IFDB page: E-Mailbox
Final placement: 27th place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition
Well, if there’s a prize for shortest competition game, E-MAILBOX will win it hands down. Clocking in at just under ten minutes, it barely gets off the ground before telling you either that you’ve won or that you’ve just met your death by having your body’s cells torn apart from one another. Not much of a menu, but at least either way the end comes quickly. The game purports to be “A true story based on actual events that occurred to a real individual,” but is written in a broad, exaggerated tone that is probably meant to be burlesque. It’s funny, in a limited kind of way, but it’s hard for the game to do very much when it ends so quickly.
One thing that it does do well is proves that an AGT game can hold its own in a modern competition. E-MAILBOX is short, yes, but it’s fun while it lasts. I used Robert Masenten’s AGiliTy interpreter for the first time, and found that it produced output that was well-formatted, easy-to-read, and even sometimes (gasp!) aesthetically pleasing. The game achieves a few nice special effects — nothing that couldn’t have been done with Inform or TADS (I don’t know enough about Hugo to say one way or the other) but nothing to sneeze at either — and generally works imaginatively with the text format. Of course, one wonders whether E-MAILBOX was kept so short in order to disguise the limitations of its programming system. There is virtually no navigation within the game, and the very linear design prevents most parser experimentation. Thanks to the handy AGT counter, I know that E-MAILBOX has a grand total of 4 locations, some of which only respond to one command. This game is a brief bit of fun, but the jury’s still out on whether AGT can match up to more modern systems when it comes to more substantial works.
There are some interactive fiction games that are epic, and may take even a great player a three-day weekend to complete (without looking at any hints, of course). Then there are those which could take up a day or two, and those (many of the competition games, for instance) which might fill a long lunch break. Play E-MAILBOX over a 15 minute coffee break. You’ll have some fun and still have time for a brisk walk.
Prose: I found the prose in E-MAILBOX to be pretty over-the-top. As I say, I think it was intended as burlesque, but its outrageousness seems forced. It comes across as the prose of a voice which is promising, but has not quite fully matured. It’s not exactly the sophomoric arrogance of something like Zero Sum Game — more an overly sincere zaniness.
Plot: The plot is so short and simple that it’s hard to tell much without giving away the ending. Basically, it centers around trying to send an email message. (See, I told you: short and simple.)
Puzzles: Well, I never found anything that I thought really qualified as a puzzle. The actions necessary are either entirely obvious, or entirely obscure but well-prompted by the parser.
Technical (writing): I found no errors in E-MAILBOX‘s writing.
Technical (coding): As I said above, the game does a nice job for something so short. The author makes an AGT game fun to play, which in my experience is no small feat. A well-implemented piece of work, short work though it may be.
OVERALL: A 5.8