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Missed opportunities--in relationships and gameplay, December 1, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

Every year in IFComp there are a couple games with great ambition and obvious promise that have techincal errors, so things never shine through. Unfortunate is such a game this year. Without the bugs, it would be neat and bold, but with them, unfortunately, there's an additional puzzle of working out the right order to do things in so the story isn't dead-ended. With more testing it could've been quite interesting, and I'd have been more eager to try different endings. It's sad the author wasn't able to find testers.

In Unfortunate, you're at a party with 7 other people you give fortunes to. Once you do, things start happening. Someone drops a salsa jar. People make romantic plays for each other. There's almost a breakup. Then things wind down with a short timed puzzle at the end. Sadly, this timed puzzle can be started at the beginning, which hosed the causality for everything else. But as Unfortunate isn't very long, it's not bad to restart and try again and make sure that people don't disappear before they have their resolution. As things turned out, I was exploring and experimenting so much that I forgot to do a few simple nice things for people. The party bombed, and all my predictions (I spammed 1's, which seemed the most dire) came true. I scored 7 of 7 points! So I both totally won and totally didn't. This charmed me. Unforunate had several different ways through, clearly.

I admit, though, I had to decompile the game to see some of the text. As-is, the game offers helpful advice for compass-direction exits but doesn't mention two places where you need to go IN. So this threw me off one trail. Then I found a record in a closet and played it, but it was meant to bring two people back together--two that had disappeared. However, once I knew what scenery was relevant, things made sense. There are a lot of details that are well-observed but may not work well for parser fiction, or they might even be better with twine, e.g. you could highlight important items or closets with a link. Some nooks are important and some, like the shower in the bathroom, aren't. There's a lot of meaningful care given to certain details, which leads me to believe the author didn't know quite what to look for or where to ask for guidance, and they did the best they could, and that's not a backhanded compliment. But it's not enough to make Unfortunate playable without serious aid.

You see, there are games where I shrug and say "oh I guess they wanted to do that, that makes sense" and others where I'm genuinely disappointed for the author they didn't make things smooth enough, yet. And this falls in the second category. I obviously stumbled on an odd way to do things, going out of order because I just poked around to make a map, and I finally got my bearings in the bedroom, which was meant for later in the game. But Murphy's Law is cruel that way.

There's a thread on the intfiction.org forums of what order you need to do stuff in so Unfortunate doesn't go belly-up. It's worthwhile. And most of what you need to do is something that feels natural--but there are so many things, you may wind up forgetting something, leaving you with nothing to do. Unfortunate could use an update then, even post-comp, and I'm sad the author may've looked at the placing and decided this sort of thing wasn't for them. But if you have the patience to tiptoe around a few game-breaking bugs or learn from where others fell, there's a good experience to be had.