Congratulations! by Frederick J. Hirsh [Comp97]

IFDB page: Congratulations!
Final placement: 30th place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition

This game started out with such promise. It cleared the screen, then gave a good paragraph outlining the situation: you’ve just had a baby, and are awed with the responsibility inherent in your new life as a parent. You’ve brought your baby home, and prepare to face your new challenges. Wow, I thought. What a great setting! The baby can provide realistic character interaction because although IF characters are only capable of very simple responses, that’s all a baby is capable of, too! Not only that, there are several natural puzzles inherent in the situation of new parents — the game can be challenging, fun, and maybe even educational. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. The first clue that all was not well in Congratulations! was the first room description: “You are in your comfortable living room. There is a room to the north and stairs to the west.” Wow, I feel like I’m there! OK, so there’s no need for sarcasm — it was a disappointment, just like most of the rest of the game. The in-game instruction book felt woefully inadequate (especially since the last game I played was Poor Zefron’s Almanac), the puzzles were lame and the implementation was lazy. It was also short, though in this case the brevity was a blessing.

All of the text in the game (with the exception of the opening paragraph) is terse and uninformative. Details are nowhere to be found, and in fact even full sentences seem pretty scarce from time to time. For example, a common distress message is “Baby cries!” Articles, anyone? I’m always a little puzzled when a piece of text IF offers so little in the way of text, but Congratulations! does just this. It almost feels like a skeleton of coding, waiting to be fleshed out by a real game. You know, paragraphs and such. I’m not sure whether this sparseness has to do with lack of effort, inability to write, or what, but it detracts greatly from the game experience.

Unfortunately, the coding seems to adhere to the same standard as the writing. Room headers appear in caps or lower case more or less at random. The response to “examine baby” is “As you gaze into your baby’s eyes, it stretches out its arms, opens its mouth, and barfs on you.” Mildly funny once, nonsensical and irritating after that. A reasonable command like “put diaper on baby” is met with:

Baby wails!
Putting things on the baby would achieve nothing.
 Baby cries!

It goes on like this. If having kids was as difficult and tedious as playing Congratulations!, our population problem would be solved.

Prose: I think “minimalist” is the key word here. How about these room descriptions: “bedroom: You are in your nice bedroom.”; “cute baby nursery: You are in your cute baby nursery.”; “Kitchen: You are in your brand new gourmet kitchen! To the south is your pleasant living room.” You get the idea. The same applies to object descriptions, character responses, and pretty much everything else written by the author. The Inform library’s stock responses seem florid and baroque by comparison.

Plot: Stop the baby from crying. Yes, that’s it. Hope I didn’t give away too much.

Puzzles: It’s not that the puzzles themselves are all that bad, just that the poor implementation makes a lot of the puzzles into wrestle-the-parser problems. For example, I have a baby and a diaper. What do I do? “Put diaper on baby?” No. “Diaper baby?” No. “Baby, wear diaper?” No. “Give diaper to baby?” No. “Cover baby with diaper?” no. “Wrap diaper around baby?” No. That’s how most of it goes.

Technical (writing): Aside from the occasional period missing off the end of a sentence or letter missing a word, the writing was technically fine. What there was of it, anyway.

Technial (coding): As I’ve outlined above, the coding left quite a bit to be desired. Many synonyms were missing, many illogical situations were allowed, and the commands available were far too restrictive.


[Postscript from 2020 — This game became infamous in the IF world as “the one where you can put your baby in the blender.” Such an action never occurred to me, but it certainly fits in with the slapdash implementation I experienced.]