Okay, first off - I really enjoyed this game. I probably played well beyond the two-hour time limit, but I was enjoying myself so much that I didn't care, and my vote/rating was pretty solid after about the first forty-five minutes of play.
Unfortunately, my prediction, written a mere five days after the beginning of the comp (i.e.
long before this review can be made public), is that this one isn't going to do too well. It's just a feeling. Then again, if the rest of the IF community who plays this are like me in that they studied anatomy and forensics at university, and are presently Emergency Medical Technicians, then Cheiron
quite possibly might win the comp.
Without spoiling things too much, the protagonist of the story is a medical resident who has been given the task of meeting with four patients on a given day, hopefully to diagnose them. While you cannot yourself order tests, the "real" doctor has already called for specific tests based on his or her review of each patient, and you have access to those test results (e.g.
"The results of the oral glucose tolerance test with growth hormone measurement show suppression of growth hormone." - not enough to say Hello! It's obviously [insert specific illness here]!
, but it's something to put you on the right track).
You can also thoroughly interview and examine the patients. This
often led to disambiguation problems, though I have to admit I'm not sure how the authors could have gotten around this, and the disambiguation prompts were occasionally quite helpful in prompting you as to what to do next:
>TAKE BLOOD PRESSURE
Which do you mean, the blood pressure lying down, the sitting blood pressure or the standing blood pressure?
Not that orthostatic vital signs ever came into play with any of my patients, but then I'm trying to be non-spoilery here. What I mean to say is that the disambiguation cues really helped me figure out what options were available and how to phrase what I wanted to do.
"Wait!" I hear you say. "Orthostatic?! Speak English, please." I must admit that the game is fairly technical in many respects. It was written by two doctors while they were in medical school, and while it might not have been their intent to aim this piece at others in the healthcare community (the only clue against this being that it was entered in the IFcomp), I can see how those without any knowledge of anatomy would quickly feel as if they were in over their heads.
However, that having been said, everything you need is in the help and hint menus. While I probably had an easier road than most due to better-than-average knowledge of anatomy, I'm still just an EMT, and we don't exactly diagnose serious illnesses - we just figure out as much as we can in order to keep people alive until we can get to a doctor who can. If you don't have a thorough working knowledge of disease you can do what I did - ask the patients questions, take basic vitals, inspect the person based on their chief complaint and the answers they give when interviewed, and then use Google like a mad, mad fiend. In this way, we (there were two of us playing together) were able to nail the diagnoses on all four patients.
Is it a timeless, classic work of interactive fiction that stirs the emotions, nay - your very soul - with its brilliant prose? No, it's not. But it was incredibly fun and held my interest for a very long time. For what it was meant to be, I was extremely impressed that it did quite well in achieving quite a few of its over-ambitious goals.
My complaints were surprisingly few:
Despite knowing what was wrong with all four patients, we couldn't for the life of us figure out how to tell someone our diagnoses. This really frustrated me, because everything else was fairly well clued in the help and hint menus.
If intended for a general audience, it might be nice to include some helpful phrasing to let the player know whether or not a particular result was abnormal. For instance, many people don't know the range for an acceptable pulse, respiratory rate, or blood pressure. While that wasn't an issue for me, had I not been playing with someone British I would have been forced to go look up what the normal human body temperature is in Celsius. So, instead of saying, the temperature is 37.8, it might have been more helpful to preface that by saying, she appears to be running a bit of a fever, as her temperature is 37.8.
Generic responses to inquiries (when, say, a question you pose to the patient is reasonable but not in this case pertinent) sometimes are inappropriate. Everyone pretty much told me that they ate exactly the same thing on an average day. Not true, but fair enough - I can understand not wanting to program unique diets for everyone in the hospital. However, when I asked a woman in her mid fifties about menstruation I was slightly suspicious when she told me her periods were fine. My suspicion was later confirmed when a patient named David told me the exact same thing.
My biggest complaint though, hands down, is that there appeared to be many, many patients in this hospital and I thought that perhaps the names and diseases of the four patients you received at the beginning of the game were randomized. I fired the game up a second time praying that this would be the case, so that I could write a wonderful review praising the games immense replay value. I think that possibility exists in a future release, based on what the authors have stated in their about text, but it's not implemented yet. Nota bene, Authors: This isn't a complaint about lack of work; rather, it's a compliment in that I was hoping that there were more people out there to prod. It's quite obvious that, while not perfect, a ton of work went into this, and it was very, very much appreciated. Thanks for the fun.
I probably have more to say about this piece - I could, for instance, point out the rather nice touches such as the human aspect of the medical student's supressed glee when they figure out something important - but this is already quite possibly the longest comp review I've ever written, so I'll stop here. At this point it's probably only the authors who are reading. If so, let me say this: if you decide you ever want to revisit this concept, I'd be happy to beta test.