Posted by: Ben | October 21, 2008

if: Nightfall

(videogame. Glulx. Eve. Interactive Fiction Competition 2008.)

So on the one hand I’m suffering a bit of mid-comp ennui, especially when faced with a game with such an uninspiring title, and on the other hand Eric Eve is at least an author who has been around the block a bit and, it would appear, knows how to put together a polished IF game (not that I’ve played any of them until now). Mild spoilers follow this cut here.

I got one of the endings (a bad one). Then I read the ABOUT text, where it advised me to save frequently. Thanks for telling me that in the ABOUT text, which I never read. What do you mean, you didn’t know I wasn’t going to read it? What do you mean it’s irresponsible to play through a lengthy “interactive short story” without saving frequently? Do I have to save when I sit and read a short story, in case I lose my place. No. None of which is Nightfall’s fault, except insofar as it failed to read my mind.

I’m going to stop complaining now, because this game turned out to be a good one, so polished you can see your face in it, and more pertinent to the way I actually vote in this sort of competition, I really liked it.

There are lots of locations, but there’s a proper description for each. It’s not easy to write a location description that sets the scene while still remembering to list all the exits. Nightfall has over 80 locations, and every one has a readable description. This is a game that gets the simple things right. Example: in one early puzzle you have to render CCTV camera inoperable to get past it. You could look around for a stone to throw at it, but if you’re a bit thick and wander around aimlessly for long enough, you will trip over one. That sort of thing.

So that a tale may be told in a non-linear fashion, many of the locations have memories associated with them, which are triggered when you visit for the first time. The order in which these memories occur is mostly determined by the player. I mentioned B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates in an earlier review, but I can’t think of a better comparison for this. Given that that’s a novel, the comparison seems a little unfair on Nightfall. Some suspension of disbelief is required for this particular story, but the author uses these short passages to let us conjure up the game’s main NPC in our own imaginations, long before she shows up in person. The result is a character who seems real, rather than “Exits lead north, west and south. You can see your one true unrequited love here.”

[Why he then thought it was a good idea to include another NPC who does nothing but guard the exits to a completely inessential and bypassable location is a complete mystery, unless it was to demonstrate the point that if you want to create a convincing NPC in IF the best way is usually to keep them off the screen for as long as you possibly can.]

Dedicated adventurers have the option of trying to prevent the city blowing up instead of just watching it, even though this seems a little out of character for the otherwise clueless protagonist. This detective work is made a little trickier by the nature of the objects involved, being things like “small piece of paper”, “crumpled paper”, “assorted papers” and of course “small piece of yellow paper”.

This is the most ambitious Comp game I’ve played so far, and it’s also the one that comes closest to realising its ambitions.

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