IFComp 2011: Fan Interference, by Andrew Schultz

This is the first game I am reviewing for the 17th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition; if you’re a judge, don’t read on unless you have already played and reviewed the game yourself.

Blurb: The 2003 Cubs are on the brink of the World Series. It’s game 6, and they’re even going to take a late 3-0 lead in the clinching game. They won’t keep it.
Unless you, who just got kicked off the bus near Wrigley Field, prevent that.

Even before I start the game up, I’m a bit worried by that relative clause in the last sentence of the blurb, so my eyes are peeled for stylistic clunkiness. I’m also a bit wary that this is going to be deeply baseball-culture-specific, and that my extremely tenuous grasp of any elements of baseball beyond the rules will put me on the outside of this particular joke.

Oh, good, it’s got a “WHO IS” command to fill me in on the references I don’t get!

> WHO IS RICK SUTCLIFFE
That person’s not in this game. Sorry.

Aw, fuck.

Fortunately, the intro seems to have been mostly irrelevant (I’d been wondering, since it didn’t seem to match the blurb…), and now I can play the real game, in which the first order of business is evidently to see if I’ve actually lost my wallet.

Something square and familiar is in your inside jacket pocket.

> LOOK IN POCKET
You find nothing of interest.

> FEEL POCKET
You feel nothing unexpected.

Uh-oh, strike one (hey, I can be thematic, can’t I?)! Would’ve thought playtesters would’ve caught that one (EXAMINE POCKET worked).

One prominent stall here has several rows of t-shirts.

> EXAMINE ROWS
(your white button-down shirt)
It’s pretty comfortable and clean, but dull. Given the stupid day you had at work, you want to get rid of
it almost as much as the blazer. It’d be largely symbolic–you have identical ones at home.

Um. Can anyone explain that parse error? I’m barely into the game proper and I’m already discouraged.

There are other oddities: I speak to a man in the parking lot and he seems to react as if I’ve done something I haven’t — and then the game won’t let me answer his question. I eventually get the game to progress, and it becomes clear what my goals are, if not even the slightest hint how to achieve them: there are too many things around, and too many rooms, for me to get even a clue what’s important for preventing nebulously-described events which are supposed to be happening later; I’m assuming this is, like Varicella or Broken Legs, a game where you’re supposed to have all your ducks in a row when you start doing things, and there are just too many objects and places. Also, one room has no description, which further cements my theory about either insufficient testing or insufficient responsiveness to same.

I found myself running short on time after flailing about, so I hit the walkthrough, and, yeah, hate to say it, but this is on the far side of unforgiving and clairvoyance-requiring: there’s not nearly good enough negative feedback for it to be apparent what to do, particularly with a lot of nonstandard verbs. This one shows some craft with serviceable writing and some mechanically interesting bits, but it’s really, really unnecessarily sprawly, overconvoluted, and doesn’t have the implementation under the surface or the necessary cluing to the player to really make playing this directionless mess actually, y’know, fun.

Rating: 4 (maybe raise to a 5 if the field is weak)

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

2 Responses to IFComp 2011: Fan Interference, by Andrew Schultz

  1. I thought I’d play a couple of the competition games this year — yes, I know I say that every year — so I had the comp site randomize the list of games — which is definitely not as much fun as throwing them all in a hopper, is it? — and the four or five I quickly dipped into were very meh and that’s as far as my enthusiasm took me.

    One of those was Fan Interference, and your response to the WHO IS command and to its first result was exactly the same as mine. If you JUST TALKED about a feature, it’d better work for the first thing anyone’s apt to try it on.

    Pah. Baseball.

  2. Andrew says:

    Thanks for this review. I couldn’t find a contact email, so I wanted to wait til rule 5 was over.

    I didn’t think I had this much obvious stuff to fix this quickly. But I think I understand how to write a game and judge the player’s experience better than 6 weeks ago. So I appreciate your help and patience with this game, and I am glad it did not sour you on the entire contest.

    And yes, do get to any of the top three games you missed. They’re quite good, and a nice reward for slogging through games that disappointed you.

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