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IFCOMP 2005 - Off the Trolley

Game #20: Off the Trolley, by Krisztian Kaldi
Played On: 10/27/2005 (1:50 PM to 2:30 PM and 4:00 PM to 4:35 PM)
Unofficial Score: 6.0 (5.0 base with +1.0 skew)

     I already played A New Life, which was next on my list. That puts Off the Trolley next. This review is going to contain partial spoilers for some of its puzzles. I’ll mention it first, before I launch into it – just be forewarned. With what I need to say about the game, the review won’t be possible otherwise.

     Usually, I find that a game either works for me, or it doesn’t. I can point to bugs, problems with the writing, the puzzles, the story… but when I do, I can’t often say how much better the game might be if those things were fixed. I can’t often say for sure what needs fixed, let alone how to fix it, because I’m no expert at this myself. Off the Trolley is unique in that its chief problems are very easy to identify. I have a pretty good idea of exactly what could be changed to make it a far better game.

     The writing needs work – a lot of work. Somehow, I was more bothered by the twisted grammar in Off the Trolley than is usual for me. English probably isn’t the author’s first language. Job One would be to export all the text and have it corrected by someone. Take this bit, for instance – a direct quote from the game:

     “Being aware of having no real sense for human relations, you had a hard time how to think and feel about your passengers. Seeing and hearing all kinds of people going on their everyday lives, and on the trolley crossing you, left you feel lost.”

     Job Two would be to further explore the PC’s neurosis. It came across at times – the specific passengers identified in the crowd, and of course the PC’s terroristic goal. Since this was the point of the game, these delusions could have been a bigger focus.

     Now, it gets easier, because I’ll be talking about puzzle clueing. Skip the lengthy paragraph that follows, unless you have already played or unless you don’t mind the spoilers.

     I was thrown off track by the description of colored “paper clips” glimpsed inside the bum’s coat. What the author meant was probably “paper clippings”. Better yet, identify them for what they are. The puzzle will still work, and the player can focus on solving it. As it was, I kept trying to take the “paperclips” (small, bent metal wire meant for clipping papers together) from the bum. I wasn’t sure why I needed them, but it seemed important enough to try. This wasn’t even what the bum was carrying. Next, showing or giving the ticket back to the inspector should have worked. The actual phrasing to make him take action was too obscure. Even though the PC has successfully swiped it, the inspector would still be in-character to grab it back and then begin the inspection. After readying the battery and then braking at the wrong time, the result didn’t really point to the problem. It wasn’t working, and I couldn’t figure out why. Nothing was said about the battery gaining no charge – only that the slow-down was pathetic. Say something about the battery (if it’s ready), and make it more clear why the braking wasn’t good enough. As to the gauge, the power level (0, 1, or 2) was confusing. It wasn’t clear that “2” was full (only that further attempts didn’t raise it). This would be easier to understand if expressed as 0%, 50%, and 100%. Unlocking the panel wasn’t difficult, but it was more complicated than necessary. A simple “unlock panel with key” would have sufficed. It didn’t need to be a mini-puzzle. I guess improving the clueing in all these areas would be Job Three.

     A few odd things – bugs, I guess – could be ironed out as well. That’s Job Four. I could leave the driver’s cabin by going in any direction, but I could only return by going “in”. Much of the time, the built-in hints weren’t helpful enough. I got a general sense of the goal, but I needed more. This is one area I can’t easily advise. At a minimum, the hints should go further. Assume the player hasn’t caught on, and continue to get more and more specific.

     Job Five would be to have the entire game beta-tested, after everything else was done. My transcript – with comments – is available at the author’s request.

     On the positive side, Krisztian Kaldi has the makings of a really interesting game. I especially liked the ending bit. I managed to guess one of the ending actions without referring to the walkthrough, and the change in perspective really put a nice, unexpected cap on the story. Some of the puzzles are poorly clued, yes, but they seemed original and well-placed. I found myself liking the game despite my constant criticism. So, even though it scores 5.0 on my scale, I have skewed a full point up by reason of an inexplicable fondness for it.

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