Thursday, October 07, 2010

[IF Comp] Gris et Jaune

After looking at the title of the game and the "handbill" that it comes with, I had a pretty good idea of what Gris et Jaune was going to be about: a fair, probably in London, lots of variety artists with weird names, perhaps a Blavatsky-like medium, and of course the approaching horrors of the Second World War.

But when I started playing the game, these expectations were quickly changed. Was I a pig, being fattened for the slaughter? No, wait, this was an interactive fiction adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau! But -- perhaps, after all, it was a zombie slasher?

As you can see, it took me quite a while to understand that this was a game set in New Orleans and concerned with Voodoo. If you know a little about Voodoo, I'm sure the names of the handbill would have tipped you off immediately, but I didn't, so they did not me. (I wonder whether that sentence is grammatically incorrect or only pragmatically awkward.) From that point on, I spent a lot of time reading Wikipedia pages on the entities and concepts encountered, which perhaps didn't help immersion, but was nonetheless enjoyable.

Zombies in Voodoo are evidently a lot more interesting than other zombies: they're not mindless creatures searching for brains, but tragic figures conjured forth by people meddling with powers they should have left alone. One of Gris et Jaune's main strengths is how it first turns the doctor from the embodiment of evil (I was quite prepared to kill him) into a tragic figure one sympathises with; and how it then turns Mother John from a saviour into the embodiment of evil (whom I was quite prepared to kill) and then once more into a tragic figure. That final transformation was less successful than the others, but still, this is quite impressive characterisation.

The game is set up well: you start with a very limited set of options, and this slowly starts to widen as the game progresses, as you start to understand what is going on, and as you character gains more, well, character. Perhaps the set of options becomes a bit too much at the end: I played the final sections using the hints and the walkthrough, partly because the game was very long, but also partly because there was a lot to do and little clear direction. I very much doubt, for instance, that I would have been able to get Agau to do my bidding without the walkthrough; and merging with the doctor was not exactly an obvious course of action either. There may have been in-game hints for this that I missed, though.

The puzzles were almost uniformly excellent, in the sense that most of them were not at all arbitrary, but simply the important actions in the narrative. Gris et Jaune is an example of how to blend puzzle and narrative, the kind of example you wish to brandish when people quote that old claim of Graham Nelson's about IF being a narrative at war with a crossword. There's no war. The narrative is the crossword. Gris et Jaune is perhaps a bit too difficult, puzzle-wise, but the integration of the puzzles is impeccable.

The game does need a bit more polish: we have descriptions that are shows double, people that are named in parser messages before we discover their names in the game, some few spelling errors. But these are all minor complaints. I found two bugs: I found a note in the furnace of the burnt-down house, but the game refused to understand the word "note"; and one of the climactic moments of the game turned into this:
> attack her

[** Programming error: tried to read from –>64 in the array “match_list”, which has
entries 0 up to 63 **]

[** Programming error: tried to read from –>64 in the array “match_scores”, which
has entries 0 up to 63 **]
You can’t see “her” (Anna’s mother) at the moment.
but this didn't seem to adversely affect the gameplay. It's hard to remove all bugs from a game this size.

Size. Gris et Jaune is far too big for the IF Competition. Even with copious use of the hints and even the walkthrough at the end, I spent far more than two hours with the game. (And I'm not even sure I have found everything, because even after talking down John and convincing her to stop the experiments, the game told me I felt like I lost. Is there a winning ending?) Games are of course allowed to have any size, but we must judge after only two hours of playing them. At that point I gave the game an 8. Having completed it, I think that it is perhaps worth a little more, though it's hard to say given that I didn't really try to solve the final puzzles myself.

All in all, this is a very solid effort. The best game I've played so far.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your post completely. This is only the third time I've played interactive fiction and I think "Gris et Jaune" was not a good one to attempt for a beginner like myself. Even while using the walkthrough for help, I couldn't move on in the story and ended up randomly trying different commands until miraculously something worked. For example, I don't understand how anyone could've gotten out of the first encounter with Mama John and her zombie minions without using the walkthrough. I died a trillion times before cheating and even then the solution was obscure and kind of illogical ("smell" her? what?). I had to give up out of frustration because I'm stuck at Mama's shack just staring at her, but I want to know how the damn story ends (and by the looks of the walkthrough, I have a lot left to do). I'll come back to it later when I can get the hang of IF more, but this was just too much with too little guidance.