IF Comp 2012: Lunar Base 1 (Michael Wayne Phipps Jr)

Lunar Base 1 is near-future parser-based science fiction, with light puzzle content. As usual, the jump will be followed by non-spoilery comments; then if I have anything spoilery to say, there will be spoiler space. The fact that I am reviewing it at all indicates that there are beta-testers.

I had the feeling with this game that the author had a story in mind to tell, a slightly creepy story about a lunar expedition gone wrong, and that as a player I was just there to join up the dots.

I consistently felt as though I was a bit behind the curve: my protagonist, the author, and the main NPC all knew more than I did about what was supposed to be going on, and I kept making mistakes and getting things wrong. I didn’t easily figure out which pieces of equipment I needed to be working with. I fumbled with my spacesuit. I asked my supposed subordinate what I was supposed to be doing, and he had to recommend that I have something to eat.

After not very long I went to the walkthrough, which is not the best way to experience anything. And then, perhaps because I didn’t adhere to this walkthrough perfectly, I seem to have somehow missed the ability to see the fuller ending of the story, because some of the suggested instructions didn’t work and the game ended before the walkthrough did. It wasn’t clear to me exactly what I’d done wrong, though — I thought I’d only taken a little time to examine a few extra objects that weren’t in the walkthrough.

So, hm. I felt that this was a more solid game that the author’s previous work, better tested, less buggy. At the same time, I also felt that it could have been more tightly written and done more to communicate motives and possibilities for the player, to encourage and reward investigation. For instance, early on I discover that there’s something mysterious in a particular direction from the base, but I’m discouraged from going that way to investigate. Later, though, when I have learned that I can’t go that way, then the walkthrough says that I should.

Details of this kind (and there are others) suggest a design process in which the author imagined what he wanted the player to do and planned around that, rather than one that looked at the situation from a player perspective and considered what the player would be most likely to investigate or try out.

Also, I think this would be more fun without all the space suit on/off fiddling.

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