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About the Story
Have you ever wondered what life is like for commodities traders? Why not hop in a truck, drive around Canada, and find out?
Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: October 1, 2018
Current Version: Unknown
Development System: Desmos Activity Builder
74th Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
The Gaming Philosopher
The game is fascinating up to a point, and has a surprising number of different endings. On the other hand, the meaningless grind was, well, a meaningless grind and the awful user interface is, well, awful. The author has done a lot of things well, but has also fallen into the trap of trying to satirise boring stuff by implementing boring mechanics. So I have no problem with people giving the game a low score (I gave it a relatively low score myself); but I do want to point out that there is a lot of good stuff going on behind the bad stuff.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Let's Explore Geography! is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a light parody of edutainment games. It elicited several chuckles from me while I was playing, and I made it to day 24 in Victoria before stopping. (I actually visited Victoria for real this summer, for the first time ever. I was hoping to visit Butchart Gardens again in the game. Sadly, I had to settle for whale-watching. :) )
The game itself consists of traveling from city to city across the vast expanse of Canada, buying and selling different commodities and visiting various tourist attractions in the cities. So you're doing exactly what the title promises: You're exploring Canada, and you're trading.
I think the introduction has a nice "feel," with the email instructions for starting the game, the teachers' manual, and the map. Speaking of which, the map adds greatly to the enjoyment of the game; I'm glad the author included it. (I'm also a sucker for maps.)
The bright, bland, boosterism of the language was amusing, and certain lines landed particularly well. My two favorites:
1. "Still, you can't help but feel a little... unfulfilled. Sure, 'commodities trader' sounds like an exciting job, but you spend most of your work day looking at graphs and making spreadsheets. You secretly dream of leaving the office, of seeing the world, of buying lumber in person instead of virtually through derivatives transactions."
2. "You ride a cable car up the cliff to 'Le Manoir Montmorency' and head to the interpretation center, which helpfully informs you that the name means 'Montmorency Manor'."
The game reminded me some of playing Oregon Trail in the 1980s in my 7th grade homeroom teacher's class. In both games you're traveling across a large chunk of North America, with the same small list of options available to you at each location. You can buy things in Oregon Trail, too, although I can't remember whether you can sell them. A big difference, of course, is that you can't die of dysentery in Let's Explore Geography!. (At least I think you can't. Maybe that's a secret level of the game. Or, if not, perhaps an idea for Release 2? :D)
An oddly satisfying moment:
(Spoiler - click to show)Reaching Yorkton and finally offloading that pallet of wigs that I had been schlepping around since Charlottetown!
I found it amusing that (Spoiler - click to show)a pallet of diamonds is available for $30 million. Earning enough money to purchase that would take a lot of patience!
Also, the weird dreams, followed by "What a strange dream!" after each night made me chuckle several times.
I think I actually learned a little bit of Canadian geography by playing this game.
A final comment: Let's Explore Geography! came in 74th out of 77 games in IFComp 2018. I think the game is much better than that. I suspect a lot of the reason it placed so low is that gameplay is rather repetitive: You're selecting from the same small set of actions, over and over.
This game uses the Desmos online educational software to make a game about leaving your humdrum job to take on a trucking gig in Canada. Each city has things you can buy and things you can sell.
There are several endings you can reach, including giving up and one really interesting one that takes you all over, which I never quite completed. A guide is included on the IFDB page.
I say it's a parody because the author called it that, but the parody element isn't too strong. It mostly seems like a serviceable trucking game.
The story behind this game is that you are board of your cushy job. You work as a commodities trader at a bank. It pays well but the most action that you get is managing paperwork and spreadsheets in a cubicle. Now, you are inspired to seek out the adventure aspect of trading by renting a truck and hitting the road. Along the way you hope to experience Canadian geography.
You begin in Toronto Ontario with a million dollars and your truck. The game ends after 30 days unless you reach an earlier ending. In fact, 30 days lasts awhile in this game. At each main stop the player can sell or buy goods, rest at a hotel, refuel, and sightsee. Between destinations are smaller stops where the only options are to rest and refuel. The strategy comes in the form of managing these resources while you travel.
The gameplay is built consistently and is bug free (as far as I could tell). But it is also repetitive and bland and would have benefited from some variation. There are no surprise events or sub-storylines to build upon the game's portrayal of a cross-county journey. You just do the same action of shuffling from one location to another. The closest to a storyline is (Spoiler - click to show) if you pursue is the Iqaluit ending. In fact, you can skip trading all together because you have more than enough money to pay for gas and hotels. The Iqaluit ending is the most interesting one to pursue but also involves the most backtracking since it is tied to specific locations rather than the money you accumulate. You visit Fredericton and High Level to acquire a wooden nickel and Spider-Man comic book before traveling to Inuvik. With these items you can then drive to the Arctic Circle and end up in Iqaluit, ending the game.
The author provides a helpful map and "teacher's guide" walkthrough that I strongly recommend using. The walkthrough includes a chart of buyable and sellable items at each destination. You will find it helpful in deciding where to visit rather than hoping that the next stop will allow you to unload those excess engine pallets that you have been hauling around for the past ten days. The supplemental map drastically makes the game easy to play. Without it the player is stuck visualizing the location in their head. I would end up travelling in a circle without branching into the other areas. The map allows you to gauge your location and where you want to go. While it would have been cool if the game came with map graphics built into the gameplay the supplemental map is easy to read and adds a hint of realism.
Desmos Activity Builder.... Never heard of that one before. I just had to play it. I love seeing how people can make interactive fiction in unexpected ways. Of course, no matter what format you choose the game should strive for quality. Let’s Explore Geography may be light on substance, but it does feel like a completed piece. The draw is its unique development system. Though the content is unremarkable playing a game made by “Desmos Activity Builder” software is its own memorable experience.
I played the post-comp version that opens when you click the “Play Me” button on the IFDB page. The competition version is nearly identical except for the class registration steps. It involves using a class code to access the game on the Desmos website. You do not actually have to sign up for anything, but the game’s instruction sheet gives you gives the impression that it is more than just an interactive fiction game. When I saw, “Thank you for purchasing Let's Explore Geography! Canadian Commodities Trader Simulation Exercise. We're certain your students will enjoy this engaging, interactive virtual activity,” I had to look twice since it really does look like a teacher email. I prefer the post-comp version because it is faster, but if you want to take advantage of the immersion than consider the original.
Its appearance is a simple beige (or white if you play the original) page with a multiple-choice format, just like taking a test. I am not sure about design limitations in Desmos software, but the game could have greatly benefitted with some visuals, particularly photographs of locations. This visual aid would alleviate some of the repetitiveness in the gameplay while also staying true to its focus on learning about Canadian geography.
Is it educational? Sort of. Not in terms of understanding trade and economics, but it does sprinkle some Canadian history and culture into the gameplay. The education part comes from each main stop having a landmark of Canadian culture for the player to experience such as going fishing at Grand Rapids. This was a clever idea, though there is not much meat on the bones in terms of content. And if you use the handy supplemental map, it gives you a basic familiarity with geography. If anything, it is more of a sight-seeing simulator than an educational tool.
The game does have strong points. There are multiple endings, and the gameplay is bug free. The author makes up for some deficiencies with genuinely helpful supplemental materials. The downside is that the gameplay is nothing remarkable. Nonetheless I still think it is worth a try. If anything, give it a go because it is something new.
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