Adoo’s Stinky Story by B. Perry [Comp03]

IFDB page: Adoo’s Stinky Story
Final placement: 17th place (of 30) in the 2003 Interactive Fiction Competition

Here’s the premise of Adoo’s Stinky Story: you’re a college student, returning home for the summer to find that your parents have decided to sell the house you grew up in. Because of your sentimental attachment to the house, you decide to… sabotage the sale by making a big ol’ stink bomb. So even before the first prompt, we’re out of the realm of realism and being asked to swallow a fairly ridiculous set of assumptions. By itself, this isn’t a bad thing, if the concept or the ensuing plot is funny, but what humor there is in Adoo’s wasn’t particularly my cup of tea.

Silliness infests the game, but not in a particularly lighthearted way — it’s more a matter of nonsensical plot elements piling up on each other like a freeway crash. These elements were absurd, but not really amusing, at least not to me. The stinkbomb idea, for instance, isn’t so much a joke as just a random direction. With it, as with many of its subcomponents, all I could do was shrug and say, “okay, whatever.” When the game isn’t trying to be silly, it couldn’t be more plain — it’s set in the dreaded Ordinary Suburban House, with Mom, Dad, brother, and dog all going about their fairly dull lifestyles. Adoo himself seems less like a college student than a wayward 10-year-old, Bart Simpson without the style or wit.

Now, having said that, Adoo’s doesn’t do such a bad job with the materials it chooses. The ideas behind many of the puzzles may be arbitrary or meaningless, but their basic structure is sound, and some parts of the recipe that provides the game’s backbone are rather clever. Certain puzzles would have benefited from having more solutions implemented; the fur puzzle is a prime example. I thought of three different ways of solving it, none of which the game addressed, before finally giving up and looking at the hints.

The scoring system does a great job of providing a sense of progress and of indicating the relative importance (or lack thereof) of Adoo’s various tasks. In addition, though the game can be made unwinnable, hefty point deductions are assessed for doing so, which is enough motivation to restore or undo instead of continuing down a futile path. The coding is more or less solid, and I found no flagrant bugs, though the game felt underimplemented in some areas. For example, the crux of the plot is Adoo’s unhappiness about the upcoming sale of the house, but when he asks his parents about the house, rather than offering excuses or explanations, they say, “Um… we live here. Say, are you bored or something?”

Also, the dog can’t be petted. Listen up, designers: if you put a pet in your game, let players pet it. On the other hand, NPCs wander around the landscape in a convincing manner, going about their own lives and even interacting with each other, rather than sitting and waiting to be activated by the PC. They have randomly varied “I don’t know that topic” responses, which greatly helps the illusion that they’re more than chunks of code.

As for the writing, it’s fairly undistinguished. Problems are distressingly common: comma splices (“Welcome home, Adoo, time for a relaxing Summer!”), redundancy (“you return home to the familiar surroundings of Texas, home sweet home”), and spelling woes (“so imfamous, and so stupid”) among them. And that’s just in the first two paragraphs! Still, after a round or two of proofreading, the prose will do a competent enough job of setting the scene and describing objects. It’ll take a lot more than that to make it entertaining, though.

I guess that’s my main problem with Adoo’s Stinky Story: the whole game is just rather flat. It doesn’t ever summon much excitement, humor, or panache; it just sort of sits there. That’s why this review has been hard to write. It’s a lot easier when a game is really great or really terrible, because I find myself with a lot of things to say about those situations. This one is simply mediocre, and I’m not coming up with a lot of great ways to improve it, except perhaps to raze it entirely and start over with a little more experience. And aim higher next time; that will result in either an interesting failure or a dynamite success. This game is neither.

Rating: 6.8