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Desert Heat: A Romance Of Sorts Reviews

Author: Papillion
Date: 2000

Reviewed by Paul O'Brian

Playing Desert Heat made me realize something. In the first five years of the IF Competition, I don't think a single "true" Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style branching narrative has been entered. Sure, we had Human Resources Stories, but despite its title, that game had no story -- it was just a weird quiz. We also had Life On Beal Street, but that game didn't really offer any choices, unless you count "quit" and "don't quit" as legitimate story branches, which I don't. So along comes Desert Heat, a true CYOA story, forcing me to decide what I think about such a format for a comp game. Here's what I ended up with: I have nothing against CYOA; in fact I like it, and nurture fond childhood memories of CYOA books by the likes of Edward Packard, R.A. Montgomery, and the amusingly pen-named D. Terman. However, in an interactive fiction competition where its competitors boast full-blown parsers, maps, and the like, it just doesn't feel very interactive. Desert Heat does an excellent job of presenting its milieu, but I kept wishing for many more choices than the story offers. Perhaps part of the problem is that the game's narrative doesn't actually offer that many real options. Most of the branches aren't branches at all. Instead, they generally do one of three things: one, they reveal themselves to be dead ends, forcing you back to a previous node; two, they only offer the illusion of choice, because every option leads to the same node; or three, they result in an abrupt ending. Endings are plentiful in Desert Heat, but branches aren't, and that probably accentuated the feeling of restriction I was already experiencing as a result of dropping from the wide-open ambiance of a text adventure into the more streamlined mode of CYOA. Consequently, I found that I was having less fun with Desert Heat than I had with the good parser games I've played so far, though to be fair I did find it more fun than the bad parser games, so format isn't the only thing at work here.

The other unique thing about DH is its genre. It calls itself "A Romance Of Sorts", and because I'm not a reader of romances, I couldn't say how closely it hews to the conventions of that genre. I can say that it was written well, proofread well, and programmed well (though the programming chores are obviously more minimal when it comes to CYOA, and the author apparently had help from Mark Musante's CYOA library for TADS). The Arabic, desert milieu is one I haven't seen very often at all in IF (the only other one I can bring to mind is a section of TimeQuest), and it feels fresh and interesting. The characters are believable, the intrigue plausible, and there are even some quite subtle moments of humor. (Read the descriptions closely if you ask one of the characters to dance.) As the author's warning suggests, there are some sexual scenes available, and in fact the options to include or exclude these scenes represent some of the most significant choices available in the game. Again, I'm not sure what the conventions of the genre are when it comes to this kind of scene -- some of them made me a little queasy, but I only encountered these when I was systematically going through the game looking for text I had missed (the inclusion of "undo" was much appreciated.) They didn't appear in my first few plays through the game, which probably says something about how I tend to play a character.

In the end, while I appreciated Desert Heat for its experimentation with an untried format for comp games, and while I enjoyed its presentation of an unusual setting, I just couldn't get very into the story. This is no doubt partly just because romances like this aren't really my cup of tea -- I'd never seek one out for pleasure reading. Also, there are some continuity slips in the game, highlighting the fact that although CYOA takes the burden out of coding, it places much more stringent demands on plotting -- characters shouldn't seem surprised to discover something that was already revealed in a previous node, or by contrast claim knowledge of something that hasn't been revealed yet in this particular narrative trajectory, and those things sometimes happen in Desert Heat. In the final analysis, it was probably a combination of factors that made me say, "Nice try, but it didn't really work for me." I still think a CYOA could work in the comp, but the lesson of Desert Heat is that such a game would not only have to be well-written and very well-plotted, but also wide enough and with enough available choices to provide a feeling of freedom at least somewhat comparable with parser games.

Rating: 5.4

Reviewed by Dan Shiovitz

A choose-your-own adventure style desert princess game, with BDSM thrown in for good measure. If this is your thing, this is your thing. It is not my thing (I don't really care for choose-your-own adventures).

Reviewed by  Tina Sikorski (SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000)

*** Initial Thoughts

A lot of people don't like choose-your-owns, so to them, this will not appeal. In truth, they don't always appeal to me. In this particular case, however, I actually thought it worked fairly well. I didn't explore all the possible choices (although I did double up on a couple paths) so I don't know how flexible the game ultimately was, but it looked to have at least some degree of freedom in it.

*** Writing (B+)

Despite some perhaps overly-lengthy prose in spots, the writing in this was rather well-done. I found many of the descriptions quite enchanting, bringing to mind a definite feel and genre that itself is quite magical, and one in which it is easy to get drawn in and lost within when it is (as it was) done correctly.

Take, for instance, this bit from the opening:

"The sound of windblown sand smoothing the dunes and scouring the city walls is the only song nature produces in Hajima."

With the very first sentence, mood and setting are already firmly in place, a setting which is only enhanced (and never contradicted) by further room and event descriptions. And best yet, although the game does tell you "this is who you are, this is what you can do", it never seems to do it in a way that felt limiting (to me), though ultimately, of course, it was rather narrow in scope.

*** Plot (B)

As with all CYOAs (and how many times have I used that phrase, anyhow?), there is not a LOT of flexibility in plot, but as is more rare, there is a rich plot here. It is true that it is quite stereotypical. It is also true that sometimes that's a good thing. (See also NPCs, below.)

Stereotypical stories are sometimes, instead, more -archetypal-; they use settings, people, and situations that we all are familiar with, and merely attempt to display the story in a manner in which will appeal. I believe that this was the author's intent (although don't know for sure), and if so, it worked quite well for me. Others, looking for something new and original, will probably prefer to give this a pass, although I might add that there is not much in the way of either new or original left in the world. It is merely the skill with which stories are displayed that, ultimately, determines how people react to it.

*** Puzzles (D)

As a CYOA adventure, it should perhaps not really be rated on puzzles, but as there are several critical decision points that can make a large difference, in this case I elected to do so. And that is where things fall short.

Could it have been done differently and retained the format? Yes. There could have been more decision points; they could have been presented in a way that combined both more internal world knowledge with more difficult choices. When it came to a point where I had to make a choice, often I felt as if I were presented with choices that the -character- would understand the implication of but I would not. That, alas, was the big flaw in an otherwise enjoyable experience.

*** NPCs (B)

Adam Cadre, whose opinion I quite respect but with whom I frequently disagree, felt offended by the stereotypes in this game. Others saw his point. I disagreed, because I felt there was no intent to hold up and portray negative and shallow characters. I felt they were meant to be archetypes (see also Plot, above).

So, be warned: there are no terribly deep characters in the game. You see only glimpses of their true personality, and even those show something fairly basic and, yes, cliche. But... it WORKS. This is not the real world. This is the storyworld, where everyone has a defined role, and everyone has a part to play. And it is the success in -that- upon which I rated the NPCs highly.

Realism in NPCs is a prized thing, difficult to obtain, but the clever and careful use of caricature and archetype can result in some lovely story building. Desert Heat accomplishes this with flair.

*** Technical (C)

CYOA games are not difficult to produce. I found no bugs.

*** Tilt (C+) and Final Thoughts

This is definitely not a game for everyone. Simply the genre alone would ensure that; I myself have a love-hate relationship with romances, if you will pardon the potential pun. The format and style as well are both potentially off-putting. Still, if you have any interest in a richly told tale, I would suggest giving the game a chance. It was one of the more enjoyable -- if not one of the longest lived -- moments of the comp.

Reviewed by Duncan Stevens

A CYOA tale of intrigue and sexual slavery--you're an Arab woman at the center of some nefarious plots and romantic entanglements. The branching usually doesn't go very deep--most of the branches rejoin the main story before long--but there's enough variety to justify several trips through the story, and the choices you make do affect the text you see later on. The sexual content is fairly explicit, though, I thought, not gratuitously so, and it does reflect the story. As with any CYOA story, there's not a lot of interactivity here, but it's still a pretty good story.

Rating: ***


Reviewed by Andrew Plotkin

Reasonably good writing, but the CYOA format just isn't responsive enough to let me identify much with the protagonist. Most of her actions are the author's choice, not mine.
I was able to search through (I think) nearly all of the game -- beginning to end, and then (via repeated "undo") back to the beginning, checking all the possibilities. There weren't that many branches, and anyway a game is at its least interactive when you can see it all spread out like that.

The erotica didn't do much for me.

The plot was brief, but nicely put together.

Can't think of much else.

Reviewed Chris Angelini

Um, well...
The sexual content doesn't bother me. The narration isn't too bad either. I'm no expert on desert cultures, but this looks at least halfway reasonably well-researched. But I honestly can't *stand* the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style. It feels like I'm back in grade school, playing through my Zork Gamebooks.

Also, the narration isn't bad, but it's not great either. And the dialog breaks character far too often.  I felt very little desire to play through this game enough times to
reach the requisite time limit; I can ascribe this directly to the CYOA-style.

Giving the clue you need early on (and it's something you're liable to forget later) was a nice touch, however.


Reviewed by Brendan Barnwell

Another game that didn't do it for me. I was intrigued when I saw that Desert Heat was laid out in pure Choose-Your-Own-Adventure form, but my interest faded as I discovered that most of the choices eventually led me back to a central path. The sex scenes seemed sort of underplayed.

Most importantly, though, this seemed very unoriginal. None of the characters seemed to have anything to them aside from their stereotyped roles as “villian with sexual designs on his hapless captive”, “noblewoman ashamed of her new status as a sex object”, etc. Overall, though, I wouldn't say I disliked the game; I just didn't particularly like it.

Rating: 4

Reviewed Craxton

Rating: 4
Alright, let's get one thing straight here. This game, it's said in the introduction, was put together in about a month, meaning it very well could be a rough draft, to be expanded and expounded on later. But entering it in IFComp implies that it's finished, prepared to face the wrath of the judges. So, I suspect this is a first draft, but I'm grading it as a finished work.

The idea here seems to have been: take the cult-followed set of hentai games, and try to translate it's unique and distinctive flair for highly linear yet highly engrossing gameplay to TADS. Bold enterprise. A Hentai game utilizes text and pictures to tell a story, adding music for atmosphere, and scrapping the traditional typing interface for a menu-based
one. Can a game be made that converts all that to a pure CYOA structure?

Probably... but this isn't that game. Damn.

The structure is railroaded in such a manner that most of the options given to you are dead-ends or digressions that rejoin the main plot shortly after. This is a staple of the Hentai genre, true, however another staple is being able to disguise this effectively, to make the player think he's in control of a wide, open plot, when really he isn't. Think of Runaway City- you can
get a drink in the coffee house, shop around the department store, hang out at the park, all of which has no real effect on the gameplay. But you can DO it. It adds a sense of control, of interaction with the world. It doesn't have to be irrelevant, either... the same thing is accomplished in SoTS by giving you frequent and varied opportunities for interaction with your
potential mates, and in True Love by giving you things to do that can concievably help the plot along. In short, if the player has a lot to do, they'll FEEL like they're involved in the plotline, even if they are, in fact, not.

"But what about the sex?" you ask. "Is it any good?"

Well... no. Damn. Again.

The detail level on the sex is really low- you're told what's happening, but that's it. There's no elaboration, no detail, no flavor in the text. This, frankly, isn't the right way to portray sex. Intercourse is merely muscles and bones moving together in a way that is pleasurable. Sex is emotion, sensation, perception, feeling. Sex is in the mind. Fingers slide across your flesh, but how do they feel? Like silk, light and whispering? Like velvet, firm and gentle? Like sandpaper, harsh and rough? Like cotton, plain and warm? And it takes time, it can't be rushed. The author tries to skip merrily through the scenes, perhaps trying to avoid being crushed by judges who might find her too explicit. This doesn't work either. It's like watching an erotic film to the "good" part, then fast forwarding through it saying "Yeah, yeah, I know what's happening."

Desert Heat shows potential- while not masterworks, the characters are fleshed-out enough to do some good scenes with. The problem is... well, it's not done. The author will probably be able to expand on this considerably given more then just the month she had to put it together, but I have to rate it as it is now, not as it may be.

-Typos. Again, the spell-checker ain't enough... It puts in "duck" where you meant "fuck."
-Why no message on the scroll?
-"uncle-san" is not an address used in an Arabian setting.
-"No wise noblewoman goes without learning some self-defense." Ermm... then why couldn't you use that trick on the guard? 0_o;;;;

Good idea, now broaden and deepen it. Most especially, go into more detail with sex. It's the fundamental center of your game, don't just write it off with nary a word.

Reviewed by Steven Howard

This Arabian Nights fantasy is done "Choose Your Own Adventure"/multiple-choice style, rather than employing a standard parser. You read a big block of text, then choose from a list of two, three or four options, and keep doing this until you come to an ending. As is true of most works in this style, there are a lot of loops, shallow branches, and false choices that serve to funnel the story into a single path. The story itself isn't bad, and some of the writing is quite good. I was put off by the interface, though. I never felt like I was interacting with the story.

Rating: 5.


Reviewed by Rob Menke

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 1
Story: 4

Hm... a warning about adult content. Yay!

Hm... a choose-your-own-adventure style game. Boo!

The game isn’t very fun. Given, the tone and setting is patriarchal, but ending up made into a sex slave on the first try was disappointing at best.

At first I thought we had another religious game going here, with a character named Onan. But it just turned out to be a coincidence.

Choose-your-own-adventure games get boring quickly. I hope this doesn’t become a trend.


Reviewed by Dorothy Millard

You are warned at the start that Desert Heat is intended for mature readers and may contain explicit sexual scenes and/or questionable consensuality. The game starts with you as a
high-born Arab woman, alone in your room pondering, and it branches from there. There are dozens of endings to be found and several major branches to follow. It is well written and filled
with well developed characters, including yourself. Play is choose-your-own-adventure style.


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