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Spring Thing 2011: Hallow Eve

20 Apr

This is the kind of game that is always a bit difficult for me to review. It actually represents a success story of sorts for IF outreach: its author, Michael Wayne Phipps Jr., tells us that he just recently learned about the IF community, and now he’s had the opportunity to make a game he’s been “wanting to create for over a decade.” There’s certainly a lot of enthusiasm on display here, and there’s also quite a lot of ambition; Phipps claims there to be nine different endings. I just wish the game was, well, a little bit better.

This is a horror story in the Wes Craven mold: hot chicks, beer, campfires, the obligatory Baddies from Beyond, that sort of thing. It seems like we’ve been getting quite a lot of titles in this genre recently, a genre that I have to admit is not really my favorite. Yet I can only wish the problems I had with this one were down to personal preferences. I’m afraid this game fails on just about every level. To wit:

I had problems with the writing. While Phipps does show a certain eye for detail in places, the writing in general is unpolished and amateurish. The dialog is often painfully stilted and confused. Why for instance does Lola suddenly start to call Steve, a guy she just started to get friendly with, “baby?” I haven’t been a teenager for a while, but is it really normal for 16-year old girl to use that term on the guy she just started to flirt with? Phipps spends a lot of words describing the physical attributes of the three girls, which is par for the course with this genre, so fair enough — but do his descriptions have to read like an exercise in taxidermy?

I had problems with the parser. Oh, boy, did I have problems with the parser. Here’s a typically fun exchange:

>open window
It’s stuck!

>open window with knife
That doesn’t seem to be something you can unlock.

>x window
You see nothing special about the window.

>break window
You have to specify what you want to hit it with.

>hit window with knife
You can’t see any such thing.

>i
You are carrying:
a butcher knife
a lighter
a sharp tent stake
a bottle
a battery-powered lantern (providing light)
a can of WD-50
a wristwatch (being worn)
clothes (being worn)
a blue key

>hit window with stake
You can’t see any such thing.

>break window with stake
You can’t see any such thing.

>break window
You have to specify what you want to hit it with.

>knife
That’s not a verb I recognise.

>use knife on window
That’s not a verb I recognise.

>open window with stake
That doesn’t seem to be something you can unlock.

>break window with knife
You can’t see any such thing.

>put wd-50 on window
Putting things on the window would achieve nothing.

>spray wd-50 on window
I didn’t understand that sentence.

>spray wd-50
What do you want to spray the can of WD-50 with?

>spray window with wd-50
You spray the cracks of the window with WD-50 liberally. You’ve used up the last of the WD-50, so you toss the can into the woods.

I had problems with the overall design. The game features a maze, or at least something perilously close to one. There are objects and puzzles scattered willy-nilly all over the landscape without much rhyme or reason, and just to add that final touch of aggravation there’s a time limit. Solving this one would require lots of planning, mapping, dying, and note-taking. That’s okay in one sense; there’s certainly still a place for puzzly old-school IF. (As a matter of fact, I’d love to see a little more of it.) But the old-school approach feels at odds with the heavily story-driven piece that the game also seems to want to be, with the multiple endings and all, while the general shoddiness of the whole structure made me reluctant to approach it as a serious puzzle-solving exercise. I’m just not willing to invest a lot of effort into a puzzle game if I don’t have faith that every problem I encounter is indeed a puzzle and not a bug, nor if I’m not sure whether I actually hit upon the correct solution to this or that conundrum hours ago and just didn’t phrase it in the One True Way that the parser requires.

I could go on to talk about things like the nonexistent conversation options that you leave hovering about your companions like a ghost rather than interacting with them, or the zombie that doesn’t actually chase you unless you go in one specific direction, but I’ve probably already said too much. I don’t doubt that Mr. Phipps thought he was submitting a really great game, and this review and the many others like it must feel like a slap indeed. Still, IF, like any creative endeavor, requires craft as well as enthusiasm. Maybe this babe in the woods can learn from this experience and come back with something more worthwhile soon. Indeed, from its over-ambition to its lack of testing this is a veritable catalog of first-timer mistakes. As Sam Kabo Ashwell noted, “everyone writes My First Crappy Game; the fortunate never release them.” Well, Mr. Phipps, at least now you have an idea where the bar is.

I give it half a point for enthusiasm and ambition, and half a point because my buddy Fred’s identifying a bra he found as “probably about her size” (referring to Brenda, one of the girls who had just gone missing at that point) I found pretty hilarious. That makes…

Score: 2

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 20, 2011 in Interactive Fiction, Modern Times

 

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3 Responses to Spring Thing 2011: Hallow Eve

  1. Eriorg

    April 21, 2011 at 3:31 am

    A very minor detail, but it’ll make it easier to link to your reviews from the IFWiki or elsewhere if you fix it: there’s a mistake in the tag of this post (“2001” instead of “2011”).

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      April 21, 2011 at 5:36 am

      Woops… thanks! I’ll fix it.

       
  2. jizaboz

    January 19, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Version 2 of this was released a while back that addressed many issues reviewers pointed out in the Spring Thing release. One thing that was not changed though ironically enough is the window. I never intended someone to try to smash it and should have probably put in some mistake messages about not wanting to damage property or the noise.

     

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