It’s time for the annual Interactive Fiction Competition. Since I’m not participating as an author this year, I’m going to be participating as a judge. I might not end up reviewing all of the games, but I wanted to start off by looking at the two games that are not in one of the standard formats (Z-code, Glulx, or TADS), since they will likely be getting somewhat less attention because of that. They are R by therealeasterbunny and Leadlight by Wade Clarke.
After the cut, there will be some spoilers (although not major ones). Don’t read further if you haven’t played the games yet and don’t want the experience spoiled. I will briefly say that R is maybe not worth it unless you are into pirates or you are nostalgic for Scott Adams games and that Leadlight is definitely worth playing despite its unusual platform.
R by therealeasterbunny is made using the format of the old Scott Adams games. These games were before my time, so any nostalgia factor was lost on me. The only thing I got out of the format was being annoyed at how things were set up and missing various conventions that I’m used to. For example, you can move by just typing a compass direction, but there are certain directions that are listed as things that are in a location, like “Trapdoor”, “Path”, etc.) that you can only go to by typing “go [whatever]”. I was stuck fairly early in the game until I consulted the walkthrough to find out that I had to type “go trapdoor” to go back down into the hold of the ship (I had gotten up to the decks initially by typing “climb ladder”). Once I figured that out, it wasn’t a big deal. The other thing I had to consult the walkthrough for was for some guess-the-verb stuff. I knew I wanted to distract the sharks with the meat, but typing “drop meat” just dropped it on the ground without doing one of two things I might have expected in a modern game: just going ahead and throwing it in the water or giving you some kind of response to clue the correct command. (The correct command, it turns out, is “feed sharks”.)
The rest of the game was OK, with some puzzles that were easily enough figured out and some that were head-scratchers. I may have headed to the walkthrough a little too easily because of my earlier frustration with the interface, but some of the puzzles really were not well clued. There were also things I couldn’t do that frustrated me a bit. I was particularly flabbergasted that the “pirate’s code” kept me from simply running my sleeping enemy through with a cutlass. Mind you, this was the enemy who had snuck on board my ship while I was sleeping and ripped my sails, put a hole in my rowboat, and stole my food, my map, and my wench.
The one highlight of this game, though, and it’s not an inconsiderable one, is the whole pirate theme. I was initially cringing at room names such as “I be in t’ stern o’ t’ bowels o’ t’ ship”, but I quickly got used to it. The theme is very consistent, in an “Arr me hearties” kind of stereotypical semi-comical pirate kind of way. If this kind of theme were done in a more modern type of game, it would certainly be a lot of fun.
So, as I said before, this game might be worth it to you if you were into the Scott Adams games or if you are a big fan of pirate adventures. Otherwise, I’m sure there are other IF Comp games that will be more interesting to you.
And one of those games is Leadlight by Wade Clarke. I have to say that I had some initial problems because, for some reason, my configuration wouldn’t work with the supplied Apple IIgs emulator. The author pointed me at an Apple IIe emulator, and that cleared up my problem. So this is another one of those nostalgia platform things, but I had less of a problem with it. For one thing, the game was very fully implemented, with lots of things to look at and interact with. Also, there is a nice manual that comes with the game, so it’s pretty clear how to go about doing things.
This is a zombie horror game where you are a student at a girls’ school in Australia who wakes up after nodding off to find some kind of zombie apocalypse afoot. Much of the game is about killing zombies (your former classmates and teachers), and one of the few negative feelings I had about the game was the way combat worked. At least early on, you’re not all that tough, so I spent quite a bit of time saving and restoring in order to get a decent result in combat, which probably contributed to me not finishing the game quite within the two-hour limit of Comp games.
So, yes, you have hit points, and you also have other stats. This isn’t something I’m used to in IF games, but it worked well overall here, with different items giving you different stats. The game also has a really interesting method for keeping score. You get one point for each weapon you find (this is, after all, a zombie game), each enemy you kill, and each “secret” you find. Generally the secrets are things that you examine that give you a little bit of the backstory (which, by the way, is pretty interesting). You also have a couple of opportunities to earn some bonus points for helping some of the other victims. I ended the game with a score of 76/80, having failed to find just 4 out of the 25 secrets. One other nice aspect related to the scoring system is that there are “deathtraps”, but you can always undo and lose a point. Of course, I quickly learned to save often, so I ended the game without any negatives.
The puzzles in the game were really well clued overall, and I only had to consult the hints a couple of times (and I was helped along to resorting to the hints because I was running up against my two-hour time limit). I’m not the best puzzle solver, so maybe that means these puzzles will be too easy for some people, but I found them very satisfying. And I’m proud to say that I figured out how to make it to the endgame all on my own (there was no hint provided for it), even though it was one of the puzzles that I didn’t think was clued very well. I think what helped is that there really are a limited number of commands the game recognizes, and the game is nice enough to give you a list of all of them.
The other real standout aspect of this game is the atmosphere, in particular as brought out by the writing. You end up killing quite a few zombies and seeing lots of destruction, but it never gets repetitive and is always creepy. A particular favorite I encountered after slaying a zombie teacher was, “Mrs Palmer’s remains are just horrid, stinking slush. They continue to ooze even as you watch.” There was also a note found on a girl’s corpse in the chapel that was from her mother telling her to make sure she eats today. It somewhat acted as a clue to let you know that you should try eating the food you find to recover your hit points, but it really hit me as a reminder that all of these corpses had loving family, and it made finding that corpse all the more poignant.
Having only played two games, I can’t say yet which games I think well end up at the top, but I really hope that people give this one a chance even though it’s made for an odd format.