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IF COMP 2004 - Getting Back to Sleep

Game #13: Getting Back To Sleep (Exige), by IceDragon (Patrick Evans)
Played On: 10/12/04 (9:15 AM to 10:40 AM)
Unofficial Score: 7.5 (6.5 base with +1.0 skew)

     I was pleased to find that COMP04.Z5 rolled this game closer to the front of my list, because I have been anxious to try it out. It's the only other game built on a custom or "homebrew" engine (although technically most IF engines are non-commercial products, making them all varying degrees of the same thing, but I digress). After the big disappointment with "Ninja", I was hoping to be wowed by Exige. My hopes were dented a little the first night I peeked at it, not only because I was a little leery of the game needing port access (even if just localhost -- I actually went so far as to email Stephen G. about it, and he pointed out that my firewall wasn't actually showing any internet access), but because the display seemed a little clunky. It's the same problem on two different computers (one being a Windows '98 desktop, the other a Windows XP laptop). I actually got a headache from playing this game (sorry, Patrick -- if I recall, I once got the very same comment about one of mine). Part of the problem is the text flickers as it prints, and part is that you can't resize it; the window, yes, the font and playable area, not that I could tell.

     The game is further crippled by the lack of an "undo" and the lack of "save" (which is going to be a future feature in the LIFE engine, says the readme). I've dabbled in writing parsers too, and after working with Hugo, I can see where I took the wrong approach to it in my attempts. Those efforts could have (and would have) been better if I knew then what I know now, about parsing. I think Exige takes the wrong approach, too. I feel bad for criticizing the parser, especially since I can tell from the readme that Patrick is very proud of it, but I hope this is constructive, not deterring (the same things were said to me about mine). Actually, this parser is a little better than my couple of attempts, but it still falls flat in several areas.

     First, there are no "extra" verbs. What I mean is, it's nice when you try to eat something -- even if nothing in the entire game is edible -- to at least get the obligatory "you can't eat that" or similar message. I also found verb recognition in general to be frustrating at times. "Insert X into Y" didn't seem to work, where "Put X in Y" did. It also seemed that some verbs were only "active" in the spot where they're used; I could be wrong, but that's how it seemed. Implementation of "in" and "out" (as well as cardinal directions for entry and exit) would be nice, because "Go X" (where X is a room or object) is a little antiquated. A "restart" would be a nice feature.

     As for bugs, Exige fares better than some prior examples. I received two crash reports, which I'll email to you (fortunately, your built-in error trapping doesn't cause the program to exit). First, the description of the notebook says it's on the desk, whether it still rests there or not. If you are holding the notebook and the note, then drop the note, you won't be able to read the notebook unless you leave the room. It wasn't obvious enough that I couldn't actually "see" the mouse. I knew what I needed to do with it, and I was getting frustrated that I couldn't interact with it. Maybe a simple tip here would help: "You can hear it squeaking, but it seems to be hiding somewhere." Something like that might have worked for me. Also, it seems there were no clues at all about what to do with Tiberius, aside from directing his movements (ala the journal entry). Even this, though, I expected to be able to get him to "follow" me by directing him to do so, and that failing, directions have to be fully spelled to work (which makes sense for Tiberius's hearing, but not so much sense in the scope of forming a puzzle). I had to resort to the walkthrough in both places (figuring out how to get started with the mouse, and figuring out what to do with Tiberius). Additional clues in the notebook might have been handy, unless another clue exists and I simply missed it (a score of 138 suggests I missed at least a few things). Perhaps something to the effect that Tiberius has been trained to locate missing objects (sorry, probably a big spoiler there). And for that purpose, "find" as a synonym for "get" might have helped.

     Overall, the game wasn't too large, and it wasn't too difficult. The general plot is beginning to seem a little familiar, though (I wonder how many more spaceships or I'll be escaping from, in the remaining entries). To showcase a custom engine, something more unexpected might have been a better choice. Still, aside from having to close and restart the game a couple times after either dying or losing, it does seem pretty solid. Starting over would have been more of a frustration if it had been a bigger game. Everything is pretty straightforward, so it wasn't hard to just retrace the same path to catch up again.

     I can see where the author is going with the live gameplay components, but the display refresh thing is a real distraction. I think it will take some improvements to this, and to the parser, plus a game module where these live components are more integral to the story, to really bring out these advantages. As it stands, nothing in "Getting Back To Sleep" was really enhanced by the live components. It will be nice to see another game putting these advantages to better use.

     As a base, I scored this game 6.5. It falls in the middle of 6 and 7, because it could really go either way. I skewed it up a full point (for a 7.5 total) because the custom engine shows promise. It isn't quite there yet (please PLEASE get "save" and "undo" added, and see about that flickering display thing), but I think it can be improved. Plus, where "Ninja" makes no attempt at all, it's easy to see that a lot of work went into the LIFE engine just to bring it to this point. I suspect typical scores may fall in lower ranges, but since I've been in this spot before, I've tried to remain open-minded. Overall, it's the makings of a good engine, presenting a fairly solid game.

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