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IFCOMP 2008 - Freedom

Game #14: Freedom
Author: Anonymous
Played On: October 15th (15 minutes)
Platform: Inform 6 (Zcode)

F:1 + T:1 + P:0 + S:0 + W:1 + B:0 = SCORE: 3

     Gameís Blurb:
     An ordinary day in the life of an ordinary person.

     >xyzzy
     A hostile silence greets your words.

     Freedom took ten minutes from start to finish, and much of that was spent just poking at the implementation for review purposes. An additional five minutes were spent playing through a second time to check out a couple of questions I had about the implementation. Itís a very short game.

     The game has a purpose; or at least, it says it does. Itís not mentioned in the blurb (although the blurb does support the premise -- kind of), and itís not mentioned at the end. Itís explained only in the >about text. I donít know how I would have reacted to the game if I had known its purpose prior to playing, but in a way, Iím glad I didnít. This gave me the opportunity to find out if the game really succeeds in doing what the author intended. I do think the authorís note should have appeared at the end, though, since many players are likely to miss it. I would include it in this review, but it feels too much like a spoiler. If you havenít played yet, but intend to despite the gameís low score, be sure to type ABOUT after youíve completed the game once.

     Without knowing what the author had in mind, Freedom seemed like a very simple, very short, very boring non-game. Thatís a good indication that it doesnít work to get the point across. I didnít even suspect that there might be a purpose to the game, and that it was meant to simulate a condition of importance to the author. At no time did I feel the way the game was supposed to make me feel. There is a chance itís just a joke game (and Iím just a sucker for believing the premise), but going on the assumption that it was a completely honest attempt to do what the author states in his (or her?) note, it failed.

     This in itself is a bitter irony of the kind that seems manufactured to be bitterly ironic. Maybe it is -- a joke entry, I mean. If it is, this one was cleverly executed. If itís not (and this assumption will make up the remainder of this review), then I hope my comments come across as constructive and encouraging rather than condescending and rude.

     The problem with the gameís premise is that itís indiscernible from the goings-on in any typical work of interactive fiction. As an example that shouldnít spoil this particular premise, imagine a game where you pick up a rug. Maybe you can use the rug to hide a painting inside (found at a home dťcor store, maybe). Along the way, youíll need to pick up loose change intended as a tip from a restaurant table, a paperback book left unattended by a sunbather, and a pair of sunglasses. Assume, too, that I hadnít already told you that all of it was supposed to fit together somehow, and this was all just ďstuffĒ that happened in the game. Now, if I told you that this was a game thatís meant to demonstrate what it feels like to suffer from kleptomania, would you answer back that you had easily deduced that already from the game?

     Well, maybe. If it was really well written, fleshed out, offered insight into the protagonistís state of mind, and didnít feel like just any typical adventure game, maybe you would. If I told you the premise before you played, maybe you would recognize the theme along the way. But, if this game progressed just like any other, maybe with a slant towards the old-school design philosophy of building puzzles out of things the player must find and nab for personal use, then its actual purpose would probably come as a surprise.

     Freedom isnít old-school, full of puzzles, or anything of the sort. Really, itís just a boring little errand quest. Its implementation is pretty basic, but it never feels broken or frustrating. You can look at a few things, but youíre usually just redirected back to the goal at hand. It has no story, and it doesnít seem ambitious enough. Itís written okay, but in a simple way that seems to want to be boring. Without the authorís note to give insight into why the game exists, it probably wouldnít even merit more than a paragraph or two of softened diatribe.

     To achieve what the author intended, the game needs shading. It shouldnít be written in such a neutral way. Without context, different people can interpret these events in different ways. It all seemed pretty normal to me. Using my own point of reference, I didnít experience these events in the way the author intended. Part of that may be because itís not really happening, but a bigger part is that the game gives very little insight into the protagonistís state of mind. Iíve said in other reviews that itís not a good idea (especially in a second-person narrative) to ďtellĒ the player what heís thinking and feeling, but something needed to have been put here in its place. Maybe the apartment should have been described with more warmth and comfort, while other places should have been cold and suspicious. Would that be an exaggeration of what the author attempted to simulate, though? I donít know. I do know, however, that there must be far more to this than was present in the game, which says to me that the author didnít construct it in a way that gets the point across.

     Freedom gets the free point, a point for its implementation (modest, but seemingly bug-free and -- except for maybe one part in the grocery store -- smooth), and a point for the writing. For puzzles and interaction, I did not give a point. Likewise, the story (in this game, its ďpurposeĒ) gets no point -- not because it was it was a bad idea, but because it didnít come close to accomplishing what the author intended. Thatís a composite score of ď3.Ē

     If this was a joke entry, it was expertly done. The only improvement might have been if the authorís note came at the end of it, instead of in the ďaboutĒ text. If it wasnít a joke, it needed a far more convincing narrative to get the point across.

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