If sword-and-sorcery fantasy was the overused genre of the 1996 IF competition, I’m beginning to believe that virtual reality will win the honors for 1997. Of course, it’s not David Glasser’s fault that Comp97 scheduled his game to be played after several other VR-themed pieces on my list, but I can say that it took away some of the thrill for me to see yet another page from the VR handbook. The other unfortunate part of this is that VirtuaTech‘s use of VR is pretty humdrum: step inside your computer a la Planetfall, or alternately “VirtuaPhone” other entities, none of whom turn out to be characters. The game’s near-future milieu was reasonably interesting (though rather cliched), but it felt like a thin science-fictional sheen over what is basically a very simple college game — fix your computer and print out your paper to bring it to class.
As such, VirtuaTech isn’t bad. It’s short, easy, and inoffensive. There is some entertainment to be had from solving the game’s puzzles and exploring its limited geography, but it doesn’t deliver much in the way of excitement or thrills. The puzzles are mainly a matter of putting the right key in the right lock, and finding numbers to type on a variety of keypads. The game’s one slightly more interesting puzzle (opening the portal) I solved just by noodling rather than through any kind of inductive reasoning, so I wasn’t able to experience the pleasure of any great flash of insight.
On the plus side, there isn’t much particularly wrong with the game. The writing could be better, but it certainly works. The design is compact and efficient, and the setting as a whole is consistent and makes logical sense. There are very few bugs in the code (I only found one real problem), and the puzzles may be unimaginative, but they’re fair. Consequently, VirtuaTech turns out to be a pleasant way to spend 45 minutes or so.
Prose: There’s certainly a level of awkwardness to the prose in VirtuaTech. Many of the sentences are rather clunky, and the whole thing could use an edit for elegance and rhythm. However, I only rarely found myself confused by descriptions or situations, so the writing did its most important job: it conveyed the scene with accuracy and clarity.
Plot: The game’s plot is very, very simple, which is probably what makes it such a short game to play. [SPOILERS AHEAD] In fact, I was rather surprised that all I needed to do was to get the paper printed and to walk out the door. [SPOILERS END] When the winning message came up, I said “That’s it?” It was.
Puzzles: As mentioned above, the puzzles are pretty garden-variety. Lots of typing codes into keyboards or pushing the right button. Still, the puzzles all make sense within the game’s world, and there are no “guess-the-verb” or “read-the-designer’s-mind” puzzles to be found.
Technical (writing): I found a couple of grammar errors in the game, but nothing too egregious.
Technical (coding): There was only one bug in the game, and its effect on gameplay was negligible. A couple of verbs could have been better implemented, but solutions to these problems were also not hard to find.
OVERALL: An 8.0