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IFCOMP 2005 - Cheiron

Game #26: Cheiron, by Elisabeth Polli and Sarah Clelland
Played On: 10/31/2005 (4:35 PM to 5:00 PM)
Unofficial Score: 2.0 (1.5 base with +0.5 skew)

     “Cheiron was the wise centaur who taught medicine and healing to Asclepius, the ancient Greek god of healing.” It sounds like a lead-in for a pretty cool fantasy adventure.

     It isn’t. Cheiron is interactive non-fiction. More accurately, it’s a detailed diagnostics simulation probably of interest only to medical students. As a student doctor, you’ve been assigned the task of examining and diagnosing four different patients at St. Jude’s Hospital. The trappings of IF are here – an inventory, some familiar verbs, and directional movement between floors and rooms – but there, the similarities falter. I didn’t encounter any implemented scenery, although the brief room descriptions do include some superfluous details to make it a more believable, realistic setting.

     It’s interesting that in my last review, I was just mentioning the shortcomings of my ranking scheme. I definitely need to factor in “fun” as more than just a reason for skewing if I review next year’s competition. In a different context, Cheiron might be incredibly useful. It might even be fun, in the same way a cooking simulator might appeal to a would-be chef, or a real (and accurately complex) flight simulator would appeal to a real pilot. It seems out of place in a competition for interactive fiction, though.

     I don’t know how likely it is that Cheiron is solvable to anyone without formal medical training. I wasn’t even sure what every basic diagnostic method meant, although it made sense after reading some info in the “help” section. The simulation is good about reminding the participant what to do (wash your hands, introduce yourself, ask for consent, begin the diagnostic process), but I don’t know how much further this goes. I managed to keep at it for just over half an hour, and the last part of that was just me trying to trick the parser into giving inappropriate responses to some general commands for my own amusement. My guess is, had I been able to plunder my way through a general diagnosis based on various noun ambiguities (with so many dozens of individual body parts, “arm” and “leg” just won’t cut it), I’d have still been scratching my head at what it all meant. It’s possible that the authors might have guided me toward the right answer, if I could narrow in on the right tests for the right body parts, and if I could ask the patient the right questions.

     I just couldn’t figure it all out. At first, I wanted to, but that feeling gave way to frustration and boredom. This isn’t meant as a criticism of the authors’ work. I’m sure they’ve both become great doctors, and coding such an elaborate system was probably a great achievement. The heartbeat sound effect and the photo illustrations were nice touches. I added a half-point skew to the 1.5 base because of this, and as a nod to a program that would probably be great in a different context.

     Aside from strange errors that refer to patients as “puppets” when trying to “look at” them, the simulation seemed to work well enough. This is an interactive fiction competition, though, and I didn’t enjoy Cheiron as that. Base score plus skew: 2.0.

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