The beauty of inflections

or the beauty of innuendoes

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[IFComp] PataNoir. Plus a note about updated games.
Little My
Time flies! I actually played PataNoir a while ago, so I may have forgotten some details. (I always take notes, though, and I have my transcript, so I'm not just making things up here.)

I really enjoyed PataNoir, and not just in contrast to the unfinishable games I've played lately. I like clever wordplay IF that takes advantage of the medium of text. Some IF has good writing and a compelling story and thus the player doesn't miss images like a video game would have. Some IF seems like it really would love to be a high-budget video game, but the author only knew how to program words so stuck with a text format - these are not usually the strongest games. And a few IF games do things that video games could not, celebrating the written word. PataNoir is one of the latter. As a result, it gave me the I-don't-want-to-stop-playing-and-go-to-bed feeling that I really love about IF.

In PataNoir, you play a classic type of down-and-out private dick. This one, though, hasn't been taking the meds his psychiatrist prescribed and so experiences hallucinations where metaphors and similes become reality, and you can interact with them. Thus, if a girl's eyes "sparkle like a pair of diamonds," you can TAKE DIAMONDS. This might affect how the girl behaves, and gives you some figurative diamonds in your inventory. You can't use them like real diamonds and, say, bribe a security guard with them - but you can insert them figuratively somewhere else. Maybe the counter in the all-night diner is dingy and dull, and the waitress behind looks weary from working in such a dump. If you PUT DIAMONDS ON COUNTER, perhaps the counter will now sparkle like diamonds, and the waitress will be correspondingly more cheerful. The diamonds, security guard, diner and waitress are all examples, and not from the game itself, because I think you should go play PataNoir yourself.

There were some definitely hard puzzles, things that seemed a bit random, which is probably inevitable in a surreal game. A few times I knew what I wanted to do but couldn't figure out the wording that would make it happen. Fortunately, there is an in-game hint system in the form of your (figurative, of course) servant Wesson, who would offer advice about a plausible course of action. His hints were location-based, which had the positive of meaning that you didn't get clues about puzzles you weren't stuck on yet, but the negative of meaning that if you had no idea at all about what to do next you had to wander around to lots of locations and TALK TO SERVANT there. Once, it turned out that I simply needed to return to a certain location to trigger an event occurring, but I had no clues that that was what I needed to do.

I did wind up talking to Wesson a lot, especially in the middle of the game where things were more open-ended than at the beginning or end. He was helpful enough that I never felt really stuck, though, so I didn't get frustrated. The game was very bug-free as well. I found only a small handful of objects that I couldn't interact with when I felt I should be able to (for example, there was an unimportant dresser that triggered the "That's not something you can open" message). I also appreciated that there were multiple endings - I always like that.

All in all, this is a game I'll probably find myself recommending to the friends that I occasionally convince to play some IF.
A side note about the games: This year, the comp is allowing authors to update their games throughout the competition. While I understand the rationale behind this decision (allowing authors to fix minor things that make a big difference, rather than stressing for six weeks about how all the reviewers complain about the same thing that could be repaired in five minutes), I'm not playing any updated versions. Partly this is kind of a gut reaction about deadlines: You knew when the game was "due," and you had plenty of time before then to beta test.

More than that, though, is that I feel like trying to keep up with updates puts a burden on the player/judge. I downloaded all the games in one go right after they were released, because I like playing them on my computer rather than online. (For one thing, it lets me save a transcript, which I will email to the author afterward and which I use in writing reviews.) Sometimes I'm playing when I'm not connected to the internet, like on the train, and I literally cannot go check to see if the game has been updated since I downloaded it. Even if I am connected to the internet, it's an extra step, and I'm kind of lazy.

The last point is that it doesn't seem quite fair, since I played some games on October 2 and some I still have yet to play. If "Cold Iron," which I played around October 3, gets updated on October 30, I've already used up my two hours' play time on it and I'm not going to go back to it. But "Calm," which I haven't played yet, has been updated twice. It's only luck of the draw that my random game order put "Cold Iron" and not  "Calm" first on my list, but "Cold Iron" could be effectively punished by that.
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