History Repeating by Mark & Renee Choba [Comp05]

IFDB page: History Repeating
Final placement: 13th place (of 36) in the 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition

I’m writing this in 2021, having been in a kind of Comp coma since 2004. Oh there was occasional dip into a comp game or two — perhaps a solicited XYZZY review, or an overview of an acclaimed author, or an attempt at grabbing and rating a handful of games from 2015 — but those were flickers of consciousness, nothing like the focused attention I used to give the IF competition. That focused attention probably isn’t coming back anytime soon. Parenting doesn’t demand the kind of time it used to, but it still takes up a whole lot of my world, and other hobbies have grown into my life too — trivia and writing about Watchmen come to mind.

Nevertheless, freshening up all my comp reviews for this blog has given me the itch to play more, so I’ve decided to give the Comp05 games a whirl. As before, I downloaded the whole package from the IF Archive, fired up Comp05.z5, and pressed the “Big Red Button Which, If You Push It, Will Make You Do Everything You Really Need To Do Automatically.” That generated a randomly ordered list of games to play, and in one of the purest examples of beauty arising from chaos, the first game on that list was called History Repeating. Let the repetition begin!

Of course, it can’t be a literal repetition. I’m a different person than I was in 2005, and these reviews are written under decidedly different circumstances. My old comp reviews were written during the judging period, and the point of them was to explain my ratings and give useful feedback to authors. Now the results are long established, and most of the authors have likely moved on from writing IF altogether. The scene is completely different too, and I’m pretty completely out of touch with it. Consequently, there isn’t the old sense of urgency nor the sense of community accompanying these reviews. They’re more for me than for the authors, though of course I hope some others still find them interesting or useful. So while history is repeating in a certain way, an another way it really can’t repeat at all — it’s a river, and you can’t step in the same one twice.

That’s part of the point of this game, too. The premise is that you lose consciousness in your office job, and suddenly wake up back in high school. Turns out a Doc Brown-like figure has dragged you back into the past as a way of testing his hypothesis that we can change the future. Your way of doing this apparently will be to turn in a history report that you blew off, which seems to have derailed your life into the unsatisfying doldrums we’re told it’s in. However, as you might expect, changing the past isn’t so easy.

That isn’t just because of the timestream protecting itself or whatever. It’s also rather challenging because it turns out this game’s version of the past is pretty thinly implemented, and its puzzles require a fair amount of authorial telepathy. Having just read through many years of my own comp reviews, I know that the points here are ones I’ve visited many times, so I’ll skip teacher mode and just say that when a game doesn’t offer a rich implementation, it had better be very well cued, or else you end up like me, checking the walkthrough because many logical actions get no useful response, which makes it very difficult to guess the one reasonable action that the authors intend as a solution.

Outside of its thinness and its rather improbable puzzle solutions, History Repeating hangs together pretty well. It’s got a fun premise, solid coding, and error-free writing. It’s reasonably sized, and reasonably enjoyable, thanks to the walkthrough. It feels like the work of beginners, but beginners who are dedicated to creating a quality game. Overall I think it could have used a round or two of testing and then implementing better feedback to what the testers try, but the nature of the comp deadline tends to preclude that sort of thing all too often. If I saw another entry by these authors, I’d be interested to play it, and hope that they’d learned from history rather than just repeating it.

Rating: 7.7