Thursday, 3 October 2013

Further by Will Hines

Click here to play Further online

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(Version reviewed: Original)

Further is a short, parser-driven Z-Code adventure set in the afterlife, or at least after your death. In my relatively short experience of IFComp (2010+) I've observed that afterlife games have been a mainstay. They've appeared in forms as various as the cerebral puzzlefest, the religious sampler, the existential angst generator and the poser of ethical and moral dilemmas. Further's approach is an uncomplicated one. It uses simple puzzles to dramatise the process of remembering your life as you head for the light. The result is a modest game which didn't stir my emotions as much as I think it might have liked to, but whose concept is clear.

(A technological anecdote: I played this game entirely on my iPhone using Frotz, partly on a train and partly in a cafe. This was all pretty exciting for me. Having never owned a smartphone before this August, this was only the third IF game I've played on a smartphone and the second during this competition (the first was Autumn's Daughter). What I can report is that while Further responded instantly to most commands, it would typically pause for up to 25 seconds each time a Player Experience Upgrade response was invoked. Yowza! Player Experience Upgrade is Aaron Reed's suite of code for Inform games which seeks to come up with more accessible than average responses when players type stuff that isn't understood. It seems that whatever it does is highly taxing for Frotz or the iPhone 5 or both. This anecdote is not any reflection upon the quality of Further. I'm just reporting back on how some of this software is performing in the field.)

Now back to the game, and with spoilers ahead.

In Further you start out as an insubstantial form lost in the haze. Exploration reveals a small map composed of elemental terrain: grass, a sandstorm, snow. Little objects from your life are lying around, and by FOCUSing ON them in the appropriately coloured locations you can revivify your memories, transforming the locations into clearer recollections of your life. The colours are also used to paint the relevant pieces of text and to clue you in to suitable locations.

The delivery of these mechanisms is simple. Only a handful of commands are required across the whole game and not much is implemented beyond the vital objects, but the lack of extra detail happens to suit the overall idea that only really important stuff from your life is of value to your ghostly or insubstantial self now, and that only that stuff can help you move on. The descriptions of the memories themselves may suffer a bit from the game's sparseness, at least in terms of their power, but they're in keeping with the whole. I also like the minimal prose used in the final room and the lack of a game over message – even though I admit I then went and peeked at the solution to make sure I really had reached the end.

Relative to some IFComp extravaganzas, Further is fairly basic in its puzzles and delivery, but I found its simplicity satisfying. At the level it pitches at, its idea plays out well.

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