Posted by: Ben | October 31, 2009

if: Broken Legs

A Glulx game in IF Comp 09 by Sarah Morayati

As the text above might imply, this is a spoiler-containing review of Broken Legs by Sarah Morayati, which is a Glulx game in IF Comp 09.

Dance rooms are so much better than practice rooms. They’re bigger and full of wall-to-ceiling mirrors. So you’re surrounded by yourself and when you’re great you see it. Of course this means that when you suck you see it too but that only happened today. There are all these poster flats above the mirrors from shows even you haven’t heard of. Over in the corner are some gymnastic mats. And there are lights above you. There’s tile below you. There’s music all around you. All you need to do all the prancing that makes you shine. If only your shining was working. Why isn’t your shining working?

Within five minutes of starting to play one of these games I generally have a pretty good idea of what its final score is going to be, and the rating I write down after five minutes is more often than not within one point of the final rating the game gets.  Five minutes into this game I wrote down “10”.  Half an hour later, despite not having made any more progress, it hadn’t changed.  After two hours, I have a few more reservations.

This is one of those games where the PC’s expressive personality results in a hyper-characterised voice while retaining a second-person perspective, so you get the benefit of Lottie’s internal monologue while still feeling involved in the action.  There’s the sense that she’s clinging desperately to conceits made fragile by the discovery of her own limitations, which is certainly an experience that I can identify with.

My favourite response? On trying to examine or pick up something that isn’t there:

There’s nothing like that here. You’d think Bridger would keep things around.

It’s nice to finally be able to play an unpleasant character who’s actually supposed to be unpleasant.  But then, everybody in Broken Legs is vain, or deceitful, or stupid, or all three.  In fact the plot twist hinges on the fact that the character you might have been rooting for could be the very worst of the lot.  If you were inclined toward the thoughtful consideration of such things you might find it misanthropic, or even misogynistic.  That’s an exaggeration, but Lottie’s worldview leaves little room for affection.

The other signs of high production values include the WHAT IS ___ feature which provides an idiot’s guide to the theatre plus a multilayered backstory, and a help system implemented in game by calling your parents on a cellphone.  It probably takes realism a little too far by making the “help” worse than useless, though.

All this means that it’s possible to develop a very high opinion of the game before getting round to solving the puzzles.  Oh Christ, the puzzles.  (And this is where I have to add the disclaimer: maybe I’m being thick, but…)  There’s a puzzle that requires a working knowledge of conservatory rehersal etiquette and an appreciation that automatic door-opening does not necessarily imply automatic door-closure.  There are timed puzzles that can only be calculated by counting how many turns they took from your unsuccessful transcript.  There’s the whole whacking-someone-with-a-music-stand thing.  I understand that it’s designed so the solution can be painfully teased out after many hours of unsuccessful playthroughs, but is that really what we’ve got time for in a tight 24-game schedule?

Still, it’s a glossy advert for interactive fiction as art and entertainment, and something I’ll be recommending to people long after this particular competition is over, which means on my rating system it deserves a 10.  Maybe.

Rating: Great
Next: zork, buried chaos

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