Speculative Fiction

by Diane Christoforo profile and Thomas Mack profile

Fantasy / Puzzle / Humor

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
Fraud for fun and profit, July 14, 2012
by Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.)

Speculative Fiction is an extremely sharp, witty game. I'm glad the authors completed it, after placing second in 2011's IntroComp.

At its core, the game is just a straightforward puzzler, but it handles the player/PC/parser divide in very entertaining fashion. You are a wizard whose mind is trapped in the body of his familiar: W.D., an uncompromisingly gluttonous raven who's not entirely thrilled to be sharing his body. You command W.D., and he describes the world and performs actions in a more-or-less ravenly way; the parser's voice is (almost) entirely his. In that sense, the game's structure bears a small resemblance to Suspended, I suppose. However, unlike the robots, W.D. has his own will, and can thwart you from time to time. He's also hilarious from start to finish.

Your wizard has recently looted the kingdom's treasury and replaced the gold therein with an illusion. Acting through W.D., you must find a way to replace all the stolen money before the treasurer gets hold of the king and you are executed. Replacing the money involves committing many more crimes. Some of these are sly, subtle jabs at recent financial industry malfeasance, like one involving a robo-signer. Others are a bit blunter and crueler.

W.D. is the game's great creation. Calling him a wisecracking bird would reduce him to an animated Disney sidekick; he's much better than that. It's tempting to list out dozens of great lines, but I'll restrict myself to just a couple:

>x signature
A poorly-executed forgery of the treasurer's signature. I suspect his name is not actually "The Treasurer." I also suspect he knows how to spell "treasurer." I wish your Spelling Wasp had caught on, boss. That one should have made us millionaires. Anaphylactic shock is a small price to pay for proper spelling.

>x beggar
He's got no eyeballs. Man, that's the best part of the human.

Even if you solve none of the puzzles, you should have a pretty good time just reading W.D.'s descriptions (as well as an excellent fake-terrible disambiguation message in the Stock Market).

The game is structured so that it's possible to get a decent ending by solving only the easier puzzles. The more puzzles you can solve, the better an ending you can open up. This would seem to make it newbie-friendly, except that the puzzles do become very challenging, verging on underclued, including one I didn't even realize was a puzzle until I read ABOUT HINT (which does not actually dispense hints, but simply lists the primary tasks).

The implementation is decent with a few hiccups. The authors have replaced most of the default responses with W.D.-appropriate ones, and they're terrific. However, there are occasional missing line breaks, a repeated word or two, some unimplemented objects, and a couple of bugs (one of which which allowed me to short-circuit the game's cleverest puzzle, albeit in amusing fashion).

But frankly, it doesn't matter. W.D. is so ingenious that you should play Speculative Fiction just for the writing.

Note: this review is based on older version of the game.

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OtisTDog, March 4, 2013 - Reply
I agree: This is a very amusing and memorable game. It does have some faults and could use a few more coats of polish (plus some small tweaks on puzzle design and/or hinting) to transform it into something truly outstanding.

For those of you who hate to get your hints from the walkthrough:

#1 the stock market -- (Spoiler - click to show)Yes, you can take part, but you need money to get started. (Spoiler - click to show) To be specific, you need real money, not anything fake. (Spoiler - click to show)The only place to find this is in a container whose existence is (quite unfairly) not disclosed unless you examine a person's clothing, though this would be obviously visible when looking at the person. (Spoiler - click to show)It's the top floor guard's belt pouch. (Spoiler - click to show)Now you have a coin, so you can bid on a stock in the auction. (Spoiler - click to show)But you will always be outbid by someone else who wants the stock more. (Spoiler - click to show)... unless you can find a stock nobody else wants, of course. (Spoiler - click to show)Notice how the auctioneer is selecting stocks? You can influence the process. (Spoiler - click to show)... assuming you know what stock to look for. (Spoiler - click to show)This puzzle requires an insane feat of mind-reading: In theory you can watch umpteen iterations of the auction and determine (by pure intuition?) the rules by which each merchant chooses to bid...(Spoiler - click to show)... then combine those rules to determine the magical animal name to search for. (Spoiler - click to show) Not bloody likely, especially if you see the actual rules they laid out in the walkthrough. The magic name is "herring". (Spoiler - click to show)From here on out it's a tough but fair logic puzzle (that, in my view, doesn't fit the tone of the rest of the game very well), so you're on your own.

#2 the egg -- (Spoiler - click to show)So, you need an egg and you know where to get them, but W.D. always eats the dang thing before you can do what you want with it. (Spoiler - click to show)The trick here may be to think about it from a programmer's perspective: If the egg is in scope and touchable, it's gone. (Spoiler - click to show)Can you figure out how to get the egg to be touchable for the intended purpose but not for W.D.? (Spoiler - click to show)It's easy enough to keep W.D. out of same scope as the egg with the vase, but that doesn't do the trick by itself. (Spoiler - click to show)Maybe there's a way to keep W.D. in his own scope away from the egg? (Spoiler - click to show)Can you trap W.D. in something so he can't reach the egg? (Spoiler - click to show)Yes, you can, though it's dependent on unclued timing. (Spoiler - click to show)Use the seagull trap at the Wharf to lock W.D. in at the same moment (i.e. same turn) the egg is made vulnerable. (Spoiler - click to show)Also, figure out how to operate the machine from inside the cage. (Spoiler - click to show)Long, thin things work for manipulating basic controls. (Spoiler - click to show)Oh, and the device must be near the cage, so push it into the circle before trapping W.D.
<blank>, November 1, 2016 - Reply
Otis, those are precisely the points at which I had to go to the walkthrough and became increasingly frustrated by the lack of consistency and clueing, plus the necessary amount of mind-reading and finicky manipulation at the 2nd part of the stock market puzzle.

I also got extremely frustrated at not having guessed the right verb to be productive with the fishing rod.

These three things soured my experience enough that I just quit. But up until these, I was *loving* the game. Cautionary tale - no amount of brilliance in design and writing can save a game where the authors mistake "difficulty" with "unfairness".
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