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IF COMP 2004 - Sting of the Wasp

Game #32: Sting of the Wasp, by Jason Devlin
Played On: 10/23/04 (10:00 AM to 12:20 PM)
Unofficial Score: 9.0 (no skew)

     I wonder how many other players, after getting to this point in the competition (thirty-one down, only a few more to go), begin to think that the proverbial "big picture" is already clear? After all, with only seven more to go, isn't it likely that I've already seen the best the competition has to offer?

     No, in fact. I can't say that "Sting of the Wasp" is the best I've played, based purely on my own preferences, but it's an excellent and well-done entry. It proves that this contest isn't over. If your goal is to play and judge every game, yet you treat the final few as if scraping the proverbial bottom of the barrel, you might be missing out on enjoying one of the best games of the competition. The moral is, play them all with an open mind, as if each one was the first in your list.

     Interactive Fiction is great because it can take a player to another place. Visit a new world, experience something you otherwise could never. "Sting of the Wasp" shows that it doesn't have to end with that. You can BE somebody else -- somebody completely unlike the real you, somebody with different motives, a different background, different reasons for living life. In "Sting of the Wasp", you play as an aging socialite with one goal -- preservation of status. She's an adulterous gold-digger in a world of jealous, back- stabbing, superficial rivals. She is hardly a victim, though, as the circumstances are almost entirely of her own making. The PC and NPC characters in "Sting of the Wasp" are some of the most believable (even by their stereotypical behavior) in the competition.

     The game is highly entertaining, although a little difficult and obscure in parts. I did well at first, but used hints after the first hour. At first, it was harmless. In the instructions, "pour" is mentioned, and this sparked an idea that allowed me to pass an obstacle. As I went along, though, I started to feel that I had exhausted all my options. In prior games, I have gotten into a habit of "searching" things in my starting location. As I mentioned with "The Big Scoop", this often leads to useful items I would otherwise have left behind, never finding later. This happened to me in "Sting of the Wasp" -- I suppose a habit isn't much of a habit if you forget to do it. The hints brought me past this, and the more I went, the less I could resist peeking at the hints. Several of the puzzles were difficult enough that I'm not sure I would have solved the game otherwise. The puzzles are far from bad -- in fact, they're all quite logical -- it just takes a better gamer than me to step back, look at the big picture, and try something that isn't just random experimentation with inventory items.

     The writing in this game is top-notch. It isn't just the writing that makes this such a great game, though. The author does a good job of tracking your actions, so it's isn't really necessary to track them yourself. What I mean is, as you obtain clues and witness various events, the PC's reactions to situations (particularly in conversations) will change. Once you discover the existence of a locker (for instance), it become available to you without any note-taking or fancy lock-turning. As your character's understanding about various things improves, these things become a part of your interactions.

     It's not a game I -- and I suspect, many others -- could have written in anything close to a believable manner. What kind of field research did Jason Devlin do, in building this story? It does ring of what the uninitiated might consider typical, even banal goings-on in the exclusive world of rich country club folk. On that, I couldn't say -- I too am uninitiated. If it's entirely contrived, it's plenty convincing. So much attention to detail is likely to make many of the other authors (myself included) jealous. The characters have something to say about almost everybody and everything. Every interaction is done well. So much is implemented in "Sting of the Wasp" that could just have easily been skipped. This is a game that intends to win, and if it doesn't, it will certainly place highly. It isn't my personal favorite, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

     As for bugs, the game is one of several where problems become a matter of nit-picking. It would be nice if "x reflection" at the beginning (because that's something which is mentioned) would work the same as "x self". After taking the ticket from the bag, I was unable to put it back inside (taking up an inventory slot I often needed). When you "show hair to Cynthia" the first time, the resulting message is repeated twice. If in the same room as Melissa, you can't "put hair in bag" (leave it to me to try that). "...kissing woman..." in one spot should be "women". Something I didn't try, but could potentially be a problem, is that you enter one room (making an escape) which apparently can't be revisited later -- what happens if you drop something you need in that area? Is it prevented, or can you return in some manner I didn't discover? Although "pour" works as an alias for "put on", it seems to fail near the end (think "lockers" for the applicable puzzle).

     I don't know what else to say about "Sting of the Wasp". It's a great game with a unique story, and I expect it to finish highly in the competition.

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