Heated: Protag needs his boiler checked, pronto

Next into the meat grinder: Heated, a z-code game by Timothy Peers.

Judging just by the title, this game could go a lot of different ways.  A hard boiled detective investigating the seamy underbelly of the Bikram yoga scene?  Day-to-day about steampunk engineers?  Vacation to an alien desert?  A tasteful shower scene with Olivia Wilde and Scarlett Johansson?  My curiosity-glands are all a-twitter!

Wait, crap, I need more buffer text so that the one guy who has me on rss feed doesn’t lose his shit when I spoiler things.  Here’s an excerpt from my unpublished novel, “Deltoidclese: Laser Barbarian in Space“:

–       Deltoidclese flexed his moose-huge arm muscles, shattering the chains on them.  Then he glared at the evil space sorceror and the nubile captive princess across the space-room.
–       “You will never save this nubile princess, Deltoidclese!” ejaculated the evil sorceror from across the space-room I just mentioned, “Never!”.
–       “I do not intend to,” grunted Deltoidclese, as he pulled off his loincloth and flung it, discus-like, across the room, where it severed the carteroid artery of the nubile princess, killing her in a jiffy.
–       “By all the space gods” said the socreror
, with tears gushing from his single cyclopean eye, “You have saved me from her terrible mind-control tyranny.  How can I ever repay you?”
–       “With your tongues,” replied the might-thewed astro-savage, “Both of them.”  And then they kissed passionately, and also groped.

Dear sweet baby jesus, let’s move on to the game.

Part One: The Playthrough

You need to show up early, look sharp and be ready to get your report in before the end of the day. You pull this off, and you are looking at your first raise since you can remember. You don’t, and . . .   . . . eh whatever.
The stakes in this game? Nail-bitingly high so far.  I am expecting a tour de force full of tension so dramatic that it would make Scorsese shit his pants.

Hmm.  Game is warning me to save often.  Perhaps finishing my work report and not being a slacker are going to be more deadly challenges than I supposed.

What other people like to call lazy, you like to consider meditative; it shows in how sparsely decorated your room is.
Ooo, I play this game too.  For instance, what my friends like to call “your terrifying fridge”, I refer to as “my wonderland of olfactory sensations”.

[Your level of heat has risen slightly]
My… my what?

Y’know, as a general rule, people with anger disorders shouldn’t put their alarm clocks out of reach of the bed.  Or leave their keys next to the toilet.  Or… I just lost the game already.  Weee!  Time to restart!  Okay, think I’ve got this down.

[Your level of heat has risen slightly]
Impossible, sirrah!  I just had my coal-powered pacemaker serviced last week!  Bully!

Y’know what’s really funny?  When one of a game’s main challenges is keeping the protagonist calm, and yet a full third of the puzzles are solved by attacking things.

[Your level of heat has risen slightly]
Current heat level: naked.  And rising.

Huh.  Not sure how I would’ve solved the radiator puzzle if I hadn’t randomly picked up a piece of gum earlier from a room I had no reason to go to.  I suspect the answer is “You wouldn’t have, and would in fact have spent a half-dozen turns flailing around like an idiot, and then run out of time or lost your shit and gone all Jack Nicholson on a passing motorist.”  Thankfully the course of actions up to that point is short, and the author gets a thematic bonus point for the main problem in the middle game being an overheated radiator.

> pour water in radiator
Which do you mean, the small amount of water, or the stagnant water?
Well shit game, considering I don’t even know which one is which after examining them both, you tell me!

And we have made it to the office.  Wee!

In the middle of one of your reports your phone rings. The all-too familiar voice of your boss comes booming over the other end, “I need to see you in my office. Immediately.”  You confidently head in.
What do you think about this, Admiral Ackbar?
Admiral Ackbar: “It’s a trap!”
You say that about everything, Admiral Ackbar.

*** You get back what you put in, as mother always said! ***
Funny, that’s what your mom always said to me, too.  …Sorry, that was highly uncalled for.

And now the game is over again, with a “so-so” ending due to the fact that I didn’t press my pants.  So far, this game strikes me as basically like Groundhogs Day, except there’s no Bill Murray, and without any cumulative tension building, and I never get to run from the police while stealing a local mascot.  I’m pretty sure there’s an official term for this type of IF, where you keep playing it over and over and refining your actions each time.  Hmm.  Die-and-learn?  No.  Save-Fest?  No.  Something-I-Don’t-Particularly-Care-For-But-Realize-Other-People-Do?  That’s the ticket!

Just checked the Hint menu for what I missed.  It would have taken me a bunch more playthroughs examining everything to figure out the couch/shoe pile thing.  I think we’re done here.

Part Two: The Rundown

As with the last review, we’re skipping the good/bad dichotomy and going straight into general discussion.

As I said earlier, I don’t particularly care for this type of IF structure, so that has to be taken into account when reading this.  If I replay a game, it’s generally because I loved part of it or because I want to see what another choice does, not because the protagonist can’t remember where his own frikkin electrical socket is, or because I had no idea I’d need a random stick of gum from an earlier area.  Again, this is a personal taste thing.

Heated does handle this structure very well, technically speaking.  What kills this type of game for me is either length or some kind of babelfish puzzle you have to do every time, and Heated has zero problems like that.  It’s a good length with good pacing, and most of the puzzles (at least the ones required for a passable ending) are part of a relatively smooth chain of natural actions.  Everything’s properly described, the writing is clear, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of synonyms for some of the tricky verbs (the coat hanger, for instance, responded to a couple of different things).  One or two places, there seemed to be an issue with dynamic text, which I can sympathize with as that shit can quickly turn into an if/then forest.  Set against the rest of it, not a big deal.

I also liked the anger-daemon idea, where you had to manage the character’s annoyance level before he just gave up and/or lost his shit.  It was a good idea for a limiter.

Where I felt like the game fell flat was the thematic content.  The main character is Generic Slacker Dude struggling listlessly against minor first-world problems, so it’s hard to get any sort of excitement-inertia going at this end of the prompt.  Or care much about the protag, which limits identification in slice-of-life pieces.  I wanted to slap him hard in the nuts and say “Use these! Be a man!”, and that’s a very rare feeling for me*.  Or purchase him some uppers or something.  Was “purchase uppers” a valid command in this game?  It was not.

I mentioned Groundhogs Day earlier, and I wanted to say here (more as a general thing for authors than a specific critique of this game), if you’re gonna go for the ol’ short slice-of-life play-a-couple-times chestnut, one thing that really hasn’t been tried too much (not well anyway) is using Glulx’s file creation to make previous playthrus affect the current playthru in some way.  Yeah, that’s a whole additional layer of terrifying work, but it’d be an interesting way to freshen up the trope a bit.  Alternately,  just make sure the character and situations really “pop”.

So anyway, final verdict is a good basic mechanic and good implementation, but the author didn’t go nearly far enough with the stakes or the theme.  I’m definitely interested in seeing more work by this author though, given his command over the game structure and implementation.  Seriously, Timothy, if you read this: keep writing, and I’d really like to see what you do next.

*I know people in real life who are similar to the protagonist in a number of ways.  I sometimes wish to do this to them, too. But nobody believes it when you tell them you just slapped their balls out of deep love and a hope that they will grow as a person.

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5 Responses to “Heated: Protag needs his boiler checked, pronto”

  1. Philip Armstrong Says:

    This review brought a smile to an otherwise dismal day. Please write the rest of that book.

  2. Aw, thanks man. I hope tomorrow’s a little less dismal. And just between you and me, the tone in that bit was unintentionally similar to an actual wip.

  3. The hint for the radiator puzzle told me it was “something to chew on,” which was completely opaque, because I hadn’t gone to the patio (why should I?) and had no idea the gum existed. So I tried pouring the stagnant water into my mouth, but the game didn’t know I had a mouth. (I also tried “drink water” and died rather horribly.) In the end, I solved it by picking up the radiator and carrying it around to the trunk of the car so that the water didn’t have as far to go. I don’t know very much about cars, but I suspect that maybe I shouldn’t have been able to do that….

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