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Voices

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 13, 2007

Voices – An Interactive Romance, by Aris Katsaris, is a short game that was entered in SmoochieComp and was a finalist for best story in Xyzzy Awards 2001.

You play as St. Michael (although I think it was not revealed just who you are until the end), and your commands direct Jhenette to act. It was quite clear to me that Jhenette was Joan of Arc; a French peasant girl who hears voices and thinks them divine? Who else could it have been? So I was intrigued by the game.

There aren’t any puzzles, and there’s not really much chance to change anything that happens. You may choose whether to speak to Pierre in the first scene, although this doesn’t affect the story. Between scenes, the game switches to a conversation between various parties (God, the devil, St. Michael, Pierre), and your choices affect the outcome or the game. The scenes themselves are totally scripted–you continue talking or waiting until the scene is over, and then move to the intermission and thence to the next scene, until the game ends.

This lack of choice in how the game plays out might have been annoying in some games, but in this game it is not just fitting but necessary; as I understood it, the point of the game was that the characters had no choice: their action or inaction was beyond their control. I think this worked quite well.

So: three scenes, three conversations, and then the ending. It’s short enough that you can easily play it through several times to see all the endings, although they differ little.

The question, then: is it a good game? Perhaps. It’s amusing, anyway, and short enough that it’s no great loss if you don’t like it. It’s worth a try.

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At Wit’s End

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 11, 2007

I’ve been playing a bit of interactive fiction lately, so I thought I’d give a little review of one of the games I played: At Wit’s End by Mike Sousa (in particular, I played the competition version: “At Wit’s End (V1.00 9/30/2000) — Interactive Fiction by MjS (c) 2000. “).

In AWE, you are Jake Garrett, who plays center field for the Boston Red Sox. When the game opens, you are up to bat, and–of course–the game rides on your success. The first puzzle is fairly well hinted, I thought. If you fail to get it the first time, you do get a second chance, which is nice–and even losing is interesting: the message is “You have failed to be a hero”; very nice. Another interesting thing that I didn’t notice until a couple of scenes in is that replacing the usual score display in the upper right corner is an emotion display, which changes as does your situation, and dependent on your solution of the puzzles.

The game did a good job of pacing and keeping the player motivated through the first few puzzles, and they were easy enough to solve without needing to load saves–sometimes, perhaps a little too easy, but only a little. As well, the writing was reasonably good and the story sufficiently engaging to keep me interested.

However, it wasn’t without flaws. In the middle of the game (and the game is short–easily solved in a half hour if you don’t get side-tracked) there wasn’t quite enough hinting, I felt, to indicate which part of the puzzle I ought to be approaching next, so the game felt rather slow as I stumbled around trying to figure out just what should be done. As well, there was a puzzle whose solution was to eat; it was noted earlier that you are diabetic, and there are messages insisting that you are hungry and need to eat, but the food is just right there in the refrigerator, so it felt like nothing but a distraction.

But those are minor problems; removing the eating puzzle and tightening up the mid-game a bit would be easy and would answer most of my complaints. Unfortunately, there were several unintended random features that made the game annoying. A couple of items just kept disappearing from my inventory for no clear reason, which was frustrating. Also, after completing the game, I checked the walkthrough to see what the optimal ending was; but there was another bug that caused the optimal ending to be impossible to achieve unless you worked around it–I had to examine a person twice after completing the final puzzle, or the game proceeded as though I hadn’t completed it.

Looking at Baf’s Guide, I see that there was an updated release after the comp, so that probably addresses the unintended random features. If I’d checked there first, I’d have played it, but I just picked a random game from the set of comp games I’d downloaded ages ago. I also see that there is a sequel (or something), At Wit’s End Again, which was entered into IntroComp 2002 (and was second runner-up). I may try it later.

At Wit’s End got 17th place in the 2000 ifcomp; I have only played a few of the games from that competition, but I’d say that its rank is probably justified. I remember Ad Verbum, the 4th place game, particularly fondly. Still, AWE is worth a look for a short game: get At Wit’s End from Baf’s Guide.

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