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Koan by Esa Peuha as Anonymous [Comp02]

IFDB page: Koan
Final placement: 35th place (of 38) in the 2002 Interactive Fiction Competition

In 1998, there was In The Spotlight, a tiny but enjoyable game whose entire purpose was to embody one clever puzzle. Then, last year, there was Schroedinger’s Cat, a less enjoyable (though competently produced) game whose sole reason for existence was to embody a completely baffling puzzle. Now we have Koan, a fairly irritating and badly programmed game that embodies one more-or-less nonsensical puzzle. Clearly, we’re on a downward slope here.

I don’t have any particular objection to the genre of one-puzzle games; as I said, I liked In The Spotlight well enough. However, when the entire game is a tiny environment based around one puzzle, that puzzle had better be well-implemented. As you might have guessed, this is not the case in Koan. Even setting aside the fact that most of the writing is nothing but placeholders (like the room whose description consists only of “This is the middle location in this game.”), there are several fundamental problems with the puzzle as it is coded. Example: you have to retrieve a clay pot from a high place, and there are several objects in the game that may help you retrieve it without damaging it. However, before I even saw any of those objects, the first thing I did was this:

>x pot
This clay pot has a severe fracture. Other than that, the only
noticable feature is the writing that says, "When intact, this pot
will break the stone slab."

So the pot already has a severe fracture? Kind of takes away my motivation to try not to damage it. There’s nothing around to fix it with, either, which really makes me wonder how I’m supposed to make it intact. This is not the way to do a one-puzzle game. Also: noticeable.

As for the solution, I can’t say it really made much sense to me. From the game’s title, I take it that this puzzle and its answer are supposed to represent some kind of deep spiritual truth. Now granted, I’m not a Buddhist, but I failed to find any meaning in this game beyond “Well, that was surreal.” I dunno, maybe somebody else found it profound. To paraphrase Dennis Miller: of course, that’s just my opinion — I could be unenlightened.

Rating: 3.0

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