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IFCOMP 2005 - Son Of A...

Game #16: Son of a..., by C. S. Woodrow
Played On: 10/24/2005 (2:25 PM to 4:05 PM)
Unofficial Score: 9.0 (8.5 base with +0.5 skew)

     I’m a sucker for moderately easy puzzle games.

     Maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment that comes from solving a game without the walkthrough. Maybe it’s the unbroken pace that allows the game to play out without too much trial-and-error frustration. Maybe it’s the various “ah-ha!” moments that don’t come quite as often when I peek at the hints in a more difficult game. I’m just a sucker for these kinds of games.

     The game begins in a broken-down car, then leads to an abandoned, run-down motel. The writing is excellent – except for the frequent misuse of “its” (possessive) and “it’s” (contraction of “it is”). In general, the author has confused the two (but later in the game, it seems to improve with some correct usage). It’s a surprise, since the rest of the writing (with a few minor bumps here and there) is great. I got over it pretty quickly, though, and enjoyed the game much more without dwelling on that.

     It’s a simple story, meant to describe a day where everything just goes wrong (according to the game’s competition blurb). To me, it seemed like a typical adventure scenario. Sure, you can die from a wasp attack or by standing on a decrepit diving board, and you’re thwarted by obstacles along the way (dead cell phone, miles from anywhere). I never really had a sense that the game was setting me up for anything. I expected to encounter one defeat after the next, leading me along a trail of failures. That didn’t really happen. I made it through well enough, and found the game to be just difficult enough for my meager puzzle-solving talents.

     Son of a... employs an interesting use of the game’s score. It’s not something I picked up on right away, but I was awarded points seemingly at random. Instead of increasing my score for each achievement, five or ten points were awarded just for entering certain rooms, or picking up certain items. My first inclination was to complain about this. It seemed silly and arbitrary; but then it made sense. Actually, I probably saw the author’s explanation in the hints (which, by the way, are general tips that don’t spoil the puzzles). By adding points for important items and important places, it becomes easier to pick out what’s necessary from what isn’t. Although I couldn’t remember what had given me points and what hadn’t (too bad a “fullscore” command wasn’t there – is that just a TADS thing?), I could refer to my ongoing transcript. When I felt stuck, I only had to consider which “scored” items and places hadn’t yet proven useful. That’s not to say this technique can take the place of good in-game cueing, but for Son of a... it worked well.

     Woodrow has replaced every brand name with something contrived – an opportunity to sprinkle the game with humor. Your cell phone is from “Phonyrola”. Your car is a “Furdler Weasel”. Granted, it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but these kinds of details – the motel’s letterboard sign, for instance – add depth to compliment what’s essentially a puzzle-fest. I almost laughed, though, right at the end when I tried giving the sack (contents included) to the tow-truck driver. You have to try it.

     Aside from the it’s/its misuse and what few flaws can be found in the text, I have very few complaints. For some reason, looking at the sign in the office left my entire game in a fixed-width font, corrected only by exiting and coming back to re-load the saved game. Most of the game’s map was pretty logical, but there was a bit near the old tavern that had me going in multiple directions from multiple places, with path connections I didn’t quite understand. I tried to “climb” something at one point, but the game only understood “up” there. At the utility shack, I found a strange quirk dealing with moving from one side of the fence to the other – nothing game-killing, just a little odd. At the end was another of those “yay!” moments, where I knew just what I needed to do, but couldn’t, until I figured out what to say to the driver first. I count these all as minor for an otherwise wonderful hour and a half.

     I have based the game half-way between 8 and 9 on my scale, but it’s an even 9.0 after a +0.5 skew (given almost entirely due to my reaction to the previously-mentioned “give sack” response). The skew also comes from some entertaining text in general. Well done!

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