IFDB page: The Coast House
Final placement: 15th place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition
As if to taunt me, here comes a game with a NASTY FOUL IT’S/ITS ERROR in its Comp01 blurb, before I’ve even started the game. Then I fire up the game, and there’s one in the first room description! NFIEs are as numerous as cockroaches in this game, and just about as welcome. Am I more sensitive to this now than I was in previous years? Well, maybe, but only in the same way that being kicked repeatedly in the head makes one more sensitive to pain. I refuse to teach the lesson over and over, though, so if you’re not sure when to use the apostrophe and when not to, direct your attention here:
The first is my most recent explanation of the subject, and the others were found by taking 5 seconds to type “its/it’s” into a search engine. There are a bunch more where those came from. Print them out. Post them at your desk. Tattoo them on your body. Rid the world of this horrible curse.
Thank you for allowing me that rant. Moving on. NFIEs weren’t the only area in which this game’s proofreading was overly careless. Punctuation was a particular weakness. My current theory is that the keyboard on which The Coast House was typed had a sticky period key, because the game is littered with text like this: “Grandma’s headstone.. chipped with age…” There are multiple periods at the ends of sentences. There are multiple periods in room names. Ellipsises range anywhere from two to four dots (though some of the two-dot ones may have been intended as periods — rather difficult to tell.)
There are also a number of typos and grammar errors strewn throughout the game, and one very strange bug, in which looking under a particular item yields this: “You find !” Well, okay. There’s that exclamation point I’ve been searching for everywhere. Maybe I can use it to knock out some of these extra periods! Sadly, the exclamation point never made it into my inventory, so I was unable to wield it after all.
Okay, now that I’ve spent two paragraphs moaning about The Coast House‘s cosmetic errors, allow me to remedy things somewhat by talking about the ways in which I really liked the game. The setting is a tiny South Texas town in the sweltering summer heat, and the game brings this setting to life marvelously. Room and object descriptions engage all the senses, and appeal to memory as well, since the PC spent his childhood summers in this town. Many first-level nouns are described, and with similar skill.
In addition, most of the game’s puzzles emerge organically from the setting, thus enhancing the game’s world even as they moderate the story’s pace. All these factors worked together to produce a marvelously rich, immersive gameworld, which made the story-jarring grammar errors all the more frustrating. (Oh right, I was going to stop complaining about that. Ahem.) There was also a healthy dose of humor in the game. Many responses to nonsensical or useless actions were implemented as enjoyable wisecracks. For example, at the northern edge of town, the room description tells us:
The road travels off some distance to the north, with not a whole lot
between where you stand and Houston some 300 miles away.
The response to “N” from here is, “Houston is a pretty far walk. Probably better to stay in town.” Hee hee. The plot itself begins as a standard inheritance narrative and then deepens a bit, to the benefit of the game. All in all, a fairly solid piece of work if not for the simple lack of basic proofreading. Somebody needs to pick this game up and beat the errors out of it like dust out of an old rug. Once this happens, The Coast House will become a nicely atmospheric piece of IF.