IFReviewed by Emily Short on 2006-08-01 04:50
This is excellent. "Firetower" is an IF hike through the mountains of
Tennessee, gorgeously done.
The author mentions in her notes that this area is one of her favorite spots,
and it shows. The setting is acutely observed and described, with responses for
every sense. They're not just perfunctory responses, either: I was left with a
very clear impression of the flora in this area, and a somewhat more fleeting
idea of the fauna. The only place I recall seeing quite such a thorough natural
setting was in "She's Got a Thing For A Spring" (Brent VanFossen, 1997), though
for whatever reason "Firetower" worked better for me than "Spring" -- possibly
because, without puzzles to worry about, I was in a better position to enjoy the
natural surroundings. The meticulous implementation applies elsewhere as well.
The piece anticipates many nonstandard actions -- I was particularly amused by
the response to my attempts to turn the signposts.
"Firetower" also gives a strong sense of continuity of space and time. There are
transitional descriptions between locations that let you know how far you've
gone, over what kind of terrain, and what you saw on the way. When you have
travelled far, considerable time elapses on your watch. Meanwhile, the sun rises
and sets in the sky; the quality of the air changes; shadows lengthen; campers
wake up, are active, and go to bed. If you emerge from the woods late enough,
you even get a telling-off from the person who's there to pick you up. (I really
enjoyed the temporal effects; I played with them as much as my time allowed, but
I would have liked to explore even more what happened if I was in certain places
at different times of day. It would have helped to have a WAIT UNTIL [time]
The PC is well-formed, too. The responses to trying to taste various plants, for
instance, or pick things that you shouldn't pick, are met with very
park-rangerly replies -- knowledgeable, but concerned with safety and the
preservation of the wildlife. But the characterization isn't just there to
preach good park behavior: the PC feels like a specific person. She sings Stevie
Nicks to herself, eats the best bits out of her trailmix first, and doesn't
panic when meeting a bear. Her pleasant, down-to-earth attitude affects almost
every descriptive passage.
In some ways "Firetower" reminded me of "Sunset Over Savannah" (Ivan Cockrum,
1997): there's the same sense of natural beauty and its effect on the
psychological state of the observer. If there's a weak point, it's that
"Firetower" (like "Sunset") sometimes tells me too much about what the PC is
feeling. Interestingly, these references bothered me less as the piece went on:
either they were fewer in the later sections, or (more likely) as I developed a
clear sense of the persona of the PC I stopped trying to equate my emotions with
I did encounter a few bugs. It seems to be possible for the headlamp to be both
on your head and in the pack at the same time (somehow); it also seems that if
you sit down while in the fire tower itself, you are never able to get up again.
You can jump while sitting. There are a couple of other things like that. But
the handful of weak spots can easily be cleared up in a future release, and the
majority of this piece is polished and charming even though it covers an
ambitiously large scope for an Art Show entry. It also works quite well with the
constraints of puzzlelessness: the goal of hiking along a set path gives the
player something to do, and provides structure for the piece.
Best Setting on the 2004 Xyzzy Awards.
Best of Show on the 2004 IF Art Show.