This one was a tough decision. It’s a good game in many ways, but the version initially submitted for the competition has a serious bug which makes it unwinnable. The author submitted a fixed version in November, more than a month after the contest began, and moderator Kevin Wilson left it up to each judge to decide how to assign ratings in light of the situation. It’s a hard choice — obviously the author worked hard on the program, so perhaps it’s fair to allow him to correct such a gross mistake so that the entire game would be available for review. On the other hand, the contest did have a deadline, so is it fair to allow authors to evade that deadline, especially if the decision is made based on the enormity of the flaw in the original submitted game? As I understand it, the bug was not due to any error on Kevin’s part, but rather to authorial oversight: can it be ignored?
I gave it some serious thought, and my decision was: no. The deadline is part of the challenge: you must submit the best current version of your game as of the deadline, and the judges will make their decisions based on the version you submit on that day. “The best current version” means completed, proofed, and playtested (and played through at least once to make sure it’s winnable, thank you.) Wearing the Claw was thoroughly tested and debugged last year before I entered it, and even then the competition release had a major problem which I would dearly love to have fixed. But I didn’t even ask, because it was after the deadline, and I felt that it would have been cheating to ask that a fixed version of my game be judged when everyone else’s had to stand on its own merits as submitted. Consequently, I’ve decided to rate A Good Breakfast (hereafter called AGB) in the version that I downloaded, right along with all the other games, on October 9.
Even in the broken version, there’s a lot I liked about this game. The bug simply stops forward progress about 2/3 of the way through the game, so I did see a majority of it before being forced to quit. Basically, the premise of AGB is based around a simple, long time limit. You’ve just awoken, famished, after a long night of drunken revelry. You must comb through your demolished house and put together, as the game’s title suggests, a good breakfast. Eventually, if you don’t eat, you die. Now, a great deal of logic gets sacrificed along the way to this goal. Elements occur in the plot which are highly contrived and very obviously only there to drive the narrative. However, the situation is delivered with a great deal of panache, and some interesting side roads to explore on the way to finding that sought-after bowl of cereal. In addition, there are a couple of good puzzles to be found in the game.
Interestingly, aside from the serious, game-killing bug, the code wasn’t all that buggy. There was a television that wasn’t implemented properly, but there was also a much more complicated computer and robot which were bug-free (as far as I could tell, anyway). The author seems to have some proficiency in Inform, so I’m betting that the game didn’t go through much beta testing. Once it does, it will be an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
Prose: The prose is one of the better features of this game. It’s generally judiciously chosen, and often quite funny. AGB memorably captures the feeling of waking up in one’s house after a wild party has occurred there, from the TV set festooned with silly string to the strange inability to find one’s clothes. Suzy the robot is sufficiently endearing, and the computer exaggerated to the right point for laughs. The game’s prose has a distinctly British flavor (more so than many other games submitted by UK residents) which also adds to its charm.
Plot: AGB uses the typical, simple adventure plot of constructing a desired object from various widely scattered parts. The post-party setting provides just barely enough plausibility for this scattering, and adds a touch of absurdity that makes questions of plausibility seem less important anyway. Of course, I didn’t reach the end of the game, so I can’t report on the plot in its entirety, but from what I saw, the plot (like those of many competition games) was very simple and served its purpose more than adequately.
Puzzles: On the whole, the game does a very nice job of blending its puzzles with the main narrative flow, allowing them to naturally arise from the setting and situation. Examples of this are the dirty bowl and the high shelf. Other puzzles, like Suzy’s game of “onny-offy”, are more arbitrary, but still quite forgivable. Then there are puzzles which seem quite gratuitous, adding a layer of pure contrivance to the plot, and which probably would have been better left out or redesigned (I’m thinking here of the milk puzzle). On balance, the majority of the game’s puzzles are well-designed and competently implemented.
Technical (writing): I found no technical errors in the writing.
Technical (coding): As I mentioned above, the game’s major downfall is that it has a bug so serious that it prevents players from being able to progress past about 2/3 of the way through the game. The author has obviously already caught this bug, and so it shouldn’t be a problem in future versions of AGB. Beyond that, there are definitely some bugs in the game, but in proportion to the game’s size they are few in number.
OVERALL: A 5.3