Monday, 21 October 2013

A Wind Blown from Paradise by N.C. Hunter Hayden - and some advice for new authors


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(Version reviewed: Original)

A Wind Blown from Paradise is a small Glulx experience which uses the drudgery of underground train travel and the wind blowing down the train tunnels as a metaphor for a greyed-out life not lived in the present; the siren song memories of the past are in technicolour. It's an idea well suited for delivery in IF format, but the delivery of this game is unfortunately frustrating. The solution shows me I had almost reached an ending after about 10-15 minutes of play, but I still quit at that point because I was tired of being thwarted by the random train travel mechanic and interrelated technical problems: the game failing to properly note when I was on a train or off it, turns being out of sync, some commands failing to give any response, a lack of the most basic synonyms, etc. These boringly common problems could all be sorted out easily with input from folks with even a little Inform 7 experience. There are also subtler design problems in that the game's responses don't give enough information to indicate that the game state may be changing, or that you may be progressing. It's too easy for the player to wander around in this one feeling lost, stuck in a repetitive loop with no guidance. Wind lists no beta testers.

What I'd like to say to the author of Wind and to anyone who's thinking of getting started with any of the IF programming languages is that you don't have to go the programming alone, and it will be better for your game (and probably more fun for you) if you don't. Just head to the internet forums of your language of choice, or to intfiction.org, a blanket site whose forums and subforums are flush with veterans of the majority of the languages.

The thing about being new to a programming language and in a vacuum is that you can't know what you might be doing wrong, technically. If you ask for a tester or testers on intfiction's betatesting forum, you'll almost always get at least one volunteer. In the case of this game, such a volunteer could probably have pointed out all the same problems I pointed out in this review in about five minutes, and advise on how to fix most or all of them. The obvious benefit of such improvements is that one's artistic vision may be more optimally delivered. However, the side-effect of one's game probably earning more points in IFComp isn't too shabby, either.

I suspect a lot of new authors create their first game in a vacuum, enter it in IFComp (the harshest IF mistress of the year) and then leave dispirited at the reaction. This isn't a win for anyone involved. What would be cool is if these authors realised they could get some assistance before they hit this point, and that there's plenty of assistance to be had afterwards, or irregardless, too. So I just wanted to let this advice out at a time when would-be or new IF authors might be reading it. Bonne chance.

2 comments:

  1. Author here -

    I am Hunter Hayden, the author of A Wind Blown from Paradise. I hardly make posts online, but I just have to say that your review / advice is extraordinarily appreciated. I am, in fact (I think I may have mentioned this in the 'about' in the IF) a new IF-writer, and, as I saw as soon as the transcripts started coming in, have a lot to learn about the medium. The plethora of technical and design issues merit this work a low rating, I agree, and I do have plans to ameliorate the IF and bring the concept into the full glory of its realization. But such experiences as reading your review, among others', have shown me that the aspiring IF-er has an immensely helpful community. So, far from leaving 'dispirited at the reaction' my IF has received, I am encouraged that so many people have taken the time - the most precious commodity - to not only play/read my IF, but to review it and offer friendly advice.

    I am also filled with delight that the metaphor was understood. The explanation ("If we live in the past etc") was helpful, I'm sure, but nevertheless I worried that I was being too obtuse, or that the technical or design issues would interfere with comprehension of the intent.

    Thank you for your review,

    N.C. Hunter Hayden


    PS I had "Six" on my computer at one point in time. I see that that and your other two on the IF DataBase are all rated quite favorably. I'll certainly add them to my "next-to-play/read/experience/whatever-one-does-to-an-IF" list.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Hunter,

      Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you found my post helpful, as it's easy to accidentally sound preachy or like you're speculating on people's motives too much when doing the online criticism thing. There's definitely tons of help to be had at intfiction.org.

      Re: my own games, I'm doing a port of Leadlight to Inform atm, so you might want to hold off on playing that one for now. But with Six, I would say: please do knock yourself out!

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