Beta Tester Review

Note:  I don’t score the games I review, but I do predict the score the games will get in the Comp.  If you don’t want to know what I predict the score will be, don’t read the last paragraph.  Otherwise, I’ll try to keep these spoiler-free.

I should say, I didn’t finish this game, and I only spent a little more than an hour on it.  But I’m not voting on the games, and in this case I feel justified in writing a review.

As sometimes happens with Inform 7 games, this game is more polished in presentation than it is well-designed.  I didn’t enjoy the game — it’s not fun — but beyond that there are some pretty serious coding problems that will prevent it from doing well in the Comp.

We might call the style of the game pseudo-ironic.  It pretends to be ironic, but it’s not.  If you remember the adverts in Zork 2 for Frozzbozz Magic this-or-that — Beta Tester is written very much in that silly-advertising style.  But in this case, the player is being persecuted by the writer of that silly advertising, and it’s done in a way that seems to indicate that the author of the game intends for you to take it to heart as much as possible.

For example, you start the game wearing a bunny costume (for no reason given) and you’re required to wear that bunny costume at certain points to advance the plot.  Also, the game itself heckles you.  When you try doing something not intended, as you inevitably do while trying to solve the puzzles, the game doesn’t give you normal failure messages, but pokes fun at you.  And maybe it’s intended to be light-hearted; but over time it doesn’t come across that way.

This is especially a problem because the first puzzle (“get out of this room”), apparently though bugginess, doesn’t solve easily.  And the last thing you want when you’re trying to solve what is looking more and more like a stupid puzzle design is the parser mouthing off to you.  Especially after the first thirty minutes, it gets old.

Then, some of the combinations of items give you *no messages*.  And the solution, when I played it, seemed to be triggered by a random combination of items that had nothing to do with the description in the following cut-scene.  On the other hand, what I was supposed to do to solve the puzzle was something I think I *did* try doing earlier on.

There are too many cut scenes, even broken up as they are by the judicious use of the -Pause- feature; there are too many unaccounted-for ways to combine objects; there are characters who you can’t talk to at all — sometimes the parser creates no responding text — and, frankly, if the game were a lot of fun and well-coded, then it could afford to be this snarky with the player; but that doesn’t work when the game is this buggy.

Fundamentally, the big problem with this game is that the user has no goal, other than perhaps “escape the virtual environment you’re trapped in.”  But that goal is implied only in passing.  You don’t feel it as a priority.  And, although there are things to do, there’s not much meaning to them, because they’re cobbled together and they’re organized in a gauntlet:  only one series of room-solutions is available (at least, to the extent I played it — I think halfway through).

Also, there are no hints, help, or about.   The game *could* be an earnest attempt at writing a game by someone whose command of emotional subtext and Inform code are both a bit spotty.

Or, maybe the whole game is meant to be pseudo-ironic:  the game itself seems not well beta-tested, its name is _Beta Tester_, and a great deal of the “fun” is simply the game attempting to humiliate the user.  So this *could* be one of our trolls writing a “Ha-ha, Inform 7 sucks, the IF community sucks, it sucks to be a Beta tester, and IF Comp 09 sucks” kind of game…

I find that likely because at some point there’s a comic whose routine is comprised of various classics from (mostly) American humor, all carefully presented to be thoroughly un-funny.  That seems to be the basic pattern in the game design.

As it is, I’d say this game’ll score a 4.35 or so.  Advice to the author:  let the player explore more freely; go easier on the cut scenes; refine your “simulation” (rooms with things) and conversation; when you find yourself using a device a lot — like locked doors, or signs — take that as telling you to vary your approach.

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Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 2:54 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I was already inclined against playing this when I saw it didn’t have any beta-testers, but then when I saw it didn’t include a *walkthrough*.

    Excellent graphic design on your site, btw.

  2. A private email tells me that you can indeed get a kind of help, by typing “WALKTHRU.” Then, there are numerous PAUSEs you have to go through to get to the help menu.

    The email concludes:

    Yes, the author of this game even managed to make getting help annoying. This perhaps strengthens your theory that s/he was deliberately trying to be annoying.

    Conrad.


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