IFComp 2009: Star Hunter, Eruption

This is another Interactive Fiction Competition review.

There are a lot of treasure hunts and random puzzle games this year. I have no idea why. It’s like a bunch of people turned up whose conception of interactive fiction was etched in granite somewhere around 1985.

Star Hunter

Star Hunter is basically Zork, Buried Chaos again. In space. “The main objective,” says Star Hunter, “is to discover treasures, especially the fabled lying bear of Deneb.” You’re hunting the Lying Bear of Deneb through a world of sparse rooms and bad grammar. The author seems to assume its players already understand the setting, as though they have access to his head. The game snipes at players for trying perfectly reasonable things:

This metallic device is small enough to fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. It can be pushed like a button.
The surface of the gizmo gleams with a pale silver color.

Nothing happens. What were you expecting??

Something other than sarcasm.

I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. The walkthrough is complicated and involves a lot of putting chips in slots and pressing buttons. I skipped the rest of this game. Probably the bear just wanted to tell me Rigel had weapons of mass destruction.

I think at this point I have all the bad games out of the way.


I’ve had a game where the PC woke up with a hangover, and a game where the PC woke up in a cave. Now the PC has awakened in a cave, with a hangover. I feel like this is building to something.

Eruption is a better game than Star Hunter. Being a better game than Star Hunter is, in fact, the entire point of Eruption. According to the help menu the author entered it because he was sick of seeing buggy, subliterate games littering the competition every year, and wanted to write a game that demonstrated the minimum technical standards necessary to avoid wasting the players’ time.

In this, he’s succeeded. You could give Eruption to potential competition entrants and tell them their games must be this good to proceed. The prose is plain, but not bad. It’s purely a puzzle game, with no twists: you need X, to get it you need to do Y, to do Y you need item Z. But it’s technically flawless: no bugs, and the author has the language skills he needs to communicate with the player. If there’s a problem here, it’s that the locations are a tangle of descriptions and their relationships to each other are sometimes hard to visualize.

There are even flashes of humor and backstory and a personality for the PC—more than we get in many other games this year. I just wish we’d had more. As a demonstration this is nice, but the denser and richer game that this author is obviously capable of writing would have been even better.

(I was, incidentally, amused to note that elsewhere this innocuous game absolutely incensed the author of one of last year’s nonsensical time wasters, who calls Eruption “a profoundly empty work of non-art” and says the author “carried nothing in his heart to express in a work of IF.” Which raises the frightening possibility that The Lair of the CyberCow was meant as some kind of deeply meaningful personal statement.)