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IFCOMP 2005 - Jesus of Nazareth

Game #22: Jesus of Nazareth, by Paul Panks
Played On: 10/29/2005 (4:50 PM to 6:30 PM)
Unofficial Score: 6.5 (5.5 base with +1.0 skew)

     If you thought Vespers was blasphemous, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

     As Jesus, you can attack anyone, provoked or not. Yes, Jesus has hitpoints. You can even become a hitman for Harod Antipas, ridding him of a Sicarii rebel and ultimately converting him to the path of righteousness.

     Jesus of Nazareth does a lot wrong. There are bugs, and I’ll mention some of that later. It’s a hand-made parser. Paul thankfully added “x” as a shortcut for “examine”, and it features a “save” option – but no “undo” and very few frills. The game is going to rank very low in the competition. It’s going to get 1’s and 2’s… maybe a few 3’s.

     Somehow, the game worked for me. Before I launch into what’s wrong with the game, I should discuss what’s right. In “unofficially” ranking Jesus of Nazareth higher than most judges will – even higher than I’ve ranked a few of the other game so far – I should explain why.

     Paul Panks manages to keep things simple. Sure, Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t understand complicated commands, but it rarely ever sets up a situation in which a complex command would seem necessary. The “help” command explains it all. It doesn’t take long to understand how the game is put together. Important things are always listed after the room description. This makes the game more playable than it might otherwise be. The consistent blue-on-gray display was also easy on the eyes – a welcomed change from harsher color schemes and rainbows of needless highlighting.

     It’s also unexpectedly original. Sure, it’s silly to have Jesus battling centurions and city guards, keeping track of hit points and all, but the concept is pretty good. Jesus, travelling the land, is recruiting disciples. This sometimes requires obtaining some object of interest to the potential recruit, but they’re easy to find and don’t require any complicated puzzle-solving. In fact, Jesus of Nazareth has no real puzzles. It’s all just a matter of collecting a few objects and roaming the map. This keeps the pace flowing, and it’s perfectly comp-sized. The second-person narrative switches to third-person during dialogue and attempts to convert the denizens of Capernaum. This is less jarring than it might seem. These parts are written in pseudo-biblical fashion. Some of it is probably based on direct quotations, although I think Paul probably strays from it to suit the situation.

     Although it requires working around a few bugs, Jesus of Nazareth is winnable without hints and without a walkthrough. That’s fortunate, because the game includes neither. I liked that it was easy to finish, even with its quirks. The writing has a few problems, but it’s pleasantly more verbose and well-written than either of the two Paul Panks games I’ve played before (Ninja v1.30 and The Golden French Fry). The fighting aside, it doesn’t feature any fantastical, nonsensical elements or suspiciously contrived situations. It doesn’t require any outlandish leaps in logic to play. The available exits listed above the command prompt, although frowned upon by today’s standards, helped quite a bit.

     I was lucky a couple of times, or I very well might have been stuck. In the town of Capernaum, Mary Magdalene can be found in the central market. The problem is, her entry after the room description says “this is Mary of Magdala, a town near the Lake of Tiberias.” On a whim, I tried talking to Mary, and this works. Another point of confusion is that the terra-cotta lamp is always described as burning brightly, even when it’s not on. After some frustration with trying to enter the cave, I noticed that “light” was listed as a verb in the “help” info. Lighting the lamp worked. The last problem is that you can convert Harod or John, but not both. Well, that’s not necessarily a problem, because the game requires 6 disciples, and there are seven possibilities. However, Peter won’t convert when the other five include Harod, which leaves the game unwinnable.

     These aren’t the only bugs, but they’re the ones that hurt the most. As far as I could tell, it’s impossible to escape from a battle once it starts. You can convert Andrew again, even after he has joined the others. Everybody goes south after conversion, even though an exit rarely exists in that direction. I can’t leave the garrison because the centurion wants to arrest me, but he never actually does. If I try going south, he acts as though nothing happened. Sometimes, I am said to have “destroyed” an enemy, yet the battle has only just started. Trying to covert the soldier gives no response. “Sandles” should be “sandals”. Dead bodies just disappear, as if this was some first-person shooter from years gone by. Why can’t the game just convert commands to lower-case behind the scenes, instead of being confused by uppercase input? The “score” text says Jesus needs to find and convert four disciples, yet all six are required to win. What was the purpose of the birds found after climbing the tree, and what was the purpose of the sickly boy? Even though the game has no transcripting feature, I made other notes during play, which are available to the author at his request.

     Some things just seem in poor taste. At one point in a battle comes this bit: "Wow! The enemy centurion almost crucified you!" I can’t try to convert the sickly boy, because he’s dying of the plague… maybe I’m getting “conversion” and “redemption” mixed up. Presumably Jesus knows about the Ten Commandments, yet he dispatches the righteous and the unrighteous with equal fervor. The fact that any NPC is referred to as an “enemy” of Jesus is a little suspicious.

     Taken on its own merits, Jesus of Nazareth is between a 5 and a 6 on my scale. That’s not undue, considering I was never stuck for long, and the game never really frustrated me. I think it’s original and unexpected. If the bugs had been fixed before the competition version, I might have considered basing it at 6.5 or even a 7. The combat system seemed unnecessary, and the text (especially the dialogue) could have used some indention and spacing, but Paul was on the right track. I liked the game, and I can even recommend it to anyone with an open mind for something unusual. I skewed the game up a full point, to a final score of 6.5, because it’s much better than I expected.

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