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IFCOMP 2005 - Unforgotten

Game #23: Unforgotten, by Quintin Pan
Played On: 10/30/2005 (9:35 AM to 10:50 AM, 12:20 PM to 2:05 PM, adjusted)
Unofficial Score: 9.5 (8.5 base with +1.0 skew)

     After playing Unforgotten, I feel... exhausted. I canít quite put my finger on why, and I mention it only as insight into the rest of the review. Itís on the long side for an IFComp game (three hours would have stretched into four or five, had I not made multiple forays into the hints). Itís one of the best stories in the competition so far. It runs through a gamut of emotions with disgust being right up there among the others.

     The story jumps from now to later to much later, then twice to past events, back to much later, and finally to much much later. Confusing? It really isnít. Nothing is clear at first, which I find intriguing in a story. I donít mean that the PC starts without any clear goals Ė which is true enough Ė but that the story takes twists and turns and makes revelations about the setting and the characters along the way. It feels like more than a game.

     The author describes his design philosophy in the ďHelp & AboutĒ text. As I play games with menu-choice trees in place of ask/tell conversations, I like the former more and more. Quintin clears the screen after each choice. Iím not sure why, except that maybe it draws focus away from the prior list of options. I thought maybe this was a trick to keep ďundoĒ from rewinding the entire conversation, but this doesnít seem to be the case. He also mentions that a game shouldnít require bits of replay if the player messes up. In a game this size, thatís probably true Ė but if itís only sections (not the whole game), itís fine with me. The alternative is that youíre allowed to skip optional bits, sometimes never even realizing it. Only some peeking at the hints made some of this clearer, and it was a shame I made it to the end without seeing those parts. Sure, the game made sense anyway, but I like to get the full experience. I donít want to go back through it at this point, though. I kind of wish all the optional bits were channeled through the main story line, but thatís probably a minor complaint.

     Some parts of the story are told from a different perspective. One in particular is jarring enough to slice through the bond of familiarity I was forming with Nigel, the main PC. I had (and still have) mixed feelings about the bit with Zed. It makes the story feel dirtier, grittier, less safe; but at the same time, Iím thankful to have been playing this one at home, and not at work on my lunch break or something. While this bit may be realistic, I think itís probably trying hard for that shock factor. I donít like the story any more because of it, but Iíve decided I donít like it any less, either.

     Even though the story is strong enough to make it feel like more than a game, each obstacle serves as a reminder. The ďhelpĒ text encourages players to examine everything for clues that might otherwise be missed. Thatís good advice in most games. What I found, though, was that scenery was inconsistently implemented. Especially in spots where the story was more important than the puzzles, a response of ďyou canít see any such thingĒ wasnít uncommon. Even doing my best to take it all in, I missed clues. Well, itís not so much that I missed clues, but that nothing about the clue was striking enough to make me give it a further thought.

     Peeking back at my transcript, I see where a red glow during the conversation with Janice was clued, but somehow I didnít catch on. Thatís probably my fault, but further prodding after the fact might have been helpful. The bit with the fishing pole was particularly difficult, especially since the game didnít give enough feedback to help me understand what I was doing wrong. I figured out half the puzzle, but I never realized I was in the wrong spot to make use of it. Iím also not sure I would have figured out that merely distracting the dogs wasnít enough to get past them. Itís hard to say whether this is my poor puzzle-solving, or whether the game could have guided my actions a little better. I tend to think the clueing was kind of off with the game Ė in this instance and several others Ė but Iím not sure. Thankfully, the hint system always helped.

     Beta testing seems to have weeded out most bugs, but a few quirks remain. I was able to unlock doors without a key. Once, this allowed me to enter a place that was clearly meant to be entered a different way. Another time, I unlocked and opened a door into a shop, but was subsequently told that the door leads nowhere. At the beginning, a strange response when referencing something of Simonís leads me to believe the game thought I was talking about the same thing of my own, until after I realized I was still in bed. The text is largely error-free, although ďcheeckĒ was probably supposed to be ďcheekĒ. In several places, the room exits werenít obvious from the text Ė or at least, they didnít seem obvious, leaving me to randomly try paths in various directions.

     The writing is very good, describing the grungy, enclosed barracks with the same detail given the beautiful, secluded Shepherdís Rock. Dialogue is well-written too, and each character feels unique and real. However, itís all about the story. The game itself seems to come midway between 8 and 9 on my scale Ė not a clear 9.0, primarily because the more gritty, vulgar sections werenít fun to read. I donít mind it Ė Iíll play a game thatís nothing but vulgar and gritty Ė I just prefer not to. The story, thoughÖ and the way itís presentedÖ well, I was a big fan. Iím skewing a full point higher (for an unofficial 9.5) because of it. Unless judges have the same problems with the puzzle clueing, or unless the two hour limit happens before some of the more important discoveries are made, I think Unforgotten has a great shot at a spot in the top 5. Then again, it could even win. Iím a poor judge of guessing what the voters are going to do.

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