The Chronicler: Needs a bit more time in the oven.

The following rss buffer text is not necessarily related to The Chronicler, a z-code game by John Evans, which we are reviewing.  It is just here to pass the time for a paragraph or two.

I’ve decided that I’m biased in favor of “weird” or “quirky” games.  Things from a bizarre perspective, or set in a bizarre place, or involving bizarre npcs.  Even if a game is incredibly well-written, if it’s about a protagonist having a normal day… I will probably go with the game that has me driving around with a Yeti in a golf cart, trying to dodge sentient landmines.  I mean, there’s a point where that’s no longer true depending on other factors, but it’s a solid general rule I’ve found for my own enjoyment of a work.  I could say this is because I live a boring life, but honestly I *don’t* lead a very boring life, so I don’t know why this is.

I wish more authors would push the throttle a little bit on their thematic elements, regardless of their chosen fictional milieu.  Even if it’s a slice-of-life game, hell, especially if it’s a slice-of-life game, I wish people shot for the out-of-the-ordinary.  Oh sure, shoot for real people, real emotions… but if you can’t do that, shoot for the rich and strange.  Or both at the same time.  Give us a glimpse of what’s REALLY lurking in your head, deep down.  I don’t know, what do you guys think?

Anyway, regardless, let’s hit up The Chronicler.  It’s not a huge spoiler to say that this game does not have a particularly ordinary location/theme, nor is it a huge spoiler to say the author should have better warned people about one huge glaring thing.

Part One: The Playthrough

The first thing I can say is, I’m happy someone else knows what “rhyolite” is.  I only know because of another game (*cough* Dwarf Fortress *cough*) where it was featured with some importance.  I doubt this game will have anything else in common with Dwarf Fortress, however.  Considering there’s a space ship and no, y’know, dwarves.

> x rhyolite
You can’t see any such thing.
Hmm.  Not a good sign, since it was mentioned in the room description.  Man, I was all stoked about it, too.

Oo, blue energy.  I’m going to avoid normal IF safety precautions (“Don’t walk towards blue flickering energy”) and investigate.

Suddenly blue energy crackles around you! It seizes your form and sends you hurtling in a direction you can’t quite understand.
I dunno.  I can understand a lot of odd directions.  Like yonward, or sexways.

Transfer Room
A cubicle illuminated by glowing panels. There is one exit, east. The smooth white surfaces of the room gleam with the promise of plastic futures.
I keep reading the last words as “pork futures”, and that’s really screwing with my imagined view of this room and game.

Bare Room
A bare room. It forms a corridor running east-west, and there is a small doorway to the south. Lamps hang from the ceiling, providing light.
> x lamps
You can’t see any such thing.

Ooo, I do like this bit, though:

Large Room
A large, but bare room. There is one exit, west. Lamps set into the walls provide light.
A knife lies on the floor.
The super-spare room descriptions definitely give an ominous feel here.  If I can’t interact with the knife though, I’m going to be Hulk-levels of angry.

Okay, so this thing keeps taking me to seemingly identical rooms when I use the device, that are actually either in different places or different time periods/dimensions.  The jury’s still out.  I better not have to map this shit.

> push button
Suddenly green energy arcs around you, sending you hurtling through space!
Hurtling through space in a direction I can understand, or one of those funky directions like yonwards and sexways?  You’ve got me curious, game.

This is quite a large room, filled with machines; it doesn’t have walls as much as boundaries beyond which the machines are too dense to explore. Most of the machines are silent, but a few still blink and hum;
> x machines
You can’t see any such thing.
Fucking seriously??

And I’m pretty sure the room description for the closet shouldn’t still be telling me that the light fixture is in there, considered I ripped it off the wall and moved it to the hallway.  What the monkey-shitfight is going on here?  There’s a cool ambiance to this game, but the total disregard for basic “shit in the room description should exist beyond the room description” laws (implemented sometime in the mid-90’s) is really getting to me.  Time to do what I always do when I get annoyed:

> take off uniform
You pull off your uniform. You are now nude.
Feeling better.  Very brisk in this complex.

So let’s pause: I’m teleporting nude around a series of near-identical hallways, carrying a butcher knife and occasionally a light fixture.  So far this is the extent of the game.  If it turns out I wasn’t supposed to go to the blue light first and now I’m trapped, I’m going to be pissed.

Time to check the about/help text.  Found this juicy nugget:

> help
Chronicler is a short game for the Interactive Fiction Competition 2010. Unfortunately, due to time constraints it’s only half finished, or perhaps three-quarters. I can only hope that you’ll find some amusement from the manipulations of objects it affords, while apologizing for the shortness of the experience.

Well, that explains some things.  Wish I’d known this beforehand.  Considering I have no idea how to proceed with what additional unfinished content there is, even with the semi-walkthrough-text included with the game, I’m out.


Part Two: The Rundown

I’m not sure how to treat this game.  It has a cool premise, and there’s definitely some nice thematic elements.  I like the idea of flipping around two time periods to investigate whatever horrible thing has happened in a place, and the spare room descriptions add to the sense of foreboding.

On the other hand, the game’s still in the larval stage.  I certainly feel better knowing that it’s just unfinished and this isn’t what someone thinks a finished game looks like, but I always seriously question the wisdom of putting your unfinished work into the IFcomp.  Seems like, unless there’s some SERIOUS promise and a finished *section*, it would just honk people off.  It certainly honked me off at first.

I also wish that info had been in the About text, and that a warning to read the About text had been bolded in the beginning.  I was already pissed when I went looking at the Help menus, and I suspect I’m not the only one.  If I’d known, probably would have played through the same amount with a lot less “argh”.

All in all though, I’m grateful that the author didn’t do what a lot of other people do and slap a “Finished!” sign on it and call it done.  That’s always irritating as hell.

I would like to play this game when it’s finished and beta-tested, because it has promise.  Until then, argh.





3 Responses to “The Chronicler: Needs a bit more time in the oven.”

  1. You can actually reach two endings in the game — it even makes sense that the game would end when you do that, though it definitely doesn’t give any plot resolution. OTOH, this doesn’t bode well for us ever seeing a good version of it.

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