IF Comp 2010: Under, In Erebus

As 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 a couple of years ago: I’m playing and reviewing games that have listed beta-testers, and skipping those that don’t. In 2008 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, and it made my reviewing process a happier one in 2009, so I’m sticking with it. 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.

Next up: Under, In Erebus

From the walkthrough, I see that there’s a kind of cute central puzzle to this game, a wordplay puzzle a little reminiscent of Letters from Home. Rapp’s previous game Goose, Egg, Badger was also wordplay-based, so I’m not surprised.

The thing is, I didn’t experience any of this by discovering it myself, because the game is so intentionally cryptic at the outset that it’s not even clear what your goal is, let alone how to use the various machines. There is, yes, a HINT command, but when I used it early on, it just told me to look around more — frustrating advice given that I had no idea what I was looking for or why. Eventually I gave up and used the included GOALS command, but when I saw what my goals were, I had no idea how I was supposed to know to pursue those. So then I read the SECRETS, and thought, huh, how was I supposed to find that out? And I went to the WALKTHROUGH, played through a bit from that, and gave up.

I could be wrong about this, but I somewhat suspect that Rapp’s testers gave him some feedback like “this is too undirected” and “I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to be doing”, and so rather than build direction and clues into the text of the game, he included some meta-game tools to help the player.

Which leads me to a more general observation. I really like the concept of wordplay puzzles in IF, because they take advantage of the medium and do things that would not be possible in any other kind of game. The problem is that, in order to make the wordplay work, these games often take place in extremely surreal environments or rely on highly contrived puzzles, with the result that it’s hard to achieve much immersion and hard to guess what should happen next.

I wanted to like this game, but I just could not get into it.

4 thoughts on “IF Comp 2010: Under, In Erebus

    • It’s a little like that, but the puzzles and tone are both quite a bit different from Nord and Bert.

      If you’re interested, there’s a small subgenre of wordplay IF. Some of these are a grab-bag of different word puzzles (Nord and Bert, Ad Verbum); some pursue a particular thing consistently (Puddles on the Path, Earl Grey, Letters from Home). I tend to like the latter approach better, personally, because it’s easier to get into the groove of playing and thinking of one kind of solution. But YMMV.

  1. I don’t know if you read my review of this game on intfiction.org or not, but my experience was similar to yours. I’m actually glad you didn’t figure out the puzzle without assistance either because it makes me feel less stupid. I really enjoyed the quality of writing in this game, but I could have used something to nudge me in the direction of the puzzle.

    • I was also glad to read that Emily went through exactly the same thing I had. Even with the walkthrough, I quickly became tired of the gameplay to the point that I quit after around 5 minutes.

      Thanks for making me feel like I’m not a dunce, Emily!

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