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Experiment with navigation, July 15, 2008
A Stop For The Night won Best Of Landscape in the 2003 IF Art Show. Presented as a small horror exploration, it experiments with alternate navigation methods as a way to heighten tension. The piece uses three methods: relative directions (left and right), door-oriented travel, and direct navigation (such as "KITCHEN").
The first presents the environment as the character sees it, and reinforces the knowledge of exactly where he stands: at a very specific point in space. As a description, it works; I'm made to feel as if I'm just a small person, a mere dot, entering this sinister place. But as a navigation aid, it fails. Like all IF before it, winding one's way through a map using left and right is disorientating, even if the map is a perfect grid. (The cardinal directions are relegated to the outside world of stars and sun.)
The second attempts to preserve a staple of the horror genre -- the moment of uncertainty just as you open a door leading to the unknown. It does that somewhat well, as you are quite focused on the door and any distinguishing characteristics it possesses to glean what might lay beyond. Unfortunately, given the shape and size of the map, this first presents the player with multiple rooms of twisted little doors, all alike. The suspense of such choices are quickly diluted by repetition. Later, after the map is explored, navigation is too focused on the doors rather than the rooms to which they lead.
The game's direct navigation system kicks in to compensate. You may enter the adjacent previously-visited room merely by stating its name. It's an improvement over Bronze as you needn't preface it with GO TO, but it lacks Bronze's ability to skip through multiple rooms at once. This tends to make puzzles more tedious as you flit from room to room searching for that one item that might be useful in that one place.
This particular work's implementation of the three navigation systems isn't perfect; even a fully-explored map needs an occasional Left or Right. But it certainly fulfills its purpose as an experiment. I learned a few things. I can conceive of navigating a new world by constellations whose location in the night sky change by time and season, but know the navigation-as-puzzle limits the remainder of the work to conversation and psychology. Single-word direct navigation allows one to concentrate on the puzzle or task at hand, rather than the minutiae of getting from point B back to A again. And a little disorientation from self-centric navigation among injured and individualized doors can tell a story in itself, but once you discover that the ominous, mystical wooden door with the crescent moon engraving leads not to the spellchamber, but to the privy, it's time then to concentrate on the higher reasons for all the walking around.