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IF COMP 2004 - The Realm

Game #37: The Realm, by Michael Sheldon
Played On: 10/25/04 (1:45 PM to 3:00 PM)
Unofficial Score: 8.5 (no skew)

     In three and a half weeks, I have reached the end of the competition list. I've had fun! "The Realm", initially omitted from COMP04.Z5, appeared last on my list (I thought I got the update before generating the list, but it's a strange coincidence if so). I really like the game. The writing is good -- it's a comedic medieval fantasy with an anachronism or two (crayons, possibly the book). The puns don't require excessive contemplation (Cowling mentions Lee's bad habits; the author of the pamphlet; etc). It isn't a long game. It's the perfect conclusion to my competition experience!

     Like almost all the entries, this is a puzzle game. The puzzles work well, and most are clued with playability in mind. I got stuck twice. Once, I had to check the walkthrough to find out how to get the boots (I had what I needed -- but I thought what I needed was a clue -- not realizing that it was really the solution). I checked a second time to figure out who would serve as my second into the forest. Even though I had already provided the right thing to the right one, I hadn't considered requesting his help directly. It's possible that I could have solved either of those things in the additional forty-five minutes, if I had taken the time. I wasn't frustrated with the game -- I was simply ready to move forward. It's kind of a shame, though, because I think many judges are going to resort to hints and walkthroughs in this and other games simply by giving up too easily. Was the puzzle really too hard, or do we just not get in a hurry to finish all the games, blaming our rush on the author's design choices? It's hard to say, but I hope other judges keep this in mind when ranking the entries. If you used the walkthrough or hints, but you finished the game half an hour early, how does this change your score?

     I gave "The Realm" an 8.5, without a skew. It's fun, it's a challenge, it fits the two-hour guideline easily, and the story is simple but interesting. The story doesn't really develop into anything more than it is, but it's a puzzle game -- and a good one, at that.

     I noted a few minor problems, which I mention for the author's benefit. None of these things had any bearing on the score, because none of it detracted from the experience for me. If you "x guardsman" at the forest guardpost, you're told "there's nothing in the forest guard." I think "fresh faced" might need a hyphen. It might be nice to be able to refer to the male NPCs as "man" (I noticed it with the armourer, but possibly others). The town guard knows nothing about the plague. When the child plays with dirt, I thought maybe it was important -- it's not actually implemented. After giving Lee what he wants, he'll still look down and sniffle if you ask him about it. In the mess hall, the tables and benches are unimplemented. I tried to "attack dragon's head" and was told "you don't see any dragon's here." The "inv" command doesn't work -- I guess this is TADS 2's default-verb quirk, kind of like the "get all" quirk in Inform.

     At the end, I was very tempted to check the walkthrough on how to get the dragon's head. I resisted, and I'm proud to say I figured it out. My task is done, both in-game and out. Although The Realm should rank fairly high, I do think the competition has seen some stronger entries. Still, I really enjoyed it, and I think the judges will as well.

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