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IFCOMP 2005 - Vendetta

Game #7: Vendetta, by Fuyu Yuki
Played On: 10/13/2005 (1:25 PM to 2:20 PM)
And Again On: 10/14/2005 (1:30 PM to 3:30 PM and 4:30 PM to 5:00 PM)
Unofficial Score: 6.0 (5.0 base with +1.0 skew)

     The first of five Adrift games on my play list this year is Vendetta, by “Fuyu Yuki” (which seems to be a pseudonym). I’ve only ever played one – maybe two – Adrift games. Last year’s A Day in the Life of a Superhero comes to mind. With it, I didn’t notice how odd the Adrift parser is. I sure noticed it here.

     We all get into our own comfort zones. I generally play Hugo, Tads, and Zcode games the same way. Command syntax is pretty similar, and when something doesn’t work in one that does in another, it’s probably because that particular grammar rule wasn’t included. Commands start with a verb, objects are parsed out by their nouns and adjectives, articles are discarded, grammar rules are checked, and everything is put into scope to minimize references to objects elsewhere in the game. When I made custom parsers for my interactive fiction of years past, it didn’t come close to this.

     Adrift, by comparison, is…. weird. Initial punctuation is ignored, I think. In the process of putting comments in a transcript, my line was parsed. Sometimes, it was parsed on multiple breaks, spooling several suspicious errors. At times, Adrift even managed to pick out a real command from the line, leading me to do things that couldn’t be reversed. I think Adrift allows “undo”, so perhaps it was only disabled in this game. An example was when I tried to point out a quirk. I typed “*I meant to push it” – and the game replied with “(the small trolley) You feel nothing unusual. Command not understood.” That was because I had already tried to push the trolley, and the verb was mapped to “feel” instead.

     The biggest distraction was at a time when I had several comments to make in a row. I did this at a point near the beginning where large amounts of dialogue were dumped page after page. The game would continue to the next turn, showing another page of the story for each log entry I made. I’m not used to that in other games. To reorient myself in the absence of “undo”, I had to read pages of text in the transcript. I might have taken it from the Adrift scrollback, but at key transitional points, the screen was cleared.

     I felt that object scope was out of whack, too. Most things mentioned in the scenery were implemented, which is a bonus. Still, the game tried to match on a few things that weren’t, and instead of getting a “that’s not here” or “that’s not important” message, it matched on some object elsewhere (earlier in the game, I think), and referenced it by name. It wasn’t a big deal, but all these things cumulatively drag the quality down.

     Not every problem in Vendetta can be attributed to the Adrift environment. In fact, some of what I’ve already mentioned may have nothing to do with Adrift – it’ll take a few more samples before I know for sure. The game suffers from design flaws as well. English may be the author’s second language. Although comments about problems in the writing (especially extra, unnecessary words tacked onto the ends of sentences, or “she says” tacked on after too much dialogue to be anything but jarring) make up most of my transcripts, I’m going to pass over mentioning any particulars. The writing could be improved with proofreading and much retooling, and I’ll leave it at that.

     The bigger problem is that conversations are done in blocks. Okay, that’s not necessarily a problem. The author does break it up so that a command is necessary to spool it forward to the next page. I was playing on a wide-screen laptop, so I was often seeing back-and-forth dialogue line by line. It would have been easier to read if a blank line had been included before each switch, and perhaps if indentation was used. That would have made it feel more book-like, and I think it might have been easier on the eyes.

     The game is full of superfluous rooms, used only as a means of adding to the realism. Generally they’re simple constructions and contain nothing that might mislead a player into thinking a puzzle is involved, but they’re also unnecessary. The perimeter around the Falcon Lithoid comes to mind. The parking lot at its base is another. The building itself has numerous rooms that could have been combined or “sealed off” to the player, just to keep things focused. This is a minor complaint, though. It didn’t bother me, and I only mention it as a suggestion for the author’s future games. The story points and discoveries made in some of these places could have been combined or accomplished in other ways, without the need for all the extra rooms.

     A few things seemed entirely unnecessary, and potentially misleading. A humming sound can be heard in the northern portion of the parking garage, because (as it turns out) a reactor is in the building behind that wall. It’s realistic, sure, but was it necessary? The walls could have been thick enough to block out the sound, and then it wouldn’t seem as though it was important to investigate the humming from the parking area – since the humming isn’t even important there. I don’t know what, if anything, can be put into the disintegrator. It seemed to exist only as a story point. Only a couple of the labs had uses, or contained useful items, but for a time I thought I might need to perform experiments.

     The game is set 168 years in the future. I prefer sci-fi to be less specific. Let the world and the story speak for itself. The technology in Vendetta didn’t seem “futuristic” enough. Wouldn’t video-phones be replaced by holo-phones? Would anybody still have “an old, screenless mobile telephone” that far into the future? If so, would basic cellular service still exist? The game could have been set 15 years from now. Maybe 25. I would have preferred to simply not know. I like sci-fi in which everything seems old-fashioned. The Dying Earth (by Jack Vance) is a great example of how old-fashioned things come back by circumstance. In Vendetta, it just seemed unintentional. I think the author set out to make a near-future adventure, and then decided it would take 168 years for genetic engineering to reach the stages described by his story.

     At the end, the game shifts into a choose-your-own-adventure, where the final confrontation is carried out by way of a menu tree instead of IF-style action. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, it worked to make the confrontation stand out from the rest of the game. It probably helped keep the confrontation on track, where it would otherwise be difficult to involve the player in the same series of actions. On the other, it seemed out of place to the style of the rest of the game. The only puzzle was in figuring out which series of actions would lead to a win. Fortunately, more than one way works. With the lack of an “undo”, though, it pays to save just before the encounter begins.

     So, how did this game end up with an unofficial 6.0, when to this point I’ve been nothing but negative? Despite all these problems, the game really wasn’t buggy. Everything worked as intended. The puzzles weren’t broken, and until close to the end, I didn’t even need hints. I really liked the auto-mapping feature in the Adrift runner. The story was interesting too, and the game had a point. You are Jem Bitter, and you’re an unusual… person. The setting, despite the discrepancy between near-future technology and a far-future year, was interesting and even convincing. I liked the game, and that’s worth a 5.0 on my scale. The author has put considerable effort into it. The +1.0 skew is because I think he’s on the right track. Release an updated version of Vendetta (ask me, if you want my session transcripts), and don’t stop writing Interactive Fiction! Your next game, I’m sure, will be an improvement.

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