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About the Story
Sitting on the cold side of Mercury, you've waited two months for space debris to drift through the system, caught in the sun's gravity well. Satellites make for great salvage, and you've earned enough before to scrape by, keeping the Kratos flying. But, this time, nothing so far. The radar is barren. You're running low on fuel, and repairs will be costly after being out here so long.
25th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
Winner, Outstanding Inform 6 Game of 2022 - Author’s Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards
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Number of Reviews: 5
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I can't help but link Into the Sun with two other IFComp entries that take place in space: Crash and A Long Way To the Nearest Star. Obviously, they're all three different games, but this intersected the other two nicely. And I'm aware it's a homage to Aliens, where I still haven't gotten through the series, and I forget what I saw. It's very much its own game. It has a lack of order the other two have, not in the "the author didn't bother to nail down their vision," but in a "you need to strategize here" way. I think when it comes to maximization games, I may've hit my, uh, maximum a while back. There's so much of my own stuff I want to fiddle with. I'd rather maximize my own writing, if not for others' pleasure, then for myself. But I still think it's a worthwhile and entertaining experience, even if I may have a certain amount of second-hand "oh, I can see how someone would do this" joy.
After just playing LWNS, I was ready to start using access cards and so forth to figure how to discover places, and, well, I needed a more violent solution right off the bat. As a scavenger, I'd been looking for a derelict ship to raid, and I needed enough money to be able to refuel and repair my own ship. Here there is no intrigue or politics. It's still a matter of life and death, and a more acute one, because you'd also like to avoid the bloodthirsty, massive, quick alien running around the ship. This is different from politics or sabotage or a cagey AI! Oh, and as the title says, this derelict ship is hurtling into the sun, so there's urgency outside the prospect of a violent end near the monster.
The alien's hard to avoid, too. It stumbles around randomly and persistently, and you have some clue where it is. You need to nearn how to navigate the ship's three levels, with maintenance elevators you can run around. Most importantly, you have a stun-prod with three uses. It will repel the alien temporarily. The alien's fast and powerful. You can't run once it sees you, so you'd better
be armed, though you can UNDO. This isn't a cure-all, as you can only guess if the alien has destroyed a room with a particularly valuable treasure, if it's far away. So you're left with the prospect of pessimism if too many rooms of little value are pristine. This brings a lot of tension as you replay, on top of, of course, the whole life and death thing if the alien is nearby.
I wasn't really expecting this, since the only other timed game with anything resembling violence is Approaching Horde! And that had a lot of humor. Here I had a hard time adjusting to all sorts of things, even getting port and starboard confused! This is my fault, but it also reminded me of how non-parser players might feel when faced with standard parser directions everyone knows. At the same time, I realize it's not a gimmick–there aren't really directions in space! It was easier in Crash for me to adjust because of the lack of ambushes, and also Crash had a smaller ship. Into the Sun's seems just about the right size. There's enough space to get around to start, and then you realize you'd better take the initiative to tear the ship apart before the beast does.
I quite bluntly had no clue what to do, as I don't think in "destroy this" mode. Then I read some other reviews and, aha, I managed to open some panels that were closed. No, I wasn't going to perform some electrician-style miracles here. There was no puzzle with colored wires. It took a while to get used to. And of course there was the random alien. It had destroyed almost everything the first time I managed to avoid it or explore most of the ship, and it was a while before I even got enough money to repair my ship. I still lost, technically, since I had no money for fuel.
This in itself felt like a victory for me, if not for my character. The game's rather intense, and I wasn't necessarily up for that, but I caught myself jotting down strategy. Touches like the service elevator were nice, as were finding spoiled rooms the alien had been to. A-ha, that might be good next playthrough when I know what I'm doing. I also like that I didn't seem to have to maximize everything and there seems to be a lot of latitude to find a strategy for the best odds of escaping. So while I thought I wasn't up to ItS's challenge on the day I reviewed it, in the stretch run before the comp closed, it pulled me through and got me to try some things I wouldn't have otherwise. I really enjoyed having the different stories based on money found, as opposed to just ranks.
An entry that helps pick me up and postpone or cancel severl "I quit" moments is very well done indeed. And that's where ItS fits. Perhaps I'll pull off a few more reviews and read them and see if I can maybe even retire with my haul from the ship. That's a sign of good game design. The author mentioned being inspired by Captain Verdeterre's Treasure, and I actually found the puzzles and story more compelling here.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
The eternal pastime of the ur-protagonists of parser IF was treasure-hunting. From Adventure to Zork, the player may have delved, fought, and explored, but in the end they accumulated points from plunder, wresting valuables from the bowels of the earth and/or their rightful owners to bring them back and heap up treasures on the earth. The fashion for such things has long since passed, of course, but it’s intriguing to note that one of the most modern of IF subgenres, the Verdeterrelike, hearkens back to such deep roots. These optimization games play very differently, of course featuring as they do dynamic environments, aggressive timers, and less emphasis on individual challenges in favor of the repeated plays unlocking the overall metapuzzle of calculating the best route and best timing to loot the most stuff – they can feel almost like roguelikes, where the expectation is that the player pursues, though never reaches, mastery through failure after failure. But peek below the chicken costume of the protagonist of Mike Spivey’s Sugarlawn, say, and you’ll find the amoral wielder of an Elvish sword of great antiquity.
Into the Sun sits squarely in this new-yet-old tradition, and at first it seems to just be playing the hits: like Captain Verdeterre’s Treasure, which inaugurated the subgenre, it’s set on a ship that’s not long for this world (here a derelict spaceship that’s about the fall into a star’s gravity-well, admittedly, rather than a pirate vessel taking on water), with a goal of maximizing the salvage you collect in the time remaining in order to get the biggest payday. The puzzles similarly also trend towards the simple, largely being straightforward door-and-key puzzles you’ve seen a million times before.
What’s unique about this game, though, is that you’re not alone. To explain the spin Into the Sun puts on the standard setup requires a spoiler, though one that becomes clear about five minutes into the game. So I’m not going to spoiler-block the rest of the review, but fair warning if you’re sensitive to such things that you might want to step away after this paragraph.
I suppose it’d be polite to write some filler here so folks who’ve decided to bail don’t accidentally see the spoiler. So let me just mention a few random things I liked. First, there’s an incredibly-helpful map that’s bundled with the download – definitely check that out. Also, for all that the spaceship setting is incredibly generic (more on that in a bit), it’s atmospherically described. Here’s a utilitarian corridor:
"With the batteries running out, the lights in this section collide with the smoke to create an orange glow. It gives the room an imagined warmth, where there is none in space. The companionway is wide, with an access panel on the forward bulkhead."
That’s nicer than it needs to be (I enjoy the word “companionway”).
OK, that’s the buffer done. So what the deal is is there’s an alien on the ship with you. Sorry, I mean an Alien – it’s got acid blood, a penis-shaped head, the table manners of a toddler, the works. Let you think I’m being overly-dismissive of an author using what’s by now a very well-established sci-fi archetype, exploration will turn up various logs referencing Ripley, Dallas, and others – it’s the Nostromo, you’re being stalked by a xenomorph, everyone knows what’s up. What this premise loses in originality, it gains in clarity – everyone knows how these guys work – and terror – because everyone knows how these guys work.
What that means is that even as you’re picking your way around the ship, discovering key codes and hoovering up personal mementos and likely bits of tech, the alien is stalking you. And because the map is replete with dead ends and choke points, it will catch you sooner or later. Fortunately, the first item you get is a cattle prod that will let you fight the monster off at least a few times, and there are few additional limited-use weapons you can pick up along the way. But when you’re out of those, you’re done, even if the ship still has a ways to go before it’s sucked into the sun. Having what’s in effect two timers rather than just one enlivens the formula substantially, because you don’t wind up just plotting the same course and slightly optimizing it each time; you need to pay attention to where you hear the alien rattling around, and make canny use of the elevator that can zoom you from the top deck to the bottom one, in order to conserve your weapon-charges.
The other tweak the alien imposes is that when it’s not stalking you, it might be venting its rage on the derelict ship. As you explore one deck, it might be tearing open access panels on another, and using its acid to melt through some of the items you’d be hoping to acquire for yourself. Again, this substantially changes the tweak-and-optimize gameplay loop typical of these games, because you can’t know whether the crate of valuable wines will still be intact even if you make a beeline for it. What’s more, the game also randomizes the locations of some of the puzzle-solving items, so you can’t know for sure where you’ll find the flashcard that tells you the code for the door locks.
Well, so much for description: do these changes work well, or no? I am going to split the difference, characteristically. I played Into the Sun twice through, and enjoyed both playthroughs – they were tense and I always felt like I was on my toes, improvising and having to balance playing it safe against going out on a limb to go for one of the more valuable items. But having gotten a reasonable payday my second time out ($2,190 “adjusted dollars”, if anyone wants to compare high scores!) I don’t feel much compulsion to go back and try for something even bigger. The optimize-and-tweak loop, turns out, is highly compelling to me (I play a lot of Zachlikes, for the record), and Into the Sun injects sufficient randomness to break it. I didn’t wrap up runs itching to try doing just one thing different next time; instead, I had to gird myself to start from scratch and come up with a plan of attack mostly from scratch. In some ways this makes the game a better design – and also makes it easier for me to feel satisfied with my experience playing it within the Comp’s two hour limit, whereas I feel like with Sugarlawn I’d barely scratched the surface – but all told, I think I prefer a more straight-forward Verdeterrelike experience (no need to include an Elvish sword, though – my appreciation for the classics has its limits).
Those were the words going through my mind as I looted the storage lockers while hiding from a xenomorph monster. In this game you play as space-based scavenger camped out on planet Mercury. You need to repair and refuel your ship but cannot afford it. The plan is to wait for a scavenging opportunity. Finally, you spot a derelict ship drifting towards the sun. Perfect for looting. But just because it is derelict does not mean you will be the only living thing on there.
If you liked the planning part of Sugarlawn then this may be the game for you. It has a lot of replay value in a similar fashion. Into The Sun borrows a few structural features found in Sugarlawn. In Sugarlawn you are a contestant in a reality TV show about collecting as many antiques as you can in 30 minutes or less. When time runs out the player is presented with a list of the items they collected and their monetary value.
Into The Sun is similar in the sense that the protagonist is collecting items under a time restraint with the central goal of maximizing monetary gain. It too, evaluates the profitability of the player’s looting excursion at the end of the game. But Into The Sun is no copy of Sugarlawn. It does not take a fill-in-the-blanks approach where merely the setting and inventory items are swapped out to create a sci-fi replica. The game still distinguishes itself in both gameplay and story.
You begin on the derelict ship’s middle level next to the airlock that leads back to your own ship. Things are eerily silent but that soon changes. The author has maps for the game, and I highly recommend using them unless you want to visualize an array of junctions, companionways, and levels. I just opened it in a second tab to refer to as I played.
There is a time constraint. As the derelict ship drifts closer to the sun, it gets sucked in by the sun’s gravitational pull. The farther an object goes in, the more difficult it is to break out. The top of the screen lists the gravity level as it increases. If the player waits for too long, they burn up with the ship. I feel like the time limit is reasonably paced. It adds urgency without overwhelming the player.
One of the main gameplay attractions is the xenomorph alien that adds suspenseful atmosphere and logistical factors that the player must manage. The xenomorph is trying to hunt you down. There is always a sense of danger since you can hear it searching.
Starboard Shuttle Bay - Deck B
The shuttle bay is a round room with an airlock on the forward end. There's not as much smoke in this section, but there's a lot of haze. Looking through the observation window, you see a shuttle that holds four.
The airlock's been beaten on and is damaged. The only exit is port.
You hear something slithering towards the port side of the ship. Distant, but it's coming towards you.
The player has limited means of defending themselves, and it is so tempting to just “undo” whenever you run into the alien. But I appreciate how the game does not let you off the hook that easily when avoiding it. As it travels the ship it spits acid on valuable things, destroying them. If you want to nab this or that you better plan around the alien’s movements before they get *acidified. Sure, you may be able to “undo” to skip the inconvenience of fighting the alien but that will not stop it from trashing the ship. While the player may be able to use loopholes here and there, they cannot do so entirely.
All sorts of obstacles emerge for you to dodge. Oh, you want to go down this passage? Too bad. A pipe just broke and hot steam is spewing everywhere. It really makes the player think on their toes. Play the game to see for yourself.
And best of all….
NO INVENTORY LIMITS!
Don’t get me wrong, inventory limits can have a purpose. They add an extra challenge to the gameplay and promote strategizing. Still, they are frustrating, and I am a tad spoiled by games that do without. Deep down, I love it when there are no limits especially for a game where the goal is to loot anything that is either not nailed down or nailed down under lock and key. Barriers mean little for eager scavengers. This raises the question of how realistic it is for a protagonist to be able to gather endless amounts of stuff while still being able to climb ladders and similar activities that require the use of at least one hand. In this game it is no problem. The protagonist has a sci-fi equivalent of Mary Poppin’s handbag which allows them loot derelict ships with relative ease.
Story + Characters
The story is focused on the protagonist’s objective of scavenging enough to afford to repair their own ship. But there is some secondary story content about the derelict ship and its long-dead crew which is gleaned from flashcards found in the ship. When you put the flashcards in the data reader you find the ship’s old logs. So far, I only found two flashcards, an orange one and a yellow one. I do not know if there are more.
It is a bit of a cliché storyline but still intriguing. (Spoiler - click to show) The ship received a signal from an unexplored planet and the crew decided to investigate the surface. A crew member was infected by something that later killed him and infected another crew member. Something happened and suddenly there was a xenomorph onboard. That is all I know.
The only question I have is about a comment the game makes about the (Spoiler - click to show) ship’s AI. If you acquire the AI core the game says, "you get 200 dollars for the insane AI." When it says, “insane AI,” does the game mean that the AI was responsible for the disaster, perhaps for the strange signal or the creature infecting the ship? Or is it just malfunctioning?
In a nutshell, Into The Sun is ultimately a replay puzzle in a spaceship setting. And a fairly unique one.
At first glance, I assumed the game would follow the familiar mold of a protagonist exploring a disabled ship as it drifts through space. Usually these involve repairing it with a “quick fix” to restore the power or warp drive or similar concept to enable escape or rescue. Instead, Into The Sun throws this to the wind. Repairs? Strip everything of value and leave. Oh, and there is an alien monster tossed into the mix. I just had a lot of fun with strategizing and exploring the setting.
Right now, it is one of my favorite entries in this year’s IFComp, although I still have quite a few remaining to play. We will see. If anyone is interested, my current high score is (Spoiler - click to show) 3,100 adjusted dollars. Someone will likely surpass that sooner or later.
*You certainly do not see that on Sugarlawn!
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Outstanding Inform 6 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 Inform 6 game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Eligible...
Outstanding Inform 6 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 6 game of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to IFDB...
Outstanding Feelies 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 game with the best feelies of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to...