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IFCOMP 2008 - Red Moon

Game #18: Red Moon
Author: Jonathan Hay
Played On: October 25th (45 minutes)
Platform: Inform 7 (Zcode)

F:1 + T:1 + P:0 + S:1 + W:1 + B:1 = SCORE: 5

     Not even powerful, ancient magicks will save you now.

     Jonathanís Hayís Red Moon has an auspicious start. The protagonist and his almost comatose sister are hiding in a dark, decrepit one-room hut as something unimaginably dangerous lurks outside. Fear and paranoia even turn shadows and darkened shapes inside into would-be evils. They have nowhere to run. The menace could be upon them at any moment. A chance to call for help is rendered impossible. For the first few minutes, the game does everything right in setting the stage for an impressive survival horror experience.

     And thenÖ it fizzles. The threat becomes less and less real as nothing happens. The protagonist takes a moment to reminisce about a photo, which doesnít fit with the urgency of the situation. Limited things in this one room exhaust themselves of useful interaction early on, so itís easy to feel stuck. Suspense gives way to frustration and boredom. Ultimately, I began to wonder if the story might have worked better without dropping the player into immediate danger that goes unfulfilled. By then, of course, the game had lost its initially strong grip on me.

     This may have been the point. With no new ideas, I began to try the old ones. I noticed odd things. Then again. Definitely, something strange is going on. Itís counter-intuitive, but clued just well enough to work. Since this is the gameís only puzzle Iíll not spoil it, but I think a little frustration is probably a prerequisite to taking the necessary actions.

     The author has implemented five different things that can end the game, so itís more likely the player will stumble on at least one of them. My first win was one of the four alternates. The hints tip off the ďmainĒ solution, and the others are also in the included walkthrough. All five are essentially the same conclusion, with only minor differences in what leads up to it.

     I donít know if this is the story the author set out to tell, or if (as mentioned in notes from his walkthrough) his mere three days of development time just sort of forced it. As a three-day project, and as the authorís first work of IF, itís impressive. The implementation is decent given the limited surroundings, and even some unexpected surprises come in the form of responses to actions I didnít expect to work. The writing is okay (with a few bits that seem awkwardly worded), and itís at least a complete game. Itís just not a very long game, and itís complete only in the sense that the author didnít just leave loose ends hanging.

     Iím not sure that should be taken as praise, though. The game it started out to be would have been far more interesting. If it had kept its opening momentum, gone creepier, kept its pacing, developed the protagonist, given his sister a real role in the story... then who knows. Even keeping the gameís final revelation (which, if I guess correctly, will be a subject of contention with many of the judges), the author had plenty of room to develop this theme in a longer game.

     This is a very good first effort, and an amazing one given such a short development time. It just doesnít stand up well against its better competition. Iíve scored it one point for its implementation, one for the story, one for writing, and the free point. Thatís a vote of ď4.Ē No, scratch that. Red Moon earns the bonus point as well. Itís a noteworthy effort by a first-time author, so thatís a bonus for encouragement. Iíd like to see what he does with three weeks, three months, or even longer. If Jonathan Hay makes an appearance in IFComp 2009, Iíll expect it to be a better, meatier work.

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