[REVIEW] The Fire Tower

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dwh...@gmail.com

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Jul 10, 2005, 6:16:40 PM7/10/05
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The Fire Tower by Jacqueline A. Lott


Interactive fiction used to be about finding lost treasure or battling
monsters in dark dungeons or saving the world from terrible evil. How
times have changed. The Fire Tower is about a hiker.

I'd be lying if I said I don't have fond nostalgia for the text
adventures of old. The storylines might have been corny, they might not
have made much sense, and the mazes which populated a lot of the games
could make even a sane man tear his hair out in frustration, but I
always felt like none of that really mattered and what was important
was that the games themselves had interesting storylines. A game where
you play a hiker just doesn't really compare to a quest to save the
world. Save the world and you feel like you've achieved something
major. Finish your hike...? Well, it's just not the same thing.

But that aside, what's The Fire Tower like as a game? Unfortunately,
there's not much in the way of actual gameplay here. There are no
puzzles to solve, no items that play a role (you start carrying several
but they aren't required for anything and seem to be there because
it's expected that the player is going to be carrying something), and
precious little storyline. There are no ways to die or fail the game
that I found, although I think I read in another review that you can
die if you're especially unlucky. I guess this must have been my lucky
day. Very little happens to enliven things.

Is it all bad then? No, far from it. It's actually quite refreshing
to just wander from location to location without anything to really do
in them. The writing is way above average and while I've never been
fond of hiking before today (too much like hard work for my liking), I
might give it a try after this. Unfortunately where I live there tends
to be a lack of beautiful scenery so maybe I'm better off reading about
it on a computer screen as opposed to experiencing it first hand.

To say the game is called The Fire Tower, the fire tower itself
doesn't really play any major part in the proceedings. I expected
some kind of revelation when I reached it, or for the game to take some
abrupt turn and become a bit more interesting, or... something.
Instead, I reached the fire tower, went inside, didn't find a whole
lot and left. Expecting something to happen if I tried moving away from
the tower, I did that. Only to find that once I had left the vicinity
of the tower, I wasn't able to return. So my hike up to the fire
tower seemed pretty anti-climactic. All that was left afterwards was
for me to hike back down and the game ended.

I played the game through a few more times to see if I'd missed
anything on my first play, but aside from wandering slightly off the
beaten path at one point, I think I had seen pretty much all the game
had to offer.

A bit disappointing then? In some ways: yes. In others: no. For the
time I spent playing it - it didn't take much more than fifteen
minutes from start to finish - it was interesting enough to hold my
attention, although that was partly because I kept thinking "there
has to be more to it than simply wandering from place to place" and
right up to the last bit, I was expecting some kind of puzzle to spring
itself upon me. When it didn't, and then the game ended, I was left
with the feeling that while it had held my interest for fifteen
minutes, it wouldn't have kept me glued to the screen for much
longer.

Puzzle filled games have never been my cup of tea. Mainly, I readily
admit, because I'm terrible at puzzles and can't figure them out half
the time. Even the easy ones, I generally don't have the patience for
and when I faced with one puzzle after another, the urge to just quit
and play something else becomes overwhelming. But then I've never been
a fan of puzzle free games either. Just wandering around with precious
little to do isn't especially interesting and while the setting
doesn't really allow for the placement of oodles of puzzles, I'm sure
a few could have been worked into the mix without too much effort.
Maybe the fire tower could be locked and I need to find a way inside.
Maybe a path is blocked and I have to find an alternative route,
perhaps using a log to cross a river. Maybe when I meet the bear, I
have to use my wits to get past it instead of the game just moving me
past it without me being required to do anything.

But no puzzles. And a very short game. Subsequent plays didn't reveal
anything hidden that I hadn't discovered on my first play and after
reaching the ending for the third time, I decided that enough was
enough. While okay in its own right, The Fire Tower just isn't
interesting enough to keep me coming back for further plays.

Bugs it's pretty free of. I encountered a few annoyances but nothing
that really put me off the game. In one location there's a woodpecker
but you can't listen to it by referring to it as "woodpecker" but
instead "bird". A few other times, I'd stop for a rest during my
hike and trying to move in a direction afterwards would hit me with a
message saying I couldn't do that while I was on the ground. The
first time I saw this it confused me a bit because I wasn't really
sure what it was telling me. Yes, I was on the ground. Why was moving
in a direction a problem? It wasn't till I realised that I was
sitting down and needed to stand up first before I was able to actually
go anywhere. Towards the end of the game, I game across a locked gate.
Just as I was about to cry out "a puzzle at last!" I realised it
wasn't a puzzle at all as there's no way of opening it. Oh well.
However, the text informs me that I don't need to open it as I can
walk around it to the northeast. Only I can't. It's northwest I
need to go.

The major annoyance, as far as I was concerned anyway, was that once
you go in one direction, you can't go back. I guess this might be
believable in the sense that the locations are often spaced far apart
- you're hiking several miles after all - but it made me feel that
I was missing out on significant portions of the game by going one way
when I should have gone another and once I'd gone that way there was
no backtracking. Aside from that, the game also has the tendency to
prevent you going in directions you might want to go in and instead
steers you along a very set path. So while you have the illusion of
being able to wander pretty much wherever you want, the reality is that
you're restricted in where you can go.


Conclusion

If you've half an hour to spare, give The Fire Tower a try. It
doesn't break new ground and the storyline isn't anything special,
but it's nicely written and the scenery is stunning. Me, I think
I'm off to stumble through a few tunnels in retro games and smite me
a monster or three.

5 out of 10

malcolm...@cse.unsw.edu.au

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Jul 10, 2005, 9:25:25 PM7/10/05
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dwh...@gmail.com wrote:
> The Fire Tower by Jacqueline A. Lott
>
> But that aside, what's The Fire Tower like as a game? Unfortunately,
> there's not much in the way of actual gameplay here. There are no
> puzzles to solve, no items that play a role (you start carrying several
> but they aren't required for anything and seem to be there because
> it's expected that the player is going to be carrying something), and
> precious little storyline.


While I'm not taking issue with your review (which seems quite fair), I
wonder whether you are aware that The Fire Tower was an entry in the
2004 IF Art Show [1] and as such it was never intended as a "game" but
rather as an artistic artifact. To quote from the "Concept Behind IF
Art" [2]:

The rules of the IF (Interactive Fiction) Art Show are specifically
designed to try to exclude traditional "game elements" from
entries/exhibits. They also try to lift any narrative frame (plot)
as much as possible.

What is left? Art. Experience for experience's sake. Interactivity
for interactivity's sake. Non-goal (basically) directed
interactivity.

Malcolm

[1] http://members.aol.com/iffyart/gallery.htm
[2] http://members.aol.com/iffyart/concept.htm

dwh...@gmail.com

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Jul 11, 2005, 1:58:18 PM7/11/05
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I'm aware it was intended for the Art Show (without really being 100%
aware of just what the specifics of the Art Show were), but decided to
review it based on my overall opinion of it as a whole.

Doctor Freeze

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Jul 15, 2005, 1:28:31 PM7/15/05
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I thought the review was fair for a gaming forum. The review did prompt
me to download the IF from the archive and read it. (Clearly, `The Fire
Tower' wasn't intended by its author to be a game, so I'll avoid the
game-vocabulary.)

I'm a totaly newbie to IF and my interests are more in interactive
narrative (the literary end of things) than gaming so I'm naturally
disposed toward IFs like `The Fire Tower.' I found Lott's prose to be
colorful and engaging (Walden-like; if only Thoreau had a laptop in his
cabin--check out http://eserver.org/thoreau/walden00.html.). I only
regret that Lott didn't provide more to interact with. My attempts to
listen to the woodpecker also failed. The best part of the IF was when
I got to the fire tower, sat down, took a drink of water, and ate my
trail mix. (Of course maybe I missed a bunch of stuff, I've only read
the FT once.) Typing a direction to go to the next trail junction or
clearing to read a paragraph or two of well written description is the
minimum interactivity for an IF. I don't want to sound over critical
because I would really like to see more of this sort of IF, but I think
that ``reality'' IF will succeed only if it maximizes interactivity.

Lott's FT inspired me to think of ways I could translate some of my
outdoor experiences into IF--a fishing trip perhaps. Driving a car.
Taking a canoe off the top. Loading the canoe with a pole and tackle.
Paddling around a bayou. Baiting a hook. Casting. Catching a fish. I
suppose catching a fish or two could even be considered a game element,
so maybe I'm talking about something different than IF art. I'll be
downloading more of these kinds of IF to see what the state of the art is.

Doctor Freeze

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Jul 15, 2005, 5:46:52 PM7/15/05
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Doctor Freeze wrote:

> I only regret that Lott didn't provide more to interact with.

Maybe I'm a bad IF reader. Here's what Mike Penman wrote in his review
of `The Fire Tower' in SPAG#41
<http://sparkynet.com/spag/backissues/SPAG41>:

``That sense of "being there" is enhanced by the sheer interactivity of
the piece. Faced with something that says, in essence, "See how
interactive I am!" I start to verb the nouns. This setting is deeply
implemented. Almost everything can be examined, heard, smelled, felt and
tasted. I know more about Appalachian flora now than I did before
playing.''

Another interesting thing Penman brought out was that the protagonist
had a character all their own. Even though I as ``the actor'' in the
piece directed the protagonist, I was not the protagonist. When I did
something out of character, the text resisted. Whose fault is that?
Even so, I did go along with the character, trying to project myself
into the role of the hiker--stoping to smell and examine flowers, eating
my GORP, and taking in the view.

Penman also mentions a bear. Okay. I missed the bear. Must have been
day dreaming. Time to hike up to the Fire Tower again.

dwh...@gmail.com

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Jul 15, 2005, 6:26:28 PM7/15/05
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Doctor Freeze wrote:

> Penman also mentions a bear. Okay. I missed the bear. Must have been
> day dreaming. Time to hike up to the Fire Tower again.

I came across the bear. No big deal really. It just left of its own
accord.

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