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Misc Reviews - The Enterprise Incidents

The Enterprise Incidents (ZCode), by Brendan Desilets
Reviewed On: 12/26/2004 (Originally appeared in NCRP 2004)

     As an eighth-grader named Doug DeGrace, you are part of the “Enterprise” project – a school program for underachievers. To earn a little extra money through simple work, your Valentine’s Day assignment is to deliver candygrams to a few other students. Helping you with this are Judy (you have a crush on her), and Queenie (a new girl, recovering from an auto accident). The goal is clearly explained, and this keeps the game moving steadily forward.

     The Enterprise Incidents would have made an aptly-sized IF-Comp entry. It’s neither too difficult nor needlessly long. In fact, without hints or the walkthrough, I finished with a full twenty points in just under two hours. Some of the puzzles seemed, at first glance, to be impossibly obscure. Somehow, with just a little more thought (the end-of-poem puzzle, the poem-title puzzle, and the math-cake puzzle in particular), none of them were as elusive as I thought. The play area is even small enough to be easily manageable.

     A few quirks came up during the game – a discrepancy between “no” and “not” on a poster, for instance. The biggest issue, though, would probably have left me stuck, if not for a prior save. The game allowed me to give all remaining candygrams to Alicia. Some of the other problems were a little odd, and I have forwarded those notes to the author, for a future version. Overall, the game was well-written and technically sound.

     The story is interesting, but not particularly complicated. Much of what I perceived as foreshadowing may just have been added detail. The “Lion King” poster and the “Prejudice” poem, as examples, seemed to hint at a larger mystery. Early on, something kept bringing Photopia (a game I haven’t played in years) to mind. I wasn’t sure why, until the game explained the connection for me. The title, too, made me think of an episode of Star Trek (I can remember the phrase in its singular form, but not the details of the episode). A well-placed poster gets that bit out of the way close to the beginning, indirectly citing the source, while at the same time making it clear that it’s not the point of the game.

     Even though the story didn’t end in a surprise twist (I was somehow expecting this), it did end in a satisfying manner. The revelation serves to explain why Brendan uses descriptive names for most of the characters. The point of the game becomes clearer. It’s a connection I could have made earlier, but didn’t.

     At times, the writing seemed a little off to me. I don’t mean that it was extravagant or unnaturally verbose, and I’m not even referring to the frequent text dumps (I really enjoyed those read-only bits). What I mean is, certain single sentences might have flowed better as two. It’s a nit-pick, really; my own writing tends to lean toward the overuse of compound sentences. I also found that the eighth-grader’s vocabulary outclasses mine. Granted, there may be nothing unrealistic about that, given my frequent reliance upon dictionary.com. Still, the use of “jocose” and “paramour” (for the latter, I’m not even sure the adult-oriented definition found at dictionary.com is really fitting) seemed a stretch. Again, that’s really just a nit-pick.

     NPC conversations are presented in a list of numbered choices. I’m undecided as to whether this was a positive or a negative for the game. On the plus side, it opened easy and full access to NPC interactions. Without having to guess at appropriate topics, I wasted no time in faulty “ask-about” phrasings. No implemented phrasings went untried as a result – also a positive. With this technique, though, I (as Doug) was willing ask important questions before I (as the player) even realized what was happening. I also found that some questions could be repeated, with a replay of the prior results. These instances didn’t seem to pose a problem, except in consistency. After all, how many times can someone hand me the thing I already have? Given one or the other, it’s a positive. The conversation system works well enough, and does aid the experience.

     I found The Enterprise Incidents to be well-written, well-clued, and short enough to play in one sitting. Although nothing stands out as unexpectedly innovative, it’s a fun and worthwhile adventure. I recommend it, especially to anyone looking to find shorter games (of roughly IF-Comp size) outside the competition.

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