Posted 23 February 2000 to rec.games.int-fiction
[WARNING: The views expressed in this post are probably going to remain in a single digit minority, but that doesn't bother me too much.]
Imagine you're standing outside a house with a door, and using that as an image to describe all of Adam Cadre's games. In I-0, opening that door was a puzzle, but there were 69,105 different ways of doing it, and besides it was always fun. In Photopia, even if you sucked at solving puzzles, you'd get the darned door open somehow. In 9:05, you're allowed to open the door, only to find that you've just left the house, and not entered it. In Varicella, you'll probably die the first 100 times you try opening that door, but that doesn't prevent you from finding it absolutely brilliant.
In Shrapnel, on the other hand, that darned door is stuck, and you just can't open it - you have to wait for the author to open it for you, his way. Don't ask me why, but I found that annoying. I'm not complaining about the low puzzle coefficient (my views on Photopia and other puzzleless games are on record, anyway) but the fact that it didn't feel like playing a game - it felt like watching the author playing with every trick of phrase, of technique, of programming in his old kit bag, while I sat on and said: "Oh, wow, that's so clever. I think I'll go back to writing side-scrollers." :) Shrapnel suffers from much the same faults as the sleep sequence in A Moment Of Hope - when you "die", and get a "RESTART, RESTORE or QUIT?" prompt, you can't type anything except RESTART. Period. Even if I press B,I,T,E,space,M,E,!, what appears on the screen is RESTART, and the game goes on until the bitter end. Heck, that kind of attitude didn't win Moment (or In The End) too many friends in the first place.
The story is similarly confused: it's a Zork parody, it's a Civil War Southern Gothic-type thing, it's a comment on abuse, it's intriguingly under-developed science fiction - it often seemed to me like a bad Kurt Vonnegut piece, though I must take back my initial impressions, as Adam's own essay on Shrapnel never mentions his name once (Oddly enough, I had similar feelings about Photopia, though not in a negative sense.) But then, if Vonnegut had been writing this, he would've elicited a wry smile from me: all this game did was make me scratch my head and say "What the hell was the point of all that"? Of course, after reading the MAKING OF essay, it makes a bit more sense - but I've played plenty of complex games (Losing Your Grip for example) that I could grasp without a MAKING OF essay. This is the author's second game involving child abuse, and the second involving trauma to a young girl of 13-14: obviously these issues mean a lot to the author, and I'm not questioning his sincerity one bit it just gives me an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.
On the other hand, the rot13 message at the end of the game earns this one extra points: at least I didn't get the whole darned thing wrong. Shrapnel's not a bad game by any means - it's just intensely annoying, a dark piece of IF with no obvious point. ("Darkness" for its own sake is like puzzles for their own sake, or mazes for their own sake, or linearity for its own sake - it doesn't suffice to make a game.) No offence intended to anyone, but I've really learnt to appreciate games like NJAG and Inheritance after finishing this one.
My score for Shrapnel: 6 out of 10.
This article copyright © 2000, Quentin D. Thompson