IFComp 2011: Sentencing Mr Liddell, by I-K. Huuhtanen

This is the ninth 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 time has come”, the Teacher says, “to talk of many sins: of wives and mums and unloved sons (of where it all begins), and why it’s really all your fault, and whether no-one wins.”

I assume I-K Huuhtanen is a pseudonym, although I guess someone with the last name of “Wildstrom” is ill-equipped to opine on which last names seem like likely ones for people to possess. I’m slightly charmed by the adaptation of The Walrus and the Carpenter in the blurb, and hope the game shows a similarly literary bent (particularly since I can’t help but wonder if “Liddell” is also a reference to Lewis Carroll’s audience).

Oops. There’s a modest typo in the first room description. Nothing big, but, y’know, this is the first thing the player sees. A few other mild stylistic errors jump out early as well. The interplay of commas and quotation marks, always a befuddling part of English punctuation for me, appears to be consistently done incorrectly, and there’s a comma splice or two in dialogue and some occasional other typos. There are some unintuitive puzzles (the teacup war was one), and as we move forwards I’m a bit alarmed by continuing not-quite-right usage and implementation: “grouching” for “crouching”, and several rooms without descriptions (one of which really needed one). Also, for some reason, “GET ALL” never works.

As for the actual story, I’m a bit conflicted, I like the idea of Alice adaptations but ultimately most of them fall flat for me. I make an exception for Švankmajer’s Něco z Alenky, which is fortunate for this game because it cultivates a rather similar tone, but I find the grounding of the tone in particulars a bit problematic. As with so many pure fantasy works, in this one we are supposed to see explicit psychoanalogues to the protagonist’s own life and illumination of those issues. The problem here is that the protagonist is in an unhappy space with regard to the specificity of his characterization. He’s not cipheric enough to be an everydude dealing with everydude angst (cf. Blue Chairs), but his relationships with individuals aren’t fleshed out enough for the individual symbols to have any more than a tenuous connection to reality: for instance, back in the real world, what is the hinted-at problem with the uncle and cousin? Is there a problem with the protagonist’s mother other than her being old and querulous? Catherine’s the only fantasy figure we get a real idea of to connect our fantasy-experience with a reality. For instance, the most omnipresent figure in the fantasy is our brother Leo, who wasn’t even mentioned in the frameworld.

Anyways, I like this game’s ambition, and like to see ambition, but I saw a lot of technical problems, and I feel I need better investment in my character.

Rating: 6

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

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