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C32 Comp 2004 Reviews - Turning Point

Game #6: Turning Point (Z3), by Robert Rafgon
Re-Played On: 12/14/2004 (9:30 PM to 10:00 PM)
Score For Comp: 7 -- Unofficial Score: 9.0

     The last game in my C32.Z5 list is also the last game I beta-tested. Robert sent me a game with virtually no problems left to find! Sure, there were a few minor things, but my biggest influence was probably the "x me" response.

     At times, some of the sentences seemed unnecessarily long. This persists to some degree in the contest version, but it's just not something I can easily identify. It's like catching a glance at something in your peripheral vision. You know something isn't right, but when you turn to look, it's gone. Some of the text in "Turning Point" just feels wrong; but re-reading it once or twice more won't reveal any clear mistakes. I think it's a punctuation thing. I suggested a few spots after playing the beta, and Robert made revisions. I don't know. Since I can't seem to pinpoint the issue, I'll say no more about it.

     I'm fond of the game for its sci-fi setting. Unlike several of the IF Comp `04 entries, which were set on a doomed spaceship with a lone protagonist working for his own survival, "Turning Point" takes a different approach. Captain Athta's ship is busy with activity. The captain oversees it all from his perch above the engineering section, while the crew are hastily assigned some pretty amusing tasks. As his clone, you are set to task as well. After some kind of disturbance down below, you are instructed to investigate and deal with the situation.

     Somehow, Robert takes a background premise (galactic hostilities between two warring species) that could have been applied to a more serious game, turns it over, and sprinkles it with humor. The game is certainly fun. It offers two or three good puzzles (each one comprised of smaller steps), clever writing, and solid gameplay. What's more, it flows really well as a story and as a game. In my initial beta play-through, I don't remember getting hopelessly stuck at all. Each puzzle is difficult enough to be a challenge, not a roadblock. I found the puzzles to be clued very well (even moreso in the competition version), logical, and interesting.

     One of the best compliments I can pay to "Turning Point" is that it doesn't feel like a stripped-down game. It's short, yes -- but even after playing the competition version, it does well in hiding the fact that it had to squeeze into a 32k space. The text doesn't seem unnaturally terse (as in "Amusement Park"), and it doesn't restrict gameplay to just one or two rooms (as in "Endgame" and even "Downtown Train"). It's perfectly suited to the competition.

     It does have a "learn by dying" puzzle, which sort of struggles for justification when it's not the only puzzle in the game. It's probably possible to solve it the first time, just by using the clues at hand. I wasn't sharp enough to do it without a couple more attempts, but it never seemed frustrating or unfair. I was on a time (turn) limit without knowing it. What worked for me was to replay the first parts without wasting turns, then save at a point where I needed experimentation to make more progress. Fortunately, it isn't a short, strict limit (as in "Endgame"). That's good, but it also makes the need to retry feel more like a "redo" and less like a theme.

     Post-review wrap-up: As I said in the "Amusement Park" wrap-up, I found it difficult to rank the three games I tested. By my IF Comp '04 ratings, I might have awarded it a well-deserved 9.0. It really could have been higher then the "7" spot. It isn't a failing of the game in any way. I didn't "lower" it below the top three. I was determined to score the games based on a ranking order (so my scores might have real weight), and "Turning Point" was edged out by the others for no huge reason.

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