Posted by: Ben | October 3, 2008

if: Escape From The Underworld

(videogame. Z-code. Beecher. Interactive Fiction Competition 2008.)

EDIT – Now shielded from the cruel scrutiny of the masses, at least until November 16th.

Like 2007’s A Fine Day For Reaping (of which, judging by the blurbs, more later), the author of Escape From The Underworld has elected to set his game in a Terry Pratchettesque world where myths and legends (in this case, demons in Hell) are slaves to bureaucracy. The problem with pastiching Pratchett, as many published authors have discovered (I was going to say “to their cost”, but some of them have made vast sums of money out of it so that wouldn’t be accurate) is that very often, Pratchett has done it himself, and usually better.

We meet Bobby, a demon tired of torturing the damned and keen to escape from the titular underworld and perhaps make a better life for himself. The physiognomies of the characters are left mostly to the imagination, and the PC’s backstory (and indeed frontstory) is kept firmly at arm’s length from the substance of the game itself which consists of solving a series of puzzles to advance through the world. Luckily this is exactly what interactive fiction is good at.

Some of the parsing is a little rough around the edges, and not all of the required actions are clued in a way that a reasonable person would be able to guess easily, but all in all this is a perfectly okay little adventure.

There’s one puzzle (involving a mouse) which will probably be a little controversial, but since it’s the only time the player character gets to do anything demonic, any negative reaction it might engender in the player is surely to the game’s credit. Perhaps it’s not just the endless paperwork that Bobby is so disillusioned with.

But listen: to anyone with a working understanding of the English language, “unscrew hinges with screwdriver” contains two entirely redundant words. To require the player to type this is to require the player to think like an IF parser. The very best games work the other way round. I’m not unappreciative of the many hours of programming time necessary to make the game understand you. But this is a competition, and I suspect there will be games whose authors have put the hours in, somewhere further down the list.

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