TOOKiE’S SONG by Jessica Knoch [Comp02]

IFDB page: Tookie’s Song
Final placement: 7th place (of 38) in the 2002 Interactive Fiction Competition

Apparently, it’s the Year Of The Squid. When I wrote Another Earth, Another Sky, I was pretty pleased about the squid. “How many other comp games,” I might have thought to myself, “are going to include a squid?” Turns out there’s a freaking avalanche of them. Well, maybe not an avalanche, but two others besides mine, in a field of 38 games, really is rather a lot. The squid in Till Death Makes A Monk-Fish Out Of Me! is essential to the plot, though, while the one in this game is more or less decorative, so I have to say that TDMAMOOM wins on Squid Points. On the other hand, Squid Points don’t figure into my ratings, nor, I believe, anyone else’s, so who cares?

Besides, this game has plenty of charming and wonderful assets of its own to recommend it. First of all, and still my favorite, are the altered library messages. I hereby nominate the following for Comp02’s most delightful response to X ME: “You are, and I say this in all honesty, as good-looking as you have ever been.” There are plenty more where that came from:

>break it
You raise your hand to strike, but something mysteriously holds you
back. It's as if a voice inside your head is telling you that random
violence is not the answer to this one.

TOOKiE’S SONG takes most of the standard Inform messages and, without substantially changing their content in most cases, tweaks their tone so that they fit in perfectly with the game’s lighthearted world. In those cases where the game does change the message substantially, it’s for the better, such as its replacement of “That’s not a verb I recognize” with “That’s not a verb you need to rescue your Tookie.”

“Your Tookie” is the PC’s beloved pet bloodhound, captured by rascally alien felines. These diabolical outer-space cats have, as they so often do, placed the PC in an artificial environment with a bunch of puzzles, promising that if those puzzles are solved, maybe they might consider freeing the dog. This premise is utterly arbitrary, and the game knows this and revels in it. The writing is joyful and funny throughout, and many of the puzzles are rather clever.

TOOKiE’S SONG (really don’t understand what’s up with that capitalization, but whatever) hangs out near “pure puzzle game” territory for much of its duration, with themed areas (after the seasons), themed treasures (different-colored gems), and parallel puzzles in the various areas. Design is generally strong, with alternate solutions provided for many puzzles, interesting connections between the areas, and a fun ending that provided more evaluation of my actions throughout the game than I had been expecting. The game also takes care to provide lots of extra flourishes, such as an EXITS verb, which lists available exits in a room, and a terrifically complete HELP/HINTS section.

Unfortunately, I can’t praise the coding uniformly, because I encountered a number of problems during my time with the game. Most severe among these had to do with the “story problem” puzzle. Yeah, that’s right — one of the game’s puzzles is a math problem, couched in the old standard form: “Alice leaves city A at 9:20 a.m., traveling east toward city B at a speed of 60 miles per hour…” and so forth. For the word-problem-phobic, there is an alternate solution available, but I’m not particularly in that group, so I worked it out for myself. Unfortunately, the game was unwilling to accept my correct answer, no matter how I tried to express it. I tried saying (answer changed to prevent spoilage) “5:00”, saying “five o’clock”, writing them on a sheet of paper and handing them to the puzzler, but no dice.

After employing the alternate solution, I learned that the game was looking for “FIVE P.M.” I really dislike being told I have the wrong answer when I actually have the right answer — call it residual math class trauma. There were other difficulties too, mainly with objects used in unexpected ways, or error messages that were either too strange to be right, or too vague to be helpful. Happily, the author seems quite dedicated to collecting bug reports, so I feel fairly confident that there will be post-comp releases that take care of these problems. Once those bugfixes are complete, I would recommend TOOKiE’S SONG without hesitation.

Rating: 8.7

About my 2002 IF Competition Reviews

2002 was the eighth year of the IF competition, and everything was pretty firmly in place. That includes the games and authors, who occupied the usual range from ugh to wow, and in fact pushed the top of that range back up above where I found it in 2001. It also includes me.

By 2002 I’d been reviewing comp games for many years, and I was very comfortable in the critic role. Without being too egotistical about it, felt like I could write reviews that would not only explain the my reaction to game and give useful feedback to the author, but at least sometimes do so in a way that would be useful for lots of aspiring authors, not just the one who wrote the game in question.

Writing all those other reviews had also made me deeply conversant with the history of the comp, which became increasingly helpful, as more and more comp games seemed to be in conversation with their predecessors. This certainly happened on the stylistic level — for example the “pure puzzle game” flavor I’d identified in previous years’ games like Colours and Ad Verbum continued in 2002 with games like Color And Number and (to a lesser extent) TOOKiE’S SONG. Koan was a tiny puzzle game in the spirit of In The Spotlight or Schroedinger’s Cat. Janitor was a cleanup game like Enlightenment and Zero Sum Game.

Dialogue with previous IF also happened at the thematic level — A Party To Murder called straight back to Suspect, Coffee Quest II to Little Blue Men, and so forth. Finally, at the most abstract level, games like Constraints clearly functioned as meta-commentary on the medium itself.

Knowing the domain as I did helped me to feel like I could be a good teacher for newer authors. But even better, closely examining my reaction to a game and explaining it to myself by writing about it, especially informed by a long history of doing so, was the very best way of being a student. The great thing about the IF comp is that it provides such a wide variety of approaches, so in getting analytical about my own responses, I can understand what works and what doesn’t work across a whole range of styles. Particularly helpful were games like The Temple, whose approach inspired my own future work.

2002 was my third time as a competition entrant, and much to my amazement, my first time as a winner. I was genuinely shocked to win the competition — I really did not think my game was the best one. (But who am I to argue with the judges? 🙂 ) My own favorite game of the 2002 comp, by a pretty wide margin, was Till Death Makes A Monk-Fish Out Of Me!. In my meta entry about the 2001 comp, I stupidly asserted that my not reviewing All Roads because I’d tested it was “the first and only Comp where I didn’t review the winner”, but of course this is not true! I didn’t do so in 2002 or 2004 either, because my games were the winners.

Besides Another Earth, Another Sky, the only games I did not review were Buried! and Castle Maze, because they were withdrawn and/or disqualified.

I posted my reviews of the 2002 IF Competition games on November 15, 2002.