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An experiment in underimplemented, self-important interactive fiction, June 18, 2008
by Ryusui (Out in the middle of a field!)
It's a bad sign when a game's tagline reads like a passage from The Eye of Argon. This self-proclaimed "experiment in affective, embodied interactive fiction" manages to evoke only a vague sense of confusion and a powerful sense of moral indignation.
First off, for whatever reason, it seems the authors have thrown out the standard I6 library in favor of something hand-rolled and unforgivably primitive. Most of the standard IF verbs are absent: you can't listen to the beeping on the first turn, for instance, and even utility verbs such as save, restore and restart respond with an unhelpful "Not implemented yet." Using the standard library would have fixed most of these issues; unfortunately, the loss of most of the standard IF vocabulary isn't the full extent of the game's problems.
Actually exploring your surroundings is a chore, even beyond the obvious parser shortcomings. You can't examine any of your surroundings while you're on your bed; the table and desk are inexplicably described as being "on the floor" and thus supposedly difficult to examine (which doesn't make much sense, seeing you're stuck in bed and thus above the floor). There are "things" scattered on the floor which you can't examine, because the game infuriatingly doesn't recognize the word "things" (or the word "all", for that matter, rendering any attempt to pry some idea of what nouns the game is supposed to recognize from a "take all" attempt futile). The game is so brutally underimplemented that any attempt to glean any kind of story from it will only result in headaches: after "turn off alarm", the next puzzle involves soothing your aching muscles, which can be accomplished via the magic phrase "rub tiger balm on legs"; the problem is, the tiger balm is effectively invisible, likely in the scattered junk on the floor which you can't examine, meaning the only way you'll know it's there is by typing "help", quite possibly the only useful verb in the game, and after I realized that the game's problems extended much, much deeper than the parser I quit in frustration.
The game purports to be an examination of the moral and ethical consequences of drug use by athletes, a one-room game that blasphemously refers to itself as being inspired by Andrew Plotkin's "Shade". What it comes off as is yet another project whose ambition far outstripped the talent behind it. The parser is garbage, important objects are virtually if not entirely unimplemented (you can't even "examine me", for crying out loud)...anyone who can actually play this wreck to completion deserves a medal (not that I have any to give). Whatever story it might have is hopelessly drowned in a sea of ineptitude: apparently, being "avant-garde" mattered more to the authors than producing anything even remotely playable.
In closing, I have three things to say to the authors:
1. The standard library is there for a reason. Use it. (As it stands, this game gives a horrible new meaning to the term "Z-Abuse".)
2. Have your game beta tested before you even consider another release of any sort.
3. "Guess-the-verb", "guess-the-noun" and other general "guess-the-author's-mind" puzzles are generally considered bugs, not features, and it's the fault of the author if the player doesn't leap from, say, "itchy legs" to "tiger balm" if there isn't any tiger balm visible.