When Machines Attack

Mark Jones (2008)

When Machines Attack has a good story, that has me wanting to play it after the competition is over to see where it goes, but the puzzles are so unfair that you can't get through them without the walkthrough.

You start out receiving a letter from Planetron, a company out in the middle of the desert looking to hire you, ending up late for work. The story starts from there, with a setup that takes too long. I spent 44 minutes getting through it because I didn't want to miss anything that might be important, something that happens in interactive fiction, and felt that it should have been tightened up.

After the setup you're free to roam around, running into your first puzzle, a combine lock. Simple enough, you even have the code, but the lock can't be reset, so you better get it right the first time or you'll have to restart the game. The next puzzle I had the same problem with, I couldn't reset it even though there was a button that should've done this. So again, you have to get it right the first time. And with no instructions on how to operate the machine, and no room for experimentation, I had to turn to the walkthrough to get through it. I couldn't believe how hard this puzzle was, and I think that this game needed to be beta tested to feel this sort of thing out. It also has a few typos and some strange word structuring at times, so I'm given to believe that it wasn't beta tested at all.

What the game does have going for it is the story. It has the right pacing, dropping certain clues about the back-story at the right time and parsing out conversations well, not throwing info dumps at you. I found the story intriguing enough to want to go back and play this game to find out what happens next. It does have the strong sense of mystery, even though you really do see where it's going, and the characters are not only strange, but also memorable. I felt that I could really visualize them. The game really redeemed itself here.

But interactive fiction is more than story; it's about game play and puzzles and how everything ties together with the code. All of this really is worked out in beta testing, with testers letting you know if your puzzles are too hard, or if you wording is off, or even if your puzzles don't reset themselves. I don't think that the IF Comp is a place to beta test your game.

With more work this could be a really good game. It has a strong story with interesting characters, but is weakened by poor puzzles and bad design. It's just not there yet. I gave it a 5.