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About the Story
You were driving home from the Second National Conference on Acid Rain when you started getting tired. As it was late at night and you were in the middle of nowhere, you pulled over to the side of the road for a bit of shut-eye.
8th place - ParserComp 2021
There was a bit of boom in the 1980s in treasure-hunt style text adventures. In addition to the commercial ones (the most famous one being Zork I, but the Infocom game Hollywood Hijinx is squarely in the same category), many games were released as listings in books or magazines. “Acid Rain” is based on one such game, but the author has not just ported it to a modern interpreter. Instead, he’s recreated it based on his notes from playing the original game. The result is a solidly 1980s-style game that nevertheless has a few of its rougher edges smoothed off.
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This game has you stuck at the side of the road with a dead battery in the middle of some deadly acid rain. You'll end up searching a mansion with a timed light puzzle and inventory limits to assemble a door opener.
The game is polished, but descriptions are fairly sparse.
The timed light puzzle, many empty rooms and inventory limits, as well as frequent responses where the game knows what you are asking but wants you to do it in more steps (like turning on the car) reminded me of different advice I've seen over the last few decades.
I'll share some of that here:
From a list of rules for games in IFComp by Jessica Knoch, with additional commentary by Andrew Plotkin from 2003:
"> Rule Three: Do not impose an inventory limit for its own sake.
> Rule Four: Do not include hunger or sleep puzzles.
> Rule Five: Check your spelling. Check it again.
All just as true outside the IFComp.
> Rule Nine: Do not include lots of empty locations.
Important for everybody."
Jan Thorsby's list of 'things that cause automatic playing' from 2005:
"List of things that causes automatic playing
By automatic playing I mean when a player types in commands more or less
automatically without thinking much. None of the things listed is necessary
always bad, and there are probably instances when they don't really lead to
2. Many rooms
Traveling between rooms doesn't take much thinking, and the more rooms the
7. Time limits/eating puzzle
If a game has a time limit and the player is unable to keep it, the player
is likely to play the game again and just type in all the commands over
again minus the useless ones. A time limit that last through a large part of
the game is more likely to be annoying than a time limit for just for one
scene of the game. An eating puzzle is when the player dies if he does not
eat after a certain amount of turns. It is in effect a time limit.
11. Limited carrying capacity
Some games have a limit on how mange objects a player can carry. This often
leads to the player going back and forth a lot to pick up things he had
previously left behind. In many games it also leads to the game potentially
being made unwinnable, because the player may not have a vital object when
12. Having to type more commands than should be required to show ones
For instance say there is a closed door to the north. If the player types
"north" it is fairly clear that he intends to open the door and go north.
But the game may not let him go north until he has first typed "open door".
Machinery is often needlessly complicated to operate.
14. Very easy puzzles
A very easy puzzle can be things like: unlock a locked door, buy something
in a store or give an object to a person who has asked for such an object.
These easy puzzles can be important to a story but are arguably useless from
a gaming point of view. If they are not important to the story one might
consider eliminating them.
An intfiction thread including this quote from Michael Roberts from 2010:
"A word of caution on these is in order. Many authors worry that it’s unrealistic if the player character can carry too much at one time, so they’ll fiddle with these properties to impose a carrying limit that seems realistic. Be advised that authors love this sort of “realism” a whole lot more than players do. […] Don’t fool yourself about this -the thoughts in the mind of a player who’s tediously carting objects back and forth three at a time will not include admiration of your prowess at simulational realism. In contrast, if you set the carrying limit to infinity, it’s a rare player who will even notice, and a much rarer player who’ll complain about it."
The gods of randomization decided I should play both of Garry Francis’s games back-to-back, so here we are with another older-school Inform game – but instead of the tepid parody of Danny Dipstick, with Acid Rain we’ve got a puzzle-y adventure that I quite enjoyed. Sure, it’s got some player-unfriendly archaisms, like an inventory limit that adds nothing to the gameplay and a too-tight time limit that required a restart, but there’s definitely pleasure to be had in scratching a familiar itch in a well-designed, well-implemented playground.
Per the ABOUT text, this is actually a reverse-engineered reconstruction of a game from the late 80s, which helps explain the title – I grew up in the northeast U.S. in a similar time period, and remember hearing lots of worrisome news stories about acid rain, so using it as an ominous near-future setting element makes sense in world before a regional cap-and-trade system (the endearingly-named RGGI) got the problem under control. Acid Rain isn’t about getting recalcitrant Reagan Administration officials to take Canadian concerns about trans-national pollution seriously, however – instead you’re some flavor of scientist driving home from a conference when your car dies due to a drained battery. Good thing your car fetched up right outside the mansion of a mad scientist, who’s surely got a replacement battery stowed somewhere amidst all the junk from their electrical engineering hobby!
It doesn’t take long for the structure of the game to emerge – you’re quickly trapped in the house, and in addition to finding a new battery, you also need to gather a bunch of components to create a door-opening gadget so you can escape. There are also a host of strangely-behaving animals scattered throughout the mansion, serving as both barriers and occasional sources of assistance. Some of this is explained (the animal stuff), but some of it you just have to chalk up to text adventure conventions (why the mad scientist made the front door automatically trap visitors inside, but then also provided a sign clearly laying out the situation and a note with a list of the parts needed to build the opener).
This isn’t the only way Acid Rain is a bit of an archaism: as mentioned above, there are some retro design touches that maybe provide some aesthetic pleasure to grognards, but serve mostly to annoy in the here and now. The refusal to allow X NOTE or X SIGN to reveal what’s actually written on them is just a niggle, and the inventory limit isn’t too harsh, though I ultimately found it rather pointless since it doesn’t force any decision-making or interesting gameplay, just a bit of backtracking tedium. The time limit is the worst offender here – you start out with a flashlight with limited battery power that will die if you take too long exploring the dark house, which I don’t believe you can recover from. There are new D-cells available within the house, and they appear to function indefinitely, but they’re not in a place you’d reasonably expect to find them meaning it’s pretty much blind chance whether you come across them in time to avoid a restart.
On the flip side, the game is well implemented, with a surprising amount of scenery implemented and some nice conveniences too. It’s definitely possible to die, but a quick UNDO sorted any trouble out, and there’s a character who provides in-game hints. I didn’t need to use this feature much, though, since the puzzles are typically well clued and fit the world reasonably enough once you grant the premise. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but they’re satisfying to work through, with a bunch of keys to juggle and animals to feed on the easier end, and a secret passage to find and a code to decipher on the harder side. The code was probably my favorite puzzle, as it’s possible to solve via brute force but also has a good number of clues for those who don’t like grinding through such things.
Is Acid Rain anything other than a scavenger hunt through a medium-sized map of rooms that primarily hold one gettable object and one bit of scenery? No, and if that kind of thing isn’t your jam, or you’re easily turned off by clunky gameplay elements that haven’t stood the test of time, nothing here is going to change your mind. But if you’re the sort of person who sometimes looks at a long list of ice cream flavors and picks a vanilla – occasionally, one just wants the simple thing – Acid Rain fits the bill.
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This is version 8 of this page, edited by David Welbourn on 24 August 2021 at 10:20pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item