In The End by Joe Mason [Comp96]

IFDB page: In The End
Final placement: 15th place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

Hmmm. The first character I’ve been totally unable to identify with — the author shows us an interesting world with friendship, intellectual interest, potential for love, and incredible technological comfort, and wants us to believe that the foremost desire one could have in this world is for suicide. I just can’t buy into the idea of convenience creating a lethal level of ennui, if indeed this is the reason for the main character’s suicidal urges. I’m reaching, because no good reason is given. In fact, nobody in the story even seems particularly (or at least specifically) unhappy, and several characters (the shopkeeper and bartender come to mind) seem genuinely to enjoy their lives and feel fulfilled. So what is this character’s problem? I suggest that his problem is the story’s problem — an overdeveloped sense of the dramatic without any of the logic or backstory that give real drama its tension and emotional weight.

Prose: Often rough, but often rather touching. The world whose picture the author paints has some very charming aspects, and the prose brings this across nicely. Unfortunately, the skill with which this is accomplished serves only to further undercut the notion that your goal in this world should be to leave it.

Difficulty: Well, a goal-oriented word like “difficulty” is a bit of a mismatch for a game like this which has no way to win. How difficult is it to finish the story? Why, not at all. One only has to wait 7 turns, step outside, and type “kill me” and that’s all, folks. The concept of “difficulty” doesn’t really seem to apply to this story though — what’s really difficult is figuring out why the goal is what it is…

Technical (coding): This is where In the End really shines. Its interface (with its lack of compass directions) worked quite spectacularly (for me, anyway), giving the world a wonderful real-life feel. I never realized how much compass directions undercut the simulation aspect of IF until they were removed — after all, who goes around thinking about which direction they’re bearing? (Except, perhaps, for spelunkers 🙂 ) I was also impressed with many of the responses that had been anticipated for NPCs (WOMAN, TELL ME YOUR NAME was especially appreciated), though some could still have used some polishing (SHOPKEEPER, TELL ME ABOUT HOPSON elicited no response, but SHOPKEEPER, TELL ME ABOUT MR brought about the correct reaction). And I apologize for continuing to harp on this point, but when the interface is exciting and the world seems to offer so many possibilities, the dead last (no pun intended) thing I wanted to do was commit suicide.

Technical (writing): The initial box quote jarred me, because I’m used to seeing “whimper” spelled with an “h”. However, I’m not near my copy of Eliot right now to see if it’s simply a transcription of one of the poet’s intentional alterations, so I’ll call that one neutral. Other than that, the writing seemed quite technically proficient.

Plot: A frustrating one, and although it’s true that such a device is new to interactive fiction, it felt gimmicky and hollow, so its absence up until now is quite justified, to my way of thinking. And beyond the final goal of the game, there really is no plot. I even checked the walkthrough just to make sure I wasn’t actually doing something stupid and overlooking or short-circuiting a plot that was waiting to be discovered. No such luck. I just keep thinking, what a pity.

Puzzles: Well, this was “puzzle-less IF” alright. But then again, it also had no plot. So its lack of puzzles was logical, but did nothing to improve the work.

OVERALL — A 7.4