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

Coming Home by Andrew Katz [Comp97]

IFDB page: Coming Home
Final placement: 34th place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition

Coming Home is an unremittingly awful game, one which never should have been released publicly. It’s hard to think of it even as an exercise for the author to learn Inform, so buggy and illogical are its basic design and implementation. Perhaps it could be considered a first step toward learning the language; in my opinion, such bumbling, poor initial efforts have no place in a public forum, let alone a competition. It’s not much fun wandering through somebody’s ill-conceived, cobbled-together, inside-joke universe. In fact, playing Coming Home is a kind of Zen torture, an experiment in just how unpleasant interactive fiction can possibly be. Perhaps it’s what IF is like in Hell.

Frankly, I don’t feel like putting much effort into this review, since the author obviously put so little effort into creating a quality game for the competition. I know it wasn’t a personal affront, but I felt insulted that he thought this jerry-built piecework was worthy of anyone’s time. It certainly was a wasted 15 minutes for me before I turned to the hints, and another wasted 15 minutes before I decided to just let the recording show me the rest of the game.

I want to encourage anyone who is interested in IF to contribute to the medium by writing a good game. But please, until it’s good (Lord, at least until it works)… keep it to yourself.

Prose: Coming Home doesn’t waste much time on prose. Which is unfortunate, since it’s supposed to be a text game and all. What’s there is really bad — not fun bad or silly bad like Detective, just bad. I think even the MST3K crew would get bored with this one.

Plot: Like the rest of the game, the plot is unclear, and what can be discerned doesn’t seem to make much sense. Apparently you’re a very small person (a child?) who has been away from home for a long time, can’t survive without eating and going to the bathroom every few minutes, and lives in a haunted house where doors close and lock of their own accord, people behave like furniture in some rooms and mysterious forces in others, and the bathrooms are smeared with urine and feces until you tell Mom to clean them up to a nice sparkle.

Puzzles: Puzzles? How to interact with the parser. How to move from place to place as directions randomly disappear. Why people appear and vanish, apparently magically.

Technical (writing): The writing didn’t have terrible mechanics (nothing like Punkirita from the 1996 competition, for example), but it sure wasn’t good either.

Technical (coding): To even try to summarize all the problems with the coding would take more time than I’m willing to give to this game. If you’ve read this far, you probably have a basic idea.