IFComp 2011: PataNoir, by Simon Christiansen

This is the twentieth 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 Baron’s daughter is missing, and you are the man to find her. No problem. With your inexhaustible arsenal of hard-boiled similes, there is nothing you can’t handle.

What an odd duck this game is! The underlying conceit is of a hard-boiled detective story (which seems an awful lot to me like The Big Sleep, down to the fairly nonsensical plot and several of the locations) in which the detective can manipulate elements of similes as if they were real objects. The overall effect is one of linguistic surrealism akin to that seen in Nord and Bert. The idea is creative and some of the ways it’s used are imaginative, although as the uses of objects (and the application of figurative characteristics to individual nonfigurative objects and characters) get more complicated, it wanders dangerously into read-the-author’s-mind territory with the required activities. There are pretty good contextual hints, although I wish they were object-based rather than location-based. On one occasion it wasn’t clear what was necessary to advance the plot, but it turned out to be going to a place I had no obvious reason to go, so it’s easy to end up not realizing what particular strand of the rather dispersed plot needs to be tugged on to make progress. A few other structural niggles: I found myself scanning prose for similes to be abused rather than actually reading text, and I didn’t realize that (for two puzzles near the end of the game), using Mr. Wesson is mandatory; I had pegged him as entirely a hint system, and figured that since standing on his shoulders wasn’t implemented, he wasn’t usable intradiagetically.

The writing is mostly serviceable, sometimes a bit flat, but that’s a bit necessary to cram all the similes in (the epilogue notes the similarity to the style of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who is infamous for the mediocrity of his prose style); I wouldn’t call either the plot or the tone particularly noir, though, despite the strong association of noir with hard-boiled detective fiction. On technical issues it’s mostly good, notwithstanding the aforementioned clunky elements of the hint-system design; the combinations of figurative and real elements are mostly handled well, as regards of implementation depth.

Rating: 7

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

One Response to IFComp 2011: PataNoir, by Simon Christiansen

  1. Greg Sanders says:

    Huh, neat. I think this is the first of the one’s you’ve reviewed that I’m rather tempted to play.

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