Saturday, October 05, 2013

[IF Comp 2013] "Captain Verdeterre's Plunder" by Ryan Veeder

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.


Ryan Veeder won the interactive fiction competition in 2011 with the highly amusing Taco Fiction. Expectations are therefore high when he enters the competition with a new game called Captain Verdeterre's Plunder. (That title sounds like he teamed up with Duncan Bowsman. Which he totally should.)

The expectations, unfortunately, are not met.

Not that Captain Verdeterre's Plunder is a bad game. It is quite enjoyable. But if that sounds like I'm damning it with faint praise, well, I guess that's because I am.

In this game, you play the first mate to a captain who is actually a rat. The two of you are standing on the lowest floor of a sinking ship, and your task is to grab as many of the treasures in the ship as you can and then get into the lifeboat. Each turn, the water rises; and since you don't have enough time to pick up everything, you'll have to make decisions about which items are worth more than others.

Three factors complicate this. First, you can't see how much items are worth; this only becomes apparent when you see your score at the end of the game. Second, items become inaccessible as the water rises; either because the entire floor is flooded, or -- for smaller items lying on the ground -- because they float away. Third, to get some of the items, basic puzzles need to be solved. For instance, there's a strongbox at the bottom of the ship, but the key is upstairs; do you run for the key, or spend your turns on other things?

All of this adds up to a moderately complicated optimisation puzzle, though it only does so after you've played the game several times and have seen the worth of every item in the score screen. By that time, however, Captain Verdeterre's Plunder has stopped being interesting; and I doubt that anyone has the patience to actually sit down with all the information and work out the optimal solution. There is a puzzle here, but Veeder doesn't do a good job of giving us the motivation to solve it.

So: an enjoyable game with some quirky and amusing writing; but not a great success as a puzzle, and even less of a success as anything else. Temporary score is 6 out of 10.

6 comments:

  1. I reached what I believed was a winning ending on the third try. The solution wasn't a matter of precise optimization so much as thorough world exploration--snatching up treasure I simply wasn't able to reach on the first play through. VIctor's criticisms are spot on, but I'd probably give this game a point higher. I think it might finish between 5th and 10th in the competition.

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  2. Doug, what do you mean with a winning ending? I played the game thrice, and got the same ending every time (except for slightly different point totals). Something about you and captain being back on the land, and the captain telling you that "we won't starve".

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  3. My third time I collected over 600 (dollars?) enough treasure that we could both dress in fine suits and retire for a while. My booty included the object from the strongbox on the first level, the gray matter on the second level, and whatever else I could pick up on the top two levels before my time ran out. There are at least two other endings as well, one if you pick up nothing at all, and one if you pick up only a couple of items. (You may have only seen the third ending, where you collect a couple hundred dollars, but not enough for the premier ending).

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  4. Ah, yes, that seems likely!

    Is it possible to get both the wine from the strongbox and the tapestry from the flag barrel?

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    1. I've played through about a dozen times now (I like this game). Based on my experience, rummaging through the flag box is not a good use of time. I was able to get both the wine bottle and the tapestry in a single game, but lost too many other treasures and failed to break $600 (which appears to be the threshold for the winning ending). The best I've done so far is $808, which gives the same ending as $615. I've also managed to win with as few as four items: wine bottle, gray matter, pearl necklace and flintlock pistol.

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    2. I replayed, making a diagram of every item in the game, its worth, and at what turn it disappeared. I managed to get 802, which gives the winning ending. Then I got 836, which gets you a super winning ending telling you that you've set a high score.

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