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About the Story"War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children." - Jimmy Carter
3rd Place overall; 3rd Place, Miss Congeniality Award - 19th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2013)
Winner, Best NPCs - 2013 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 3
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To keep you relying on the game's cast of non-player characters, Ollie presents a PC who is momentarily incapacitated, unable to cope with even the simplest physical tasks. This set-up would be interesting just in gameplay terms, but Ollie adds to it the strong emotional hook of putting you in the position of an elementary school teacher who has to depend on his students to get everyone out safely after a bombing. The story never stops reminding you that the NPCs you are relying on to be your hands, eyes, and ears in the game world are still children. I'm not a parent or a teacher, or a particularly sensitive person even when it comes to depictions of children in dangerous situations, but Ollie Ollie Oxen Free still had me completely floored with the strength of its emotional arc; it's really damnably effective at times.
Structurally, the game could be called a light puzzlefest. Most of the game is spent rescuing the various students from their respective predicaments, often allowing you to drop one puzzle to go deal with another and come back later, which is always appreciated. The implementation is very thoughtful – the game provides prompts to suggest any unique or uncommon verbs to you, there's a responsive hint system along with explicit walkthrough instructions, and the puzzles are generally well thought-out, thematically interesting, and sensible.
However, still on implementation, it lacks polish. There aren't that many implemented responses to actions that don't advance the puzzles; in one case, an alternate solution I thought was fairly obvious is blocked with what appears to be a generic message. The game includes a THINK ABOUT verb to recall memories about people and objects, but a lot of the backstory mentions people and things that you can't think about. There's some lacking synonyms – STUDENT, STAND ON COUNTER doesn't work, but STUDENT, GET ON THE COUNTER does, for example
Overall, a very strong piece, and hopefully it'll be updated to improve its implementation; there's a very thoughtful design, great characters, and strong prose in place here, but it could have benefited from more playtesting.
Even if she doesn't, I urge you to stick with it, because it is a really powerful piece of fiction and a great game to boot.
There were some odd mishaps that really frustrated me at times--making me feel like I couldn't solve this game--but when I checked the hints/walkthroughs I'd see I'd been doing it right, but just didn't get quite the right verb/noun.
With a little editing and polish, I think this will be an incredibly accessible game that deals with some powerful themes and features excellent writing.
I'm really looking forward to more work from this developer/writer. I enjoyed Beet the Devil, and this game is significantly stronger in content, tone, and mechanics.
I played with this game for about a half hour to get a feel for it before going to the walkthrough. For puzzle fans, it's worth trying much longer, teasing out the next step, etc.
For those using David W's walkthrough, note that the walkthrough itself contains major spoilers at the very end (which makes sense), so it is perhaps best to go through it in order. However, I still enjoyed the game as I was spoiled.
The writing and setting are excellent, as in the other IFComp game by VanEseltine I tried, One Eye Open. If you like a sense of urgency, of hope fighting against darkness, of slick implementation, then both these games are for you.
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