Who Created That Monster? by N.B. Horvath [Comp04]

IFDB page: Who Created That Monster?
Final placement: 25th place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition

Who Created That Monster seems to want to be several different things all at once, but it doesn’t really succeed at any of them. At first, I thought the game would be some kind of trenchant political satire or commentary. After all, it’s set in Iraq, 22 years in the future — what better premise to examine the complex situation in Iraq today? Indeed, there are some moments that seem to be clearly satirical, such as this statement by an American TV commentator in the game:

“For the longest time, the Arab world insisted on calling America ‘The Great Satan.’ What’s really insulting about that is the way it lumps the entire United States together into one monolithic entity. In reality the US is a nation of 400 million people, with a wide variety of ethnicities and points of view. Keep that in mind, Arab world.”

That’s certainly satire, and not the most subtle satire at that. But aside from a few moments like these, the game seems oddly reluctant to actually adopt a point of view. I kept waiting for some kind of twist that never came.

For instance, throughout the game, the PC finds himself confronted by terrorists, and he must kill them or be killed by them. These threats are announced with the sentence, “A terrorist enters the area,” as if the PC can immediately identify an “evildoer” by sight, even in a world where everyone, including investigative reporters, carries around an assault rifle. I kept expecting some revelation from the game — maybe the PC accidentally kills someone he thinks is a terrorist but who is actually a national leader, or maybe someone identifies the PC as a terrorist and starts taking pot shots at him — something to break down the PC’s painfully simplistic and artificial point-of-view. But no. The terrorists are never developed into anything but simple wandering monsters. They might as well be orcs.

So okay, forget political commentary. Maybe WCTM is just supposed to be an exciting science fiction thriller. Here, too, it misses the mark, this time due to its unenthusiastic writing. Here’s a perfect emblem:

>x mysterious note
It looks like an ordinary mysterious note to me.

Yawn. If the game can’t be bothered to provide some detail about the objects in its world, how am I supposed to become immersed in that world? Granted, there are some nice touches, like the surveillance spheres that float everywhere, or the occasional holographic advertisements that pop up in front of the PC’s eyes. These fillips are sf clich├ęs by now, but they still provide a nice futuristic feel.

Then again, some of what might be intended as science-fictional is so underexplained as to appear magical. For instance, when you shoot a terrorist, it vanishes “in a puff of smoke.” Now, this might be the result of some kind of advanced disintegrator bullet technology or something, but even if it is, the game never mentions that. Instead, the result is more or less equivalent to what happens to the troll in Zork (albeit less compellingly described), which only adds to the feeling that the terrorists are lazily imagined wandering monsters.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the game is the way that it occasionally decorates the action with a blurb about the past or future history of Iraq. Even these, though, suffer from prosaism:

***
1920 . The history of Iraq begins when British mandate is declared.
***

What? This statement makes it sound like the British issued a mandate in 1920 stating “Today the history of Iraq shall begin!” We need a little more.

The satirical and speculative elements fall away from WCTM like flakes of dry skin, leaving only a bog-standard IF “collect the gems” game. Sadly, even this falls prey to some truly bizarre design decisions. For instance, there are four different buildings in the game, all of which have the same basement. Not just four identical locations — one location, to which the DOWN command leads from all four buildings. No explanation whatsoever is offered for this behavior, but it’s not a bug. In fact, one of the puzzles hinges on this extremely strange geography.

In another spot, the game is terribly heavy-handed with its cueing, robbing players of the opportunity to put the pieces together themselves. Finally, WCTM seems to have trouble keeping track of what and where its objects are. A manila dossier becomes, in some scenes, a green dossier. A building is reported as being to the southwest when it’s actually to the northwest. Between its bugginess, its bizarre design, and its apparent unwillingness to put much craft into its world-building or its futurism, WCTM ends up being a pretty dull game.

Rating: 4.6