by Phil Riley

Science Fiction

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
I Am Not on this Game's Level, December 9, 2022
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review

I am bad at puzzle IF, this is what I have learned. I got stuck in a 5 room spaceship for almost two hours. Yes, 5. Captain’s door (a likely 6th room) never yielded to me for the dumbest of reasons. But let’s flash to the beginning before we expose my shortcomings to the world.

You are a spaceship repairman, just punchin’ the clock when disaster strikes and now you are adrift on a small spacecraft trying to repair your way home. Sounds simple right? You’d think. It is a classic parser format, decently written with clear, unadorned declarative statements. Not a lot of flair, but not needed by the setting, and kind of nicely underscored the workaday view of our technician protagonist. I don’t know why this one ended up so opaque to me. In classic parser style, you go everywhere, open-examine-and-take everything you can, then try to figure out how to use them. There’s even a hint system! To no avail.

Here’s a puzzle I did solve, and why it felt like more work than it needed to be: (Spoiler - click to show)To fix the airlock door, you needed to find, then cannibalize a toy bear for parts. This was all as involved but solvable as you might imagine, no qualms here. Then it came time to replace the part, but first you needed to stand on something to reach it. Here are the ways that don’t work: you can’t stand on your toolbox; you can’t fill a cardboard box with MREs to make it sturdy enough to stand on, you can’t push either a large cabinet or a large piece of equipment closer, you can’t use your magnetic boots to climb the walls, you can’t stick the part on a knife with bubblegum to reach it into place. You CAN get the game-approved trunk to stand on then go. Now it is clearly unfair to ask an author to anticipate every crazy thing a player is going to try and have a reasonable reason why it doesn’t work. But some of them, maybe? Or even have alternate solutions available? Lots of others probably tried the right thing first time and never had cause to pepper the air with profanity like I did. It just felt like I was spending disproportionate energy on the least interesting part of the puzzle. This will be a throughline.

The ‘puzzle’ that blocked me the longest, probably 45 minutes or more, was (Spoiler - click to show)FINDING A FLIPPING SPARE FUSE. Just finding it. Nevermind the rest of the puzzle, just finding that one thing. IN 5 RELATIVELY SPARTAN ROOMS. And again, though I found many items or locations that plausibly could have what I needed, none of them yielded. Not the (Spoiler - click to show)bear (he’s got electronics, right?), the handheld videogame, the other panels in other rooms, the microwave, the big engine in the basement, the fuses in the panel that controlled other things, the electronic locks, none of them. This doesn’t even account for the energy I spent (Spoiler - click to show)trying to find or make a small wire to act as a bypass. When I first posted this review for IFCOMP, I knew what would happen. I saw the future as clearly as a carnival psychic - some kind soul would reply to the review letting me know the insanely obvious location I somehow missed and I WAS GOING TO JUST TOTALLY LOSE MY SH*T BECAUSE I BANGED MY HEAD ON SPACESHIP BULKHEADS FOR ALMOST AN HOUR!! Here was the HINT text provided for this particular thing:

3/7: (Spoiler - click to show)Looks like we need a new fuse. Have you found one?
4/7: Okay great, you found (Spoiler - click to show)a fuse and replaced the old one. Now close the panel.

Hey game? I didn’t. I didn’t find it AT ALL.

Puzzles are satisfying because we humans love to feel smart by solving things. It confirms that the world is conquerable by only the power of our human brains. Suck it rest of animal kingdom! The harder the puzzle, the smarter we feel, the higher the endorphin rush. Sooner or later though we get to puzzles we can’t solve. There is still joy to be had in those, even the mooniest of moon logic puzzles, because the solution once revealed in all its baroque, intricate glory can still delight as an intellectual construct. “OMG I’d’a never put that together, but man those parts just click right into place don’t they?” But within the parameters of the puzzle, if 5 solutions are plausible, but only 1 is ‘right’ it is our nature to ask “Why? The other 4 obeyed the rules too, why are they wrong?”

The answer of course is that IF authors are at the end of the day people with their own problem solving habits and viewpoints and are no more omniscient than the rest of us. Sorry you had to hear it from me! For whatever chain of chemical events that led to my brain and this author’s brain being so divergent, all I can say is viva le difference?

As a reviewer is it fair to penalize this work because I am a moron? Games that more successfully accommodate my… limitations… do a better job nudging in the text, or being explicit in hints, or not leaving reasonable but invalid solutions all over the place. But do puzzle games owe me that? No, solving the puzzles is the whole point. Given the sparse narrative it was always going to be the quality of the puzzles that brought the Sparks or Engagement. Fiction is a dialogue between the author and the reader. Puzzles are a challenge set by the creator to the solver. In both cases, there are authorial choices that can push the audience away or make the work unsuccessful. But what happens when the creator is operating in good faith, with seeming competence in their craft, and through no fault of theirs some portion of the audience just can’t engage? What on earth can a reviewer say about that that is of general interest?

All I can say is that for me, this was so, so much unrewarded trial and error. Mechanical and mostly seamless implementation. (There did seem to be one bug - if you re-examine the airlock panel you fixed, y’know (Spoiler - click to show)LOOKING FOR A FUSE, the text seems to indicate it is not fixed, and still needs to be. Thankfully, the to-do list is still correct. That was a bad moment for me.)

Twist ending: my prescient prediction was only half true. While some kind soul did flirt with my total mental collapse by providing a hint, turns out it was because of a completely wrong assumption I had made. I'm not sure why that's better, but it was.

Also, I understand that the HINT system has been subsequently updated. I can't say for sure it was my total freakout that drove that, but I can't say NOT either. Because this review was for a previous version of the game, am omitting rating from the total.

Played: 11/4/22
Playtime: 1.75hr, score 1/10, another 15 min was not going to get me anywhere
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Mostly Seamless
Would Play Again? Likely, newer version. Why do I do this to myself??

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

Note: this review is based on older version of the game; this rating is not included in the game's average.

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Phil Riley, January 26, 2023 - Reply
Yes! Your total freakout did inspire to make many changes. I think you made it a much better game.
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