La Seine

by Derek Sutcliffe


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Promising Preliminary Sketch, March 26, 2009
by Ghalev (Colorado, United States)
Related reviews: EnvComp 2009

This entire review is one big spoiler. Be warned.(Spoiler - click to show)

The game begins with an opening quote by Seurat, and describes your place along a river. There are people with parasols.

It's like a post-traumatic flashback to that educational commercial I saw every Saturday morning as a kid. That same Seurat painting, that same measured voice telling me: Seurat. Knew a lot. About Dots. And now, so, do you! So, fifteen seconds into the game, without typing a single command, the foundational puzzle is solved: I'm in Seurat's famous painting. I'm sure I had this nightmare already at age 12, but I do immediately respect the notion. This is an EnvComp entry, and as "unusual environments" go, "in a painting" is groovy enough, to be sure. So, bravo.

I like this little game. What's more, I'm grateful to its author ... I'm not a comp guy myself, but I like it when comps succeed in their shared goal: to bring more text games into the world. Thanks to Derek Sutcliffe, EnvComp didn't have to limp into existence as a one-horse race.

But La Seine, beyond its clever premise, is a promising start on an unfinished work. Success is simple enough, really: solve three opening puzzles, talk to an NPC, if need be talk to the same NPC again, and type the provided command to reach the conclusion.

But this simple path is obscured, I think unfairly, from the player. First, there's no indication that there are exactly three opening puzzles, and that solving those three are the necessary milestone to trigger the next stage of progress. You can solve those three and have no idea that you aren't meant to look for more ... nothing happens, nothing is said, to indicate that the milestone has been passed.

The game is under-implemented for its premise. This is a game showcasing an environment, but it offers little in the way of environmental interaction, and stymies many attempts to explore and play with your surroundings. There are two dogs and a monkey present ... but you can't try to pet them. The game takes place along a river ... but JUMP IN THE RIVER (and even the verb SWIM) falls on the parser's deaf ear. The game draws attention to a musician, but try to LISTEN to him and you earn the standard substitute for a payoff: You hear nothing unexpected. The game recommends sitting in the shade of some nearby trees, but SIT IN THE SHADE or SIT UNDER THE TREES stumps the parser once again. At another point, the game warns you not to try to take your clothes off (a tantalizing invitation to a humorous refusal response if there ever was one) but don't be too tantalized: clothing-removal commands don't parse at all (I guess I was warned). And at the simplest level: some mentioned (and potentially interesting) nouns go entirely unimplemented. On the other hand, the game does have a lovely response to TAKE HER BUTT, so there's that.

This sort of thing doesn't normally ping on my radar; I'm not one of those deep-implementation folk and generally prefer games lean and purposeful. But ... the solution to La Seine involves examining a previously-uninteresting character a second time, after you've passed the (invisible!) three-puzzle milestone. So, without knowledge that such a milestone exists, we are expected to trudge dispiritedly back toward the EXAMINE command, a command which has been miserly and unkind. The game's path isn't a difficult one, but it is left unmarked, and the behavior necessary to stumble on it isn't rewarded.

I like this game, I like this environment, I like this author's writing style, and I encourage a revised, post-comp release that brings La Seine to fruition. Bearing in mind that this is an early effort for Sutcliffe, I am impressed with him, and this is a game I'd be happy to recommend as a pleasing lunch-break exercise ... once it's finished.