Piece of Mind by Giles Boutel [Comp96]

IFDB page: Piece of Mind
Final placement: 16th place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

This story seemed to struggle to find its voice, vacillating between the chilling (the voice in the boxes), the satirical (the copyright man), and the bubblegum epic (participating in the adventures of Jeff Steele, Galactic Hero, and battling the Chromium Knight). The writing never seemed to settle into one style, and as a result the entire work felt disjointed, as it was not the result of a unified vision, but rather a collection of “wouldn’t this be neat?” concepts, halfheartedly strung together. The other lasting impression left by the game is one of frustration, since a bug prevents players from winning. Consequently, although Piece has some interesting moments, it fails as a whole.

Prose: Lots of the writing was really quite winning, and provided several nice moments of humor (the improvised songs) and drama (the opening sequence). I just wish the story could decide what it wanted to be, because the amalgam lacked an overarching purpose. One final note about the prose: I found several of the puzzles quite difficult because the room description seemed to belie the character’s willingness to do the action necessary to solve the puzzle. Examples are smashing the television and touching the computer screen. I think that room descriptions play a very complicated role in defining the character’s traits, and while the contradicting room descriptions were an interesting experiment, they didn’t work for me in this case. Perhaps if I’d gotten more sense of desperation, or if the character-defining traits (“I’ve managed to avoid smashing it so far.”) were described in less of an offhand way, I’d be more inclined to lead the character to do things that it is described as wanting to resist.

Difficulty: Due to the phenomenon described above, I found myself consulting the walkthrough quite often. Of course, then there’s the separate issue of the game’s unsolvability. Frustratingly, this bug sets the difficulty at “impossible.”

Technical (coding): Having a game-killing bug prevents Piece from getting a high score on coding. Apart from the fact that the game is unwinnable, I found the coding to be pretty smooth, although I think Inform is capable of handling things more smoothly. For example, when walking into the copyright office without clothes, the game should prevent the player from entering rather than allowing entrance only to revoke it.

Technical (writing): The writing was relatively free of typos (though I think I noticed one in one of the box quotations, unless the author is playing subtly on the meaning of the = sign.) and grammatically correct.

Plot: Well, I’m not sure I ever really understood the plot, since I never got to see the endgame. The concept of a character who is aware it is being controlled is an interesting one, and I think one with great potential. Unfortunately, that potential is not realized here, due to the game’s schizophrenic approach.

Puzzles: As mentioned above, the structure of the room descriptions made some of the puzzles quite difficult. Others, though, had their share of wit and pizzazz. I especially enjoyed the copyright man.


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