The Test is Now READY by Jim Warrenfeltz is a series of moral what-ifs. My high school science teacher used to love these things. “What if a terrorist was going to blow up the world unless you shot your baby in the face?” Coming from him (and being in high school) they seemed like important examinations of my morality. Plus they were abstract enough to quash creative answers. “I’d call the cops!” “Can’t do that shoot your baby or blow up the world.” The situations in TTiNR instead try to be plausible scenarios and in that they lose their power.
The best IF anticipates creative play and alternate solutions, so why can’t I brave the treacherous slope to save my son, or try to influence the prisoner by means other than violence, or share the antidote Frank? When the tests are painted as scenarios rather than questions they invite third options, and the lack of them in an IF environment feels unfair and manipulative. At the same time they aren’t complex or in-depth enough to be compelling emotionally. I don’t know who Frank is and have no reason to value his well being over the player characters. At the same time the PC is blank and just as expendable. So who cares if either of them lives or dies? It’s just a means to get to the next scene. I ended up wait until he drank the antidote then shooting him just to spite the game, because there was no reason to care.
What’s more, I felt like the game missed an opportunity to use the medium to its advantage. Hints of the possibility are present in the final scenario where pressing the button awards real but meaningless points. It didn’t work for me because while the other scenes were clear about establishing the choice, I wasn’t aware that I could eat the food instead of pressing the button. Apparently, you have to wait a couple of turns before the game tells you that you are hungry, but all I did was examine until nothing was left and then pressed the big obvious button, not knowing what the another action was. But at least this scene has the right idea. The blood transfer could work the same way if waiting took a long time with no feedback. If it printed the same “moments pass” message with no indication of change and took a lot of turns before the violinist was cured (like hundreds and hundreds of turns) it would create real boredom and create a real choice between pressing Z for a long time or moving on with the game. If TTiNR had couched its choices in the conventions of IF it could have really challenged the player. As it is, it undermines itself every step of the way.