IFComp 2008: A Date With Death

(This is another Interactive Fiction Competition review .)

A Date With Death is another game from David Whyld, the author of last year’s In the Mind of the Master, and I could pretty much give this one the exact same review. Whyld doesn’t seem to get that interactive fiction is collaborative; the author gives up a little control to the player. Whyld’s games don’t care what the player thinks. The player’s commands aren’t driving this story. A Date With Death, like In the Mind of the Master, is in love with its own dense overwritten prose. Visually dense, as well as linguistically–Whyld writes like he’s splooging big concrete lumps onto the screen. Notice how most online text puts a blank line between paragraphs, instead of intenting? There’s a reason for that. Reading from a screen isn’t like reading from a page, and you need different strategies to keep it legible.

Whyld’s works aren’t so much games as hypertext stories that make you type to keep reading. A Date With Death isn’t as bad in this regard as In the Mind of the Master, but even here it looks like the only commands you need to make it through are directions, numbers and conversational keywords. Attempts to affect the world yourself are discouraged; sensible actions like READ SCROLLS get responses like “You can’t read the huge pile of scrolls!”, and the game responds to GET IN BED as though you’ve tried to pick up the bed. Your character isn’t allowed to pick anything up!

I have just one question: why does Death talk in ALL CAPS? Is Whyld referencing Terry Pratchett for a reason? Or does he just assume for some reason that this is how Death is supposed to talk, the way bad fantasy writers assume their novels are supposed to have kings and quests?