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About the Story
It's 23 December 2020.
8th place - Adventuron Christmas Jam
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Number of Reviews: 2
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This is an Adventuron Christmas game that is quite large. You have to find out what 9 kids want for Christmas and make their toys after finding all the ingredients necessary. There is a large system of free shops and recipes for toys.
There are many locations and as of this writing all but one of them has art.
The puzzles range from fairly easy to the very obscure. The hardest puzzles were those involving guessing-the-verb or lack of in-game responses to incorrect actions.
This is large and complicated and I enjoyed it overall.
STF intimidated me a lot the first time I played through it. The map is not small. But fortunately, when I sat down to take another shot at it with David Welbourn's maps, things went a lot easier. I noticed it placed 8th in the Adventuron 2020 Christmas jam, which left me thinking, "Man, how good are the seven ahead of it?" While part of the low placing may be that some people probably found it tough to get going, that can't be all--there must've been quality stuff ahead. And I'm glad I got to unpack this, over two years later. The advent (heh) of Adventuron had passed me by, so I missed this sort of thing, and I'm glad it's still fresh.
STF is very much a directed treasure hunt. You, as Eldrid the trainee elf, get a list of basic tasks to perform. They're pretty pedestrian kids' toys, the sort kids might not even really like these days. They're certainly not cutting-edge technology. But what can you expect, being at the bottom of the rung? Nevertheless, I was quickly left feeling that these toys would be fun to give and make in a way that, say, potion-mixing games to be strong enough to beat up monsters could never be.
You should quickly find a manual that tells how to make the toys, as well as a list of kids who are getting gifts. And since there are several supply rooms, you can get most stuff done by brute force. You can't run out, either.
But ... but ... the neat part is that you can and must leave Santa's house to find everything. That includes a lump of coal for the one bad kid on the list, which is probably the very easiest task. There are other items that are lying around, which are useful but replaceable, so you might as well take them. There are a few puzzles to get to special rooms. And there's one puzzle I find well-clued: Mrs. Claus asks you to get a box of gingerbread cookies from the top shelf of a pantry. You have a box, and it's not quite tall enough, and neither are you. It weaves in nicely with another puzzle, so that STF is about more than reading recipes and dumping stuff in Santa's sleigh.
Most of us poking around in text adventures have, of course, long since stopped believing in Santa. Perhaps we are cynical about the gift-giving of Christmas, with good reason. But here there are no ads or comparisons of expensive gifts or even stress over sending out holiday cards. (Note: gifts and holiday cards with people we care about are good things. But, well, they shouldn't feel obligatory.) And we may even be cynical about ways to bring the magic back. Somebody's profiting off it, right?
Only for STF, that wasn't quite it. I mean, just finding Adventuron existed was a neat gift at any time of the year, even though I didn't discover it for a few months. It was another nice way to connect that we sort of needed with COVID. And it was also something I dared wish for when younger: something more sophisticated than Sierra games, with lower load time and more colors. And a lot of the special effects, too, mirror something I'd have loved as a kid, and still enjoy now. The presents you find or build have alternating green and red text, which flies in the face of our cynicism about too-gaudy HTML. The pictures of each room are fun. The list of tasks changes them from red to yellow to green. It's cheery and practical, without any of the "Oh, it's holiday time, if you can't be cheery now when can you be cheery?" that it feels more commercialistic holiday routines, or holiday office parties or whatever, inflict on me.
Santa's place is pretty well drawn out, too. Some rooms are clearly blocked off, such as Santa's Bedroom, and there are NPCs willing to help you but also reminding you of your job as a trainee elf. Instead of making you feel small, period, this actually funnels you to your tasks and leaves some wonder of the sort of things you could do or see if you did your job right. And while the interaction isn't intense, there's the feeling you're working together with the other elves. In a neat touch, there's also a metals room for advanced toys where you don't need anything just yet. (You can verify this with your toy making manual.) It hints at perhaps a sequel which, even if it doesn't arrive, is easy to imagine. STF has a bunch of neat responses to custom verbs as well. So it's well-produced, and while I think even a middling game would've left me with unexpected gratitude, having something nice that someone made for free, in their own time, feels good.
Part of me is a bit upset I didn't discover Adventuron right away, but it and the Christmas jam and this entry were waiting for me to play, and I did. I wasn't expecting too much of a gift, but perhaps I was more in a frame of mind to enjoy it than I was two years ago. Also, I was suffering through Adventuron withdrawal--this year's IFComp game had no Adventuron games! So STF filled that void and also pointed me to where I could keep filling it. I've been fortunate enough to take advantage of a few neat no-obligation trial offers this holiday season. I appreciated them, even as I felt slight guilt about canceling them even though all that is baked into the business model. But I appreciate a nice experience like STF, with even fewer strings attached, even more.
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