IFComp ’09: Beta Tester

Beta Tester by Darren Ingram is a strange one. It’s a goalless game with an emphasis on just exploring its environment. There’s a couple puzzles and a couple games. All are fairly easy. I ended up liking it quite a bit.

In the game you play as a test-bunny beta tester (complete with bunny ears and tail) for megacorperation CogCo’s new virtual playground. There’s really no story beyond this. The virtual world allows for surreal and illogical environments an any number of bizarre things. CogCo is presented as all encompassing but not malevolent. The game is just about exploring and experiencing the world Ingram has created.

What little game is here is okay but not spectacular. There’s some simple puzzles and two games. One is simply Rock, Paper, Scissors with some “wackyness” thrown in to give it some color. The other is a fun little game of risk/reward where two players try reach 100 by rolling dice with any points gained in a turn lost if the player rolls doubles. It was an entertaining enough diversion.

What pulled me into the game and kept me engaged was Beta Tester’s witty style which features a kind of good natured snark. The game uses a pause function which stops narration until the player hits a key. This allows Ingram to infuse his narration with a sense of timing that helps to punctuate jokes and gives the game a unique voice. To enter the game’s world proper I had to puzzle out a complex lock on a door which at one point involved connecting a metal ring to a clasp. I typed “put ring on clasp” and the game responded:

This clasp was made, as clasps usually are, to have something put IN it and not ON it.

Pause.

The fact that you didn’t realize this about the clasp make its feelings hurt, destroys its self-esteem, and makes it think that it must not be much of a clasp if it gets confused with something, say, like a table.

Pause.

You can put something ON a table.  “Do I look that much like a table?” the clasp will now spend the rest of its life wondering.”

I was surprised that Ingram went out of his way to write all this for a typo.  While some players might be turned off by this snark I felt it was genuinely funny. The game is filled with many humorous asides and while a lot of the jokes are cheesy (the stand-up comedian in the restaurant stands out as such), and the corporate humor flat, most of them worked quite well. After some items have served their purpose they disappear in a puff of smoke.

When your coughing, sneezing and wheezing ends and your eyes stop watering, you realize that the CogCo Industries bell-ringing kit has disappeared from the room.  Every item has simply *POOF*ed it’s way into your respiratory system.

Or when examining a swirling vortex:

…and the huge sucking sound the portal produces makes it oh-so-inviting.

Who knew the sucking sound of a magical rift would be so alluring? I wouldn’t have assumed so but here we are.

Darren Ingram, there’s not much to your game but I like your wit. Expect a reasonably high score from me and I’m looking forward to seeing your style applied to something more substantial. Good luck!

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