IFComp 2010: Pen and Paint

2010_1108 - Old Books_1

“Pen and Paint: An Interactive Scribbling” by Owen Parish

No blurb provided.

I’m actually quite excited about this one. I’m expecting either an abstract art world rendered in an IF game, or something that gives me great control over my world. There’s so much potential in this simple title! I write spoilers.

This game isn’t what I expected and I don’t think it lives up to its potential. I (the writer) and my wife (the painter) are awakened by some noises in the middle of the night, and discover that her paintings have been “infected.” I must write in my books in order to fix her paintings. It’s a good concept. I think this author is a Myst fan.

I wander the house, a sparse (perhaps autobiographical?) home with suspicious and unusual objects (“mechanical musician”, “fungus bowl”, “jar of silence”) lying about. I gather said objects, and use them to find inspiration with which to begin writing. Once I start writing in a book, I am thrown into a mini-adventure, where my objective is… what? It seems to be different in each book, but the general theme is something like “find the anomaly.”

I thought the best sub-game was the “pyramid book.” Though the navigation was a little tricky, the objective was clearest here. I even figured out that I needed to “feel shadows” to find the bandages to chase off the grave robbers. Where I got hung up was with the machine – apparently my final obstacle, and I can’t do anything but look at it. The answer, (I think) was to let the jar of silence be one of my inspirations for the book. But shaking the grave dust twice got me into the book, with no clue that I had missed anything. Furthermore, I solved the sky painting with only one inspiration, and I think if I hadn’t used the walkthrough I could have done the same with the forest painting.

This is the general problem. Not that the mechanic isn’t fully explained (in fact, the magical “otherness” of the game is one of its strongest traits) but because it isn’t reflected in the descriptions. The infected paintings have the same description before and after I fix them. There’s no distinction between being inspired to write and having the correct inspiration. For that matter, it’s hard to tell when there’s something out-of-place or missing in a painting when you encounter rooms like this:

Grey Room
You can see incomplete.

For a while I thought I had to find inspiration to fill these rooms in. After discovering that that didn’t work, I was very lost. I turned to the walkthrough.

The puzzles aren’t bad, and I even think that the game’s unique logic is internally consistent. But it doesn’t take the time to introduce us to its logic, and there’s not much in the way of back-story or hints. I wanted to ask my wife what exactly was wrong with her paintings, or look up Egyptian death shrouds in the “collection of your inspirations, to which you frequently return.”

From a story perspective, the final confrontation just confused me. A bard who is upset because I’m not doing anything new? I think maybe the author meant to personify my muse, but I’ve never known a muse to be destructive of artwork in order to inspire literature.

This is a very good game that, like the protagonist’s own work, feels unfinished.

Verdict: B

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