IFDB page: The Chasing
Final placement: 14th place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition
When I finished The Chasing, I knew that it was a competently produced text adventure, and that there wasn’t much with which I could find fault in it. Yet, for all this, when I thought about a rating, I ended up feeling like it should rate somewhere in the high 7s. This isn’t terrible, but neither is it stellar, and yet the feeling persisted. Why? The writing, after all, was nothing exceptional, but it was at least error-free. After playing so many games in this comp that seem unable to employ basic English, having a game in which I could only find one error (and that a misspelling of a rather uncommon word) is nothing to take for granted.
There were even some nice details thrown in, such as the fact that the various estates throughout the game often have charming names such as “Bluebells” or “Valleyside” rather than just being called “Large House” or “<npc>’s House”. The nice thing about this choice is that it works subtly toward enhancing the character of the PC, a wealthy landowner whose relationships with his equally privileged neighbors are friendly and congenial. The idea that the PC knew immediately the affectionate designations that the neighbors had for their houses granted authenticity to his friendships with them, and made the landscape feel more inhabited as well. Still, for each detail like this, there were plenty of descriptions that remained mired in the pedestrian, like so:
The road goes on to the northwest and to the south. Gualtier's house
is to the east.
Descriptions like this are obvious placeholders, just marking distance between the areas in which the game is really interested, and even in those latter areas, description often feels perfunctory rather than immersive. There’s nothing in particular wrong with such writing, but it doesn’t do much to spark enthusiasm either.
The same might be said for the plot. The Chasing‘s premise is that your seven prize horses have escaped to various corners of the valley in which you live, and you must spend the day rounding them up. The PC takes this rather shocking lack of basic stable management in stride, emitting “a short amused laugh” and thinking, “Looks like it is going to be a chasing-day today…” In fact, the latter comment seems to imply that this is not the first time such an escape has happened, which in real life would be even more likely to irk the horses’ owner. However, instead of immediately firing the stable staff, the PC instead casually makes a walking-tour of the valley, chatting with neighbors and solving various problems for the valley’s denizens.
Of course, this being a text adventure, those problems take the form of puzzles, and after every puzzle, one more horse is found. Only one of the puzzles actually involves looking for a horse; the others are totally unrelated, but end in a sentence reading “Now that you have solved Bob’s problem, you happen to notice your horse grazing happily just north of here,” or something to that effect. This, obviously, feels rather contrived, and is made more so by the fact that the horses all have names like Patience, Serenity, Unhesitancy (unhesitancy?) and such, and the solution to each puzzle gets reflected in the name of the horse that is the reward for that puzzle. In other words, you find Patience (the horse) after solving a puzzle by being patient, etc. It’s a cute conceit, and that’s all. After puzzles (none of which are brain-breakers) are solved, the game ends, without ever having given much offense nor granted much excitement.
The game’s implementation follows this theme. On the one hand, it’s quite thorough in most places. Most first-level nouns are described, or at least implemented with a “that’s just scenery” message, and a number of second-level nouns are treated as well, especially in the “thicket” puzzle, probably the best puzzle in the game. NPCs, on the other hand, are numerous but very shallow. Basically, they exist only to give tasks to the player, and refuse to answer most queries, no matter how basic. In fact, the npc implementation is so shallow that even the one topic that most will react to (“horses”) lacks a singular synonym (that is, NPCs will tell you about “horses”, but not about “horse”.) In addition, there are a few objects in the game which simply provoke nothing whatever in the way of description, like so:
> x house
See what I mean? Every aspect of The Chasing has its good points, and all of it is competent, if undistinguished. You aren’t likely to remember it long after you’ve finished, but it does make for an agreeable afternoon’s diversion.