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Trouble in Sector 471

by Arthur DiBianca profile


Web Site

(based on 23 ratings)
7 reviews

About the Story

The power just went out in Sector 471. You had better go take a look.

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: October 1, 2022
Current Version: Unknown
License: Freeware
Development System: Inform 7
IFID: FDAFC322-105A-40F2-94C4-A8DF4CBA7718
TUID: kjj2uu8bjta6zwxl


5th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)


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Number of Reviews: 7
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A nicely-curated collection of limited parser puzzles, January 11, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2022

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).

Arthur DiBianca is surely among the few modern IF authors whose name has become a brand. While his games boast an impressive range of settings, genres, and gameplay styles, there are some distinctive elements that mean he offers something unique: they all have a limited parser, ensuring that guess-the-verb problems are never among the challenges a player faces; they all well-written but tight, setting-first stories; they typically last an hour or so, with a set of optional objectives for players who want to dig deeper; there are well-designed interfaces that cleanly present the information you need; and they’re all of a consistently high quality (ok, that last one isn’t unique to DiBianca, but it’s the reason why it’s worth commenting on all the others!)

Trouble in Sector 471 fits all of this to a T – this time out, you play a plucky little maintenance-bot, out first to restore power to the eponymous sci-fi facility, then zap the infestation of bugs at the root of the problem, and maybe help some of your fellow worker robots along the way. The gameplay twist is that there’s a light patina of metroidvania about proceedings – visible first in the slick automap that takes up half the playing window and orients you towards the places you’ve yet to explore, and then made more obvious as you collect new functions for your humble mechanoid: at first, you’re capable only of zapping bugs and opening communications with other bots, but reaching new areas and doing favors sees you win some important upgrades, including the ability to pick stuff up and interface with the various bits of machinery you find in the facility.

The open map is mirrored in the open gameplay structure; while there are definitely chokepoints at several parts of the game, you’re not funneled towards a final encounter or anything like that, and it doesn’t take long until you can wander over quite a large stretch of real estate, worrying away at half a dozen different puzzles as you track down the bugs and optional objectives. I admit that at around the two-thirds mark, even with all the supports built into the game I started feeling a bit overwhelmed, but found that once I started taking some notes the pieces fell into place quite quickly – there’s a lot to keep track of, but when you break down exactly what you can do and what barriers you’re facing, it isn’t too hard to run down your limited command-set and come up with some ideas for how to proceed.

This is a sweet spot for puzzle difficulty for me; progress feels nontrivial, but once you bear down it isn’t too hard to start feeling clever. There was one place where I needed to look at the hints – there’s a multi-step puzzle involving a museum curator-bot that I wasn’t quite wrapping my head around – and while I got most of the optional challenges, I never came across one, and found one involving unblocking pipes too fiddly to be enjoyable, but overall this is a smartly-designed and satisfying grab bag of puzzles.

Getting into critiques, though, it does feel like a grab bag, rather than the more unified puzzle sets of some of DiBianca’s other games, like the wordplay of Sage Sanctum Scramble or the RPG-aping Black Knife Dungeon. In fact, many of the puzzles feel like the sort of thing you get up to in more traditional works of IF – there’s a fair bit of unlocking doors, figuring out combinations, and trading items to NPCs – which I think make me chafe against the limited parser more than I usually do. In particular, I missed the ability to examine things; you can get more information about any object you’re carrying, but the set of grabbable items is pretty small, and there were more than a few environmental puzzles, or encounters with other robots, where I would have liked to get a closer look at the situation, either for hints to the puzzles or just to get better grounded in the world. As a result, while the different rooms are well-described and the charming cast of robots largely does a good job communicating their personalities through their one or two lines of dialogue, I engaged with Sector 471 largely as an abstract set of puzzles and systems rather than as a coherent place where a diegetic narrative was occurring.

There are definitely worse problems to have, and honestly most of the way through a very story-heavy Comp I found it kind of nice to immerse myself in something close to a pure puzzler – and this is a very well-designed, well-tuned example of the breed. So while I’d recommend other of the author’s games before this one to someone who’s trying to figure out what this limited-parser thing is all about, it’s still a worthy addition to his gameography.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
I, Robot Handyman, December 22, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

With the author's games, you have stuff you know you should expect and a whole bunch you don't, and both are pleasing. You know you're going to have a lot of whimsy, and some puzzles that should be basic but aren't, but they are fair. And you have limited verbs that say, okay, this is the puzzle. You'll have to combine them in some ways, and there aren't many commands, but there are enough that brute force just isn't going to happen. So come use process of elimination and a bit of intuition and solve it.

The subject matter is something else entirely. There will be something new, nothing you have to think too much about. That's saved for the puzzles. Here you're a robot in some high-tech area that's out of power. I assumed it was a spaceship, maybe because of "Sector (HIGH NUMBER,)" but the author noted that nothing made this the case in the text. He is correct.

Your official name is Exter-17, and you'd better do a good job here, or you'll be relegated to the boring stuff. You only have a few commands (COM to communicate and ZAP to zap) to start. The main spaceship doors are all shut, and without power, they're not going up. And all the other robots are out of power, so ZAP it is. This one's hard to bungle, and that's how introductory puzzles should be.

As power comes back on, you gain another abillity/command. You can interact with crystals, which (among other things) open doors. You'll gain a few more commands, so you can even be able to pick up items you find lying around, eventually! This is of course an amusing inversion of how TAKE is one of the first commands a player learns or uses, and TAKE ALL is an accepted early way to get your bearings. I won't spoil the actual command names, because they're nice small amusing surprises, as are the robot name abbreviations of the NPCs. These presented small puzzles to figure out (what do the first three or four letters expand to?) when I got stuck with the main puzzles. This is totally optional, of course, but it helps prevent you from feeling dumb or frustrated.

This all feels very simple, like learning very basic machine language commands (as with many DiBianca games) but there are production effects, as well. The first is what happens with text art that happens with power back on. I won't spoil it, but if you play for five minutes, you can't miss it. You also have an option of which background to choose, so that's very cool. I ran through all the options more than once.

Restoring power is the easy part. Destroying bugs is next, and it's tougher. Well, the first bug is out in the open. Then the next two are in rooms you need to solve relatively trivial puzzles to gain access to. Then, if you try to ZAP a bug, it evades you! There are thirteen total, and while no puzzle is too complex, you have to pay attention to your surroundings, or to rooms that seem like dead ends. Pretty much everything is useful, and you have to figure how.

You can win without exploring all the rooms in S471. This is a DiBianca staple: enough challenges to make you happy you got through it, then a hint you're missing something. In this case, there are a few rooms in the center that are unexplored. It seems two squares are pretty obviously needed to preserve symmetry. You get a small bonus on killing the last bug, and it's up to you how to use it that to poke around even more. Given the square map, you can figure where you need to look. There are also locked doors, or ones that won't stay open. There's even a robot that imitates you around a locked door, so toggling the door is out.

I enjoyed Sector 471 a lot. While I don't like rating it as opposed to other games by the author, I just would like to compare it to books of brain teasers as a kid, mathematical or otherwise. DiBianca's stuff seems to last a bit better. With the books, at first it was fun to say "Hey! I know how to do that!" but they got less fun when I knew all the tricks and realized I was only getting answers from what I already knew. I felt ripped off. I hoped for more out there. And I wanted more than problems. For instance, it's fun to solve "Two mathematicians were talking. One said the product of his kids' ages was 36. Then he told the other mathematician the sum of his kids' ages. It wasn't enough for the other one to decide their ages. Then he mentioned his oldest just had a birthday." It's fun to work through again after you've forgotten it for a while. But it is such a bummer when reading a puzzle book and getting a bunch of these not-new puzzles but you're aware these are rehashes. And I still remember the day I realized logic puzzles didn't have the satisfaction they used to, and I was probably avoiding mistakes more than trying or enjoying anything new. With the author's complete works, I don't feel that way.

S471 definitely has its own personality, and the general brevity works well -- the robot dialogue is odd and whimsical the right way, because robots shouldn't talk much like humans, and you can and should have a good laugh about it. It continues a nice string of works I'd have enjoyed as a kid, ones that would've boosted my confidence when the Zorks, no matter how much I loved them, left me baffled. As much as I enjoyed abstract problems, I wanted more, and I didn't know what. (I preferred this stuff to dirty jokes at 13, which did not make me at all popular.) These tastes feel less weird now I've played many such games and know others like to, too. While I don't need them any more, and the Internet provides other ways to explore my mind, I'm glad there's a repository for neat puzzles consistently blended with a fun story.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Minimalism with robots; metroidvania lite, October 29, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a fun medium game. The author has a long-running series of games that feature a limited parser, where only a select few commands are recognized. In fact, you could say he's a pioneer of the field.

I've come to learn how to play these games, although they're still pretty hard for me. So I was looking forward to playing this game.

You play as a robot that has to go around zapping bugs who have infiltrated a robot factory. It kind of reminds me of the MO factory in adventure time, if it was working well (the only similarities are single minded robots, but still...).

It's kind of a metroidvania situation, as you gain new abilities and items as the game progresses. There are also codes, waiting games, patterns, etc. However, there's no sequence skipping possible like in a lot of Metroidvanias.

I did better than I usually do, completing all the optional tasks and getting all but 1 of the bugs. But man, that last bug was nasty; I looked at every hint and then had trouble. It was the (Spoiler - click to show)sculpture bug. It was fairly clued, I just forgot some capabilities, which shows how complex can get.

I liked the characters in this game a lot; they were simple and often dumb but it makes sense for a collection of bots.

See All 7 Member Reviews

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Outstanding Science Fiction Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best science fiction game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members....

Outstanding Inform 7 Game of 2022 - Author's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best Inform 7 game of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to IFDB...

Looks like I have to do EVERYTHING myself by Kinetic Mouse Car
This poll is for games where the player's sole purpose is to fix things. It's their job, or a near equivalent to a job. Does not necessarily have to be traditional employment but fixing things has to be part of the PC's purpose, not...

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This is version 10 of this page, edited by David Welbourn on 25 February 2023 at 1:30pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item