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IFCOMP 2005 - Waldo's Pie

Game #29: Waldo’s Pie, by Michael Arnaud
Played On: 11/01/2005 (10:15 PM to 10:30 PM)
And Again On: 11/02/2005 (10:15 AM to 11:35 AM and 12:10 PM to 1:00 PM)
Unofficial Score: 7.0 (7.5 base with -0.5 skew)

     This late in my list, and after a month of reviewing game after game, maybe I’m just starting to lose interest. If not that, then maybe I’m just in a hurry to get done. I was tempted to rate Waldo’s Pie lower than I did, but looking back to consider the experience as a whole has convinced me to go higher.

     Waldo is an ex-clown, taking his two sons (Timmy and Jimmy) to see the circus on Wheewhistle Island. A mysterious purple mist surrounds the island, and rumor has it all the clowns have vanished. The boys vanish (or leave) too, so you (as Waldo) embark on an adventure to solve the mystery and rescue the boys. I would like to say that comedy ensues, but that’s not the case. I think some parts are meant to be funny – the names used for various people, places, and things – but there is enough exploration and puzzle-solving here that the humor kind of gets lost.

     I made it a good ways without becoming stuck enough to look at the walkthrough. I missed a couple of things I should have noticed – I had been doing a pretty good job of looking at anything I thought might prove important, but I missed a couple. This would have gotten me further. In general, the puzzles aren’t difficult. I especially liked how you get past Tumbo – that one practically solves itself, but it’s still fun. The level of implementation is pretty good, where additional information can be seen by examining most anything you might choose to look at. I don’t know how complete this is, but “x” was pretty responsive. No obvious examples of anything lacking jumps to mind.

     A couple things keep it from being an 8.0 or a 9.0 on my scale. It really loses a base point for some logic problems, and another point for a story that doesn’t quite add up. I’ll get to both of these things separately, in a moment. I can’t complain about the writing in Waldo’s Pie, though. If I found any problems there, each was minor enough that I’ve already forgotten. It reads very well – descriptive enough, and without the kinds of problems that draw my attention away from playing the game.

     The logic problems may not all be accidental. At a minimum, I think the “look in / open” ones are. Twice (and in the same room), something can be found if you open the, uh… “container” where it’s stored. The problem is, “look in” does an implicit open, and then the game reports that nothing is inside. I probably only solved this because I found a couple items via “opening” something, which I couldn’t find with “look in” on a later play. Bad thing is, I only did “look in” on the other container, which automatically opened it, and reported nothing inside. I couldn’t figure out if the game was unwinnable or not, but closing and then opening again triggered the script that makes those items appear inside – items that should have been there all along.

     The game can be made unwinnable, though. I guess whether this works or not depends on the game, and how it’s presented. An item can be shown to an NPC, which the NPC remembers. Later, the state of that item changes in an important way, and the NPC is supposed to be fooled by this. On one hand, the author thought of this, and the NPC won’t fall for it. On the other hand, it now requires a replay (as far as I can tell) from a save made prior to showing the unchanged object to that NPC to begin with. Fortunately, this doesn’t take long.

     The game is pretty good otherwise about ending any time you’ve performed an action that will make it unwinnable, although these sudden endings simply announce that what you did makes the game unwinnable. It borders on annoying, but it works because “undo” (which, oddly enough, sometimes takes you back multiple turns when used at an ending) fixes the mistake. I can think of a couple different ways this might have been handled (not allowing the player to make the mistake to begin with, or perhaps ending the game with a more legitimate reason than just “you needed to do something else, but now you’ve made it impossible”), but it’s not important enough to dwell on. Well, it is, but not for the purposes of this review. Ideally, the player should be able to mess up but still have a way to recover – for instance, trading the wrong item back for the right one – unless it’s important to the story or the specific tone of the game, which isn’t the case here.

     As to the story, it seems unique yet tiredly familiar at the same. To clarify, I don’t think I’ve seen another game where an ex-clown tries to rescue his two sons and a bunch of missing clowns from an evil circus owner, yet the components (a magical means of ridding a mythical creature just to get what the creature is guarding, collecting ingredients to make a pie, etc) aren’t particularly innovative. I guess this year’s The Colour Pink does much the same thing, yet I enjoyed it quite a bit more somehow. Waldo seems to remember his days as a circus clown at the beginning of the game, because some of it is mentioned. Upon arriving at the island, he attributes the forgetfulness to his years of absence. Later, this is more clearly identified as a funny kind of amnesia, but when that happens, it seems odd that Waldo would remember anything from those lost years. The story’s villain is never really given a motive (if so, I missed it), and some of the losing scenarios wouldn’t really stop a determined father from searching for his missing sons. If I missed my chance to take what I needed before the rooster drove me away, I’d kick its feathered butt onto the next island. Better yet, I’d just cook the frikken’ pie without an egg – especially since it’s meant to be thrown, not eaten.

     Still, it’s a pretty solid game, and I don’t remember Alan being so good with its parsing. I didn’t try many complicated actions, but this felt and looked as smooth as TADS (my white-on-black display and the game font were similar enough to make this the closest comparison). Despite an earlier inclination to rate the game lower, I have based it at 7.5 on my scale. I did skew down half a point, though, for the suspicious logic.

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