Sunday, April 12, 2009

[Spring Thing] Realm of Obsidian

This is a review of the Spring Thing 2009 game Realm of Obsidian. So before going any further, here is some spoiler space for RSS feeds. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. I have been playing way too much Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance lately. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space.

Right, here we go.

First thing we notice is that this is a Windows executable, which is not good. Luckily, it ran almost perfectly in Wine, but unluckily, there was a bug (in Wine, obviously) which turned all text black. That may seem like a minor problem, until you realise that the background colour was also black. However, with some help of the author, I managed to turn the background white and I could play the game.

Realm of Obsidian is a weird mix of the outdated and the newfangled. It is apparently made using a new IF authoring system that is not finished, but already works pretty well. (Although, for instance, "blue" was not recognised as referring to the "blue token", which could either be a fault of the game author or of the development system.) It also comes with sound and music, which is interesting, although I quickly turned off the music because it was not to my liking. I also turned off the sound, because the game was not willing to share my sound card with other programs, and I did want the play some of my own music--but this unwillingness to share the sound card might well have been a result of me running it in Wine.

On the outdated side, however, we have:
  • Little characterisation and almost non-existent story.
  • Lots of puzzles of the "find object X and then use object X against monster Y" variety.
  • Spells which you can only cast after collecting an entire list of seemingly random items.
  • Monsters which kill you if you don't solve the corresponding puzzle quickly enough.
  • Very sparse descriptions.
  • Unwinnable situations.
  • Lots of empty rooms (that really should have been removed from the game).
So that doesn't sound very good, and in fact, it is true that Realm of Obsidian is not a very good game. It's not just that puzzle-based, deadly dungeon crawls are out of fashion; it is also that if you do make a puzzle-based, deadly dungeon crawl, we now expect you to minimise what is boring (for instance, walking through lots of empty rooms), to ensure that we never get in an unwinnable situation (at least not without some warning), to write good prose, to create a believable environment, to have puzzles that are a bit more complicated and fun to solve.

Also, is releasing non-finished games a new trend?

Still, I did enjoy playing Realm of Obsidian. Despite its failings, it just bubbles with enthusiasm. I like being able to carry around a tape recorder playing really bad death metal. (It inspired me to listen to Death's The Sound of Perseverance almost my entire play-through, though that is of course a great album.) And while I don't like being killed ten times by the first monster I meet (and having to go through the complicated reloading process), I do appreciate that this monster is a skeleton carrying a buzz saw and riding a wheelchair.

There is a real difference between being killed by a skeleton with a rust sword and a wooden shield, and being killed by a skeleton with a buzz saw in a wheelchair. The first tells you that the author is lazy and unimaginative; the second that she was actually having fun thinking this up and writing it. That makes me have more fun as well.

All in all, a first effort with many weaknesses, but with an amount of enthusiasm and care that gives me high hopes for future games by this author.

1 comment:

  1. Spells which you can only cast after collecting an entire list of seemingly random items.

    I know I have been guilty of this myself in Fate, but at least collecting the items had a thematic component to it. :)

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