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IFCOMP 2007 - Orevore Courier

Game #6: Orevore Courier
By Brian Rapp
Played On: October 9th (1 hours 50 minutes)
Platform: Inform 7 (Zcode)
Merkís Score: 8+

     Gameís Blurb:
     The ship's Security Officer is responsible for ensuring that the fantastically valuable cargo is safely delivered. To perform this task, she can rely only on her wits and a big red Destruct button.

     >xyzzy
     The security console sparks suddenly, as if by magic.

     >xyzzy
     An angry voice warns you that "security considerations do not permit the use of magical incantations aboard this ship. This notice will not be repeated."

     >xyzzy
     A stentorian voice booms, "ZERO TORA ECHO DESTRUCT HOT!" and everything explodes.

           *** The ship has been destroyed ***

     If Orevore Courier isnít a pun on ďau revoir, courier,Ē it really ought to be. Given the verb/noun gimmick in Brian Rappís previous entry (2004ís well-written Goose, Egg, Badger), I think itís possible.

     An isolated security officer (you) remains seated at a control console while all havoc breaks loose in the other areas of a small courier space craft. In Orevore Courier you push buttons, turn dials, view surveillance, and attempt to influence the events that threaten to destroy the ship (and you along with it). The standards of IF are gone here -- no directional movement, very little use for inventory, very few actions that arenít related to operating the console -- but it still feels like traditional IF. Thatís probably because standard commands are still recognized. Theyíre simply rejected in legitimate, in-story ways.

     The story is delightfully absurd. It asks the question ďwho would win in a battle of wits and instinct when the participants are the shipís crew, pirates, zombies, and a dangerous metal-munching blob that must be kept cool to be kept docile?Ē Another game might have asked this in a grim, even grisly Alien-esque setting, but not Orevore Courier. I mean... címon! Zombies! Pirates! A brain-like blob! You canít expect complete seriousness from a build-up like that.

     This is a game in the ďbig puzzle boxĒ genre (if such a thing exists). Players are given a few tools to work with (in this case, the abilities of the control console). Players learn the rules of the puzzle (in this case, how the controls are used and what can be done to influence others). Pieces move around with their own agendas and must be influenced (in this case, the aforementioned zombies, pirates, crew and ďorevoreĒ creature, all in an indirect fashion). If you enjoyed All Things Devours, Delightful Wallpaper, or Mobius, you may be delighted with Orevore Courier.

     The game includes separate files -- graphics -- containing a map of the shipís layout and a diagram of the control console. The latter is nice, but I found the former to be absolutely essential. Fearing spoilers, I didnít check them right away. I should have. I just never got a clear picture from the text exactly how the rooms are connected. I would strongly recommend printing both images, just to keep handy while playing. Theyíre not spoilers. Theyíre key facts about the puzzle youíre working with.

     Itís a very interesting and well-constructed puzzle (being the game as a whole). However, I think itís probably far harder than the author anticipated. In other learn-by-dying games, you can generally make a little more progress on each play-through, because each death or failure points you toward taking the right actions the next time. I think thatís why All Things Devours works so well.

     The construction is different in Orevore Courier. You only need to manage a small number of controls and a small number of rooms, but in general you will only get clues if you happen to be viewing the right room on the right turn. This results in far more trial-and-error (and far more restarts) than might be expected otherwise. The trick is to figure out whatís going on everywhere. Even thatís not so daunting, except that the same things wonít necessarily happen on each play-through if youíve successfully influenced the various ďpiecesĒ (people) in the game that time around. So, itís possible to play for several turns and then make a single change to the course of further events that has to be reproduced on each successive play-through (or frozen as a jumping-off point via a saved game) if you intend to explore the possibilities that might branch from there.

     I did moderately well at this for an hour and a half. In retrospect, I probably should have been working harder to figure out goals. For instance, if I donít want the pirates to break into the freezer, what actions should I take in time to stop them? If I want to protect the pirates from the zombies (else I end up with more zombies), how should I accomplish that and still keep the orevore safe? I donít think I ever quite figured out what my goals should be. Itís all very open. Things that canít lead to victory are allowed because youíre given the freedom to do anything allowed by the control console. In a way, this also makes it a little like a sandbox game -- albeit a sandbox that ends your life after a dozen or two turns.

     After I felt that fun was leaning towards frustration, I checked the walkthrough and played entirely from there. I found that I had some things right and some things wrong, but it really reinforced my conclusion that success really depends on being (excuse the clichť) in the right place at the right time. Randomness, thankfully, doesnít play a part in this. Itís still maddeningly difficult, and (unless you are far more brilliant than I will ever be) impossible to solve in a meager two hours.

     The writing is effective and seemingly flawless. Itís also admirably bug-free, except for a single quirk where Ghee seems to be dead in the docking bay and finagling his way out of the engine room at the same time. Actions, which do become repetitive, are aided not only by abbreviated button names, but by button names as complete actions. For instance, you can enter ďpush docking buttonĒ but youíre less taxed by simply typing ďdock.Ē

     In many ways, my own voting guidelines are rubbish. Iíve tried to describe what makes a game deserving of a given score by outlining what I look for in a good game. One like Orevore Courier can hardly be faulted for featuring a story without any real depth when itís supposed to be a puzzle box, not thought-provoking literature. These guidelines are supposed to keep me on track, so that all entries are judged fairly against all others. Iíll stick with it until I come up with a better plan (maybe for next year), but itís probably making me too critical of the entries I play. What matters most is simply how worth playing a game may be. If itís supposed to be fun, then is it fun?

     Orevore Courier may be a godsend to those who enjoy complex brain teasers. Those who look for epic and serious stories without the difficulty of puzzles along the way may find little to enjoy here. I think Iím in the middle. I liked what Brian Rapp has done here, and I appreciate that obvious effort has gone into constructing a small-scale but consistent and branching logistics puzzle. At the same time, it might have taken me ages to solve on my own, and it ultimately began to feel like too much brain-work for me. Iíve rated it fairly highly, as an ď8Ē with a ďplusĒ for such cool subject matter. If current trends hold true, and with just twenty-eight other games to compete against, I expect Orevore Courier to find an easy spot in the top ten.

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