Invasion of the Angora-Fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of Jupiter by Morten Rasmussen [Comp01]

IFDB page: Invasion of the Angora-fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of Jupiter
Final placement: 44th place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition

Note: This review contains one exasperated, Dennis-Miller-channeling expletive.

One of the first things that happens when Invasion (this year’s entrant in the traditional comp sub-contest of “I-have-a-longer-sillier-name-than-you”) begins is that it plays a song with a creeping bass line and a Shirley-Manson-like female vocalist. “Hey,” I thought, pleased, “that sounds a lot like Garbage!” Little did I suspect how closely that comment would come to resemble my assessment of the game as a whole. Invasion claims to be “an interactive tribute to everything Ed Wood“, the famously awful director of such cinematic nadirs as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda. This, you might think, would give it some wiggle room in the quality arena. It turns out, though, that there’s “entertainingly bad” and then there’s just “bad”, and sad to say, Invasion falls into the latter category. I played it for about 45 spleen-piercing minutes before finally giving up in a raging tide of annoyance, frustration, and sheer exhaustion. With my last shred of curiosity, I glanced at the walkthrough and discovered — Good Lord! — that the game is huge, and that there are tons of things I didn’t even find. I can’t imagine the sort of person it would take to find all these things and play this game through to completion.

Whoa there, Paul. Aren’t you being a little harsh? Well, in a sense, yes. This game obviously wasn’t put together overnight. For one thing, it’s a Windows executable, and anybody who’s tried an MS visual language knows that those forms are fiddly to arrange. It’s got its own parser (of sorts), a hit points system, timekeeping, and lots of other stuff. So it clearly was the product of some effort. In another sense, though, I don’t think my view is that harsh at all. This game is loaded with bad, irritating, horrible factors, things that you can’t help but suspect were put in there on purpose to annoy you. Little details like, oh, capitalization, punctuation, putting spaces between words, blank lines between text blocks, printing the contents of a room with the room description, and other such niceties are handled… shall we say… capriciously. I’d give an example but, unsurprisingly, the game provides no scripting function, and randomly clears the output window every so often, making even my Isolato Incident method quite impossible to carry out. More aggravation: image windows pop up every so often, which can’t be controlled from the keyboard — a special trip to the mouse is required to shut these down.

But this is all cosmetic, right? Sure, so far. Oh but don’t worry, there’s lots more. The game occurs in real time, and NPCs flit in and out of rooms like angry insects, sometimes changing locations as much as, oh I don’t know, once every two to three seconds, which makes it darn tough to actually interact with them, since by the time you’re finished typing the command, they’re gone. Not that they’re worth much when they stick around, as they tend to spit out uninformative, unpunctuated, and often just plain uninteresting phrases, on the rare occasion that they have any responses implemented at all. The game also throws random information at you without explaining it in the slightest. For example, at some point, you’ll see a flash of light in the sky and the game will print “** Quest : killer on the loose **”. Huh? Whaddaya mean, “Quest”? What am I supposed to be doing? How do quests work in this game? Who’s giving me a quest, and how does a flash of light tell me that there’s a killer on the loose anyway? Should you fail to figure it out within some set amount of time or moves, the game abruptly ends. Sometimes the parser ignores input altogether; a command like “drop all but nutribar” will drop everything… including the nutribar. And there’s only one savegame allowed. And there’s a money system that is seriously whacked. And… ah, fuck it. Who wants pie?

Rating: 1.8

2112 by George K. Algire as George K. George [Comp01]

IFDB page: 2112
Final placement: 24th place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition

Unlike the other game at the IF Archive by this title, 2112 is not an adaptation of the 1976 Rush song. There are no Red Stars of the Solar Federation, no Temples of Syrinx… really, no Ayn Rand-inspired dystopian sci-fi whatsoever. Instead, this game just happens to be set in the year 2112, and casts the PC as a middle school student taking a field trip to humanity’s scientific outpost on the planet Mars.

The futuristic trappings are there, but I wouldn’t exactly call this game science fiction. Its vision of the future is more or less a straight transplantation of present-day life into a century from now, with very little extrapolation for change. The students travel to Mars in a Boeing 797, and upon reaching the planet, the PC finds a Starbucks, a Gap, even a “2113 Dodge Aries Planet Hopper.” As the author jokes in the readme, “It’s a shame they don’t offer a prize for most corporate name-dropping in a single work.” The game reserves a little sneering for the various corporate presences, but I’d hesitate to call it satirical — the swipes are rather too blunt to deserve that label. Of course, the game was so large that I didn’t reach the ending in two hours, even after I spent the second hour more or less typing commands straight from the walkthrough, so there may have been a stinger that I missed later on in there, tying the whole thing together and making some kind of point. More on the size a little later.

This not-quite-science-fiction, not-quite-satire game was also written as a Windows executable, using a homegrown parser. Every year, the IF competition seems to attract one or more of these, and I have to say, I find it rather interesting that there are enough people willing to write their own parsers and world models to actually provide a number of new creations, all with their own from-scratch code, for each and every annual IF competition. I’ve mentioned before that the urge to keep reinventing the wheel is quite a foreign one to me, and that I tend to dread these homegrown entries, as their parsers are much more likely to be problematic, snide, and annoying. Due credit, though: 2112 has one of the best homegrown parsers I’ve ever seen. Yes, it still breaks rule #1 of Paul’s Parser Manifesto: “Parsers must not pretend to understand more than they do.” One small favor is that its violation applies only to verbs, as in the following exchange on the occasion of finding a stuck hatch:

>pry hatch
You don't figure doing that would help you much.

Well actually, I did figure doing that would help me. That’s why I typed it. Turns out the game would have responded exactly the same way if I had typed “rpy hatch.” However, on the positive side, the parser has a very useful and ingenious way of disambiguating. For instance:

>drop note
. . . note
Which of the following do you mean? 1) the small yellow note, 2) the
pile of notebooks? Just hit 3) to forget it.

After issuing this question, the game disables all keys except 1, 2, and 3, thus preventing accidental input while preserving (through the last option) player freedom. I thought this was a great way to prevent the pernicious “Let’s try it again: Which do you mean, the note or the note?” problem. 2112 also had several fun features available, such as a customized game window, appropriate (and sometimes startling) sounds, and multicolored text. It even provided most of the features I’ve come to expect from IF, such as scripting capability and undo, though I was hesitant to use the latter because it required restarting the former.

Usually my screed on homegrown games is that nifty features don’t matter as much as a solid parser. 2112, though, has both. You’d think I’d be satisfied. Well, it turns out that reasonable game design is nearly as much of a must as a good parser, and it’s here that 2112 doesn’t quite make it. I’d played the game for about an hour and couldn’t figure out what to do next — the game was telling me I was still in the preface, despite my having explored a couple dozen rooms and solved a variety of puzzles. So I checked out the walkthrough, and guess what? I’d failed to find a vital item in the first 10 moves of the game, and there was no way to recover that item, nor to substitute its use in the puzzles that involved it. I had to restart, and let me tell you, I was gritting my teeth.

From that point, I was going straight from the walkthrough, and although I did this for a straight hour, I still wasn’t able to finish the game. What this means to me is that 2112 is in no way a two-hour game. Consequently, it dodged the pet peeve I expected it to hit (shoddy homegrown parsers) and ran smack into two others (games inappropriately large for the competition, and games that close off without warning.) Oh, I almost forgot to mention: the game suffers from a number of spelling and grammar errors, too. Make that three pet peeves. 2112 is a slick piece of work, and it didn’t need TADS or Inform in order to be as richly interactive as it needed to be. What it did need, however, was to take a few lessons from the game design ethos that the IF community has evolved alongside its development systems.

Rating: 6.6