Prodly The Puffin by Craig Timpany and Jim Crawford [Comp00]

IFDB page: Prodly The Puffin
Final placement: 35th place (of 53) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition

Prodly The Puffin is, according to the authors, “a second-generation parody of a cartoon that has long faded into obscurity.” That is to say, it’s a parody of a parody of something that no longer exists. Actually, to be precise, it’s an IF adaptation of a parody of a parody of something that no longer exists. What this means, as I learned in the course of playing the game, is that unless you have quite a bit of context, the whole thing is going to seem totally incomprehensible.

To their credit, the authors seem aware of this, having some fun with players’ confusion in the hint system and even quoting the sentiments of a certain Sage of IF about wandering around in somebody’s “ill-conceived, cobbled-together, inside-joke universe.” They also provide a brief explanation of the game’s cast of characters and include a comprehensive menu-based hint system. In addition, the game offers a second, less direct hint system: you can “ASK ME ABOUT” most any subject and receive a response that might be helpful. Of course, Prodly being what it is, the response probably won’t be helpful, since chances are it won’t make any more sense than anything else does.

After the game is over, the authors reveal not only their actual names, but also the URLs for their web comic Prodly The Puffin, and for Pokey The Penguin, the web comic that theirs spoofs. Curious, I visited the Pokey site, and actually thought it was hilarious, in a very bizarre kind of way. The Pokey comic is one of those strange web artifacts that is unbelievably bad that it’s actually really funny. It looks like it was done by a third grader using Microsoft Paint, and is littered with scribbles, crossed out words, and weird unidentifiable things.

Its plots (such as they are) tend to veer in bizarre, arbitrary directions and end quite abruptly. Its dialogue is written in all caps, and sometimes uses point sizes (or strikethrough) for emphasis. Nonetheless, I found its unexpectedness was excellent humor fodder, and some of the dialogue was so random that it actually made me laugh out loud. (Little Girl: “POKEY THESE ARE PLUMS! I WANTED ORANGES!” Pokey: “THAT IS THE PRICE OF LOVE”.)

Prodly The Puffin, the web comic, is the authors’ parody of Pokey, and I found it less interesting, mainly because Pokey itself is so off-the-wall that it’s difficult to parody. Prodly ends up being less funny because it’s more polished and self-aware. However, I feel quite sure that I would have enjoyed the game quite a bit more if I had seen both Pokey and Prodly before I started playing. When I encountered Prodly and the other cast members of the IF game, they just seemed totally baffling and in-jokey to me. Now that I have the context of the web comics… well, ok, they still seem totally baffling and in-jokey, but at least now I have visuals to go along with them.

Consequently, I’d urge anyone who wants to play this game but hasn’t done so yet to check out the web sites I mention above before playing. It’s not that they’ll give you a fighting chance of understanding what’s going on, because understanding what’s going on is not what Prodly (the game) is about. It’s more of an attempt to capture the completely bizarre style of Pokey, its careening plots and desperate lack of quality. How successful it is I’m not sure, because I played the game before I knew anything about the web comic, and therefore experienced it all without being able to understand its point.

Because of this circumstance, I didn’t have much fun. The whole thing just kind of went past me, capital letters, outrageous violence, and all. Since I rate the games based on how much fun I had experiencing them, Prodly unfortunately can’t rate very highly. However, I am grateful to it. It pointed me to Pokey, and Pokey has been cracking me up all day.

Rating: 2.8

Planet Of The Infinite Minds by Niall Carey as Alfredo Garcia [Comp00]

IFDB page: Planet Of The Infinite Minds
Final placement: 19th place (of 53) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition

Oftentimes, certain words in a work’s title can give a pretty clear hint as to that work’s genre. For example, if you see the words “dragon”, “sword”, or “elven” in the title, chances are you’re looking at a fantasy work. Similarly, words like “passion”, “hearts”, and “desire” can clue you in that the work in question is a romance. And of course, words like “space”, “star”, and “planet” let you know that you’ve got science fiction on your hands. Right? Wrong. At least, wrong in the case of Planet Of The Infinite Minds.

There are a lot of terms that could describe this game, but “science fiction” isn’t one of them. Instead, it’s sort of a bizarre, abstract, and surreal journey through concepts and places you may never have expected to visit. In the course of the game, the PC may find himself atop Mount Olympus, or watching the beginning of time, or strolling through the brain of Erwin Schrödinger. And these are actually some of the less abstract vistas the game offers. One thing that POTIM does quite often is to take advantage of text’s capacity to encapsulate intangible ideas and give them a certain sense of landscape. Certainly, scenes like this could never take place in a graphical game:

The Realm of Things-in-Themselves
This is the realm where all things exist as they truly are, and not
as we perceive them. Since there is no sense-data around to stimulate
your mind, you find it to be a rather dull place.

I’d like to say that all of this way-out stuff is in service of a brilliantly constructed plot, but I don’t think it is. You play a rather stuffy librarian who’s trying to lighten up a bit by visiting a carnival. As the carnival winds down, he can either return to the library (and thereby end the game) or follow the gypsy who is urging him to visit her caravan. If he takes the latter course (which pretty much has to happen if you want to see the game), he suddenly finds himself dragged into an increasingly bizarre situation that starts out with a fairly stock setup of mega-psi-powered aliens who walk among us, then spins wildly into scenes like the one excerpted above.

The poor librarian no doubt feels rather at sea in these cosmic circumstances, and as a player I felt much the same way. The whole thing seemed to be strung together without much sense of overall structure or meaning. Of course, this may be an intentional comment on the nature of existence, but it didn’t come across very clearly if that’s the case. On the other hand, it may be that because I didn’t finish the game before time ran out, I’ve missed the masterstroke that pulls the whole thing together. However, based on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t expect that to be the case.

Not that POTIM is a bad game — far from it. Its concretization of philosophical concepts makes for some pretty thought-provoking IF, and there are also one or two puzzles that I thought were quite clever and original. However, there is also a slew of strange, random things that seem to serve no purpose to the story. Some of them have the feel of in-jokes, like the references to “MacFlecknoe” that pepper the game text. That sort of thing may have been fun for the author, but it does nothing for me. Other things, well, I just don’t have an explanation for, unless they somehow all get explained in the endgame.

In addition, there are a few bugs here and there, as well as some grammar problems, especially the dreaded its/it’s error (see my review of Masque of the Last Faeries). In the end, it may just be another case of a game underserved by the need to play it in two hours. I looked at the hints quite a bit, but still didn’t manage to finish it in that amount of time. It may be that I’m wrong about the game’s arbitrariness, and that it all comes together in the end. I’ll probably never find out, though, due to the circumstances under which I played it. (Gee, can anybody tell that I’m a little grumpy about playing 50 games in 6 weeks when some of those games take way more than two hours to solve?)

Rating: 7.3