigation, but none of them are especially difficult, and many even solve themselves, with inventory items being used automatically if your command is even in the right ballpark. Combined with the interesting worldbuilding, solid writing, and pretty pictures, this makes Off-Season at the Dream Factory go down easy.

Highlight: I figured out one somewhat outside the box puzzle straightaway (Spoiler - click to show)(catching lightning in the bottle) which made me feel clever, though I also worried it was underclued. Then I kept playing and found it actually was well clued, Iíd just gotten to the solution a little early.

Lowlight: The ending is generally satisfying, but I felt like one subplot (Spoiler - click to show)(the fate of the protagonistís father) was left a bit hanging Ė though I didnít get the Last Lousy Point, which I suspect might bear on that.

How I have failed the author: not by very much, I donít think! Henry was sleeping and I pretty much banged through this one, despite my new-parent brain.