IFDB page: Shattered Memory
Final placement: DISQUALIFIED from the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition for not being an original work — it’s a translation of the Spanish language game Olvido Mortal.
The basic idea behind Shattered Memory is a sound one. The game starts off with an amnesiac PC waking up to an unfamiliar situation, and although this is one of the most hackneyed tricks in IF, the game comes up with a unique reason for it, which counts for a lot. The point of the whole exercise, predictably, is to find out why your memories are gone, and then resolve your situation once that reason is uncovered. Towards this end, the game provides a couple of special verbs: RECALL and SUMMARY. RECALL by itself may bring back some sort of recollection, but it may not; more often, RECALL <topic> is what’s necessary.
Even then, the things you can recall are few and far between (as it should be for an amnesiac), though sometimes you can remember more about the same topic once you’ve found out more on other fronts. SUMMARY provides a rundown of the various things you’ve been able to recall, and may provide some clues on its own. So as amnesia games go, this one isn’t too bad, doling out information at a reasonable pace and providing an interesting enough reason for the lack of memory. The game also provides a fairly useful conversation system, with SPEAK TO <npc> prompting a menu-based discussion while ASK <npc> ABOUT <topic> behaves in the expected way. A more problematic element is SAY TO NPC “<anything>”, which seems built for guess-the-magic-phrase puzzles, and indeed becomes just that at one or two points in the game. Still, so far so good, more or less.
The problem here, and it’s a considerable problem, is the writing. The prose feels like a bad translation from some other language, or perhaps like a writing sample from someone for whom English isn’t a first language. For example, after addressing an NPC with the SPEAK TO verb and selecting “Ask her if she knows you” from the menu, the game puts these words in the PC’s mouth: “Excuse me… Do you casually know who am I?” In one memory, he says, “I go down for having breakfast, Carmen is at the kitchen.” One half-expects the PC to whip out a phrasebook and carefully enunciate, “My hovercraft is full of eels.”
Unfortunately, everybody (including the game’s narrative voice) speaks in this sort of broken English. The game is reluctant to let you leave a queue because “you don’t know how important is what you are waiting for,” and says that you see “wealthy people together to beggars” in that queue. A guard asks, “do you think you’ve always acted the better you could?” In my favorite example, that same guard chides you, “If you had any good reason to leave yor place, you should have said it to me firstly.” He’s not yor frend!
There are probably people for whom mangled syntax, crippled spelling, and broken grammar don’t ruin a game, but I don’t think I’ll ever be one of them. In my opinion, if you’re not fluent in the language you’re using, you must have someone who is fluent proofread your game before you release it. You must fix all the errors that person finds, no matter how many there are. You wouldn’t expect a publisher to disseminate a novel, short story, or essay written so poorly, so why is it reasonable to expect gamers to enjoy a game with equally weak English? It’s basic logic: if an IF game is equal parts prose and programming, both must be bug-free before the game can be any good.