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IFCOMP 2005 - Internal Vigilance

Game #12: Internal Vigilance, by Simon Christiansen
Played On: 10/21/2005 (9:30 AM to 11:30 AM)
Unofficial Score: 7.0 (7.0 base with no skew)

     On my scale, a 7.0 is sort of the midpoint. Thatís the fault of my rankings, sure, but in deciding on a score for Internal Vigilance, I noticed how everything above ď7Ē is pretty good (by my scoring explanations, I mean), and everything below it begins to suffer from more serious problems. Internal Vigilance fits in here. Itís not bad, but itís not great. Itís no waste of time, yet itís not a game youíre likely to play outside the competition. Itís typical story-heavy interactive fiction. In short, itís pretty average.

     Itís easier to point out whatís wrong with it than whatís right, so Iíll start there. The game has a few technical flaws (and as usual, my play transcript is available at the authorís request). Some actions are automatic (using the elevator Ė which was a little confusing too), while some arenít (getting in and out of the car and turning on/off the engine). At times, I was able to do things while still inside the car, even though the game described me as standing outside. I noticed a few formatting problems: an extra blank line here, a missing space there, overuse of commas, missing quotes, etc. The lowercase ďiĒ is almost certainly intentional (itís used throughout, and seems to fit the theme), but it bears mentioning since at first glance it appears to be a mistake among other typos.

     I remember at least two politically-motivated games in last yearís competition: Who Created That Monster? and Blink. This is sort of a middle ground between the large area and frequent puzzles covered by the former, and the almost puzzle-less narrative of the latter. Internal Vigilance allows for choice, and thatís fine. However, with the narrative serving as the PCís conscious, the endings in which I sided with the Union felt critical. Essentially, I ended the game positively, but the final text wags an invisible finger at me, reminding me that I still live in a dystopic utopia. If I help topple the Union, the endings suggest regret, as though the dystopia-in-sheepís-clothing was better than the chaos to follow. I found endings one, two, six, seven, and eight. I wonder if the undiscovered ninth ending is best? I replayed from earlier in the game, more than once, and relied on hints. It still wasnít enough to help me uncover those other endings.

     Iím becoming a fan of menu-tree conversations. I think conversations should side with the story, not the puzzles. Internal Vigilance sticks with the traditional ďask-aboutĒ style. This became something like a brute-force ďlook atĒ, where I began to experiment with every keyword I could think of. This is made harder because the keywords arenít objects in the same room, the way brute-force ďlook atĒ works. This makes the conversation a puzzle. I found that I would rather move the story along instead. Others may insist that the menu-tree approach is jarring, but I think I prefer it.

     My only other complaint is harder to describe. By the end, I had a good idea what was going on. I knew some about the Union, why it came about, and the result. Beyond that, I never felt a connection to the gameís world. If the author is suggesting that weíre gradually moving toward Union by the actions of our governments now, I disagree. Anyway, it was never quite clear what freedoms and choices were abandoned by the formation of the Union. Everything seemed pretty normal to me. People came and went unhindered. Lives seemed otherwise normal. The theme could have been more heavily saturated into the game, for a better effect. With a theme like this, I think thatís important. Show, donít tell. The story would benefit from showing happy people living within their obvious restrictions. The interrogation bit at the beginning wasnít enough. The NeuroChip was a step in the right direction, but I never connected with the characters and their plight, in either direction. It was never quite real enough, because I never really felt the Union was good or bad. It justÖ existed.

     Now, the good. Gameplay seems solid, although the hints became more necessary than I would have liked. The writing is never too bad Ė just a little rough in minor ways. HmmÖ those are probably back-handed compliments. The story has potentialÖ there I go again. Itís perfectly competition-sized, unless you intend to collect all the endings. Scenery is generally well-implemented, which is sometimes lacking in games that focus too much on story and not enough on game mechanics (okay, yes, Iíve been guilty of that). Some earlier decisions do affect the outcome. All in all, itís a worthwhile but average game.

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