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IF COMP 2004 - The Big Scoop

Game #25: The Big Scoop, by Johan Berntsson
Played On: 10/19/04 (1:30 PM to 3:25 PM)
Unofficial Score: 7.5 (7.0 base with +0.5 skew)

     My first experience with Interactive Fiction was many years ago -- a game called "The Arconiax Assignment" (or something very similar), which was a "scratch-and-sniff" adventure game published by Rainbow Magazine for the TRS-80/CoCo computers. I remember playing another one, dealing with puzzles in a lighthouse, and another, in a dungeon. I don't remember the details, I only remember the experience of "being" in the game. At the time, it was really amazing to be pulled into another world, in a deeper way than just reading a book. Even short descriptions were vivid and engrossing.

     You may be thinking "what does any of that have to do with The Big Scoop?" Well... nothing, directly, but playing this game reminded me of why I liked these games to begin with. These days, since I haven't played regularly in years, it's easy to forget how fun adventure games can be. I'm usually distracted by one thing or another. It isn't easy to sit down and focus on the playing and the reading and the solving, and I think this detracts from the enjoyment. In "The Big Scoop", some of this came back to me. The puzzles felt like achievements, and I needed the hints in only two or three areas.

     The game does have a few problems, but as I continue to work on a post-comp follow-up to mine, it becomes more difficult for me to weigh these factors into the score (I cringe to think how poorly it'll place, now that I'm up to fifty-four bugs and typos in the competition version, including one or two that are obscure but substantial). But, this is a review of "The Big Scoop" -- sorry for straying from the topic not once, but twice now.

     The game has an interesting (if frustrating) beginning, in which you play as an eventual NPC, only becoming the "main character" after making an escape. Maybe it has been done before -- I'd be surprised, otherwise -- but it seemed clever and original to me. The introduction isn't difficult, but it seems that way at first. It's harder because your time is limited. I had to reload and restart several times (I lost count) before gaining a good enough understanding of the events to make an escape.

     I managed this part without the walkthrough or hints, but this is where things get weird. Because the game seemed to be in a no-win situation later, I had to restart and do something a little differently. However, what I did the first time wouldn't work. I swear it did the first time -- I may have let my lack of attention see phantom bugs in "All Things Devours", but I'm pretty sure on this one. I opened the wardrobe, went inside, closed it, and waited. When I exited, I was able to leave through the front door. This isn't how the walkthrough goes. I can understand multiple solutions, but I simply could not get the same thing to work when I restarted. I tried multiple times, and the length time I waited (Z'd) never seemed to matter. I'd be caught upon leaving the wardrobe. It's as if this was never supposed to work to begin with -- but I promise, it did.

     I had to restart, however, because the game seemed to be in a no-win state. In several other games, I've missed a clue or an item because I wasn't thorough. So, I have a policy to do more searching now -- even before there is reason to feel stuck. Much of the time, it works -- I'm rewarded with something I would probably have missed. So, when I found something in the apartment, I felt like I was already ahead of the game.

     Later, you're required (as the main character) to return to the apartment to find this very thing. The problem for me was, it wasn't there. I tried for a while, even searching outside the apartment in what seemed to be a likely place, but no luck. I referred to the walkthrough at this point. What I found was, I was supposed to have escaped the apartment using an alternate method. My guess is, because I didn't, Linda kept the item, but since that was never supposed to happen, the story continues as if the search is still necessary. Only, it isn't there to be found. I restarted, escaped as instructed by the walkthrough, and that solved it. I tried once with the item in inventory, too, and it was lost a second time (the author did anticipate that, and it seems to be handled). I didn't continue down that route, so it's possible the item might have turned up in another place. Instead, I made sure not to touch the item at all during the path I continued, so I would have no doubt as to its location when I arrived back at that point in the game.

     From there, everything went fine, until I was stuck trying to open a door using the four- digit code supplied by Linda. I just wasn't sure if this was another loophole, or if I was supposed to find an alternate solution. I checked the walkthrough, and confirmed the latter. It was a clever puzzle; I wish I had tried a little longer on it before assuming the worst. And, from there, I reached the end (with a full 100 points, no less) without additional hints or walkthrough-peeks. I admit, I came close when we became locked in the cellar. Somehow, I figured it out, and kudos to the author on a short but good puzzle.

     I found a few other problems, which I mention as a means (as always) of providing feedback to the author for use in an updated version. The phrase "...a eight year..." should use "an" instead. When pressing numbers one at a time (at the door to the corridor), the "1" in my code would not work because the game assumed I was talking about "one" (as a quantity) of the last item I referenced (in other words, "Press 1" will say "(the door) It is fixed in place."). Thinking early on that part of the solution was to turn off the phone, I tried it. The message in reply says the phone is already off, but it couldn't have been, since it was ringing. It would be nice if "keys" was a synonym for the key ring, since you don't need to refer to them individually anyway. When trying to look at anything inside the wardrobe while the door is closed, the message (giving the definition of "darkness") should be reworded -- "an absence of light to see by" just seems awkward. I tried to call 911. The game thought I was trying to call myself. Having "board" as an additional synonym for "plank" would be handy -- I kept referring to it by the mental image I had formed, instead of by the author's description.

     I based this game 7.0 on my scale (it's a good game, but I think more descriptive text might be helpful, and the writing could be improved), but I added half a point (+0.5 skew) because it has that old school feel. "The Big Scoop" reminds me of why I first started playing Interactive Fiction, and why I'm becoming interested in it yet again.

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