IF Comp 2013: 'Dream Pieces' by Iam Curio

I'm reviewing the games entered in the 19th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition that I complete within the two-hour time limit for open judging.

Surreal is a genre in IF, perhaps vaguely related to magical realism, but dependent upon the text-based simulation and interactivity of traditional text adventures.  Despite being native to text adventures and at least somewhat common in the annual Competition, surrealism seems difficult to pull off well.  Dream Pieces makes a haphazard use of many of the conventions of IF surrealism, creating a disjointed and relatively weak but not altogether unsatisfying experience.

The atmosphere of the game feels bizarre.  I appreciate abstraction, but the abstract nature of Dream Pieces is too unfocused for me.  There is something slightly horrific behind the two elements that form the premise: you are dreaming, and it is your birthday.  The game attempts to break the fourth wall by having the player enter his or her birthday at the first command prompt, and then using that birthday in a description of one of the objects in the single room.  This appears to be an attempt to include a horror technique, but it lacks the emotional punch.  The use of the entered birth-date is both too obvious and too far removed from any significance to the game for this horror element to work.

The birth-date is the only significant way that Dream Pieces breaks the fourth wall.  Fourth-wall-breaking is a probably a hallmark of surreal IF, especially surreal IF that incorporates wordplay.  Dream Pieces does incorporate some simplistic wordplay, but the wordplay puzzles are straightforward and lack a meta component.

Still, discovering how to solve the wordplay puzzles is a nice moment.  The puzzles are few and easy, despite the fact that the game is a traditional, puzzle-driven text adventure.  There is an internal, "invisiclues"-style hint system.  All this makes the game a painless and moderately pleasant experience for IF players like myself -- those of us who are not very puzzle-smart but nonetheless prefer traditional parser-IF with hard-coded mechanics.

The level of implementation and the overall quality of polish is neither remarkably good nor remarkably bad.  Occasional sound effects and the use of font and color styling contributes a little bit toward the unsettlingly child-like mood, but the multimedia aspects mostly just give the game a standard Quest aesthetic.  (I neither dislike nor particularly favor the multimedia look common in Quest games.)

Although Dream Pieces is hardly revolutionary, there's not much to dislike about it.  Its greatest flaw is that it stands on the conventions of surreal and wordplay IF without adapting or even fully embracing those conventions enough.

Comments

  1. "There is something slightly horrific behind the two elements that form the premise: you are dreaming, and it is your birthday."

    When you point it out, it does sound like Freddy Krueger might be around the corner!

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    Replies
    1. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I haven't even seen those movies. But yeah, I get a lot more mileage out of interpreting 'Dream Pieces' as horror than interpreting the dream-birthday thing straight.

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