IFComp 2017: The Richard Mines   5 comments

By Evan C. Wright. Played to completion on desktop using Windows Frotz.

There was a time when computer games needed to give most of their context outside their game, because there just wasn’t enough space on the computers at the time. Games like Temple of Asphai (1979) even included a great deal of the text from the game itself in the manual, again for technical space reasons.

Such technical excuses no longer exist. This is how The Richard Mines starts:

Forest
This is a dense forest which extends in all directions. To the north the trees appear to thin.

Now, this isn’t a game where things get slowly revealed – that is all the context you get. If it wasn’t for the blurb, it’d be unclear where the game is even set:

Czechoslovakia, 1949. Though World War Two has been over for several years, rumors of underground German factories still persist. No one has found found yet, until now…

“Exploring an abandoned German factory” isn’t bad as far as premises go, but pulling it off requires some killer atmosphere. This game has minimalist room descriptions, and as far as I can tell there are very few verbs outside the ones needed to solve puzzles that work.

Engine Works
This is a huge chamber carved out of the native limestone. Rusting engine blocks in various states of completion, sit on test stands. The cavern continues north and there is an exit to the south.

>x blocks
You can’t see any such thing.

>x stands
The engines are large, twelve cylinder motors, probably intended for use in armored vehicles.

>n
Repair Stations
This end of the north end of a cavernous undergroud chamber. There are several work benches here.

>get all
There are none at all available!

>search benches
You find nothing of interest.

The “undergroud” typo is in the game. There’s also some comma abuse elsewhere (“A rusting, barbed wire fence, blocks the way north” should only have the first comma) but I want to focus the rest of my time here on one of the puzzles. This will enter spoiler territory.

Image here for spoiler space. This is a picture of one of the Richard mines, via Wikimapia.

Here’s a long clip:

>sw

Radio Works
This is a large chamber, formerly dedicated to the production of radio tubes. The only exit is to the northeast.

A small, wooden crate occupies the center of the chamber.

>x crate
Stenciling on the side reads: “Inhalt: Schatz. Nicht fallen lassen.”

>push crate
Nothing obvious happens.

>pull crate
Nothing obvious happens.

>break crate
Temper, temper.

>i
You are carrying:
a cigarette lighter
a paperclip
a wrench
a pair of gloves (being worn)
a pile of leaves
a discarded flashlight (providing light)

>open crate with wrench
That doesn’t seem to be something you can unlock.

>pry crate with wrench
That’s not a verb I recognise.

>hit crate with wrench
I only understood you as far as wanting to hit the wooden crate.

>open crate
It is firmly nailed shut.

>get nails
You can’t see any such thing.

>get nail
You can’t see any such thing.

>pry crate
That’s not a verb I recognise.

Grr, no! All of these actions are totally reasonable to try. There might be some sort of rejection why they don’t work, but this kind of parser responsiveness just doesn’t work in a 2017 game. If any action might plausibly be tried to attempt a puzzle, it should give a message.

In any case, “nicht fallen lassen” means “do not drop” so the appopriate action is to take the crate to the top of a tall ladder and drop it.

>drop crate
The crate falls to bottom of the shaft, with a loud splintering sound.

This is overall a good concept! But the execution is as important as the idea, and the player should be able to get a hint from other acts stronger than a message (that they might not be able to read without outside help) in German. I should add there is a problem in all this of scale – the crate gives the impression of being largish, so how does one climb a ladder while holding it?

Just as an extra kick, the end of the game features some guessing of the verb.

>open bolts
It isn’t something you can open.

>unscrew bolts
It is fixed in place.

>turn bolts
It is fixed in place.

>wrench bolts
That’s not a verb I recognise.

>pry bolts
That’s not a verb I recognise.

>turn bolts
It is fixed in place.

>get bolts
That’s hardly portable.

More serious writing and a stronger sense of history might have made this game work; as is, it’s not recommended.

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Posted October 2, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “IFComp 2017: The Richard Mines

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  1. Pingback: IFComp 2017: Ultimate Escape Room: IF City | Renga in Blue

  2. “A rusting, barbed wire fence, blocks the way north” should only have the first comma.

    Actually, if we’re being picky (and if we can’t be picky on an adventure-game site, where can we be?), it shouldn’t have the first one, either. Why not? Because commas separate adjectives that apply individually to the noun. A “rusting, barbed wire fence” is a fence that is both rusting and barbed wire. But what we really mean here is a barbed wire fence that is rusting: that’s a “rusting barbed wire fence”.

    Yes, a small point indeed! The present version is not exactly wrong, but it’s inelegant.

    • Hm, I think that one with the comma is arguable. At least I wouldn’t mark it wrong there. I find “A rusting barbed wire fence blocks the way north” confusing to read (mainly because you can have the barbed wire without it being a fence, so I have to read back and forth to make sure everything in the subject is indeed one chunk) and would probably rejigger that to something else.

  3. The crate gives the impression of being largish, so how does one climb a ladder while holding it?

    I fell for that mis-visualisation, too. But, to be fair to the game, it does explicitly describe it as “A small, wooden crate”. (With another superfluous comma :-) )

  4. Pingback: IFComp 2017: Summary and Mini-Reviews | Renga in Blue

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