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Small World by Andrew Pontious [Comp96]

IFDB page: Small World
Final placement: 4th place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

I really enjoyed this game a great deal, and it definitely gets points for originality. The literalized version of the game’s title made for a charming premise, and because the premise was so heavily based on setting, the brand of fantasy which resulted was perfect for interactive fiction. Wandering through the miniaturized world was really a treat, although sometimes I found it difficult to retain my suspension of disbelief, especially since some of the obstacles to my progress seemed just a little too arbitrary. For example, the inventory management problem caused by the lack of gravity in the majority of the game’s locations was a major pain in the neck. I didn’t feel that I was doing anything clever or solving an intellectual challenge when I had to trudge back to Dawn anytime I wanted to get something from the backpack. Puzzles like this, which tended toward the arbitrary, were the game’s weakness. From the weak gravity problem to the “loose ring” to the capricious magic rod, the game took advantage of its whimsical setting to create puzzles which were irrational and divorced from reality, and failed to provide enough hints and description to make them reasonably solvable. On the other hand, some puzzles (such as the satellite/snow puzzle and the lagoon) did a very nice job of exploiting the game’s scenario to witty ends. On the whole, Small World was a delightfully well-written game which has a few flaws, but is nevertheless lots of fun.

Prose: The prose which describes the world is very well done indeed, and much of the time I really felt a part of the situation because of how well the world’s Lilliputian proportions were described. The game obviously draws heavily on Gulliver’s Travels, especially in its description of the player staked to the ground by tiny people, and though it shares none of Swift’s social commentary, it does convey a distinct sense of his imaginative milieu. The main weakness in the prose related to the puzzles. In puzzles such as the loose ring and the rod, I didn’t feel that enough description was provided to allow me to reasonably predict the outcomes of my actions, and consequently I ended up solving some puzzles by force. (e.g. how would I know that something made of silver would buoy me?)

Difficulty: I found the game rather difficult, and ended up referring to the “cheat” hints a number of times (13, or so I’m told by the game). Unfortunately, much of this reliance was due to the lack of information described above or, in one case, to a lack of synonyms. When these features are improved, the game’s difficulty will be well pitched.

Technical (coding): There’s little to complain about in the coding of Small World, so I hope my quibble doesn’t receive undue focus. On the whole the game was very smoothly implemented, and I never found myself searching for the right word, except for once. Of particular note were the game’s warnings before moving to an unsolvable state, and its ingenious hinting system. The one area in which I had trouble was in receiving the “that verb isn’t implemented” response to “CLEAN SOCKS.” When that verb wasn’t available, I presumed I was on the wrong track altogether, not that I simply needed to “WASH” the socks instead. It took a “cheat” to get me out of that one.

Technical (writing): The game’s writing was technically proficient. Mr. Pontious does a nice job of eliminating errors in grammar and spelling.

Plot: The plot of the game was really quite sweetly designed, creating a childhood fantasyland which was evocative not only of Jonathan Swift, but also C.S. Lewis’ Narnia works, Lewis Carroll, and Bill Watterson. The battles between Heaven and Hell were a very nice touch, and I smiled at the gentle ending, which packs the character off to the hiking trip with a refreshed perspective.

Puzzles: This is my main difficulty with the game. As I mentioned above, some of the puzzles were really delightful and smart, while others felt a bit lazy. I think, though, that with the addition of richer descriptions for crucial objects such as the ring and the pipe (whose mechanism is mysterious to me even now), and with a closer attention to synonyms, these wrinkles will be well-ironed.

OVERALL — An 8.8

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