By the time I hit the end of the two hour mark on SNOSAE I was just laughing. Most of my second hour I was basically cutting and pasting commands from the walkthrough, stopping only long enough to read the text and save the game from time to time in case I screwed up. Even so, when I reached the time limit I still had over half the walkthrough to go! If this is a two-hour game, The Brothers Karamazov was a short story. I doubt I could finish the entire thing in two hours even if I had already solved it once. Without the walkthrough I don’t think there’s a player in the world who could finish it in two hours. Now, whenever I make sweeping statements like this I always regret it, and no doubt somebody will follow this up with a post saying “Gee, I had no trouble at all. Finished it in 45 minutes flat!” But let me put it this way: I spent a half hour on the first puzzle (of about a zillion in the game), and only cracked it because of a pretty left-handed hint in the documentation.
That first puzzle reminded me of a game on the archive called +=3. Dave Baggett wrote that game to prove that a puzzle could be entirely logical but also completely unsolvable without hints or random guessing. The puzzle in +=3 is this [and spoiler warnings are beside the point here]: You have to cross a troll bridge, and nothing in your inventory satisfies the troll. The only thing that will satisfy it is if you remove your shirt and give it to the troll — not that the shirt was mentioned in your inventory or that the game gave you any hint the PC is wearing a shirt. A similar thing occurs in the opening sequence of SNOSAE — you have to cut some wires, but you have nothing in your inventory. There are also no takeable objects in the initially limited landscape. None at all. It was only in desperation that I was combing through the game’s documentation and saw that the game allowed the command “LOOK IN”; the docs suggested that the command was useful for pockets. For laughs more than anything else, I tried “LOOK IN POCKET” and what do you know, the game told me “In it you see: A small pair of nail clippers.” Turns out that I’m wearing coveralls, and these coveralls have a pocket — they just aren’t mentioned in the inventory anywhere. Sure, the coveralls are mentioned in the opening text included in the readme file, but I maintain that they are absolutely indistinguishable from a simple scene-setting detail, and that when they don’t appear in the game the player cannot reasonably be expected to know that they’re really there anyway.
Many of the puzzles after this are of the “save-and-restore” variety. “Oh, that killed me without warning. Well, let’s get a hint from this death message and restart.” These sorts of tactics really raise my hackles as a player, because they use the IF conventions I’ve learned against me, and give me no warning they’re doing so. When I solve one, I don’t think, “Aha! I feel so clever now!” I think, “What an irritating puzzle.”
Puzzle expectations aren’t the only IF conventions overturned in SNOSAE. For one thing, it’s a DOS-only program, a PC executable with an apparently homemade parser. Now let me be clear that I always believe in giving credit where it is due for these sorts of efforts. I can’t imagine wanting to build a parser and game engine from scratch, but I recognize that for some it’s a fun exercise, and I certainly understand that writing an IF game from “the ground up” is more work than writing the same game using an established IF language and libraries. On the whole, SNOSAE doesn’t do a bad job, but as usual it’s not up to the very high standard set by Inform, TADS, Hugo, and their ilk. There’s no “SCRIPT” capability, which makes the reviewer’s job much tougher. The “OOPS” verb is missing, which is a minor inconvenience. “UNDO” is also missing, which is a major inconvenience, especially considering how thoroughly this game is infested with instant-death puzzles. On the other hand, there are also some cool things about the interface. It uses colors to nice effect, putting room descriptions in light blue, commands in dark blue, inventory listings in white, etc. It also displays the available exit directions as part of the prompt, like this:
INTERSECTION OF FOUR HALLWAYS:
You're at the intersection of four hallways. Down each of these
hallways you can see a door. There's a ramp going up into the flying
I liked that, although I found it didn’t really add that much to the gameplay experience. There’s also a very cool command you discover about 1/3 of the way through the game which speeds navigation significantly. But all these frills didn’t make up for the missing “UNDO”, especially when the game kept cavalierly killing me off.
The one unblemished positive that SNOSAE has going for it is its sense of humor. This is a game that knows it’s a wacky romp and acknowledges it frequently, usually by breaking the fourth wall and displaying awareness of itself as an adventure game. This tendency is evident almost immediately, when the game describes a door thus: “There doesn’t seem to be a lock on the door! All adventures should start out so easy.” That isn’t anywhere close to the funniest example of the game’s writing, but I couldn’t make a transcript of the thing, and there’s no way in hell I’m slogging through 500 commands again just to find a funnier example, so you’ll have to just take my word on it. I was laughing for much of the time I played SNOSAE, and only part of the time was it at the ludicrousness of entering this game in a competition for short IF.