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A Date With Death Reviews

Author: David Whyld
Date: 2008

Reviewed by Jimmy Mahler

Here we have an ADRIFT game in which Death (a.k.a. the Grim Reaper) is a prominent character.  Remind you of a certain title from last year's Comp?  Well, this game actually has nothing else to do with that one, but it's got quite a bit to offer in its own right.  This is the third game in a trilogy of which I haven't played the first two, but it stands up well enough in its own right, and never left me feeling at a disadvantage for my lack of experience with its prequels.  You play a king who has in earlier games apparently been killed and resurrected.  Death is, therefore, rather pissed, and tells you at the beginning of this game that he is coming for you at midnight tonight to settle accounts once and for all.  You have twelve hours to arrange your defense and attempt to cheat the Reaper one more time.

I've reviewed a handful of games by David Whyld now, and always seem to end up writing essentially the same thing.  Some of his games are better, some are worse, but all essentially share the same flaws: a lack of close proof-reading and general attention to detail, a lack of testing that results in a steady drip of bugs and glitches, and a lack of clarity about where he is really taking his designs.  This game is one of his better ones I'm thankful to say, but it still suffers from all of the above to a greater or lesser degree.  One the one hand Mr. Whyld's unwillingness to really polish his work means that he will always remain a prolific second-tier IF author rather than one of the best, even though he is a very engaging, clever, and funny writer; on the other hand, though, he seems comfortable with his place in the community, entering and doing decently well (but not extremely well) in just about every Comp that comes along.  None of us are getting rich off this stuff, so far be it from me to make judgments about his priorities.

But all that aside, I quite enjoyed this game for a while.  It shows signs of having been inspired by The Black Adder, and perhaps just a bit by Adam Cadre's classic IF Varicella.  Although you are a tyrant, you are a rather inept tyrant, largely the pawn of the proverbial power behind the throne, one High Chancellor Verenor.  Verenor is the game's principal source of comic relief, being an outrageously bloodthirsty sort of fellow whose first thought when confronted with any problem generally involves lots of hangings and beheadings.  You'll spend a lot of time with Verenor as you play, because not only must you try to arrange your defenses against Death's coming, but you must always deal with the daily business of running a kingdom.  Running a kingdom seems to principally involve lots and lots of meetings with lots and lots of strange and often unpleasant people -- which is perhaps not that far from the truth, now that I think of it.

These meetings involve lots of menu-based conversations with some very funny creations, such as Admiral Sally, the military officer who acts suspiciously like a woman.  This stuff is all very silly, of course, but all very good fun.  As the game wears on, though, the laughs begin to fade.  There are lots and lots of these meetings, and they all present absolute piles of text to read through, with only the occasional opportunity for interaction that doesn't seem to make any difference in the course the story takes anyway.  Soon the jokes are not so funny anymore -- particularly the endlessly repeated motif of Verenor's over the top viciousness -- and the call to go to yet another meeting elicits more of a sign of exhaustion than a smile of anticipation.  Meanwhile, there's not really that much to do when not in a meeting.  The palace's very small map can be easily explored within an hour or two of in-game time, and after that I'm not really clear what the game actually expects of its player.  I did find a book detailing defenses that I could supposedly use to cheat Death, but few of these seemed to directly apply to anything I found in the storyworld.  

Eventually, I quit out of exhaustion with the whole thing, being totally uncertain what I should be doing and simply unable to face another round of endless meetings.  In fact, I'm not even sure I should have been attending these meetings, as one chapter in the book could be construed as meaning that I shouldn't... and yet, Mr. Whyld clearly put so much effort into them that it's hard to believe I was truly meant to skip them.  So, in the end, the game failed to orient me to what was expected of me, and in that light can only be considered a failure when considered as a whole.  In spite of that, some of its isolated parts are impressive enough.  If it had had a tighter design and just a few meetings containing the humorous high points of what we now have, I'd be singing a very different tune right now.  Even as it is, I did have enough fun that I'm not going to ding it too badly.  Mark it down as another decent but sloppy effort from an author who specializes in them, and give it an above average but not stellar score.  Business as usual.

Oh, and although I planned not to say anything about the grammar problems that are sprinkled throughout this one, those being the same grammar problems you'll find any of Mr. Whyld's other games, one thing bugged me enough to mention.  The past tense of "hang" in the sense of an execution is "hanged," not "hung."  Sorry, that one's a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

Score: 6 out of 10.


Reviewed by  Mike Snyder

Game’s Blurb:
It's not easy being king. Especially when you're the king of a nation constantly at war with, well, everyone. And when the Grim Reaper comes knocking on your door, you wonder if being king is really worth all this hassle...

You find yourself disappointed that the author couldn't think of a witty response to be made to the xyzzy command.

”Plugh!” you cry, to which someone stops by just long enough to wittily respond with “put a plugh in it!” before departing swiftly.

A Date With Death is the first game in this year’s IFComp that I simply cannot finish through to the “final” ending. (Strictly speaking, that’s not true; one game wasn’t finished by the authors and therefore ends abruptly, and another -- a more obvious joke entry -- apparently has some super-convoluted way out of its maze.) A Date With Death has plenty of plot beyond the point where I became hopelessly stuck, but I would either (A) have to think of some solution unmentioned in the hints, which hasn’t yet occurred to me, or (B) start over and hope that this isn’t an event that happens every time.

I stopped in the game’s 6:00 hour (although I think this can vary), where I get teleported back to The Seat of Rulership, confronted by the Angel of Death, and left with seemingly no way out of an imminent demise a few turns later. I found the glove (little good it does me), but carry nothing else in my inventory. I can summon a servant, but can get him to do absolutely nothing except fetch High Chancellor Verenor (who refuses to come). I have a guard, but he’s transfixed and unhelpful.

As a result, this will be a review of only part of A Date With Death. I made it through maybe half, but based on my weak score out of 100, maybe far less. I’m disappointed that the game doesn’t include a walkthrough, and that the built-in one is found only through a super-secret command that I was unable (despite many attempts) to guess. Reviews based on only part of a game tend to bother me, but with so many more yet to play in this IFComp and the days rapidly falling off the calendar, my only other reasonable alternative was not to review it at all. At least it’s not a review based on only a few minutes of play, where the reviewer gave up out of boredom or crankiness -- not to call anybody else out on that.

If a player is thorough, several minutes of introductory material must be read prior to entering the first command. This is one of the most text-heavy works of IF I’ve played, where even the room descriptions are supplemented with paragraphs of narration. This is often the result of game events, because a lot is happening in A Date With Death.

The story is a familiar one. The protagonist -- in this case, the king of some realm -- must cheat or con his way out of death in what will probably turn out to be a battle of wits with the Grim Reaper (I say “probably” because I couldn’t complete the game). The twist is that death has proven temporary for this king in the past, in a realm where his cruel but loyal and adoring advisor has a means of resurrecting the dead. A Date With Death is the third in a trilogy, but I found the storyline easy to follow and the important events of the prior games well covered without having played the first two.

The game’s humor succeeds most of the time, but two particular bits left me cold. One of the king’s bodyguards has a bad case of gas. Call me crazy, but fart jokes seem like the low-hanging fruit of comedy (and, incidentally, at a level of humor that’s likely to be inversely proportional to the reader’s age). Also, the Chancellor’s penchant for having the king’s subjects brutally beaten or senselessly murdered crops up again and again and AGAIN, to the point that I began to feel horrible for the plight suffered upon these innocent people. It was kind of funny at first, but when you really start to think about it, it’s pretty depressing.

I like the way the story is told otherwise. Even though it’s plenty to read, it’s usually fun to read. A few typos are jarring (and of the kind that should have been noticed in beta-testing) and a few sentences seem awkwardly worded, but the game reads well enough most of the time. My biggest complaint, at least as a reaction while playing, is that the text-to-command ratio seems a little high. I would have liked to spend a little more time doing and a little less time reading. Even as-is, it might have mimicked bite-sized segments by using a blank line between paragraphs. I see this often in games, and even finagled Hugo into doing the same thing in my last IFComp entry. It seems to work well.

I didn’t encounter many bugs. One odd thing is that Ibben the servant will run away when the Angel of Death appears, but if you summon him afterwards, he seems to be completely unaware of the danger. Thugg is said to already be in the throne room when you’re “teleported” there, yet he arrives from elsewhere on the next turn. They all seem like pretty minor issues, and don’t appear to break the game.

The game is typical of what I’ve come to expect from David Whyld. It’s interesting, with a sort of dark, cynical humor to it. The characters -- or caricatures -- seem familiar in their stereotypical and “one trick” behavior. It’s usually fun, but maybe too easy to get stuck at a point that prevents further progress. I’ve rated it a “1” in every category (including the bonus, mainly because I feel guilty for not putting even more time into trying to get unstuck) for a composite score of “6.” That was my gut reaction at the two-hour mark (hence, my vote) as well.

David Whyld is one of the most prolific among Adrift authors -- well, among all writers of IF, actually. I haven’t played many games from his back catalog, but of the few I have, there seems to be a... sort of sameness, for lack of a better word. I’m not claiming I could tell you a game was written by David Whyld simply by playing it, but he does seem to gravitate towards the same kind of twisted humor. That’s not necessarily a complaint. There is a “sameness” to Star Trek and Star Wars books (of course), or in the picaresque plots of Jack Vance (incidentally, the one author I consider my “favorite” among several I enjoy incredibly). And that’s not meant to be a comparison -- merely an observation. My round-about point is, I think this might be holding David back. Something different, unexpected, and in a vein far different than A Date With Death could prove worthwhile too.

Reviewed by Dark Star (SPAG ISSUE #53 - November 16, 2008)

A Date With Death is a humorous game, in a Monty Python sort of way, that is based upon a deep lore with wild characters that are perfect for the setting. But it also suffers from frustrating game play, with puzzles that could be made easier, and occasional bugs that break down the mimesis. You might want to save often.

This is the third game in a series created by David Whyld, but you don't need to play the other two in order understand what's going on. Death is coming for you, because of what happened in the previous games, but everything is made clear within a few minutes of game play, and reinforced throughout the rest of the game.

You play a King, practically locked up in own his throne room, by a High Chancellor who controls most of the people you see; and he keeps your subjects in line with the executioner's blade. Keep in mind there's only about six rooms to move through, each filled with a lot of text containing a comical tone that rings throughout the setting.

A lot of the humor comes from when the High Chancellor calls upon you to oversee numerous problems within your kingdom. Talk menus here, which are handled numerically, make it easy to sort through the evidence and hand out your decree. A lot of the characters you run into feel like they're from Monty Python's Holy Grail, and the humor is handled quite well -- nothing too over the top -- with the King himself being the voice of reason.

The game is also frustrating to play. A lot of things seem buried; either in conversation topics, or in room objects that you might have failed to notice. Also, it has hard coded events that you can't get around, and you can run into time constraints. There is a hint system here, and I got really far using it; but I needed a walkthrough to complete the game; some of the puzzles really stumped me. Problem is, the game doesn't come with a walkthrough on hand, and you have to figure out the verb on your own in order to unlock this feature. I ended up e-mailing the author.

Some parts of this game are great and really entertaining, creating a tone that'll ring your funny bone. But you'll have to drudge through a few puzzles that are obscure in order to get to the end. It's sort of a sweet and sour mix, both frustrating and funny. But I'm sure it will be worth your time, and at least a few laughs.

Reviewed by Sam Kabo Ashwell

The prose is... a little better than the average, but it needs editing. Editing for length, in particular. Where a normal game would say *** You have died ***, we get three paragraphs and about a hundred words. The humour would work considerably better if every point wasn't so laboured; the potato trial in particular is annoyingly one-note. Yes, I get it already; repeating the joke over and over doesn't make it any funnier.

In Whyld games I usually feel as if I'm just treading water until all the plot has been delivered and the game's over. (I don't have a principled antipathy to railroaded story-heavy games, but there should be at least an illusion of meaningful engagement.) There's usually significant choices to be made, but they tend to have a CYOA-like impact on the game structure; if you're not explicitly making menu choices, then you're usually carrying out one specific action at the right moment. A Date with Death involves pretty long periods of hanging around trying to work out if there's anything significant you can do until the next timed event.

The comedy hook isn't inherently bad, or anything - Varicella is a good example of a vaguely similar setup - but it's approached too earnestly, as if we're meant to be deriving a moral message from this. The victimised people are, to a man, radiantly virtuous and stoutly defiant. This is not how tyrannies work.

Reviewed by David Fletcher

Grr, it's a sequel to a game I haven't played.

>x pool
Minus any water. In fact, if the truth be told, this isn't so much
an indoor pool as a long, narrow hole dug in the stone floor. [...]

>look in hole
You haven't found the hole... yet.

>get in pool
Get it? Clearly, you misunderstood the definition of 'indoor pool'.
(I assume that last one is just Adrift being crap.)

There are conversation options that don't do anything. There's an unopenable bureau (not locked, just "You can't open the bureau!").

The writing isn't too awful, but I saw "treds" and "Throw yourself the palace roof", and "But you can move, but you can move south and west", and the High Chancellor gets called "High Chancelle" at one point.

This is nasty:

>x bell
That either isn't here, isn't important or is just part of the
scenery. Whatever the truth of the matter, it's fair to say you can
ignore it.

>ring bell
You ring the bell, summoning a servant to do your bidding.
Not the worst game, but not solid enough to trust, and it's all so damn verbose. Every trivial thing you examine gives you three paragraphs to read, and I got fed up of it. And a point off for that crap where it says there's a walkthrough but won't tell me how to get it.

Five points.

Reviewed by Stephen Bond

"In the majority of David Whyld's games you see that kind of facility which springs from the absence of any high standard; that fertility in imbecile combination or feeble imitation which a little self-criticism would check and reduce to barrenness; just as with a total want of musical ear people will sing out of tune, while a degree more melodic sensibility would suffice to render them silent."

So might George Eliot have written if she had just choked on another offering from the David Whyld sausage factory. In the few short years of Adrift's existence, Whyld has written dozens of games, all bad, and all bad in exactly the same way. It's enough to try anyone's patience, and mine has finally snapped. More generous critics may still try to point him in the right direction, but I'm out of hope and out of charity. David Whyld's games are simply a lost cause.

The frustrating thing is that unlike so many comp entrants, Whyld knows both how to put a sentence together and how to invest it with a bit of personality, even if most of the time the personality in question is deeply irritating. But these talents are worth little when set against his total lack of of style, wit, balance, proportion, taste, awareness or self-criticism. The last is crucial. More than anything else, Whyld lacks a voice in his head telling him when to stop, go back, rein in his excess, rewrite the sentence, rejig the paragraph, redesign the game. He can't bring himself to look at his own prose and say "Enough! Or too much!" Quite the opposite: this is prose that is awfully pleased with itself, that chuckles away at its own jokes. Each command yields another screendump of the stuff; there's a whole lot of text in this game, and most of it should have been cut.

A Date with Death tells a light-hearted mock-fantasy story in the Pratchett vein. It's under the impression that it's funny, but Whyld's congested prose is not the most fertile ground for humour. One gag after another arrives stillborn, or is quickly smothered to death. Whyld appears to have no instinct for comedy: on the few occasions he stumbles across a funny idea, he has no idea what to do with it. At one point in the game, the player has to choose from a list of military advisors:

1) Captain Morograve.
2) Sergeant Major Steelhead.
3) Sergeant Vance "the Skullcrusher" Deathrush.
4) Admiral Sally.

That's a reasonably funny list: a sequence of increasingly tough and macho names, ending with the bathos of "Admiral Sally"; Sally is a funny name for an admiral. But when the player selects one of the names from the list, the familiar Whyldean witlessness takes over:

Women aren't allowed in the army. It's a shocking thing in this modern age where quills are the main writing implement and civil disputes are settled by swords at dawn, but it's true. However, certain individuals in the army often seem to you to be a little... feminine. Take Admiral Sally for example. He's got soft, blonde hair down to his shoulders, dislikes the standard army uniform and has taken to wearing a skirt (showing off remarkably shapely legs for someone with many years of active service under his belt), an unusually lumpy chest area (apparently an infection he got fighting the barbarian hordes), never needs to shave (also a side effect from the fighting), wears makeup (to hide scars from said fighting) and has an unusually high-pitched voice ("the barbarians tortured me something rotten and my voice has been a bit girlish ever since").

...and on it goes. We already got the message from the name; the joke becomes less funny with each passing line, but Whyld merrily keeps piling it on, until we're left with a corpse of a joke, gruesomely battered, as dead as roadkill and twice as ugly. And it doesn't even stop there.

That was a rare moment of promise. The rest of the game is filled with humour of the following standard:

An unpleasant sound emanates from the door. Or, actually, from the other side of the door. It's a lockpicking kind of sound. Now normally this wouldn't be a particularly unpleasant sound but when you're inside a room and there's an assassin on the other side of a locked door, then a lockpicking sound is perhaps the worst sound of them all.

The quoted paragraph reads like the work of someone who has heard of wit but is not yet acquainted; it's like a fragment of HHGG as written by a Vogon. It apes the mannerisms of a certain school of humorous writing without realising what makes such writing humorous. "Or, actually..." corrections, for instance, are only funny if they throw the thing being corrected in an amusing light, or if the correction is an amusing rearrangement of the corrected. Neither is the case here: there's nothing funny about sound coming from a door, from one side or another. The Billy-Bunterish final sentence makes a play about lockpicking suddenly being an unpleasant sound when produced by a guy who wants to kill you, but this doesn't work. First, it's hardly a sound one would "normally" encounter, second, as an illicit activity, lockpicking usually would accompany some unpleasant business, and third, as it involves scraping metal against metal, most people would find it an unpleasant sound anyway. The author has just thrown a thoughtless comic template over his paragraph, and contrived the words to fit.

But I hardly need to persuade anyone of the quoted paragraph's unfunniness: it's obviously unfunny. And Whyld himself could easily have realised this if he had read over his work as another reader might, with a critical eye. But no, he is too pleased with himself and his creations. His writing leaves the air of one who savours his own flatulence.

The gameplay also suffers from all the usual problems: lack of direction, lack of complicity, lack of hinting, and an Adrift parser that pretends to understand more than it does. Once I was stuck repeatedly trying to talk to a key character only to be told "Your question falls upon deaf ears"; only after getting the same response to >TALK TO FUCKING BARTIMORY FOR FUCK'S SAKE did I realise I was spelling his name wrong.

Rating: 2

Reviewed by George Dorn

Apparently the third instalment in a series in which the protagonist, a king, dies and is resurrected a couple times. Anyway, in this IF, Death comes by and announces that you're going to die by midnight and your job is to find a way to avoid it.

I should first note that my experience with the game was plagued with bugs due to running it on Spatterlight. Adrift games frequently have issues on Spatterlight, but I'm not sure there's a better option on the Mac. Anyway, timed scenes were often permanently broken by my going into the help system and NPCs occasionally disappeared randomly. This wasn't really the author's fault, but it probably did color my opinion of the game a little.

Aside from that problem, it felt like a fairly solid game. Mostly, it's a day in the life of a king, with some political intrigue (in the form of a menu-driven meeting system in which you make decisions after hearing from advisors, plaintiffs, etc) and some regular IF elements (like wandering around the rather small castle, looking for a way out of getting killed.)

Throughout the game, various traps and assassins try to kill you. This seems a bit at odds with the fact that Death is coming for you no matter what (in fact, >WAIT FOR DEATH is the easiest way to end the game), even if you manage to defeat every attempt. You're even given a supply of bodyguards, each with some minor personality traits, who throw themselves in the way of many dangers. And if you get them all killed off or die through some other event (such as in a meeting with deadly 'tests'), you're resurrected.

This is sometimes amusing and sometimes annoying, and while the hints suggest a better ending if you avoid dying too often or getting too many bodyguards killed off, I found the whole thing a bit uneven and somewhat uninspired. After all, the King himself isn't particularly interested in not dying, so why not just >WAIT FOR DEATH on turn 1 and be done with it?

Additionally, some of the puzzles felt totally arbitrary. In the very first room, going in any direction but one causes a huge weight to drop from the ceiling, crushing a bodyguard. There's no indication that this will happen, and searching the room does not reveal the weight's presence. The only reason I knew the weight could be avoided at all was a direct hint in the HINT system. Likewise, it's not really clear if it's even necessary to go to any of the meetings, though possibly their value is revealed at the end and I lost interest.

6/10. Solid, but not really exceptional.

Reviewed by Juhana Leinonen

A Date With Death is the third installment to Whyld's Back To Life series. The king, who tends to die and be resurrected again and again, gets an ultimatum from the Death who will be coming to get him for good at midnight.

The genre of this game would be slapstick. The comedy revolves around High Chancellor Verenor's urge to execute everyone in the kingdom, High Chancellor Verenor executing people, High Chancellor Verenor contemplating executing people (I've made a handy graph to show how funny this gets over time), people acting funny/illogically and non sequiturs. A Date With Death keeps firing the jokes without an end. Those who are fans of Whyld's previous comedic games are having a field day, others will grow weary of it very quickly.

From time to time the king is called for a meeting where he must make a decision of a given matter. This supposedly affects the endgame somehow (I didn't get that far). I find embedding this aspect in the game a poor choice. Whatever the player chooses it doesn't feel meaningful. So what if I start another war when there's a dozen meaningless ones already going? So what if I save a servant from being executed if Verenor lets other heads roll non-stop? Making these choices is preceded by an unholy amount of textdumps that should give the background information needed to make a wise decision, but they're just another set of jokes.

It looks like the game tries to be two mashed into one, but the genres just don't come along nicely. The excessive slapstick takes away all credibility from making meaningful choices. It's like trying to eat the main course and dessert at the same time by slapping some whipped cream and strawberries on meat loaf.

Reminded me of: Airplane! meets Fate

How to make it better: Separate it into two games: the comedy one and the moral decision one.

Reviewed by Rob Menke

Rating: decent
Technical: 7
Puzzles: 9
Story: 7

Starts out with a menu — never a good sign.

Big ol’ Crichtonesque infodump… getting to the point where it would be notable if a game didn’t open with five screenfuls of text.

Oh man, the third part in a series? A series in which no other part has been submitted to the IF Competition? Are you asking to be lynched?

Well, you can’t just invite me to wait for midnight and expect me not to use it right off the bat…

OK, that was entertaining, somewhat. Now that I’ve wasted fifteen minutes (ten on the introductory menu), let’s get to the game proper…

Menu-driven conversation works here. Normally it wouldn’t, but in this story it is apropos. Still, I wish that the screen didn’t clear every time a new topic was started. Shadows on the Mirror had the right design for topic-driven conversation, especially for a conversation-maze embedded in a larger game such as this one.

Part of the problem also is that the topics are in the second-person, when they really should be indirect objects in the first-person. Ask Bob about you is awkward; ask Bob about me keeps the link between the player and player character intact. The player should have been given an option here.

Would be nice if I could get Bartimony to repeat himself.

Man, I’m starting to think that death (with Death) is the best option after meeting most of these losers. Obviously, the “ideal” ending has to do with me getting my royal ass out of there.

Guardsman Strumm seems remarkably reticent. Might be a game bug.

Hm, armor is not a synonym for armour. Shame, shame…

I can’t seem to give orders. Maybe I don’t have the right syntax for Adrift.

I can’t execute the psychopath, and my ever-faithful bodyguard fails to protect me. Pity.

Had to restart. Couldn’t move the wardrobe after the assassination attempt. A bug? Restart. No, I need three people to move it. Grr… I hate puzzles that require a solution before a given point in the game (and I’m looking at you, Zork III). The author promises that the game is solvable from any state (or is it endable? — in which case, duh: there’s a time limit) so I don’t know if there is an alternate means to get behind the wardrobe.

Punch Angel of Death.

Who do you think you are, Mike Tyson?

This is a cute game, but rather long for a competition entry: I had to end it after two hours, without seeing the majority of the game. Hints were weak, and without an explicit walkthru it was difficult to pass some minor blocks which meant I spent more time than I should have on the puzzles.


Reviewed by Skeet

Reviews by The next offering was A Date With Death, an ADRIFT game. I recognized the author's name -- David Whyld -- but only from inky's old comp reviews. No specifics, just a vague idea akin to "I want to like this game, it looks like he's put a lot of effort into it, but the sense of humor just doesn't quite match up with mine."

Well, I hate to echo someone else's words, but overall I agree with that sentiment (misremembered though it might be) on this game.

It's yet another fantasy-pastiche wacky-humor thing. The PC is the king of some barely-described domain; his loyal advisor has the fever for executing people for any perceived slights; characters are enforcedly zany and speak in fairly modern, conversational speech. This is apparently a sequel of sorts to some other game I've never played -- either that, or there is a lot of backstory I wasn't patient enough to discover.

Death touched a raw nerve with me: one I've noticed before, but I don't think I've ever really mentioned. Actually, it's a bit of a dual issue. First, the way the PC is described in the intro leads you to believe that he's rather dim-witted. To be fair, perhaps in this ambiguous setting, "skeleton in robes carrying a scythe" is not supposed to be a universally-recognized symbol of death... but the king seems to bounce easily from "dully uncomprehending" concerning the figure to "complete acceptance" after a short scene.

The second annoyance here is making the player (or, more specifically, me) feel stupider than necessary. The 'about' text says (explicitly) that you can't force the game into an unwinnable state. You can hit a *bad* ending, but it implies that you'll have several opportunities to avoid such a fate if you are halfway clever. And, naturally, after about half an hour of play, I got killed. The PC has 12 in-game hours to find a way to avoid Death; my demise happened after about two virtual hours. Was there an obvious escape? Not to me. Although I was trapped in a room cluttered with things, I couldn't find the magic combination of objects and actions. I'd been stupidly negligent about saving, and I didn't feel like going through the motions to rediscover the precious little information I'd learned, so I gave up on it.

A few very minor things also bothered me. As usual, misspellings irk the hell out of me when I notice them, such as "posison". I lost count after three separate rooms were described as being so huge that you aren't sure that they have ceilings -- this is mildly funny the first time, but there isn't any need to repeat this "gag" in three contiguous rooms. One of the tips to avoiding Death is to surround yourself with religious imagery... is Death supposed to be Satanic somehow in this world? And any game that uses the word "gifted" in the sense of "given" will automatically earn a certain amount of ire from me.

One final note that is presumably a bug of sorts but amusing:
Well... It's seems that's it as far as your adventure goes. You're dead. Kaput. Kicked the bucket. Gone to meet your maker. Rolled off the mortal coil. Etc. Etc. Etc.

At the moment your score is 10 out of a maximum possible of 100. You took 81 turns to achieve this and, at the present time, you're not dead which is definitely a good thing.

Reviewed by Jake Wildstrom

Ah, it's a sequel. Hopefully it doesn't depend too much on the previous games, which I haven't played. David Whyld is a generally competent gamecrafter, and some of his hallmark styles are here. The writing style is about as comic as usual, with a few flat notes but at least a consistent voice (which seems cribbed mostly from Pratchett, alas). So on technical details he does OK, but the actual storycraft seems a bit problematic: what I need to do at any given time is insufficiently clued, and I found myself stumbling rather than working towards solutions. That's kind of disappointing, because after a certain point I didn't have any clear goals and the game seemed to lose a lot of momentum and charm.

Otherwise, though, I have few complaints or even comments. It was a little textdumpy and prolix with pretty much every description; initial and subsequent descriptions of rooms and objects might somewhat mitigate this failing. The game is competently crafted with a solid narrative voice, but it felt sprawly just because so few of the things going on connected into a cohesive set of goals.

Rating: 6

Reviewed by Reiko Yukawa

Notes during play:
Hm. I played the Reluctant Resurrectee and didn't manage to finish it, which only says something about my lack of puzzle-solving ability (to say nothing of my lack of ability to use the various talents of a bouncing eyeball...), but a sequel to that can probably be amusing at worst.

Typos: "posison" in conversing with Bartimony, "archiveds" in the description of the bureau with the book on it. Trying to take the book triggers the examine/read dialog, which seems a little odd.

I sat around waiting for my guards to come back for quite a while, probably half an hour, and then when I got bored of waiting, I looked around and they were back. I didn't see them return...and the assassin never showed up anyway. I sat around for an hour wondering what was going on, because I still couldn't leave the room.

Okay, I restarted, and this time, instead of hiding under the bed, I hid in the armour, and now the assassin actually showed up.

Seems like guards are a way to avoid dying a certain number of times, but now I have only one, instead of three. Was there a way to avoid that? Then again, my new guard isn't preventing me from picking things up...

In the potato theft meeting, I can't seem to ask Stumm any questions...when I choose a number, it goes back to the list of people to ask.

I randomly yelled in my chamber (to explore making noise), after the assassin was killed, and the response was a smart-ass remark from the assassin, who sounds like he's alive and well beyond the door again. Of course, going back out to the central chamber shows me that he indeed has been disposed of. I must conclude that I have found a minor bug.

I seem to have lost my chance to meet with both the magician. I was one step away from entering the gardens when the assassin alert occurred, too. And it sounded like from what Bartimony said that he would be summoning the explorer, but I figured out later how to summon him myself. Seemed a bit misleading because I thought I'd lost my chance to talk to him too after I missed the magician.

I don't know why we have to have a meeting in order for me to read a report and give a decision. Couldn't I just review the report at my convenience and write the decision on it and hand it back to a servant to deliver to the Chancellor? By the way, choice 0: "You're ready to make your deliver your verdict."

The balanced choice of having them both cease hostilities gives the initial reply of having the Plodds arrested and their lands given to the Grimsmores. But the following paragraph seems to do what I intended. Misplaced reply by the Chancellor, perhaps? I initially thought I'd typed the wrong number, actually, because it's been known to happen.

Er...where did my guard go? Now I don't seem to have any at all, and I didn't notice him disappearing, either. I haven't seen him since the uff tree grew. He came with me to talk to Bartimony, and he didn't come with me back out of the archives, and I haven't seen him since. Maybe he got buried in that pile of scrolls? Or he went to go investigate the tree and died somehow? Or he deflected some other trap that I didn't even see, so I have no idea how to avoid next time?

Typo in meeting with Mortenso: "High Chancelle" Verenor

Oh, my guard's back after that meeting now. Where was he?

The hints have a question about what the bell is for...but where *is* that silly bell? (Edit: Why is the table only visible in the description of the seat? Seems like I should be able to see the table
by looking at the room. Unless the room really is that big...)

Typo: Description of un-angelic Angel includes "it scythe".

In the fifth meeting, the description just says "people5".

Huh, Thugg was taken away after the incident with the Angel, but after the fifth meeting, he's back. Can't say I'm not pleased to have a guard around though. He seems to keep appearing and disappearing though (as in, he's not always visibly in the room I'm in).

Strange...I was in the gardens, accessed the hints, and found myself in my quarters.

It's suggested that one could ask for food and drink from Ibben, but he doesn't seem to understand either food or drink. It's also suggested that one ask for family, but he doesn't understand Toromin, although he does understand wife (not that she'll come, of course). He doesn't understand weapons or weapon or dagger either (weapons was another suggested thing to ask for). I'm beginning to wonder if, like the book, not everything in the hints is actually accurate...? And shouldn't "chancellor" also be a synonym for Verenor where Ibben is concerned?

Reviewed by Jenni Polodna

I will believe that David Whyld is not a pen name once I’ve seen two forms of ID.

…sorry, it’s just that I would hate for anyone to accidentally confuse me with a serious reviewer of interactive fiction, and posting lolcats is the best way I can think of to prevent that. (Also ur not antalope! dis is awkwerd.)

Lolcats aside, I just updated my Splattergroit, and Adrift games seem to be fine now, the upshot of which is that, were I Vincent Price or Diana Rigg or anyone else who does the introductions on PBS, I would now look significantly into the camera and announce, “You and I have a date… with death.”

[here begin the spoilers… with death!]

I am liking this introduction, if it is a tad Pratchetty (which it is.) Premise seems interesting, there are actual funny bits, it’s not at all difficult to follow, and I want to keep reading it. Best long intro I’ve encountered so far. Also it seems to be completely optional. Yay optional!

Apparently this is the third game of a trilogy and I am fresh back from being an eyeball. I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed by that.

My day starts at noon? Sounds about right.

Oooh. Y’know, my favorite MUD quest ever was this one in Midnight Sun where you are told that invaders are going to come rip the shit out of this tavern and it is your job to prepare everything, so you look around, see what there is to set traps with, what else there is you do not want to leave lying around, and then when you’re done, you go hide under a bed and they tell you how well you did. (It’s repeatable, natch.)

This game looks like it might be just that sort of thing, in which case I will probably love the shit out of it. Also the multiple endings remind me of Chrono Trigger, but that’s probably just because I’m a bowling ball dreaming I’m a plate of sashimi.

Well, there goes a bodyguard. I only had three!

Oh, excellent, a notice board. Getting the sense that, should I find myself floundering around with no idea what to do, it will be my own damn fault. I fully anticipate that this game will kick at least moderate amounts of ass. Attempting to shut up for a bit and play it.

The writing isn’t flawless - couple typos, incomplete sentences, that sort of thing. Not a huge deal, though, and I suspect it’ll be well made up for.

The thought that I employ someone called the High Costsman makes me giggle.

Oooh. Decision to make here. Well, it’s multiple-choice, and “kill them all” and “ask the High Chancellor” are most likely the same thing, so we’ll go with Answer Choice C, “not kill anybody”, and use that to kick off a strict new policy of fuzzy huggles.

This is really very good. It’s not quite Pratchett-level, but it says something about the quality that I’m having to stop myself blaming the author for not in fact being Terry Pratchett. Not all of the jokes work, but most of them do, and the ones that do work well enough to make up for the ones that don’t.

Oh dear, died. Let’s try that again.

Hrolf,Your loyal bodyguards - Strug and Bark - are here.
I’m glad Hrolf’s still alive this go-round, but he does play hell with the coding.

Well, huh. Did the assassin who was trying to kill me give up because I managed to kill myself? It’s just that they resurrected me afterwards, you see, and I’m a little curious as to what happened with that.

…oh. If I go back into my room, the door magically locks again and the assassin is still trying to kill me. That’s pretty buggy.

GET IN ARMOUR should count as ENTER ARMOUR, not GET ARMOUR. I’m a bit upset about that one.

Going to call time on this one and keep playing with it. It’s got a few too many issues to get top marks (you can always use more testing), but really it was very very good. I give it a nine that I wish could have been a ten.

Reviewed by Imrihamun

First off, apparently it's not set in stone any more, but I vastly prefer 'hanged' to 'hung' when speaking of ex-people. There are a few typos here and there, but nothing that remains with me other than the hanged/hung bit. There is, as has been said, a lot of writing. I think it's only borderline too-much, personally, because Y HELO THAR there are characters here. Actual characters.

Now, let me say two things that pissed me off:
1. My guards either all died when I wasn't looking, and/or one of them died and kept showing up again. I was a bit confused on this part, and because this was actually my first ADRIFT game of the Comp, I forgot I have to turn on transcript before playing.

2. Guess the Verb does make a show. As does 'Guess the Noun,' a much rarer variant, but seemingly only in the context of the Information Point. This is also my first time finding 'Guess How To Get the Walkthrough,' which, by the way, I could not find using google, groups.google, or yelling/playing depressing music at the computer a bit. Also, the author's website hasn't been updated in a year, so good luck finding 'more recent versions' there.

TRUFAX: The bell is on the table that doesn't appear until you sit on the chair in the big room, which you were dissuaded from doing.

I could not figure out the syntax for the servant to fetch someone for me. This was at hour 1.5 or so, at which point I decided to quit. (If anyone knows how, please feel free to tell me in the comments. It's something like 'Igor, (verb) (noun),' but 'Igor, get probably important character' didn't work, nor 'fetch' nor 'bring.')

Now, as for things I like - a new section on these reviews:
1. The Information Point. I wasn't too familiar with that form of conversation menu, so I was OK with it. I liked the way it handled things, personally.

2. Physically small and no goddamn mazes. I started off thinking, "Oh, no, let's get a new page to map," which I did need, but it turned out to be covered in phrase or words that seemed useful to look up at the Information Point.

3. So you died...you can keep going, to a point. I just hit 'restore,' myself, but it was an interesting quirk of the game.

There was a little too much writing, but I found the game by and large interesting. Still, I'm rating it a 6. On reflection, I feel like I haven't solved any significant puzzles in the game, but I decided on a 6 before I realized that. I will likely go back to this game in the future, assuming I find out how to ask for the things I want, or to do the things I want to do.

Reviewed by Carl Muckenhoupt

A bit of déjà vu here: like last year, the first game on my docket is an ADRIFT game about the Grim Reaper. Only this time he’s the antagonist. Spoilers follow the break.

[ADDENDUM: It turns out that I’m mistaken about A Fine Day for Reaping being the first game I played for last year’s comp. It was the third.]

And after griping about inadequately-tested games, what better way to start than with an inadequately-tested game? Here is a partial list of the things I would have included in my beta report if I had been a tester (and remember, this is all stuff I noticed without explicitly looking for problems):

Inadequate synonyms: “Armor” isn’t accepted where “armour” is. There’s a piece of “uff bark” (bark from an uff tree) that can’t be referred to as “bark”. This sort of thing seems to be endemic to ADRIFT, so I can’t fully blame the author here, except to the extent that he chose to use ADRIFT.

Awkwardly- or Incorrectly-used words. “Your chambers currently comprise of just a single room”. I’m not one to get excited about the difference between “comprise” and “is comprised of”, but this halfway-between approach jangles on the ear. “Portraits of your former ancestors” — what, they stopped being your ancestors at some point?

Insufficiently reactive NPCs: There’s a librarian who you can ask about certain topics; when talking to him, you get a varying list of obvious topics, kind of like in Lost Pig. The game’s basic “getting started” hints urge the player to ask him about things not in the list, because he knows about a lot of things. Well, I asked him about a great many things mentioned in the game and never hit on a topic he understood. It’s the classic Starship Titanic problem, I suppose: it’s easy for an author to implement responses to everything he can think of, but the author’s notion of the obvious things to ask about may not have much in common with a player’s. In addition, there is a servant who can supposedly obey commands you give him, but no matter what I told him to do, he just stood there and acted confused (which at least told me that I was getting the command syntax right).

Insufficient information: At one point, you’re told that “something just fell off the plant you were looking at”. OK, what? A fruit? A leaf? You can’t find out by examining the plant a second time, and “examine thing” isn’t understood. I had to “get all” to figure it out.

Poor handling of special cases: There’s a character who reacts to any attempt at picking things up — well, almost any attempt; I found one object that he let me pick up, and have no idea if this was a deliberate exception or a bug. At any rate, he reacts to commands like “get in bed” as if there were an “in bed” object that you were attempting to take (perhaps intending to append it to a fortune cookie message). This raises fresh doubts in my mind about Adrift. Most IF systems make it easier to override commands like this on the basis of their sense, not their text.
Severely broken game logic: At one point, an assassin invades the castle, and your bodyguards lock you in your personal chambers. This is the first time I had been in there without my bodyguards interfering with my actions, and with this freedom, it’s easy to get yourself killed before the assassin shows up. Minor non-plot-related deaths of this sort are temporary, and the court magicians bring you back to life in your throne room. From there, you can re-enter your personal chamber, and once you do, the door you just went through is again securely locked and the assassin is still trying to break through from the throne-room side.

I imagine the author at this point saying “But what did you think of the game’s content?”, which is about as useful a question as “But what did you think of the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” Still, let me comment about the content a little. Looking at the in-game hint menu, it seems that I’ve seen only a small part of the game. And even in the fraction I saw, there was reams and reams of text — I’ll be surprised to see a game this year with a higher prose-to-input ratio. It puzzles me a little, because it means that the author put a lot of time and effort into this game, but either didn’t think it was worth finding problems in the end product, or didn’t think it was worth fixing them.

Rating: 2 (I’m inclined to be harsher on bugs this year than last, partly because because Panks isn’t around to lower the baseline.)

Reviewed by Lucy

I bet this author is a Terry Pratchett fan. Let's hope this is more in the vein of the early (but not too early) Discworld works, rather than more recent ones. Too much text already, but it isn't badly written. ASK (character) ABOUT X should be implemented. I think a character just walked into this locked room and left again, without letting in the person who's trying to get in... I'm getting bored, hiding in here. I can't figure out how to get out of my hiding place, though. I think I may have to restart. I got a bit further the next time, but I'm still just waiting around. I think I'm running out of patience, especially since the hints suggest this is a much longer game.

Reviewed  by Gemma Bristow

One of the ideals of literature is the perfect union of form and content. In IF, this means the union of the ‘fiction’ and the ‘interactive’ aspects of a text, which should complement and strengthen one another. The fiction is the part common to all literature: prose, story, characterization, theme, imagery, etc. Interactivity is how the author paces the reader/player’s progress through the text and makes the player complicit in it. Where interactivity falters, it’s usually because the options are too broad (the player has no idea what to do at a given moment) or because the options are too narrow (the author constrains the player’s actions by presenting a transparent choice). A Date with Death invests a lot in its fiction but has many problems with its interactivity.

A Date with Death puts more sweat into its writing than any game I’ve so far played this competition, save Everybody Dies. There’s a lot just in terms of word count. The writing is detailed. It’s witty. It’s sustained in what seem to be purely optional byways of the game. It’s inadequately proofread, but I can’t complain much about a few typos in this quantity of text. I enjoyed reading it. It never became dull or perfunctory, at least in the part of the game I managed to see.

As a game, it’s successful only in patches. This is partly the fault of the ADRIFT development system. ADRIFT doesn’t have the robust parser and world model of the major IF languages, which enable those languages to handle the player’s input according to global rules. Instead (I think), it has flags that require particular input at particular times. This means that if you try an action at the wrong time, it just fails. Fails with a generic error message. Fails as though the game doesn’t understand the verb you used. In A Date with Death, PLANT SEED fails when you first get the seed, but works later in the game for no apparent reason. REACH IN HOLE sometimes fails and sometimes does something. You can READ THE SCROLL if the scroll is on the bureau, but trying to read the scroll while carrying it produces ‘You can’t read the scroll!’. On my first playthrough, the archivist wouldn’t talk to me; on my second playthrough, I did things in a different order and was able to ask him about all the stuff necessary to progress. This is bad interactivity. When an action fails as though it’s impossible, there are only two reasons to try that action again: because you’ve realized that the game’s responses aren’t consistent, or because you’re so stuck that there’s nothing else to do. Neither gives the player confidence.

My other problem was that I simply didn’t know what to do a lot of the time. There’s a long-term goal, but it’s not clear how to set about accomplishing it. Making progress with a puzzle reveals the need for new objects which it’s not clear how to obtain; the game has few locations, which you’ve explored already, and introducing new objects must depend on timed events or magic triggers. I think you’re meant to avoid some of the tasks the game gives you, because they distract from the main goal, yet the optional bits tempt by being more manageable than the main goal (often self-contained scenes in which you pick your actions from a Choose Your Own Adventure-style menu). Timed events aren’t handled very well. I don’t mean I spent the whole of my playing time flailing around – parts of the game are well-clued and logical – but after two hours, two deaths and two restarts, I had one-fifth of the points and no idea where the remainder might be found.

A Date with Death has fun writing in which uneven interactivity leaves a lot of speedbumps. This game might have benefited either from a better development system or from being cast entirely as CYOA.

Reviewed by Michael Martin

I didn't even get close to finishing this in the time allotted. Two hours in and I had about 20 of 100 points. Forcing the endgame at that point meant I lost, of course. It's possible that I was just obtuse, or missing something, but this seems like it is way too big for the comp. Maybe even Spring Thing.

Or I may have missed something that was supposed to be obvious. I know I missed one very important object until the very end because the bell reacted to EXAMINE with an admonishment that it was either not there or beneath my concern; a pity that RING BELL is a repeated, crucially important action to get anywhere in the midgame.

I might have picked up on that if there were hints to the effect of "I've run out of leads, now what?" or, you know, an actual accessible walkthrough. Even if there was one, a walkthrough I can't reach while frustrated is a walkthrough that might as well not exist! Obfuscating the walkthrough with no indication of how to summon it was a bad idea. I can see why you wanted to hide it - after all, the way information is revealed it wouldn't do to give a shortest-path that didn't clue in the (presumably) many, many things that need doing - but that just means walkthroughs are work and you should do them on the way to beta testing.

Reviewed by Riff Conner

Time for another writing warm-up before I do some work. Today’s choice: A Date With Death, by David Whyld. This is another ADRIFT game, so I guess it’ll either reinforce my dislike of non-zcode games, or reinforce my dislike of Lair of the Cybercow.

Started in July 2007, Completed in September 2008
Which means a whole year’s worth of work and testing went into it, right? Oh god, I hope so.

Death is very Pratchettian, I see. Granted, it’s hard to imagine Death not speaking in all caps, once you’ve read some Discworld. I probably would have done the same.

I have to say, I quite like the writing so far (‘so far’ being the introduction). It’s amusing, but subtly so — not too jokey, doesn’t push the gags. Witty.

Huh, third in a series, eh? and I rather like the sound of the second one, in which you play an eyeball. If this turns out to be good, I may have to track that down.

Well, look at that: >verbose works properly. So apparently that problem I had with Lair of the Cybercow was not just an oddity of the Adrift system, and Cybercow gets even fewer points than I was originally going to give it. This upraised middle finger is for you, Lair of the Cybercow.

Hrolf,Your loyal bodyguards - Strug and Bark - are here.
Given that Hrolf is the name of a bodyguard and not myself (I checked), I assume this is the result of some sort of syntax error.

High Chancellor Verenor is quite the fellow. I’m surprised he hasn’t run out of people to have executed, the way he seems to get on.

> exits
You can move north, east, south and west.
Such a nice command to have available. I’d gotten so used to never being able to use it, I hadn’t even thought to try it in any of the other games in this Comp. I only did it this time because the description for this room is long enough that doing >look would’ve been kind of a pain. Bravo.

A couple misspellings here and there, both spellcheck-immune (“ill at easy”) and not (“posison”). Tsk!

Following my conversation with the chief scribe, my bodyguards have entered the room. I’m pretty sure they also entered the room before my conversation with the chief scribe. Did they wander off while I wasn’t looking?

“Whose evidence do you wish to hear, Your Highness?” asks High Chancellor Verenor.
1) Captain Morograve.
2) Sergeant Major Steelhead.
3) Sergeant Vance ‘the Skullcrusher’ Deathrush.
4) Admiral Sally.
I admit, I laughed out loud.

And then again, and another couple times while >undoing and trying different responses to the meeting. This is a funny game, and I say that as someone who makes his living writing (occasionally, hopefully) funny things.

‘Armor’ should be a synonym for ‘armour’. We have a shortage of U’s here in The States, and prefer to conserve them whenever possible.

During the potato incident, option 3 when talking to the guard gives no response, and returns to the “Who will you question?” dialog. So does 4.

Well, Death got me. Browsing though the list of hints, I see that I missed quite a lot of stuff. I think a large part of this is probably due to the fact that, given a list of topics to question Bartimony about, I didn’t try to ask him about anything else. The fact that you can (and indeed should) ask him about unlisted topics ought to be made plainer.

Anyway, all in all an excellent piece of work. Very funny and well-written, good implementation with only a couple minor little bugs, and well worth playing. In fact, like Pirates 2.0, this is one I intend to go back to and finish properly at some point.

This is definitely my favourite game so far. Violet was implemented a little more cleanly, but this one is much funnier. Well done, David Whyld.


Reviewed by Wesley Osam

A Date With Death is another game from David Whyld, the author of last year’s In the Mind of the Master, and I could pretty much give this one the exact same review. Whyld doesn’t seem to get that interactive fiction is collaborative; the author gives up a little control to the player. Whyld’s games don’t care what the player thinks. The player’s commands aren’t driving this story. A Date With Death, like In the Mind of the Master, is in love with its own dense overwritten prose. Visually dense, as well as linguistically–Whyld writes like he’s splooging big concrete lumps onto the screen. Notice how most online text puts a blank line between paragraphs, instead of intenting? There’s a reason for that. Reading from a screen isn’t like reading from a page, and you need different strategies to keep it legible.

Whyld’s works aren’t so much games as hypertext stories that make you type to keep reading. A Date With Death isn’t as bad in this regard as In the Mind of the Master, but even here it looks like the only commands you need to make it through are directions, numbers and conversational keywords. Attempts to affect the world yourself are discouraged; sensible actions like READ SCROLLS get responses like “You can’t read the huge pile of scrolls!”, and the game responds to GET IN BED as though you’ve tried to pick up the bed. Your character isn’t allowed to pick anything up!

I have just one question: why does Death talk in ALL CAPS? Is Whyld referencing Terry Pratchett for a reason? Or does he just assume for some reason that this is how Death is supposed to talk, the way bad fantasy writers assume their novels are supposed to have kings and quests?

Reviewed by Emily Short

This is a David Whyld game. The guy has written an astounding number of games: IFDB lists 41, and I believe that list may be incomplete — at least, I had the impression from some comments somewhere that he also writes AIF, but that doesn’t seem to be listed here. (If I’m misrepresenting him, I apologize.) For the most part, though, David Whyld’s mainstream games are of a piece: they are often lighthearted, lie somewhere on the moderately puzzly to puzzle-less continuum, and display a certain basic competence, as you might expect from a guy who has this much experience.

What I don’t really see is a tendency to improve, or push himself very much. This year’s entry is, as far as I can tell, at least the third in its series; while I enjoyed one game about this premise, the sequel seems to be recycling a lot of jokes. Whyld is fond of comic exaggeration, but he doesn’t know when to stop. If he had the job of Chief Royal Balloon Inflater, he’d be drowning in broken rubber.

His writing as a whole suffers from the same lack of discipline. It is too long-winded relative to the amount of content. Paragraphs meander, because he hasn’t settled on one point to make, so instead he throws in half a dozen ideas none of which are developed well. This happens in first drafts: I understand. But he rarely seems to take time to revise, preferring quantity (of prose in the game; in number of games released per year) over quality.

Add to that the usual parsing problems — I know the ADRIFT crowd hates it when I mention this, but even an old, old ADRIFT hand like David Whyld doesn’t get his parser to behave with the basic level of consistency that you get out of the box with TADS or Inform or Hugo. I always seem to stumble across this fact within the first few moves, and it always makes me growl — especially when the parser pretends not to know about a game-important object because you haven’t referred to it with the preferred phrase. So no, I don’t dock a game points for being in ADRIFT. But I do dock it for having a broken parser, which is frequently the same thing.

In his sleep David Whyld can write a better game than the average IF novice. The problem is, it’s always pretty much the same game, and I’ve played it already. I wish the guy would wake up, and see what happened if he pushed himself with some more ambitious design ideas, more carefully crafted writing, and a punchier plot.

But people have been pointing this out for years, and it hasn’t changed anything. So I imagine roughly this will appear again in Spring Comp 2009, and IF Comp 2009, and in various ADRIFT-specific competitions, and… I have an increasingly hard time working up the will to play it once more.

Reviewed by Mike Rubin (Rubes)

Whyld's game, subtitled "being the further adventures of the king who wished to die but whose subjects just weren't ready to let him go", is the third game in a series that began in 2004 with "Back to Life... Unfortunately" and continued in 2007 with "The Reluctant Resurrectee" (second place, Spring Thing 2007). I never played either one, but Whyld includes a short summary in the "About" screen of their bizarre premise: a king who had been assassinated and brought back to life by his adoring populace then seeks to kill himself in various elaborate ways because he preferred being dead. In the third installment, I'll be trying to avoid being killed instead. Not bad.

The intro is lengthy, but with that background I'm ready for it. The writing is good; a little awkward in places, but in all it is very entertaining with a nice touch of humor, especially with the Grim Reaper. You can tell Whyld's been at this for some time and has many games under his belt. The opening includes some hints -- checking the archives, for instance, and preparing best you can for midnight -- and I see it will keep track of locations visited and the rough time of day. The time limit promises to keep game play focused and brief.

Capture Score: 1. "Can Death be cheated?" I'll give it a try.

Reviewed by George Shannon (newlin)

I think I would really like to like this game. It has an interesting premise, a lot of elements involved, but as it is, it’s too long and too badly cued.

I hit the two-hour limit, but most of that time was spent reading background, backstory, and exposition that is simply gushes out of a well of words that never seems to end! I would find something to do, only to be drawn off into another long scene of either reading a page of text or going through a checkbox list of dialog options. There are quite a few typos that should have been caught, but there is simply so much text the actual typo-per-paragraph might be low.

I thought I was doing okay, but encountered a violent scene I had no reason to expect, and the hints tell me I needed something I was supposed to find beforehand, but I have no clue what that might be. Since I was getting close to the two hour limit, I started reading the hints, wondering how I was supposed to squeeze all this in, or what cues I missed. The hints are vague, too, and the walkthrough is only available if you solve a puzzle (or something, it says I’m supposed to figure out the command for it).

The librarian you talk with has a different dialog setup than other NPCs, and it’s annoying, especially since the screen format is repeated over and over while I try and think of the exact thing I’m suppose to mention (for instance, you need the exact name of the maker of something you found before you can talk about that thing). My font choice is repeatedly altered, and dialog options during the meetings sometimes don’t match. The screen clearing is annoying, since I lose my buffer and can’t remember all the names and made-up words I’m supposed to remember.

Some of the humor is good, and the interactions are fun. But at least two-thirds of the text could be chopped out and it would only improve the game.

Technical: Well, I’ve always had problems with the Adrift system. My font choices change, and the screen formatting (when talking with the librarian, and in other scenes) is completely unnecessary. I found a seed of a certain kind, and when I tried to examine ‘that certain kind’ it tells me I haven’t seen the tree of ‘that certain kind’ yet. What the heck does THAT mean? All in all, rather frustrating, considering the number of locations. With so few it should have a lot of detail.

Writing: There’s a lot. Dizzying amounts. Room descriptions are half a screen long, dialog will go on for a page or two before you can act again. Often it’s funny, sometimes it’s good, but usually, it’s just exhausting.

Fun: No way I could have enjoyed this in two hours. The system ended up being really clunky, with really odd responses for innocuous things. Still, I enjoyed wandering around and chatting with people, when the system didn’t give me a headache. But as the time limit approached, and I was continually stymied, and the hints were unhelpful, it was just annoying.

Do I hope that the author writes more IF? Yes but PLEASE cut down on the words. You are overflowing with average prose. Half the paragraphs in the game had a joke at the beginning, verbose exposition, and then a reminder of the joke. The humor is good, but is repeated numerous times, to the point that I kept thinking, yes, I get it, it’s not funny any more. Learn to be tight with your writing. Make sure the game is comp-sized, I can’t see how I could have beaten this in two hours.

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