Another game from Spring Thing: this time it’s Jim Aikin’s A Flustered Duck. But first, we must fill this space with something for the RSS feed. Perhaps I can interest you in a recipe for tea-smoked duck? Or duck with pomegranate sauce? If cooking isn’t your thing, perhaps you’d like to order duck in a dark-chocolate demi or a crisp duck cake small plate?
Oh, all right, I suppose live ducks are okay too. Forward we go, and there are more than usually SPOILERS ahoy.
It appears we are continuing the trend of stuff you shouldn’t do if you’re not Andrew Plotkin: namely, Flustered Duck contains two mazes, or possibly one maze and one maze-alike. This made me narrow my eyes suspiciously.
It turns out I wasn’t wrong: this is pretty old-school stuff, with lots of fetch-quests and object-accumulation, and in which you have to be sure not only to examine but also to search all your surroundings.
Which could still be fun, except Flustered Duck also contains a completely opaque puzzle logic. This is the kind of game where you need X, but there is no immediate way to get it or even see a path through to almost getting it. So instead you wander around doing things T, 7, and π just because the game seems to be amenable to your doing them. Solving puzzles is fun in part because you’re anticipating what you’ll be able to do or see when the puzzle is successfully solved — getting access to a new area, solving something new, finding out an interesting plot point. So if you hand the player a bunch of puzzles without sorting out the sequence of motivation (to make sure he can formulate goals and then make plans to carry them out), you’re draining away a lot of the fun.
Here, to describe the bit of game I just played: I was stuck with no idea what to do, so I followed a hint that led me to borrow a television. I gave that television to the NPC it obviously went with. That got rid of him, but the only interesting thing to do in his absence appeared to be shoplifting a fan, which was the only implemented item in view. Once I had the fan, it turned out to have a battery that I could put into the surfboard I was carrying, converting that to a hoverboard. So… what? Now it hovers, but I didn’t need a hoverboard that I knew of. I didn’t have any reason to power up the surfboard other than general curiosity about why a surfboard would have a battery compartment. Even if I had formulated that chain of reasoning, I’m not sure I would have assumed the fan came with a battery, since appliances are usually sold without. I’ve experienced none of the satisfaction of solving something, because 100% of what I’ve done has been because the game made it obvious I should, not because I had a goal that I then figured out how to solve.
And even with these puzzles solved, I’m just as stuck as I was before. None of this yet has any obvious bearing on how to get the duck to get the ring to propose marriage to a girl who, as far as I can tell, regards me with something closer to condescending tolerance than love.
(For that matter, most characters seemed to be condescending or outright hostile — perhaps a natural exasperation at the protagonist’s bumbling ways, but it didn’t encourage me to be fond of them.)
Anyhow, it’s all reasonably sturdily implemented and written in workable English and so on, which makes it stand out from the vast majority of IF games entered into competitions. And I kind of liked the visual of the old Beetle out in a sundrenched field, which during a dreary afternoon sounds a lot more magical than the more overtly wondrous elements of the game. I bet it will have appeal to a number of people, the puzzle problems can be worked around with sufficiently heavy application of the hint system, and there’s just quite a lot of game there. Unless Realm of Obsidian is way above average for a Windows-only game (always possible, I suppose), I would be very surprised if Flustered Duck doesn’t win the competition.
But I’m not really feeling that compelled to finish it either. Given that I didn’t finish one of the other games in this comp and another runs on Windows, that would mean voting when I’ve only played one entry to completion. If I had a little more time on my hands I might go back and play through this with heavy reliance on the hints, and likewise the other game I didn’t finish, but as it is, I think I’m going to recuse myself from submitting scores this time.