Another IF Comp review, following my format for this comp. There is a cut, then any spoiler-free comments I have, and then spoiler space, and then more detailed feedback that assumes the reader has tried the game.
But first, we have some obligatory filler to try to make sure that the RSS summary does not accidentally contain any review. Filler, filler, la la la…
Okay. Here we go.
Patchy implementation gets in the way of my solving any of the puzzles by myself: there are too few clues in the way things are described, and if you do the right action at the wrong time, the game will respond as though that action is never going to work and possibly isn’t even specially implemented.
But “The Lucubrator” is short, and playable from a walkthrough. Is this worth doing? Up to you, I suppose: do you like zombie horror with copious gore? The plot elements are pretty standard, really; there is one semi-inventive thing about the plot (which is to say, it’s a good idea, but I’ve seen it done before, and more to the point, the game doesn’t build on it in any especially compelling direction).
Honestly, I am a little bewildered by the implementation problems this time. This game had beta-testers! In fact, it had some very good beta-testers. The name of Vincent Lynch might not mean anything to kids these days, but if you were around back in, oh, say, 2000 or so, you know the dude is infamously hardcore. He kicked the crap out of City of Secrets at one point, before he became too busy to work on it more and/or possibly just decided he wasn’t crazy about the format. Kathleen Fischer once referred to him as a “Cow Blower”  (and I’m sure she meant that in the nicest possible way):
5. COW BLOWERS: These are the sorts that try to eat furniture, sit on
the sofa, talk to the wall, take 1000 tissues from the tissue box…
etc. All games need at least ONE tester of this sort. The weirder, the
So there’s him, and then there’s also Carl Muckenhoupt, whom some of you might know as Baf, as in the Guide: he’s played a game or two. These other testers I haven’t worked with, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Wesley Osam and Ramona White credited in several other games before. So, basically, this looks like a strong team, with a reasonable number of people on it relative to the size of the game. This is not a case where some newbie author thanks his mother for testing his game for him, only Mom has never fired up an IF game before in her life and has no idea what she’s looking for. (I am not against testing your game on novice players. That’s a useful thing to do. More testing with novices might improve our outreach. But that is not a substitute for having your game gone over by someone who knows something about the medium — especially if you’re targeting the Comp. I digress.)
What I do not therefore understand is how a game that is all about violence still has in it “Violence isn’t the answer to this one” whenever the player tries to use violence at any time other than exactly the right moment. I do not understand how, if you are strapped to the table, you can still jump on the spot, fruitlessly. I also do not understand how (also while you are strapped to the table) if you try to sit up, you get this little exchange:
What do you want to sit on?
But you’ve only just escaped from it!
I don’t mean to suggest the testers fell down on the job. There might be various explanations, and ultimately the quality of a game is the author’s responsibility. I just honestly don’t get it. The plot of this game was probably always going to be okay-but-not-breathtaking. Polished interaction would, however, have made the puzzles possible to solve, and might also have led to a more gradual and more detailed and therefore more effective revelation of what is going on, and those things would have made it a way better game. And the author had the necessary resources; it’s not like he couldn’t find anyone to help him out.
So why…? Maybe he just ran out of time (as a rule of thumb I think it’s a bad sign if you’re not ready to start your beta by Sept. 1 if you’re targeting the end of the month — you may think you have all the time in the world left, but you’re probably wrong, and besides beta-testers need a little time to work). But then that feeds into rule of thumb #2: if your game is not done, do not submit it. I know that’s painful — I’ve pulled games I thought were going to be ready, myself. It made me sad. I felt like I’d screwed up. But you’re doing yourself and everyone else involved a favor.
I’m probably getting cranky because it’s late in the comp. I’m definitely getting blunter. But meh. Wasted opportunity!