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IFCOMP 2005 - Mortality

Game #32: Mortality, by David Whyld
Played On: 11/03/2005 (9:10 AM to 10:35 AM)
Unofficial Score: 8.5 (9.0 base with -0.5 skew)

     David Whyld’s Mortality is a choose-your-own-adventure story. At first glance, that might not seem to be the case. However, interaction is very minimal. Decision points pause the narrative and seem to allow for adjustments to the eventual ending. It works a little better than traditional CYOA, primarily because the game can track and remember these decisions. This allows the plot to branch in minor ways, converge again, and ultimately contribute to differences later in the game. It’s a step above CYOA in that regard (and it’s written in Adrift), but it’s clear that Mortality is meant to flow forward without the plot-stopping obstacle of puzzles. Sometimes, IF-like actions are required, but much of the time it’s just a matter of hitting a key to see the next page, or picking a choice from the dialogue menu.

     The text made me cringe a little – not because it’s badly written (it isn’t), but because I wasn’t at home while playing and the dialogue gets kind of raunchy in spots. Although it’s not very interactive, the dialogue and characters were surprisingly convincing. I found the story very interesting – engaging and engrossing – and the writing was excellent.

     I wasn’t a big fan of David’s entry in last year’s competition (although I see that I remarked on his enjoyable style, in my review). I don’t know if David’s writing just improved remarkably in the past twelve months, or if Mortality had the kind of proofreading that A Day in the Life of a Super Hero lacked. With such an emphasis on the story, this is really the key to helping a game such as this succeed or fail. I noted a very small number of minor issues with the writing, but that’s in the transcript and needs no further mention here.

     Steven Rogers (my uncle’s name, oddly enough, and with a background similar to this one) and Stephanie Gamble have plotted to kill Wilfred Gamble, an elderly, harsh millionaire. The deed is done. The story jumps around like a kangaroo on hot asphalt, but it’s always clear what’s going on in the scene and at what point it happened. It even seems to follow a pattern, where the events following Wilfred’s funeral move forward, with each intruding scene set at some key point in the past. The game lacks room titles and a status line, which is never an issue. In fact, it probably helped.

     Mortality has a few sticking points, but not many. In my ending, for instance, the game didn’t actually end. Also, it was clear what needed to be done in the scene with Stephanie in the club, but my variations on the required action weren’t recognized by the game. I thought David had inexplicably missed what was a pretty obvious cue, but looking at the walkthrough later showed me that it was just a tricky bit with the right command. At one point very late in the game, the “x me” response didn’t take into consideration a pretty important change in circumstances. Sometimes, referring to “woman” would make references to a “nude woman” – and references to “Stephanie” replied with “the Stephanie's sculpture.” Opening the trapdoor in the ceiling was a mini-puzzle, where I expected a simple “open trapdoor” to suffice (in the context of the rest of the game, anyway). At the tavern, “drink” tells me I can’t drink the cold beer, but “drink beer” works. Sometimes, it’s not possible to see all the detail David has put into Mortality, because the game moves ahead of its own volition after a few turns.

     My biggest complaint is that the story does branch. An odd complaint? Probably. But at the end, I hadn’t realized that any of the decisions I made were affecting anything other than immediate variations to the story. Only afterwards, when looking at the walkthrough, was it clear that I missed some opportunities to positively affect the outcome. I haven’t seen it all, but it seems that the more you do to keep Stephanie on your side, the better chance you’ll have in the final confrontation. It was easy for me to get everything out of Space Horror I earlier in the competition, because I could use multiple browser windows at key points and the browser’s inherent “undo” ability. With Mortality, it’s not so easy, simply because of the different type of presentation.

     The walkthrough is a transcript, so it’s possible to get the full effect of a good ending without playing it through again. This is described as one of two good endings, so it stands to reason the decision points are even more important than they seem. With the minimal interaction, though, reading a transcript that sticks to what’s important is just as good as playing it yourself. This is why I skewed down half a point from a 9.0 base score – I like a little more interaction. It’s a good story with very good writing and no major problems. It worked well for me, and a final score of 8.5 seems aptly earned.

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