After most of the reviews were submitted for the 1997 competition, there was the usual firestorm of controversy about what an IF review should do. Every time the subject of criticism comes up, there is a certain segment which asserts the idea that criticism should never be too negative, that it should nurture the developing author rather than blast the substandard game, and that reviewers shouldn’t treat their subjects as they would a professionally produced movie or book, but rather as the amateur product of an amateur author, and make generous allowances for any problems in the work. Now, I don’t subscribe wholeheartedly to these notions — I actually think that honest criticism of a work’s flaws is the best way to make sure that author’s next work (or even the next revision of the current work) will be free from those flaws, creating better interactive fiction for everyone. However, I do believe in constructive criticism, and I certainly don’t want to discourage anybody from writing IF, no matter how problematic their previous creations may have been. Some of the reviews for the 1997 competition were significantly harsher than mine, and I think (or at least I hope) that they were the primary spur for the subsequent criticism controversy. However, looking over my reviews from that year, I had a bit of a guilt attack, and posted a message apologizing for anyone’s feelings I might have hurt with my reviews, and assuring all authors that reviews are not personal rejections, but rather that they are about the work itself and that no one should be discouraged from further writing by a negative review. I also promised myself that I would try to have a lighter touch in my 1998 reviews.
Therefore, I tread lightly. But some reviews are harder than others to write. This is one of the tough ones. Lightiania is a very deeply troubled game, which will take a lot of work before I can really consider it a quality piece of interactive fiction. Therefore, in the spirit of constructive criticism, here are some of the things that would really improve Lightiania. First on the list has to be correct English spelling and grammar. The mechanics of the writing in this game are just abysmal — the nature of the errors lead me to suspect that perhaps English isn’t the writer’s first language, which would certainly make the problems understandable. I’ve taken some Spanish classes, but if I tried to write a text adventure in Spanish, you can be certain that the result would be nigh-unintelligible to a native speaker. However, due to my lack of ability I would recognize the need for a proofreader. This is the step that hasn’t been taken in Lightiania. As a result, the language is so mangled that it sometimes doesn’t even make sense. A sample sentence: “You get VERY supprised [sic] when you, after a smaller blackout, [no mention of blackouts before this point. Is this electricity, or drinking, or what?] realises [sic] that is [sic] is in fact a quite big space craft that has crashed in the middle of the meadow.” The first step to take, and one that would improve the game a lot, is major, major proofreading.
The next thing that needs to happen is that some very basic design points need to be changed. Right now, Lightiania is a very simple game, with really only one puzzle, and virtually no plot. The plot (such as it is) is this: You are an inventor, and a flying saucer has crashed a few miles away from your house. You try to get this ship flying again. Why does it matter that you’re an inventor? Where are the aliens? Why would you try to get the ship flying before finding the aliens? What does “Lightiania” mean in the first place? These questions, and many others, go unanswered in the game. What’s worse, the game’s one puzzle is virtually unsolvable without a walkthrough. It requires you to find a piece of a lock-and-key mechanism by LOOKing UNDER a piece of scenery. No problem, right? Well, the problem is this: that piece of scenery is never mentioned in the game. Until the walkthrough told me to “LOOK UNDER WARDROBE” (not the real solution, but analogous), I had no idea there was a wardrobe in the room. These are very serious problems. Many would be fixed by a good proofreader, or beta tester, or (dare I dream it?) both. I’m not saying these things to be harsh, and I definitely believe that someone with the imagination and enthusiasm displayed in this game should write again. But please, please: don’t release it until it’s in English and it makes sense.