Snow Quest – a review of Comp reviews

The reviews of _Snow Quest_ were a puzzling mixture of the two cases we’ve considered earlier, _Duel That Spanned_ and _Beta Tester_.  Here we had *both* a broad consensus on what the game was about and what it was like to play the game; but, we had a diverse range of thoughts on what the game meant.

This is what the reviewers agreed on:

Bad things were in the storytelling decisions:

  • The game’s plot was not rationally justifiable.  It might be disjointed; possibly even incoherent.
  • The game resorts too quickly to cliche.

–Now, Eric understands the form of popular fiction very well.  But here, he overplays that form.  And that’s especially dangerous here, because this story is *meant* to be empty — it’s a fantasy (even if, as Emily contends, somehow a true one).  Without enough of something for the story to really be about, his own expertise in the way the popular form communicates with the audience runs wild, and results in cliche. 

 Good things were in the mechanics:

  • The writing style is good.
  • The game design is impressive.
  • The programming is tight.  (Nifty exit lister, too.)

–And this was all generally good enough to carry it as a game.  The above-mentioned problems just keep it from being an excellent game.

The reviewers seemed to agree on the difference between the two main stories:

The early part of the game, wherein you climb the mountain, wasn’t much fun.  The later part, where you play the pilot, *was* fun, but was so disconnected from the first part that it caused serious problems for people.  Even people who argued for the game as a whole (like Jeremy) seemed to acknowledge this.  Many did not mention it, but reading between the lines I get the impression they experienced the game this way.

So, why was the mountain-climbing bit not fun?

Looking at the gameplay, two things stand out:  the game is on rails; and it is puzzle-heavy.  In combination, these two things create a stop-and-go gameflow.  When you’re stopped, you have a very confined space to explore and very little to do.  When you go, you get one cut scene, followed by the ability to move into a new location — the old one closes off behind you — and another puzzle.

The puzzles were all of about the same level of difficulty; none of them were easy, none were killer-hard.  (I think half or two-thirds of them were too difficult for me.)

So, this has the structure of a gauntlet.  It’s just as much of a gauntlet as _The Grand Quest_ was, although it wasn’t explicitly framed as such, and (with all due respect to Owen Parish) far smoother in its design.

Eric’s gauntlet differs from Owen’s in that it is broken up by dreams and flash-backs.  But that does not change the gauntlet structure.  In fact, with each dream or flashback requiring a particular solution from the player, we should consider them especially creative nodes on the gauntlet.  With each node leading inevitably to the next, there is no room for player agency of any kind.

And, with the stop-and-go nature of the game control, we feel that.  As soon as we’re given agency, it starts to be possible to have fun.

But then, we have the other problem, which is that the narrative is no longer “about” the same thing it was about a moment before.  And this threw some players.

This is what the reviewers disagreed on, in much the same way reviewers disagreed about _Beta Tester_.  They didn’t know how to interpret it.

Another Mr. Lizard thought it was a parody of some kind.  Jeremy didn’t seem to know what to make of it, but he enjoyed it.  McMartin said it was disjointed, but reports no attempt to figure out what it all meant, and advocates “focusing on where the game is here and now.” 

Yhlee passionately disliked the story — which meant in a sense she got very into responding — writing:

Oh please God please God not a Go to X, Find Y quest to Save Our People. *weeps* Maybe the intent is for this to be fairytale-like in its simplicity, but really, what I’m getting out of it is cliche. […]

Since I should say something positive, I love the exits lister that has unvisited exits in red. It is handy! I should learn to do that. […]

EWWWWWWWWWWWWW SKEEVY GUY WITH HYPNOTIC CRYSTAL OMG GET AWAY.

(That last one broke my heart.  Yhlee, if you’re out there somewhere in internet-land reading this, I want you to know that very few skeevy guys have hypnosis crystals.  Er, that is–  *sigh*  Never mind.)

She also resented the fact that the PC was apparently male, only to reverse that later when she found out the PC was female.

And Emily Short reports trying to make the game a metaphor for death and the soul, until apparently deciding the text rebuffed such attempts too thoroughly.

So, again, we see that in the vacuum of a clear interpretive scheme, people make up whatever seems most likely.  That will inevitably draw from their own ideas as much as from the text.  And people who are inclined not to interpret ambiguous texts will focus on the “here and now,” as McMartin prefers to.

(While reading these reviews, it occurred to me to try interpreting the game the way I would a dream.  That post is coming soon.)

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Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 8:04 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks to Eriorg, for the collation of reviews, I have some more information on this one.

    The exceptions I’ve found to the above patterns were three:

    http://gamesjournal.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/ifcomp-09-snowquest/

    http://cobaltnine.dreamwidth.org/106800.html

    http://second-truth.blogspot.com/2009/10/if-comp-2009-snowquest.html

    -–if I’m reading them right, these three would disagree with me strongly that the end was more fun than the beginning. Generally, they found the beginning more fun: they didn’t get stuck much and therefore didn’t experience it as a stop-and-go gauntlet. Conversely (and partly perhaps because of this) they found the ending jarring and weird, and didn’t know what to make of it.

  2. I also found the beginning more fun than the end:
    http://saucersofmud.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/ifcomp-review-snowquest/

    Part of this was that I didn’t really get stuck, or when I did it was mostly in the part where you’re wandering around in a bunch of different locations and so at least had some exploring to do. Also I had no qualms about using the help function. But part of it was that I was interested in the symbolism and mystery of the snowquest part, and the real-world part seemed a little attenuated and reductive to me. As I said in my review, I took a break at the moment of the transition, and when I started again I was surprised at how soon the game ended.

  3. Yeah, I’m one of those weirdos that liked the beginning a lot better than the end of this one. I guess I didn’t have that hard of a time solving it and thought the scenario seemed different.

    I guess maybe if you liked one half, the other half didn’t seem to fit it…


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