Posted by: Ben | January 11, 2009

if: The Moon Watch

(Videogame. Glulx. Maroncelli, Peretti. 2008)

Some idiot who also writes in this blog made some pretty foolish and ill thought out comments on graphics in interactive fiction a while ago. Actually graphics done well are not only a valuable adjunct to effective text but an important determiner of atmosphere. If there’s an angelic child on a phone line to the Moon, reporting countless deaths in a nuclear war, that’s one type of game. If there’s a cartoon mouse drunk on vodka that’s… no, wait, it’s exactly the same game.

Now that the Cold War is on temporary hiatus in favour of a less well-defined war in which anyone and everyone is a potential attacker (this will be the status quo after the end of history and the universal adoption of Western style democracy, so get used to it), a large death toll from an especially bad bombing might be in the thousands, but back in the second half of the twentieth century we expected the deaths to rack up in millions. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction, whereupon the aggressor in a potential nuclear war would be wiped out as surely as the defender, prevented a large-scale atomic conflict during that era. But the Moon Watch is set in an alternative timeline where events have taken a different turn.

As the apparent sole occupant of a Soviet lunar station, the player-character has only one duty – to look after the Big Red Button and press it at the appropriate time. He doesn’t, of course, know what the Big Red Button does. The control room is filled with superbly imagined malfunctioning Soviet technology, of which the player-character is inordinately proud. It’s only once the button has been pressed that the player must take control. Even then decisions are strictly limited to solving the technical puzzles that hinder the main character, rather than making his decisions for him. And it’s in the course of solving these puzzles that it becomes apparent that not everything on the moon is as it seems.

As an adventure game it’s solid and thoroughly enjoyable and yet it appears to possess at least one puzzle that is completely bloody impossible. The Moon Watch also has a relatively original, or at least different, way of communicating with NPCs. Rather than being limited to ASK and TELL, simply type TALK TO, and you can type in exactly what you want to say to a character, then to solve the puzzle it’s usually a case of hitting on the right words and phrases to get you around the problem. This feels much more natural than any of the other commonly used solutions for interpersonal communication in IF, but one imagines it would take many hundreds of lines of code before there was any real element of simulation of conversation. I understand Starship Titanic has a go at this, and I will play it one day.

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Responses

  1. Thank you very much for your review!
    We (me and Paolo) will release an improved version of the game taking account of the feedbacks as soon as possible.

  2. Thank you for playing and reviewing The Moon Watch. Talking about that impossibile puzzle, you know, life on the Moon can be bloody hard… 😉


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