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Cursor  Member Reviews - Cursed

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  Review by Yoon Ha Lee, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews

In: 6:00 p.m.
An Adrift game, but Spatterlight will actually run this one. Yay!

And then I hit the intro text.

I can still remember the fear and desperation that surged through me at the time of my arrest. It was like falling into a void that went on forever; tumbling, clutching, gasping, my mind verging on the edge of insanity. To have followed so soon after experiencing such painful loss seems unjust. I suppose justice always sounds good in theory, yet is tragically denied to those that need it most.

I’m sure Alsanter thought something similar when my dagger was plunged into his back by an unknown assassin. His life ended two months ago – mine has only minutes remaining. Today is the day my judgement is decided by the court of the King of Rylane. Today is the day I will die.

I see a lot of games fall down in failing to provide a good hook. I get that I'm supposed to care about this high-stakes situation, and that I've been assured that the player is in fact not guilty (unless there's something wacky going on like hypnotism or fake fantasy versions of dissociative identity disorder), and yet I just can't seem to care.

What doesn't help is the first paragraph (which is, of course, the first thing I see). For one, it's overwritten. "[T]umbling, clutching, gasping, my mind verging on the edge of insanity," really? And yet the description, for all its wordiness, doesn't manage to convey anything but fairly high-level abstracts (fear, desperation). There is little specificity. Triggered by the use of "arrest," my first guess was that we were talking about a modern-day person being arrested by a cop. I personally find it useful to get some sort of specific cue as to the setting/situation so I can start getting into the character's head.

Anyway, I have some vague memory of playing games that managed to be decent despite the handicap of a mediocre (or worse) opening, so let's move on and see what the game offers.

Well, okay one more thing--notice that it's almost always a bad sign if my first reaction to your hook is NOT to frantically type something to get into the game faster, but to sit back and analyze the ways in which your hook isn't hooking me. Just saying.

OH SHINJO NO THE PROTAG IS MONOLOGUING AT ME Soliloquying? What is the proper term here? NO PLEASE STOP OR I WILL FIGURE OUT HOW TO ENGINEER YOUR DEATH. It's one thing if you're doing something fun like Rameses (I do realize not everyone liked Rameses) but if you have a dull character and can't make him/her/it any less dull, AT LEAST keep them from MONOLOGUING AT ME.

Okay, there are beta testers, but that doesn't surprise me. The game is annoying, but doesn't strike me as outright abysmal.

This character is still maundering on about the situation. Listen, I feel like two or three short, sharp sentences--if they were the right short, sharp sentences--could have done the bulk of the setup work for you. IMNSHO err on the side of brevity!

Monologue over for now. Let's hope it stays gone. No, it's back. *sob* What did I ever do to deserve this?

Yes, PC, please be dead soon. Anything to make you shut up.

Hmm. I would have preferred a cut to the throne room unless I'm going to need knowledge of the castle/dungeon layout to get around later? Naturally, I am not mapping, my funeral.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

This game just repaid the aggravation factor, although I sadly suspect it was completely unintentional:
Lord Sulanar, Lord Gaxin, Lady Edukam, Lady Harridan, Lord Vonisor, Lord Reken and Lord Adath

Did the author just name her LADY HARRIDAN??? *snorfle*

Well, that probably kills my ability to take this cod-medieval setting seriously in and of itself, but the other problem is that the setting is...cod-medieval so far. It's McFantasyStandardFare, which, in all fairness, the game broadcasts from paragraph two, but still. Disappointing.

What, I'm not desperate enough to attack the wizard who is my friend? Allrighty then, but don't say I didn't try. Well, at least PRAY admits a response, if not actual divine intervention (but I wouldn't expect that anyway). Also, it is so tempting to read "Alallsia" as "Allansia." (What? I love me some Fighting Fantasy.)

This whole thing where you stand there and wait for everyone to give their verdict is drawn out and tedious.

Oh wow, we just headed straight into WTF. This game is slightly train-wrecky, isn't it? If the pacing issues are bad right now I hate to think of what will transpire later. Anyway, WTF:
Using a slightly less powerful voice, Rixomas speaks again. “Your Majesty, you need to make a judgement.”

“No!” the king cries, jumping up from the throne. Everyone, including you, starts slightly at the sudden sound. The king paces across the dais and continues to speak. “I am sick of all this formality, this ... this ... pompous ritual. Don’t you have any idea what this is doing to me?”

Rixomas looks stunned for a moment. “But, your Majesty,” he says, “this is the law.”

“And this is my family!” the king cries. There is no hiding the tears on his face now. “This youth is my ward. I’ve cared for him for more than ten years. He is like my son.”

“Your true son was murdered, sire,” the wizard replies. “Ward or not, he’s been found guilty and punishment must be carried out. It’s your duty as king to do this.”

“Oh, stop it will you! Just stop it! I know I’m the king, and I don’t need you reminding me of that.”

The king pauses to survey the gathered nobility. “You’re all just sitting there, expecting me to send my ward to his death as if it means nothing to me. But it does! I’ve already lost my son; now I must lose my ward as well, and my daughter loses her fiancé. I have to live with this decision, even if none of you have to.”

“Sire, we understand this is difficult and that you haven’t truly had time to grieve. But the law is the law. It’s what makes you king. It can’t Using a slightly less powerful voice, Rixomas speaks again. “Your Majesty, you need to make a judgement.”

Up till now I had no opinion of the king; now I have concluded that he is a blithering idiot. Thank you so much, game.

Reading some of the nobles' descriptions already convinced me that the king's power was relatively weak anyway. Now I see why!

This whole judgment scene involves me basically doing WAIT-type actions while everyone else talks at me and I don't have any useful agency (attempts to ATTACK people, to zone out by SLEEPing, etc. have all failed). This is a good design decision why?

Okay, time out for a rant. Guys, if you find yourself writing a game where there's this whole long section (I'm not talking about a few turns, I'm talking about a lot of turns) where the game sort of barfs information at the PC that the PC needs to have, but the PC has no agency and can't participate in the scene in a substantive fashion, you need to either:

1. Redesign the scene to reduce the vomitous content. Make it shorter, streamline it, cut stuff, cut lots of stuff, no really cut some more.

2. Resort to an actual cutscene. Note that #1 probably still applies. If you're making me read more than two full screens of text in a cutscene (and it is vastly preferable that a cutscene by limited to a full screen or a few paragraphs wherever possible), cut, cut, cut. Or find some way to space out the cutscenes, but really, cutting is frequently better.

3. Go back to the drawing board and figure out how to convey that information while being interactive. This is interactive fiction. I want to spend most of my time interacting, even if the interaction is on rails; you can do rails and make me like it, but unless you're doing something very unusual (which this game is not), you can't make something non-interactive and make me like it. If I wanted a non-interactive experience, I would be watching physics sit-coms (well, I shout at the screen, but you know) or reading static fiction. Please. Don't do this to me.

Honestly, I just want to stop playing and get on with my life, but I am determined to see if there's a kernel of salvageable gameplay in here. I have just gotten to the part where I am offered the choice of being turned into a rat, fox, or snake. This is where PC-vs.-player separation is very important because I actually like all three creatures. (I say this as a city-dweller who has never substantively had to deal with any of the three as pests.) Now look! This is an important choice (I assume) and with any luck, it will significantly shape the gameplay experience from here on. THIS is where the game should have started.

You hear about the thing writers sometimes do where the "real" beginning of the story is buried five pages (or more) into the manuscript. (This is not one of my more common failure modes, although it has to have happened. I'm more likely just to produce something that's completely incomprehensible.) Well, this is the game equivalent right here.

It feels very weird to have the transformation spell's agony described as "electrical fire." Ditto the use of the word "mutate." I guess it's hard to tell what the sci/tech level is.

Really stupid question, do foxes have color vision? I notice there's color in the Antechamber description, which doesn't appear to have changed. Okay, totally random internet source claims they probably do [edit: fixed that].

Died in the castle. Okay, this is where a map would be handy, but I didn't do it. I still maintain that starting the game here would have been better, though.

Weird buggy message:
>Z
You wait for something to happen.
Your vulpine hearing detects some sounds – movement to the east.
Your vulpine hearing detects some sounds – movement to the east.
Your vulpine hearing detects some sounds – movement to the east.


Okay, walkthrough time. Yay for walkthroughs!

Another display bug:
From the northern end of the courtyard comes the sound of a horse whinnying in distress.

Your vulpine hearing detects some sounds – movement to the south.

From the northern end of the courtyard comes the sound of a horse whinnying in distress.

Hmm, there seem to be puzzles that require a significant amount of waiting. Excessive waiting feels very non-interactive and I'm not a fan of it in puzzles.

There is a sudden flick of the reigns and with a jolt the cart lurches forward.

Reins.

Oh, not another monologue. On the other hand, the mocking apparition was at least interesting. Not greatly interesting, but interesting. Some evil sorcerer with astral projection? Scrying?

Huh, the rake puzzle is cute. I feel like I have done that to myself, too.

More display bugs.

I am even more tired of the protag going on about Tevona than I am about the protag going on.

An...interlude...you have got to be kidding me.

I am so confused by why I need to be in on this conversation. It feels like an extensive infodump about things that I didn't care much about to begin with and am caring even less about the more I have to hear about them. Also, I keep wanting to read Ralyon Warriors as Rayon Warriors.

Oh dear Shinjo there's more "as you know, Bob." *weeps* Okay, look, at 7:30 p.m., unless this game improves dramatically--which I doubt--I call it quits. An hour and a half is plenty.

Aha, I was supposed to look at the tapestry earlier. That's probably where the apparition would've been familiar from.

Master Limos! One limo, two limos. So hard to take some of these fantasy names seriously.

Please make this conversation shorter. My eyes are about to bleed out. And please stop talking about Tevona. I am already determined to hate her. Maybe she will secretly be conspiring with the evil sorcerer or whatever.

Oh I can't do this any longer.

Out: 7:20 p.m. (80 min.) with a saved game

Rating: 4. This game is cursed with mediocre prose, but even that wouldn't have been such a big issue if it hadn't forced me to wade through so much of it. The bigger problems lie in the game design--too much non-interactivity, too many infodumps, starting the game way before the first really significant action the player can take. The author has a fair amount of ambition: three separate play paths (although I'm guessing the differences for replayability purposes are largely cosmetic rather than substantive, I do not have the patience to play this game through with all three walkthroughs), a lot of locations, etc. I hope the author goes on to write more games, better ones. The two big take-away messages I would give the author are: (a) remember to design around player interaction and (b) always, always err on the side of brevity. If you have a lot of cutscenes that go on for pages and pages, ditto non-interactive cutscenes, you're doing it wrong.

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