IF Comp 2009: Eruption

EruptionAs has been my practice for the last few years, I’ve set my RSS feed to truncate entries so that I can post reviews without spoilerage. Within an entry, there is a short, spoilerless discussion (though the comp purists may want to avoid reading even that before playing for themselves); then spoiler space; then a more detailed discussion of what I thought did and didn’t work in the game.

I’m also pursuing an approach I came up with last year: I’m playing and reviewing games that have listed beta-testers, and skipping those that don’t. Last year that turned out to be a pretty fool-proof indicator of which games were going to end up scoring 4 or less on my personal scale. I’m hoping this will mean I have more time to devote to the remaining games, which in turn will (I hope) be of higher quality, and you, dear reader, will have fewer rants inflicted on you.

Now up: Eruption.

You too can play it if you download the comp games, or even try it online.

I confess a little prejudice against this at the outset, because the author admits that he doesn’t think his game is that great, but entered it anyway (together with a rant against all the other people who enter badly tested or proofread works). My question is: how is his form of contempt for comp judges different from that of the people he’s ranting against? It’s true I’d much rather play a game with beta-testing than one without, hence my policy about what I’m reviewing this year. Nonetheless, it’s always alienating to be told, “here’s my game: I didn’t try very hard, I don’t think it’s any good, and you probably won’t like it.” Appending “but at least I beta-tested it, unlike all those other folks” doesn’t improve matters.

Ultimately, however, I went ahead and played. And indeed it was pretty much what the author described it to be: extremely short and straightforward, adequately implemented, but lacking ambition and creativity. The most memorable thing about it is the rant.

Probably this game will place ahead of last place, and possibly the author will derive some kind of satisfaction from that fact, but it strikes me as a cynical exercise.

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As soon as I start this game I’m troubled by questions. How did I get to this island? Why do I have my own cave? Who harvests the breadfruit grove (and for that matter who maintains it)? There’s a sort of bareness about the story and the geography at the beginning that troubles me.

That’s not helped by the quality of the descriptions, many of which consist mostly of directional pointers. E.g.:

Here, on the northern shore, stands the grove of breadfruit trees which provide the island’s main source of food. At this point the Island Path, running around the foot of the volcano from the west over the promontory to the southeast, crosses a small stream which runs from the slopes of the mountain to the south down into the sea; next to it, a staircase hacked into the rock ascends to the top. An uneven path runs up the cape to the east.

I’ve been playing IF for years, and I still find this kind of thing hard to parse. I practically need to make a diagram for each room.

Apparently breadfruit looks like this. Thanks, wikipedia!

Apparently breadfruit looks like this. Thanks, wikipedia!

But what bothers me more than what’s present is what’s missing: there’s no strong visual impression to take away, which is a pity because I would imagine that a breadfruit orchard with a view of a volcano would actually be a pretty memorable thing to see. For that matter, I’m not too familiar with breadfruit, and would have welcomed a more extensive description, or the ability to interact with it more. The whole island environment has a lot of potential that goes largely unexplored.

The best bits of the game, in my opinion, are the hints of worldbuilding about the goddess and the volcano. Unfortunately, there’s very little obligation to explore this or do anything with it, and the details don’t go very deep. Likewise, there are eventually a few hints about your place on the island and what kind of person you are, but they’re not very developed.

Final analysis: I wish the author had had more ambition for this work. Even the simple puzzle structure could have been the vehicle for something considerably more interesting had the scenery, characterization, or backstory been richer.

One thought on “IF Comp 2009: Eruption

  1. There was no love or enthusiasm put into this game. Even though that’s probably an untrue statement, I can’t really find any other way to describe it. The scene that drove it home for me was walking down into the volcano’s crater and picking up a rock… which felt no different from walking into any other room and picking up an item. Underwhelming.

    In certain respects this is the polar opposite to another game in the comp which was full of an innocent enthusiasm but riddled with “bad” design and strange decisions. Playing this game made me look on that other game with much kinder eyes.

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