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IFCOMP 2005 - Mix Tape

Game #30: Mix Tape, by Brett Witty
Played On: 11/02/2005 (3:00 PM to 4:15 PM, adjusted)
Unofficial Score: 7.0 (7.0 base with no skew)

     Beyond was next on my list, but I already played and reviewed it out of order. Next, then, is Mix Tape, which is a short but story-heavy entry. It’s not quite puzzleless, but nearly so. It’s not possible to derail the story on any branching path (as far as I can tell – which is perfectly fine by me), but at the same time the illusion of freedom is less prevalent here than in most Interactive Fiction.

     A few things worked against this game, and not all of that is the author’s fault (or even under the author’s ability to control). First of all, this is the fourth to last game on my list. It has taken me longer to get this far than it did last year, and I might be running out of steam. Second, I was a little more distracted while playing Mix Tape. Third, I only know two of the songs that are the inspiration for the game’s chapters – tracks 3 and 4 – which probably weakens the emotional punch the game is probably after. I know the artists responsible for all the tracks except the second, but I’m not familiar with those specific songs.

     Mix Tape doesn’t ease slowly into its tale of love lost and memories shared. As such a short game – even short by IFComp standards – it probably doesn’t have time to drag around at the beginning. I wish it did, even if only for a few more turns. Perhaps this could be a short lead-in where Valentine is on her way to meet Pete, before things get so serious. It was just hard for me to connect with the story in an emotional way.

     At times, the writing seemed a little off. It was pretty good – better than many of the other games I’ve played in this year’s competition – but a little off. Take the following passage, for instance, where specifying “Peter” seems redundant in the first sentence and the note is described as being inside the envelope twice. I don’t know if the first bit was part of a standard library response, but it’s a good example of what I mean:

>read letter
Opening the envelope from Peter reveals a note from Peter. The envelope is sealed only at the bottom of the flap, so you dig your finger underneath and break the seal. There is nothing inside but a plain, folded piece of paper.

     Take out the middle sentence and it becomes even more evident. The first sentence is probably the unnecessary one. I noticed unusual wording here and there, but the writing was vivid and otherwise convincing.

     I said before that the game is almost puzzleless. At times, parenthetical prompts are clear cues as to what should be discussed with Peter. At other times, the game moves forward on its own after a small number of turns – sometimes, even when I was hoping to see a little more of the current chapter’s detail first. One chapter is just a cutscene with no interaction at all.

     It’s not entirely puzzleless, but this is probably unintentional. For me, figuring out how to heat up the lasagna and then give it to Peter wasn’t easy. I figured out the easy way for the former (it was still burnt), and I used the hints as a clue to the latter. What threw me was that I could show him the lasagna – even try giving it to him (and he saw it) – yet telling him about it afterwards prompts him to ask if it’s ready yet. A very specific command is required here.

     Brett put plenty of detail into the game. I didn’t come close to fully exhausting the CD catalogue, but it seems pretty extensive. Detail was put into the variety of junk mail in Valentine’s mailbox. The grumpy old man seems to serve no purpose, but some time was obviously taken to implement him for added realism. Somehow, though, it seemed that the effort put into some aspects of this detail would have been better applied to lengthening the story instead. Also, some implementation seemed lacking – notably Peter’s bedroom in the second scene:

>get into bed
You are too large for the unmade bed.

>make bed
You don’t know how to cook that.

     A few bugs sneaked into the competition release of Mix Tape. The most severe is a stack overflow that locks up the interpreter (tried in both HTML Tads and Gargoyle) when you try going west from the bedroom in the fifth chapter. I only know it’s a stack overflow, because that error is repeated over and over in the transcript (nothing appeared on-screen). A single runtime error happens early on, when trying to go south without first standing up from the campfire. Doing “get clothes” as the first command in the fifth chapter repeats “the Valentine is…” instead of “you are…” in several sentences. The transition between chapters was sometimes quirky, where an extra space was often required (and then another, at a blank screen).

     With some touch-up, Mix Tape can address all of these things. I know the pressure of an unbending submission deadline, and maybe the game was just rushed. It would probably have appealed to me better a decade ago, when the ups and downs of dating and breaking up were very much a part of life. It may be an especially good game for players in their early to mid twenties. I liked the game, but my scoring criteria put it right at 7.0.

     Incidentally, I was a fan of the Goo Goo Dolls when “Name” came out (before “Iris”, where the author claims their success began) – but they were around well before that. I think “Domino” and maybe “We Are the Normal” (I used to love “Girl Right Next To Me”) were hits on “Superstar Carwash” even before “A Boy Named Goo” was released.

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