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IFCOMP 2005 - Vespers

Game #6: Vespers, by Jason Devlin
Played On: 10/11/2005 (9:15 PM to 11:15 PM)
And Again On: 10/12/2005 (2:00 PM to 3:40 PM)
Unofficial Score: 9.5 (9.0 base with +0.5 skew)

     It will take some excellent challengers to keep Vespers out of the top 3 in this yearís competition results. For that matter, it has a strong shot at winning. With more than two dozen games to go, is it a little early to make such a prediction? Maybe.

     But maybe not. Jasonís entry last year, Sting of the Wasp, was generally a crowd-pleaser, ranking 4th of 36 in the competition. It went on to win two XYZZY awards Ė Best NPCs and Best Individual PC. Iím probably not alone in starting Vespers with high expectations, and I wasnít disappointed. Itís nothing like Jasonís first credited game, but itís likely to prove that last yearís quick popularity was no fluke.

     The two games do share great writing. Both have unique and interesting settings. However, where last yearís Sting of the Wasp featured characters over story, Vespers is just the opposite. Thatís not to say Cecilia, the five brothers, and the PC/father (the game is set in a monastery) are dull. I felt this was a bigger, better story, but even though each brother was characterized as uniquely as one would expect, I still found myself thinking of them interchangeably. At times, I even confused one for another. The ďbrothersĒ command was helpful, but for whatever reason, I kept thinking of them as names rather than people. I donít think this is a problem in the game, though. Iíll be surprised if any other reviewers mention the same thing. I have been, unfortunately, a little distracted while I play this yearís games, and that certainly makes a difference.

     Vespers uses a gimmick that brought to mind 2003ís Slouching Towards Bedlam. Itís the only game Iíve played from that competition, and that was only a year ago while trying to get a feel for what the prior yearís winner did right to grab the top spot. Itís not the same gimmick, but it sure seems inspired. Late in the game, the purpose of the gimmick is explained through one brotherís journal pages. I havenít attended church regularly in many years, but I do have vague memories of it. Only toward the end did it begin to make sense why some of the biblical quotations were clearly fictional.

     By the end, it even made sense why the plot had me doing odd things ranging from mildly sinful to completely blasphemous. I donít think Jason has an expertís grasp on the subject matter used in the gameís setting, but nor would I. Ultimately, it all worked fine. This seems to be one of his greatest strengths. Like last year, he manages a very convincing story in a setting he (probably) canít draw from any real-life experience. We take this for granted in science fiction and fantasy, but Jason does it in less definable genres where itís important to blend fact and accuracy with the fiction.

     Sudden death occurs in several places, but itís usually fixed by an ďundoĒ or two. In one of the first cases Ė getting some sleep Ė the abrupt ending seems necessary just to understand that something has to happen first. By IF canon, thatís bad. It didnít bother me, perhaps because of the abrupt endings possible in my own competition entry. If this works for judges here, then it stands to reason it may work for them in mine.

     The game isnít flawless, but it isnít easy to find problems. The most obvious mistake I found was late in the game, when Ignatius appears in the calefactory even though I just left him in a completely different area. Going back there, he remains. I think the scene in the calefactory was meant for earlier. Once or twice, a blank spacer line was missing after prior text. Two logs, available at the authorís request, show a few other minor problems. I found nary a misspelling (of course, Iím no ace when it comes to spelling) and very few typos. Like I said before, Vespers shows off great writing.

     I gave this score more consideration than any so far. Iíve based it at 9.0 on my scale, but a +0.5 skew (for originality and great storytelling) puts it at 9.5. If anything tops it, this is going to be a great year for the IF Competition.

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