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IFCOMP 2008 - Project Delta: The Course

Game #4: Project Delta: The Course
Author: Emilian Kowalewski
Played On: October 5th (15 minutes)
Platform: Custom (Node-X CYOA Interpreter for Windows)

F:1 + T:1 + P:0 + S:0 + W:1 + B:1 = SCORE: 4

     Gameís Blurb:
     The Course is a short prequel to Project Delta, a CYOA-style text adventure inspired by Area 51 conspiracy theories, set in its own universe and scripted in "Node-X", a game system developed by the author himself.

     Maybe this is the year of the far-too-short game?

     Project Delta: The Course weighs in at just 15 minutes, and part of that comes from experimenting with the various built-in color themes. This is little more than a tech demo for Emilianís new console-mode CYOA system, Node-X.

     Most of the effort -- well, nearly all of the effort -- went into the development of Node-X rather than the game thatís meant to showcase it. Itís fitting, then, that this review is going to focus primarily on Node-X (and mostly in the form of suggestions). The story, billed as a prequel to a larger upcoming Node-X game, does nothing to distinguish itself or captivate players. An amnesiac military woman is given a very short demonstration of the Node-X interface by a generic military man. Itís not even as entertaining as the introductory interface training in a video game, although presumably it serves the same purpose. Really, there is nothing here. No story. A generic setting. It might get a player interested in Node-X, but nobody is likely to play The Course and develop anticipation or hunger for the as-of-yet unreleased The Assignment.

     So, Iíll focus on the Node-X engine.

     Itís odd that the author chose a console-mode presentation. I suppose thereís nothing here that makes it a bad choice -- only, if it has to be PC-only, a Windows-based or web-based interface would provide more future flexibility. At the risk of self-promotion, I developed something sort of similar to this (CYOA with game saving, inventory, system commands like ďexamineĒ, and more) using DHTML and JavaScript. Iíve never released it (it needs a little work, anyway), but since it supports multimedia and works on many platforms, it seems like a better direction to take for a CYOA engine.

     From The Course, it seems the author intends for it to be more for menu-based IF than CYOA. (Mine, incidentally, is the same way. You could do traditional CYOA, but the advanced feature set also lends itself to more traditional IF where there are puzzles and inventory and fewer wildly branching CYOA-style plot lines.) Still, the more IF-like your CYOA becomes, the less justification I can see in a text-only console-mode PC-only implementation.

     Node-X needs a transcript feature, with annotation. My ďtranscriptĒ for Project Delta: The Course is just a few notes taken in NOTEPAD while playing. This is handy not just for IFComp judges, but for eventual beta-testers of Node-X games. A running transcript, which a player can turn on or off and add comments while playing, would be a nice (and useful) addition.

     An UNDO feature would be nice. My own CYOA engine (sorry, sorry -- it may be bad form to keep referencing it, but itís my basis for comparison) has this, and itís just a matter of remembering the previous state (in this case, probably inventory) and returning to the prior page (or ďnodeĒ).

     An open specification for the gameís binary format (*.NX1) might be a good idea. It would probably be something others could use in creating non-Windows interpreters, and (maybe) even work into multi-format interpreters like Gargoyle or Spatterlight. It will take something like this to gain a wider acceptance within the IF community (assuming thatís even a goal -- and it may be, given that this was submitted to the IFComp).

     I noticed a tendency in The Course to show extra blank options sometimes. Iím not sure what that was all about. A bug? Intentional, as a means of showing that there arenít any more options? Iím just not sure. It seemed like a bug.

     Itís unfortunate that The Course isnít an interesting game. The IFComp is a good way to get exposure in the IF Community, and a more worthwhile game could really have been a showcase for Node-X. Iím left with mixed feelings about the interpreter. On the one hand, it does seem to work fine (although in a far less sophisticated way than even the least popular of IF development languages). The author has probably worked as hard on this game as any other of this yearís participants (albeit on the engine, not the game). On the other hand, the ďgameĒ itself would be worthless no matter the platform.

     So, what Iíve opted to do is give 1 Technical point (for Node-X itself), 1 Writing point (this is generous -- the writing isnít horrible, but there are frequent problems and itís just not very interesting), the free point, and -- both as encouragement to consider my suggestions and because I still have a soft spot for the optimism shown by home-brew authors -- the bonus point. Thatís a composite score of ď4,Ē and thatís (sad though it may be) about double what I expect the gameís competition average to be.

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