Posted by: Ben | October 6, 2009

if: Snowquest

A Z-code game in IF Comp 09 by Eric Eve

Have you noticed how a large proportion of games have cover art now?  I don’t know if it’s a bug or a feature, but every single game on every single Windows IF interpreter known to me will display the cover once and once only, the first time I start the game, with no option to view it again later.  Even renaming the game file doesn’t work.

EDIT: Apologies, interpreter developers, as thanks to Eriorg I now know it’s just standard user incompetence.

Anyway, Snowquest, reviewed after the jump.

All around you is snow, snow and more snow, stretching across a level plain as far as you can see in every direction, apart from a distant mountain range on the northern horizon, the odd hillock nearby, and a growing number of snow-drifts. It is just starting to snow.

The opening of Snowquest is uncomplicated.  You’re in the snow, on a quest. The object of the quest is not indicated to be important, except insofar as it is at B, while you are at A.  Between the two are obstacles which will tax your puzzle-solving ability.  What could be more unremarkable?  Then the dream-sequences and flashbacks start.  “Well, this could,” you think, because every IF game worth its pretensions seems to have dream-sequences or flashbacks.  You observe the level of finesse at work in the way that the conversation options are severely restricted in the dream sequence and opened up in the flashbacks to understand ASK, TALK TO and even SAY.  You start to think you’re playing an exceptionally slick game not overly burdened with new ideas.  Eyebrows, but not hackles, are raised when a stick is described as “a bit nobbly”.

The subsequent plot twists defy rational explanation, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt right up until the very end when it took that benefit of the doubt and blew it all away on drink and drugs.  The effect was akin to that of a game in last year’s competition (Riverside) where an ordinary adventure suddenly and without warning ground to a halt in an intrusion of ludicrous 4-chan speak.  It wasn’t funny then and it isn’t funny now.

The problem with giving a sensible game a silly ending is that it makes you feel like the author thinks you’re stupid for trying to enjoy the ostensibly sensible parts.  I have no idea what he must have been was thinking, but I have come up with some possibilities listed here in the order in which they occurred to me.

1) It’s intended as an attempt to mock players for trying to enjoy the game

You silly IF player, putting a wreath on a grave with one hand and pushing a skeleton off a cliff with the other. You’re like the Government.  You do deserve to be mocked, even if sometimes it’s nicer to be flattered, and that’s before we start arguing about who put the skeleton on the cliff in the first place.

2) It was supposed to be a proper game but the author ran out of time and/or space and turned it into a parody

A popular folk explanation for Riverside, strengthened by 3 below.  If true, a clear violation of the unwritten rule that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.  Let us spend no more time on this egregious and possibly insulting theory.

3) It’s intended as a parody of the limitations of the Z-machine and/or Inform 7 as a tool for compiling Z-code.

In his “technical note” in the About text, the author points out that the “limits of the Z-machine” were used to help keep the game small and “virtually nothing could have been added without taking something else out”.

In the Old Time, when the land was fertile, fish swam in the seas and Infocom games were sold in the shops to run on all systems I didn’t own…  they were typically smaller Z-code files taking up only a couple of hundred kilobytes and, so the Ancients say, took well over two hours to play.  So why is Z-code now seen as the preserve of smaller games?  Since I know less than nothing about computer programming, I’ll hazard a wild guess that Inform 7, as a high level language, generates lots of code that would have been unnecessary when Infocom were in business and that the average Infocom game would have been a lot larger if written in Inform 7.

4) It’s intended as a parody of other adventure games

I kept noticing things that reminded me of Photopia. The wolf, the flying, the hopping between various states of reality are strongly reminiscent of that title.  The fact that I recognise the opening as “traditional” suggests there are other games involving getting up snowy mountains out there.  And it’s full of little details that seem like they will mean something to somebody out there.

The sheriff and deputy who charge through the final scene appear to have wandered out of another game that I can’t quite tell what it is.  Then there’s the leather jacket, the plane crash and the thread-bound skeleton, any or all of which could be references for people who know what they’re looking for.

5) It’s not supposed to be a joke, or a parody.

I’m not one of these people who plays every IF game ever released, but I know enough to know that not all of Eric Eve’s back catalogue is entirely free of plot holes.  Maybe he’s great at location descriptions and conversations but is just not much cop at endings.  Alternatively the “multiple levels of reality” approach has skewed my perception, the story really ends when the player character falls asleep in the second cave, and the daftness is intended to indicate post-mortem neural degradation or something.

But it’s still daftness.

Rating: Good

Next: The Hangover

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Responses

  1. every single game on every single Windows IF interpreter known to me will display the cover once and once only, the first time I start the game, with no option to view it again later.

    With Windows Frotz, at least, it’s possible to view it again: click on “About this game” in the Help menu.

  2. Aha! Thank you! And shockingly it works in Git as well.

  3. Or you can select “If the game has an iFiction record, show the dialog Always” in the options.

  4. […] Another Mr. Lizard thought it was a parody of some kind.  Jeremy didn’t seem to know what to make of it, but he enjoyed it.  McMartin said it was disjointed, but reports no attempt to figure out what it all meant, and advocates “focusing on where the game is here and now.”  […]


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