IFDB page: Sting of the Wasp
Final placement: 4th place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition
Assuming that “Jason Devlin” isn’t a pseudonym for an experienced author, we have a very satisfactory debut on our hands. Sting Of The Wasp brings one of the year’s nastier PCs in the person of wealthy socialite Julia Hawthorne. In the grand tradition of Primo Varicella, Julia is a vain, preening snob who looks with utter disdain at almost everything around her, including the country club in which the game is set. However, unlike Primo, her schemes don’t run to power grabs — instead, she just wants to find out who took a photo of her in a compromising position with the local golf pro.
It seems that Julia’s wealth comes by virtue (a term probably misapplied here) of her marriage, and because wealth is the most important thing to her, she must guard that marriage zealously. Such guardianship doesn’t appear to include the actual avoidance of adultery, but it certainly encompasses heroic efforts to destroy any evidence of those indiscretions. SOTW is one of those games that let you gleefully and maliciously wreak havoc on a wide variety of places and characters, all in the service of advancing a thoroughly rotten character. As I said, the most prominent example of this sort of game is Varicella, but this game is Varicella played purely for laughs — very few darker undertones burden the spree of unrestrained villainy.
There are a few things that SOTW does particularly well. One is dialogue; the country club is populated with a wide variety of rivals who come in various shades of shrewish and desperate, and Julia’s exchanges with these characters often made me laugh out loud. Many of their remarks come at Julia’s expense — her affairs are an open secret at the club, and they provide the perfect fodder for nasty remarks, such as when Julia happens upon an NPC in the garden:
As she sees you enter, she looks up and grins impishly. “Oh, Julia,” she says, closing her book for a moment. “I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you preferred to do your hoeing in the basement.”
In addition, the NPCs have some great incidental business, and provide the game lots of opportunities to replace standard library responses with something more fun. One of my favorites was this replacement for “You can’t go that way.”:
“Oh dear,” Cissy says as you bump into a low wall. “Julia, you really should try some Ginkgo biloba. I’ve been taken it for months now and I hardly ever crash into walls anymore.”
Okay, so it has a pretty egregious grammar error. I still laughed. The parser, too, gets off plenty of zingers:
You're not a lady cop, and this isn't Cinemax After Dark.
Okay, enough quoting. My point is that SOTW is a funny game, and it’s worth playing just for the humor. Moreover, many of its puzzles are logical and seamlessly blended with the game-world, and its story moves smoothly and sensibly to a dynamic climax. The game makes especially good use of triggers to move the action along. Unfortunately, there are some flaws to contend with as well. For one thing, while the humor is marvelous, there are a number of places where the prose stumbles due to awkwardness or simple mechanical errors. For example:
Although seemingly impossible, somehow this cork bulletin board, with its oak border and brass inlay, manages to appear elegant. I guess all it takes to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear is money. A fact illustrated by many of Pine Meadows's patrons. On the bulletin board is an announcement.
First there’s a misplaced modifier, attaching impossibility to the cork bulletin board itself rather than its elegance. Next, there’s a voice mixup, as the parser suddenly takes on an identity and asserts itself with “I guess.” If Julia is “you”, who is the “I” speaking in this scenario? Finally, a sentence fragment brings up the rear. A significant number of these problems mark Sting Of The Wasp as the work of a beginning writer.
In addition, while the game is clearly tested and for the most part bug-free, there are still some glitches in implementation. A waiter hands you a glass that never appears. A description mentions exits southeast and south, when in fact they’re south and southwest, respectively. The game would benefit vastly from the attention of a skilled editor and from one more round of testing. These things aren’t too hard to do, and once they’re done, SOTW‘s nasty pleasures will be even sharper than they are now.