Ifcomp 2016: Steam and Sacrilege

“Steam and Sacrilege” is next. Steampunk seems to be the order of the day, if the title is any indication. I wonder what the “sacrilege” part refers to.

This started out really promising. It’s 1894, and we are checking into the Automated Hotel with our wife. But this turns out to be a prologue, and all the real action takes place in the modern day. The story finally veers wildly into a thing involving the imprisonment of angels and an oncoming Apocalypse.

Now, part of the “steam” sensibility is that we’re playing with a highly advanced form of an outdated technology–the idea of steam taking the place of electricity. This usually means a Victorian or Edwardian setting. While it’s totally possible (and maybe even exciting) to have a modern-day setting that evolved from a steampunk universe, I don’t really get much sense of the steam evolution here. Even when we run into the mechanical bellhop again … in the modern day, robots are less of a wonder than they were in 1894.

Well, all right. That could still actually be a really good story–if it were done well. The problem is, it’s not.

I think things started to go wrong with the “sign name” action, in the prologue. We’re told we should sign our full name … all right. But why make a puzzle out of trying to figure out what our full name is, when we’re not starting the game as an amnesiac? I did check, and the author did go to the trouble of recognising “name” as a thing you can sign … so why not just recognise “sign name” as signing one’s full name?

The frustration continues: we see, through a window, the key to a door hanging under a desk, but we have no way of looking under the desk (or even of simply picking up the key) when we are actually in the room with the desk. We find a key legend hinting at a puzzle that will enable us to make whatever keys we want, but that puzzle simply does not exist. Care is taken to implement the house which is not part of the game, enabling us to find a bunch of objects which no sane person (unless they knew they were in a text adventure) would pick up and carry around … and which go completely unused. It really feels as though the very narrow path to victory was implemented, and then the red herrings way off to the far fringe were implemented … but all the background stuff in between the two was left out. Or possibly that the game was building up in more than one direction, and the remnants of those discarded ideas/puzzles were never properly edited out.

I did enjoy the writing, at least, before the frustration got to me.

As I said, this started out with a lot of promise, but I’m afraid it was let down by some questionable design decisions and poor (rushed?) implementation. I would advise the author to settle on a plan, stick to it, and expand out with stuff that supports the plan. More thoughtfulness on the game experience is in order. It would be nice, for instance, to see more how the marvels of scientific progress, as seen in the prologue, link up to the apocalyptic plotline of the endgame. Some foreshadowing, perhaps.

Also, you want beta-testers. You want beta-testers to tell you what they like and what they don’t like, and where things have been missed. Never underestimate the importance of beta-testing.

As a breakfast, this might be the promise of Eggs Benedict … but the yolk has run out of the poached eggs, and the Hollandaise has curdled. It’s a bit of a mess, and I’m not sure the accompanying beverage, tomato juice, really goes with the dish. Still, there’s something to be said for ambition, and I hope the cook–er, the author–will give this another shot.

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