Thursday, March 12, 2015

Endless Sands, by Hamish McIntyre

Endless Sands by Hamish McIntyre is, thankfully, not so endless. You, a recently new vampire, need to escape the desert before sunlight. But actual buildings where you could take refuge are roofless, occupied or locked, due to various slapstick reasons.

I suspect whether you enjoy this game depends on how much patience you have at the moment, so if it frustrates you, sit down, draw up a map, and come back again.

The game itself has 15 rooms. I was expecting a few more, maybe even alternate solutions based on the werewolf, the garlic tent, and the ghost you "make" (this contains the best humor of the game--a bit sad, a bit disturbing) but unfortunately the NPCs aren't really well fleshed out, and it's not even clear what to ask the werewolf. It just feels like it's there to block you, with a quick-fire joke that might be exasperating. The problem is that I didn't know if the NPC just wanted to block you, or you had other things to ask about.

However, the radio puzzle was much better put together. It's pretty clear where to find an antenna, then if you look some more, you can fix it to the radio. I also liked the random static puzzle, though undo-scumming kind of ruins it. My main problem was not pushing the lever after getting the colors right, which was me being flaky or not noticing.

And I just HAD to push the wrong button to see how I got killed. This speaks to the game's silly jokes working, overall, though some felt like a stretch and a needless smack-down, and some felt like jokes you'd heard before, but overall the game was pretty funny, so it could slide. This is a tricky one--some people panned the excellent In a Manor of Speaking for its occasional tone, or "Good gravy, you're a terrible conversationalist" on asking the wrong question, but others found it just right. I liked it. The author may need a few more passes to stabilize the goofy voice they want to achieve. I prefer IaMoS, and I think you should play it if you hadn't, since it harps on more general themes, and the humor is more honed, but this is good enough.

The big implementation problem is that non-turns cost a minute. This is okay if the player is trying to brute-force directions, but stuff like X TREE or other parser rejects shouldn't cost the player. It simply ups the pressure when you already have a time limit (about 250 moves.) When the game is named Endless Sands, this is a real worry!

So much so that I plowed through, assuming I'd run out of time before mapping everything. Then I waited around and got killed (worth it, and I like the slow foreshadowing as it gets later,) then planned a path to win.

The game feels very loose overall (many stylistic flaws that add up but don't ruin it) and if it's not super polished, it tries for a lot of jokes and funny bits. This roughness of style has some charm, but it also left me worrying the game would collapse. It didn't. But I am sure I missed some hidden jokes that'd be welcome. So maybe an AMUSING section or better clues would be neat for post-comp.

Also, for the code, Eric Eve's variable time extension would be worth a look. That way, parser rejects wouldn't cost a minute. And I bet the author could have fun with the rarer default commands. (IDE, index, actions.)

Overall I thought this was a more effective use of the vampire motif than Sunrise, maybe because it didn't take it seriously (and unfortunately, Twilight, which I found hysterical for the wrong reasons, has ruined taking it seriously--for me.) Plus I go in for cheap jokes over more social-change stuff. YMMV.

Also, in this, I enjoyed some of the odd questions you're glad someone asked (how do vampires match up with ghosts/werewolves?) and frustrations of the PC. I sort of wondered why I hadn't seen them before. So it certainly feels rough, and some of the jokes misfire, but I wonder if too much polish would ruin the game's effect. It feels too flippant at times, but it has enough intelligence and awareness that it pulls things off.

NOTE: this is a reaction to an initial successful play-through. I got into the hatch. I wasn't able to visit what Emily Short mentioned were other endings. Perhaps you can find them. I would be very interested, and I'll probably feel dumb once I see them, but I'm plowing through the other games at the moment.

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