Son Of A… by C.S. Woodrow [Comp05]

IFDB page: Son of a…
Final placement: 15th place (of 36) in the 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition

If you’ve read many of my comp game reviews, than you probably know that while I certainly notice and dislike all kinds of mechanical prose errors, there is one error that consistently tops my enemies list: the NASTY FOUL ITS/IT’S ERROR. There’s a moment in this game where you can be stung by thousands of wasps until you eventually have an allergic reaction and die. Well, my its/it’s allergy had pretty much that experience while playing Son Of A…. A NFIE in the introduction was rapidly followed by two NFIEs in the first room description. Yet another one starting the very first object description I looked at (the wallet) had me commenting “ahhhhhhhhh IT IS killing me with the many errors BELONGING TO IT”.

It just kept going, and for a while there, I began to theorize that the author just always uses “it’s” no matter the occasion, which made me feel… a little better? But then, nope, there are correct uses of “its” sprinkled throughout the text, sometimes right alongside incorrect uses of “it’s”, as in this description of a ladder: “It’s thick structure has turned a silver-grey from sitting in the weather. Despite its age, it appears to have held up well.” There are also occasional correct usages of “it’s”. Sigh.

Aside from this swarming pestilence, and a few other mechanical bugs, the game’s writing is actually pretty strong. Son of a… does a nice job of setting an effective scene and layering the PC’s point of view with humor. In addition, the game implements nouns at a satisfying level of depth — players are often rewarded for inspecting every detail of a scene.

Other implementation details are a bit more peculiar. For instance, the game clearly states in its help text:

1. Entering important places or taking important things will increase your score.
2. Completing puzzles will not increase your score.

But… why? I’m guessing perhaps this is the foible of a first-time author who found it too difficult to make Inform recognize when a puzzle was solved, and just gave up on the whole idea. This approach does lead to an odd gameplay experience, though, in which you can be wandering around with full points but several more puzzles to solve before completing the story.

As for the puzzles themselves, they’re a pretty pleasant diversion. Just as the writing does a good job of setting the scene, the structure of the scenario is intriguing and offers lots of opportunities for logical barriers solved by logical means. There is a pretty gaping plot hole — wouldn’t a long-abandoned motel have had its power cut off? For the most part, though, I enjoyed finding ways to resolve the PC’s predicament, and even had a few satisfying “aha” moments when I hit upon clear solutions that had initially eluded me.

What a pity, then, that a fundamentally enjoyable game is badly flawed with simple, fixable mechanical errors that simply were not fixed. Here’s an oldie but a goodie: Bob’s Guide to Its and It’s, You Idiots. Print it out, hang it up, and avoid those mandatory deductions.

Rating: 5.0

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