IFDB page: Moonbase
Final placement: 34th place (of 38) in the 2002 Interactive Fiction Competition
I think that comp games are a little like blind dates. For two hours or until the game ends, whichever comes first, I’m in a temporary relationship where I’m trying to evaluate every signal, from the smallest to the largest, in order to figure out how I feel. First impressions are particularly important, because the experience is going to be over shortly after the first impression gets formed. Ooh, sound clips — that’s interesting. Hmm, its/it’s error in the fourth sentence — that’s not good. Then again, looks like some effort was put into the help system, at least according to the oddly-passive sentence reading “General help may be asked for using the HELP command.” Wonder how our first conversation will go?
I said that help may be asked for... not that it would be
I don't want to help you.
It would be nice if there was help available. But there isn't.
Are you sure you wouldn't prefer to do this without help?
Very well then. [A few paragraphs of very generic "how to play IF"
info follows, though anyone who doesn't already know this information
will almost certainly never reach it.]
Oh, my. Looks like I’m in for an unpleasant evening. When Moonbase isn’t being adversarial, it mostly seems just sloppy and disinterested. There are plenty of spelling and grammar errors. The writing is flat and utilitarian, making wondrous experiences like teleportation and lunar exploration seem as humdrum as going to the corner store. Sometimes it seems like the game can hardly be bothered to describe anything at all:
This appears to be the base workshop. Various machine tools are here,
but none that would help you. The foyer is to the south, and there is
a door the the north.
Between the absence of anything at all to actually set the scene, the offhand dismissal of what scant setting exists, and the general rushed feel (“the the north?”), much of the writing feels like a conversation with someone who wishes he were somewhere else. Then there’s the instant death room and undescribed exit. The game-killing bug that sometimes prevents the PC from picking up a vital item, complaining that “Your load is too heavy” even when you’re empty-handed. The room whose description disappears completely after the first visit. The walkthrough that barely corresponds with the actual game. It’s a forest of red flags out there.
Oh sure, there are some nice touches. The sounds are well-done, understated, and enhance the action admirably. There’s a nifty background-color change upon stepping out onto the lunar surface. It talks a little about its interests, mentioning a MOO apparently hosted by the Artemis Project. (This place was populated by a number of friendly people when I briefly stuck my nose in.)
But really, what about my needs? This relationship isn’t going to work unless we’re both making an effort, you know. Where’s the fun? Where’s the immersion? Where’s the verve? A halfhearted collection of bland puzzles doesn’t make for much of a date, especially when they’re riddled with bugs and prose that sounds like it’s on Quaaludes. Actually, since these comp games are publicly rated and reviewed, maybe they’re not so much like an ordinary blind date, but instead like one of those terrible TV shows where people go out on a date and then come back later to analyze it in excruciating detail in front of an audience. In that case, Chuck, as you’ve probably already determined… this was not a love connection.