IFReviewed by Andrew Plotkin on 2006-06-25 07:50
It is clear that a tremendous amount of thought, talent, and effort went into Delusions. So why did I hate it?
Good question. Let me think.
I think, quite honestly, that there's too much there. The focus falls apart; it tries to do everything at once. This thing is huge, I should start off by saying that. It's the first game that I was unable to finish in two hours -- and that's two hours with the all the hints. I started reading hints early, and rapidly degenerated into total reliance on them. Eventually I got stuck trying to sharpen the pencil, I realized it was three in the morning, and I thought, wait, haven't I spent two hours already? Oh, thank god. I have an excuse to stop playing.
Let me back up. Technically, Delusions is very, very good. I had a very solid feeling for the environment, the various characters moving around, the machines I could interact with. It had, in fact, the offhand richness of detail that I associate with the better Infocom work. The music in the ocean, I loved it.
And then the plot started, and my god, there is all this plot. There's the fish plot, and the you-learning-about-yourself plot, and the evil computer program plot, and the using-the-GUI gimmick, and the using-the-simulation gimmick, and the repeating universe head surgery plot, and then then unlocking-your-door plot, and then the plot after that, and that's where I gave up, because I had long since lost track of why I actually cared about any of this. Any one of these, or perhaps two, would have been an engaging competition entry. All of them together left me feeling like, like, I don't know what.
Let me give an example. The GUI computer. It's a cute idea. It could have been developed on its own, and been interesting. In Delusions, however, it was a distraction from the plot it was part of. It took too much time and effort for me to deal with, when I was already trying to understand the rules of the repeating-universe scenario.
The repeating-universe gag. It's a cute idea. It could have been developed on its own. But there was too much else going on, and I couldn't figure out what was important and what was background. It just all felt kludgy. (A head gizmo and drugs? How am I supposed to sort this out? I have to do X, and then Y and X together, and then... I forget. And the sensory thing certainly didn't seem to have enough information available; at one point I turned off touch, passed out, and woke up with my back tingling from the cold metal or some such thing. It would have taken extensive experimentation for me to figure out how to solve that section, and experimentation was a pain in the ass because you have to juggle the stupid GUI computer and the drugs-and-alarm-clock gimmick, every time you try another combination... no. no. no. That was when I started reading the hints before trying to solve puzzles on my own.)
The learning-about-yourself plot. This is a great idea. It could have been developed on its own. In Delusions, it was completely swamped. I didn't follow up on any of it, or realize that progress was being made towards a goal, because there was this other thing to do and suddenly an evil lunatic has me tied up and is screaming nonsense at me! I think it was supposed to be profound nonsense, but I wanted to slap the lunatic upside the head (preferably with a crowbar) and tell him to get a grip, for chrissake.
The traitor-in-the-lab plot. By the time it started, I didn't care. Did it tie into any of the other plots? Don't ask me; I never sharpened the pencil.
I am now trying to count how many Critical Moments there are in Delusions. I think I encountered three; presumably there would be a fourth at the end. What? Sally Callahan on a binge couldn't stay interested through that many climaxes.
Too many stories. Edit. Make it a trilogy. Or pace it out so that only one or two things are happening at a time; then it would be a full-length game, but a focussed full-length game. Or just chop the hell out of it. Something.
[Footnote, several weeks later: Email discussions have brought up the point that I'm a fine one to complain about complex interlocked puzzles, after "A Change in the Weather". I reply, yeah, bite me. If the plot held together, I'd be motivated to play with all the gizmos. And say what you like, but the endgame of "Weather" was (1) focussed down to a single plot idea and a single puzzle, and (2) very short, especially if you got it wrong and had to try again. Twice as much does not mean better.]