Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Long Drink, by Owen Parks

The game was called A Long Drink. And I didn't expect to see the Kool-Aid Man. I expected plot twists, not twisty straws. And a murder, of course. And evidence pointing to the last guy you thought, even after considering the last guy you thought. I knew all about alcohol for its own sake, and what with the title, I hoped there was a little more to it than that. Secretly, I was hoping for gratuitous smoking. Especially indoors. Criminally under-represented these days.

So it began. A mysterious "accident." A woman named Val. A mysterious house. And the host dead upstairs. But I'd seen text adventures like this before. It would have to do something to get me interested.

It was the Trizbort map that did it. I'd never seen so many one-way doors in such a small area before. It looked like the house was a trap, then a bedroom. Perhaps that was where it ended. Not the basement.

The map was a false lead. The first ones always are. There was no way to get trapped. The safe-looking rooms had nothing, except for two companions with nothing to say. I let the author know--he seemed like a good type. I'd been there before, the unimplemented dialogue, the things you meant to say, even the defaults seeming hokey. But this mansion had class. It was forbidding, but it wasn't evil. You have enough to do, you don't ask many questions even if you do expect a response.

The hinting was good--almost too good. You just asked for it, and up popped basics you already knew with stuff you needed to know. A full screen. Almost too uxorious, ready to please. Hints you found, even if you'd just been skimming things. What to think of next. You got the benefit of the doubt, which always worried me in cases like that.

I took the chance to poke around. The game was late at night, and I was playing it, and I half expected to step on a marker like you saw in that Inception film when I took a break for some chow. But it was just a packet of Ramen noodles, one of those gross flavors I scooped up when I bought oone of each. Trying to be fair. See what it gets you?

The fella I was controlling had to hit the hay, and so did I, after a game of guess-the-noun returning to the scene of my "accident." Fortunately I knew my car parts. Fella can tie himself in knots that way, wondering if things were fair, or if he was forced to guess. A few more hints wouldn't have saved Alan Bowden from getting murdered anyhow.

I didn't realize I was so close to the solution--last night's half a pizza met its end before I got back to ticklin' the rectangular ebonies post-shut-eye. I got a little more than a tickle on walking back into the house, though. But I was able to act like I knew what happened, and act a little surprised, and feel like the mystery resolved itself about as good as it could've.

Fair play to the narrator fella--he owned up he missed a few things here and there. Good sport. Seems balanced enough. Not some dense computer screen jockey, but not some self-proclaimed starving poet. Gave me a good feeling, he was willing to fix the things not quite right. You have that sort of power, that's the least you need to do.

Oookay. Back to my normal narrative voice, this is a good debut that managed to interest me in a genre that has slightly wearied me a bit. I decided on my score(s) before talking to the author, but once I contacted him, he mentioned things he wanted to work on. I think he did a good job of getting experienced people to test the game and try stuff out and put him in a position where even more feedback can help him do what he wants with this game and the future. Implementations like the hint interface and a try at complex dialogue and even the Trizbort map (he used automapping, which caused the goofy one-way arrows) show that this person is not afraid to try risky stuff, but they seem to have the resources to make a game of it. I wish I'd been able to jump in as quickly and steadily when I started.

I don't know if this game will win any divisions in ParserComp, but I would see it as a clear upper-half IFComp game. And as you can guess from my (rare) gimmick review, I just liked it. It put me in a better mood than I expected, from a genre I'm not big on.

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