IF Competition: A Martian Odyssey

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.

I seem to be crashed in an underimplemented rocket ship with no way to get out.

When I ask for hints, the game tells me to “Think harder. :)”.

I… just… enh. This isn’t the worst thing ever, but neither is there anything here to motivate me to play on, especially given that it looks from the very first moves like it would be a test of my walkthrough-typing skills. The writing isn’t thrilling and the world isn’t very responsive and I don’t have much investment in my character’s situation. So I didn’t get far.

5 thoughts on “IF Competition: A Martian Odyssey”

  1. The game gets better, although the hints don’t.

    The most cringe- and giggle-worthy moment for me was this:

    > turn on radio
    You try in vain to contact Ares. The ship is too low and the atmosphere must be too thin to carry the radio waves.
    You rub the injured member ruefully.

    “The injured member” is presumably meant to refer to my nose; on a similarly suggestive note, I seem to have a colleague named Putz. But the radio waves? Yeesh. I know this is science fiction, and I’m (reasonably) willing to accept the struthioid Martian with the coal-powered glass revolver on good old suspension-of-disbelief principles, but couldn’t the author have just said that the radio was broken in the crash?

    In general, the initial descriptions of things are pretty poor, but when you look at stuff more closely, what you need turns out to be there. And the game’s depiction of Martian life, though wildly implausible, is intriguing in its opacity; I’m a little bit reminded of a couple of Stanisław Lem’s works that present alien environments as truly alien, and refuse to reduce them to something that we can understand in human terms. But Lem, of course, would never have talked about an atmosphere being too thin to carry radio signals.

  2. But the radio waves? Yeesh.

    That might not be as stupid as reviewers keep saying: of course radio waves do not require atmosphere, but shortwave radio — which you would need to communicate with someone around the planet from you where a line-of-sight transmission is impossible — gets around the curvature of the planet by being bounced back off the ionosphere. The effect depends on atmospheric oxygen and is sufficiently sensitive that the behavior of shortwave radio changes depending on season and time of day. So I don’t find it a stretch to be told it doesn’t work the same way on Mars. (That all assumes, of course, that the Ares is somewhere on or very close to the Martian surface, not overhead in space; and “carry” isn’t quite the right word to describe what’s happening. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is based on some line in the original story that the game’s author adapted unclearly or else did not understand.)

  3. Late to this thread but I just played this (and here I am now wishing all the comp discussion was in one place… ;) ). I rather hoped that it was going to be a straight up survival story of an astronaut, so when the martians came into the picture I was a little disappointed. But I found the terse descriptions, the technical ‘details’ and the mood music surprisingly effective in conveying the mood of the piece. Again, until the martians showed up. But anyway.

  4. The game’s author didn’t stray a lot from the “world of Mars” as envisioned by Weinbaum in ’34. I think that’s where most of the oddities stem from. I thought it was alternate history at first. Then… oh! It’s an alternate *future*, retold several decades too late.

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