Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

IFComp Review: The Cardew House

Posted by Reiko on November 1, 2013

This is a review of one of the games from the 2013 Interactive Fiction Competition. (Posted in 2014 and backdated.) Scoring criteria can be found here.

Author: Andrew Brown

Format: Glulx

Right away, the blurb is an awkward confession about having trouble with Inform 7 rather than anything about the story itself, which is a red flag. Plus there is a “feelies” zip included, but all it has is the small cover picture that’s already included separately, so it’s a little misleading. Even the tiny “A Wind Blown From Paradise” had a solution file.

At first glance, the scenario itself seems to be just an old-school mansion exploration. There’s only the default description for the PC. On the other hand, lights get turned on automatically, which is nice, because they also flicker out automatically after a while, presumably for atmosphere. The descriptions are so sparse that it’s hard to build up atmosphere. For instance, there are scratches on a desk in one room that I’m able to examine, but scratches on a table in another room just result in “You can’t see any such thing.”The house is so creepy that it still manages somewhat. It just doesn’t give much payoff to the occasional creepy message. In the kitchen, for example, there’s a cupboard that shakes when you open it, but then there’s nothing in it, and no apparent further use for it. Then I got to the attic and found an instadeath that not only ended the game, it closed the game file with no option to restart or undo.

I figured there must be more to the game, so I reopened it and turned on the hints, which are more like an in-game walkthrough. Right away they told me I apparently missed an item that’s needed to take an action to find another location. Problem is, the item is supposedly in the cistern in the bathroom.

The bathroom
The bathroom has what you would expect… There is a large bath with brass taps and a smaller sink with the same fittings. There is also a toilet. A cool breeze blows in through a broken window.

x toilet
The toilet is an old fashioned toilet with a ceramic cistern and a metal handle…

x cistern
You lift the lid to see that the cistern is full of dirty looking water…

x water
You can’t see any such thing.

x handle
You can’t see any such thing.

open cistern
That’s not something you can open.

search cistern
The cistern is empty.

How could anyone find anything in the cistern with these responses? The default responses indicate there’s nothing there. Even after flushing the toilet, which would be the next exploratory action to take, assuming one feels the need to try something further with the toilet, there’s still nothing there. It’s more complicated than that – the sink or bath has to be running. But, neither the sink nor the bath can be seen as objects – only the “taps” can be. So “turn sink on” doesn’t work either. The object to get only shows up after flushing the toilet when the taps are running. Why that works I really don’t know – apparently the toilet doesn’t refill when the water is being diverted elsewhere, I guess, but I’ve never heard of that. I’ve never deliberately done that in any real bathroom, because we tend to flush, *then* go wash our hands at the sink. It’d be silly to do it the other way around. Occasionally in a hotel room someone else in the family will come in and use the toilet while I’m showering, and there’s never any problem with the toilet refilling. In other words, this puzzle is completely a “read the author’s mind” kind of puzzle.

I played a bit further and found that the diary is another sort of mild hints/backstory source, which wasn’t obvious at first because it only ever says the same thing if you read it in the room where it’s found. But it says different things in different rooms, one of which at least partly explains the toilet difficulties – apparently the house’s owner connected the plumbing up wrong. But it only makes sense after the fact. Even reading that, I still never would have thought to try all that with the toilet.

After all that, the action to take with the item from the cistern isn’t suggested at all, and the usual verb doesn’t even work. Again, only knowing the exact command from the hints will do. It seems this game must be played with the walkthrough in order to get anywhere. Same thing with the cupboard in the kitchen, which can be opened, but there’s a different, non-obvious action that must be taken.

Finally, when the mystery is revealed, it just looks like another instadeath rather than an actual ending. I looked around everywhere with hints on, and there doesn’t seem to be anything else to do. There are a number of typos in the text, no reference to testers, and the whole thing could just have used a lot more work.

Score: 4
Scoring: base 7, +1 for automatic lights, -1 for instadeaths that close the window entirely, -1 for empty cistern puzzle and other parser misdirection, -1 for lack of ending, -1 for typos


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