Four Mile Island by Chris Charla as Anonymous [Comp02]

IFDB page: Four Mile Island
Final placement: 33rd place (of 38) in the 2002 Interactive Fiction Competition

Note: I can’t really think of a way to review this game without including one major spoiler. So one major spoiler is included. Just FYI.

In Comp2000, Chris Charla entered a game called Infil-Traitor, which purported to be a rickety BASIC game from 1982, but was in fact a rickety BASIC game he had programmed himself the month before the comp started. I didn’t play that game because the compiled version had a fatal bug, so it fell to the bottom of my list and I never got around to actually recompiling it in order to try the playable version. Given that I only found out after the comp was over that the entry was submitted under false pretenses, I kinda thought I’d dodged a bullet there.

I was wrong, because he did it again. Four Mile Island comes with a long and detailed readme which tells the story of how the author used to work in a warehouse that some computer magazines had used as office space and found an old, never-published type-in computer game, typed it in and entered it in the comp with the permission of the author. Even if all this was true, it’d hardly make for a promising comp entry, but of course it isn’t true, it’s just a made-up cover to allow the author to create a near-perfect facsimile of an early Eighties magazine type-in adventure game.

Of course, the question that leaps to mind here, and I’m sure I’m not the only one asking this is: why? Those who played Infil-Traitor are no doubt asking, “For God’s sake, man, why twice?” I mean, sure, it plays just like a game whose source code might appear in a 1984 computing magazine. Yeah, it’s written in BASIC. Yeah, it’s got a two-word parser. Yeah, the plot is something about the Cold War and nuclear bombs. Yeah, it’s pretty buggy. Yeah, it’s got an annoying maze. I grant all these things.

But are they virtues? They were the best we could do at the time, but are they worth recreating? Not to me, they aren’t. I actually like being able to save my game. I think UNDO is a good thing. I think it’s kind of cool how a game can end now and I can actually read the ending text because it’s not running in a DOS window that shuts down after the program exits. An exact replica of a primitive game is no more fun to play than an actual primitive game. I think that’s one of those Zen aphorisms, or something.

Of course, that’s just me. We all have our preferences. And I’m quite sure that to some, my fascination with Infocom-style text adventures and their modern descendants would be just as quirky as someone else’s fascination with type-in games. So let’s hear it for the IF competition, which allows even the strangest retro-text-gaming passions some outlet. If somebody’s idea of a good time is to write up a BASIC two-word parser game that feels just like one I might have typed into my Atari 800 when I was 14 years old, more power to ’em. It just doesn’t happen to be my idea of a good game. Tastes vary.

Rating: 4.1