ORGC -- three short reviews

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George Oliver

Dec 23, 2007, 12:53:52 PM12/23/07
In playing only three games from this year's One Room Game Compeition
I can't really speak for the whole field, but nevertheless I was
impressed by the high quality of the games overall. I'm hoping to get
to some of the Italian language games soon, but for now, three short
spoilery reviews.

. spoiler space
-----[ Marika the Offering, by revgiblet (James Webb) ]-----

Evocative and well written, "Marika" weaves its narrative into its one
room puzzle better than many games of its class. The eponymous
heroine, "purest and most beautiful" of the village's young women, is
locked away in a high tower as an offering to the vampyre that so far
has kept an uneasy peace. No heroine, no peace, but of course it's
your job to muck up that arrangement by keeping the vampyre out of
Marika's room for the night.

"Marika" is a fun and solid game with I think two structural and
technical problems.

At any point in the game you have the option of reading the back story
of events that led up to Marika's night in the tower, and I wish this
weren't so. In the opening of the game things couldn't be more clear.
You are placed within Marika's point-of-view with a marvelous first-
person narrative voice. The tower room is old and musty, it feels
dangerous. You think to yourself you have little time to act to save
your life. And there is a mirror! For anyone with even a passing
familiarity with the vampire genre everything couldn't be more
obvious, and without explicitly saying what is going on the game has
wonderfully set up its premise. However, the back story hobbles this
set up by making what is mysterious and interactive instead plain and

You might be saying to yourself that choosing to read the story is
entirely optional, and technically that's true. But I think an IF game
is kind of like a toy where you are apt to twist every knob and push
every button. If the author chooses to structure their game where it
is possible to read something or make some action, this is a
deliberate artistic choice, and given the nature of the medium where
the whole interface is exposed at the command line, there is no
functional difference between say, examining the mirror and reading
the back story. I think the game could have kept just the last few
paragraphs of the back story and made that choice work, but a better
choice would have been to eliminate the story entirely. Barring that,
at the worst include it as a flashback at some key point in the game,
or at the best integrate it into the narrative.

The second problem is in the puzzles. Unfortunately many of the
puzzles in "Marika" rely on executing them in a specific order and
with a narrow range of verbs. For example, you can 'lift' the
flagstone but not 'pry' it. You must 'sit on chair', and not simply
'break chair' to accomplish the same thing. If you try to do the
puzzles out of order, on a second playthrough for example, the game is
not forgiving. Luckily this simply is a technical issue and with more
polish many of these problems go away.

I'm looking forward to revgiblet's next game -- starting with the
IFComp 2006 "The Sisters" and now with "Marika" his work gets better
and better.

-----[ Urban Conflict, by Sam Gordon ]-----

An interesting thing I learned playing this game is that IF had
conditioned me so much to interacting with non-human letters, books,
stones, machinery and what not, it's easy to forget the basic social
graces of human conversation. And I think at its heart "Urban
Conflict" is an excellent game about human conversation --
conversation in its true meaning, an exchange of thoughts and

"Urban Conflict" (probably not the best title for this game) places
you in the uniform of a peacekeeper in a war-torn city, and in the
first shot of the scene you are wounded and dragged to safety by an
unlikely ally -- an insurgent. Unarmed and alone, the first question
is whether the anonymous protagonist will survive, and the second is
what kind of relationship the protagonist and the insurgent will
establish -- one that ends in friendship, or a violence darkly
intimated by the rifle the insurgent keeps close by.

Overall this is an exciting premise. I said that "Conflict" is about
human conversation. This brings up the question in my mind of whether
"Conflict" is the next in a line of 'conversation' games, or if in the
past what we have called conversation games are not really
conversation games at all, and "Conflict" is indeed something new.

A conversation game is not simply a state machine and a topic jukebox
within a framing story. Of course a narrative arc is by no means a
necessary element of all human conversations, but in the context of a
work of a interactive fiction I would say that it is critical, perhaps
indispensable, for a conversation game to include such a narrative.

So with this provisional definition I'll make the perhaps bold claim
that "Conflict" is something new, but at the same time this is where
it fails. The conversation in "Conflict" is a narrative in its own
right, a fascinating one to play, but it lacks a crucial element. The
problem is that the protagonist does not have a history, feelings or
thoughts to offer, all necessary for a true conversation. I think this
was largely a question of the time available to implement the game and
the author confirmed that a more developed game might be forthcoming.

A digression: obviously when I talk about the protagonist's thoughts
and feelings, I mean the character as written in the game, not the
interactor. You may ask, if the interactor were to offer -their-
thoughts and feelings, is this a conversation game? My answer would be
yes, but I would ask the question back to you: is this a strength of
IF with the state-of-the-art currently available to us?

In "Conflict" you also have the unusual problem of running out of
'moves' available to influence the insurgent positively. While I would
like to see more moves available, especially non-conversation moves
(the game does include a few, such as giving the insurgent some food),
I did enjoy the game-like feel this gives the IF.

Programmatically "Conflict" contains an interesting conversation
system as well, using in the I7 language four rooms, 52 things, 40
tables and 22 rules according to the 'about' text.

I gave a much higher score to "Conflict" than the ORGC average. I'm
curious what others' opinions might be.

-----[ Suveh Nux, by David Fisher ]-----

"Suveh Nux" is a satisfying, cleanly and crisply executed puzzle box,
and holds much to delight both fans of classic and contemporary IF. A
wizard's apprentice is mysteriously locked in a dark vault and must
escape. The game rapidly gets better and better from there.

The highlight here surely is the magic system, but all the parts of
the game work well together to serve the whole. It is not an easy game
per se, but I think it's a good example of a well polished game for
beginners and experts alike.

As near as I can tell "Suveh" is David Fisher's first IF game (not
including some z-code abuses), so I'm excited to see what he can do in
a longer work.

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