IFDB page: Leaves
Final placement: 29th place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition
You might think that a game called Leaves would have something to do with leaves. You’d be wrong. The game’s actual theme is escape: you, as the main character, must escape from a heavily guarded complex. Who are you? It’s not clear. Where are you? It’s not clear. Why are you there? It’s not clear. Why do you want to escape? It’s not clear. What is clear is that Leaves isn’t much concerned with having a story, but rather with setting up a sequence of linear, one-solution puzzles, the completion of which leads to a full score but not much narrative satisfaction.
Now, by the author’s own admission, he came up with most of this stuff when he was fourteen, so the immaturity of the work is fairly understandable. In addition, Leaves is better than the only other ALAN game I’ve played, Greg Ewing’s Don’t Be Late from last year’s competition (though this may be due more to improvements in ALAN rather than any particular ingenuity on the part of the author of Leaves). Finally, since the author is Finnish, it may be that English isn’t his first language, which would help to explain the middling quality of the writing. However, all these considerations aside, the fact remains that this is an immature piece. There’s no story, the writing is mediocre, and several of the puzzles are based on a crude, adolescent fascination with sexuality.
On the positive side, ALAN was coded well. I found no bugs in the code, and although many synonyms were unusable (including an inability to substitute an adjective for a noun, though that may be the language’s design rather than the author’s failing) many surprising responses actually were anticipated. I’m hopeful that, since ten years have passed since Vuorinen came up with the design for Leaves, his abilities have grown. It would be wonderful to see him create the first really high-quality adventure in ALAN, since he clearly knows the language well enough to create a bug-free game.
Prose: There’s nothing particularly wrong with the prose in Leaves. Overall, it’s really quite serviceable. Of course, there’s nothing particularly wonderful about it either. Really, the main thing that the prose fails to do is to give a stronger sense of story. Room and object descriptions in IF can be used to create a marvelously vivid narrative which slowly accretes as the story is explored. The prose in Leaves doesn’t do this. Rather, it provides brief, functional descriptions which never transcend their basic, practical level.
Plot: Well, there isn’t much of a plot to speak of in Leaves. You are imprisoned for some reason, and must escape. Outside of your prison is a forest, inhabited by one poorly drawn character, a cow, and a big rock. Past this, there’s the obligatory underground maze, strewn with a couple of artifacts which the game does not bother to attempt explaining. This is less a plot than a string of dimly conceived settings, each serving as nothing more than a stepping-stone to the next.
Puzzles: The puzzles in Leaves range from the nonsensical (directions which can’t be taken, no explanation given) to the simple (cut wires with a wire-cutter.) For the nonsensical ones, there’s nothing to do but try the limited number of options at hand; pretty soon you’ll hit on the right one. For the simple ones, the answer is pretty much the same, except fewer alternatives need be tried.
Technical (writing): Impressively, I found no grammatical or spelling errors in this game. The same can’t be said for many competition games penned by native English speakers.
Technical (coding): The game was also bug-free. It would be wonderful to see a well-designed game coded with this much care.
OVERALL: A 5.6