Saturday, October 05, 2013

[IF Comp 2013] "The Wizard's Apprentice" by Alex Freeman

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.

The Wizard's Apprentice reminds me of the entry on "genre fantasy" in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. John Grant writes:
[I]ts main distinguishing characteristic is that, on being confrontedby an unread genre fantasy book, one recognizes it; one has been there before, and the territory into which the book takes one is familiar -- it is fantasyland. [...] In short, genre fantasy is not at heart fantasy at all, but a comforting revisitation of cosy venues, creating an effect that is almost anti-fantasy.
As the title of Alex Freeman's game makes all too clear, his game is indeed genre fantasy. The setting and characters are entirely unimaginative. There's a witch. What does a witch look like? She's female, old, ugly, has a wart, and stand by a boiling cauldron. Where does she live? In a hut in the forest. What does she want? She wants to turn people into toads.

That's all straight from the game. It is as if the author has created a story by taking the most clich├ęd option he could at every turn.

The puzzles aren't much better. Many of them are magic spell puzzles in the vein of Enchanter, but all of them to be used exactly once and only in the most obvious of circumstances. There is even a "get a key from the other side of the door by pushing a paper beneath it" puzzle.

All of that would have made The Wizard's Apprentice a boring though capable offering. But there's an even bigger problem, which is that some of the puzzles are horribly underclued. For instance, when in the wizard's study, you have to "wave wand". Never have we been told that wands can be waved or that this will have a specific effect. The task list we have received must be folded into a plane -- apparently, this has to be gleaned from the fact that the paper has V-shaped creases. With unsolvable puzzles like these in my path, I quickly found myself relying almost exclusively on the walkthrough.

Alex Freeman has shown that he can program a piece of interactive fiction. Next time, he must let his imagination run wild; he must write something that has not been written a million times before. I do not know the author, but I suspect that he is relatively inexperienced. This means that I have good hope that his future offerings will be more interesting.

I cannot grade The Wizard's Apprentice higher than 4 out of 10, though.

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