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About the Story
This was supposed to be an easy job to earn some money the summer before college, but Joe has an impossible list of chores for you every evening. He's the owner and only he handles the truck rentals, but somehow you need to move a lot of boxes around for a “self” storage business with no visible customers. For the record, nobody knows who Al is and you're not actually sure what's up with the psychic readings.
8th Place - ParserComp 2022
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Hey, python game, you still around? I know I said some mean things about you, but it wasn’t anything personal; just a little tough love, you know? Anyway I hope you’re here, because see this ^? All in bold up there? Now that is a title, funny and intriguing and creating a vibe as well as doing some real work grounding the player in the situation they’re going to be inhabiting once they load the game up. Why settle for less, when you could have something like that for yourself, too?
(Although, now that I think about it: I’m hoping that “Self Storage” rather than “Self-Storage” is just a typo).
OK, the unkind might say that beyond a killer title there isn’t all that much to Midnight at Al’s. It’s got a quotidian premise that doesn’t fully exploit the craziness said title seems to promise and which only twists late in the day, pivoting to the less-than-compelling Generic Horror Plot #17 (Spoiler - click to show)(woooo it was built on an old Indian burial ground woooo – kinda problematic!) at that. There’s only one real puzzle, and fewer jokes than you’d think. And there’s some wonkiness to the implementation, including one game-ending bug that’s really easy to trip into.
I can’t deny that the unkind have a point, and we’ll return to those complaints in due course. But despite the flaws I had a good time with this one. Partially, I admit, is that it’s just nice to sink into a nice, familiar Inform 7 game after a Comp that’s been heavy on custom parsers and old-school text adventures – this is my IF comfort food, and I don’t think I’m alone on that. But it’s also the case that that one real puzzle is very satisfying to work through, requiring you to think about what you’re trying to accomplish, deduce what’s going on with a non-obvious but clearly-implied barrier making the simplest way of solving the problem fail, then reassessing your options and capping things off with a nice aha! moment. I’m being intentionally vague here since there’s just the one puzzle so for folks who’ve played the game there’s no ambiguity about which one I mean, and it’s fun enough to solve that I don’t want to spoilt it even a little.
Admittedly, that puzzle does have more than its share of fiddliness – there’s part of it that involves unlocking something, and despite the game clearly knowing exactly what I was trying to unlock and with what, it took me like six tries to phrase the action so that it would be accepted. And it also plays host to the game-ending bug: fair warning to players, if you try to enter the freight elevator you’re never getting back out (heartbreakingly, I’m 99% sure I know exactly what gave rise to this bug – I’m also not one to criticize, since the initially-released version of my entry in last year’s IFComp could lead to the player get stuck in the middle of a swarm of bees being stung forever, which we can all agree is infinity times worse than anything an elevator can get up to). And outside of this, there are several places where things feel a bit more duct-tape-and-chewing-gum than they should, like the ability to cram inappropriately large objects into your backpack and a too-sudden ending that maybe indicates the author ran out of time.
Again, though, I think the pros outweigh the cons. I’ll wrap up with one more thing I liked about Midnight at Al’s: despite the fact that her characterization didn’t come through much after the opening, I enjoyed the protagonist, a disaffected teenager with a dumb summer job and a predilection for hardcore bands (I assume ironically, unless maybe it’s hardcore’s time to come round again?) She seems scruffy but scrappy, the kind of underdog you root for, much like the game itself. The winning sequence promises that she’ll return for future adventures, which I’ll definitely be down for, though hopefully those will get a bit more testing first!
This was an interesting game, with a mix of features that I'm not really used to seeing.
It's an inform game, and it's written fairly matter-of-factly, spitting out objective descriptions without commenting on them, which serves as an intentionally amusing contrast when things start to go weird.
You play as a young woman at a storage facility all alone, and you have to find and fetch three boxes. Your boss is kind of weird and has a lot of psychic stuff laying around.
It has three main puzzles, one of which is very easy, one of which took me a few days to solve, and one which has multiple solutions (I found one, club floyd found another, decompiling shows maybe 1 or 2 more).
The middle puzzle I almost gave up on. It involves the elevator, and the main issue I had was that its special feature (Spoiler - click to show)having all items fall out when the elevator goes up felt like a bug, since there are a lot of buggy games in parsercomp and elevator implementation is rough. I was especially inclined to think it a bug since riding in the elevator makes you permanently stuck (something I think may get fixed in a later version, as the author has mentioned doing so after the comp). But once I was reassured it was solvable, it was actually a lot of fun to wrestle with, and was, for me, the main highlight of the game.
The ending was interesting, and overall I think the concept worked well. The author used special inline images for the checklist, which looked nice.
Long titles always give me pause. Will they indicate a long, sprawling game? Or will the game have a tight focus, as sort of a reversal joke, so tight you think they overdid it with the super long title? In the case of Midnight (spelling the acronym would take more keystrokes,) thankfully, there's little to worry about. It's short and tidy and subverts the "pointless task in lousy weird job" genre without overusing the zany or "lousy jobs are lousy" angles. It's well-organized. I replayed it quickly after ParserComp, and though there's only one tricky puzzle, I still fluffed it at first and then felt happy once it was fixed.
You start out with an undemanding task left by your mysterious manager: find three boxes and bring them to the loading dock to the north. The first requires little more than exploration. The second requires fiddling with locks on an elevator. Some may find this tiresome, but it made me recall bad experiences with a frieght elevators and padlocks (not together, thankfully) which the passage of time had healed. The constraints are tongue-in-cheek, as you can't leave the basement if you are even carrying a mere task list. While it's busy work and meant to be, I enjoyed seeing something different than the Towers of Hanoi and the 3-, 4- and 5-liter jugs, and it underscored how badly managed your rental shop was.
Things get interesting after you place the second box on the loading dock. The weather changes. The place shakes enough that you can carry not just a task list into the basement but everything in the game that's not nailed down! This was an exhilarating moment of freedom. Not only that, but a previously-locked door is now open! This was a relief, considering all the futzing with keys and padlocks I'd done earlier.
On your way to finding the third box, you have visions. They contribute to why your place of employment is weird, and you have something to set right. It's not very hard, but it's satisfying, and it ended too soon, with the promise of a sequel I will be glad to enjoy.
Midnight certainly is economical in design if not in its title. And its brevity and oddness make its wit stay. And if the sequel takes a while, I will have stuff to tide me over. I hadn't realized this was the author's third work.
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