IF Competition: A Date With Death

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.

This is a David Whyld game. The guy has written an astounding number of games: IFDB lists 41, and I believe that list may be incomplete — at least, I had the impression from some comments somewhere that he also writes AIF, but that doesn’t seem to be listed here. (If I’m misrepresenting him, I apologize.) For the most part, though, David Whyld’s mainstream games are of a piece: they are often lighthearted, lie somewhere on the moderately puzzly to puzzle-less continuum, and display a certain basic competence, as you might expect from a guy who has this much experience.

What I don’t really see is a tendency to improve, or push himself very much. This year’s entry is, as far as I can tell, at least the third in its series; while I enjoyed one game about this premise, the sequel seems to be recycling a lot of jokes. Whyld is fond of comic exaggeration, but he doesn’t know when to stop. If he had the job of Chief Royal Balloon Inflater, he’d be drowning in broken rubber.

His writing as a whole suffers from the same lack of discipline. It is too long-winded relative to the amount of content. Paragraphs meander, because he hasn’t settled on one point to make, so instead he throws in half a dozen ideas none of which are developed well. This happens in first drafts: I understand. But he rarely seems to take time to revise, preferring quantity (of prose in the game; in number of games released per year) over quality.

Add to that the usual parsing problems — I know the ADRIFT crowd hates it when I mention this, but even an old, old ADRIFT hand like David Whyld doesn’t get his parser to behave with the basic level of consistency that you get out of the box with TADS or Inform or Hugo. I always seem to stumble across this fact within the first few moves, and it always makes me growl — especially when the parser pretends not to know about a game-important object because you haven’t referred to it with the preferred phrase. So no, I don’t dock a game points for being in ADRIFT. But I do dock it for having a broken parser, which is frequently the same thing.

In his sleep David Whyld can write a better game than the average IF novice. The problem is, it’s always pretty much the same game, and I’ve played it already. I wish the guy would wake up, and see what happened if he pushed himself with some more ambitious design ideas, more carefully crafted writing, and a punchier plot.

But people have been pointing this out for years, and it hasn’t changed anything. So I imagine roughly this will appear again in Spring Comp 2009, and IF Comp 2009, and in various ADRIFT-specific competitions, and… I have an increasingly hard time working up the will to play it once more.

5 thoughts on “IF Competition: A Date With Death

  1. I think it’s fair to say that Pratchett has also written the same book (or maybe the same small handful of books) over and over. It’s just that the original sample is better.

    See also: Wodehouse.

  2. This is a David Whyld game. The guy has written an astounding number of games: IFDB lists 41, and I believe that list may be incomplete

    IFWiki lists 58 games, from 2001 to October 2008!

    But it’s still not as many as Bonaventura Di Bello, an Italian author from the 1980s, who wrote (at least) 70 IF games in about a year… (See his IFWiki page, and http://www.sparkynet.com/spag/backissues/spag51.html#History .) I don’t know how long these games were, but that’s still impressive!

  3. See also: Wodehouse

    In the Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams makes a case for the plot being an incidental framework to support Wodehouse’s prose.

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