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


Author: Peter Seebach & Kevin Lynn
Language: z-code
Original score: 5
Revised score: 6

What we have here is another game containing one large puzzle made up of several related sub-puzzles. (To be fair, nearly all games could be considered to be one large puzzle made up of smaller puzzles. But life is not fair. And besides, these puzzles are all tightly related.) The situation presented is also the familiar "you are a tester" scenario, so there is no real backstory and a ready explanation for why you are trying to solve the main puzzle. Finally, there's the gimmick: the "Psychic Typo Error Correction System" which supposedly reads the player's mind in order to correct any unrecognized terms in commands.

You're a test subject, running the PTECS through its paces as you tackle a machine of unknown purpose. That's pretty much the story right there, except for a brief extra bit at the end. In fact in my initial attempts at the game, its emphasis on the typo-correcting system seemed bizarre. The system is after all simply a plug-in library for Inform. It's not until the end that you find out the reason. While the conclusion doesn't entirely make up for the blandness of the rest of the game, it certainly does help to perk it up and add some much appreciated humor.

There are some aspects of the game where it's hard to tell whether certain results were intentionally implemented by the authors or if they are simply bugs. The hoses are the most glaring example. When you connect them, the hose objects vanish and can no longer be referenced. You can't examine them or disconnect them because they are no longer present. Is this a bug? There's an action that can be performed that partially "resets" the machine, making the hoses accessible again. It also resets the wire, which is a little odd since no other parts of the machine are affected. I also had a problem with one of the subsystems missing from the in-game manual. The game's primary emphasis, the typo-correction system, works reasonably well, especially on the occasions when your typing is especially lazy. The only problems I had with it arose from the game's basic verb set; non-standard verbs were deciphered in some truly bizarre ways. At least it was more amusing than your generic "I don't know that word" response.

Once you take control, the game starts a little weakly. To get the game started, you have to perform an action which doesn't seem like it would do anything important, even though I think nearly every player will eventually try it. Once that's past, it's now time to interface with the machine. Only I ran into two serious roadblocks: first, I had trouble getting the doors open; second, I didn't think to close them after I had finished with them, and so I couldn't win. For the first issue, I turned to the denizens of ifMUD for help. After I got past that, I found myself completely stuck with absolutely no idea of what to do next. I thought I had everything completed and set up according to the manual. Except that the machine did not work and I could not finish the game by the end of the two hour judging period. So I had to end up scoring the game based on my frustration and my disappointment in the hint system. There really should have been more hint topics available, such as one for each color/subsystem (if you're not going to give us a walkthrough).

After the comp, I went back and played again, determined to finish it. Finally it occurred to me to close the doors, and I was done. The ending helps redeem the game, but only by 1 point. While it's funny and helps explain some things, the flat fiddle-with-machine portion is the bulk of the game and isn't enough to carry it.

Final score: 5 (Revised: 6)

High point:
Originally, the high point had been finding all 5 possible ways to snuff out the player character. Having finally finished it, I'd have to say the end sequence.

Low point:
Being stuck for so long without the hints giving me a clue as to why. When the doors are open, this for some reason affects two subsystems, even though they are only involved in one of them. And if closing the doors is so important, why doesn't examining the doors or compartments even mention that they are open?
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