VirtuaTech by David Glasser [Comp97]

IFDB page: VirtuaTech
Final placement: 21st place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition

If sword-and-sorcery fantasy was the overused genre of the 1996 IF competition, I’m beginning to believe that virtual reality will win the honors for 1997. Of course, it’s not David Glasser’s fault that Comp97 scheduled his game to be played after several other VR-themed pieces on my list, but I can say that it took away some of the thrill for me to see yet another page from the VR handbook. The other unfortunate part of this is that VirtuaTech‘s use of VR is pretty humdrum: step inside your computer a la Planetfall, or alternately “VirtuaPhone” other entities, none of whom turn out to be characters. The game’s near-future milieu was reasonably interesting (though rather cliched), but it felt like a thin science-fictional sheen over what is basically a very simple college game — fix your computer and print out your paper to bring it to class.

As such, VirtuaTech isn’t bad. It’s short, easy, and inoffensive. There is some entertainment to be had from solving the game’s puzzles and exploring its limited geography, but it doesn’t deliver much in the way of excitement or thrills. The puzzles are mainly a matter of putting the right key in the right lock, and finding numbers to type on a variety of keypads. The game’s one slightly more interesting puzzle (opening the portal) I solved just by noodling rather than through any kind of inductive reasoning, so I wasn’t able to experience the pleasure of any great flash of insight.

On the plus side, there isn’t much particularly wrong with the game. The writing could be better, but it certainly works. The design is compact and efficient, and the setting as a whole is consistent and makes logical sense. There are very few bugs in the code (I only found one real problem), and the puzzles may be unimaginative, but they’re fair. Consequently, VirtuaTech turns out to be a pleasant way to spend 45 minutes or so.

Prose: There’s certainly a level of awkwardness to the prose in VirtuaTech. Many of the sentences are rather clunky, and the whole thing could use an edit for elegance and rhythm. However, I only rarely found myself confused by descriptions or situations, so the writing did its most important job: it conveyed the scene with accuracy and clarity.

Plot: The game’s plot is very, very simple, which is probably what makes it such a short game to play. [SPOILERS AHEAD] In fact, I was rather surprised that all I needed to do was to get the paper printed and to walk out the door. [SPOILERS END] When the winning message came up, I said “That’s it?” It was.

Puzzles: As mentioned above, the puzzles are pretty garden-variety. Lots of typing codes into keyboards or pushing the right button. Still, the puzzles all make sense within the game’s world, and there are no “guess-the-verb” or “read-the-designer’s-mind” puzzles to be found.

Technical (writing): I found a couple of grammar errors in the game, but nothing too egregious.

Technical (coding): There was only one bug in the game, and its effect on gameplay was negligible. A couple of verbs could have been better implemented, but solutions to these problems were also not hard to find.


Delusions by C.E. Forman as Anonymous [Comp96]

IFDB page: Delusions
Final placement: 3rd place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

Incredible game. Basically excellent in every respect — brilliant idea, (almost) flawlessly executed, great plot, well-thought-out puzzles. Just a gem in every respect. The only drawback (and I admit this is a quibble) is that the author’s notes tend to get a little irritating. The overall level of quality is stunningly high (though a bit depressing — after playing Delusions, I became certain that my entry was not going to win the competition.) The game was so good that it almost made me wonder if the anonymous author was a former Infocom implementor in disguise. I’m looking forward with great eagerness to completing the game (which I wasn’t able to get through in two hours)!

Prose: Infocom-level prose — not at classic literature level but more than sufficient to get one’s heart racing and chills mounting. The descriptions of virtual reality entrances and exits skirted the edge of histrionics but always came down on the right side. And the level of detail was a terrific kick — I especially loved the futuristic game of Jeopardy!.

Difficulty: I didn’t find the game terribly difficult, but found myself checking the hints quite a bit simply because I wanted to see as much of the game as I could in the two hours allotted. The excitement of seeing the second act unravel left me with little patience for struggling with puzzles. If I had not been in a time limit situation, I’m sure this would not have been true.

Technical (coding): One of the best coding jobs I’ve ever seen. The shifting responses to “examine” and the number of objects and possible combinations of those objects gave the world a stunningly rich level of verisimilitude.

Technical (writing): Basically flawless. I didn’t find one single grammar or spelling error.

Plot: First-rate. Extremely clever ideas masterfully revealed. The idea of Satan as a virus, the world as a VR construct, and God as a blind, black, bitter woman may be a little skewed theologically, but it made for totally engrossing IF. I look forward to the endgame with great anticipation.

Puzzles: I found Delusions to have exactly the right kind of puzzles for my taste in IF. Nothing arbitrary, nothing typical, and absolutely consistent with the described world and the advancing plot. The game proves that story-oriented IF does not have to be a cakewalk.