IF Comp 2015: Untold Riches (Jason Ermer)

General: Untold Riches is a straightforward, by-the-numbers treasure hunt that knows what it is and knows what it isn’t.  You turn up stranded on a deserted island, missing the adventuring professor whose sidekick you are and whose hijinks have gotten you into this pickle in the first place, with nothing but your wits and a few glaringly placed crucial items that point towards hidden treasure on your new island abode.  Puzzle-solving awaits.  I’m definitely not the target audience for it–I didn’t know it was written for middle-schoolers when I started playing, but I’m certainly not surprised–but I enjoyed it well enough all the same.

Story: The story, such as it exists, has a pretty tropey quasi-Magician’s Nephew feel to it: playing a sidekick to an absent mentor in a completely deserted environment, trying to piece together his work.  I mean, it’s also literally a treasure hunt on a deserted island, so I’m sort of picking at something entirely comprised of tropes here looking for tropes.  And it shows every sign of being self-aware–every flashback having to do with your absent professor is a tongue-in-cheek, bog-standard Indiana Jones reference.  I keep making references to the perfunctory nature of the story, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing: in fact, I think more of a plot would have cluttered and confused the game.  This is a game that’s very well aware that it is a game, after all, not primarily a narrative, and it quickly establishes a predicament and a driving goal for the player.  Being led off to discover more about the professor and the backstory would have complicated this throughline.

Design: Everything about Untold Riches’ design is pinned to default IF scaffolding–the mechanics, the standard verbs used, the nature of the puzzle construction.  It’s intuitive and, again, straightforward.  There was a general lack of red herrings and I don’t think it was possible to trigger a no-win condition, which makes as much sense as the rest; the result was a sort of “collect items, wander around looking for where to use each one, repeat” puzzle structure which was very beginner-friendly.  I was surprised at the lack of an in-depth help menu on the basics of playing IF;  it’s the main gap in the accessibility of the otherwise extremely accessible game, and given that accessibility is its main goal as far as I can tell, I wonder if the inclusion of one wouldn’t be in order.

As another teacher of middle-schoolers, I find the teaching element of the game kind of interesting: what’s it intended to teach?  How well did the students respond to it?  Did they find it fun?  Did they successfully solve the puzzles by themselves, or navigate the hint system?  I don’t know and can’t infer the answers to these questions, except to speculate that the game might have been intended to teach problem-solving and also basic IF design–if there’s an IF design component to the lesson, I’d certainly be interested to see what sorts of projects Untold Riches inspired.

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About Gabriel Murray

I am agog, I am aghast!
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