I’m looking over the lists of comp games from past years, and I think I can say that You Are Here is the first comp game I’ve seen whose main purpose is to serve as advertisement. Sure, the “IF as ad” idea isn’t new. We’ve seen jokey endorsements like the wonderful Coke Is It!. We’ve seen bonus releases advertising new commercial games, as Zork: Undiscovered Underground did for Activision’s Zork: Grand Inquisitor. In the comp, we’ve even seen games that supposedly served as demos for their fuller, more epic, and (natch) as yet unreleased versions (e.g. And The Waves Choke The Wind or, in a somewhat different sense, Earth And Sky.)
You Are Here, though, is of a different breed. It’s a real promotion, and it’s not advertising a game, but rather a play — Trina Davies‘ “Multi User Dungeon”. Of course, given that the play is taking place (or rather, “took place”, since I’m writing this review in October but won’t release it until the show has ended its run) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in early November makes it highly unlikely that I will be attending it. Hey, if it were showing in Denver, I’d probably buy a ticket. But an international flight for the sole purpose of playgoing isn’t exactly within my means, and I suspect the same is true for the vast majority of comp judges. Consequently, it could be argued that as an advertisement, You Are Here can hardly be anything but a staggering failure, so supremely mis-targeted it is. Thus, I can’t think it was entered in the comp with any particular hope of pumping up the house receipts for “Multi User Dungeon” — it must want to be evaluated on its merits as a game. Fair enough.
So what about it? Well, results are mixed. On the plus side, this game was obviously not just thrown together for the sake of media saturation. It’s a substantial piece of work, just about the exact right size for the comp. It uses a heretofore-unseen setting, simulating the environment of a MUD right down to emotes and the “who” command, and does a darn good job of it. Unlike our beloved ifMUD, this MUD is more in the hack-n-slash mode, a standard cliché-medieval environment in which you select your gender by choosing between wearing a “Barbarian loincloth” and a “Valkyrie breastplate.” It contains several entertaining moments, such as the couple whose hookup is spilling over from their MUD personas into their real lives, or the woman making a vain attempt to become one of the “Wizards” (i.e. coders) of the MUD before having spent a substantial amount of time there. Best of all, there’s an NPC companion who is a thoroughly entertaining replica of a typical MUDizen. I particularly enjoyed the things he’d shout out (like “Whodaman? Whodaman?”) when we’d win a battle. There was also one puzzle I really enjoyed solving — it involved a mix of experimentation, lateral thinking, and object combination that worked for me.
So much for the positives. The game is also burdened by a number of problems. There are typos and grammar errors sprinkled lightly throughout. There are bugs, including a Vile Zero Error From Hell that spits out a screenful of “Programming Error:” messages. Far worse than these is the game’s greatest sin, a sin of two parts. Part the first: the game closes off without warning — performing a completely standard action causes one of the puzzles, one most people won’t encounter until much later, to become unsolvable. This is bad enough, but it’s grievously exacerbated by part the second: You Are Here‘s “about” text claims that “it is impossible to get yourself into a situation where you cannot solve the game.”
Okay, bad enough to actually design a game this way, but to design it that way and claim that it isn’t designed that way? No, no, no — don’t do that! Granted, it’s possible that the problem is with the programming and not the design, but either way, I ended up floundering around for quite a while, sure that the game wasn’t in an unwinnable state because, after all, the game told me it wouldn’t be! Actually, it’s occurring to me at the moment that it’s also possible I just wasn’t clever enough to find out the alternate solution. If that’s the case, all complaints are retracted. But until I find out otherwise (and given that the game provided no walkthrough, it may be a while), my verdict stands: a clever, interesting game (especially for a promotional work), flawed by some minor errors, a serious design weakness, and a false claim.