(none) Quintin Stone - Interactive Fiction Review
Interactive Fiction
Role-playing Games

Chronicle Play Torn

Author: Penczer Attila (Algol)
Language: z-code
Score: 5

The intro reads like a classic Lovecraft beginning: an elderly relative, reclusive and eccentric, has spent the last few years delving into Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Now that he's disappeared, it's up to find out what happened to him. And while it's not an original premise, even in IF, the important thing is how it is implemented. In this case, I wasn't impressed and I wasn't able to finish because of the two hour limit.

The decent story and good sense of imagery are somewhat spoiled by halting flow, spelling errors, problems with punctuation, grammar issues, and some strange word choices. Some actions produced responses that felt surprisingly superficial (such as reading the herb book and then later when you find the herbs). And the title simply makes no sense to me. I chalk most of this up to the author being a non-native English speaker. So that's the reason and we understand why much of it happened, but the problem is still there. It also doesn't explain the disappointing default self-description ("As good-looking as ever"). Still, for all of its faults, I found the writing to be acceptable.

In an accompanying text file, Chronicle Play Torn's author admits that he didn't have "the time to do proper beta-testing". And though I hate to say it, you can tell. Not only would testers have helped clean up the broken prose, they also would have found many of the obvious technical issues. For example, the terp-crashing stack overflow bug that I encountered when I entered the pool with a lit lamp. Or the fact that I was told that the lamp was getting dim even when it was in a completely different plane of existence than I was. Later in the game, there is an exit barred by a grating. Though the description mentions hinges, you cannot examine them separately from the grating itself. The game recognizes "hinge" and "hinges" as synonyms for the grating. Unfortunately, the solution to this puzzle requires the player to divine that there is an "upper" hinge and a "lower hinge"... even though these are not mentioned in the room description or the description of the grating. What's worse is that Inform's default response to hitting the upper hinge ("Violence isn't the answer to this one") is extraordinarily misleading. Violence is the answer to this one; I was just attacking the wrong hinge.

I was enjoying the game at the start, even though it's a pretty common theme. The first chapter flowed pretty well, despite some of the technical issues. The second chapter felt barren and short, since most of the rooms you encounter have no purpose except possibly for atmosphere. Perhaps the air of emptiness was a deliberate effort of the author. It's hard to say. Even so, if there's a dog in a game, the player should be able to pet it! Chapter three was good for exploration, but I found the whole realm rather confusing and it was here that I started to bump up against the game's inventory limit. This is also the area where the player encounters buildings that cannot be entered with compass directions; they are accessible through the "in" verb. I guess this is a stylistic choice. It's just not one I agree with. One problem I found was that I was able to enter a house that "has no door" and it was not clear exactly how I gained entry. The third chapter is larger than the previous two chapters and I never was able to explore it all. After roaming the city, watching statues carried here and there by the wind, I floundered in my lack of motivation. Supposedly my uncle was there, in that alien landscape, but only because I guess there was really no where else he could have gone. I found no clues or evidence that he had actually been in any of the places I explored. When the time limit hit, I didn't really balk at closing the game. I hope to go back to this game sometime in the near future and see if I can make any more progress.

Final score: 5

High point:
Though the transparent sheet puzzle was fairly obvious, I thought it was particularly clever and original for an IF game.

Low point:
When a stack overflow error crashed the interpreter. I can understand an author not having enough time for a game to be beta-tested before the competition. However, that doesn't mean it's a good idea to go ahead and enter it anyway. Even though you might get a lot of useful bug reports, your game will still be remembered as buggy by the competition judges and anyone who reads the post-comp reviews. Like someone said in SPAG #35, "the three most important words in IF creation are Testing, Testing, Testing."
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