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A Light’s Tale by Zach Flynn as “vbnz” [Comp04]

IFDB page: A Light’s Tale
Final placement: 32nd place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition

Well. This one has many problems. Many serious problems. Let’s start with the writing. I’m guessing that this game is the work of a non-native English speaker. Something like “your mind… flys far, far away” could just be a typo, but when the game describes a dump as “full of unnumbered amounts of trash,” I begin to get the strong feeling that the translating dictionary has come calling. The prose is just littered with writing errors, many of which are too simple to be blamed on translation. For instance, a death message:

The guard calls out: “What are you doing there?” He runs over and sticks a bullet in your side you die.

Maybe the bizarre diction “sticks a bullet in your side” could be explained by translation, but there’s no such excuse for failing to provide either a conjunction or a full stop before “you die.” Also, the game is just littered with redundancy. Whether it’s describing the dump as “[an] extremely dirty, messed-up dump,” or calling the PC “a rather overweight chubby character” or naming an NPC “the big, large rather muscular mouse,” Light’s Tale hates to say once what it could say twice instead.

However, as problematic as the writing is, the coding is worse. Take that big, large mouse, for instance. He’s got one of the most ungainly short names I’ve ever seen in an IF object:

>give mirror to george
The big, large rather muscular mouse who looks to be a pretty good mechanic, for the right price rejects the offer.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure his short name is “the big, large rather muscular mouse who looks to be a pretty good mechanic, for the right price.” Implementing an object in this way demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of how an IF engine works. Sometimes there are even full stops embedded in object names. Here’s another problem: the game completely chokes on any attempt to show anything to anyone. The command always results in “[TADS-1014: ‘abort’ statement executed]”. Another pervasive issue is the game’s recurring failure to mark dialogue with quotation marks, resulting in exchanges like this:

>ask bruno about bar
Why would I want to talk to you?

Well, because you’re the parser. You’ve been talking to me the whole game. Oh, unless that’s Bruno talking, in which case there really ought to be some quotation marks. Sorry, but that’s just plain careless. Even the hints are buggy; they keep referring to somebody named “Robert”, when nobody of that name resides within the game. Thank goodness for the walkthrough, or I’d have gotten absolutely nowhere with A Light’s Tale.

Which, saving the worst for last, brings us to the design. Over and over, I found myself resorting to the walkthrough, a refugee from the game’s bizarre assumptions. Light’s Tale is certainly one of those games that assumes you’re going to traverse it in the same order that the walkthrough does. Routinely, the game would refer to objects I didn’t have, or kill me immediately after rewarding me for solving a puzzle. There are far too many “read the author’s mind” puzzles, including a real doozy at the end.

The game starts out as science fiction (the intro mentions a starship, anyway) for no apparent reason — it would play out exactly the same way if the setting were an airplane, or a steamship, or just about anywhere, really. There are talking animals throughout the game (unless the animal descriptions were meant as metaphor, but I don’t think they were), including in scenes advertised as “the real world at last.” The parser keeps referring to itself as “I” and “me”, and then suddenly becomes a character in the game, personifying itself as some kind of freaky supervillain.

Let me tell you, it’s a weird, wild ride. Some parts approach Rybread-level peculiarity. There were parts that I enjoyed, and there were many more parts that had me cursing heartily. It may be worth a trip through with the walkthrough close at hand, but not if you care about strong writing or strong coding, and even if you don’t, you shouldn’t really expect to understand it too well.

Rating: 4.7

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