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IFCOMP 2007 - Deadline Enchanter

Game #14: Deadline Enchanter
By Alan DeNiro (Writing as ďAnonymousĒ)
Played On: October 21st (1 hour 10 minutes)
Platform: Inform 6 (ZCode)
Merkís Score: 8

     ďThis is where I end and you begin. That, at least, is what I want to think. I don't know you. Perhaps one day I will. But this Implementation--rather, its copies--are my seeds blowing to the wind. The palm-parsers, their oak gears whirring, will be pressed into hands long after I finish this.Ē

     So begins Deadline Enchanter, an anonymously-entered game that falls 14th on my randomly-selected IFComp 2007 play list. As with the others to this point, I have played and will review it without the comments or opinions of others. Thatís intentional. I want to vote based on how each game affected me personally, without the influence of knowing how others were affected. Iíll hunt for opinions afterwards.

     This is tough for a game like Deadline Enchanter, because itís either incredibly brilliant or itís trying hard to seem brilliant. An author can play games with perspective, be it a switch in person or tense or a twist on the narrator-PC-player relationship. Anonymous goes for the latter here, in a very self-referential game-within-a-game. What starts out with confusing narration begins to make more sense later. It seems offputting and disconnected in principle, but it works here. I felt more involved and immersed in the story than is usual for me.

     Really, itís a story in the guise of a game -- and a seemingly linear one at that. Thatís intentional. The puzzles would be impossible, except that the narrator doles out a walkthrough, requiring that the player simply follow along and take a few additional unprompted but obvious actions along the way. Thatís intentional too. It lacks a deep implementation of the game world and generally doesnít reward straying from the intended path (unless Iíve missed something, which is possible even though it seems unlikely). But yes, that too is intentional. In these ways, it is a brilliant approach to game design. The few typos I found might be intentional. Minor implementation issues (such as ďviolence isnít the answer to this oneĒ when indeed it is, just with a different verb) might be intentional. Anything can be deemed intentional when the author assigns his or her creation as the rushed work of the gameís narrator -- an NPC.

     So letís take it as a story told in this medium without ever meaning to be difficult or hindered by puzzles. Itís not a story about writing games. Itís a story that is a game. Hmm. That sounds like nonsense. As I said, though, itís very self-referential. As a gimmick in IF, it seems like an original one. (Iím sure to be proven wrong with examples, but itís original in my experience.)

     Itís also highly imaginative, where coffee has become magic powder and Earth shares its resources with alien visitors (or perhaps alien invaders). I went in expecting it to be a tongue-in-cheek hybrid of two Infocom classics (neither of which, Iím ashamed to admit, Iíve ever played), or maybe an honest homage to the same two games. From a quick read at Wikipedia, I donít gather that the plot of Deadline Enchanter mirrors or merges those games. Rather, it seems that the gameís title is in support of its self-referential nature. Even the built-in help and version information stays in character.

     The narrator is interesting, opinionated and emotional. Thatís good, given that the focus of Deadline Enchanter is the narration. A favorite example from near the start:

     ďNorthwest is Ghazal Street and east is the ruins of an Al-Mart. You don't really need to go to the latter but I thought I'd point it out. Because it was a hellhole and it's better ruined.Ē

     Is it a good game? Itís definitely a good story, where ďwhatís going onĒ begins to make more sense as the narrator guides you through it. I emphasize ďyouĒ because it could be said that the player really is the PC in Deadline Enchanter. Or is the player a hidden middle-man, with you playing as the player? That probably makes more sense. I think this is the kind of question that will spark discussion among players, especially after the competition ends. It could end up with a pretty high standard deviation in votes, being a game that will probably ďwowĒ some while leaving others cold and confused.

     Deadline Enchanter is pretty short. Five or ten minutes of my time were spent afterwards, checking to see what would happen at what appears to be the gameís only decision point (and it seems to lead to a slightly altered ending). The hour it took to complete was partially spent fighting against what the game wanted me to do. If there are divergent paths or extra content, it all eluded me. In retrospect, the game can probably be completed from start to finish in only a few minutes.

     That leaves me in a quandary. Itís an imaginative and entertaining story told in a unique way. Itís an engaging mystery of circumstances built up around a pretty cool sci-fi scenario. At the same time, itís pretty short, offering a sparse implementation (even if intentional). The detail has gone into the narration and the setting envisioned by the author in ďsimulatingĒ the gameís world on behalf of the narrator, rather than in actually simulating the gameís world. Itís perfectly reasonable that it should be this way, yet it does let the author off the hook for any flaws that arenít directly related to the telling of the story on his or her own terms. This makes it a tough game to rank -- for me, at least.

     So, I have to go with my gut. Itís a very good story, recommendable for the unique way in which itís told. My score is ď8Ē, without any bias to give it a plus or minus.

     Now, to go see what others are saying, and possibly learn just how far off I am with this seemingly ill-informed analysis...

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