Interactive Fiction Competition: The Wizard’s Apprentice and Further

IFComp 2013 is a little more than halfway over, and despite my intentions to focus on it, I’ve only had time for a few entries so far. But it’s time to check in and give an update. So here are reviews of the first two I played. There’s no intentional theme to this article, since I haven’t played enough to group them into categories. But these were both traditional text parser games, and unfortunately, both were disappointing. They were also both very short. I guess that will have to do for the theme.


The Wizard’s Apprentice by Alex Freeman

This is an old-school puzzle-fest, with an arbitrary set-up in which you have exactly what you need to get past each step. As a wizard’s apprentice, you know a smattering of arbitrary spells (conveniently, you’ll need each one exactly one time) and have been given a list of equally arbitrary tasks in order to prove yourself.

The prose is serviceable and has a slight sense of humor, and the environment is small but thoroughly implemented. None of that is notable, but it’s good enough to support a system of puzzles. Those puzzles are what the game should be judged by, but unfortunately they aren’t outstanding either.

All are simple, though not all are obvious or fair. Given how quick-witted the wizard is when he keeps you from walking into his quarters, for example, you’d never guess that the trick to getting past him is slightly too silly for a Bugs Bunny villain to fall for. The environment is similarly inconsistent, with a lake that seems both small and large at different times, and a loose stone that you can kick just right to set off a chain reaction. In the endgame, I tried to repeat an action that had been important before, and the game gave me points for it. That made me think that it was part of the solution, but it turned out that it just gave me the points for a puzzle I’d already solved. I never would have finished this without the walkthrough, and nothing made me feel bad about resorting to it so quickly.

The game is quick, and it has a decent structure with the initial tasks setting up a final crisis that you have to resolve. It’s never bad, but there’s also nothing notable about it.

Grade: C-


FurtherFurther by Will Hines

In Further, you play the spirit of a recently deceased person who needs to wander through a vague dreamscape and recall their life before moving on. The basic structure is that you pick up items, carry each one to the proper room, and then “focus on” it to restore the memories that it represents. There’s a little more you have to do at the end, but that’s basically it. And since there are only a few rooms and objects, and the game tells you whenever you enter a room carrying the right item, this one isn’t really about the puzzles.

That’s ok, though, because there are other reasons to play interactive fiction. And this is best thought of as a story that requires you to move it along. But even by that standard, it’s not a very compelling story. The memories you uncover feel haphazard, and only one is very unusual. The protagonist remained a cipher to me, even though the point was to learn about their life. (I did like the ending text, which struck a satisfying note. But that was it.)

Beyond the story, the game doesn’t work as a chance to interact with a world. It’s a series of completely unrelated rooms, and you can’t look at the objects in any more detail. You get some descriptive text when you “remember” something, but if you try to examine any of that in more detail, it also fails. I’m not of the school that says every text adventure has to implement a description for every noun, but to repeat, the point of this game is exploring a person’s life. I would expect to feel like those memories were really there.

The prose tries to be evocative, but ends up being terse and slightly jarring. Here’s an example of the random, non-interactive experiences in the game:

Underwater

You are deep underwater, heavy and blue. Exits north and down.

The water is blue and endless.

> examine water

[That’s not something you can see now, or I misunderstood you.]

As with The Wizard’s Apprentice, Further manages not to overstay its welcome. The simple hook did make me curious about how it would end, and despite the serious flaws I never felt like I was stuck or needed to dwell on those problems. But there is still no reason to recommend it.

Grade: C-

 
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