in Comp98

I Didn’t Know You Could Yodel by Michael R. Eisenman and Andrew J. Indovina [Comp98]

IFDB page: I Didn’t Know You Could Yodel
Final placement: 24th place (of 27) in the 1998 Interactive Fiction Competition

If you enjoyed Dan McPherson’s My First Stupid Game, you’re sure to love I Didn’t Know You Could Yodel. Yodel is much larger and better programmed than My First Stupid Game, but the writing and the puzzles are at about the same level. For example, McPherson’s game featured a time limit imposed by the need to pee — in Yodel, unhappy bowels are the feature attraction. However, where the former ended once you had relieved yourself (onto a picture of Barney the dinosaur, no less), the latter is just beginning. Flushing a toilet is the gateway to sprawling vistas of strange riddles, terse descriptions (interspersed with broad cut-scenes), and mostly-nonsensical plot developments. I’m generally not a big fan of the kind of “Dumb and Dumber” humor with which Yodel is permeated. In addition, I found the first puzzle both irritating and illogical. (A key falls off a bookshelf, but it’s not on the floor! Where is it? In the next room! Why? Who knows?) Consequently, I gave up and started using the walkthrough about 15 minutes into the game. I’m happy to say, however, that I’m not altogether sorry that I did.

For one thing, let’s give credit where it’s due: the authors have programmed a text-adventure engine in (according to them) a combination of Modula-2, C, C++, Garbano, and (Intel x86) Assembler, and their simulation of the Infocom interface is not half bad; they even included a free implementation of Hangman. Unfortunately, in the era of Inform, TADS, and Hugo, “not half bad” is really not that great. The engine is missing a number of conveniences, among them the “X” abbreviation for “EXAMINE”, a “VERBOSE” mode, and the “OOPS” verb; I think these conveniences should basically be considered de rigueur for any modern text game. Moreover, while the game was relatively bug-free, the ones I did encounter were doozies: at one point the game crashed completely when attempting to go into Hangman mode, and at another point the “key found” flag was apparently not reset on a restore, making the game unsolvable. Still, despite these flaws, I salute anyone with the energy and the skills to code, from scratch, an Infocom-clone with Yodel‘s level of sophistication. Also, the program had a couple of touches that I thought were pretty cool — at several points during the game, an inset sub-window popped up which presented a parallel narrative thread (“Meanwhile, back at the ranch…”). This technique worked quite well, and I think it has a lot of potential for expanding the narrative range, and breaking the limitations of the second-person POV, to which IF usually limits itself. The gimmick was also used at the end of the game to provide a fairly enjoyable epilogue describing the eventual fate of every character you met along the way, a la Animal House. Finally, I did enjoy the free Hangman game, though its puzzles and its insertion into the game were just about as illogical as everything else in Yodel.

Which brings us to the plot. I won’t give away too much about the plot in Yodel, mainly because I didn’t really understand what little plot there was. All I’ll say is this: don’t expect anything to make any sense. There are several moments in the game that I found quite funny, but they are swamped by long stretches of bizarre, inexplicable, or adolescent japes. I would be very surprised if anyone (outside, perhaps, of the authors’ circle of friends) is able to solve the game without a walkthrough. Many of the riddles (and yes, there are many many of them) left me baffled, even after I knew the solution. Moreover, the abrupt, patchwork nature of the game gave me the impression that in several situations only one action would do, and how anyone would guess that action is beyond me. By the way, if you’re offended by descriptions of “swimsuit babes acting out your wildest fantasy” or borderline-racist, stereotypical depictions of Indians (Native Americans, not Bengalis), then Yodel is probably not the game for you. If, on the other hand, you’re in the mood for something lowbrow, then grab a walkthrough — Yodel is not entirely without its rewards.

Rating: 4.0

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