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IFCOMP 2005 - Chancellor

Game #35: Chancellor, by Kevin Venzke
Played On: 11/04/2005 (10:10 AM to 10:40 AM and 12:20 PM to 1:50 PM)
Unofficial Score: 9.5 (9.5 base with no skew)

     Again this year, Kevin Venzke has written my second-favorite game of the competition. I beta-tested Chancellor, a few days before the competition began. Even though not much has changed, that first play-through went a little rougher than this, as I have gone back through the official competition version. Itís a pretty hard game. I managed it this time, right at the two hour mark, thanks to those hints from more than a month ago.

     I wasnít sure what score Iíd assign to Chancellor. It isnít easy to be objective about an updated version of a game Iíve already played. It stood up very well to the repeat play-through, which shows me how well-written and entertaining this game really is. I even noticed bits of consistency that escaped me the first time Ė I remember seeing it, but I donít think it hit me at the time. For instance, pay attention to the bit at the beginning where the PC slides down into the cave (something happens with the torch), and then look at the mirror later, in the bathroom.

     The detail put into this game is amazing. A variety of sensory descriptions are used. Almost everything obvious is implemented, and this includes more than just being able to look at whatís around. Unnecessary actions such as jumping at the balcony or moving the body at the shore are anticipated and responsive. Even though figuring out what to do can sometimes be a challenge, the game is very good about understanding variations in commands Ė nouns and verbs that seem to require no guessing whatsoever.

     I would hate to give away whatís going on in the game (although Iím sure other reviewers wonít hold back), but suffice it to say itís a very interesting plot. There are twoÖ parts, I guess. The overlap can sometimes be subtle and even hidden enough to miss (examine your suit in the first bit, and then go inside room 510 in the next Ė be sure to look at the door first). Itís sometimes more obvious as the lines begin to blur (what father writes on the note; whatís contained in the package; the condition of Staceyís clothes, found later in the game; the common fear of the monster and the janitor). Iíve probably said too much already. Itís interesting how (especially in the later bits) one part just fades away into the next, as if by sleight of hand.

     Itís one of those games, though, where even a second play-through leaves questions unanswered. How much detail did I miss? Whatís to be believed, if anything? I hope this gets some discussion after the competition (with appropriate spoiler notices, of course). Iím interested in finding out what it all meant to other people, and so far the author hasnít explained it. Maybe itís open for interpretation, but I gather that something is going on, and it can be figured out. The ending alludes to the ultimate completion of a task Ė one that seems important to her father Ė and thatís exactly what the PC set out to do at the beginning.

     I mentioned, though, that itís a pretty hard game. Some of it might be the need for better clueing. Maybe thatís not it Ė I picked up more hints in this second play-through, and Iím sure I just missed some of this subtlety the first time. Maybe itís the larger area covered by the game in some places, or just the amount of detail that sometimes seems important even though it isnít. Anyway, no help was available during the beta, except be emailing Kevin. A hints file is included with the competition version, but as far as I can tell (itís coded, but with an easy key at the bottom) it only covers the first part of the story. My hope is that judges persist through the tough parts, to get a better sense of just how much the game has to offer. I think the lack of a walkthrough might hurt Chancellor. I didnít mind so much that Kurusu City wasnít as well-liked by the judges last year as it was by me, but if Chancellor isnít in this yearís top 3, the judges have collectively made a mistake. Itís really a great game. And Iíve played them all at this point.

     So, this is the last one! I give it a 9.5 Ė no skew, but for no particular reason. Well done!

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