Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

IFComp 2014 Review: Transparent

Posted by Reiko on November 10, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Author: Hanon Ondricek
Format: Glulx

The first impression is very solid; the prose is evocative, and immediately there’s a shiny new toy (the camera) to play with. It seems to be a limited resource due to the batteries, but with the potential for recharging later. There’s a bit of creepiness early on that sets the stage very well, and of course the whole “ruined manor” setting is done quite well with overgrown gardens, broken statues, and decrepit furnishings.

However, soon it’s clear that it needs a bit more polishing. There are several typos which would have easily been caught by using a spellchecker. And there’s an odd bit of guess-the-verb with the first light switch that results in “switch switch on” or “switch on switch” to be the only accepted wordings I could find, which are a lot more awkward than something like “flip switch”. Some obvious synonyms, like “paintings” for the “portraits”, are also not implemented. The switch wouldn’t be such a big deal except that there are switches or lamps in nearly every room that have to be turned on.

The camera is handled very nicely, but there’s a really stiff inventory limit that basically amounts to being able to carry only one thing in each hand, and much of the time one hand is used for the camera bag, which deliberately has a broken strap so it can’t be worn (although the camera can be, fortunately). Some of the time it can be helpful to carry around another useful item like a flashlight or ladder, which means nothing else can be picked up, and trying to manipulate the camera batteries requires dropping whatever else is being held. This is fiddly and annoying and, while somewhat realistic, breaks immersion in the game itself. It wouldn’t be super difficult to write some routines to automatically handle the off-hand item when swapping the batteries, for instance. Or just allow more to be stashed in the coat’s pocket. A small flashlight would fit in many coat pockets just fine, even with keys.

Despite the game’s flaws, the creepiness gets weirder once inside the manor itself, and the camera is used in some unorthodox ways. It’s clever and atmospheric and weird. Things can change unexpectedly, and strange things appear in limited lighting. It’s basically a haunted house story, but the atmosphere is very well done. It’s also quite a large house and therefore the exploration takes quite a while (light must be managed carefully early on). That means I didn’t reach a plot ending, although it’s possible to leave at any time and get a partial ending. There isn’t much direction as to what needs to be done, really, aside from “take cool photos”, so it’s easy to just wander around and miss the interesting stuff. Oddly enough, after I’d done more stuff, I tried leaving again, but then the ending kept telling me I’d lost my camera, even though I’d checked to make sure it was with me (and I even tried putting it away in its bag too) before driving off. I don’t know if that’s a bug or what.

Score: 8
Scoring: base 7, -1 for multiple obvious typos, -1 for light switch awkwardness, +1 for atmosphere and creepiness, +1 for cool camera toy that seamlessly extends into the inventory, +1 for multiple and graduated endings, + net 0 for the extensive “visitor’s guide” file which has a lot of information and spoilers about how things work, but it’s not actually a full walkthrough


One Response to “IFComp 2014 Review: Transparent”

  1. […] by Simon Deimel (Z-code) – 4 Origins, by Vincent Zeng and Chris Martens (Web) – 6 Transparent, by Hanon Ondricek (Glulx) – 8 Zest, by Fear of Twine (Web) – 6 Caroline, by Kristian […]

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