in Comp04

Redeye by John Pitchers [Comp04]

IFDB page: Redeye
Final placement: 28th place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition

Okay, before I launch in, let me just say this: Redeye seems like a well-intentioned game. It’s seriously burdened with problems, but it makes a reasonable attempt at story, writing, puzzles, and so forth. Moreover, it does one thing that I thought was really cool, which is to take advantage of my adventure game sensibilities for a crucial scene. The PC witnesses a shooting, and on examining the victim’s body, finds a gun. Because of my ingrained “pick everything up” IF habits, I added the gun to my inventory, and then went outside… to be greeted by the police, shouting at me to drop the gun. Oh yeah. Guess it’s not a good idea to pick up a gun right after a murder. Looks kinda suspicious. Of course, as it turns out, making that mistake is the only way the story can continue, which is not so good. Still, things like this help me believe that this game can be improved, and that authors can learn from its mistakes for the sake of future games.

In that spirit, then, allow me a few suggestions for how to make IF better than Redeye. First of all, put some thought into presentation. The first thing this game did was assault me with an “angry fruit salad” melange, blocks of text in no less than eight different colors. I found all these colors pointless and distracting — they add nothing to the game. Worse than this, the game set the background to black but somehow failed to set the color for the foreground text, and consequently I couldn’t see what I was typing, since it was black-on-black. Even the most minimal testing would have found this problem, which leads me to believe that the colors were changed at the last minute.

Presentation is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Another pointer is to proofread your grammar and spelling, and have some people who are good with words look at it, too. In particular, learn how apostrophes work. “The suns rays” doesn’t mean “the rays of the sun”, it refers to multiple suns and multiple rays. “Tell her your OK” doesn’t mean “tell her that you are okay”, it means “tell your okay to her.” “Your” means “belonging to you.” “You’re” is short for “you are.” Learn grammar or your writing will suck. While you’re at it, learn the difference between sentence fragments and complete sentences. Avoid the former, and cleave to the latter. Next: pick a voice and stick with it. Second-person voice is “you”, and first-person voice is “I.” Do not mix them, like so:

You have absolutely no idea where you are or how you got here…

Hmmm. Where is Arthur? I hope nothing has happened to him…

You open your eyes. Crikey. Where in hell am I? It looks like the
middle of the bloody desert!!

Crazy seesawing between voices like that makes no sense and is very annoying to read.

Well, that gets us through the intro. Now some tips for the game. First of all: please, please, PLEASE no hunger puzzles. They are just lame. They are especially, excruciatingly, super-duper lame when there is NO FOOD IN THE GAME! Secondly, please allow for reasonable actions. Plots on rails (and this one most certainly is one of those) are fine, but you have to find a good reason to turn down the player’s actions, not just fail to implement them. If the PC witnesses a murder, many players’ first instinct will be to CALL THE POLICE. “I don’t know the word ‘call'” is not a sufficient response to this.

To avoid problems like this, have your game tested by a number of people and enhance your code in recognition of the actions they attempt. I’d have thought that one was bloody obvious, given that the comp organizer sends out emails with specific instructions to do so, but perhaps not. Also, please implement descriptions for nouns mentioned in room and object descriptions. If I’m told I can see a highway, a store, and a hotel, I want to be able to examine them. I do not want to be told that the game doesn’t know those words. (Yes, that’s a lot of work. Writing good games is a lot of work.)

In addition, provide all the synonyms you use in your descriptions. For instance, if there’s a group of bikers alternately described as a “horde” and a “crowd”, X HORDE, X CROWD, and X BIKERS should all result in the same response. Implementing only one of them is… bad. Also, this thing:

>x urinal
Which urinal do you mean, the toilet, or the toilet?

Please avoid that. On another note, recognize when you are cueing the player and respond accordingly. For instance:

>x motorcycles
The motorcycles are predominantly Harley Davidsons. Low, sleek and
highly modified. I wouldn't touch them if I were you.

>touch motorcycles
Touching the harleys doesn't seem to have any effect.

That is anticlimactic and disappointing. Again, at least one tester probably would have caught this. Okay, there are certainly plenty more changes that would significantly improve the game, but that’s enough for now. Redeye is quite a poor game, but it’s quite a good cautionary example. If you play it, you’ll probably come up with your own list of what not to do in creating IF.

Rating: 4.0

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