IFReviewed by Paul OBrian
on 2006-07-21 06:44
The readme for Chronicle Play Torn issues a warning:
Now a few comments about the dark side of the game: its testing was
done in a hurry, it is very likely that you will find irritating bugs
in the prose, and the working of the game.
I'm somewhat innocent in the former one; I'm from the non english
speaker part of the world, and thus writing prose for me is like
walking without light in an Infocom product: I never know, when does
a grue find me (and if it does, I don't even notice it).
This warning encapsulates both what's good and what's bad about the game. As even the readme demonstrates, the author's English
is far from perfect, and can frequently be a major roadblock to understanding. Even the title shows this -- it feels like three words randomly drawn from a magnetic poetry set. In addition, the rushed testing job shows; CPT isn't a relentless bugfest, but its code has some serious issues. However, like the readme, the project as a whole is well-intentioned, good-natured, and more fun than I expected it to be, given its acknowledged flaws.
I do want to talk a little more about the idea expressed above, that authors who don't speak English natively are "innocent" when it comes to problems in their prose. Sorry, but no, they aren't. I grant that English is a difficult language. I grant that the IF audience is tiny already, and that the majority of it communicates in English, making the choice of writing IF in one's native language so audience-limiting as to feel like no choice at all. I grant that the majority of IF tools and parsers are in English. I grant that if I tried to write a game in Hungarian or Russian or Swedish or even Spanish, the language I studied in high school and college, the results would be far worse than even the worst translated game in this comp. I grant all these things. But ultimately, the fact remains that whatever the circumstances, good games have good prose. When you write a story, you are responsible for every word in it. Who would try to write a novel in a language in which they weren't fluent? What publisher would take it? Just because you're writing an IF game doesn't mean that you're any less responsible for your words, no matter how strong the coding is, and no matter how tough you find English. In the end, I want to read good stories, not understandable excuses. Native speaker or not, if the prose in your game is littered with problems, your game will suck. Period. By the way, it did occur to me that the author may not have understood the connotation (or even denotation) of "innocent" when making the claim above. However, if that's true, it only underscores my point, which seems well worth making in a competition where a full 15% of the games I've played thus far suffer from some amount of broken English.
So, that point made, how's the rest of the game? Well, mixed. On the negative side, my game experience was diminished greatly by the presence of a bug so severe that it crashed the entire interpreter, which is an IF experience I haven't had for a while. I checked it out, and the bug is reproducible -- I think the game is trying to dynamically create objects that it hasn't properly set up. There were some other bugs too, though none as bad as that one. In addition, I found the game too long for the competition; by the time my two hours had run out, I'd estimate I was about 75% done. Of course, having to keep restarting my interpreter didn't help matters in that department. In the positive column, CPT features some entertaining imagery, including a few parts that capture the Lovecraft feel quite well. Also, the game's story is fun, kind of a jumped-up version of Uncle Zebulon's Will. The hint system is very helpful, but most of the puzzles are crafted sensibly enough that I didn't need it often, though I did turn to it as I was running out of time, or when I found the game's prose just too impenetrable. Finally, what I appreciated the most about CPT is that its heart really seems to be in the right place. Despite its serious problems, it's written out of a deep affection for both its medium and its themes, and while I can't recommend the game, I applaud the effort, and I hope that the author improves it and continues to write more.