IFComp 2010: Oxygen: A Game of Survival, by ShadowK

This is the fifteenth game I am reviewing in the 16th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition. There needs to be some text here so that when Facebook links to it it doesn’t include bits of the actual review. And thus it is that I say: according to Eliot Rosewater, there is no nobler calling in life than preventing things from combining with oxygen.

Don’t let Gene Roddenberry’s estate know you’re using the phrase
“Jeffries tube”, because I’m pretty sure it’s a Star Trek-specific
reference.

I got stuck early, which may be the limited locations. It wasn’t
clear to me that the console and the panel were different things, so I
missed out on the exposed wiring and the extra card. But that all
seems to be window-dressing anyways for the resource-management puzzle
that forms the main game: that is, playing redistribution games with
the other side, possibly aided by a wounded expert. This is all
technically polished and actually pretty sophisticated, but it’s
narratively pretty thin. By blundering aimlessly I saved both
sections, which I guess is the second-best solution, but I never had
time to feel the sense of moral engagement that I was supposed to, I
guess. Things all pass too quickly, and the apparent malevolence of
the aft section’s choices means I approached it primarily with the
goal of attempting to maximize front reserves rather than total
savings (academically: what kind of crazy air-distribution system
is designed to automatically waste at least 25% of the
supplies?). I replayed and was more impressed, once I stopped running
around like a chicken with its head cut off and started thinking in
terms of the global situation rather than a single maximization
problem.

This work is, in some ways, at the unhappy intersection of the
narrative and crossroads. It tried for a ethical ambiguity in its
narrative design (multiple endings, nebulous loyalties), but it had
this highly distracting timed-puzzle design, which definitely made for
an appropriate sense of urgency, but every “round” was only 3 turns,
and involved checking the diagram, futzing with keycards… there just
didn’t seem to be time to explore the moral ambiguities.

However, aside from this conflict of design, this is largely a
sound game. There’s little in need of simple fixing, except for a very
small number of writing errors. I’d maybe redesign the prologue
section: the fiddling with cables and wiring and screwdrivers made me
think I was in for a machinery-fixing game rather than just doing the
prologue-puzzle to a long game-theory exercise, and that added to my
non-ethics-oriented mentality for the rest of the game.

In all: a rather slight work in scope, but one which contains a
significant technical achievement, a reasonable level of polish, and
even some thematic meat in the form of moral decisions, although that
came across as understated during game-play proper.

Rating: 7

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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