Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Guttersnipe" and "Behind the Door". A review of two Quest games

"Guttersnipe: St Hesper's Asylum for the Criminally Mischievous" by Bitter Karella and "Behind the Door" by eejitlikeme are both Quest games written for the 2017 Interactive Fiction competition.

These are two of the three games written for this year's competition in Quest. Despite the somewhat limited popularity of this platform, there are a lot of good things to say about it from the player's perspective. I like the automatic mapping that shows up in "Guttersnipe" and in Bitter Karella's previous entry "Night House". I like the hybrid of typed input and menu driven input that seems to be the default in Quest games. "Behind the Door" allows no typed input but even without that, "Behind the Door" gives the player an illusion of having a wider freedom of choices than the standard CYOA hyper-link game will offer.

What I don't like about Quest is the instability of on-line play. There is a time limit for online play, which feels even more onerous if the player has not logged in with a Quest account. The games tend to stop or crash at the most inopportune moments. In one case the Quest interpreter crashed while I was reading the final paragraph of the end game for "Guttersnipe". Fortunately I had a recently saved backup and was able to return to the same end fairly quickly.

Individual game reviews following the break.

"Behind the Door" has one or two interesting puzzles, but feels strangely old fashioned in its failure to create a sense of character or authentic motivation for the player. The author may even be jokingly aware of this weakness. Why would the PC pick up random objects in stranger's house? The text explains:

You take the marble ball and drop it in your pocket, hoping you will need it at some point

You put your hand in the cold water and pick up the jar. How many things do you have to carry with you to get out of here?

There hardly even felt like a reason to be in the house in the first place and on the first play-through I chose not to enter. That choice ended (and locked) the game on the second turn, without option to restart or undo. Seems like a risky design choice. Not every player will be persistent enough to reload the game or refresh the browser.

"Guttersnipe" is a larger more professionally written game with a well characterized protagonist and clear motivation. You are an urchin, trapped in an institution, trying to escape (and also trying to elevate your status from Garbagetown's second most wanted urchin to the first). The game is comedy, but a somewhat different style than I expected from the blurb. It's a little darker than expected, set in an asylum filled with ghouls, mad children and torture devices from a less enlightened era of mental health history. The puzzles are surreal but not illogical. Sometimes if you have the right item in the right location the puzzles seem to solve themselves. But the landscape is so large, it may be hard to guess which location to tackle next. There also seem to be some red herrings, although I have not gone back to the walk through to see if perhaps I missed an alternate solution.  Overall, just a really fun game.

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