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About the Story
Original Blurb: "In the near future a drone war rages in the skies, but below in Summerland there is only one thought: who's going to feed Jacquotte?"
13th Place overall; 2nd Place, Miss Congeniality Award - 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2012)
Sparkly IF Reviews
You can play as three different characters, with different views of the world, and the player’s allowed to swap from one to another at any time. And that’s not easy to do at all.
-- Emily Short
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Number of Reviews: 3
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(I originally published this review on 21 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 21st of 26 games I reviewed, and it had already been updated once during the competition before I reviewed it.)
Adventure games have consistently demonstrated that trying to stop people escaping from stuff, at least literal stuff, is a futile goal. Joining this rich tradition concerning the flight from the literal is switchable protagonist adventure Escape from Summerland. Summerland is an amusement park, and when the game begins, it get hits by a bomb. The adventure which follows demonstrates fun and inventive puzzle engineering but could stand to help the player more with those puzzles.
The dapper nature of the first of three playable PCs made me feel like the introductory bomb had fallen during the London Blitz, but information in the game's blurb, which appeared only on the IFComp website during competition time, specifies the setting of the game as a future in which drones are fighting all our wars for us; presumably they dropped the bomb. The explosion results in the inconvenient death and ghostification of dapper gent Amadan and the entrapment of monkey performer Jacquotte. Amadan's ghost can't do much for dead Amadan, but it can try to liberate Jacquotte from Summerland, and it will seek to do so with the help of a busted up robot found along the way. The player gets to control all three of these characters and can switch between them at will to coordinate the escape effort. This brings a lot of neat features to the game's table: multiple PCs, unique viewpoints and a tweaked parser. The game design brief is extensive, demanding in some idealised form even more work on Escape from Summerland than has already gone into it, as difficulties remain.
The core puzzle mechanic is that each of the three characters has their own way of perceiving the environment, and their own physical pros and cons. Amadan, a human until very recently, delivers regular descriptions of the locations, but being a ghost he can't manipulate anything, though he can walk through walls. Jacquotte is a high achieving monkey and able to report on the world in her simplified terms which emphasise things she finds shiny and exciting over things she finds boring. Every statement she makes is accompanied by a monkey emoticon. I thought these might bug me at first, but I got used to them over time and was even charmed by them. The damaged robot turns out to be the most difficult character to wield. It distils what it sees and experiences into a high tech series of itemised lists. The elusive meaning of some of the robot's output turned out to be the cause of most of my trips to the game's walkthrough, but transparent or not, the lists themselves are fascinating.
There is little to complain about in Amadan's implementation when it comes to the puzzles, but the game doesn't explain his evident fervour to liberate the monkey. Perhaps she was the only animal in the carnival? The capricious monkey is the source of most of the game's humour, but also seems to be the PC with the least tolerance for varied commands. This isn't illogical – she's a monkey after all – but her monkeyfied rejections of most of what you might type can be wearing. The catch with the robot is that while it has many useful abilities, they're hard to access, or perhaps to even discern in the first place. After I picked up one of the robot's detached arms, I didn't realise that I needed to (Spoiler - click to show)INSTALL it before it would work. Other attachments were hard to identify, and a couple of other robot-based solutions seemed too abstract to guess at without more explicit clueing from the game.
I found Escape from Summerland to be of an essentially high quality but it didn't operate with a smoothness to match that quality, resulting in me keeping the walkthrough close at hand. Apart from the game needing to be more helpful in general where the robot is concerned, probably the main thing I think would help is a greater sharing of feedback amongst its characters. That is to say that when the player changes from one character to another, even in the same room, it's currently very rare to receive feedback on significant changes which have been wrought by other characters. The three of them could almost be living in separate worlds as they barely acknowledge each other's actions. I could understand such behaviour from an unemotional robot, but Amadan came back to save the monkey and the monkey is just observant and reactive in general.
Escape from Summerland also has a few curious elements which seem to be underdeveloped; the drone warfare which is never specifically mentioned in the game, Amadan's history with the monkey and some interesting attractions in the park which go unused. Perhaps development time ran short before the competition? These elements might have aroused more curiosity had the game gone on much longer than it did. The heart of the adventure is its novel choice of differently abled protagonists, the contrasts amongst them and the brief but clever run of puzzles they have to solve, with most of the game's atmosphere established by Amadan's initial walk through Summerland.
Escape from Summerland is a highly unusual and innovative game that doesn't overstay it's welcome but could be a bit more.
In this game, you are trying to escape a damaged circus tent. You can switch between a ghost (a traditional PC but unable to interact with anything), a monkey (agile but weak and a bit dim), and a robot (strong, with a light source, but bulky and uninformative).
The monkeys responses all include an ASCII art picture of the monkey and it's emotions. The robots responses are all in the former of status updates.
The game works very well, as it seems overly complicated at first, but then gels together. It seemed a bit disappointingly small, but this makes sense for IFComp.
I feel Escape from Summerland may be underrated because it didn't get the IFComp reception it could have -- the authors were in a time crunch, and some bugs slipped through. Which is sad for those who maybe played it and got frustrated. It still may be frustrating with the bug fixes--but it's also a lot of fun, with very clever viewpoint switching and a lot of quirky humor.
You start off as a ghost who sees someone trapped in a tent. Seeing who they are gives a realization--you may be able to figure it out. Once his initial duties are performed, you switch to his pet monkey, which has a ... rather less nuanced version of things. Then once the monkey leaves her cage, you're the ghost, making sure she's safe. That done, you switch viewpoint to a robot. Its descriptions are technical and tough to decipher. But here's the twist: the more you observe and look around as the other players, the more you figure what they mean. And different items are described differently by Amadan (the ghost,) Jacquotte the monkey and Shinobi the robot. Shinobi appears to be some sort of drone from an outer-space invasion, not really malevolent but just obeying orders.
And with the three players' combined abilities, you switch perspectives until Jacquotte gets out of the park. It's fun but very tough. I've come back to EfS several times, and without the clues, I get stuck somewhere else. The puzzles make sense, but they're very sticky. There's a part-broken lift to operate, and pushing a box out of the way takes a while. Shinobi has lost both arms and is badly malfunctioning (the temperature gauge goes from -80 to 80 Celsius). And it is low on power, which is probably why the invaders desert it. And for big events, the power drops 2%. You may see where this is going. Will Shinobi have enough power?
EfS rapidly becomes a buddy-comedy but without the backslapping. Amadon, the least powerful, most knows what's going on. Shinobi, for its technical knowledge, has no clue what things are for. Jacquotte can reach places. Amadon actually needs to provoke Shinobi into an action, where Shinobi senses his presence without being aware he's, well, dead. And Jacquotte has fun with the buttons on the lift, as one always wanted to when one was much younger. Contrasting her with Shinobi is amusing, as she often reverts to emote-speak with no qualitative description, and Shinobi's technical descriptions include "Organic Pest Must Be Jettisoned Before Further Ambulation." In actual English, that means Shinobi must DROP PEST if Jacquotte has climbed, before moving on.
EfS also has neat touches beyond just the three entities seeing the same item in drastically different ways. Trying to change them to themselves gets clever responses. We realize that the amusement park is a sad place, poorly kept up even if there was no alien invasion. And ... well, there are still bugs hidden in there, so you may want to save after each small victory. Which sort of adds to the slog as the three entities push through, leading Jacquotte from her cage to freedom. And, yes, there is some guess-the-verb, due to the nature of how the three entities see the world, but I actually rather like the included hints. They help me stumble through, along with the three heroes.
EfS is a rare combination of charming and clever, where it's fun to take a step back and see what everyone sees even if there are pitfalls in he puzzles and parser. Once you get in the flow, it's clear the authors really knew what they were doing and had a great plan. I know after EfS I hoped and expected something even bigger and more polished. Sub Rosa, for IFComp 2015, was that. And it brings up a tough dilemma: would I rather have, say, EfS and Calm, or one Sub Rosa? I'll cop out here on my own question and say I'm glad we have both, since they're each unique in the IFComp landscape. And to say: EfS is worth taking another shot at, if you trip up at first. Even completing it with its hints/feelies by your side is extremely rewarding.
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