There are a lot of positives about this game, and a lot of negatives. Robb
Sherwin has always been most notable for raw style, a way with language that
draws on a lot of expletives, and vivid characters of a certain type. All of the
above are to some extent present in this game, but so are bugs and some
I get the sense that detail -- especially the really tedious detail of making
objects for every single item in a room, being ruthlessly thorough about
synonyms, and offering the player more than one way to leave a room -- does not
capture Robb's imagination. There were times when the parser produced some
pretty bizarre results, ranging from >SEARCH NPC ("The NPC is empty.") to >ENTER
STREET ("You can't see that character here", or words to that effect). At times
these were severe enough to make it hard to figure out whether the intended
action was impossible in general or whether we were not playing guess-the-verb
Which is not to say that Robb didn't put a great deal of work into this game.
In addition to its size (easily twice the size of any legitimate competition
entry, I'd say -- it took us at least four hours to play, probably more), it is
illustrated with intriguingly-doctored photographs of people and locations; the
photoshoppery must have added a fair amount to the development time. These
images particularly helped distinguish the numerous NPCs in the game. Vividly
sketched though they were, I might have found it more difficult to keep track of
who was who without the constant reminder in the form of the little images.
But even here the results weren't, I found, completely perfect. I don't know
if this is intentional, but at least on our computer screen the counters that
indicate the state of the character's health were weird little wiggly o's with a
squiggle on top. (Something wrong about the font, maybe?) And I really thought
that there needed to be at least a few lines of border between the photographs
and the scrolling text, because otherwise the words would often run up against
the bottom edge and the result looked kind of unattractive.
I harp on these details because -- well, I guess because I thought that the
game as a whole was promising in certain ways, but the lack of surface polish
was a genuine impediment to my enjoying it as much as I wanted to.
The other impediment is possibly that I am not quite in the intended target
audiences: I get some of the references and in-jokes, but sort of the way you
might get a pun in a foreign language you only had two years of back in junior
high: that is, you can tell it's there, but the humor value is all lost in the
translation. Robb's characters talk to each other in a bizarre mode of diction
that seems completely natural to them. I imagine (perhaps erroneously) that this
is in fact how he talks to his friends. The facile patter, the easy profanity,
the pointed and obscure references... I enjoy them going by, but sometimes I
find myself wondering what they mean. Fine if it's a side issue, not so fine if
I'm not sure what has actually transpired in a scene because I'm not capable of
understanding the conversation. (I don't think I'm completely alone on this. The
person I was playing with kept muttering, "I'm so confused!")
In the plus column, however: there is an energetic vividness to this game,
which will not surprise Sherwin fans. I've complained that not everything is
implemented, but what is implemented has personality and attitude. And on the
balance, I'd rather have a few items implemented with memorable descriptions
than an office meticulously recreated down to the paperclips where there's
nothing out of the ordinary.
FoD also has a plot that keeps on rolling on; which reminds me of how few
long games we seem to get these days, and how few of them have genuinely complex
plots with multiple stages of action and all that. Comp games tend to be
short-story-sized, with a narrative arc that takes in only one or two twists.
Whenever I settle into a game that has a real plot development, I'm reminded how
satisfying it is: Heroine's Mantle had this, and so did First Things First.
Neither of those was a perfect game, but something about the scope of the story
made up for other flaws. This is not just a question of game-play duration. Zork
can take a lot of hours to play, especially for puzzle-impaired persons such as
myself, but it remains at heart a short story, with only one central aspect to
the action. Sure, there may be a prologue and a mid-game and an end-game, but
there aren't really narrative developments and changing goals for the player.
Fallacy of Dawn does have all of those things, and it's such a pleasure to
have that kind of narrative scope that I was willing to forgive a few points
where the cause-and-effect weren't self-evident. And a few loose ends that
seemed not to be tied up entirely at the end. Regardless of those things, your
PC has a distinct personality, and his attitude towards what's going on changes
over the course of the game (as well it might). The NPCs are also charmingly
drawn and develop as the game goes on, even if during most of the central
section of the game they exist solely to serve the purposes of the puzzles.
Also in the plus column: I have to mention this, even though it technically
has nothing to do with the game itself qua game. FoD had one of the best pieces
of PR I have ever seen in non-commercial IF. I refer to the trailer. It had
attitude in spades, and left me really, really wanting to play this game. People
are always complaining about how little feedback results from a noncompetition
release. Here is, maybe, an example of how to do it right: release a tantalizing
advance-viewing piece like Robb's DivX. I kept an eager eye out for the release
of the game, and I would have gotten to it much sooner if it hadn't been than I
spent all of fall semester in the midst of academic hell.
Moreover, in respect of game design, FoD is a reasonably fair and forgiving
piece of work. There are some places where it violates that rule -- a few times
where you can use up all of a resource when you need some more of it later, one
place where you are supposed to do an action repeatedly and there aren't very
many clues to that fact. Most of the puzzles, however, are not especially
difficult, and you can in the long run do most of what you need to do by
exploring appropriately. It's just possible that the cityscape provided is a
little too large -- it seemed like we spent some time wandering up and down
empty streets, not sure where we were going or where to look for the next piece
of action -- but by and large the effects of that weren't *too* brutal. It's a
good thing that the game package includes a jpeg map of the city, however. My
advice is that you open that in another screen when you first start up the game
and keep it there for constant reference. You will need it.
On the whole, then, Fallacy of Dawn is definitely a game worth playing. The
implementation problems are occasionally frustrating, but the scope of the plot
and the sheer amount of attitude make it fun.