IFDB page: Four Seconds
Final placement: 15th place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition
Maybe I’m just getting cranky, but I really feel that this year’s competition games are a lot buggier, on average, than in previous years. It’s drained some of the fun out of the competition for me — I’ve begun to dread starting a new entry rather than eagerly anticipate it. For each unknown game, I start to wonder whether it will be just another bugfest that I’ll sincerely try to play for 30 minutes to an hour, getting more and more frustrated with its constant errors before turning to the walkthrough. That’s not normally my approach, but this year’s games have changed my usual attitude.
Four Seconds is a case in point. It is very, very buggy, and heavily burdened with grammar and spelling errors as well. If you don’t use the walkthrough, you will find lots of bugs. In fact, there are even a few bugs in the walkthrough itself. If you type “info” or “about” in the game, you’ll find an apology from the author for the bugginess of the game. This is something for which I have zero patience. If you know your game is buggy, fix it. Fix it before you ask people to play it. Don’t waste my time.
It’s baffling to me that buggy games like this get entered, especially considering the fact that this year Lucian Smith and Liza Daly went to the trouble of actually setting up a betatesters clearinghouse on the web. Testers were available, so why weren’t they used? All I can conclude is that the authors who submitted buggy games just don’t care that much about the players’ experience. This disregard leaves the player little motivation to care about the game’s rating, and it gives me as a reviewer very little motivation to put any time or energy into giving useful feedback. In addition, playing a game so crammed with bugs feels like another version of non-interactivity, since there’s almost nothing to see outside the bounds of the path dictated by the walkthrough.
So here’s the deal with Four Seconds: it’s not worth the download. Not only is its plot a b-movie rehash of much better games (mayhem at an isolated science complex a la Delusions or Babel), but it’s pretty much unplayable. Tons of commands get no response at all from the parser. Many more get responses that make no sense. Those pieces of prose that do emerge, whether arrived at by use of the walkthrough or just dumb luck, lack the most basic proofreading. I spent an hour of my life that could have gone to something much more fulfilling on playing Four Seconds. I wish I had spent 59 minutes and 56 seconds less.