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Substantive and Energetic
Review by: Emily Short
Game: Fallacy of Dawn
By: Robb Sherwin

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There are a lot of positives about this game, and a lot of negatives. Robb Sherwin has always been most notable for raw style, a way with language that draws on a lot of expletives, and vivid characters of a certain type. All of the above are to some extent present in this game, but so are bugs and some implementation flaws.

I get the sense that detail -- especially the really tedious detail of making objects for every single item in a room, being ruthlessly thorough about synonyms, and offering the player more than one way to leave a room -- does not capture Robb's imagination. There were times when the parser produced some pretty bizarre results, ranging from >SEARCH NPC ("The NPC is empty.") to >ENTER STREET ("You can't see that character here", or words to that effect). At times these were severe enough to make it hard to figure out whether the intended action was impossible in general or whether we were not playing guess-the-verb correctly.

Which is not to say that Robb didn't put a great deal of work into this game. In addition to its size (easily twice the size of any legitimate competition entry, I'd say -- it took us at least four hours to play, probably more), it is illustrated with intriguingly-doctored photographs of people and locations; the photoshoppery must have added a fair amount to the development time. These images particularly helped distinguish the numerous NPCs in the game. Vividly sketched though they were, I might have found it more difficult to keep track of who was who without the constant reminder in the form of the little images.

But even here the results weren't, I found, completely perfect. I don't know if this is intentional, but at least on our computer screen the counters that indicate the state of the character's health were weird little wiggly o's with a squiggle on top. (Something wrong about the font, maybe?) And I really thought that there needed to be at least a few lines of border between the photographs and the scrolling text, because otherwise the words would often run up against the bottom edge and the result looked kind of unattractive.

I harp on these details because -- well, I guess because I thought that the game as a whole was promising in certain ways, but the lack of surface polish was a genuine impediment to my enjoying it as much as I wanted to.

The other impediment is possibly that I am not quite in the intended target audiences: I get some of the references and in-jokes, but sort of the way you might get a pun in a foreign language you only had two years of back in junior high: that is, you can tell it's there, but the humor value is all lost in the translation. Robb's characters talk to each other in a bizarre mode of diction that seems completely natural to them. I imagine (perhaps erroneously) that this is in fact how he talks to his friends. The facile patter, the easy profanity, the pointed and obscure references... I enjoy them going by, but sometimes I find myself wondering what they mean. Fine if it's a side issue, not so fine if I'm not sure what has actually transpired in a scene because I'm not capable of understanding the conversation. (I don't think I'm completely alone on this. The person I was playing with kept muttering, "I'm so confused!")

In the plus column, however: there is an energetic vividness to this game, which will not surprise Sherwin fans. I've complained that not everything is implemented, but what is implemented has personality and attitude. And on the balance, I'd rather have a few items implemented with memorable descriptions than an office meticulously recreated down to the paperclips where there's nothing out of the ordinary.

FoD also has a plot that keeps on rolling on; which reminds me of how few long games we seem to get these days, and how few of them have genuinely complex plots with multiple stages of action and all that. Comp games tend to be short-story-sized, with a narrative arc that takes in only one or two twists. Whenever I settle into a game that has a real plot development, I'm reminded how satisfying it is: Heroine's Mantle had this, and so did First Things First. Neither of those was a perfect game, but something about the scope of the story made up for other flaws. This is not just a question of game-play duration. Zork can take a lot of hours to play, especially for puzzle-impaired persons such as myself, but it remains at heart a short story, with only one central aspect to the action. Sure, there may be a prologue and a mid-game and an end-game, but there aren't really narrative developments and changing goals for the player.

Fallacy of Dawn does have all of those things, and it's such a pleasure to have that kind of narrative scope that I was willing to forgive a few points where the cause-and-effect weren't self-evident. And a few loose ends that seemed not to be tied up entirely at the end. Regardless of those things, your PC has a distinct personality, and his attitude towards what's going on changes over the course of the game (as well it might). The NPCs are also charmingly drawn and develop as the game goes on, even if during most of the central section of the game they exist solely to serve the purposes of the puzzles.

Also in the plus column: I have to mention this, even though it technically has nothing to do with the game itself qua game. FoD had one of the best pieces of PR I have ever seen in non-commercial IF. I refer to the trailer. It had attitude in spades, and left me really, really wanting to play this game. People are always complaining about how little feedback results from a noncompetition release. Here is, maybe, an example of how to do it right: release a tantalizing advance-viewing piece like Robb's DivX. I kept an eager eye out for the release of the game, and I would have gotten to it much sooner if it hadn't been than I spent all of fall semester in the midst of academic hell.

Moreover, in respect of game design, FoD is a reasonably fair and forgiving piece of work. There are some places where it violates that rule -- a few times where you can use up all of a resource when you need some more of it later, one place where you are supposed to do an action repeatedly and there aren't very many clues to that fact. Most of the puzzles, however, are not especially difficult, and you can in the long run do most of what you need to do by exploring appropriately. It's just possible that the cityscape provided is a little too large -- it seemed like we spent some time wandering up and down empty streets, not sure where we were going or where to look for the next piece of action -- but by and large the effects of that weren't *too* brutal. It's a good thing that the game package includes a jpeg map of the city, however. My advice is that you open that in another screen when you first start up the game and keep it there for constant reference. You will need it.

On the whole, then, Fallacy of Dawn is definitely a game worth playing. The implementation problems are occasionally frustrating, but the scope of the plot and the sheer amount of attitude make it fun.

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