IFcomp 2016: Hill Ridge Lost & Found

I’ve been away for Canadian Thanksgiving, but now I’m back; and here’s my review for “Hill Ridge Lost & Found, which I should have gotten to quite a bit earlier than now….

I didn’t manage to complete this one, though I very much wanted to. There’s a relatively heavy focus on puzzles as a means of gatekeeping, which is generally the sort of thing I expect from Interactive Fiction; and I found myself pretty deeply engaged by the puzzles.

The story is that we’re an old cowboy in the sort of town that consists of a general store at a crossroads and not much else, and we’re poking around the homestead of a neighbour whom we suspect to have something to do with why nobody never comes around here no more. It’s a very tenuous connection, to be honest–just a characteristic phrase in the mouth of a stranger–but probably sufficient to get one going in Interactive Fiction. This all takes place in a sort of fantasy world: a number of farm tasks are accomplished by a beast called a vorair, and some of the puzzles involve the manipulation of said beast.

That is one long introduction, by the way. It does a lot to set the tone and the scene and the setting, but it’s still a good deal longer than one normally expects. That said, the rest of the game seems to support the setting and tone pretty well. It’s consistent. Our aging hero isn’t a stranger to the site of his investigations, and he arrives with an armload of related memories. This not only gives him a personality we as players can grasp and empathise with, but also gives the whole setting a sort of familiarity and character that makes it seem more real.

As I mentioned before, I got pretty interested in solving the puzzles to move the story along. I believe that personality and character of the setting was a big part of what kept me interested; I think it might be as well that the puzzles often seemed just clear enough that you could guess what to do next, and just hard enough to make it a challenge. This is not always the case, though, and no surprise: different people do have wildly different ideas on what is “easy” and what is not. I eventually did reach a point where I had no idea what the next puzzle was supposed to be, or how to proceed with the items I had on hand. One shortcoming here, I think, is the lack of motivation. While I often knew what I was supposed to do, I wasn’t always sure why I was doing it. Perhaps I’m just missing something somewhere.

So, in many ways, this is a game that trades on familiarity. It’s got a crunchy granularity–a clear definition of how things work and how an end might be achieved, even if that end is not always clear. As a breakfast, I’m expecting something like sausages and eggs, with roasted tomatoes and baked beans. Farmer’s coffee, very black and strong. A hearty breakfast redolent of cowboy country, that will keep you going and going and going.

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