In the early morning minutes of October 1st, 2005, a list of IFComp entries
(at the official IFComp website) showed 50 or so potential games. As titles
were knocked off the list (probably because the authors never completed and
uploaded them), the list dwindled down to 36. For those of us online at the
time, it was an interesting thing to watch. Among those original intents,
though, was Robb Sherwin's Pantomime.
Now released for Spring Thing 2006, it weighs in on the light side
(considering the competition's focus on medium- to long-sized games). As an
intended IFComp entry, this makes sense. From chatting with Robb at his Hugo
forum, I know that it took much effort and some sleepless nights even to
finish for the Spring Thing deadline. Even short and perhaps rushed,
is a solid game with an entertaining story.
In Pantomime, you live on Phobos, currently a moon of Mars, but soon to
apart into an orbiting ring of debris. It's the last place anyone would
to be, even before the crisis. It's a world where cloning is commonplace,
robots named after Unix commands are a man's best friend, and being good at
chess is cause for embarrassment. This is a vision of the near future.
I've only played the beginning of one or two Robb Sherwin games prior to
That's probably why my reactions bounced between "whoa. did he really say
that?" and "wow. what's it going to be *next*?" Somehow, even if he's
holding back, it doesn't *feel* that way. Aside from a few typos - probably
the result of the hurried effort to meet the deadline - the writing is
It flows better because it's more casual. It's not just *how* Sherwin
it's also *what* he writes: the insults between characters, the one-off
the clever descriptions and bits of back-story. I usually cringe at coarse
passages and lowbrow humor in a game, but that's part of what makes
so interesting. Sherwin seems to write it in a convincing, honest way.
Pantomime is what an episode of Futurama might be, if the script came from
Cartoon Network's Williams Street crew and it aired on HBO after hours. The
little censor that lives inside Robb Sherwin's mind has a freedom not given
most other IF authors, save maybe Adam Thornton. I mean, if a wacked-out
needs to sport a cloned copy of a male porn star's money-maker, Sherwin will
work it into the story. And it'll be *funny*.
The game *is* meant to be funny. I think. It's sometimes tongue-in-cheek
humor. It's *definitely* black humor, where the absurd and the macabre come
together. It might be an allegory for some of today's issues, but if so, I
didn't really get that. More likely, it's just a strange but fascinating
The puzzles aren't difficult (generally just a matter of figuring out what
action to take to move things along), and inventory is almost non-existent.
Pantomime is very story-driven. The most difficult bit may have been passing
the spiked gate, but even that obstacle yields to some creative but simple
reasoning (okay, okay - I solved it by blind luck and experimentation, but
made sense afterwards). Even the second-to-last confrontation doesn't
anything more complicated than following instructions and listening to the
guy's diatribe. This should be particularly appealing to anyone who prefers
to be more *fiction* than *game*.
A few minor bugs remain in the competition release. They range from typos to
an odd exit back to Kangaroo's Club - nothing game-killing. This seems to
happen more toward the end. What's most likely to work against Pantomime,
though, is that it doesn't seem long enough for a Spring Thing game. It also
glosses over the additional detail in most places, when it comes to
interacting with (even if only to "look at") scenery objects. Knowing Hugo,
I think this could be fixed easily, even without real objects. Just add an
"extra_scenery" property to each room, with lists of keywords that will
cause a different reference message. It means the difference between
"not there" when it really is, and simply being "unimportant".
A few plot points left me confused. Who sent me the vial? What was the
of the seemingly unnecessary gate code? And how drunk was Sherwin when he
up with the interaction that helps the PC escape the airlock? Other than
everything is wrapped up tidily at the end, where a couple of fitting plot
twists are thrown in.
I enjoyed Pantomime, and I recommend it - especially if an update comes
the competition. Without hints, I finished in two and a half hours (plus
re-play of select earlier bits). It's definitely a game that wouldn't have
been out of place in the annual IFComp, but even snack-sized by Spring Thing
standards, it's a worthy entry.
My Spring Thing score: "7"
I have placed an updated version here:
I will upload it to the Hugo subdirectory of the IF Archive shortly.