IFComp 2014: Paradox Corps   1 comment

“We cannot say. Time is not truly fixed.” It turns fully away from you. “Were you admiring our deep time explorer?”

You look at the giant thing. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“No. You have not.” Suddenly a bright blue light appears on the dark thing; you instinctively step back. Was it there all along, darkened? Or did it open, or…appear? You’re not sure. “Perhaps one day the Paradox Corps will undertake similiar initiatives. On that day, we may meet again.”

Paradox Corps by John Evans is written in ChoiceScript (meaning it uses Javascript and is playable on any platform). It involves a “time agency” type plot where agents travel in time to fix paradoxes caused by “Chaos Agents”. The author cites Doctor Who (among other things) as an influence.

The plot was light enough and the central conceit was enjoyable. The vast majority of the IFComp 2014 games I’ve tried so far went for a very dark tone, so playing this was something of a relief.

Unfortunately, I ran into major issues with both the structure and the dialogue.

Starting with dialogue first, here’s a line given by the villain:

“We’re trying to make a better reality. By studying and exploiting paradox. Sure, it’s dangerous, but so is uranium. So is fire. Until you guys get all Smokey the Bear on us!”

Even before the “Smokey the Bear” reference (being made in a century way past the 20th) there’s a goofy earnestness that seems wildly inappropriate.

“Yeah, but I could use a beer! You got beer right?”

“Sure we do,” she says, running a hand through her blonde hair. “Everyone’s got beer.”

“And information,” you say. “Anything weird happening recently?”

“Oh, fighting, war,” she says.

Every single character takes the same tone. It might be Intentional, but I was still stopping every other page at some awkward bit of dialogue.

The structure problem is a little more complicated. There are three main stats: Diplomacy, Combat, and Enigma (the latter corresponding to ‘ability to figure out mysterious stuff’). At various junctures the stats can increase (and the author has helpfully added a “no stress” mode where you can see exactly where those places are) but the points seem really strange and inappropriate. One might expect Combat to increase from doing some actual combat feat, but no, simply acting somewhat aggressive in conversation somehow makes one better in battle. Most of the stat-increasing is from these dialogue choices. This is semi-logical with Diplomacy but doesn’t work well with the other stats.

Additionally, and more fatally, is how these stats are used. That is to say: not much, except for a juncture at the end where you can lose without much idea of why you lost. One of the endings required me to make sure every choice I made was of the “Enigma” type, which was a bizarre bit of micromanaging which made the story feel like an anti-game. Generally speaking, it would be better if the stats were used progressively through the story in a way that it would be very clear with a loss how it came about from a cumulative effect of decision. The ChoiceScript games I’ve seen pull this off tend to be a bit longer, giving more time for significant incidents and the feeling of a true progression.

Posted October 15, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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  1. Pingback: IFComp 2015: Birdland | Renga in Blue

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