IFComp 2010: The 12:54 to Asgard

Janitorial

“The 12:54 to Asgard” by J. Robinson Wheeler

Your mood is foul as you drive down to the studio in the middle of the night to fix a leak that’s threatening to short circuit the entire studio. A chilling feeling haunts you tonight, and you feel pushed to the end of the line. Is this it, all there is?

#3, here we go. Train stations and Norse mythology? I’m hoping for a fantastic Dirk Gently send-up. Spoilers ahead.

This was fantastic at first, and got disappointing as it went on.

The game has plenty of imagination. The introduction is strong with bits of my character and objective being revealed as I do the obvious exploration of the studio, and the settings further in (you know, after you die) are interesting. The implementation is (mostly) strong, too. There is so much here to like. But in the end I couldn’t wait to walk away from this game, like that awkward acquaintance that you want to be nice to, yet you always walk the other way when you see them coming.

I figured out that I’m a janitor, and one with a lot of stuff and a penchant for keeping it organized, at that. But the game tells me I’m grouchy and don’t have time to clean. I’m also trying to fix a leak in the roof from the inside, because there’s a terrible storm going on. Try as I might, I can’t seem to plug the hole in any effective way. There’s a ton of junk in my inventory, but at least the game hints well about what can be put away. Twenty-five minutes in I give up and glace at the top of the walkthrough, noticing mention of a screwdriver I haven’t found. Dang! So the opening is frustrating, but also very well done.

Thirty-five minutes in, I die in a horrible, electrocuted fall from a catwalk. Good. I was beginning to wonder if there would be any afterlife in this Asgard. I have my first (and only) real laugh out of this game while death ferries me across the river:

>hug death
Not everyone is the huggable type.

From here on in, things get weird and difficult and maybe broken. I meet a girl named Polly who ignores absolutely everything I say, and gives me a ruby coin that the turnstile will not accept. I have some serious verb issues with the turnstiles, which don’t respond well to “enter turnstile” or “go ruby turnstile” but I eventually work out that “go through ruby turnstile” will work. I participate in a game show that seems to be unwinnable since I forgot to put something in my suitcase before I died (looking back, I think I permanently lost the tar paper somewhere). I find a way back to the studio and the suitcase, but most of the other stuff is gone. I might have put this game in an unwinnable state.

Then things get even weirder. Not only do I have more trouble verb-guessing (I’m unable to ‘put wheat on threshing floor’ but must ‘give bag to woman’), but I pick up a copper key that is promptly eaten by some kind of dragon-monster, but remains in my inventory. The game show host makes a comment while I’m out in the empty fields of snow. Even more confusing is that items seem to leap in and out of my inventory depending on my location, and I don’t see any logic to it. Another hour later, hoping to see what the author was getting at, I restart and follow the walkthrough step-by-step.

And here’s the weirdest thing: Not only is the walkthrough full of apparently unnecessary steps, but it suggests a number of actions that give stock responses (“lick rutabaga,” “smell boa,” “ask death about river,” “talk to polly about death”). It also becomes abundantly clear that I would never solve this game on my own in a million years. Give socks to death? Get the three-foot spike that looks like part of the landscaping? Put the tar paper on the game show podium, then tear it away… in order to get a train ticket? Come on. Most disappointing of all, I learn that on my first playthrough I missed a crucial piece of dialogue where Polly shows us her train ticket. I never saw any tickets or trains when playing on my own.

Even with a good twenty minutes, I didn’t make it to the end of the game while strictly following the walkthrough. I love the premise, the writing is good (though it could be funnier) and there’s a lot of content here. However, I can’t get past the technical issues that made the game feel so unfair. Let me know when I’ve made the game unwinnable (or don’t let the game become unwinnable), don’t let me slip past critical plot points, and hint a little better! It’s a great setting, but not as fun as I’d hoped.

Verdict: B-

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