[Obligatory disclaimer: I played this game on the MacScare interpreter,
and it is conceivable that there were some differences between my
experience and what someone would experience using the ADRIFT runner.
From looking at other people's comments on the game, though, I get the
impression that I am not the only one suffering guess-the-verb issues. I
did not encounter anything in the playthrough that seemed like evidence
of a definite flaw in MacScare.]
"Black Sheep's Gold", by Driftingon, starts as a slice of life piece
about an eight-year-old girl who has to clean the attic; soon, however,
she discovers evidence of a treasure hidden by a relative many years
before, and goes off in search of it.
The young narrator is one of the game's strongest points. Aside from
some character-breaking moments towards the end, she remains perky and
distinctive throughout, putting a personal spin on the rather mundane
house in which she lives. She's obviously a bit precocious, but there's
nothing wrong with that.
The game's prose is also quite decent -- I didn't find many problems or
errors -- and the implementation (except for some parsing issues) seemed
fairly strong and consistent throughout.
The NPCs in the game were varied; most only have one or two (not very
interesting) lines to say, but a few are more interestingly fleshed out,
including amusing in-joke cameos: ADRIFT's creator Campbell Wild appears
as the rather odd owner of an aquatic pet shop, and at least one other
name was familiar to me from the ADRIFT forum.
Other aspects of "Black Sheep's Gold" don't work quite as well. For one
thing, I found myself faced with a number of guess-the-verb moments, and
at a couple of key points could only get through with the help of a
transcript. The game does alleviate some of these problems by putting
correct action phrasings in italics some of the time -- but it doesn't
do this quite consistently enough, and in a few places I was left high
and dry. (It also italicizes the names of any important objects in a
room, which is either a convenience or goofy and annoying, depending on
how you look at it. It certainly draws attention away from immersion
towards the user interface.)
The puzzles themselves (aside from phrasing difficulties) are extremely
simple and obvious, too. Frequently the game quite blatantly tells the
player how to solve them, with suggestions like "If I only had a rope
ladder, I would be able to LOWER THE LADDER FROM THE WINDOW and CLIMB
DOWN!". (Example changed to protect the innocent, though I'm not sure
why I bother trying not to spoil puzzles that give themselves away like
I don't know much about the background of the game, but I found myself
starting to wonder whether it had been designed for younger players.
That would explain the age of the protagonist, the
not-at-all-challenging puzzle design, and the game's tendency to draw
special attention to important nouns and verbs. The experienced IF
puzzle-solver is likely to find most of the puzzles too simple to be
very interesting, however.
One final difficulty was the pacing. A fair amount of time is given to
the prologue and to what I thought were opening stages of the midgame,
so I assumed that the later portions of the plot would unfold at the
same rate. But just at the point of the game when things seemed to be
getting interesting and I hoped for high adventure, I was ambushed... by
infodumps. There comes a point where you find yourself reading pages and
pages of text about all sorts of interesting but uninteractive events.
Then there are a couple more fairly obvious puzzles, and the game ends.
And the ending -- well, it seems to me that the final few paragraphs
break with the narrator's charming personality and go somewhat more
cynical and world-weary than suits the rest of the game. I was
disappointed. A more obvious ending would probably have been trite, but
I still didn't entirely like the effect of this, since most of what had
carried me through earlier had been sympathy for the kid.
So overall I thought "Black Sheep's Gold" showed considerable effort, a
fair amount of polish, and a mostly-charming narrator. On the other
hand, it has some unintentionally frustrating moments, and does not
offer much challenge as far as puzzles go. It might be suitable for
younger players being introduced to IF, but they would still probably
need a little help with phrasing a few commands correctly.