[REVIEW] Two games you should have played by now

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Emily Short

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Mar 22, 2002, 2:00:39 AM3/22/02
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This week is a dead week for me. I've had strep throat, and have spent
most of my days asleep; the big excursion was when I went to the doctor on
Wednesday and got antibiotics. (It rained.)

If you've emailed me and haven't heard back, by the way, that's why. I'll
get to it when my brain is reactivated.

In any case. I am too braindead to do academic work, too sick to go rent
videos; we have no cable, and what tv stations we do receive seem bent
upon playing "That 80s Show." Clearly time to play some IF, preferably IF
of the brief-and-comprehensible school.

Two TADS games have been gathering dust on my must-play list for some
time: Stephen Granade's "Arrival," and Ivan Cockrum's "Sunset Over
Savannah." And while I imagine that people already know they should play
these games, I am here to remind you why, in case, like me, you have been
letting them wait.


First, "Arrival." This game is sweetly and winningly goofy. It uses
illustrations for the purpose that I think illustrations should be used
for in IF: to provide fun local color, as illustrations are done in books,
and not in an attempt to compete with graphical adventure games by
illustrating every state of every room. (If someone ever manages to
produce such a work of IF, I will be vaguely impressed to see it, but I
don't think it's the best use of time and energy.)

Likewise the sound effects. On the whole, I think this game does one of
the best jobs I've seen of combining multimedia with an IF game in a way
that doesn't overwhelm or subvert the story. This is a kid's story, and
it has childish illustrations and a kid's-book feel and cartoonish sound
effects; all these fit together seamlessly and naturally.

The puzzles are not particularly mind-blowing, either in complexity or in
invention; I used a lot of clues, and did not feel that anything was
diminished thereby. This game is almost all charm -- especially the wry
parodies of a Certain Kind of Webpage (gleck), and the alien speech
translator. On the whole, the game stands on the edge between gentle
kid-humor and sophisticated adult parody humor. It's the same blend that
makes movies like Shrek work so well, minus the fart jokes -- which I
never liked anyway (sorry, AP). If I were making a list of games
appropriate to be shared with a kid audience, this would be high on it,
perhaps with "Firebird" and "Mother Loose" as the other entries. But
it's also just *fun*, even if you haven't been a kid for a while.


And now "Sunset Over Savannah." Wow. I don't know why I hadn't played
this game until now -- no, actually, I do. I started it once, and found
myself overwhelmed by the amount of prose and the amount of detail
embedded in that prose, and decided that I didn't have time to play it
just then. It is, I think, like "So Far" in that it is not a game you can
play if you want to read quickly. There is so very much here, and all
that is to be gotten from the game is to be gotten from the nuances
descriptions -- not just puzzle hints, but the underlying emotions and
mood that constitute the game's real content.

As a proponent of simulationism, I am both amazed and abashed by what
Sunset achieves; some of them are things I had assumed no one had gotten
around to doing in any game. The underwater passages, the fact that
things dropped in shallow water sink or float appropriately, or drift to
shore; the neat, seemingly effortless handling of ropes and tie-able
things; the various types of liquid. It does some things with inventory
management and how much you're allowed to have in your hands, too, but it
does so gracefully and never in a manner that seems irrationally
restrictive or unbelievable.

In my experience, the hardest thing about doing complex simulation for IF
is not writing code to keep track of how much liquid is in container x and
how much is in container y; it is allowing the player to interact with
that simulation in a way that feels completely smooth and natural, that
doesn't require special annoying parsing questions, that describes just as
much as is interesting and no more. Sunset somehow pulls this off, too.
You are given body parts, for instance: they are there, fully implemented,
when your attention is drawn to them, but they remain unobtrusive until
you do something that warrants their mention. There's no "You can't see
that here," but also no obsessive enumeration of the obvious.

There are a few quibbles. I found some of the puzzles tricky, and some of
the ones that were tricky turned out to be tricky just in ways that the
hints didn't cover. I'm not sure I would have known what all my goals
were, in any case, without the hint system. But at least said hint system
was there, and I got through without appealing to outside help more than
once or twice. I'm also not sure I'm in favor of being told quite so much
how I feel about things; certainly I reached a point where I kept
thinking, "Yes, okay, I'll quit my job! I obviously hate it anyway!"
More about the doubts that bound me a might have helped with that; I don't
know. As it was it seemed that I was occasionally being handed emotions
on a platter.

For all that, though, there was quite a lot that was really wondrous and
visionary in this game. I don't want to spoil anything by describing it,
but this has some truly lovely things in it, dreamlike in their quality.
A solid, beautiful piece of work.

I recommend both games highly.

--
Emily Short
http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/index.htm

Andrew Plotkin

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Mar 22, 2002, 10:49:12 AM3/22/02
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Emily Short <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
> [Sunset over Savannah]

> The underwater passages, the fact that
> things dropped in shallow water sink or float appropriately, or drift to
> shore; the neat, seemingly effortless handling of ropes and tie-able
> things;

Speaking as a beta-tester for this game: ha ha ha ha giggle snork
thud.

And now I must go give CPR to Ivan Cockrum.

--Z (good game, though, wasn't it?)

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.

Branko Collin

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Mar 22, 2002, 11:34:53 AM3/22/02
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ems...@mindspring.com (Emily Short), you wrote on Fri, 22 Mar 2002
02:00:39 -0500:

>First, "Arrival." This game is sweetly and winningly goofy. It uses
>illustrations for the purpose that I think illustrations should be used
>for in IF: to provide fun local color, as illustrations are done in books,
>and not in an attempt to compete with graphical adventure games by
>illustrating every state of every room.

I believe Infocom's Shogun uses graphics to just illustrate, rather
than to inform.

--
branko collin
Volk van San Theodoros, ik heb U begrepen.

Emily Short

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Mar 22, 2002, 12:25:10 PM3/22/02
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In article <a7fjpo$npc$1...@news.panix.com>, Andrew Plotkin
<erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

> Emily Short <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
> > [Sunset over Savannah]
> > The underwater passages, the fact that
> > things dropped in shallow water sink or float appropriately, or drift to
> > shore; the neat, seemingly effortless handling of ropes and tie-able
> > things;
>
> Speaking as a beta-tester for this game: ha ha ha ha giggle snork
> thud.

*Seemingly*, I said. The trick is making the impossible look easy.

There's a reason none of my games have ropes, and it ain't cause I can't
think of any rope-related actions. ("TIE GRANT TO CHAIR" prolly would've
improved Best of Three immensely...)

Adam Thornton

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Mar 25, 2002, 10:34:37 AM3/25/02
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In article <emshort-2203...@user-2iniknp.dialup.mindspring.com>,

Emily Short <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>There's a reason none of my games have ropes, and it ain't cause I can't
>think of any rope-related actions. ("TIE GRANT TO CHAIR" prolly would've
>improved Best of Three immensely...)

Yeah, but we know that you know how to do liquids, and "POUR COFFEE ON
GRANT'S CROTCH" would also have helped the game.

Adam

A.P. Hill

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Mar 26, 2002, 9:53:27 AM3/26/02
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minus the fart jokes -- which I
> never liked anyway (sorry, AP)

No problem.

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