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3 Stars IFReview Rating Sophie's Adventure

IFReviewed by Paul OBrian on 2006-07-21 06:25 

Game Profile

Author
David Whyld

Idiom
English

Authoring System
Adrift

Release Year
2003

IFR Overall Rating
4 Stars IFR Overall Rating
Separator
Here are some things about this game: It is cute. It is buggy. It is huge. About "cute": the whole thing is written from the perspective of 8-year-old Sophie, the daughter of a couple of retired magic-users, both of whom seem sunk well into strangeness now, but then again perhaps they'd look a little different through someone else's eyes. There were many moments in the game that brought a smile or a chuckle, and much of the writing found a place between overly edgy and overly twee. Sophie has a rather hardheaded perspective, or so she seems to think anyway, and while she's really rather spoiled, she does have some valid points about the foibles of those around her. For instance, her mother has an inexplicable predilection for decorating in bright colors, and Sophie quite reasonably finds things like her painfully bright quilt rather difficult to stomach:

> x bed
It's hard to look at your bed with the colourful quilt lying across
over it like that but you know there's nothing very interesting in it
because you were lying there only a few minutes ago. You remember
when you were a kid (well, a younger kid than you are now anyway)
you used to worry that there was an evil gremlin that lived under the
bed who would creep out after nightfall and eat you. But when you got
a bit older you realised that no self-respecting gremlin would be
seen anywhere near a bed with a quilt like that.

> look under bed
You look under the bed, searching for the gremlin you were convinced as
a child was under there.

Nope, no sign of him.

Writing like this lends a wonderfully strong personality to Sophie as a PC. The NPCs, too, are distinctive and interesting, and the menu-based dialogue can be a source of great amusement. On the basis of the writing (leaving out, for now, the issues of "buggy" and "huge"), I'm strongly inclined to recommend this game for kids, except for the fact that there are several parts that are outright gruesome. Sophie encounters gory battlefields, piles of corpses waiting to be burned, and dead bodies lying in pools of blood. Now, I don't have kids, and haven't read children's books for a while, so I don't have a good sense of what are considered "appropriate" levels of gore and violence in those stories. I'm also a believer that what's appropriate for kids isn't so much determined by their ages as their personalities. Nevertheless, just because Sophie is 8 doesn't mean the game would be great for any 8-year-old. Personally, I was able to ignore the gore, and so found it charming, though it would have been a lot more charming were it not so buggy and huge.

About "buggy": Sophie's Adventure breaks frequently, and often in the most unexpected ways. For instance, this exchange:


> n
You can't go in that direction, but you can move north, northwest,
west, southwest and down.

> north
You can't go in that direction, but you can move north, northwest,
west, southwest and down.

> go north
You move north.

I've had games forget to implement exits before, or forget to mention them in the exits list, but I don't think I've ever seen a game that forgets in one place to make the directional abbreviations available. I'm surprised ADRIFT even makes this possible -- I can't think how it would happen in a more robust development system. Speaking of ADRIFT, all its parser deficiencies are still hanging around like unwelcome guests: the way it pretends to understand more than it does, the way it asks questions but doesn't listen to the answers, and the way it totally ignores prepositions (LOOK UNDER = LOOK BEHIND = LOOK IN = EXAMINE, except when it doesn't.) Another bizarre way that Sophie's Adventure frequently breaks is in its menu-based conversations; once out of every 20 or so times, the game just wouldn't understand when I'd enter a number to choose a menu option. There wasn't any pattern to this that I could discern -- the broken choices might be first, middle, or last entries in the menu. It was always very aggravating when it would happen. The game is broken in larger ways, too, or at least it seemed so to me. Several times, I'd get information that suggested a roadblock puzzle -- you know, the old "you can't go this way until you perform this task for me" routine. However, if I simply walked in the forbidden direction: success! No puzzle-solving required. This is either a bug or head-scratchingly odd design. There are also tons of typos throughout the game, some quite hilarious ("It also looks remarkably similar to Golem in Lord of the Rings.") All in all, the game is a couple of betatesting rounds away from being ready for release, and maybe more, given that it's probably difficult to test because it's so huge.

About "huge": there's no maximum score listed in Sophie's Adventure, so I'm not sure how many points are possible, but after two hours with it, I'd scored two points. There's also apparently a "niceness" score, which not only never changed, but never even seemed to offer any opportunity to change. Also, even after circumventing quite a few puzzles via the bugs mentioned above, I still think I'd only seen a fraction of the game's locations. I already gave my spiel on too-big-for-the-comp games in my review of Risorgimento Represso, and most of those points apply here as well. However, where that game felt disappointing because I hated to rush through something created with such skill and care, Sophie's Adventure evinces sort a flip side to that problem, which is that gigantic games are much harder to get right. I boggle at the amount of work that must have gone into this game, and so I don't mean to badmouth it, but at the same time, I can't help but feel it would be a much better game if it were much smaller in scope. Fewer locations, fewer puzzles, fewer things to go horribly wrong. It goes without saying that this game is totally inappropriate for the comp because of its size, but I wonder if it's simply the wrong size full stop. I say this because frequently, object and room descriptions seemed freighted with resentment for even having to be written:


As cracks go it's not a very interesting one and you kind of wonder
why you're even taking the time to examine it.

Somehow you doubt the fate of the world relies on you examining rat
droppings.

East Road
The land from here on eastwards is desolate to the point of having a
not-very-finished look to it. If anything, it looks like whoever was
given the job of designing this landscape got bored and decided to
just scribble in a few trees and bushes and leave it at that. [...]

There's the straightforward problem with these that I don't know whether something is interesting until I examine it, so would rather not be chastised for wasting my time, but there's also this: when the descriptions themselves start complaining about being boring, there's probably too much stuff in the game. I think the best thing that could happen to Sophie's Adventure would be if it were scaled back considerably (say to a size that is finishable in two hours), tested and proofread much more thoroughly, and entered in the comp in that tighter and stronger form. Too late for all of that now -- I won't be returning to this game after the way it aggravated me -- but these lessons can be learned for future games, by this author and others.

Paul OBrian Profile

Name Paul OBrian
Gender Male

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