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IFCOMP 2008 - Trein

Game #7: Trein
Author: Leena Kowser Ganguli
Played On: October 9th (1 hour)
Platform: Inform 7 (Zcode)

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

     Game’s Blurb:
     Trouble has been brewing in Trein Hill. The people stopped playing their taxes and all is silence. What's worse, there's rumors of disappearances and even rebellion! It is up to you to find out what is happening in that isolated territory.

     Trein is set in a feudal-fantasy world, where you (as the King’s representative) must investigate and report back on the situation in the kingdom’s town of Trein Hill. The game takes place over modest geography in the town and the town’s castle.

     I could spend this entire review quoting specific problems in the game’s text, but I’ll keep it to a minimum. That’s too crass a treatment for what’s obviously a well-intentioned game from an inexperienced new IF author. Even though I wear my critical “reviewer” hat, I’ve developed a fondness for these games with overly ambitious stories uncontained by their bare-bones implementation. This kind of game shows up in every IFComp. A convincing argument can be made that the IFComp shouldn’t be a test bed for beginners’ efforts, but that’s the way it goes and that’s part of its charm.

     Too many factors work against Trein, despite the author’s good intentions. It’s implemented in a way that says “this is my first game” (or, at least, “this is my first game in Inform 7”). Various quirks include at least one room description that doesn’t show up in verbose mode, painted-on descriptions, inappropriate object-specific articles, capitalization problems due to directly-listed capitalized object names, occasional formatting problems, and many objects mentioned in the text that are simply unimplemented in any other way. It’s clearly written by someone with a beginner’s grasp of programming in an IF language.

     The game also adheres to the long-outmoded tradition of listing “important stuff you see here” as a separate paragraph following the room description, where today these things are generally worked into the text or restricted to just the stuff the player has previously picked up.

     The text itself could compensate a little for all this, but unfortunately, it doesn’t. The beginning is strong, but even the game’s blurb has a typo (“playing” instead of “paying”). It should have been proofread by somebody other than the author, which isn’t to say the author is blameless for not doing her own proofreading as well. Sometimes, a letter is missing from a word or a word is missing from a sentence, as though the author was in a hurry to get everything down but lacked the time to polish it. Other problems include capitalization issues which probably can’t be blamed on object names (compass directions are often capitalized, and even nouns embedded in descriptions often are), some confusing descriptions (especially when the author describes the relations between rooms and their exits), and just some poorly-worded passages in general.

     The puzzles are pretty easy. They’re even clued in heavy-handed ways, where the answer isn’t just hinted but actually suggested by the text. They’re little more than finding an item, and maybe using it to get the next. The only spot most experienced players might get stuck is an implementation issue, where you must put something “on” something else even though “in” seems just as obvious. The game is full of unintentional red herrings, yet these never pose a problem because the important stuff is even more prominent.

     The story really wants to be detailed and epic, but the rest of the game holds it back. It has an intriguing opening, well-placed pieces of backstory, and some hints of a more thought-out game world. It never approaches its potential, though. The story is just good enough to earn the game’s only “1” in a 2-point category, but it could be much more than it is. A tapestry seemed to hint at the solution for an upcoming confrontation, but it was a promise unfulfilled. The game doesn’t culminate in any sort of conflict, climax, or endgame. It has a nice little revelation near the end, but it comes as just another step in a story that doesn’t ever rise or fall in other ways. Even the protagonist, who should be a pretty interesting character, never quite is.

     Outside the context of the competition, it isn’t a game I can recommend unless it sees a lot more work in all areas. But, as an IFComp entry, I did enjoy the time I spent with it. I appreciate what the author was trying to do, but even given the bonus point, it only scores a “3.” I’d like to see more from this author in the future, though -- especially after she gets a better handle on programming with Inform and can spend more time with proofreading and beta-testing.

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