So you’ve played the plundering adventurer. You’ve been the mage, and the detective, and the stellar patroller. You’ve stepped into the shoes of priests, tourists, English lasses, time travelers, and picnic-weary bridge-lovers. You’ve even played a dog. Time for A Bear’s Night Out (hereafter called ABNO), which puts you into the persona of one of the most unlikely heroes ever seen in IF: a teddy bear. The game is based around a magical “Velveteen Rabbit” premise — when the humans fall asleep, the stuffed animals get up to roam the house. When the night comes, you must set to work, gathering various objects so that your owner, who is perfectly wonderful but somewhat disorganized, will be ready to take you to the Teddy Bear Picnic tomorrow. This charming idea is carried out with aplomb by ABNO‘s lovely prose. The author has obviously taken a great deal of care to ensure that everything from room descriptions to library messages assist in constructing the player character, a cuddly, fuzzy teddy bear owned by some fellow named David. For example, to the command “jump”, the game responds “Full marks for cute and furry, but none for achievement.” This kind of care with implementation really helps a player become immersed in the setting and the characters.
Interestingly, ABNO bills itself as “An Interactive Children’s Story.” Perhaps this is from some misconception that playing a teddy bear is an activity suitable only for children. Whatever the reason is for the description, I think it’s a mistake; the difficulty of its puzzles makes ABNO a mighty tough game for kids. This is not to say that the story’s content is unsuitable for children in any way — it certainly is not. However, several of the puzzles had me stumped, and I suspect the same would be true for the majority of kids who encountered them. Some of these difficulties are due to some missing verbs: [SPOILERS AHEAD] for example, one of the crucial puzzles in the game requires you to ride the cat, but the word “ride” isn’t implemented. [SPOILERS END] Other puzzles are difficult, well, just because they’re difficult. Many key elements of the game are unreachable without first solving several interrelated puzzles, none of which by themselves are enough to significantly advance the story. The game provides a fine hint system, and its puzzles are logical and fit well into the story. However, the textual clues that surround them still fall a bit short of sufficiency; several of the messages given by the game fail to indicate the significance of the particular actions as well as they should.
This point aside, ABNO is a delightful game. It is well-written and, for the most part, well-coded, including a number of details which serve to enrich the childlike, enchanted game world. For example, the television runs a very funny infomercial for a hardware z-chip, to turn your computer into “the interactive fiction machine of your dreams!” The cat’s random event routines create an endearing illusion of feline unpredictability. Judiciously chosen box quotes enhance the game’s sense of magic and wonder. Finally, perhaps the best touch of all, all the elements of the full score are written alliteratively: “furry fashion” for wearing your coat, “kindness to kittens” for petting the cat, etc. The combined result of all these details is a world well worth visiting by children and adults alike.
Prose: ABNO‘s prose is without a doubt its best feature. The writing strikes just the right tone, soft and forgiving, much like the game’s protagonist. The author clearly understands how much the game’s prose serves to shape the main character. For example, describing the door leading outside as “A tall and forbidding locked door” performs several functions in one concise phrase: “Tall” reminds us that we are playing a short teddy bear, to whom ordinary objects seem quite imposing. “Forbidding” reminds us that our character is used to the home — the outside world is large and scary. And of course “locked” lets us know that we won’t be getting through it without a key. The game’s prose is full of this kind of well-crafted prose. Bravo.
Plot: Here the game falters just a tiny bit. The idea of playing a teddy bear is great, but the plot of gathering items for the picnic doesn’t lend much of a sense of urgency to the game. It’s sweet, and it serves, but it doesn’t propel the narrative with much strength. Instead, it seems more of an excuse to take our furry protagonist around the various areas of the house so that we can experience them at a bear’s eye view.
Puzzles: [SPOILERS AHEAD] As discussed above, the puzzles aren’t terrible or unfair or irrational, but some of them are a bit illogical (an answering machine crashing to the floor fails to wake my owner?), and others are somewhat counterintuitive (a soft little teddy bear can hit a pipe with enough force to dislodge the sludge that gravity isn’t affecting?). [SPOILERS END] In addition, as I mentioned some of the puzzles aren’t really as well-clued as they should be. At their core, the puzzles are good, but they could use another round of testing to iron out the kinks.
Technical (writing): I found no technical errors in the game’s writing.
Technical (coding): Aside from the fact that “ride” should have been implemented as a verb, the game’s implementation was quite solid.
OVERALL: An 8.3