October’s a pretty chill month. It’s when Fall is at its best, you know? The melancholy of November hasn’t kicked in yet, and Summer is still lingering a bit so there’s still a bunch of nice days. But there’s also that crispness in the air, that profound sense of change, that wind-blowing-at-2am-that-makes-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck-stand-up-and-there’s-just-a-hint-of-spice-and-the-dry-clatter-of-leaves-on-the-ground-and-god-damn-I-love-October feeling. Also there’s Halloween and my birthday and yeah October’s good times. If months were kids in High School, October would be that cool kid all the other cool kids look up to because he’s not trying to be cool, he’s just all nonchalant and nice to everyone and all fixing the jukebox by hitting on the side and Ralph Malph is all “sit on it Potsie!”
What I’m trying to say is I don’t know why the IF Comp falls in October, but it’s a great fit. I loves me some Interactive Fiction Comp and unlike the past couple of years I actually have the space in my life to devote to it. So I’m dustin’ off the ol’ blog and firing up the Z-Machine and pouring a steaming mug of hot cider. Let’s crush some dreams.
Guilded Youth by Jim Munroe
The first game of the Comp is under an extra bit of pressure because it sets the tone for the rest of the month. A few years ago I got Rover’s Day Out as my first game and that was special. Even when mired in painful schlock I could always recall the good times and know that the entire Comp isn’t first-timers and incompetents. This year I was assigned Guilded Youth, who’s blurb reads “A light looter for the BBSers of olde.” I never spent time on BBSes and I was a little afraid just how far down the nerd-hole this game was going to delve, but when I loaded the game and was greeted with
I couldn’t help but think “this is going to be a great year.”
Spoilers after the break.
In Guilded Youth you play a young teen playing a thief both online and off as he loots a condemned manor house for forgotten treasures. The presentation is excellent with little animations and music and two different art styles and is all around top-notch. And it serves the story rather than existing as simple window dressing as revelations about your fellow BBSers happens in the graphics and not the text. Unfortunately the story it tells is kinda limp. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is sharp and I was engaged the whole way through. You can (and likely will) do worse with a Comp game. But the ending with the gathering of the freak-club came out of nowhere and then it just ended. There was no revelation of character, or change, or growth, or consequence. In the end Guilded Youth isn’t so much a story as it is some things that happened. I was especially disappointed that there wasn’t more to Tony and Chris’ relationship. The game seems to be building to something and then Chris disappears and isn’t seen again. Considering how good the rest of the game is this is all rather disappointing.
And the rest of the game is very good. Aside from a harmless bug involving duplicating wine bottles when I undid the final command, the craft is impeccable. I appreciate that the game can be finished with only three commands and the linear nature wouldn’t be no thing if the story was just a little stronger. The writing and presentation and code are all exceptional, but the center of the experience is hollow. As always, I don’t assign scores until the end when I can compare the entries to each other. But for now Guilded Youth is the perfect example of an “8,” superb in every way except for one crippling feature that keeps it out of the top-tier.