IFComp 2008: Afflicted, Snack Time

(This is another Interactive Fiction Competition review .)

Afflicted and Snack Time are good in entirely opposite ways.

There’s a scene in Joe vs. the Volcano—the only Tom Hanks flick I ever liked—where Joe, who has been hired to jump into a volcano, explains his quest to a luggage salesman. “That’s very interesting,” replies the salesman, “as a luggage problem.”

Afflicted’s player character is a health inspector who is to health inspection what Joe’s luggage salesman is to luggage. His entire worldview revolves around health inspection. He plows a straight furrow; by now it must be a mile deep.

The PC is inspecting Nikolai’s Bar and Grill for violations. This is more fun than it sounds. This astonishingly hideous little dive provides something new wherever you look: rats, roaches, mold, vomit, liquefying lettuce, malfunctioning sinks… I had loads of fun just noting things and ticking off Nikolai’s sanitation score.

Eventually you start finding body parts. “The severed left hand is likely evidence of a ghastly crime,” muses the game, “but you falter when trying to assign it as a particular health code violation in your notebook.” Nevertheless, as the evidence of a ghastly crime mounts, the PC continues ticking off sanitation score points. Because, dammit, he’s a health inspector!

At this point Afflicted asks the PC to do something monumentally idiotic when there’s at least one obvious alternative—how about cleaning out the chopping machine with the tongs, instead of sticking the PC’s hand inside? The game then turns into a gruesome tale of vampires. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the game had been all about the health inspection, but Afflicted wins points for giving players a variety of potential endings and the most amusing PC I’ve seen in this competition so far.

Snack Time also revolves around food preparation, but where Afflicted is gruesome Snack Time is cute. Very cute. Aggressively cute. It’s a bad sign when anything purports to be written by the author’s pet. A preternaturally clever pet, in this case, who’s supposed to be a dog but seems to think like a cat.

Snack Time is a well crafted, bug-free little game, and I gave it a score to match. Like Afflicted, and unlike many other games this year, it includes a number of interesting or amusing things to see and do that have nothing to do with solving the game. But, man… it is a treacly little thing. I think I had more fun tracking down the roach problem at Nikolai’s.