IFcomp 2016: The Skull Embroidery

“The Skull Embroidery” is a homebrewed text RPG, and the next thing on my list. One more game to go after this, and that will be the whole comp this year!

We’ve landed in a forest and gotten amnesia. Our robes–an the eponymous skull embroidery on them–suggest that we may be a high-ranking officer of a legion of evil, but right now we just need to relearn our fighting skills and get out of this place.

Seems cool so far.

The interface is really clunky, though. Essentially, you’re expected to type the letter/number corresponding with the action you want from the menu, then press enter; then type the letter/number corresponding with the thing you want to perform that action on, and press enter. For instance, going west from one location might be T-enter-2-enter … unless it’s T-enter-1-enter due to being the first direction on the list. Now, theoretically speaking, it shouldn’t be that much different from typing P-O-R-T in place of W when we’re on a ship … but I don’t think the brain wraps around T-enter-2-enter the same way it wraps around P-O-R-T. “Port” is a pronounceable word; the other thing isn’t. Plus, the text doesn’t refer to things as being in T-enter-2-enter direction, but as being “west”–or whatever direction it is–so there’s that additional level of disconnect.

And then there’s the issue of every block of text coming at you with a requirement to “press any key to continue”. I believe it’s part of the perception system, where each object gets a paragraph when you notice it. Even if you’ve been here before and know that it’s there. It works out to a lot of pressing any key every time we do something.

Another difficulty is the movement system. We have three “action points” per turn, and moving to a new location costs two action points. This means we arrive at a new location with one action point and … well, if we have nothing that we want to do except move on to the next location after that, we must then “wait”. The “three action points” thing seems like a pretty neat way of handling combat, but there’s really no place for it outside of a combat situation.

As an RPG, there is a natural focus on grinding battles to build up one’s stats. Fortunately, it’s easy to find these battles: these giant beetles keep reappearing at the same location, and it’s a simple matter to just fight, leave, return, and fight again. Maybe unfortunately, that’s the only thing there is … I’m generally okay with a bit of grinding, but I wonder if many people are.

So, we finally accomplish our first mission, which is the retrieval of the map that will get us out of here. From here, we can either pursue the people who put us in this predicament in the first place, or go carve out a new life, or whatever. Maybe find out the significance of the skull embroidery. I don’t know. This is the place where the game ends. In spite of the title, we never actually find out what the skull embroidery is all about, and, in a way, it almost feels as though all that effort grinding up our stats was wasted.

Well, it was an interesting opening, anyway. It didn’t pan out. The combat system was serviceable, and I liked the management of the action points in combat, even if I hated it outside of combat. The general interface could definitely use some more thought. If this were breakfast, it would be itty-bitty little baguette slices, toasted, with sharp cheese. You have an open fire and a toasting fork and can only toast two pieces of baguette at a time. There is also tea, beginning to cool and it’ll have gotten cold well before you’ve got enough toast to satisfy. A promising start, but demanding and over before it gets anywhere close to delivering.

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