Spring Thing 2011: Hallow Eve

Spring Thing 2011 is now on, with six entries. Today’s review is for Hallow Eve, by Michael Wayne Phipps Jr.

Short summary: Hallow Eve is a horror game that feels out of its depth. Starting from the genre-standard premise of a group of teenagers out in the woods, it tries to do too far much — there are several different threats, which makes it hard to build up fear around any one of them. The writing and implementation doesn’t always stand up to the demands on them. I don’t know how long it would take to play normally because I went to the walkthrough fairly early.

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It’s a staple of a certain type of slasher movie to have teenage girls being victimized, often as a consequence of their daring to be adventurous (sexually or otherwise). This game follows that tradition a little enthusiastically for my tastes: one of the female characters is stripped half naked for no very good reason, and the narrative describes all of them with a hint of mixed desire and repulsion. I suppose this might be meant to characterize the protagonist as a certain type of teenage boy, but it wasn’t a headspace I was eager to inhabit.

Besides that, the story is trying to do way too much at once. We start out with the characters telling each other scary stories, all of which turn out to be factually true, so that we have multiple threats to contend with, none of which is set up especially carefully. Vampires, ghosts, mad scientists, skeletons, etc. turn up in rapid sequence, and because there’s so little atmosphere build-up, I never exactly felt like one of these was going to attack me. Successful horror is as much about waiting for something bad to happen as it is about the revelation of gory corpses, and this game skips ahead pretty directly to the aftermath without spending much time on anticipation.

Finally, there’s the issue of implementation. The game wasn’t buggy in any particular that I ran into (though I was playing on walkthrough for most of the time), but there were a host of polish issues. Items you need to interact with, like the can in the protagonist’s car, aren’t necessarily highlighted in descriptions. Room descriptions often mentioned things twice, once in the default form and once in a specialized form; or they relied on a default where that wasn’t appropriate. A corpse should not be introduced in a sentence like “You can see a lantern, some keys, Rachel’s corpse, and a can here.” Pacing is also problematic. There are periods at the beginning of the game where, as far as I can tell, you just have to wait for the plot to ratchet forward on a timer, but the player can feel a bit at loose ends for what to do.

Overall, I felt like I had an idea of what the author was trying to do — emulate a classic slasher movie — but I think the experience I had wasn’t at all what he intended.

4 thoughts on “Spring Thing 2011: Hallow Eve”

  1. (Spoilers)

    I found myself having some fun exploring and wandering around; I’m not sure the object-oriented puzzle setup worked particularly well, especially since it required some big logical leaps – you basically have to wander around a maze and luck onto several crucial items, so about halfway through I had to abandon a rescue effort, go back over about half a map, and look for a specific location to search for something which I had no reason to believe existed (except that I’d read the walkthrough). I quit not too long after that.

    I actually *love* the concept of having every urban legend actually happening simultaneously, but wish there’d been more interaction between them.

  2. It sounds like a good idea for a game that needed (maybe a lot) more polish. One of the first game ideas that I ever did some actual work on was similar, so will definitely check it out.

    1. I don’t mean this harshly, but I think the game needed more than polish. Some of its problems are structural. Issues like “this needs a different pacing mechanism” or “there’s not enough time to build tension around this threat” are not things that beta-testers can necessarily help you address: by the time you get to beta, it’s hard to fix those sorts of things without massive rewriting.

      What does sometimes help:

      * Research. If you’re writing an ambitious game and haven’t written one of that type before, go find other games that attempt something vaguely similar. Play them. Read their reviews. Write your own review. Decide what you liked and didn’t like about their structure. If you’re not sure what games have the feature you’re trying to achieve, IFDB polls and intfiction recommendation threads are great: you can get experienced players to help you find what’s out there.

      * Alpha testing. Get someone to look over the game even in a very raw and unfinished form, before you’re committed to its major concepts, and tell you about their experiences. Identify the problem areas early.

      * Design review. Talk through your design with other authors, even if you don’t have it coded up yet. The forums are good for this; even better is the #craft channel of ifMUD.

      All this said, I think the author made a genuine attempt at a genuinely ambitious concept, and I respect that.

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