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IF COMP 2004 - A Light's Tale

Game #23: A Light's Tale, by VBNZ (Zach Flynn)
Played On: 10/17/04 (8:15 PM to 10:20 PM)
Unofficial Score: 5.5 (4.5 base with +1.0 skew)

     If I give this review as much attention as I should, it's going to stretch on for quite a while. The bug report section alone will be substantial. I'm starting to forget the brief introductory play I allowed myself when the games were first released. The intro brought it all back to me, and I remember thinking then that I was probably going to really enjoy this one. The intro was a good hook.

     Despite the low score, I did enjoy this game. At the same time, it frustrated me in places. Perhaps I'm reaching the "cranky" stage in the review process, having played twenty- three games with only fourteen more to go. It could also be that I spent almost as much time jotting down review notes as I did in actual game time. The game does have an epic feel -- epic potential, rather -- it just doesn't seem to make good use of the potential. It's an interesting story, in that you have been whisked away to a dream world of mice and gophers, where darkness threatens everything, and the forces of Good and Evil will pull you in two directions.

     If I was into drugs, I'd ask the author to share his secret. As it happens, I am not.

     The game is trippy. It's supposed to be trippy, but at the same time, isn't it supposed to make sense -- even if sense is injected later? I got the impression that the author had a change of plans two or three times during development, perhaps getting motivation and inspiration from other sources not originally part of the design. The irony is, it's a great concept. I haven't played anything like it. It's an experience, that's for sure. It deserves a full-point upward skew, but from a base of 4.5 (I was very tempted to base it at 5.0, but I was just as tempted to base it a point lower, hence the split), it still doesn't come in as strongly as many of the prior games I've played.

     The following section -- an enormous paragraph -- are the problems I noted. The word "to" is missing in "...from here you get have two choices." The line "...doesn't that sound weird." should end with a question mark. The "es" is missing from "possesses" in "...flashlight possess a great ability." Attempting to drop anything or show anything (to anybody) results in "[TADS-1014: 'abort' statement executed]" (I noticed it first, when trying to drop the mirror when I had the notion it might save me from the gophers). Add a space between "a" and "long" in "...quite along time now..." What are "diverse people groups"? The word "simply" has a typo in which the "y" is a "t" instead. Mary claims that the people at the bar are friendly, but she says so when they've been entirely the opposite. Attempting to climb the staircase says "...don't see any staircase here." I was able to get into the room with the herbs without the key. As a result, I received only one brandy (perhaps when I followed through for the second one, I didn't get it because I already had the first). However, even though I was told that I could exhale only once, I was able to exhale again without having another (found out through the walkthrough -- I didn't even try it later, because I didn't expect it to work -- and didn't have a second brandy). The puzzle with the sixteen cabinets can be cheated with "undo" fairly easily (no way around it since you can also save, aside from changing the nature of the puzzle). Too many UNDOs at the ICE cannon inverted the color scheme to black on white. With the yellow glowstick, wouldn't the red room turn purple? I was previously unable to shine glowsticks at things previously, which trained me to not even attempt it at the point where it worked (the hints file helped). I figured out the colored cabinets puzzle with only the three hints given, but it's another that's just as easy with UNDO. Although I sometimes do it myself (I shouldn't), it's generally bad to end a sentence with a preposition, as in "...to get to that bar you were at." (I suggest simplifying it as simply "...to return to the bar.") Once you obtain the crystal, the stairway becomes "a very very boring place." My only complaint there is that I don't want to BE in a boring place.

     These last three things aren't so much bugs or issues, as simply things that struck me as being out of place. First, the sudden death issue was probably more prominent in "A Light's Tale" than in any other COMP '04 entry I've yet to play. To reach the end, I used UNDO like it was a puzzle in itself, and I ultimately made ten different saves along the way, reverting back to one or another as I went (if not to buy more time before dying, then to review prior text for clues). I would suggest that instead of death, the player is sent back to a central location; it provides a penalty, but should save a little on frustration. Second, near the end, I was saved by the one NPC that upset me the most (I don't know how many times I tried giving flasgarry to the bar's owner -- I hadn't yet found the dying plant -- before resorting to the hints file for an answer). In short, it was impossible for me (as the player) to share in the PC's remorse. Lastly, the intro states that everything in the game is free, except the ideas. At the risk of launching a copyright debate, the ideas in a game are the one thing that you can't own. That's why copyright works. Otherwise, nobody could write about much of anything, because (as someone once said, long ago -- think biblical), "there is nothing new under the sun." An expression in fixed form -- your game, the representation of the characters, even the plot (if you can make a case of it) are the sole property of the author. The ideas... not so much.

     That concludes my notes. To reiterate, I liked this game, despite the problems. With some work (to the puzzles, to the story, to some of the writing), it could be a really great game. I hate to end on a negative note, but since this review won't be posted until all judges have already submitted final scores anyway, I suppose the harm is minimal. "A Light's Tale", for all that it could be, will be a low-ranker. You have a wonderful imagination, VBNZ. I think with a little more time, we'll see better examples of your work.

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