Thursday, April 17, 2014

Weekend at Ruby's, by Liam Butler

This is a Quest game about finding the phone number of a girl you met at a party.

It's a party in a big house, and that means lots of locations to search for said lost number. I have to admit that games about parties automatically start with me a bit biased, because I've put up with my share of parties upstairs and downstairs while trying to read. Nevertheless, the game does have some nice maps to help you get around and a relatively robust, if sticky, hint system.

I didn't complete the game, but it's obviously got a lot of care put into it. It's just the sort that doesn't have specific knowledge of how to write a game, which is more subjective than Writing Good Code.

And while it isn't just about being the life of the party (which would be vulgar) it does give the feeling of a Cool Bro trying to help you to be as cool as you can. And unfortunately the initial task of tracking down a girl's phone number gets pushed to the back by too much improbable stuff. I've long since given up any pretense of wanting to be a partying sort of guy, or even going to one, or of even feeling obliged to find Big-Party movies or sitcoms remotely entertaining. I'm not morally opposed to drug literature--I found Reefer Madness hilarious, and Martin Amis's Success and Money are two of my favorite books--but maybe those have turned me off to more earnest works even more.

I like a good unreliable pugnacious narrator--I just don't like him sounding like Dane Cook or Tucker Max. (Or like someone trying to sound like them.) And general subversion is a-ok with me, too. I've always found the process of getting and making fake ID's more interesting than actually using them. I just think that the audience for Spring Thing is not the audience for a game like this & it doesn't have much beyond the big party house to justify a deeper look if/when the player gets bogged down.

With issues below combined with Quest's slowness even playing off-line, I got fatigued. I think the author and programmer made a mistake not including a straight walkthrough, and if the competition rules allow, I would submit one. I hope they're able to fix the bigger bugs (as of 4/17,) too. I suspect the bugs are easy to fix but tough to find. That these bugs pop up despite obvious programming effort  may be a weakness of Quest in general (I don't know if it allows testing commands) or of people not having experience testing it and thus not knowing how to keep them under control efficiently.

That said, this game does take measures against you being a jerk in general, although sometimes the narrative voice can get abrasive, especially the unfortunate introduction which supplies some fratty humor that foreshadows the rest of the game, as well as a riffing on the game seeming to pause. Which isn't funny after downloading 48MB of stuff for a system that can be slow (Quest.)

After that, the game starts promisingly enough--and it tracks stuff like your objectives very well. This shows a lot of technical skill, though having to fetch a beer is kind of tedious if logical. (Go to the kitchen.) This sets in motion what feels like a checklist of other stimulants to try. Cigarette. Valium. Shots. Someone steals your beer. The party atmosphere feels a bit fuzzy and you never feel really alone or like talking to people. The error messages also grated on me after a bit--yes, it's neat to riff on questions you ask in a relationship, but when I'm trying to figure what to do, it's not helpful.

Also, I groaned at having to use the verb STRAWPEDO BEER, especially when STRAWPEDO gave the regular needly error message. The game is kind enough to list verbs specific to this game, so you can't get lost too badly, but unfortunately, I quickly turned to lawn mowering. This got a bit awkward in the smoking area where there were five people--more than in the rest of the house combined.

However, there's a bit more than stoner or anti-stoner humor (the game seems to draw the line at LSD, though random stealing--another thing I never found terribly fun, though other teens at a house party did it--seems OK.) And while I loathe foosball thanks to a room at work, figuring a way to win is kind of clever (despite involving drugs the game forces you to take) and getting your beer stolen (which made me groan) brings up some interesting dialogue.

The hints also deserve a mention--the game flags particularly revealing ones, costing you (eventually) points off your score. While this requires a lot of menu fiddling, and it can be bypassed with a reload, it's nevertheless well done so you don't reveal anything drastic. I'd have liked it in-game, more. Like after 15 moves, you wonder about X or Y or Z.

This sort of game really gives all sorts of 'first effort' flags, and I hope my review is not too discouraging. But I was irked by the frattiness of the humor and the "what drugs do we crave this turn" feel. This happens to a lot of first-time authors, and it may be disappointing for them to see this. But the next game will go smoother if they have a good idea.

(Game-crushing bugs: I managed to make the Windows interpreter eep out when I declined a cigarette or tried to get hints how to get lemon and salt. This seems like a problem with Quest--while it's a clear bug, the game should be able to recover gracefully. Nevertheless it's the programmer's burden to figure these bugs out and pay extra attention to eradicating them. The authors know of this and indicated they will fix them. I think that's a Very Good Thing.)

1 comment:

  1. A very helpful review.

    The image of a guy trying to read an IF game about a chaotic party upstairs at his computer while a chaotic party is happening downstairs is hilarious!

    I share your dislike of parties. I'm not willing to let go of my inhibitions around other people. I can enjoy IF set in the party scene, partly because it's an aspect of social life that I'm almost completely unfamiliar with. However, there's no shortage of IF party games, and I don't have the time or interest to play another mediocre one.