Number of Reviews: 4
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Detective game on a boat with great concepts but some execution issues, October 3, 2021
This is Wonaglot's third IFComp game, the other two being the well-received Dungeon Detective games, both placing in the top 15 and both receiving XYZZY award nominations.
Mystery is one of my favorite genres, so I was excited to see a new mystery game by Wonaglot. Surprisingly, this one is a Quest-based mystery. Quest is a parser system that, like similar systems such as ADRIFT, provides a simple and intuitive system for making parser games with less overhead than Inform but a little less robustness.
The storyline is that you are an engineer with a set of special masks, asked to investigate a murder on a large private ship. This is a long game, the longest I've played so far in the comp.
This game has great concepts and could be described as ambitious. It has many NPCs spread out over dozens of rooms. The PCs respond to conversational topics and items shown and can move from room to room. There are multiple mysteries to solve, multiple subquests, and magic involved. There is even some animation involved. Perhaps most ambitious, there are 4 masks you can wear that affect how others see you and treat you, changing conversations.
While I completed the game and found it overall satisfying, the implementation wore thin in several places. The mask system was not intuitive; it was hard to figure out what effect each mask would have, and the first NPC I saw didn't react to it at all. In the end, the masks systems ends up pretty inconsistent; sometimes it changes what actions you can take; sometimes it changes a couple of lines of text in dialogue; sometimes it adds flavor text to room descriptions. It was difficult to make plans and execute them with the masks.
Similarly, the NPCs had so many different ways to interact with them (showing them things, asking about topics, and TALKing to) that most interactions ended up being not coded in at all, leading to a lot of 'I don't know anything about that,' a problem common to many parser mysteries.
And in the endings I got, it lists what happened to everyone, with a few saying 'you should have interacted with so and so more' when I had gotten to what seemed like the end of their quest, while people I didn't interact much with got a bigger ending.
I'm not sure that all of this could be or should be changed, though. In a recent game I wrote, I spent months writing out every possible response for every object, but all feedback I received about that was that the text seemed generic and bland (since writing 100s of lines gets repetitive). So leaving the player to only find the few key lines of text isn't a bad alternative. But in the end, I wished for more smoothness and understandability, especially for the mask system.
+I would play again