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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

R – A Review

That’s right folks. Your eyes do not deceive you. The game I’m reviewing next consists of one letter: namely the letter R. I guess letters of the alphabet moonlight for IF titles when they’re not off sponsoring episodes of Sesame Street. Who knew?

What more: this is the only game of the competition using a home-brew interpreter, meaning it’s not written in one of the major IF languages. As someone who’s played through quite a few previous comps, this is usually a very poor sign. But here’s to optimism. Here’s to the hope that the letter R can break out of the mold. Fingers crossed everyone!

Note: As always the full review will have spoilers and eyes are like children: they shouldn’t be spoiled. So proceed only after playing the game.

Final Verdict: So much for crossed fingers.

Full review after the jump:
Updated - I accidentally referred to "Scott Adams" as Adam Scott. See, that's what happens when you have a first name as a last name. Take it from someone with a last name as a first name.

Before I begin, let me give you a brief transcript from my recent play experience:

I be at t’ bow o’ t’ ship!
I can see: Wooden Lever.
Obvious exits: East.

> Examine lever
By the by, that “OK” was the only response I got from examining not only the lever, but most of the items in this game. And the thing is, I know they’re there not because they’re listed in any kind of room description (as most of the rooms HAVE no description) but because it’s listed right there in “I can see [BLANK]”. Apparently I can’t see them very well. I’d guess this pirate needs glasses.

Apparently I was wrong about this being a home-brew interpreter. It seems to be an interpreter specifically designed to play old micro-byte sized Scott Adams games. Scott Adams wrote some of the earliest commercially available Interactive Fiction. He wrote them with extreme size limitations and so they tend to be sparse and absurd little affairs. I tried playing one a good while back and gave up pretty quickly out of boredom and frustration, a pretty lethal combo when it comes to playing a game. Perhaps these games seem a little rosier in the warm glow of nostalgia, but compared to contemporary IF, (or hell compared to IF written in the mid 80’s) they don’t, so to speak, hold up so good. There’s a reason why people still name their blogs after lines from Zork as opposed to lines from Adventureland.

But this game has a lot more going against it than sparse implementation. Even if this game had a comprehensible plot, and even if I wasn’t forced to hunch over my computer and squint at my screen to play it on its teeny tiny little window, and even if it was written in Inform and ported to the fanciest interpreter imaginable with visual and audio effects, it would still rate a one in my book. And why, you ask?

Behold! Look what happens when I type in “HELP”:
“Unfortunately I be ye, so I be just as knowin' about things a ye be! Savvy?

If ye be really stuck there be a place called Googlie or summat I be hearin' is quite handy wi' gossip!”

Handy wi’ gossip, eh? I wonder what would happen if I searched “Googlie” for the key words “get me a better game”.

This poster is 100% more amusing than this game.
This thing is a car wreck in the middle of an avalanche on top of an earth quake with a nice Texas-sized meteorite crashing in from the top. I mean, who writes like this? Who sits down, looks at the blank computer screen full of possibility and says to himself, “I know what people like: Incoherent Pirate Gibberish! I’ll give the public some of that.”

Now look, I don’t mean to sound harsh (a little too late for that, Brooks!). I know it’s a difficult business programming a game in any language, let alone one that doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of support and documentation of established formats. But I have to ask myself, why? Why create a game written like this? It’s called Interactive Fiction for a reason. This game is barely interactive, and “fiction” generally connotes some sort of literary ambition, even if it’s a silly or pedestrian sort. I can’t imagine where, besides this game, I would see such insanely constructed sentences. The only way this constitutes Art of any kind, is if it’s part of some elaborate Charlie Kaufman style Dadaist prank. Are we being punk’d? God, I sincerely hope so.

One. One. One. One. One. And no, all those ones do not make a five.


  1. That would be Scott Adams, not Adam Scott.

    And I very much enjoyed reading your review. Please keep it up :-)

  2. "the only game of the competition ... not written in one of the major IF languages"

    While Eamon was a major game engine in its day (some 30 years ago -- contemporary to Scott Adams') and ChoiceScript is an up and comer, I think you can pretty safely lump in Sons of the Cherry and Leadlight as non-major-language contenders in this year's comp. (Please do! I'd like to see more reviews of them.)