by Phil Riley

Science Fiction

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Number of Reviews: 6
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Sabotage, with a question of who did it, and oh, space chores too, January 3, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Crash is commendably ambitious both narratively and technically. It doesn't mess around to start. You're given some trivial tasks to fix a spaceship (a microwave and cabinet are out of whack,) but of course those are just an introduction to the main plot. A spaceport to the side blows up. Obviously, someone needs to figure why, and you're the only person on the spaceship who can do so. Not because you're a detective, but because you're conscious. Not only that, you're on a crash course with a major spaceport! There's a lot of help early on with nice touches such as the Unicode character for an arrow. So I felt pretty comfortable attacking things early. And there was an in-game hinting system. I was making good progress while clueless of the very nice PDF walkthrough that came with the game.

My initial try, I spun out early, but the puzzles I solved, I was happy for. The scoring was neatly done, with a list of things you've fixed, want to fix and have to fix. In some cases it seems like there's an intentional bit of difficulty, for general humor or moving the plot forard. For instance, with a pair of bunks, I could CLIMB the one I didn't need to do anything, but the one I did, I couldn't. The alternative verb exhausted me for a bit.

Still, I had a lot of neat stuff to do and found it generally amusing to see or find what the solutions were. Like the microwave, which should be easy to fix, except I didn't have the right tools. Fixing the microwave, though not a puzzle requiring intense technical knowledge or deep building on what was there, had just the right sort of subversions and got that first point that said, gosh, I had Done Something, and of course it wasn't going to be super-simple right away. And I also enjoyed figuring how to go up from the galley containing microwave–you know something is there, and you hear voices, and it's a good part of the mystery, and it plays well on the fear of death and being lost. Then when you hear the voices, you have another choice to make.

I got stuck a bit after opening the way up, where double-checking the scenery got me "Really, the equipment trunk isn't important to the story. But by all means, continue to fiddle with it" and after a bit of wrangling
with the parser, this felt like someone was looking over my shoulder and saying "boy, you are clumsy with tools." I don't think this was the author's intent, and it may be gone in a post-comp release, Needling the player just the right amount is tricky, and a little snark can go a long way in the wrong sort of way, but hopefully forewarned is forearmed.

That's where I cut off in-comp. I'd started to see there were two people with opposite stories you needed to evaluate. I'd found a way to walk outside the spaceship. So I felt competent, even if I wasn't able to stop it.

So it's where I cut off, as I was at about the time limit, and I'd had a satisfying time, technical quibbles aside. Poking afterwards during a more relaxed time, I enjoyed the possible endings (failure, blowing the ship up without crashing into the city, success) and I'd even worked my way through a schematic with the help of some manuals. This is always tricky for me, as I like to play things to get away from technical manuals. And I wasn't sure if I would feel competent enough to make replay worth it, until the diagram made sense, and aha! There I went. The problem of trusting the Sergeant or Captain was interesting, and I certainly felt pressed to respond, but of course, I didn't have to.

Crash felt like a very enjoyable work that definitely wasn't my thing, and I always welcome those. The author's shown a great willingness to learn even more on the forums. And so Crash sort of has the feel of Marco Innocenti's first Andromeda effort in 2011 both because it's Sci-Fi and it involves an apocalypse and old-scoolish puzzles. In 2012, the second Andromeda effort won IFComp.

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.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A well-done Fix the Spaceship puzzlefest, December 5, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2022

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp. I also beta tested this game, but didn't do a full replay before writing this review, so caveat lector)

It doesn’t get much more classic than the setup for Crash: you play a lowly maintenance worker who boards a top-of-the-line military starship to repair the microwave and unstick the cabinets before its next important mission, when disaster strikes and you’re the only one who can fix the ship in time to avert a disaster. There are more than a few shades of Planetfall, not to mention Space Quest, in the premise, and while they’re a bit thinner on the ground now than they were a decade or two ago, the woke-up-alone-on-a-busted-spaceship game is a trope for a reason.

Crash isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, in other words – in fact, I think it’s consciously calling back to the classics, what with the shout-out to Steve Meretzky in the ABOUT text. But, impressively for a debut game, it can hold its own even in this distinguished field, boasting a strong set of puzzles and enough small twists to keep the game distinct from its many stablemates, without straying too far outside of its lane. The implementation and writing are likewise unobtrusive, but in their quietly solid way support exactly the experience the game’s intending to provide.

Admittedly, the puzzles can be a bit tough. Crash has a bit of an old-school edge to it, requiring the player to think carefully about their environment and try actions beyond the obvious ones in order to progress. But the challenges are logical, with reasonably cluing, and for the most part the trickier ones come early, when there are fewer places to go and things to try, which winds up making them more solvable. There are also some good set pieces in the mix, from an extended high-stakes EVA sequence to an engine-rebooting logic puzzle. And while your initial quotidian maintenance tasks are soon demoted in importance, you have the option of completing them for some satisfying bonus points.

As for the twists, there’s a surprising branch point midway through, when in the wake of an accident that increasingly starts to look like sabotage, you’re contacted by two characters via the ship’s radio and need to decide who to trust. Refreshingly, this isn’t a false choice that will just color the experience, with the narrative cheating to give you a happy ending regardless of who you pick: there’s a right answer and a wrong answer, and if you act hastily things are likely to go quite badly for you. It’s an unexpected social-engineering challenge in the middle of what’s otherwise a very gearheaded game, and makes for an entertaining and engaging change-up.

I’m personally not overly enamored of the Infocom-style “golden age” of parser IF – the more narratively convoluted early-aughts style is more my jam – but I can appreciate a good throwback when I see one, and Crash definitely qualifies. And with its shorter playtime (it’ll neatly fill out a typical two-hour Comp slot) and merciful design, it’s a forgiving way of dipping back into these classic waters without having to put up with all the annoyances one’s memory tends, conveniently, to elide.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A fix-the-broken-spaceship game with plenty of hints and multiple npcs, October 17, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game is a fairly hefty parser game where a spaceship is sent spiraling off into space with only one person, you, in it.

You have a to-do list that expands and contracts as the game demands. There are a lot of little devices: cabinets, panels, fuses, etc. and a very intricate-seeming fuel injection system.

The puzzles are generally clever. Some of them are moon-logic type puzzles.
As a case in point, very near the end of the game (heavy endgame spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)you find the captain's journal and need to unlock it. The captain has two pictures: one of a dog named Pluto and one of the moon. The idea is that the password is Pluto's moon, Charon. But why would someone, in their own room, make their only personal objects just happen to be an obscure hint for their own password?. But most of the puzzles are fair.

Implementation is sometimes missing but when it's not it's very solid. So a lot of cool objects are implemented (including a large rope) but a lot of scenery objects are just not there or are missing reasonable actions. (For instance, (mild lategame spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)if you unlock the starboard chest, it has wires, but you can't refer to them or interact with them in any way. Similarly, there is an operations console on the bridge which isn't implemented.

I think this is already a good game, but I think with a few tweaks it could become a great game. Maybe there could be a post-comp release with a bit more things written in? Either way, I enjoyed playing this. It was a little unpolished, but had nice puzzles, pretty descriptive, and was enjoyable, and I would replay it if it was tweaked.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Spaceship maintenance, October 6, 2022

This is a well implemented puzzle game set on a spaceship. You play as a maintenance worker with a growing to-do list of things to fix, and in the background there are exploding space stations, rebel factions, and densely populated moons. It feels kind of like a larger and more developed version of "Fragile Shells". The puzzles are pretty good, and the game includes good hints if you get tired.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Just another day on the job..., October 3, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Puzzler

"♫♪♫...tum te dum te dum... ♪♫♪"

While you're waiting for this airlock to cycle open, you take a look at your task-list. "Repair microwave oven. Fix cabinet door." Should be an easy job, getting this crew's living quarters in order before going home. The crew are all in the space station, so you can take all the time you want, you've got this starship all to yourself.

For no reason but my own imagination I thought of the PC in Crash as a middle-aged guy with a two-day stubble and a cigar butt stuck behind his ear, doing this one last job before going home for the night and watching a far-future version of Jeopardy.

Of course, before you've set more than a few steps inside the SS Ugati, all hell breaks loose. The space station explodes behind you, propelling the ship you're on into open space. Darn! Looks like your task-list just got a bit bigger.

A few questions to the ship's computer quickly reveal a backstory of a system-wide rebellion, rivalling factions and opposing planets/moons. I really like this plot dynamic, a normal guy unwillingly thrust into circumstances with far-reaching consequences and no choice but to rise to the challenge.

The protagonist is weakly characterized, making it easy for the player to project herself onto the role or to invent a character of her own liking (the stubbled cigarsmoking guy I mentioned above...)

The build-up of tension is very well-paced, several times raising the stakes and increasing the urgency of the situation. The puzzles follow this arc of tension nicely, with a few simple preliminary obstacles leading up to two more complicated and challenging endgame problems.

All the puzzles are of a mechanical/physical/chemical nature, requiring obtaining and studying information (the ship's computer), and implementing cause-and-effect relations, all the while taking into account the fact that you are in a spaceship.

There is a lot of optional material for those with completionist/optimalizationist tendencies, although doing menial chores while your damaged vessel is hurtling through space does strain the suspenders of disbelief somewhat...

About midgame two NPCs come into play (albeit never personally, you can only talk to them on the comms.) Both are well-defined, they have a definite personal voice. The transition to the endgame requires you to put your trust in one of them. A frustrating dilemma with limited background information, adding to the tension of an already distressing situation.

There is much satisfaction to be found in figuring out the two main puzzles by yourself, perhaps with a nudge from the step-by-step hint system. Do give them a chance before running to the walkthrough.

Great puzzles against a strong but elegantly downplayed backstory.

This is very good.

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