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IFCOMP 2008 - Magic

Game #25: Magic
Author: Geoff Fortytwo
Played On: November 9th (2 hours 5 minutes)
Platform: TADS 3

F:1 + T:2 + P:1 + S:1 + W:2 + B:0 = SCORE: 7

     Gameís Blurb:
     A story of the dangers that magicians can face.

     >xyzzy
     Everyone enjoys the XYZZY spell. Sadly, children are rarely willing to travel from their birthday parties to a debris filled room on the other side of the world in order to see it in action.

     >plugh
     You invoke the grand spell PLUGH and with a poof you are instantly transported to exactly where you were! For some reason this spell never gets a positive reaction at parties.

     Itís hard to know just what to make of Geoff Fortytwoís Magic. Itís dark humor, mixed with the absurd, sprinkled with some disturbing imagery (such as the rotting corpse of a dead mime). It begins with little more than expressions of insecurity shown by a childrenís party magician (apparently suffering from low self-esteem), but gradually gets more and more weird as wild rabbits attack in a run-down city, a cult of bunny-worshipers help and hinder progress, and real magic becomes a tool for the protagonist to use.

     The game offers adequate short-term goals, but doesnít present the player with a primary objective until very near the end. Much of the game is spent just interacting with whatís around, hoping something good will come of it. These small steps peter out after a while, when there are no more hats to find or wounds to bandage. It becomes a matter of working backwards from what appears to be the primary goal: getting a hand grenade. Even this becomes a ďdo it because itís thereĒ objective, since itís not clear why the protagonist would need such a thing until the very end.

     The game is solid. As far as I could tell, it was bug-free. I didnít notice any guess-the-verb issues or other rough spots in the implementation. Itís also written pretty well, without noticeable spelling or grammatical problems. This alone puts it a step above much of what was entered in this yearís competition. So, that leaves the story and the puzzles.

     I already described the story: dark humor, absurd, a little disturbing in spots. Itís interesting and original, but it seems to meander a little without offering a clear point. For most of the game, itís just a scenario in which the protagonist does stuff. Usually, when a protagonist does stuff, itís for a reason. Here, it seems too unfocused. Itís not the typical problem of puzzles taking the place of a story, because the game is obviously trying to tell one. Itís just a hard thing to pinpoint or explain in brief, because it ends up not feeling like a story in the traditional sense.

     The puzzles hint at brilliance, but suffer from poor cluing. The protagonist learns a magic trick that plays a part in several puzzles, but itís never quite consistent in what it does. Of course, that's not necessarily a negative -- it gives variety, after all. It transforms one thing into another, based on a comparison of the two. It allows the protagonist to look like certain NPCís, but not every NPC. Sometimes it turns one thing into the other thing. Sometimes it gives one thing the properties of another, using the other thing as a sort of metaphoric inspiration. At least once, the transformation involves wordplay. Itís gimmicky but slick, and not something Iíve seen in IF before.

     (The next paragraph contains probable puzzle spoilers.)

     Poor hinting makes some of the puzzles next to impossible. Halfway through, I took to the built-in hints and relied heavily on them for the remainder of the game. The protagonist is expected to do certain non-obvious things that arenít prompted or motivated in any way. Itís probably possible to stumble on them with enough trial and error, but I often felt that I wouldnít have been able to figure out what to do without the hints. Part of the problem is that the game allows the player to beat his or her head against a dead end, without making an effort to redirect the player back to other areas. Itís necessary to solve certain puzzles before others, but itís often unclear how that works because the player has no idea what reward will be found. For instance, a player is likely to get stuck trying to pilfer a coin from a collection plate, completely unaware that elsewhere in the game is a coin youíre supposed to find and put into the plate. In another example (the hamster wheel), a vital piece of it is hidden two objects deep, and is only discovered in a disambiguation question.

     Magic scores a ď7Ē even without the bonus point, due to its solid implementation and well-edited writing. Itís an interesting game, but the puzzles are brought down by a lack of adequate hinting. The story, too, could be more focused than it is. Still, this is one of the more enjoyable works of IF in this yearís competition, and I recommend it.

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