IF Competition: The Lucubrator

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).

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

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.[1] 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” [2] (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
better.

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:

>sit
What do you want to sit on?

>table
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!

3 thoughts on “IF Competition: The Lucubrator

  1. I can’t speak for the other testers, but I found and pointed out a number of bugs (including jumping while strapped to the table, and incongruous “Violence isn’t the answer to this one” responses) that weren’t fixed in the final release. It’s not that he ignored us entirely–other bugs were fixed. I think he didn’t allow himself enough time to fix all the problems.

    I signed up on the IF Beta page this year and helped test four games, and this seems to have been the case with three of them. The lesson here for authors is test early and often. Don’t assume the beta-testing phase will be a quick final polish. Testers may find a lot of bugs; feel a need for more detail, or more solutions, or more plot branches; or even discover basic conceptual problems that require a rethink or redesign of parts of your game.

  2. I do not understand how, if you are strapped to the table, you can still jump on the spot, fruitlessly.

    Hee hee; I did that, too. I also (successfully!) opened the door while still strapped to the table.

    […] if your game is not done, do not submit it. I know that’s painful […]

    This, of course, is the time to remind oneself that IF Comp is an annual event. Just think how polished and ready your game can be by next year!

  3. Another of the testers here speaking up. I’ve just been poking at the released version of this for the first time, and yeah, it’s kind of discouraging how much of what I reported wound up unchanged in the final version. But believe it or not, there was quite a lot fixed — the beta version had major game logic issues (one-time events that you could trigger multiple times and the like), and those seem to all be gone. Beta-testing on this game started very close to the comp deadline, so it’s quite likely that the author decided to focus on the major issues and ignore minor things like the “Violence isn’t the answer to this one” response (which was probably reported by every single beta tester; it’s certainly mentioned in most reviews).

    I kind of suspect that feedback about the puzzle content was doomed to be ignored regardless, though. These are not puzzles designed to be solvable.

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