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Spring Thing 2006 - The Potter and The Mould

Game #1: The Potter and The Mould

     The superhero genre isn't my favorite. I've never been a big fan of larger- than-life, hard-to-believe super powers. Sure, I enjoy the comic-based movie from time to time - Superman with his flying, strength, and x-ray vision; Spiderman with his spider-sense and web-slinging; Batman with his. super wealth; X-Men, of course. I've been known to read a superhero comic, although not recently. I've played superhero IF once or twice.

     In essence, I'm not the ideal fan for The Potter and the Mould. This is a story for superhero fans, and it comes complete with all the trappings. Origin story? Check. Mutant-like powers? Definitely. An imperfect, self-doubting protagonist? Uh huh. The mentor/student relationship? You bet. An evil but misunderstood villain? Sure. Motivation by revenge? Of course. It's everything you'd expect from a superhero story.

     What I like best about The Potter and the Mould is that it keeps moving. It will appeal most to superhero fans, but it's a frenetic and fast-paced adventure that kept me enthralled for the four hours it took to complete. It feels more difficult than it really is, which is a credit to the author's talent. The puzzles aren't hard enough to impede the action, yet they leave a sense of accomplishment in their wake. My longest sticking point involved a machine-room and a clay dog. After solving it - which was easier than I tried to make it - I realized that the puzzles were simple and understated. They work to keep the story moving, not to work against it, and that's probably the best kind.

     In most cases, Robert avoids text-dumps by way of action prompting. This typically comes as a nudge from an NPC, beginning with the rescue scene at the beginning, through Waterfall's revelations in the mall, to the hurried trip to the Potter's inner sanctuary. It works very well, and keeps things interactive.

     The story has some surprises and twists. It strays from the predictable formula particularly near the end. Even though I appreciate the change-up, the victory felt less than satisfying. It was like facing down Dr. Evil, and getting a back-stabbing Mini-Me instead. What follows is an exciting bit, but not what I expected.

     The writing in this, Robert Street's latest game, left me puzzled. Even though I've commented about this in prior reviews, it seemed more noticeable here; equally hard to pin down, but more prevalent. It could just be his style, but I'm not convinced that's it. Too many sentences (even some in close proximity) ended awkwardly with the word "though". There was a glaring lack of contractions throughout the text - not always, but in certain passages - making it more awkward. This alone isn't a sticking point, but coupled with some awkward phrasings in general, it just didn't always read right.

     Take the following - just one random example from hundreds of lines of text:

     "The shops in this corner seem to be trying to outdo each other with silly displays."

     The words "seem to be trying to" are the awkward bit. I might write this as:

     "The shops in this corner strive to outdo each other with silly displays."

     These kinds of things weave themselves throughout the text. The removed bit was clunky and passive. The replacement flows better, and it's more active. I usually qualify these kinds of comments with a reminder that I'm no expert. I have to look two or three times to figure out just what it is about a sentence that bothers me. Even in the example above, I might change "each other" to "one another". At times, the text in The Potter and the Mould felt like a first draft, as though it had been written once and then left alone. At other times, the text felt too heavily edited, as if the smooth flow and original expression had been lost under the weight of so much revision. Which the case may be, I don't know. Like I said, it might just be the author's unique style.

     Robert didn't skimp on details. Even though this is an ever-moving game, the extra effort shows in the responses, from looking around to trying various other actions. This isn't always the case in story-heavy works, where the only important thing is doing exactly what advances the plot. I liked that The Potter and the Mould stood up to some prodding.

     The hero's premise, now that I've come to it, is that he can "mould" his shape into various things. Robert implemented this in a logical, user-friendly way. Mould options are task-specific and presented in a list. This maintains the illusion that you're really able to morph into anything, where free-form input (John Evans's Order comes to mind) makes this very difficult. It also gives the PC some say-so as to how the player proceeds. In other words, the PC dreams up these forms so the player doesn't have to. More than that, it eliminates the "I tried to become a diamond-tipped drill, but it didn't work" complaints, at the expense of limiting the player's options. Occasionally, this let me figure out a puzzle where I wouldn't otherwise have had all the facts, but all in all, it was a good design.

     Next comes the obligatory Adrift discussion - but I'll keep it short. I'm a fan of Adrift's auto-mapping, even if I found some necessary exits unmarked on it. It can be a crutch sometimes, and I probably shouldn't have tried to rely on the map as much. I'm not a fan, however, of Adrift's pick-apart parsing. I call it that, because I don't know if it has a real name. This is most problematic when commenting a transcript. If you type something that has the word "undo" anywhere in it, Adrift believes you intend to undo your last move. If you comment about "he" or "she", Adrift starts matching pronouns, leading to some interesting responses. Knowing nothing about its inner workings, I still get the impression that grammar isn't built the way it is in Hugo and other IF languages. Adrift makes plenty of assumptions, and it doesn't conform to any grammar rules. If it finds what appears to be a verb, and what appears to be a noun referencing a known object, it reacts. At times, such as when it reacts on an NPC you haven't encountered yet, it can even be a little spoilery.

     Even though I'm not a superhero fan, I enjoyed The Potter and the Mould. It was trippy, but it was fun. It's a solid game, and a credit to the author's experience.

     My Spring Thing Score: 8

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