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IFCOMP 2006 - Tentellian Island

Game #21: Tentellian Island - Professor's Request (by Zack Wood aka Waru)
Played: November 13th (50 minutes)
Platform: Java
Unofficial Score: 3+

     Game’s Blurb:
     With nothing but a note from the Professor in hand, your are sent to an unusual Island to obtain a special artifact. You'll need to be creative and clever to solve the puzzles and unlock all four endings.

     XYZZY Response:
     That doesn't make sense.

     Hmmm. I decided to play Tentellian Island next, because I realized it would run on my laptop (the Java VM is installed on my home PC, but for whatever reason, it wouldn’t run). I figured it would be short – and it is. I figured it would be a disappointing home-brew – and it is. I figured I would have more bad to say than good – and I do.

     This was the author’s Java class project, if I understand correctly. As is, it’s a little buggy. As IF, it suffers from most of the classic home-brew failings (I would say “all” except that “x” for examine does work).

     The game gives blank responses to “swim” (except in one spot), and actually locks up when trying to cut things with the knife (not always, but enough to make me stop doing it on later attempts). It has no save/restore and no undo, making these kinds of issues fatal (instead of just really annoying). It appears that you can lose the crystal by using it in the wrong place, but maybe the author has worked around that with an alternate solution – seems unlikely, but I grant that it’s possible. Object and verb synonyms are almost non-existent and very little in the way of scenery is implemented. The command prompt is a blank line. The puzzles are of the magical “because it doesn’t have to make sense” variety, reminding me a lot of my own cruddy earlier text adventures (I liked the “emotor” puzzle in the auditorium, though). Directions are capitalized mid-sentence. The game works in a terse mode (revisited rooms require a “look” to see), but I couldn’t get “verbose” to work. The message “that doesn’t make sense” is given where it’s not appropriate, such as walking in invalid directions. It has no transcript feature, but thankfully the available scroll-back held it all and could be copied.

     The story is a simple but nonsensical “find the mysterious relic” hunt – not an instant black mark, but not very compelling in this case. It starts with you standing on a dock, after the vessel you arrived on has sailed beyond the horizon. That’s a nice start, but why did I hang out alone on the dock of a seemingly abandoned island prior to the start of the game, just watching the boat sail away? If I think hard enough – harder than the author did, I believe – I could imagine that the PC didn’t want to begin the quest until the people on the boat could no longer see him. It’s more difficult to think of plausible reasons for everything else that happens.

     The game claims to have four endings – which very well may be true – but I could only find one. The ending I did find seems like a winner (it looks like I make it away alive), but it goes on to say I didn’t survive.

     Because I think this will be a game most people never finish (whether by giving up in frustration, or by the obscurity of the puzzles), I’ve included a walkthrough below. It will lead to the one ending I found. I feel a little guilty about putting a walkthrough inside a review, but it feels like the right thing to do in this case. The part in parenthesis is optional, because I found no use for the knife. Perhaps it’s for one of the other endings?

     s. s. s. e. x plants. get key. w. w. s. get pendant. n. e. s. s. s. s. (w. swim. dive. get knife. u. e. e.) s. e. get crystal. w. s. get bulb. n. n. n. look. get emotor. s. s. s. break crystal. s. w. laugh. s. s. cry. n. n. e. e. yell. s. s. dance. n. w. unlock box. get gem-hat. wear gem-hat.

     And there you have it. It’s one of those custom-made games that feel like a copy of a copy of a badly written original. The author must know the basics of interactive fiction, but nothing about what would make a game fun and worthwhile to play. It’s generic.

     I think the author tried his hardest, and the included info makes me think he had a great time writing Tentellian Island. If it’s the Java he enjoys, I recommend using it for a different kind of game. If it’s the Interactive Fiction instead, then try using a language made for it – Inform, Tads, Hugo, etc. Today, there is very little (if any) reason to invent your own, unless you are very familiar with what’s already being done and your engine will take IF authorship even further. If you like programming more than IF authoring, you might create your own custom interpreter (in Java, even) for any of those without the need to invent a new one-shot IF engine from scratch.

     It’s a “3” on my scale, but I give it a “plus” for... being winnable, I guess, and for not making me type “look at” everything. It has a certain charm, but not enough to mask how crude it all is. It’s a low-end IFComp game, good for the “full experience” of the competition but not recommendable outside of it.

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