IF Comp 2007 – Ferrous Ring

I made no notes on the following games as I played them, so I better get my thoughts down before they fade. (I was going to post three reviews in this section, but as I have already posted one and wordpress keeps reformatting my paragraphs, I will post the other two in a separate post.)

Ferrous Ring

I ended up unsure how I felt about this game, so it is going to be hard for me to rate. I found no programming problems and everything that needed to be implemented seemed to be implemented, but I ended up pretty confused. I also read someone else’s review and don’t agree with his take on it, so here’s at it…

The PC is living in a post-acopolyptic world near a university/library. It is unclear what happened, although it is clear that some of it has happened quite recently. There is some destruction that implies a war, bombing, something — which evidentially occurred right before game start. But there are also indications that the deterioration of society and infrastructure has also been going on for some time. So one gets the feeling that the war has been getting progressively worse and coming closer and closer to home. The remaining pockets of civilization are rapidly disappearing.

It is unclear whether the PC is a student, but he appears to be one, or a semi-student, and he has friends that live in underground grottos and collect food cans. It’s like people have been hanging onto technology and the survival items created by mass production as long as they can while society has been falling apart. Only now the library is also gone and it appears his reason for continuing to remain there has disappeared.

The intriguing thing about this game is that it is done in first person, I, and done pretty well. No responses I got included the word you, such as “You can’t see that here.” This, I felt, was done better than I would have expected and worked better than I would have expected.  Also there is an interesting take on inventory/surroundings. If you enter “look”, below the room description is a listing such as this:  “Good: list” and below that “Bad: list.” Each list includes things in one’s location and one’s inventory. A nice conceit, although I am not sure that most of us classify our surroundings that primally, into what we think is good and bad around us. Although maybe on some level we do, as a survival trait, what is a threat to us and what is not. Since the story is written first person, though, it does let us know where to focus our attention and where not to, because it lets us know where the I in the story is focusing his attention.

The game starts out pretty directive, which at first annoyed me, but that tapers off pretty soon and eventually it fades out completely — but in a realistic and gradual way. The directions are also done well, with things like “I probably should go over to…” (paraphrasing, it’s worded a little better than that). This is extremely helpful, what would the person that you are sort of riding along with do in this situation? So the game tells you more at first, and less and less as you go along and get a sense of who the PC is. It also seques from one scenario to another pretty effectively, by use of the space bar. These are not quite chapters, but they do help skip over intervenening actions that might not only be time consuming but also hard for the player to figure out while he/she is still getting to know who the PC is and what he would do.

But there were two problems with this game for me:  once all the direction is removed, I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t “get” the finale — at all.

In the end, I feel the technical expertise shown and the thought given to how a first person story should work, how the game play should work, was not supported by the plot. The plot is murky.

A plot does not have to be clear and straight forward, but I feel it should let the player guess at what is happening, so it should be, I feel, guessable. This one really isn’t. Or not for me, anyway. What is clear in the author’s head often does not end up clear or even semi-clear in the game — it doesn’t make the transition from imagination to implementation. I think having beta testers give feedback on whether they “get” a plot would greatly improve some games, and I think it would have greatly improved this game.

The PC sets out to find someone (this is a semi-spoiler as the player doesn’t know that right away) and the rest of the game focuses on that. I found the bulldozer puzzle a bit tricky, but finally managed to solve it. However, SPOILER ON, when I made it into the house and was unceremoniously dumped out of it, I didn’t know quite what to do. Finally I looked at the photo, and realized something had happened. Only that still didn’t let me know what to do. Since I had exhausted everything in the immediate area, I returned home just to see if something would happen back there. I guess I was supposed to search the library before I went, but I had no clue really that since the library was demolished that the stuff on the back of the photograph could be looked up at the library. So at that point of return, after I revisited some sites and fumbled around, I went to walkthru mode, and continued the game from there on out in walkthru mode. I frankly doubt even with more game play that I could have figured out most of the following actions without walkthru anyway. And watching the walkthru take place, much of the last part of the plot seemed to be spurred by the PC continuing to LOOK at one particular item. I also doubt, that without walkthru, I would have repeatedly looked at that item to spur the story on. SPOILER OFF.

After finding the person, the game ends up with the PC finding a place of isolation and safety that is not the place he was originally apparently destined for. This is the confusing part. Does he really find it? Or is he imagining it as he lays dying from a beating? Also he is supposedly replacing someone in that place. Is he replacing the person he went searching for? (One contraption in the vicinity is similar to another one he saw earlier in the vicinity of the person he found.) Or is he is in some time loop, where he is actually becoming the person he was searching for? And those are only some of the possibilities.

Beats me. I don’t know what happened.

A bad ending can ruin even a great game, and this is not a great game. But I do feel this had some serious thought go into it about how to do a first person game.

A worthy effort. 


2 Responses to “IF Comp 2007 – Ferrous Ring”

  1. 1 Jason Dyer October 31, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    I’m fairly certain the author was implying the good-bad dichotomy is how the player character thinks, not how everyone thinks.

    The plot baffled me as well. I’m still not even sure if there was an “apocalypse” at all or it was some Fall-of-the-Roman-Empire type decay.

  2. 2 doeadeer October 31, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    Well, sure, sorry I was unclear about that. Good-bad re the PC. But I just thought when I saw that, do we all do that? Maybe on some primal level.


    Ditto. It could have been decay. I never got to look up everything I could have while running the walkthru mode, but there did seem to be something about gene/biological warfare in the book at the library. OTOH, by that point I was pretty confused anyway. Heh.

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