IFComp Reviews: Fox, Fowl and Feed, Orevore Courier, and Slap That Fish

More IFComp 2007 reviews. Spoilers behind the link.

I didn’t finish these games. Regardless of quality, they annoyed the hell out of me.

I started Fox, Fowl, and Feed and found my character beside a river with a fox, a chicken, and a bag of chicken feed, and my first thought was oh God, not this. This being the old chestnut about getting the cargo over the river one at a time. For the record, the correct solution is to dump the feed in the river, turn the fox and chicken loose, find the jerk who roped you into this situation, and beat him with a stick.

The boat puzzle is just a framework for the author’s own original puzzles. It didn’t help, because the game annoyed me. The first bad sign is that you have to untie the boat from the dock. When you first take it across the river you have to specifically type UNTIE BOAT, or the game just says you can’t row it while it’s tied up. A small complaint, but it tells you something about this game’s willingness to work with the player.

A good parser recognizes that certain actions are implicit in the player’s commands. Let’s say there’s a pair of pants on the ground, and you type WEAR PANTS. A bad parser will say something like “You need to be holding the pants before you can put them on.” A good parser will automatically take the pants. Knowing you need to pick up the pants before you can wear them is not a puzzle. It’s part of your basic knowledge of the world. It’s obvious. And it’s obvious that a boat needs to be untied before you can row it across the river. Forcing you to spell out this extra step, as though your intentions were not obvious, isn’t fun. It’s just typing.

Then it takes multiple steps to get across the river. You have to pick up your cargo, get in the boat, drop the cargo, row for three turns, take the cargo, exit the boat, drop the cargo, get back in the boat, and row back. Over and over again. And it’s oh so unbearably tedious.

Orevore Courier hit a flock of pet peeves. Puzzles you can’t solve without screwing up, dying and starting over? Check. Entire games you can’t solve without screwing up, dying and starting over? Check. Time limits? Check. Very tight time limits forcing you to play the game over and over again until you discover the optimal command sequence? Check and double check. This isn’t a game; it’s an efficiency exercise. It feels like Frederick Winslow Taylor is hanging over your shoulder with a stopwatch.

And then there’s Slap That Fish. I feel guilty about hating this game. Halfway through you get clever puzzles and funny writing. But to get there you wade through three identical combats and type variations on ATTACK FISH and REST about half a million times. By the time I reached the clever puzzles and funny writing I was too bored to care.

Anyway. I guess the moral here is don’t bore the player. And when I find myself reading the same thing and typing the same commands over and over is when I get bored.

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3 thoughts on “IFComp Reviews: Fox, Fowl and Feed, Orevore Courier, and Slap That Fish

  1. I’m thinking the “untie boat” thing was actually useful, in that it drew attention to the rope, which is needed to solve puzzles.

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