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IFCOMP 2008 - Search for the Ultimate Weapon

Game #11: Search for the Ultimate Weapon
Author: Sharilynn
Played On: October 12th (55 minutes)
Platform: SUDS (Windows)

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

     Game’s Blurb:

     The interactive fiction is very loosely based on the story of Wu Mei, a legendary Kung Fu nun during the Qing Dynasty in China. She is said to be the founder of various Chinese martial arts such as Wu Mei Pai and Wing Chun Kuen.

     This game is broken.

     If you don’t believe me, try this alternate walkthrough, which completely bypasses every puzzle in the game:


     Then, for fun, instead of exiting or restarting as the game suggests, just keep playing. Seriously. It will work, at least in the competition version of Search for the Ultimate Weapon.

     Strictly speaking, SUDS (the IF development system used for this game) isn’t a home-brew. The game doesn’t get its own SUDS folder in the IFComp installation, but the author of the game (unless I’m mistaken) isn’t the author of SUDS. Plus, SUDS has been around a while. At least, I think it has. It’s one I’ve heard of before, although I admit this is the first SUDS game I’ve ever played.

     What’s surprising, then, is that it has all the trappings of a home-brew. It has no UNDO. X doesn’t work for “examine.” Z doesn’t work for “wait.” Its transcript window is really just a list of prior commands. It doesn’t even echo your actual command into the game window, but rather shows a parsed version of it. The auto-complete function (until turned off) actually makes the game harder to play.

     It looks pretty professional on the surface. It’s like a flashier version of Quest, with multiple themes, colorful icons, and a default user interface that’s probably a big attraction to the uninitiated. Keywords are highlighted and clickable. Items and scenery are listed to the side as additional point-and-click spots. It has an always-on clickable compass rose, and a map that’s reminiscent of Adrift. Once the initial pizzazz wears off, though, even the “hardcode” mode (which removes the icons, the compass, and the item lists) isn’t enough to make it a comfortable experience. It still shows dialogue and certain events in pop-up windows, and despite bumping up the game text size to my liking, I found no way to increase the size of the input prompt. I found no way to turn off the clickable keyword highlighting, either.

     It’s a shame the game is so broken and difficult to use (I’ll get to some specifics in a moment, primarily for the author’s benefit). The author was obviously going for something poignant; something with a moral; something with heart. It’s supposed to be Zen and tranquil. It’s supposed to be enlightening.

     Exits unknown to the author allow the player to jump from the beginning into later segments (even the end -- see my walkthrough earlier in the review). The “ultimate weapon” is sometimes called the “ultimate one” (even in the title graphic), almost as though the author renamed it partway through and forgot to update everything. I liked each of the three or four custom color schemes representing the times of day (especially the burgundy-on-sky-blue “day”), but the game speeds through the days so quickly that it’s almost seizure-inducing. Plus, certain system actions (like looking at the “welcome” dialogue) unintentionally force it back to a white-on-blue default. Descriptions are painted on (for instance, the rope is always under the table, even if it’s in your inventory). The dialogue pop-up is actually counter-intuitive to the game’s first puzzle, since when out of dialogue options the first time, one is likely to think the conversation can’t be continued. It asks questions without accepting the answer (>kill prince; “With what?”; >knife; “You don’t know how to knife.”). The text doesn’t pause when it dumps more lines than will fit in the window, requiring some scrollback-hunting to find the beginning of what was missed. The text wasn’t adequately proofread.

     It has its positives, but not enough to make up for all that’s broken. The map image (not the SUDS built-in map, but one provided by the author later in the game), and the image of the metal box are nice touches. The author tried to use puzzles with a purpose, and a story that means something. It could be a much better game than it is -- with work -- because it has the foundation of something much more worthwhile.

     I’m scoring Search for the Ultimate Weapon a “4.” That’s with one point for writing, one for puzzles, one for the story, and the “free” point. It gets no point for technical implementation, nor did anything earn it a bonus.

     It looks like this is Sharilynn’s first game, and whether or not that’s really the case, I hope this and other potentially unfavorable reviews don’t discourage her from trying again. It can’t be said often or loudly enough that beta-testing is vital. I think those directional exploits would have been caught right away. I won’t try to encourage you to switch from your IF system of choice, but I will say that a flashy presentation is no substitute for solid parsing.

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