Planet Of The Infinite Minds by Niall Carey as Alfredo Garcia [Comp00]

IFDB page: Planet Of The Infinite Minds
Final placement: 19th place (of 53) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition

Oftentimes, certain words in a work’s title can give a pretty clear hint as to that work’s genre. For example, if you see the words “dragon”, “sword”, or “elven” in the title, chances are you’re looking at a fantasy work. Similarly, words like “passion”, “hearts”, and “desire” can clue you in that the work in question is a romance. And of course, words like “space”, “star”, and “planet” let you know that you’ve got science fiction on your hands. Right? Wrong. At least, wrong in the case of Planet Of The Infinite Minds.

There are a lot of terms that could describe this game, but “science fiction” isn’t one of them. Instead, it’s sort of a bizarre, abstract, and surreal journey through concepts and places you may never have expected to visit. In the course of the game, the PC may find himself atop Mount Olympus, or watching the beginning of time, or strolling through the brain of Erwin Schrödinger. And these are actually some of the less abstract vistas the game offers. One thing that POTIM does quite often is to take advantage of text’s capacity to encapsulate intangible ideas and give them a certain sense of landscape. Certainly, scenes like this could never take place in a graphical game:

The Realm of Things-in-Themselves
This is the realm where all things exist as they truly are, and not
as we perceive them. Since there is no sense-data around to stimulate
your mind, you find it to be a rather dull place.

I’d like to say that all of this way-out stuff is in service of a brilliantly constructed plot, but I don’t think it is. You play a rather stuffy librarian who’s trying to lighten up a bit by visiting a carnival. As the carnival winds down, he can either return to the library (and thereby end the game) or follow the gypsy who is urging him to visit her caravan. If he takes the latter course (which pretty much has to happen if you want to see the game), he suddenly finds himself dragged into an increasingly bizarre situation that starts out with a fairly stock setup of mega-psi-powered aliens who walk among us, then spins wildly into scenes like the one excerpted above.

The poor librarian no doubt feels rather at sea in these cosmic circumstances, and as a player I felt much the same way. The whole thing seemed to be strung together without much sense of overall structure or meaning. Of course, this may be an intentional comment on the nature of existence, but it didn’t come across very clearly if that’s the case. On the other hand, it may be that because I didn’t finish the game before time ran out, I’ve missed the masterstroke that pulls the whole thing together. However, based on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t expect that to be the case.

Not that POTIM is a bad game — far from it. Its concretization of philosophical concepts makes for some pretty thought-provoking IF, and there are also one or two puzzles that I thought were quite clever and original. However, there is also a slew of strange, random things that seem to serve no purpose to the story. Some of them have the feel of in-jokes, like the references to “MacFlecknoe” that pepper the game text. That sort of thing may have been fun for the author, but it does nothing for me. Other things, well, I just don’t have an explanation for, unless they somehow all get explained in the endgame.

In addition, there are a few bugs here and there, as well as some grammar problems, especially the dreaded its/it’s error (see my review of Masque of the Last Faeries). In the end, it may just be another case of a game underserved by the need to play it in two hours. I looked at the hints quite a bit, but still didn’t manage to finish it in that amount of time. It may be that I’m wrong about the game’s arbitrariness, and that it all comes together in the end. I’ll probably never find out, though, due to the circumstances under which I played it. (Gee, can anybody tell that I’m a little grumpy about playing 50 games in 6 weeks when some of those games take way more than two hours to solve?)

Rating: 7.3