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For A Change

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs




Copyright 1998, Dan Schmidt

Second-place winner in the 5th Annual IF Competition, and deservedly so. Mark Musantes eloquent review says it all about what makes this modern-day post-modern drama so compelling:

“This game has a lot to recommend. Its odd use of words and images convey, in no uncertain terms, that you the player in another world, another culture. This isn’t the ordinary “you’re in a world of magic”, or “you’re far in the future with cool science-fictiony gadgets”, but an extraordinary world with words that only vaguely resemble their English counterparts.

After I finished the game, I read the author’s afterword. In it he states he wanted to create a world “in which objects are described in terse [language] that assumes the player character understand the terms used”. He accomplishes this goal with aplomb. His ability to twist words around, to use a similar word in place of the usual one (“inscribed” instead of “standing”, for instance), to describe locations as though they were passing thoughts, stun the player’s mind, and reach into his soul.

To abuse an overused cliche, you’re not in Kansas any more.

Instead of obscuring the features of the landscape, the language instead brought them to life by forcing you to think about them in a different way. Fortunately, it didn’t ask player to write in the same way that the text was written. This was good from a puzzle-solving point of view (no need to learn a new set of commands) but, from the point of view of immersing yourself within the writing, it served to set me apart. I knew I could “speak” in English and be understood, even if the game was talking to me in an otherworldly fashion.

I’m not sure that’s a puzzle that an author can solve. To force the use of another language would make the game astoundingly difficult. But not having that language used at all sets the player apart from the game, strengthening the feeling of controlling a puppet instead of living in the game’s world.

The only place the game falls down is in the NPC’s. I can understand a fish not being communicative (I didn’t even try), but the toolman could have been a bit better. He’s a great concept — I would have liked to have been able to interact with him a bit. As far as the spinster is concerned, I got the distinct impression that it (she?) was meant to be an NPC. But I don’t recall ever doing anything with it or interacting with it in a puzzle-solving or plot-advancing fashion. Perhaps this was part of the game that Dan hadn’t gotten a chance to flesh out.

On the whole, I very much enjoyed it. The writing was skillfully done, and the puzzles were just about the right difficulty for a competition game. I look forward to Dan’s next work.”

The surrealistic/post-modern imagery of For a Change and its relatively slow pace may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but anyone patient enough to explore the gameworld and learn its idiosyncracies will be well rewarded with an excellent, atmospheric game. Two thumbs up!

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