Sunday, October 04, 2009

[IF Competition] Trap Cave

More IF Comp reviews, more spoiler space. As promised, the second part of Thomas Hardy's:
The Ruined Maid (2/3)

-"At home in the barton you said 'thee' and 'thou,'
And 'thik oon,' and 'theäs oon,' and 't'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-ny!"
"Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she.

"Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!"
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.
This time, I review Trap Cave by Emilian Kowalewski.

It is a CYOA-style game, written in a new engine (Node-X) that is available for Windows and Linux. The engine seems good enough for its purposes. Some integration with the window manager might be a good idea, as it would allow for much nicer output, but I won't complain about that. Also, the author does not seem to be an entirely proficient Linux-programmer, since the game attempts to write to its own directory rather than make a hidden directory in the user's home--this led to all kinds of trouble when I tried to run it as another user. Also, it couldn't find the games... well, at least interoperability is on the agenda. I ended up running the Windows version in Wine.

The game is in German. There is also an English version, but even that is in German from almost the start. (The author claims that he didn't have time to translate it all, but the game doesn't seem to be that big. Surely translating at least the first few minutes couldn't take that much time?)

Luckily, I read German, and in fact that is why I felt compelled to try this game. Perhaps few other judges will be competent to judge it.

Is Trap Cave a good game? Unfortunately, no. You start out in a pit, and have to escape through a cave full of "traps". None of these traps are real puzzles: they are just unpredictable instant death situations. The very first sets the tone of the game: you walk into a dark tunnel, and have to choose between left and right. If you choose right... instant death! Or you find a tunnel filled with water, and once you've entered it, you can "swim on" or "go back". Whichever you choose... instant death! In fact, instant death you cannot undo! Truly the kind of retro adventure book experience I did not want to have ever again.

On top of that, the CYOA-interface, at least as used in this game, puts arbitrary and irritating restrictions on the player. Once I had entered the cave with the skeleton, I didn't get the option to go back again. Why not? No reason. There just was no choice that would take me back. In the first location, you need to examine something, but the option to examine it appears rather arbitrarily, so that I missed it and had to ask for help on the newsgroup.

With that help I got a bit further, but I once again got into a situation where nothing I did made any difference. I could walk back and forth between two locations, and I could not do anything else. Nothing. According to someone on the newsgroup, I should be able to get to new locations once I had created the torch... but no, no new options appeared. Who knows, perhaps I needed to hold the torch in my right hand, instead of in my left hand? I wouldhave loved to try it out, but I couldn't, because you're not allowed to drop the items you are holding. At least, you're not always allowed to do that. I couldn't see any logic behind it, and at this point I didn't really care anymore.

So I quit. I hope I don't have to write that in all my reviews.

The game is boring and probably buggy, and the interface was terribly annoying. Good CYOA is undoubtedly possible, but Trap Cave is not going to convert any of the skeptics--to the contrary. This game was marginally better than last year's Project Delta, by the same author and in the same system, but it's still so bad that it only damages the reputation of Node-X further.


  1. As far as I know you can type the command U in the console to undo your last move. I managed to undo the instant death when I entered the right tunnel. Then I walked into the left tunnel and continued.

  2. I figured it out.








    Pick up the magic torch, go into the east tunnel and you won't die anymore. Jump over to the other side, pick up the magic elixir in the treasury. Then swim into the tunnel and you will escape from the cave and complete the game.

  3. I got it running in Linux but it took some time to figure out that I needed to edit nodex.ini to include GamePath=./Game/ and UserPath=./User/ (including the trailing slashes). So I'm giving it two bonus half-points (amounting to a grand total of one bonus point) for having a Linux implementation at all and for the meta-puzzle of getting it working.

    No points for the game itself, though.