Lost Coastlines

by William Dooling profile

Fantasy RPG

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IF by Avalon Hill, December 9, 2022
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review

In a bout of review Deja’ Vu (Deja reView?), I said this about Lost at the Market:

"Dreams are certainly useful settings in IF. When used effectively, it can explain and justify any of the inherent limitations of the medium or even lean into the limitations as features."

Kinda wished I’d saved that gem for this review, it’s much more relevant here. This is a procedurally generated dreamscape, and boy does it ever “lean into limitations as features.” Freed from demands of terrestrial geology, ecosystems and logic Lost Coastlines goes bananas with strange, whimsical, fantastical, nightmarish and just plain clever map nodes, butting up against each other without rhyme or reason in a deeply complicated map. Evolutionary scholars and tectonic plate experts would die of apoplexy. The scope of the different encounters in the first hour was dizzying – one minute you’re plundering ships on the high seas, the next you are desperate NOT to look under a clown’s mask, right before you collaborate on an undersea steampunk engine. The breadth and scope was giddy, you really did feel anything at all could show up next, and were kind of drawn to see what that would be. It’s realized ambitions were super high.

But I was not Engaged, and it is some combination of gameplay design and bugs that I was fighting the entire time. Let me preface by saying I have no insight into the code, I am describing in pseudo code how I modeled the game in my head. Every location you find has one or two of these states: IDLE and IN_ENCOUNTER. Most of the time you enter a location into IDLE, where you can look around, examine things, or enter one or more encounters by typing site-specific phrases helpfully capitalized for you. Or you can just exit to the next location. Some locations put you directly into IN_ENCOUNTER state. If you engage an encounter you have to see it to its conclusion before you can leave, and then cannot engage any others. This is made frustrating because verbs and nouns that work in one state are infrequently recognized in the other - same location, mind – and the text doesn’t do a great job of hinting why or what state you are in. I spent a lot of time getting “not recognized” on capitalized words the game supported but I didn’t know I was in the wrong state to exercise. It was exacerbated by a finicky parser. If met with the prompt “FRAMISTAT THE WHOSIDINGIE” sometimes the parser recognized just FRAMISTAT or WHOSIDINGIE. Sometimes you could omit the THE, and other times you needed the whole phrase, and every failure was greeted with “I don’t recognise…”. I mean, you told me to FRAMISTAT just LET ME DADGUM FRAMISTAT!!!

Ahem. This is also an RPG of sorts, with stats and equipment that need to be managed through gameplay - maximize good stuff, try not to accumulate and/or get rid of bad stuff. Because you are wandering through a randomly generated world though, there is no guarantee you can find what you need when you need it and boy do you accumulate that bad stuff. Character creation is light, dreamlike and clever. One particularly nice feature is depending on what role you choose you have a special power. However, mine did not work consistently. At first I thought it was a bug, then I theorized maybe there was an invisible state limitation I didn’t understand, then came back around to “pretty sure its a bug.” (Spoiler - click to show)Several times my Pirate ability to bypass storms/sea monsters/pirates flat didn’t work, but I got ‘charged’ for using it every time. Either that or the action feedback didn’t educate me about its use.

For the first hour, there was an equilibrium where I fought through the parser to enjoy the majesty of that tangled, tangled map and its delightful patchwork universe. Then the randomizer caught up with me, and some of the least interesting settings started repeating. A lot. Fighting the parser became a lot less rewarding, and the unavoidable encounters I had no chance of winning became less amusing.

In the end, I found myself preoccupied with my mental model to the exclusion of the dream-logic narrative of the game. I thought of it like an ameritrash boardgame where : move pawn to adjacent space, draw 1-N encounter cards, choose one of them with limited insight into potential results, roll dice, add/subtract appropriate scores to resolve, move to next space. Rule - you cannot return to previous spaces within X turns.

I gave up at the 1.5hr mark, still begrudgingly admiring the majesty of the randomizer and the tapestry it weaved for me. So many individual encounters were Sparks of Joy (more in their description and variety than gameplay). Notably buggy implementation for sure, but I can’t help but give it a bonus point for epic dreamscape sweep. There were some cool characteristic-tradeoff rules to work towards for the endgame, but that was down the road, way beyond my exit ramp.

Played: 10/28/22
Playtime: 1.5hr; 28 pleasance, 40 knowledge, gobs and gobs of Worry and Fury, and a good amount of Madness. Like real life!
Artistic/Technical rankings: Sparks of Joy/Notable
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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