Saturday, October 19, 2013

IFComp 2013 Reviews-- "Robin and Orchid"

IFComp is an annual competition for short works of interactive fiction. "Robin and Orchid" is a parser-based story written by Ryan Veeder & Emily Boegheim. I recognized both of the author's names from past works, so I expected something good from this.  Would it meet my high expectations?

Robin and Orchid are two high school news reporters locked-in the Methodist church over night to investigate a ghost sighting for their school paper.  Their teacher "Sharon" joins them, but falls asleep early in the narrative and so doesn't contribute much to their investigation.

"Orchid" is a member of the church and says she has already seen the ghost. You play "Robin" the other titular character, along to either confirm Orchid's ghost sighting or discover a more skeptical explanation. Since you are not a member of the church, your fellow reporter "Casey" has given you his notebook with copious information about every possible object and person related to the church.

The premise seemed kind of hokey to me at first, but I warmed to it as a played. As I was a childhood Methodist turned agnostic, this setting was familiar to me.  It could have been my church, during one of the countless church lock-ins I attended as a youth. I even remember similar ghost stories which were told by my own Sunday School contemporaries. In "Robin and Orchid", Casey's journal is full of amusing and sometimes cynical reflections about everything church-related. That could have been my journal. Ryan Veeder and Emily Boegheim, did you borrow my church journal to write your story? The story resonated for me as both amusing and sweetly nostalgic.

The writing itself is simple. The room descriptions are sparse. The upside of that is that nothing goes unimplemented. This is a solidly coded game. Every standard verb I tried gave an amusing non-standard response. Casey's journal is nearly comprehensive. I encountered no difficulties with the character interaction.

There are puzzles in this story, all solvable with the standard verbs. There is one cleverly implemented climbing puzzle which took me several minutes to solve and which gave me a sense of satisfaction I haven't felt from an IF puzzle in a long time. I got stuck on the final action in the game (the discovery) and resorted to the walkthrough. In retrospect, I gave up too easily.

There are some absurdities in this story. Why would the school paper get involved in a ghost siting at a church? Why would the church invite somebody who isn't a member to sleep overnight to investigate such a thing? But one misses some joy in game-playing when they spend too much time questioning absurdities. Perhaps the same thing can be said about joy and absurdities and churches.

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