IFcomp 2016: A Time of Tungsten

“A Time of Tungsten” is next on my IFcomp playlist. It’s been a really large crop this year, but there aren’t very many more.

Okay. It looks like we’re … well, there are a couple of different perspectives going on here. First, there’s a explorer-type character who’s trapped in the bottom of a hole after a parachute-landing on an unknown planet. Then there are a couple of investigator-type people who are reviewing her memories. It seems that part of the story involves the implanting of a recording chip in the explorer’s brain–hers and that of the rest of her ship’s team–and now they’re extracting information.

It sounds like it could make for a fantastic adventure story, and the occasional “glitches” do liven things up a bit, but … I’m sorry, maybe it’s just me and my usual aversion to science-fiction, but I found this much too long and dragged out. Verbose. At one point, while sitting in a waiting room preparatory to getting that chip implanted, we were treated to nearly a full screen’s worth of description of how some team members were tapping their feet in boredom. Seriously. Whatever other emotions you might want the player to share with the protagonist, boredom should never be one of them.

I’m not sure how much of the text is just irrelevant data–maybe it’s there for background, maybe it’s there to build the mood, but there’s too much of it, and anything relevant or important to the story gets lost in it. It doesn’t help that most of the time, it looks like the hypertext links are either “click for exposition” or “click for the next page”. Occasionally, we have a situation where one needs to hit certain links before the link to the next page is unlocked. It’s a valid form of pacing, I suppose, but I think I’d lost enough patience that I couldn’t get into it. There was an interactive segment which seemed like it was getting somewhere–the ship exploration prior to performance review with the rest of the crew–but it appears that is the only place where something like this happens.

In the “two investigators reviewing memories” segment, every line of dialogue needs to be clicked in order to proceed to the next line. This is a technique that I’ve actually seen done to great effect elsewhere in the competition, but I do not think it worked here. It was applied, perhaps, a little too mechanically and uniformly. Where I’ve seen it done well, it was used as a means of animating the dialogue with significant pauses and so on. Here, it seemed more like simple Standard Operating Procedure.

In the end, I’m still not sure what the story was about or what our explorer-type hero was trying to accomplish aside from getting out of the hole she’d landed in. I get the idea that it might be about mourning for the loss of her crewmates, but I never got to caring about them. It probably didn’t help that our first encounter with each of them was a lengthy biographical form where nearly every entry was “REDACTED”. If we’re supposed to form a relationship, perhaps it might be better to start out with some happy fun times in which personality traits can be demonstrated rather than described. At the moment, the only hint of personality I’m sensing is Captain Agostini’s exasperation with being called “Miss” all the time. We need more moments like those.

As a breakfast, it’s one soft-boiled egg … and a mountain of complimentary dry toast to go with it. Maybe you want to skip the toast and proceed straight to the coffee.

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