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The Last Christmas Present.zip
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The Last Christmas Present

by JG Heithcock

2022

Web Site

(based on 8 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

"There was one present left under the Christmas tree, a wooden box with a tag that said 'I open at the close'"

When my daughter turned thirteen, I made a scavenger hunt to her last Christmas present using a Marauder’s Map of our house. Use the map to find the clues and discover how to piece them together to find her present.


Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: October 1, 2022
Current Version: Unknown
License: Freeware
Development System: Inform 7
IFID: Unknown
TUID: tq8wrqw823fafohp

Awards

43rd Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)

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Number of Reviews: 2
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A text memory of a real-life Christmas present with Harry Potter themes, October 25, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game definitely seems like a good contender for the Best Use of Multimedia XYZZY award specifically for its map 'feelie' attached to it, which is a complex map that folds and unfolds multiple times.

That map is an essential part of the game, since it marks the main treasure or objects you're looking for.

Those objects are Golden Snitches. The idea of this game is that the programmer made a real-life treasure hunt for his daughter, hiding four golden snitches in the house and creating a map that reimagined their house as various locations from the Harry Potter series.

The game itself is sparse in comparison to the lush map. Your father, Papa, follows you around, serving as a hint system, and rooms he doesn't enter are unimportant, as he feels no need to give you clues in them.

I was struck while playing with the casual, unaffected display of wealth. I've been both moderately wealthy and moderately poor in life; in my youth, my father was a video game executive and supported 7 kids in a large house with a big backyard. But his business went under, and years later after my divorce I've experienced food scarcity and can't afford a reliable vacuum or a washing machine. With that background, this house seems quite magical, with a balcony over a grand hall, a spacious backyard with water features, multiple secret passages and hidden rooms, and multiple rooms for the child, including their own bathroom. It feels like reading British books like Middlemarch (which I've been doing), seeing the life of the upper middle class or lesser aristocracy.

The game itself is charming and full of love. The two areas that I think are drawbacks are the sparseness of the room descriptions and the lack of implementation of several objects mentioned. For instance, when I first encountered the bookshelf, I couldn't X BOOKS.

As a final note, the Harry Potter themes are heavily prevalent, as a heads up for people that have strong feelings towards JK Rowling.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A world-beating feelie elevates a sometimes-frustrating scavenger hunt, November 22, 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).

IF, it hardly needs repeating, is not real life. That’s probably for the best – blasé as I’ve gotten about managing spaceship crises after being woken prematurely from cryosleep, in actual reality I would not handle that well, and let’s not even bring up Great Cthulhu and his goons. Sadly, in the Last Christmas Present, the arrow flips the other way: this is a parser-IF rendition of a magic-themed scavenger hunt the author created for his daughter, which seems like it was completely awesome in real life, but unfortunately makes for a lackluster time when rendered into a video game. Partially this is due to the difficulties of translation – the hunt’s centerpiece is an elaborately-described map that doesn’t work quite as well in prose form – and partially due to some implementation issues that make what should be fairly simple puzzles much too hard.

Here’s the inevitable part of the review where I need to pause to clarify that the theme isn’t just “magic”, it’s “Harry Potter” – the map is a riff on the Marauder’s Map from the books/movies, what you’re looking for are papercrafted snitches, like from quidditch, and there are a few optional clues that rely on deep knowledge of Potter lore, though I suspect 99% of players will do better just searching at random rather than attempting to decode their obscure references. Per the ABOUT text, the scavenger hunt was conducted in 2013, back in the halcyon days when there was no reason to associate teenaged wizards with hardcore transphobia – which is unfortunately no longer the case in this fallen age of 2022. While the game very much seems to be offered in innocent fun, I can definitely understand some potential players not being able to look past the Rowling connection, though speaking personally, the fact that the puzzle was created nearly a decade ago and that this is a free fan game meant I felt okay about continuing.

Back to the game: you play a tween who’s opening one last Christmas present from her parents, which turns out to be a map of your house. The thing’s lovingly rendered with all sorts of different folds, flaps, stars, and riddles, on top of the depictions of the rooms and yard which are all made up of words (in a neat touch, once you unfold the map to a particular region of the house, the description of exits will update to use the new magic-y room names). As a physical artifact to pore over, it looks really cool, a wonderful centerpiece for the puzzle (if you check the readme included in the downloadable zip file, there are links to pictures of the thing). But in prose – well, here’s the fourth of five folds:

"The lines of the fourth page show the Great Room and the Kitchen (marked House Elves Only on the map). Where the Christmas tree would be, there is a large label with the words “The Great Room”.

"Underneath that label, to the south, is what looks like a paramecium made from the words “Kitchen Island” repeated over and over. It is labeled “House Elves Only”.

"On the left, to the west is the doors to the front garden, labeled “Porticus Imago”.

"On the right, to the east, are the steps leading down to what would be the Guest Hallway with the steps up to the Balcony beneath.

"In the bottom right corner of the Kitchen area is a curved room labeled “The Cauldron Cupboard” that looks like it would be the larder. At the bottom is a round circle labeled “Flue Network” where the Pizza Oven would be.

"In the bottom left corner is a label “Way to the Forbidden Forest”.

"There is a star in the top left corner of the map, in what would be the south-west."

This is a whole whole lot to parse, even before you get to the fact that not all the locations or paths mentioned on the map are accessible to you – and it doesn’t help that the geography of the house is a little confusing, meaning I desperately wished that the loving descriptions had been truncated with an eye towards playability (playing alongside the pictures of the feelie might have been easier, but I only noticed the links in the readme once I'd finished the game).

Because this is a scavenger hunt that was conducted in real life, there aren’t many traditional object-manipulation puzzles – most of what you need to do is just search in the right place for the four MacGuffins. In theory, this should be easy, since there isn’t that much scenery implemented – and in fact it’s easy to blunder your way into at least half of them through simple trial and error.

I found the others rather challenging, though, largely because of oddness in the game’s implementation. Using the map is harder than it needs to be, for one thing – on the last fold are two flaps, a top flap and a bottom flap, which the game clearly flags are hiding something. But the simple action of unfolding them is way harder than it needs to be:

>unfold map

You are at the last page. There are two flaps on the last page, closed.

>open top flap

You can’t see any such thing.

>open flap

You can’t see any such thing.

>unfold flap

You can’t see any such thing.

>open map

You are at the last page. There are two flaps on the last page, closed.

>x flap

That noun did not make sense in this context.

>x top flap

That noun did not make sense in this context.

>open flaps

You pull apart the top and bottom flaps.

(Adding insult to injury, the main reward for opening the flaps is the set of deeply-abstruse clues I mentioned above, which didn’t provide much help).

Beyond thinly-implemented synonyms, the other major stumble I hit was changing scenery in one particular room – I’d realized that it had to be hiding a snitch, but searching everything mentioned in the room description got me nowhere. Fortunately, there’s a well-implemented adaptive hint system that pushed me to look at the room, and lo and behold, sometimes when I typed LOOK an entirely different set of scenery items was mentioned, one of which concealed what I was looking for – but without any rhyme or reason for why things were changing, this feels like an unfair puzzle.

I’m not sure whether these hurdles were intentional – if the game did more to make things easy for you, it would probably be over pretty quickly since again, most of what you need to do is just search every noun you see – but at the same time, if a significant part of a game’s running time is made up of annoyances, I’d just prefer to play a shorter game.

All told, this means that the smile that “magical Christmas scavenger hunt” put on my face was mostly gone by the time I got to the end. The bones of something fun are here, with a good idea for a puzzle and a well-realized setting – despite being set in the author’s house, this feels miles away from a my-dumb-apartment game. But while there are a number of testers listed, I don’t think The Last Christmas Present got quite the shakedown cruise it needed to work seamlessly when offered to more players than its initial audience of one (let me note here that the IntFiction beta test forums are a great, friendly place to recruit some experienced players to put a game through its paces). The beguiling premise and solid writing here suggest the author’s got some promise, though, so if they write another game that gets more testing – and starts with an idea that’s designed for IF from the ground up – I’d definitely give it a try.


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This is version 2 of this page, edited by Dan Fabulich on 13 October 2022 at 5:42am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item