Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

IFComp 2015 Review: Final Exam

Posted by Reiko on November 18, 2015

This is a review of a game from the 2015 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Final Exam
Author: Jack Witham
Format: Z-code

This was clever. I liked this one quite a bit, partly for its deft handling of fiddly things like cables. There’s a strange inversion of simulation going on here where I really wasn’t quite sure which layer was reality and which was simulation and maybe that was the point? The first part takes place in what feels like reality but looks like a simulation (human body, but empty administration center), and then the second part takes place in what looks like reality but feels like a simulation (robot body, but real equipment and surface).

The Central Administrator gives instructions on what needs to be done to fix the breach, but given all the talk of responsibility vs stability and political issues and such, I half expected to get to the end and find out that following the instructions was entirely the wrong thing to do, and have to replay to get the optimal ending. No, this one played it entirely straight. I’m not sure there are any other endings, in fact, unless you plug the administrator’s connection into the wrong socket in the bunker or something, which I didn’t try.

The game ended up really being about the cable puzzle more than anything else, which was an oddly mechanical solution to what sounded like it could have turned into an interesting political choice. Minor nitpick right at the beginning: I typed “stand” to stand up from the bed, but I was immediately yanked all the way out of the room and over to the administration building. That’s…disconcerting, and not recommended. Let the player move around on his own unless there’s a really good reason to yank him around somewhere.

Time: 40 min
Scoring: base 7, +1 for excellent cable handling, +1 for simulation ambiguity, -1 for mechanical-only solution
Score: 8

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3 Responses to “IFComp 2015 Review: Final Exam”

  1. There are indeed other endings, which IMO turned this good game into a great game. Did you notice the second number on your black box?

    • Reiko said

      Hmm. I didn’t notice it on my original playthrough, but I just replayed and used that number, which gave me a bunch of flashbacks. It was all very interesting, but the ending didn’t seem substantially different; I still executed the same cable puzzle and passed the exam. Did I miss something else?

      • Yep, so, given what you learned from the flashbacks, you might not want to cooperate with the Central Admin but do something else instead. There are another couple numbers around that you might want to investigate as well. (Sorry for being vague but I think it’s rewarding to figure as much of this out on your own as you can. I can get more explicit if you want…)

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