IFComp 09: Byzantine Perspective

Next up on my trip through Interactive Fiction Comp ’09 is Byzantine Perspective by Lea Albaugh.

It’s traditional to put some filler text on these IF reviews so that those following on a RSS feed aren’t accidentally spoiled. Here we go:

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In Byzantine Perspective you play as a college student who has broken into a museum to steal a priceless Byzantine chalice to sell for tuition. I had the idea of using school fees as the motive for a treasure hunt game years ago and I’m glad to see that someone else came up with it as well. But stealing an artifact from a museum doesn’t seem like the best way to pay for school. Seems like using a rocket launcher on a quail hunt. And wouldn’t it create a lot more, and more serious, problems? Not that these questions are ever raised as the whole set up is just an excuse to get the player in the museum and into the game’s single puzzle.

The puzzle is just barely complex ehough to carry the entire game. I could see it working better as a part of a larger and more well made game. I did run into some bugs, which is frustrating because the nature of the puzzle makes the game seem poorly coded and incomplete when its not. This is a shame because to make this puzzle work must have involved some smart and clever coding. I can’t think of how Lea Albaugh did it. But I’m not a programmer and my Inform knowledge goes little beyond knowing how to give rooms descriptions. I’ll just say that once I figured the game out I was impressed.

The main problem with Byzantine is that until the “a-ha!” moment the game appears broken. In the museum you can see things that you can’t touch (your hand passes through them) and feel things you can’t see. You can walk through solid walls but can’t walk through obvious room exits. At points you can even end up inside the walls with no explanation why. This all makes sense by the game’s end but when first starting out it really does feel like Lea didn’t know how to put one room next to another correctly.

The writing is sparse but evocative enough to create the setting. There are no NPCs to deal with or traps to overcome. There is one locked door. The game really is about figuring out what exactly is going on. Once you have it solved the rest of the game is quickly over. The big gripe I had with the game is that this central puzzle isn’t adequately hinted. The in game hint menu only offers the smallest of nudges in the right direction. I appreciate the game not giving me the answer and I did feel like a smarty big brain when I figured it out. I probably would have given up long before hand if the hints had simply explained the answer. I know some people won’t appreciate this though and feel that if you’re going to give hints they should go all the way.

As for natural hints that should lead you to the solution… well. The thing is that the nature of the puzzle doesn’t exist in the real world and there’s nothing in game that suggests that something unnatural does exist. It’s hard to explain this without ruining the whole game. So continue on only if you don’t care to solve Byzantine Perspective on your own.

BIG SPOILERS FOLLOW

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The secret of Byzantine Perspective is that you are wearing night-vision goggles to see in the dark museum. These goggles are special in that they show you what is in one room ahead from where you actually are. This is why your hands pass through objects you see and why you can’t see objects you have. But it’s never explained if these are magic goggles or super high-tech or how they see through walls in the first place. And there are no clues that such super goggles would exist in the world of the game. Everything else about the museum is normal and mundane. It’s only by observing how you can move and paying careful attention to the map (Lea advises you play with the map open) can you begin to piece together what is going on.

Looking back, I can appreciate the puzzle and, by extension, the game. I can see why Lea chose to hint the game as she did and why she left it so vague. But playing through the game was frustrating. I almost gave up several times. Lea, if your own play testers couldn’t figure out what was going (as is stated in the about menu) on you need to hint the solution better. The presence of real bugs didn’t help either as it was hard to tell what was a bug and what was part of the game.

It’s hard to give games a rating before I’ve played them all and can compare them to each other but I’ve got a feeling this one is going to fall in the middle of the field. It’s got a neat idea and was fun to solve but the execution was flawed and the game was not as polished as it could be. I award it a tentative five for now.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “IFComp 09: Byzantine Perspective

  1. CJ

    I would appreciate this much more if there the solution (SPOILERS) were either more or less fantastic. Just beyond the realm of possibility doesn’t really stick with me.

    • CJ

      That being said, I don’t think that it particularly felt broken. The game is quite clear that there is an internal logic in what is happening. It’s just not implemented as fluidly as one might like it to be. I am impressed by the effort and the idea, but kind of let down by the game proper.

  2. Anonymous

    FWIW: I also felt a bit let down by the single puzzle (well, I liked the *puzzle*, but I didn’t care for the minor tedium of navigation that came *between* the solving of the puzzle and the actual “You Have Won” text). However, (SPOILERS) I think you must have missed several hints toward revealing the nature of the goggles:

    First things first: “nab the chalice”. Hand passes through it. Okay.
    “examine door”. Hmm, interesting. “inventory”. Aha!
    “examine paper”. You can’t see it. Curiouser and curiouser…

    Reading the scrap of paper explains that the goggles are responsible for the wackiness of your vision, and gives you the ability to change their direction — in fact, I think you can’t solve the game without pushing the button, can you? and you can’t push the button without reading the paper. So it all does fall into place before the end of the game. There’s just not much to it.

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