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The Land Beyond The Picket Fence by Martin Oehm [Comp96]

IFDB page: The Land Beyond the Picket Fence
Final placement: 14th place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

Picket is a gently whimsical fantasy without much of a plot, whose main interesting feature is its interface. I haven’t played much DOS executable IF before (Inform, TADS, and Infocom games seem to monopolize my time), and it was an interesting experience to play a piece of IF in different colors from my normal white letters on blue background. The different colors of background and text lent a distinctive mood to the piece, and the effectiveness of this technique makes me realize some of the special effects we sacrifice in the name of platform independence. A small sacrifice, perhaps, but a pity nonetheless. As to the content of the game, it was basically average — nothing too irritating or pointless, but nothing astounding or groundbreaking either. It provided a pleasant hour’s entertainment, with a few jarring moments where the prose deviated from standard English. All in all, an enjoyable if unspectacular game.

Prose: There were a few moments in the prose where it was clear that the writer did not speak English as a first language, but the fact that those moments were noticeable as exceptions to the general trend means that overall the writer did a fine job of writing in an unfamiliar language. The descriptions were sometimes a little thin, especially with the game’s two NPCs, but in general the fairytale fantasy mood was well-evoked by the writing.

Difficulty: I found this game’s difficulty to be pitched a bit below average. I never needed to look at the hints, and felt that I progressed through the narrative at a satisfactory pace. I finished the game in a little under an hour, which may mean that it was a little too easy if a two-hour playing time was intended (I’m certainly not the quickest IF player, as earlier reviews may indicate). However, I never felt disappointed with anything being “too easy” — easier than usual, perhaps, but never to an annoying degree.

Technical (coding): There were a few coding problems, and in fact one fatal bug which first made some of my possessions disappear after a restore and then kicked me out of the game altogether. Also, some fairly common verbs (“throw”, and the “character, command” mode of interaction) were not implemented, which was a little disappointing. Aside from these problems, the coding was smooth and relatively bug-free.

Technical (writing): As I mentioned above, there were a few instances of awkward grammar which indicated that the writer was not quite comfortable enough with English to sound like a native writer. The problems were relatively infrequent, and had less to do with spelling or grammar errors than with awkward or unusual constructions.

Plot: Well, the only plot here was a basic “find the object” quest, though cast in much less epic/heroic terms than usual, which was refreshing. There wasn’t much of a sense of unfolding narrative, and many objects were either totally unexplained (the key to the gnome’s treasure room tied around a swan’s neck with a red ribbon? How did that happen?) or so convenient as to be ridiculous (how handy that the scientist just happens to have a powerful fungicide that can kill the problematic mushrooms!), causing the game to feel less like a plotted story than an excuse for stringing puzzles together.

Puzzles: The puzzles were rather average pieces, some quite derivative (the “key tied around an inaccessible animal’s neck” is of course a direct crib from Zork II.) The ordinariness of the puzzles contributed to the game’s low level of difficulty — they weren’t too difficult to solve, because they seemed quite familiar, and those that weren’t derivative were of the “just-happen-to-have-the-perfect-item” type.


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