Trouble in Sector 471

by Arthur DiBianca profile


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Number of Reviews: 7
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Bureaucratic Botworld, December 5, 2022
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review

This is another nifty little puzzle game. You are a 'bot squashing bugs via a series of unlocking-style puzzles. Either explicitly unlocking doors, or unlocking new abilities needed to solve subsequent puzzles. The puzzle design is reasonably pleasant and seems to play pretty fair. It does require some logical leaps or guesses, even trial and error from time to time, but that is far from rare in IF, classic or modern. The text descriptions are succinct with a light, breezy feel that keeps things chugging along and doesnít grate when you re-enter rooms multiple times.

It does a few things really well. For one, I really dug the ascii maps. They were easy to parse, eminently useful, and exuded an old-school vibe that matched the text tone nicely. The game seemed to disconcertingly read my mind at one point. I realized there were a few interesting items littered about behind me, but I really didnít remember where and was not looking forward to exploring to find them again. No sooner did that sour thought form than BAM I unlocked ďITEM modeĒ on the map to helpfully point them out! Had to be a coincidence, right? The alternative is super creepy.

While the game did not really implement deep NPCs (most are one-response once their puzzle-state responses are exhausted), like the room descriptions their dialogue is short and to the point with a splash of personality. Since they are bots anyway, this doesnít really jar - making a strength of its limitations! Same for the limited vocabulary - as a relatively simple bot, there isnít really an expectation of full autonomy and the limited action palette feels pretty natural. Between the marriage of form and function, the enjoyable puzzles, crisp page and map layout and snappy writing there were plenty of Sparks of Joy. There was however also a friction-y design choice and one small but really annoying bug.

Bug first. Itís a parser game, and the web implementation autoscrolled on command entry for a while. Until it didnít anymore - instead, it autoscrolled whey you typed the NEXT command. What this meant was, you would go say W(est). The descriptive text of the new room would appear below the bottom of the screen, and only after you input a character THEN it would scroll up for you to see. This had the effect of needing to type something/anything after your command, then maybe erasing that and putting the real command in. Eventually I figured out I could hit Enter-Backspace to force the scroll but man was it annoying. I donít really have a bead on if it was the authorís bug or maybe the web implementation.

The second was in command choice. This is a parser game, but it implements very few commands. It tells you what they are, thatís fine. Most of the frequently used commands (cardinal direction, look, wait) are implemented as single letters. This has the effect of keeping things light and moving quickly. There are some mode and status commands which are full words, but as they are rarely used thatís not impactful. However, the special powers you accumulate, and use all the time (sometimes in elaborate sequences), are 3 letters. Now, you are instantly thinking less of me because I am going to complain about three letter commands instead of 1. While that is 300% more typing, I accept your scorn. But in a game this light, with a vocabulary this limited, having to repeatedly type the same 3-letter words just starts feeling unnecessary. Especially when all of the ones I unlocked could have started with unique single letters!

The cumulative weight of these frictions led me to a point where after a particularly involved surprise side mission (which I had mistaken for a Ďcoreí mission) I didnít feel compelled to finish the game. So, definite Sparks of Joy, short of Engagement. As I look at the Ďintrusive elementsí above (buggy text scroll, why canít I type less?) while it for sure informed my experience they donít really rate as Ďnotably buggy.í Just a spot where more lubrication could have been applied. Hey-O, thatís what shÖ no. Just donít.

Played: 10/30/22
Playtime: 1.5hr, did not finish
Artistic/Technical rankings: Sparks of Joy/Mostly Seamless
Would Play Again? doubtful, got the gist

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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