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IF COMP 2004 - Die Vollkommene Masse

Game #5: Die Vollkommene Masse, by Alice "Omega" Merridew
Played On: 10/05/04 (7:00 PM to 9:30 PM)
Unofficial Score: 6.5 (5.5 base with +1.0 skew)

     Previously, I have been playing the games that most interested me from a short peek the day the judging period began. For a time, I'll resort to COMP04.Z5 to lead me forward. I do think I will have an opportunity to play and review them all, but this will eliminate my previous bias based on initial peeks and game titles. First on my list: Die Vollkommene Masse.

     I've tried (and many of you probably do the same) to keep maps and notes while I play, for the purpose of referring back in a review. Running a transcript might be easier, but so far, I've just been using a notebook. I made more notes about this game than any of the previous four I've played. I liked this game, but there were definite problems. As a means of helping the author release an updated version, I'll go through the problems I found a little later in the review. I feel guilty for doing this, since as I identify problems in my own competition entry I imagine just how the other authors must feel, with each problem surfacing after our games are already in judges' hands. If I'm going to offer my thoughts, though, that's a part of it. As I go along in future reviews, this may become easier. I may even become snippy about it, but I hope not. I'm an amateur trying to give advice to authors much better than myself; but I digress.

     This is the story of a young drow girl, taken away to the castle of four interesting warlords. One day, she decides to leave the confines of her room and start the adventure that will lead to her destiny. This is set in motion by the warlords' plans to see how charming she can be. Ultimately, it doesn't seem that the warlords anticipated her actions at all, although I could be missing a story point in that regard.

     The layout of the castle is impressive, in that backtracking is made easier with a three- dimensional layout. I enjoyed exploring and making my own map, and despite the errors in text, it did feel immersive to me. Each NPC was given a distinct personality, and while others might dislike the descriptions prior to starting, I found it helpful to jot notes about each warlord in advance.

     Now, for the bugs/problems I found. Skip this next part (it's lengthy) if you're just a casual reader.

     "A emerald necklace" appears in inventory (should be "an"). I used the brush, then x'd it, and was told it had yet to be used. Prior to the game, Marsali climbed the bookshelf. I tried, and was told "the isn't important" (missed the noun). Same thing if I try to move it -- just missing the noun. On floor four is a dilapidated old book. X book results in "no book here." If I sit in either chair near Usi, I can't talk to him -- he's not there. "Inv" doesn't work for Inventory ("I" is easier, but it's a hard habit to break). When referencing "few pieces of parchment," the game would not disambiguate. One line in particular seemed weird -- "...scent of musty paper enters your nostrils as you enter" (maybe use "invades your nostrils as you enter," to avoid doubling up on the word "enter"). "There's too many books" -- should be "there are." Some areas assumed I would enter from one direction before the other. In particular, this seemed to happen for the fifth floor stairs and the fourth floor "cold" hallway. In essence, one room description referenced another, but I hadn't yet been there. Usi didn't want his own cup of tea, nor did anybody else, if I recall correctly. In events where "chat" leads to an ending (the one place you can get killed by saying the wrong thing to an overlord, and at the end), doing an "undo" leaves the chat options on-screen but the numbers are no longer active. Also regarding chat, it seemed whatever option I tried last would always remain, instead of getting a message such as "you have nothing more to ask." At one point, I was in too big a hurry and did "give ball to Eloy" when intending to try for Usi. Oddly enough, I was told that I couldn't give things "to the plain sword" (which I was carrying -- most likely the sword had an "eloy" adjective due to ownership). At the exit, the room text says I should just open the doors and walk west. However, following the suggestion ("open doors") doesn't work (only the "w" part is needed). There were quite a few places where plural objects were referred to singularly, such as "the runes and hieroglyphs isn't important" -- same with silk blankets. If Tads2 is anything like Hugo, there is probably an "is plural" identifier that takes care of properly formatting the default/generic messages. If my note is correct, text in the diary was "chose to reside here..." where it should have been "choose to..." (or maybe vice-versa -- my handwriting is sloppy). The term "a Mbizi's gloves" was used; same with trying to push "the Usi's cabinet." Again, Tads2 might have an identifier that lets you define a blank adjective instead of the default "the" in those cases -- speaking from how Hugo works. I had tried to open the shrunk (trunk?) to no avail, only to find from the walkthrough that it was necessary. After some trying, it turns out I only needed to look inside (even though it remains locked). In one room with a window -- maybe one of the bedrooms -- a "get all" actually obtained the window as well.

     The two strangest problems I found were a scoring bug, and a diary bug. I found the diary and read it, and (don't ask me how) I ended up with two copies of it in inventory. I could only interact with it from then on by using "all" (to get or drop). Luckily, I don't think it was required to finish the game; plus, I had already read it. The second is even stranger. At the end, I scored 125 out of a possible 100. I had actually hit 100 even before I went out to the "end" of the game. This is where a transcript would help much more than my vague recollection of the path I took through the game, but I don't have one to offer (sorry). It happened, though, I swear it!

     My only other concern was with all the unnecessary but obtainable objects. I quickly ran out of inventory space (being unaware, at the time, of the book bag close to the beginning), and I wasn't sure which items were okay to leave behind (even if temporarily), and which I might need at the next turn. It just seemed a few too many red herrings.

     I liked the multiple endings, although I'm kind of conflicted on this. Ordinarily, your path through the game would determine your ending. Different choices lead to a different ending. I understand that not all choices would have been available if certain things weren't accomplished, which was a nice touch. I don't know, though -- like I said, I'm conflicted. I generally don't like replaying a game unless there are clues and things I want to catch and understand better the second time around (sometimes just a different ending isn't enough), so it was nice to be able to see all possible endings without the added work. At the same time, it didn't feel to me as if all the endings really fit the course I had just taken. I don't know.

     I don't mean to turn every review into a criticism-sandwich, with a bug report nestled in between two slices of praise, but I did enjoy the game. That's what I meant when I said I'm a non-traditional reviewer. Nothing about this game was a waste of the two-and-a- half hours spent playing it. The problems did become a bit of a distraction at times, but I enjoyed the castle, the story, and the characters. It does need work, but I'm skewing it +1 from a base of 5.5 (for an "unofficial" score of 6.5), because I played half an hour longer than intended. I was entertained enough to keep going.

     FOLLOW-UP: I was disappointed to see that the very next day, this game was withdrawn from the competition. I already wrote the review, so at least in my mind, it was still a part of the contest. I would have emailed the author, but I couldn't locate an email address.

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