IFDB page: Skyranch
Final placement: 37th place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition
In my head, I’ve started this review a dozen different ways and discarded them all. The unused versions were rejected for being too caustic, too angry, or too harsh. During this current attempt, I will try to keep a leash on these energies, though they’re chomping at the bit (if I may mix my animal metaphors.) I want for these reviews to be helpful, not hurtful, and I want to keep my criticisms constructive. In that spirit, I offer a couple of changes that could (and should) be made to make Skyranch a playable game:
The game should be reprogrammed until it meets a minimum level of coding quality. I would put this minimum level right around the functionality provided by, for example, an Inform shell game (i.e. the bare-bones version of the library before the game author has added any real code.) To detail all, or even many, of the ways in which Skyranch fails to meet this standard would take more time than I want to devote to this game. One example: the game should recognize verbs like “ask” and “examine”. The game’s error messages should be helpful, rather than flippant parser responses like “What?” or “So… what are you saying?” Many authors meet this minimum standard by using a text adventure creation tool such as Inform, TADS, Hugo, ALAN, etc. to create their game. This isn’t strictly necessary, of course, but if a game is programmed from scratch, it had better be at least as good as one that was created with such a tool.
The prose should be rewritten until it consists of correct English sentences. The current writing in the game is pretty abysmal. Mistakes are so legion that the text is often confusing, sometimes completely incomprehensible. Until a text game is written in English, it won’t be any fun for me to play, because English is the only language I read fluently.
Until these two basic conditions are met, Skyranch won’t even be worth discussing, let alone playing.