Spring Thing games: Reluctant Resurrectee

Another review of the games from Spring Thing 2007: this time I’m looking at David Whyld’s “The Reluctant Resurrectee”. Mild spoilers follow, which you may wish to avoid if you plan to play the game.

David Whyld is an extremely prolific author, so while I’ve probably played five or six of his games at this point, this makes up only a small portion of the large total. I have mixed feelings about the ones I have played. Whyld writes in ADRIFT, and while the ADRIFT community is always indignant about the way the rest of the IF community regards their authorship system of choice, the fact remains: there are annoying problems that occur in just about every ADRIFT game ever written, because of the way the parser is implemented. Variant names of objects are often not recognized, or not recognized in every context. Whyld is an experienced author and usually does a pretty good job of dealing with these sorts of problems, but I still ran into a few cases (the crumpled pieces of paper, in particular) where the game claimed objects weren’t present when they clearly were, or where commands didn’t work as they ought to have done.

I also haven’t played the game to which this is a sequel.

Finally, I don’t always entirely match Whyld’s sense of humor: sometimes it works for me, and sometimes it just feels slack or overdone, or relies too heavily on a kind of general sarcasm without many really witty lines. I’ve quit a few of his recent entries in other competitions because, within the first few moves, I realized I wasn’t in the mood for the narrator’s attitude.

So I started this up with mixed expectations. The introductory menu didn’t entirely comfort me, either: there is a lot to read here: backstory, prologue text, about-the-game stuff. Some of it I felt was almost spoilery, and I would rather have been allowed to discover it as the course of the game progressed.

Still, I think this may well be my favorite Whyld game.

The problems I generally have with ADRIFT were kept to a minimum, and though I couldn’t find a way to make the game display graphics, it otherwise played nicely with Spatterlight, my MacOSX interpreter of choice.

Whyld makes good puzzle use of the main character’s physical limitations. This is something that has been explored before in IF — making the player into an animal, a small child, a ghost or spirit unable to touch things, or even [most extremely, and usually as a joke] an inanimate object — but he chose an interesting form here and developed it into a number of semi-plausible puzzles. There were several unique commands for this game, which I enjoyed experimenting with (though I wish that he had taken JUMP as a synonym for BOUNCE, or at least indicated when one tried JUMPing that BOUNCE might be a sensible alternative). I found a few of the puzzles to be too hard for me, but fortunately I was able to ferret the answers out of a hint thread on rec.games.int-fiction. I might slightly have preferred a built-in hint system like the one in “Fate”, but I know from experience how much of a pain that can be for the author, especially when you’re dealing with a game with multiple possible goals or endings. On the whole, Whyld makes the most of a contained geography, gets the player to think in new ways about what he can do with his limited agility and strength, and thus provides a play/exploration experience that is quite entertaining.

The humor is sometimes overplayed, particularly when it comes to the characterizations; Whyld is a big fan of comic exaggeration, and will build an NPC around a single flaw, quirk, or character note. This is a perfectly valid technique, but often the exaggerations he comes up with are just too heavy-handed to seem funny, or he works the same joke too hard. The king’s thickwitted Protector and effeminate son fell a bit into these categories. Lord Verenor is a little better developed; the excuses he finds to execute more people are sometimes entertainingly inventive. And I did enjoy some of the narrator’s internal monologue, especially when it wasn’t restricted to painfully obvious variations on “gosh, it’s hard to do stuff when you’re an eyeball”.

There were some mechanical flaws. Most notably, Whyld apparently assumed that the player would read the primer quite early on in play: I think I locked myself out of ever actually reading the five scrolls because I visited the mantle and knocked them to the floor before I was able to read them. And the RECALL verb didn’t work, even though I was seeing messages that the game claimed I would be able to RECALL later, until I had read the primer. These glitches were a bit frustrating, and several times I wondered whether, despite the reassurances of the opening screen, I had somehow put the game into an unwinnable state. But it did come through all right.

Finally, I think I ran into a bug at the very end of the game, when it came time to tot up my final score. I had, I think, gotten most things right, and I reached a total of 80 partway through the calculation. Then I was told that additional points were being added, but the sum remained at 80. So my true score should have been more like 85 or 90, I think, but I didn’t get credit!

So: mixed feelings about the humor and technical execution, though these came out more positive than negative; I did like the puzzle design and pacing, for the most part. As to the story, it was a light-hearted wrapper for the game and nothing more, and to that end, it functioned just fine.

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