IFComp Reviews: Packrat

Another IFComp review. I’m going to have to post more than one of these a week if I want to get through this; maybe I’ll manage it this weekend. Spoilers past the link.

Guides to writing interactive fiction emphasize beta testing. Beta testing, beta testing, and beta testing. Also, beta testing. This is because beta testing is, in fact, important.

Not everybody knows how to get beta testers. These people test their games themselves. This doesn’t work as well–the point of beta testers is that they’re not the author, so have no preconceptions. But, hey, at least they’re trying.

What I don’t understand is when a game hasn’t been tested at all. Usually it’s possible to finish a game like this, because the author wrote a walkthrough, and plugged in the string of commands until it worked. But you can tell that’s all they did, because as soon as you step off the path the game breaks.

I’m halfway through IFComp ’07, and I’ve found three games like this.

Packrat is the most frustrating, because it’s the one that could have been good. The writing shows genuine wit. This being a “Sleeping Beauty” takeoff, you stumble on a room of sleeping noblemen. “You dare not disturb their privileged slumber,” explains Packrat. “You owe some of them money.” The game mentions a throne at the other end of the hall. Probably you’ll want to take a closer look. If you do, you’ll be told “you can’t see any such thing.”

Bad sign.

It gets worse. There’s a chest in one room. It “overflows with a glittering pile of pantaloons.” Maybe there’s something else in there, under the pants. So you search the chest, and Packrat explains “the oversized teak chest is empty.” Examine the chest, and it’s full of pants again. Search it, it’s empty. These must be some of those Schroedinger’s pantaloons.

You can pick up the chest. You can drop it in another room. You can try to stand on top of it, and Packrat will assume that you’re “using the chest as a boat.” Even if there’s no water. See, you’re supposed to drop it in the moat. It never occurred to the author that you might try to stand on it, or in it, anywhere else. It’s not in his walkthrough.

As usual with these kinds of games, I didn’t finish it. Expect reviews of two more similarly painful games before I move on to some good ones. (I was going to post them as a single essay but decided to break them up.)

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