IFDB page: Ramon and Jonathan
Final placement: 36th place (of 38) in the 2002 Interactive Fiction Competition
Since classical times, stories have opened “in medias res.” This phrase, Latin for “in the middle of things”, refers to a narrative that begins during some crucial piece of action, filling in the background and the preceding events sometime later. Ramon and Jonathan fulfills the former part of this bargain, but never the latter. The game drops us into some sort of science-fictional scenario where some (maybe) criminals are being exonerated, or extradited, or something, and suggests that we’re not happy with the situation. Then there’s an unintuitive door-opening puzzle, a bit of quick noun-guessing with an NPC, and then it’s over. We never learn the backstory behind who did what to whom and why, who lives on what planet and how they got there, or who any of these characters even are.
Because the first (and really only) puzzle didn’t make any sense to me, I turned to the walkthrough in record time, but even after I had walked through the game, I still didn’t really get it. As I always say in these situations, that may be because I’m dense, but egomaniac that I am, I’m more inclined to believe that the game did an insufficient job of explaining itself.
Not helping matters was the fact that the prose is written in not-quite-fluent English. It’s not terrible, mind you — many of the sentences pass muster without a problem, but those that don’t are really jarring. For instance:
The audience has been waiting for years this moment, and is mostly
greatly disappointed for the two "hangmen" to have been virtually
cleared. Everybody rumble and yell.
The first sentence is almost up to snuff, if only “years” and “for” exchanged places — it would still sound awkward and clunky after that, but would at least be grammatically correct. The second sentence sounds stereotypically, almost laughably wrong, as if it were written for a Bronson Pinchot character.
You know, I’ve said this before: I don’t care whether English is your first language or not, but I do care about fluency and readability. If you can’t write fluent English, either don’t write a text adventure in English or make sure to have your text adventure thoroughly proofed and corrected before inflicting it on the world. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but if you want to produce something good, you simply must make sure the writing works.
It’s also a good idea to fully implement everything you put in your game. Ramon and Jonathan, short though it is, is poorly equipped to handle any deviation from its plotline. Anything outside the bounds of the walkthrough is handled in one of two ways. The first method is simply to end the game. This happened to me on my first half-dozen playthroughs — either because I walked in a disallowed direction or because I failed to solve the timed puzzle, the game abruptly kicked me to the curb and told me to restore or restart. Restarting wasn’t terrible, because I’d invariably just played a few moves anyway, but the frequency of the situation made it clear that there wasn’t much room to wander.
The other, much worse method that the game uses to handle players that leave the path is to simply do nothing. At one point, I wandered into a room with no less than five NPCs, all of whom may as well have been statues for all that they responded to me. Eventually I figured out I must be doing something wrong because my current situation was so amazingly dull. This does not make for a fun game — utter boredom shouldn’t be the tool that forces players to comply with the plot. So finally, I restarted, hit the walkthrough, made the required twenty moves, and the game ended. Or rather, if an ending implies that everything has been tied up and some sort of dramatic conclusion has been reached, it’s probably more accurate to say the game stopped.