IF Comp ’09 – Richard Bos’ Eruption!October 13, 2009
I’m playing Eruption next because it really, really pissed Conrad Redacted off, and I want to know why. (Conrad, while I don’t think he’s a bad dude, does not strike me as having the world’s baldest trigger, but damn, man, “donkey headed jackass?” I gotta see what that’s about. Also, aren’t most jackasses donkey-headed by defi-no wait nothing I said nothing please don’t hit me)
Mostly Spoiler-Free Upshot: Well, it wasn’t an exciting game, but I can’t really be angry at it, and actually wrote sort of a defense of it near the end there without entirely intending to. I guess I just felt sort of bad for Richard Bos, who I don’t think was trying to enter this game “to show his contempt for all scoring-worse-than-average game writers.” I think he just wanted to write a not-very-interesting game with some mild puzzles and no egregious bugs or spelling errors and submit it to the comp.
When I first read Conrad’s post, I thought Bos had done something really snarky and actively mean to first-time IF authors, but it seems all he’s done is make a game that conveys not much of a story and is not art, only he had the audacity to spell everything correctly, which I think Conrad is taking as a “fuck you” to games that might have interesting stories but are riddled with egregious implementation errors. I really don’t think Richard Bos meant to hurt anyone with his wanton acts of spellchecking, and I think maybe we should all calm down and eat a muffin. Man, I wish I had a muffin. Anyway. Drama.
Update: Oh, I missed a bit in the help text that explained how Richard Bos intended this as a demonstration of the minimum technical requirements for a competition entry. That would probably alter my opinion of it and lengthen this rant, except it’s almost 10 AM (very late for me these days) and all I can think is “fix your bloody map, then, Jesus.”
[spoilers explode off of the page below!]
Starts with a quote from Hamlet. I have no idea how to feel about that and so am remaining neutral.
Well, as of right now, I’m sort of bored. Amazingly so, in fact, since the game just started and there are clearly things to go look at, like that shack over there. Also I am on a tropical island, I think, which is not my usual state and should be rather exciting. “You wake up hungover in a cave with no idea what’s going on” is not a terrible hook, either, it just sort of… fails to serve as one, perhaps due to the stark flat prose.
In the rock to the southwest is your cave
Wait, if I’m not in the habit of sleeping in caves, why is it “my cave?” Have I given it a name? If I haven’t, I’m going to. I shall call it Cavey. Say hello to the readers, Cavey! Shake hands!
Where is the volcanic rumbling? I was told there would be volcanic rumbling.
As you descend into the crater, the environment makes you remember why you were drinking yesterday. It had been predicted that the volcano was going to erupt soon, probably today.
That’s actually sort of hilarious, in an Arthur Dent kind of way.
At this point the Island Path, running around the foot of the volcano to the west over the promontory to the southeast, crosses a small stream which runs from the slopes of the mountain to the south down into the sea[.]
Your typical IF player has no idea how to parse that sentence, because our brains are on autopilot scanning for exits. Which way is the sea? Or, for that matter, the stream? Oh, hey, there’s a path to the east! We’ll have that one, then.
Wait, the breadfruit grove to the north? I just left that breadfruit grove from the east! Sure, it’s probably a large breadfruit grove that extends both to my north and to my east, but anything outside standard IF location conventions breaks my damn brain. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if the breadfruit grove were said to be to my north and east, but it’s not, just the north of me.
Uh. And I went north, and wound up back in the breadfruit grove, then went west, and wound up back in the harbour. THIS IS TRIPPING ME OUT MAN
Oh, good, a crusty note from my crusty friend, who at least left me a sailboat before he and everyone else abandoned me on a doomed island. Did no one think to look in Cavey? He’s only got one room!
I don’t know if you’ve ever sailed there, but if not, the Southern Islands are, surprisingly enough, due south.
Jack thinks he’s being wry here, but considering the breadfruit grove debacle, that actually is kind of surprising.
Y’know, in real life I would never have this problem, which I have all the time in games: do you escape the doomed whatnot right away, or do you investigate it first to make sure you haven’t missed anything, because you probably won’t be able to go back? I feel like the second impulse, which would be absolutely idiotic in real life, is nearly always the correct one in games. That actually sort of bothers me now that I’m thinking about it.
No Islander in his right senses would consider going out on the sea without a decent supply of drinking water. You might die of thirst, surrounded by water!
Yeah, that really would suck a lot, huh. “Hey, water?” “Fuck you, I’m salty.”
I have no idea what this broken altar to Machichouti is going to be useful for, but if the answer is “nothing,” I’ll be very surprised.
…y’know, you could’ve mentioned I’d need something to eat when you were telling me I’d need something to drink. Granted, I probably could’ve worked that one out for myself if I’d thought about it, but still.
It was nice of them to leave me a single ripe breadfruit. I hope it’s enough to keep me from dying on the ocean.
Oh. Okay. That was it. Not terribly exciting, but I don’t think I could work up any sort of anger over it… well, I could over the map thing, if I tried really hard – when I go west I generally expect to be able to go back east and be back where I was – but I’m not sure I can actually be angry with it for failing to express – hey, what was up with that quote from Hamlet? – anything, or be art, or whatever – hey, that broken altar didn’t have a purpose after all! Consider me surprised!
I dunno, man. The game might not have been saying much, but it wasn’t entirely a void: the Jack character was almost two-dimensional, and the “No islander would” failure message gave me a sense of my character living on this island, learning the customs, adopting the identity, trying to fit in as well as possible, even though it was never explicitly stated that I was a foreigner. (Cue the Mooninites to make “Double Vision” jokes.)
Yeah. You know, when it comes down to it, choosing between games that say nothing competently and games that might be saying something but you have no idea what it is, because the thing is unplayable, is like deciding whether you’d rather listen to some boring guy talk about the weather or an unmedicated schizophrenic dude who mostly speaks in Black Chinese, a language he invented that shorts out wiretapping devices on contact, talk about… probably something. The second guy might be more interesting in the hypothetical, but functionally it doesn’t matter. (He might even be talking about the weather also, it’s just that things sound so much more interesting in Black Chinese.) The first dude has at least demonstrated that, if he ever thought of something interesting to say, he would be able to communicate it clearly and distinctly, as he does the weather. If they teamed up, of course, together they would be the most fascinating person at any given party, or, to de-analogize clunkily, a comp-winning IF game. Having something to say and being able to say it are both important, therefore competent implementation is important, therefore this game is not, I would argue, worthless.
That being said, it wasn’t all that great. I’ll give it a four.