Wednesday, October 09, 2013

[IF Comp 2013] "Reels" by Tyler Zahnke

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

Reels is a series of puzzles wrapped into a very slight story. Not only are the puzzles utterly disconnected from the story, but they are also evidently not suited to the medium of interactive fiction. (In these respects, Reels reminds me a bit of Playing Games from the 2011 competition.)

I won't comment on the story. It makes little sense, is thematically unconnected with the puzzles, and has been discussed at more than enough length by Sam Kabo Ashwell.

Evidently, the success of Reels depends on the quality of the puzzles. They fall into two types: trivia questions about the years in which certain events happened, and mathematical questions requiring you to transpose a number from one base to another. In what year did the first moon landing happen? What is decimal 56 in base 16?

Neither is especially compelling. Mathematical puzzles can be extremely interesting, but changing bases is not a puzzle; it is just a straightforward application of arithmetic. The first challenge is:
Find the number that the letters of the word "love" in a base 36 number system (zero through nine, A through Z) would make in the decimal (regular base 10) system.
So I take a piece of paper, write out the sum in question: 14 + 31 *  36 + 24 * 36^2 + 21 * 36^3 ... and, seeing that there is no interesting "trick" here that would enable me to do an easy calculation, I sigh and get out my calculator to type it all in. This is just not interesting.

The trivia questions are no better. Such things may work when you're in a setting like a pub quiz, where access to the internet is unavailable. When I'm sitting behind my computer, I just google it. This, again, is merely tedious. Finding the right answer doesn't make me feel smart.

It didn't help that one of the answers in the program is wrong. It claims that the first moon landing was in 1969; but in fact, that is the first manned moon landing. The first moon landing happened 10 years earlier.

It also didn't help that the game fails to work on Firefox. I happened to be on a Windows machine, and running it in Internet Explorer helped; but surely this is something that testers should have caught?

All in all, there's just not a lot here to be positive about, except perhaps that one gets the sense that at least the author had fun writing this. That is not as inconsequential as it may sound. Temporary grade: 3 out of 10.

1 comment:

  1. 'It also didn't help that the game fails to work on Firefox. I happened to be on a Windows machine, and running it in Internet Explorer helped; but surely this is something that testers should have caught?'

    I'm not at all sure this game had beta testers. In the accompanying documentation, the author refers to beta testing, but not to any testers in particular. I suspect he means 'based on my own brief experiments', especially as the reported result of the testing was that 'the game may work on Firefox or Chrome' if JavaScript is enabled, which just isn't true.

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