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IFCOMP 2005 - On Optimism

Game #34: On Optimism, by Tim Lane
Played On: 11/03/2005 (3:50 PM to 4:25 PM)
Unofficial Score: 6.0 (6.0 base with no skew)

     This was the fifth game on my random list, but itís a game I beta tested. I wanted to move it to the end (along with one other), to put a few weeks between that first experience and this replay of the ďofficialĒ competition version.

     Itís still difficult to review. The game isnít much changed from the beta I played, but I can see where the author has improved some of the clueing that had me confused back when I played the beta. I made it through without hints this time, but that may be due as much to remembering how it all works than to the improved clues. I seem to remember, though, that nothing obvious happened after dealing with the first frame. Now, it makes more sense that something has changed after the task is performed. The port is now inaccessible until later in the game Ė this was confusing before, since it seemed to hint at a host of possibilities that only drew attention away from what was really important. The blank piece of paper is clued a little better now, too.

     A few problems with the puzzles remain, ranging from a minor disambiguation oddity with the sheets of paper, to a new bit in the underwater cage that seemed (if I recall) to have a slightly different solution before. The hole that opens in one of the rooms (not the one filled with blood) canít be ďenteredĒ, yet itís important to go in that direction (effectively entering it anyway). The deal with the three statues might be a little better now, but it still seems pretty obscure. I brought this up, as did at least one other tester, but ultimately the author decided (I guess) that it was okay. Drop me an email if you solved the room with the statues without hints. I still donít think itís possible.

     The text is still overly sentimental. Itís meant to be a surreal but touching story, but itís written in a way that makes the PC sound pitiful and hopeless. To fully enjoy it, I think a player would have to be in that frame of mindÖ rejected, full of despair, pining away for a girl that might not even be worth the attention. Yeah, years ago, that was definitely me. Now, though, itís harder to identify with, and the too-forced prose (written in first person, I should add) just left me disconnected from the protagonist. I hope this wasnít inspired by a real situation in the authorís life. If so, I might be insulting the authorís honesty and open emotional display, which isnít my intent. It feels like the kind of trippy, emotional outpouring that might come from a break-up, but only the author knows for sure.

     Tim Lane entered the competition last year. Thatís not his real name, so I wonít point to last yearís entry in case he intends to remain anonymous. I will say that On Optimism is an improvement over his previous entry. I liked the option at the end to go back to the fork in the road, and this game seems more thought out overall. I think, though, that On Optimism is meant to be so deeply personal that itís hard to share in the protagonistís emotional invasion of his ex girlfriendís private thoughts and memories.

     Itís a good game, even though I didnít find it effective in an emotional way. The built-in hints should be enough to get anyone unstuck at the harder parts. Even so, the strained writing and some iffy puzzles keep it from going higher than 5.0 on my scale.

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