IF Competition: Riverside

Okay: after some discussion with various folks, I’ve decided to go ahead with blogging about IF Comp 2008 games. The consensus from people who weighed in was that they prefer reading reviews spread out over a long time than seeing a big splat of new material right after the comp ends, and that they felt the distributed discussion was better, especially if the full review set was combined in one place at the end.

Therefore: I will follow the same format as last year, which is to say, there is a cut tag before I say anything at all about a game, positive or negative; after the cut tag will be comments without spoilers; after the general comments there will be additional spoiler space, followed by more particular commentary.

In the interests of not accidentally spoiling people via feed-aggregation sites, I have temporarily set my RSS feed to “summary” rather than “full” mode, so that (with any luck) it won’t just splat all this stuff onto Planet-IF willy-nilly. To those people who can’t stand summary-mode RSS feeds, I apologize, and I’ll set it back to the regular format when the comp is over.

We will start with “Riverside”.

This looks to be a murder mystery game, but I didn’t finish it: the story didn’t compel me, and the implementation is shaky in places. Guess-the-verb problems are frequent.

It seems as though most competitions have a mystery or two, but the vast majority of them turn out not to be that great. Mystery IF can be loads of fun when done right (“Deadline”, “Act of Murder”), but I think mysteries may require more than the usual dexterity with plotting and puzzle planning; they also tend to require lots of NPC interaction, which is difficult territory.

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Lots of flaws in the opening of this made me nervous about how the rest of it would go. The opening narration is fairly generic; I winced in particular at the “thunderbolt” description of the news of your friend’s death.

The implementation of the funeral scene is also fairly weak. I tried throwing some dirt on my friend’s coffin but this wasn’t accounted for; more seriously, I couldn’t look at any of the family members of the victim individually, even though they are all mentioned there by name.

Then we come to the incident with the car. How plausible is it that a car would almost hit us, then *pause* beside us for long enough that we can read something on a notepad inside the car, then speed off again (but not so speedily that we can’t read the license plate two turns later)?

Okay, so that is stretching credibility, but it’s not until the next scene that I actually want to quit the game. I arrive home with a license plate and the memory of a guy who seemed familiar. It seems like I’d want to use one or both those pieces of information as soon as possible. I might, for instance, call the police? But there’s no phone around, and CALL POLICE isn’t recognized. Or I might want to try to do some research on the license plate online, but USE LAPTOP doesn’t help me right now. (I personally in real life have no access to ways to look up license plates, but maybe my character does; I’m pretty sketchy on what the PC does.) Or I might want to look through my photo album to see if I can recognize the stranger — but the game insists that that would take me hours. (Hours? Really? I can flip through a bunch of pages of photos fairly quickly, I would think — it only takes a fraction of a second to eliminate an image that definitely doesn’t have the desired figure in it. So how big is this photo album, anyway?)

Matters don’t get better when my girlfriend comes home and tells me to look up the wedding in the album. >X ALBUM still doesn’t work. >LOOK AT WEDDING, >LOOK UP WEDDING, >LOOK UP WEDDING IN ALBUM: no, no, and no. Finally I get lucky with >READ ALBUM (is that really the right word with photo albums?).

And then after I’ve done that, then I’m allowed to use the phone, but only if I type USE PHONE. CALL POLICE is still not recognized, nor does there seem to be a phone object (and I wandered all over the house looking for one). I’m afraid I’m at a point where I am struggling too much with the game to be having fun.

Anyway: this isn’t profoundly awful, but it lacks polish and the writing is not making me feel really engaged in the protagonist’s problem. So I’m content to leave the murder unsolved.

11 thoughts on “IF Competition: Riverside

  1. I’m confused. I think I finished the game, but the ending I got was pure gibberish. Maybe the author didn’t complete it?

    I’d give it 1 of 10 points.

  2. I was thrown out of the narrative after examining the parked cars, and getting the response “woah, who has the Lexus!”.

    That just clashed with the sombre tone of the funeral so badly that I started laughing. Perhaps the protagonist has a severe case of ADD? (“I am terribly sad about my friend’s dea… dude! Shiny object!”).

    Minor quibble I guess, but that one thing made it impossible for me to willfully ignore the implementation problems you’ve described.

  3. Max: Yeah, looks like it. Presumably the author(s?) gave up halfway through, before any beta-testing, hence all the implementation problems.

  4. That’s interesting. I might have chosen to score the game lower if I had known that it has no real ending — but since I got discouraged and quit before I reached that point, I assumed there was one.

    Possible perverse authorial strategy: write the first two or three scenes of a game that appears highly polished, yet in some respect so repugnant that no one who starts it gets far enough to see that it’s unfinished — so many judges give it a medium-high score on the grounds that it’s good but not to their own tastes…

    Nah, I’m not suggesting Riverside was trying any such thing.

    Besides, considering that some people have apparently played numerous turns of Rendition, it’s probably impossible to write an IF game so offensive that you can guarantee no one will try to finish it.

  5. I’d have to give this 1 out of 10 also. It held my attention for a few minutes, but then finished with a completely gibberish ending.

  6. I had very much the same experience–tried to talk to the friends at the funeral only to be told that I could see no such thing, hunted for the phone, played guess-the-verb with the photo album–but unfortunately did not give up before trying to board the train. Once I did that, I suddenly understood why the authors didn’t bother with such niceties as making the nightstand in the bedroom exist, or making the phone/fax visible.

    Max’s and newlin’s suggestion that the authors simply didn’t manage to finish writing the game is, I think, the most charitable one.

  7. Just hit this one. The intent of the gibberish ending appears to be to introduce the verb “ragequit”, which gives silly endings where they bothered to implement it, and a bare prompt when they failed.

  8. Yeah, the writing wasn’t too bad otherwise but the creator(s) made some very bad choices. First, they excluded some very basic commands such as “about”, “hint”, “instructions”, “help”, “info” or “information”, ect. and although the sad little solution included is helpful to a certain extent, they messed up there too and missed some very important parts/commands. I missed out on the car thing – (hah, he is supposed to be suffering then he makes a big deal about a random car?) – but something that annoyed me was that you have an SO in this game yet if you try to hug her the game tells you to keep your mind on the game. I always hate it when people do that. And you just know there’s something wrong when certain commands give you a dull default response or you get a “verb not understood” type message. (such as “dance” doesn’t even give you a dull default response…it gives you the “verb not understood” type response and “sing” gives you a dull default response)
    I could be wrong, but I’m guessing this entry was just something “slapped together” to show off a little of their skill but not much more thought than that was put into it. I’m the kind of person who can be really patient and keep trying things, but more often than not…I prefer to get through a new game as quickly as possible while at the same time exploring a lot and can get angry/frustrated very easily if things aren’t working the way I want them to and going my way. A little off topic, I don’t get this “channer” thing ETPC has mentioned but I suspect it’s nothing nice. I could be wrong about that too but if it’s something xenophobic and snarky, please keep it to yourself, ETPC.
    Yep, just reached the ridiculous “ending”.
    And…”choochoo”, seriously? It’s like a childish hacker or some “genius idiot” coded the last few parts and the so-called ending. Disappointing.

  9. k24601,

    No idea if you’ll read this, given that it’s several months after your comment, but I thought I’d try to explain the “channer” comment. ETPC is referring to the Internet forum 4chan, which, basically, goes along with your theory of “childish hacker”. I think the point of the game was in fact to purposefully annoy reviewers, especially with the ending.

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