Introcomp 2011: Despondency Index, Parthenon

A couple of paragraphs each on Despondency Index and Parthenon, from Introcomp 2011.

In each of these cases I came away feeling like I didn’t know what the author thought was the selling point of the game. Maybe I’m not getting it; alternatively, maybe the author didn’t know the answer to that question. (This is an issue to some degree in most Introcomps.)

The Despondency Index: Despite its extreme brevity, this contains several unhelpful errors (such as a room description that puts the exit in the wrong direction), which doesn’t inspire me with confidence. More to the point, though, I never got to do anything very interesting. The game insistently took agency away from me even on minor things. I ran, but it didn’t matter which direction I chose. I gave a command only to pick up a mug of cold coffee, but the game drank for me and then dropped the cup on the floor. I gave the command to take the idol, but the game narrated a whole bunch of reactions and movements afterwards.

I get that sometimes you want an effect, an image, a character note that would be ruined if you give the player control. But if your whole game is like that, then what you should be writing is a movie script or a novel, not IF. It’s possible the author is planning for the player to do some cool stuff later in the game, but the intro lacks examples of compelling gameplay.

Note the conspicuous lack of domed ceiling
Parthenon: This is implemented very sparsely: almost none of the scenery is there, key NPCs are totally unresponsive, the one important bit of interaction requires you to guess the verb, and there are assorted spelling and punctuation errors. But leaving all that aside, I can’t play this game without shouting WHAT?! at the screen every move. The game is named after the Parthenon, but the Parthenon in Athens bears no resemblance to the one in the game. There is no domed ceiling (maybe the author got it crossed up with the Pantheon in Rome?). The columns are not knee-height. The building is not divided into a half dozen different rooms, and neither is any other typical Greek temple. Animals were not stabled inside the Parthenon, nor were sacrifices performed under its roof. (Greek animal sacrifice happened at outdoor altars as a rule, or possibly — in the case of heroes and certain deities associated with the underworld — in a pit. There was a lot of blood and smoke, which would have been inconvenient indoors. What the temple did house was a cult statue, though that’s long since gone.) The Parthenon is not located on a street, but is on top of the Acropolis, together with a number of other buildings; and while the Acropolis does have sheer drops, these drops overlook lots more of Athens, not a lashing Mediterranean seascape. If you want the ocean, you have to drive to Piraeus. And ταξιδι means “travel” or “trip” and is not the name for a taxi. Eventually I started to wonder if the whole thing was a prank, because it would have taken no more than five minutes with an internet connection to correct many of these issues had the author cared to do so.

After the unconvincing tour of the unconvincing Parthenon, there’s a time-traveling magic bit which apparently takes us back in time to that well-known period of Greco-Aztec religion in which the priests sacrificed humans at obsidian door-altars.

I dunno. These choking noises I’m making, they’re not pedantic apoplexy exactly. More like appalled, incredulous laughter. To some extent I have the same reaction I had to April in Paris — here’s a piece I’m just not able to like because it is false to something I know from experience and care about a lot. And then it doesn’t help that the game is also not very strong technically.

10 thoughts on “Introcomp 2011: Despondency Index, Parthenon”

  1. I thought it might be a gag, too, because I assumed that the author had at least used the correct word for taxi. I couldn’t square that small bit of diligent research with the absurdity of the “Parthenon” we were given. But if everything is wrong, it makes more sense, I suppose.

    1. Actually, that’s the part that makes me most suspicious. It takes a little bit of effort — not a lot, but a little — to input Unicode Greek in Inform. So this person had to go come up with something to put in there. It would be just as easy to do this right as it was to do it wrong. And the effect of adding it is to suggest (at least to players who don’t know it’s wrong) that what follows is going to be detail-oriented and accurate.

      That said, if it’s a prank, I don’t really see the point of it.

  2. To my chagrin, I didn’t really register the epic inaccuracy in Parthenon; well, okay, the gorgon statue / wave-lashed crag room was obviously wrong, but somehow it never struck me as a problem. Maybe the framing had something to do with that, but I think the main reason was that the writing was so extraordinarily bland that I didn’t visualise anything whatsoever.

  3. I think my favorite “should’ve beta tested” moment was the ending message. Why? Your spouse’s gender. The text carefully leaves out all references throughout, and the name “Cameron” could go either way, until at the end you get the message regarding “her”. However, I had already checked, and the game recognizes “x him” but not “x her”. So I got a moment of “huh? I can save some mysterious woman, whom I’ve never met?”

    1. Ah, that makes sense. I’d assumed that Cameron was male all along and then figured that the author had mistyped the pronoun at the end (odd, I agree, but hypothetically possible).

  4. I am actually the writer of Parthenon and I first would like to say I really appreciate your comments. I’ve never created IF before and hoped that this would be a good exercise to get started. Admittedly I was afraid the world was a little “bland” and there were a few technical things I had trouble working out. I was not trying to make the Parthenon in the game true to the actual Parthenon. I had a story in mind before I had a setting and maybe trying to fit the Parthenon was a mistake on my part. Yes, I did try to make Cameron a character that could either be a man or woman, but maybe that was also a mistake. Im not trying to make excuses, I just wanted to explain some of my reasoning behind the game and I do greatly appreciate everyone’s comments and criticisms. I hope to flesh out Parthenon( whose name will probably change once I rethink the setting) into a full and (much) better game and your comments will help me do that.

    1. Yes, I did try to make Cameron a character that could either be a man or woman, but maybe that was also a mistake

      I think people were mostly confused because of the pronoun use at the end, which does seem to say Cameron is definitely a woman. It’s possible to do an ambiguous-gendered significant other (see Jigsaw), or to ask the player’s preference (see Blue Lacuna), if you’re aiming for a romance where the gender assignments will suit the player. So that I think is not killer; though there will always be some people who just prefer the characters to be more clearly defined than that, it’s a technique that has been used in the past, and successfully.

      I just wanted to explain some of my reasoning behind the game and I do greatly appreciate everyone’s comments and criticisms

      Cool, and thanks for dropping by! I admit I was curious to know the backstory here.

      Good luck with the fuller version.

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