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26th Place - 4th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (1998)
Minimalist little game about going to work, so poorly programmed that it's actually very funny in parts. For instance, you may end up riding your motorcycle into your house because you can't figure out how to get off it, and you're likely to get pulled over for speeding 10 times and get flat tires 10 more times. The writing is of a similar caliber--you'll note that you have a "helmut." As a game, in other words, this is awful; as comedy, it works just fine.
-- Duncan Stevens
>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
Imagine if this was your day: You start out in your kitchen, where you drink your coffee and eat your toast. Then you try to figure out the layout of your two-room house (the two rooms are a kitchen and a hallway). All the while you're experiencing one epiphany after another about how much you love your life, except for having to go to work. Then you get your motorcycle helmet (which you think of as a "helmut") and your keys and head off to your important meeting on your motorcycle. Unfortunately, you get a flat tire almost immediately. Then you wait around while your hands get busy and fix the flat, a process which takes 30 seconds (I think you worked in an Indy 500 pit crew before you got your office job.) Then you get another flat tire, which you fix in an amazing 14 seconds. You get 8 more flat tires in the space of 6 minutes. Then you decide to make up for lost time by driving "just above the speed limit," and wouldn't you know, you get pulled over. The cop notices that you don't have your wallet, and kindly sends you home to fetch it. The drive home takes 7 seconds, and you drive your motorcycle through the house, because you have no idea how to get off of it. You haven't a clue where your wallet is, and when you try to get it, you think to yourself "I may not need that. I may, in fact, have it already." So you drive back out of the house and onto the road, but the same cop finds you, and sends you back home again, because you of course do need your wallet and don't have it already. But something about your hallway just makes you think otherwise. So back you go, and the cop pulls you over 5 more times before you decide to point your bike at an embankment and end your "leisurely drive" by smashing into the concrete at 98 miles an hour. OK, so maybe that last part doesn't happen, but you sure wish it could.
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This is clearly a programming exercise and is barely playable. It's ultra-short, and the challenge is figuring out the actions necessary for completion. There's little in the way of feedback for any actions that don't lead to progress, and just a few sparse locations, one of which has 90% of what you need to win. I suspect the code behind this is quite simple. The goal is just to go through your morning routine and drive to work. You eat, drink, kiss your family goodbye, and drive away. The drive is very eventful, if you don't grab everything you need, but other than that there's little excitement.
I knew all this going in, having read the hilarious reviews on the game's page. But I wanted to see it for myself, to poke at the game see if it did anything interesting. Sadly, it really is that sparse and empty. I did enjoy reading the small amount of heightened prose. The tone is so strange.
If there ever were to exist a Stepford Husband, it would be this protagonist. He talks about his life with a happiness that feels artificial, spouting platitudes like a pull-string doll, meekly satisfied with everything. He describes his wife, his motorcycle, his toast, and his patio with an equal level of moderate enthusiasm, but never with any specificity. His wife and daughter aren't even named, and can barely be interacted with. Work, the one thing he does complain about, doesn't seem like it actually upsets him. He still sounds like an automaton, denouncing his also unspecified work but still concluding that oh well, it must be done. Throughout the entire game, he keeps saying he does this exact routine, each and every morning. It's definitely not intentional, but the effect is creepy. The brevity and lack of response to anything but the required actions makes it feel like you’re stepping into the mind of a talking display in a museum or a theme park ride, one given consciousness, doomed to live out an eternal groundhog's day without ever being aware that they are doing so.
I read a short horror story like this, where a simple room-cleaning AI for a rich kid thought that all of its actions were autonomous, the product of independent choice, not knowing that its routine lifecycle was one that it couldn't violate if it had been allowed to try. It's a disturbing look at the concept of predestination. What if our actions are all decided in advance, and we're playing out those actions, the phonograph needle of time riding the groove of our life, operating under a mere illusion of choice until the day our song ends?
This game is awful, but in a way that's both very funny and also a little unsettling. I'm grateful for these oddball homebrew games that cropped up over the course of the competition. They served as a great reminder of just how good the tools for making adventure games were, and they remain fascinating curiosities to look back on today.
This game uses a home-written parser for a story about travelling to work.
Hardly anything is implemented, like X or compass directions or inventory or disambiguation. You travel to work, passing several obstacles in the way.
The writing is really unusual, and I kind of like it and kind of don't. It's really, really overblown, something like "You stand here with your beautiful, gentle wife, basking in the happy glow of home life in your kitchen.."
The game's biggest merit is that must have been hard to program.
This is version 2 of this page, edited by Paul O'Brian on 7 May 2008 at 1:18pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item