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IFCOMP 2007 - Eduard the Seminarist

Game #2: Eduard the Seminarist
By Heiko TheiŖen
Played On: October 3rd (1 hour 10 minutes)
Platform: Inform 6 (Zcode)
Merkís Score: 3+

     Gameís Blurb:
     An episode from a poet's years as a theological seminarist almost two centuries ago.

     I wish I could begin by describing what Eduard the Seminarist is actually about, but I canít. Among its many flaws, the game suffers from an all-encompassing lack of purpose. From the start, it just isnít clear what youíre supposed to be doing. A note found under the bed (which youíre likely to miss entirely unless the urge to look there hits you, and it didnít me until I checked the walkthrough after bumbling around the seminary for a while despite doing the same type of thing in my own 1999 entry, which I really should apologize for -- but I digress) does give a sort of general goal. Thatís it. At no other point, as far as I can tell, does the game attempt to help you along at all.

     Whatís probably just a rushed entry by an inexperienced new IF author sometimes feels as though itís equal parts laziness and willful attempts to withhold vital clues. The author would probably benefit more from my transcript than from a lengthy list of such instances here, but they include things like missing exits in room descriptions, important objects that arenít mentioned in the room at all, a lack of backstory or explanation as to what it means to be a theological seminarist, no positive reinforcement when the player does something right, no penalty or even a friendly warning when the player messes up, too-sparse implementation of almost everything, and more. This doesnít just make it a difficult game to beat. It makes it a difficult game to play.

     Puzzles are worked into the story well enough, and most do seem well-placed. Even so, I never felt as though the game offered enough guidance. This is partly because I was able to play a ways into it without ever finding the note. Even with a note, I never really understood the things that the PC would have known, and these are things vital for me as the player to help the PC make it to his meeting. These are things like understanding why the guards would block the street, what things I could afford to lose to the guards, why some actions might help or hinder my progress later, and so forth.

     And then, itís just buggy in general. Not only can you get stuck by closing off the solution to puzzles, you can actually get stuck in objects. I was stuck, somehow, inside a door, and later, on a river. These werenít rooms. These were just game objects or scenery I inadvertently ďenteredĒ (as an object in the game program myself) in a way not intended by the author. Very near the end, realizing that I needed something from the seminary that I had no way to go back (as far as I was able to determine) and retrieve, I just played through from a restart using the included command transcript.

     The game is apparently based on a book by (or about) 19th-century German poet Eduard MŲrike. A possibly anachronistic reference in the game suggests it (as does the gameís file name), although far too little detail made it into the game if so. It may be that this book, or this poem, or this particular episode in Eduardís life is interesting in another form. Eduard the Seminarist, as a game, offers little to encourage an understanding of the source material, let alone enthusiasm for it.

     I understand a degree of mystery and discovery, but the PC must have kept most of it to himself. Even when I did make progress, I never really felt that the story had moved forward. The PC was entirely generic in a game that probably centers around a person that had more personality and character in real life. All the detail that the author must have known while writing the game just never made it into the game.

     The writing is fine (and more of it might have made the game really come alive). Itís the coding and design that really fails here. Maybe thatís due to a lack of time, or a lack of experience (with Inform 6 in particular, or programming in general).

     The bulk of this review is negative, yes, but I do believe the author has talent. This game would require more work to fix than has already gone into creating the competition version, but I donít mean to discourage the attempt. I hope this (among other reviews that are likely to be equally critical) doesnít discourage the author from trying again. I considered a score of ď4Ē, but decided on ď3Ē given the ease with which the game can break. Iíve added an unofficial ďplusĒ to my score, because it does have a certain charm despite its numerous flaws.

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