IF Competition Discussion: Deadline Enchanter

More from the 2007 IF Competition.

This is weird, then more weird, then more weird; I find myself thinking of Neil Stephenson sometimes, and sometimes China Mieville, and just occasionally Dark City.

There is some kind of abstruse IF-related in-joke going on here, too, which puts me off: I have developed a terrible allergy to self-conscious in-joke-y IF over the years, and now very much value games that do not make any reference, however obscure, to the White House, to Infocom properties, to Floyd or XYZZY or the Generic Adventurer, or to the process of writing IF. Sometimes these jokes and postures are funny, but I am tired of them, and eager to see some IF sufficiently secure in what it wants to say that it doesn’t have to spend time positioning itself with respect to the rest of the artform. I know this is an entirely personal opinion.

At some point, which I think is probably not very far into the game, I got completely stuck. There is no walkthrough. I have not yet even fully understood the premise.

Oh well.

14 thoughts on “IF Competition Discussion: Deadline Enchanter

  1. spoilers!

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    Were you stuck in the area with the machine and the doll, or do you have hints to get beyond that? It was just well enough written that I’m wondering how it turns out, but I get the feeling (perhaps unjustly) that the game *breaks* at that point.

  2. spoiliers…
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    Hmm… I did find one way to render the game unwinnable, but otherwise it’s completely on rails, with the thin book, the directly injected instructions, and the fat book providing a complete in-game walkthrough. Not quite sure how to get stuck…

    And although the game is self-conscious of itself as a “game,” it seems to be such in terms of existing as an object in the world it constructs, not by way of referencing other works of IF.

  3. I got stuck fairly early on, in the cell with the locked object around my neck. (I forget what it was called.)

    And although the game is self-conscious of itself as a “game,” it seems to be such in terms of existing as an object in the world it constructs, not by way of referencing other works of IF.

    Weeeell. Sort of. There were moments when it referenced IF convention. I mean, I admit it wasn’t as serious an offender in this respect as a lot of other games I’ve played, but it still lost several sympathy points.

  4. I got stuck fairly early on, in the cell with the locked object around my neck. (I forget what it was called.)

    Oh, interesting. Did you pick up the pitcher? When you do that, the game interjects with the walkthrough for that section.

    Weeeell. Sort of. There were moments when it referenced IF convention.

    Well, yes and no. It seems to me to reference IF convention, but by way of casting IF convention as something which exists in the game universe. I’m not saying the game manages this entirely successfully, or even manages successfully as a game, but it does contain a twist on the author-narrator-PC-player relationships I haven’t seen in any other works of IF. I’m interested in seeing your take on that relationship, which summary dismissal rather interferes with :-).

    (BTW, I’m not the author of this game — I just like works which play with the aforementioned dynamic.)

  5. I did some other stuff with the pitcher; possibly I didn’t actually try taking it. (My recollection is that I expected it either to be interesting to break or to drink from, but neither of those led to useful outcomes, so I turned my attention elsewhere.)

    it does contain a twist on the author-narrator-PC-player relationships I haven’t seen in any other works of IF. I’m interested in seeing your take on that relationship, which summary dismissal rather interferes with :-).

    Er, well. I didn’t summarily dismiss the game because of that content; I stopped playing because I got stuck and no external walkthrough was provided.

    That said, I do reserve the right to dismiss (in the sense of not finishing) any game so un-fun that it feels like a waste of time. This is not, after all, a homework assignment.

    Anyway, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll come back and give this another look when I’m done with the other games. No blood oaths, though.

  6. I, too, would describe this as more “self-conscious” than referential or in-jokey; I think that may only become clear further into the game, though.

    (Very slight spoiler for this as well as another entry…)
    I couldn’t help comparing this to another of this year’s entries which has an integrated walkthrough which you really had to use; unlike that one, Deadlineenchanter gives an in-game reason for the walkthrough, so it’s interesting to compare the effectiveness of the two.

  7. I agree that DE seems to run with its own logic, and the self-consciousness and the integrated walkthroughs are all part of it.

    spoilery comments:
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    Though really, do I need spoiler space seven posts down this comments thread? 8)

    I admit I found the game utterly fascinating from the very first page. The Upper Midwestish Fae (?) setting is just great.

    In the cell that’s talked about, it is kind of dumb you need to get the pitcher and throw it, and just trying to break the pitcher gives you a standard failure message.

  8. All right: having submitted my votes, I came back to this game to replay in light of what other people have said.

    Having done that, I like it slightly better than I did, but still have some negative comments. One has to do with the nature of the walkthrough we’re given, and the way it relates to the implementation. It is not a “verbose” or “complete” walkthrough of the kind written by (for example) David Welbourn, where the commands include everything that the player needs to do in order to understand the story of the game. If you follow only the commands you’re given, you will miss a lot; it is necessary to stop and examine things, though even this does not always lead to an explanation that clarifies anything. Besides, the implementation is uneven: there are several points where I was trying to look at mentioned objects (the components of my/her coeur being a particularly frustrating case) and they turned out not to be implemented. I had the impression that the author relied on the walkthrough approach to prevent the player exploring too much off the beaten path, and did not feel the need to polish the implementation as much as would be necessary for the more usual kind of game. I vacillated between typing just the walkthrough commands and trying out alternative actions in between walkthrough commands. Neither is an entirely happy way to play.

    With respect to the story, things actually got (I thought) more confusing as they went on: what was the City, what was the Orchid, why were there squirrels? And likewise the prose lives up to its ambitions a lot of the time, but not always. Sometimes obscure vocabulary is used incorrectly. (One small example: the knight is described as being in a cenotaph, but a cenotaph is by definition an empty tomb, one built as a monument in honor of a dead person either buried far away or whose body was never recovered.)

    In its favor, there are some beautiful moments, and I found the conclusion rather sweet and wistful; and the final “if you don’t want to do this, quit now” instruction was an interestingly direct way of taking on the player-complicity question.

    I also liked the ending, the curious paradise quality of a land where prompts themselves consist of random words. This evoked a timelessness and freedom from urgency that might come from moving from life to afterlife: though there is actually a final move to make, the commands now look like free associations rather than imperatives. This is moving and evocative and thereby seems to cast more meaning backward onto the game that came before, which is a neat trick. (So often endings are a bit of a disappointment.)

    So — well, still a mixed bag, but if I had seen the whole game I would probably have notched up my final score a point or two. The fact that I *didn’t* see the whole game is down to the poverty of the implementation at a critical point, though. When I replayed the game, I tried to figure out why I had missed such an apparently obvious action as taking the pitcher, and realized that it was because all the description seemed to be directing me towards two other actions, both unimplemented: either to drink from the pitcher (since it’s supposed to be collecting water for me) or to smash it directly (since it’s described as fragile and I myself am described as someone who smashes things). My inability to do what the game seemed to be obviously prompting me to do made me think the pitcher was a red herring after all, and turn my attention to the coeurpouch instead. (Which of course yielded nothing.)

    I wonder about how much beta-testing this got. The notes are coy on the topic of credit, and suggest great haste in the implementation. This fits the intended conceit of the game, admittedly, but…?

  9. It’s definitely one of the most interesting games I’ve played. I wonder if the author will have comments on its design after the competition? (Hoping so.) This is the kind of game a very creative author could write if in a time crunch, given that most implementation problems can be blamed on the narrator.

    I was wondering if this would make your top 3 list (which I will continue to avoid until I’ve turned in a vote on the very last game on my list). I kind of guessed it wouldn’t, but I think it’s going to strike a good chord with other judges.

  10. Yeah, it’s not lacking in creativity, but there’s only so far you can get with “but implementation flaws are part of the concept!” I mean, sooner or later you run the risk of losing real players. (Unfortunately, for me the frustration hit before I’d played enough of the game to be really intrigued by it.)

  11. Having just played this, I got the walkthrough commands upon examining the pitcher, not just taking it. Surely x pitcher is an obvious thing to do?

  12. Eh? I could have sworn I examined the pitcher and got some kind of unhelpful description encouraging me to try damaging it.

    I wonder whether there’s something subtle going on where you get the walkthrough after N attempts to do something with the pitcher, or something like that. Perhaps I’m overthinking the problem, though.

    (I suppose I could replay it again and pound harder on that scene, but I suspect I won’t get around to it. Despite the various things I liked about this piece in the end, it still feels careless, and careless in a way that makes me not trust the author.)

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