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4 Stars IFReview Rating Flat Feet

IFReviewed by Emily Short on 2006-08-01 05:00 

Game Profile

Author
Joel Ray Holveck

Idiom
English

Authoring System
Inform6

Release Year
2005

IFR Overall Rating
3 Stars IFR Overall Rating
Separator
Played to Completion: Yes

...speaking of which.

This has much to recommend it. There are good lines, especially in the relationship with the PC's sidekick. I like the flexible treatment of geography that makes the map feel open and unconstrained; the car was so tidily handled that I never got annoyed with it -- it provided an excuse for traveling long distances but never made my job as a player harder. The tone was light, but in an enjoyable way. (How many games let you throw NPCs?) There were nice extras, like the extensive hint menus; I didn't run into any obvious bugs, either.

"Flat Feet" lacks something in the cohesive design department, though. I spent the first fifty or sixty moves wandering around in search of motivation, with key information turning up only after I'd solved a puzzle because it was there. Some of the puzzles worked fine; others (like the Transamerica Pyramid bit) relied on my going places I had no reason to go, and doing things I had no reason to do.

Early on, it gives the impression that the player should take guidance from plot constraints rather than map constraints. To explain: there are obviously quite a few locations open at once, as soon as you get the car working. Not all of these locations are equally relevant to what you're doing. Some of them are actively a bad idea to visit before you're ready, even though it's technically possible to get there.

So at the outset, I felt that my job as a player was not to explore every single thing I could find, but rather to follow the course of action that made the most sense at the moment. (Seek out person X, ask for information about Y, investigate crime scene Z, and so on.) The minimalist implementation of scenery encourages that play style as well. When there are a lot of nouns mentioned in any given room description which are not examinable, I start to get the idea that examining things is not the player's primary task. That's fine, especially if it's handled consistently.

What I found jarring was following along a plot thread for a while, coming to a dead standstill, and discovering the reason I was stuck was that my PC hadn't taken time off from the plot to explore a location he had no reason to think interesting. Worse, the location I needed to visit was only peripherally hinted at in a room description, though a bunch of other scenery nouns were not implemented at all, and I had come to expect useful exits always to be clearly and explicitly listed. This isn't so much a question of obeying any one set of design rules about how open or closed to make the map, or how fully to implement scenery. It's possible to make work any of a range of things, as long as you set up the player expectations properly and then follow through on them.

Unfortunately, the feeling of arbitrariness grew stronger and stronger as the game went on. I found myself turning to the Invisihints increasingly often, and being increasingly annoyed by the things they told me to do. (And at least one of the puzzles was simply so finicky that, even when I had the right idea, I had to try about fifteen variations to get it to come out right.)

So I would have enjoyed this more if the puzzles had been more sensibly integrated with the plot, or (paradoxically) if the game had been *more* purely puzzle-oriented and more methodical about its world model. One or the other. The mixture was problematic.

But the author did do a lot of things right. With a clearer approach to the overall structure of the game, his next piece could be quite good.

Flat Feet Awards

    4th place on the 2005 Spring Thing.

Emily Short Profile

IFReviewer Rating
10 Stars IFReviewer Overall Rating

Name Emily Short
Gender Female

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