IF Competition Discussion: In the Mind of the Master

More reviews from IF Comp 2007.

On the first play, I didn’t get far with this game, for two reasons. One was that the writing felt vague and sloppy to me; the other, that I ran across an annoying bug very early on where a character was referred to in a paragraph as “the char4” where clearly there was supposed to be some variable substituted in.

I felt guilty about this later (after all, there have been other bugs in this comp that I’ve happily forgiven; it’s just bad luck that this one came so early). So I went back to play more. This time I had the same problem that I had with the author’s game last year: the plot moves forwards on triggers (so that new things happen just because I walk into a room), but there’s very little indication where those triggers are or how I’m affecting the story by moving around. I keep trying to play as though there are going to be puzzles to solve or choices to make, but all the game really needs from me is that I bounce around frenetically until I have accidentally triggered enough events for the story to end. Even moves that I intended to be purely exploratory tend to spin the plot dizzyingly forward before I’ve gotten my bearings. It’s about as much fun as being the ball in a pinball machine.

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I did not get a winning ending. The Master got caught and killed. But I didn’t really see, in retrospect, how I might have changed that, so I had no motivation to replay.

I also felt — and I realize this will make me sound grouchy — that this game was just sloppy. There were some odd punctuation effects, but I’m going to assume that was the result of playing in Spatterlight rather than with the approved ADRIFT runner. Other problems could not be so easily ascribed to engine incompatibility, though. At one point, during what is meant to be an intense interrogation scene, the interrogator says something like “We want you to kill me. [italics mine]”. In context, what this really has to mean is “We want you to kill him” — it makes no sense any other way — but it is such a basic error in such an important place that it rattles one’s whole faith in the game. I assume that this was beta-tested at some point, or proof-read at some point, but the impression one gets is rather of something composed at typing speed by an author who never went back. Lots of other places show similar indifference, though perhaps not in such a glaring way: the descriptions of rooms are often slack and vague.

And the Master himself? The fun thing about spy stories and masters of disguise is that you get to see how they do their crazy tricks. Hence the montages of people applying latex chins and false mustaches, dyeing their hair and trying on hats and practicing implausible German accents. The Master is a master of disguise whose disguises are completely notional: we are told that he puts on a suit and then looks like someone else. Text being what it is, we can’t see this effect; we’re given no description of how he accomplishes it; all the entertainment is leached away.

David Whyld is an author with a gift for finishing games: Baf’s Guide lists about 40 for him, and I am pretty sure that leaves out a number. I respect that, but I’d be interested to see what happened if he put more design and writing effort into each one.

4 thoughts on “IF Competition Discussion: In the Mind of the Master

  1. There is a winning ending, but *only* if you figure out that The Master can essentially do *real* magic of a certain sort. But you can’t really know that until you’ve *seen* the winning ending, so it’s a catch-22. I got it from the walkthrough.

    There is a hint very early on (read a book before leaving the room), and in the theme of the game itself, but I just don’t think it’s enough to “click” for most players. I didn’t get it (of course, I didn’t even try reading the book) — and I’m usually quick to figure out the twist in stories if clues exist.

    Anyway, my review’s up too.

  2. I found a lot of bugs — for example, if you’re dressed as the gentleman, you can only read the letter if you force the hotel lobby door in the beginning (otherwise, when you get out of the limousine, you aren’t carrying it anymore). Also, whatever ends up happening at the Montalban, I always lose my disguise — and there seems to be no other way to get in the cardinal’s house. There are all of these other directions from the house, but I am not allowed to try any of ’em. Even using all the hints, I can’t get the winning ending.

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