Posted 22 August 2001 to rec.games.int-fiction
The readme.txt for 'Vadventure' begins with a statement of manifesto by the author, 'Phil': "I believe that a text adventure should be more like a book than an adventure. It should be linear, and pretty easy to play, since people don't normally get stuck in one place in a book." This is not something I necessarily disagree with, but if this game is meant to be like a book, then I hope it was meant to be filed in the childrens section.
I don't mean that (quite) as badly as it might sound.
When I was about thirteen, and subject to all the attendant learning difficulties (and then some), I used to turn up to I.T. classes, rather than sit somewhere else and inhale lighter-fluid, only as an excuse to play a text-adventure game. I wish I could remember the name, as I'd love to play it again (I blame the lighter-fluid), but the point about it was that the puzzles were simple and mathematical in nature: hitting pool balls at the right angle for a pocket, persuading the fraction-turtle you knew his special fraction-language, etc. The game under review, 'Vadventure', reminds me in places of that old maths game I enjoyed as a troubled child; except I have to say the puzzles, although they are as simple, aren't as high calibre.
'Vadventure' begins in that dark place you can only fall or drift into: sleep. And right away there is some promise.
You float in the misty void of sleep.
Your ears stretch on into infinity, like two really long stretched out throwrugs. They hang very heavily down into the abyss over which you float.
Intriguing... but once you wake, it soon becomes clear that this long-ears business has no relevance to the game, but is just a random description meant to be funny. I guess this kind of randomness might tickle some people, but it does nothing for me. The premise of the game changes randomly too, as you begin to discover if you examine yourself again once you type the obligatory 'wake up':
Your name is Viktor. You are a very tall, pasty-faced, tall guy. Oh, yeah, you are VERY TALL. You can't see your feet past the layer of mist around your knees. You are very hungry.
You are too tall. You need to be shorter. That is your mission, get it?
It is a plot with potential -- a premise with promise -- but one which unfortunately soon deteriorates, as the author can't help but mar the purpose of the game with the same bent for randomness we caught warning signs for with the long ears. Once you sort out the player-character's vertical challenge, the purpose of the game shifts immediately to another goal, then another, with no real development of plot. I found myself hoping for some twist which would place all that had happened within some narrative frame, but even at the end of the game I was denied; each goal got progressively more arbitrary, and instead of solace I got a kind of joky parser that winked clumsily at me about how I was playing a game, and didn't we both know it:
Now that you are shortened, you will have no problem making it out of the house! It's a good thing that this is an extremely linear game, so you shouldn't have any problem figuring out your next mission!
I'm not a real fan of such an obvious communication with the player: it tends to remind me I am playing a game, which is part of what I want the game to help me forget while I'm playing. Still, a certain kind of manic, self-depreciating humour did occasionally roll onstage, which was just about enough to keep me going through this (short) game. And it was a nice twist when I realised where the player-character was (although I have to say I lost that twist as the game progressed and strayed further into randomness, and I became less and less sure of the location.)
Some of the puzzles did engage me for a moment. I personally like games without complex object-based puzzles, so I'm a fan of signposts like "There is only one cabinet that appears to be untampered with, and that is the medicine cupboard." They save me having to examine everything I can think of (although obviously a game with limited locations, like 'Shade', has different requirements). I don't like to have to draw maps, either, and this game didn't disappoint in that regard.
But the problems I had with the game's random course were exacerbated by the author's tone. As the game progressed, it was as if I was being winked at and nudged every other turn:
You are on the street outside your house. A recent natural disaster (?) has destroyed almost everything surrounding your house.
To the west is the rest of the street. All the cars are destroyed, a result of the apocalypse brought on by the recent revolution. At the end of the street is another abyss. You can't even reach it though, since there is a stack of telephone poles blocking the middle of the street, and you can't climb over them.
This kind of communication is I guess intended to be witty -- but here it doesn't even seem to be consistent. What destroyed everything? a natural disaster? a revolution? Why has the author placed a bracketed question mark by "disaster"? Who's being questioned -- me? the author? the ludicrousness of the situation? I personally feel more care could have been taken in describing the game-world more consistently.
Unfortunately the way objects are handled exacerbates the sense of carelessness. Items disappear, and in one case we are told specifically that an object is useless and not interactive, when in fact something from the object is needed to continue. Many scenery objects are ignored:
you see a dark void stretching onto eternity, with a red light far off in the distance
>examine red light
I don't see any red light here.
The door is almost closed after the big-guy fell against it, leaving only a small crack.
>look through crack
I don't see any crack here.
The bushes have some nasty thorns on them, but the roses smell nice.
>smell roses I don't see any roses here.
This happens regularly. A note to the author: putting descriptions in for most elements of the scenery is a reasonable courtesy to the player. (At the very least, give the room object alternative names to accomodate scenery objects, so at least we get "You do not need to refer..." messages instead.)
Still, the self-referential humour does redeem the game a touch in places:
These poles were knocked over as a result of seismic activity. Now they block your way.
As was mentioned earlier (*sigh*), LARGE HEAVY TELEPHONE POLES BLOCK YOUR PATH TO THE WEST.
That made me smile, and so did:
Using your super-magical-space-warping powers, you stuff every single last nugget and shiny stone into your hidden recesses. In your clothing, that is. Recesses in your clothing.
(Which I liked more for the joke about being able to carry a ridiculous amount in adventure games, than for the scatological twist I only just noticed.) And once the problems got going, I did feel more stimulated. In the end though, the challenges are a little too facile, the tone tries a little too hard to be 'clever', the progress of the game is too random, and too little work has gone into making the game-world consistent. I'd like to see Phil's next game -- I think his humour does work, if he can reign it in -- but this time it's still going to have to be: file under 'for kids'. (Maybe it'll keep them off the lighter-fluid for an afternoon.)
This article copyright © 2001, Tim Guest