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IFCOMP 2008 - Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom

Game #22: The Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom
Author: Anssi Ršisšnen
Played On: November 4th (1 hour 5 minutes)
Platform: ALAN 3

F:1 + T:1 + P:1 + S:1 + W:1 + B:1 = SCORE: 6

     One of the things I like most about Ngah Angah is that it knows exactly what it is, and it doesnít mess around in getting straight to the point. Itís covered by a simple love story, where the protagonist has finally tracked his sweetheart to a secret, secluded school where magic and illusion reign. He must complete three challenges before gaining entry to the school, and this is his only concern. These three challenges are all that stand between him and his true love.

     The story, however, isnít the point. The author has crafted three simple challenges -- puzzles -- and the playerís goal is to solve each of them. The first is sort of a logic puzzle, although the other two just require deduction. Actually, thatís not quite right. None of the puzzles are clued (although the first puzzle is itself a clue), so deduction doesnít quite factor into it. To solve the puzzles, itís necessary to be observant, and simply try unlikely things with the limited resources at hand. This ends up being a great deal of trial and error, especially in the second scene where an unintentional red herring can lead the player astray. An astute (or lucky) player might breeze through them in a matter of minutes. For me, it took about one hour to solve the game.

     Somehow, I had more fun in solving these puzzles than is befitting of their limited complexity. The scope is so small that it was never a matter of managing too many pieces at once. In a way, itís like a treasure hunt, where the objective is to figure out the one action necessary to solve or survive the encounter. Although the first puzzle is more logic-based than the other two, all three were interesting enough to keep me motivated despite numerous failures. Even though I liked the puzzles, I felt they could have been more involved, perhaps requiring more steps to solve.

     Implementation problems were generally minor, and fit into two categories: game problems, and (presumably) ALAN problems. For the former, there were a few pieces of scenery unimplemented, a problem or two with plural nouns (try to >eat the butterflies, for example), a default (and often inaccurate message) when trying to push things with the staff, and a few more. None of these seemed to interfere with gameplay, or detract from it in a major way. (An exception may be in the scene at the end, where it's necessary to perform an action that must be phrased in a very particular way, with shorter versions rejected for no obvious reason.)

     However, bugs or quirks in the ALAN runner (the one included with the IFComp interpreter set -- a GLK implementation, I believe) were problematic. The runner wouldnít remember my font settings between sessions. Transcript comments that stretched beyond the lineís end caused the interpreter to crash and exit. The strangest (and most frustrating) of these problems was an issue with restoring a prior save, where certain things or events werenít correctly initialized. For instance, the three men in cloaks are completely missing from the second room if reloading there after an exit or restart, making the game impossible to solve. The examiner doesnít appear in the third room if restoring there. Itís as though certain aspects of the game arenít saved and restored the way they should be. Fortunately, the game is so short that starting over is no big deal.

     The second two scenes reverse death with a ďresurrectingĒ message. Although itís disconcerting at first, I really appreciated it after a while, especially in the second scene, which ends on a three-turn timer. It seems like an odd decision not to have done the same thing in the first room as well, even though death isnít a common occurrence then.

     A graphic image necessary for solving the first puzzle doesnít show up when reading a note thatís supposed to display it. At first, I didnít know why no text was shown for the note. After a while -- and after remembering that an image was included in the gameís directory -- I figured out what was happening. Apparently, this is another quirk in ALAN (or the GLK Windows ALAN runner). The author is aware, and the >HELP text directs the player to view the image outside the game environment in that event. However, I didnít check the built-in help until I had completed the game.

     This is tangent to the review, but itís good advice anyway. Donít hide important pre-game facts behind a hint or help command that some players wonít try for fear of spoilers. I generally stay away from >HELP unless Iím stuck and looking for hints. I would rather see this kind of information in a readme.txt (which usually implies ďno spoilersĒ), or as a separate command in the game thatís suggested to the player in a way that explicitly says itís important and spoiler-free.

     The Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom gets one point in every category. Iíve also awarded the bonus point, because I had more fun with the gameís narrowly focused puzzles than might be implied from the score. Thatís a composite score of ď6Ē -- about average -- making for a good (if unassuming), recommendable game.

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