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A Fine Day for Reaping Reviews 
Author: James Webb
Date: 2007
ADRIFT 4.0


Reviewed by Jimmy Maher

Mr. Webb's entry in the previous Competition, The Sisters, was one of my unsung favorites. This year's entry is very different from that game, showing impressive versality. Once again I am very impressed by the writing and design, but also let down a bit this time by a lack of polish.

The game has you playing a version of Death (a.k.a. the Grim Reaper) inspired by the portrayal of same in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. I haven't read that depiction -- I bounced hard off a couple of Discworld novels that did not feature Death years ago, and can't work up the interest to return to the series -- but I can say that in game form it is very, very funny. This author can write! It's a pleasure to play a genuinely funny game, and one that doesn't come along as often as I wish, as most jokey IF tends to feel laboured to me. Death in this game is a bit of a loser, really, with a pronounced lisp and a decided lack of self-confidence, but he's only the tip of the proverbial comedy iceberg. There are many, many funny situations and turns of phrase that made me smile often and laugh out loud at least occasionally, engendering enough good will to let me overlook -- or at least not punish too badly -- plenty of faults.

As Death, you have been instructed by the Powers That Be to reap five unfortunate souls who have proven reluctent to leave their bodies behind. (Death in this milieu is, it seems, is a kind of second-level troubleshooting service, dealing only with those souls who prove problematic and presumably cannot be reaped by lower minions.) These souls are located all over the world, but easily enough reached through the use of Horse, your (you guessed it) skeletal steed. The game design is really quite clever, much more intricate than the typical effort. The scenes of all of these passings -- plus your extra-dimensional home and a few other locations you may discover as you play along -- interrelate with one another. Items from one are often required to solve puzzles in another, etc. Further, the problems surrounding each soul can be solved in two or three different ways, all of them generally clever and satisfying. The end result is an impressive example of open, non-linear gameplay. It wouldn't work quite so well in a more serious game, of course, but here it's a real treat.

All is not sunshine and roses, though. There's the terrible parser, which I'm not even sure is worthy of the name. The author wrestles actively with its limitations, but that only leads to ugly solutions like this to the problem of using an elevator:

Type either 0,1,2 or 3 depending on whether you want to go to the lobby, first or second floor or simply exit the lift at the floor you are already on.

Apparantly something like "push first button" is too much for the ADRIFT parser. In other places Mr. Webb has come up with some quite clever, intricate puzzles, but the game solves them for you in response to the simplest beginning on your part, which really leaches a lot of the fun out of them.

And then there is a certain sloppiness here that cannot (gasp!) be blamed on ADRIFT. Lots of typos, run-ons, etc., that could have been corrected with a bit more proof-reading, and some significant bugs and glitches as well. I found I could solve the Paris problem at least twice due to the game's not recognizing that the soul had already been reaped. And then there is stuff like this everywhere:

Room 247 (Paris)

You are in a hotel room in a luxurious Parisian hotel. The decor is of the usual standard expected by those who have plenty of money but no class. Gold trim and regal, red wallpaper with extravagant, crystal light fittings and a white smoke alarm that looks out of place. The floor is polished oak, or some other kind of luxury wood. There is a four-poster double bed against the far wall. Everything is very wet from the sprinkler, and the chalk-line has been erased.

Exits: East

Agathe Laurent's corpse lies on the bed.

examine bed

A large, soft bed. It's probably very, very bad for your back. Agathe Laurent beckons you over, grinning.

The annoyances and problems in this one never overwhelmed my enjoyment, though, and for that reason I'm going to give it a pretty good score in spite of everything. It kept me entertained and interested throughout, which I suppose is the most important thing. Mr. Webb has a rare gift for both writing and design. I hope he will continue to create IF for us, preferably with a bit more attention to details in future efforts.

Score: 7 out of 10
 


Reviewed by Leigh Alexander

Definitely a good concept, and a tone that combines vivid descriptiveness with more than a little humor. You're Death, you talk with a lisp, and your job of collecting souls whose time has come is not going to be as easy as you'd think.

Story: There isn't really much of one -- and in text adventures, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The biggest challenge, I think, for people writing IF is to balance prose with gameplay. For my part, a story that's too large and heavy tends to weigh the experience down. I want to play a game, not a novella, so I think it's generally plenty adequate if you get a good picture of the world you're in and why you're there, and if your actions are rewarded with enough detail for you to keep your head straight on what you're doing and where you're going. As Death, you're assigned a list of souls in different areas of the world -- you can reach your assignments by instructing your fearsome, ghostly horse to travel to the places on the list. Once there, though, the individuals on their last day of life, or the circumstances around them, will make it as difficult as possible for you to reach them.

Puzzles: Not very difficult, but I like how they're done -- it's generally clear what one is intended to do, but sorting out how to make it happen is a little tougher. You won't be able to solve puzzles in the order you arrive at them, though, so there's a traveling-around-and-gathering-info stage, and then it's collecting items from various locations to make it all happen.

Writing: It's good. It's sharp, clever, and since you're Death, a little bit of black humor (and even the classic chess game). I don't know why they gave the grim reaper a lisp -- maybe I'm missing a classic joke here, but it seems a bit like too overt a ploy for laughs, or oddball for it's own sake. It's some snappy prose, in general, though, that makes the game enjoyable. Most text adventures rely on a very specific, cheese-ified brand of nerd humor and Xyzzy in-jokes, so this one's a nice change.

Parser: It's average. There are a few confounding moments, as there always are when a game revolves primarily around human interaction. Texties haven't quite gotten it down. Then, there are some times I felt I really should have been able to wear something, and couldn't -- I knew I was on the right track because the game told me so, and suggested I change clothes elsewhere, but in several areas I found suitable, the game gave me the generic "you can't" response without explanation. If I have to consult a walkthrough and then find that I was trying to do the right thing in the wrong words, that's kinda an issue for me. If you can do a task under some conditions and not others, you should be told, when you can't, why you can't -- or, failing that, something other than the generic response you'd get if you did something the parser didn't understand.

Overall Difficulty: A bit less than average, though the challenging puzzles are pretty notable. Still, very finish-able. I find when I don't finish a text adventure it's because I become frustrated not by the difficulty level, but by the combination of a lack of engagement with a high difficulty level. I enjoy when the things I need to do are not at all eminently clear, and I need to search all over the place (one of my favorites I've ever played was an obscenely ridiculous send-up of the "escape the room" genre which involved me killing pigeons, overdosing on aspirin and requiring a lock combination tattooed on my own back). Searching through everything and solving the mystery of the premise is what drives me. So everything being up-front in AFDFR made it seem a little like light gameplay to me. But a good deal of the games I've checked out so far have actually been unfinishable for various reasons, so the fact that it maintains its tight presentation from beginning-to-end is a high mark in its corner.

Conclusion: B+ Play it, most def. It wins major points for having (I think) three different ways to handle each issue -- there's a direct way, a more complex way, and then a much more obscure method. It depends on the order in which you handle the souls, but the presence of a time machine for one of the individuals can help make things interesting, if you're a difficulty nut. Overall, this one's a lightweight, appropriate for casual fans of text adventures -- but there's still plenty to appreciate for more experienced players. Snag it here.
 


Reviewed by Sam Kabo Ashwell

Title Suggests: You are Death. You must kill people.

Moral Propriety: A game about conducting souls to the afterlife that makes no mention of God. Suggests that immortality can be gained through occult practises or new-age extra-terrestrial 'science'.

This game pretty much says up front that it's a Pratchett homage. This is a problem, because it invites comparisons, and they're unlikely to be good ones. It means that I'll be expecting a Pratchett story and be constantly disappointed when the prose, humour and characterisation don't come up to scratch. In conclusion, don't release fanfiction unless you're as good as your model. Here, the prose is trying to be funny, but most of it falls flat, and this grates constantly.
Anyway. You are Death. You have a magic skeletal horse who can go anywhere, but still have to deal with locked-door puzzles. Initially there's a list of five areas to visit, but there are a lot more that can be discovered - some through rather obscure and awkward routes. There are multiple solutions, and there's a substantial epilogue that varies depending on which solution you used.

I ended up using the walkthrough quite a lot. The thing is, there are a goodly number of rooms which are either red herrings, or feel like it; for instance, a crucial item is hidden on a counter in a shop, but it's a place you're unlikely to reach until you've already been through a great many futile locations full of this-is-a-kitchen-so-I-need-a-sink-item scenery. Further, a good number of the secondary locations you can find are revealed only by finding specific entries in random-selection books. A lot of the puzzle solutions are very convoluted and wacky; each specific step is clued and makes sense, but you often have no idea what you're working towards until you get there. Other solutions are logical and abrupt.

There's a time limit. It's not a totally unreasonable time limit, but I suspect that it's too short for most people to solve it on the first play without using the walkthrough, certainly if they pursue the more convoluted puzzle paths.

There are big textdumps, which occasionally switch to third-person, albeit in a consistent manner. This isn't an immense problem; the prose style is easily-consumable, if not actually enjoyable. The interface is awkward in places, in the way that tends to happen in ADRIFT whenever an author wants to do something marginally unorthodox; the verb USE crops up rather more than I'd like, in places where there are more logical synonyms, and numbers get unexpectedly used as verbs. I found a handful of minor doesn't-make-sense-in-context bugs.

Rating: 4
 


Reviewed by J. D. Clemens

Nice puzzles, multiple solutions. Few problems with synonyms, etc. (ADRIFT parser?). Diary, encyclopedia might be implemented better (non-random) to see info in them. Should cross names off list when reaped. Never found the pizza guy, which seemed crucial to a couple of puzzle solutions. What's up with the lisp? A more gradual transition to ending would be helpful (jumped there immediately after reaping last soul).
 


Reviewed by Andreas Davour

OK. Humour. Personally I have never really liked humour adventures, not even LGoP which everyone seemed to be so enthusiastic about all those years ago. In this game I found it a bit contrived and sometimes just annoying. The thing that really did this game in, though, was the enormous amount of text that appeared when travelling to new spots and the parser which had limitations. One thing was fun though, when I by mistake let my fingers type what they most often type (ls) I got the response "This isn't Unix you know!" and that was fun. This game is a solid effort and should get an ok grade even though it wasn't my cuppa. This game gets a 5.
 


Reviewed by Jason Dyer

I started playing A Fine Day For Reaping using Agility, but switched to the ADRIFT Runner when I was worried about a compatability problem.


“Ith your name Ernetht Buthet?” you intone.

Thomas Brewer looks at you blankly. It’s hard enough for a man to be on the verge of humanity’s greatest scientific breakthrough and then to suddenly be confronted with the possibility that he might be dead, let alone to find that the Gatekeeper of the Afterlife has a speech impediment.

The writing in this game is brilliant enough I could recommend it to everyone. This is true even though there’s a giant list of implementation headaches. Here is a sampling:

The hints specify noticing something in Death’s diaries. The diaries are in the “read a random entry” format that requires reading repeatedly to check every entry. I checked (I am not exaggerating) 100 times and couldn’t find the entry that I needed. I had a guess that it might be a problem with Agility, so I switched to ADRIFT Runner and came up with the right diary entry very quickly. I then switched back to Agility and it took me only 25 times before I found it. Moral: if something depends on the random number generator triggering, at least one player is going to never trigger it.

Related to that, there’s a old-Sierra-game setup where you have to enter a location repeatedly to (randomly) trigger a certain encounter. This is bad form for the reason I mention above. What makes it worse is in the same location you can randomly trigger a second encounter — what player would even think the encounter is there?

Exits: North, South, East and West. >GO WEST You can’t go in that direction, but you can go north, east and south. (It turns out there is a locked door, but the message is misleading enough to make me wonder if the direction was bugged and unenterable.)
Which uniform do you mean, the uniform or the military uniform? (I had to drop the military uniform in a different room to examine the uniform.)

There’s an inventory limit. (It’s not even a realistic inventory limit — you can carry a whole bundle of items before the game arbitrarily decides you can’t fit one more.)
There’s an item I could only get to work with the verb USE. If the player has to be as vague as USE, something has failed in the verb implementation.

There’s an item you supposedly can’t pick up until you really need it for a particular puzzle. (This is bad enough in itself.) However, in my case even though I had the proper setup and all the correct items I *still* couldn’t pick the item up. Later, I worked it out: you don’t ever pick up the item, you just do the ATTACH verb to solve the puzzle. The problem is, this verb in other locations gives you the message “That didn’t make any sense to me.” In other words, the game pretends the verb doesn’t exist at all.
Still, I’m willing to forgive all that, because:

An alternate solution to one of the puzzles is so astonishing I’m still giggling about it. (In the walkthrough, it’s the second solution to the Kenya puzzle.)

There’s the occasional moment that just glistens. The humor crosses with the seriousness of death and something new is formed.

The ending is one of the best I’ve seen in any IF game


Reviewed by Jacqueline A. Lott

Well, in general, I really enjoyed this. The writing is good, even if it's fairly unoriginal; it does a good job of imitating Pratchett's style, or at least it does based on the Pratchett I've read, even if it doesn't remain true to Death.

I hit a few poorly-implemented spots that nearly made me tear my hair out, however, and these were nearly show-stopping for me. First of all, I went down the Reaping List in order, going first to 'Nepal,' which worked. Once I ran out of ideas in Nepal, I figured I'd try the next place on the list, and tried to go to 'England,' which didn't work, leading me to falsely believe that I had to solve each location sequentially and independently. I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels in 'Nepal' before giving up and trying to go to 'Manchester,' which worked. Seeing as how Manchester was the only location set in England, 'England' should have worked to begin with... I lost a bunch of time and happiness over that. Another poorly implemented spot was the Parisian elevator, where you >push button to get in the elevator, but then pushing the buttons inside the elevator does nothing. It took me asking Sam for help to learn that once inside the elevator you just type >1 instead of >push one or >push first button or something similar.

Despite these setbacks, I generally enjoyed myself. I was unable to finish in under two hours, but then, I rarely finish comp games that I play through to completion within the allotted time. I'll go back to finish this one later, though, as it's worth playing.


Reviewed by Michael Martin

WELL, I SUPPOSE IT IS TRADITIONAL TO WRITE YOUR COMMANDS IN ALL CAPS IN IF.

The gimmick in this one is that you are the Grim Reaper, and you need to convince a number of recalcitrant souls to move on to their eternal reward. The writing is pretty uniformly good, and the interaction is clean, except for a few tragic battles between the author's intent and the standard rules in ADRIFT (in particular, > ENTER TIME MACHINE enters the time machine, while > X TIME MACHINE. ENTER IT gives you a description of the time machine, and then the time of day) and the puzzles are entertainingly presented and allow lots and lots of multiple solutions.

The only real complaint I have with this one is that a lot of the secondary locations are insufficiently well-clued as locations you would want to go to. I didn't realize San Francisco was a viable location at all until I got stuck and had to hit the walkthrough (since I didn't visit the Kitchen at all to see where the city is mentioned). The rule appears to be that any location that's mentioned in a description, or a book, or on a posterboard is important and one can travel there; that idea never really entered my mind, especially given the time limit.

Nevertheless, this is a good one.

Score: 8

 


Reviewed by Rob Menke

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 8
Story: 9

Well, somebody has to play death, and since Dawn French isn’t available…

Hone scythe.

I don’t understand what you want me to do with the Grim Reaper’s Scythe.

Gah, too too much text.

I don’t even know where to start in describing how wrong this is:

Press first floor

You press, but nothing happens.

Examine buttons

You can use the buttons by typing 0, 1, 2 or 3. 0 to go to the hotel lobby, 1 or 2 to go to the appropriate floor and 3 to leave the lift at the current floor.

I can’t leave the lift! Interpreter bug?

Gah, I hate hate hate Adrift! Stupid parser…

Examine stool

You look suspiciously at the uneven, wooden stool that Jiniyu intends you to sit on. It looks like a sure way to get cramp in your back muscles.

Sit on stool

That’s not something you can sit on.

Another Derringeresque paradox:

Jimiyu Wangai sits on a rickety wicker chair, facing a squat, uncomfortable-looking stool. Between the two seats is a frail table, on which sits a chess board.

Jimiyu Wangai’s empty body is lying on the ground.

Bah, there are too many technical problems for me to continue, which is a shame because the premise and the writing were excellent. It’s a pity the author didn’t include a true walkthrough as the elevator turned out to be a guess-the-verb puzzle that I couldn’t solve.

 


Reviewed by Dan Shiovitz

This is a perfectly good puzzle game about being Death and wandering around reaping souls. It's nice that the puzzles have multiple solutions but sometimes it felt like there wasn't enough guidance for any of them — eg, it's easy to miss the way to get access to the time machine and that cuts out a lot of solutions. Also, a number of situations have random messages, one or two of which are important. This is lousy design — you should at least ensure the important messages show up first or second, and then you can return to the random pool, or else you risk people never sticking around long enough to see them. Speaking of lousy design, the game also has a time limit. It's a long one, but I don't see what it adds, except the chance that someone will get all the way to the end and then lose, and have to go back to an earlier saved game. And yeah, this is in ADRIFT but that didn't cause me any grief, except that there are too many custom commands (using the elevator and entering years in the time machine were both places when I had to drop out of normal IF syntax to use the author's custom syntax, and it was irritating every single time).


Reviewed by Benjamin Sokal

Here is another superb entry. In this comedy adventure, you play the grim reaper. You are responsible for taking souls of those who refuse to leave, or souls who you need to reap due to administrative errors. You reach the souls by taking your trusty horse, Horse. Then you are supposed to reap them with your scythe.

Easy? Not at all! But loads of fun. This game had me in stitches, literally every 30 seconds. It’s quite funny and well written. The puzzles are excellent. There are multiple ways to reap each soul, and that is half the fun. I haven’t finished the game yet, but from what I read, the ending to the game changes on how you solve the puzzles and manage to reap your victims. The only problems I had involved the parser – for example, the “read” command is not understood and there were a few commands I tried that should have been recognized. Other than that, the game is well implemented.

AFDFR reminds me of a mix between the LucasArts classic “Day of the Tentacle” and that Showtime show “Dead Like Me.” I would be surprised if the author were not inspired by either of these. But despite any similarities, this game doesn’t feel like a rip-off. They definitely did their own thing.

Ben's rating: 4

Addendum: I found a few more parser errors and minor inconveniences, but due to the amount of fun I had playing this, I'll keep my rating the same.

 


Reviewed by Jake Wildstrom

Mercifully free of mechanical errors, although the notes on the corkboard can't be READ, but must be EXAMINED, and the command for reaching into the lucky dip (is this a regionalism, like "bran tub"?) is so perverse as to qualify as sheer guess-the-verb. On the other hand, there were a couple laugh-out-loud moments, like the argument about killing Hitler's parents. And the elevator in Paris, which, once again, annoys the crap out of me with ADRIFT's pretense of comprehension:

> PUSH FIRST
You push, but nothing happens.

> PUSH FIRST FLOOR
You push, but nothing happens.

> PUSH RGJIEOP
You push, but nothing happens.

Also, I can't open the door to room 147, and I'm not told why, which stops any strategy I might have dead, what with the likelihood that room 147 is unopenable (n.b. IF players distinguish between "openable but locked" and "not implemented as openable", and messages ought to reflect this distinction). The Paris chapter continues to irk by not allowing me to put on the pizza uniform except in the hotel, for incomprehensible and unexplained reasons (a similar peculiarity plagues the military uniform). There are occasional unimplemented directions and, as I get further into the game, I seem to be encountering more and more bugs. Despite the cleverness of the writing, I find myself fighting the game instead of playing it, and that's detracting a lot from the fun.
Rating: 5
 


Reviewed by Mike Snyder

Merk’s Score: 7-

Game’s Blurb:
It's not all fun being the Grim Reaper. It's your job to usher five awkward souls into the netherworld or the universe stops existing. No pressure. Take control of The Man in Black and find out if even Death can get a credit card...

A Fine Day for Reaping has the witty appeal that was lacking in the entry I played just prior to this. For a game about Death, it feels much warmer and more alive -- and that’s a good thing. The Grim Reaper is well done (and what is it that’s so comical about a well-written lisp? I imagined him as sounding like a cross between a cheesy Mike Tyson impersonation and Sylvester the cartoon cat). At a glance in the Reaper Man novel, I think revgiblet is right. His Death is different than Terry Pratchett’s, seeming a bit like William Sadler in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Anyway, I was pleased at how nicely the author crafted a PC with real character.

This is a puzzle-fest of the sort I like best. Each objective has two or three alternate solutions (and it’s evident that there are alternate solutions just in the way things are constructed, which is nice). Some solutions cross paths, making it likely that a player will find clues to solving an objective in the course of solving a different one entirely. I like this quite a bit, although the easiest of the solutions are probably the ones most players will find. This can leave the others to feel a bit like red herrings, unless you’ve connected the proverbial dots to realize certain things are no longer relevant. I managed to complete the game without peeking at the walkthrough, although not within the two-hour IFComp time limit.

And so, it was necessary that I decide on a score from a partial playthrough. My official vote is “7”, which thankfully lines up with my review score. I’m finding that I really dislike the two-hour rule, though. There is such a big risk in getting it wrong, but it would be unfair to the review to stop entirely just to avoid deciding on a vote, or to rush through and not get a feel for how the game should play out. I’m a little bothered by reviews based on a few minutes of play that have been extrapolated to the game in its entirety. Those reviewers may just be more astute than I, but I find it difficult to write authoritatively about a game when I haven’t explored more of it. Getting to the end can make a difference.

It makes a difference in A Fine Day for Reaping. Even though the writing suffers from minor problems (the usual suspects like misplaced or missing commas and typos in general, but also an intentional but slightly jarring switch in tense during cut-scenes) it’s by and large quite nice in this game. The author has a style (maybe a bit metaphor-heavy) -- whether original or borrowed, I can’t say -- that really makes for fun reading. That’s probably why I was more bothered that I had trouble pausing multi-page text dumps (a setting in Adrift that, for whatever reason, didn’t want to stay) than I was that the game has so many lengthy non-interactive bits. None of it was dry. None of it felt unnecessary.

That’s also why I was so pleased with how revgiblet handled the ending. It’s a lot to read, but it makes the payoff for almost three hours of play much better than the “congrats - you won” kind of ending I had expected. Different solutions lead to different wrap-ups at the end (according to the walkthrough -- although I have not played through again to see those endings, they’re bound to be equally worthwhile).

As much as I enjoyed what revgiblet has done here, a number of problems hold it back from being the truly great game it might have been. Almost all of them are implementation problems. The design itself is fine, with predominantly logical puzzles (or at least illogical ones that make sense in context) and pretty good pacing where it’s hard to get stuck for long.

The exception, as far as the design is concerned, is the twelve-hour in-game time limit. I never felt that it really added anything to the game. I’m not sure how many turns this works out to be, but it’s plenty. For a game on a time limit, it’s probably too long. To be fair, players will realize this from the beginning, and probably plan their saves (and multiple saves) accordingly. The problem for me was that the game didn’t need a sense of urgency. The time limit was made long enough so that exploration and sight-seeing doesn’t have to be cut down too much, but if you’re not forcing a sense of urgency, then why have a time limit at all? In my play-through, I ran out of turns close to the end of my last objective. It’s a nice little non-winning ending, but it just didn’t add anything to the experience.

Other problems are strictly bugs in the implementation. For example:

Jimiyu Wangai's empty body is lying on the ground.
>x table
You look at the table.
"Don't worry," says Jimiyu, "It's perfectly sturdy."

Now, Death can talk to the dead, but in this case, poor Jimiyu had been reaped and departed. The “x table” reply had to have been hard-coded on the assumption that players would only be looking at the table while Jimiyu was still alive. I found this kind of thing in some other places as well, where static descriptions (for instance, not being able to approach one NPC’s bed due to a protective spell, even though the spell was already gone) didn’t take into consideration the changes in the state of the story.

“In” and “out,” as standard commands in IF, didn’t work in places where they might have been appropriate. Some of the more specific actions were a little guess-the-verb-y (I had trouble figuring out how to take something from the “lucky dip” without finally resorting to “use dip,” for instance). There is no special way of entering a year into the machine (you just type the number as though it was a stand-alone verb, but it only responds with something other than an unrecognized command message if you enter a year that the game knows), which does make it a little confusing. These kinds of small frustrations happen frequently in A Fine Day for Reaping, but it probably just needs more testing and polishing.

Then, there is a strange screen-clearing problem at work. I’m not entirely convinced Adrift is to fault for this, since it appears that room descriptions that shouldn’t even be printed yet are shown just prior to the clearing of the display (and there is no forced pause, even with Adrift pausing turned on). This may be a bug isolated to this game. It seems I’ve been able to pause before forced screen-clears in Adrift games before.

The “help” built into A Fine Day for Reaping works more like 2005’s Beyond than most other IF games. You’re whisked away to a whole new location, which is a good thing for any player to try as part of the overall experience. Once there, you don’t actually have to get hints (I found it a little under-developed, anyway, where some of what I wanted help with didn’t quite lead to answers).

The “7” I scored it at two hours fits with the game as a whole, thankfully. It does have problems, but it’s an imaginative and fun story, and a worthwhile, recommendable game. I’ve tacked on a “minus” because of the frustrations with pausing and screen-clearing, but the score itself is unchanged.
 


Reviewed by Emily Short

A Fine Day for Reaping is a comic puzzle game in which you, as Death, have to go around the world seeing to the dispatch of particularly difficult souls. As Grim Reapers go, though, you’re not endowed with that many special powers, so you’ll have to rely on your wits and an odd combination of tricks and tools to get the job done.

In conception, this is a pretty good game. It owes a large debt to Terry Pratchett, but since I happen to enjoy Pratchett in the right mood (especially the Death books), I didn’t mind that so much. The writing is decent to better-than-decent. The puzzles range from the reasonable to infuriatingly obscure, but since most of them have multiple solutions, it’s usually possible to find *something* that works. (And then check out the walkthrough for alternate solutions and endings.) The execution? Also mostly decent.

The big drawback is the parser. A Fine Day for Reaping has an incredibly finicky, annoying parser, one that will pretend not to know verbs that you’ll need to use later, claim that important objects are useless, reject reasonable synonyms, ask disambiguation questions that don’t actually work to disambiguate, and generally do its level best to confuse you and throw you off-track. So I hesitate to recommend this, especially to anyone who isn’t a die-hard IF fan with a lot of parser-wrangling experience, because of all the messed-up exchanges…

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

Like this, for instance:

> x button

The buttons next to the digital readout are all blue except for the red one. Above the red one are two lights, one lit and one not. Next to the lights are, scrawled in biro on the machine itself, are the initials ‘BC’ and ‘AD’. The light that is currently lit is the one next to ‘AD’.

> press red
You press, but nothing happens.

> press bc
You press, but nothing happens.

> bc

That didn’t make any sense to me.

> push bc button
You push, but nothing happens.

> press bc button
You press, but nothing happens.

> press red button

[Stuff happens.]

or this:

> x uniform

The uniform belonging to a female Captain in the United States Armed Forces. A feeling of dread descends over you as you realise that, at some point today, you’re probably going to have to wear it.

> wear it
(the military uniform)
You can’t wear the military uniform.

or

> get in machine
Take what?

> enter machine
You climb back into the time machine…

or the completely arbitrary way that some objects you can read with EXAMINE but others you have to read with READ. (And in the wrong context, the game pretends not to know the word READ.) This kind of thing is so, SO annoying, and so unnecessary.

There was also at least one puzzle that I thought of the right solution to (at least according to the walkthrough) but the game refused to allow me to pick up the item I needed to implement it (the masking tape). I never figured out why, or what trigger controlled my access.

It’s too bad about all that, because in other respects I did like this game quite a lot, but the interaction is so clumsy, so backward, so annoying that I have mixed feelings about recommending it to anyone. This really needs a serious going-over by a team of extra beta-testers.
 


Reviewed by Emily Short (2)

A Fine Day for Reaping presents the player as a semi-competent Death. The game's puzzles turn on the idea that Death doesn't really have particularly supernatural abilities: your challenge is to make sure that the people who are supposed to die do so on time. This is a somewhat embarrassing predicament for Death to be in, and the game makes the most of it; the required actions are occasionally a bit goofy and undignified. Most of the puzzles have multiple solutions, however, which keeps the game reasonably playable.

What stands out about the piece is the humor and the flashes of excellence in the writing. Sometimes reminiscent of Pratchett, the text works in a number of fine jokes, especially on the topic of what it's like to be a very tall thin skeletal man.

Parsing issues were the most common problem when I played (and these may have been addressed in post-competition releases). Nonetheless, the game as a whole is entertaining light comedy of a flavor that's not terribly common in IF. Worth a try.


Reviewed by Mark J. Tilford

On the plus side, it was enjoyably written and was mostly bug-free (except for poorly timed clearing), and having multiple solutions to the puzzles was good. Unfortunately, most of those alternate solutions required fixing the shovel or using the time machine, and many weren't written from the perspective that a player could work from the problem to solution.

Score: 6

 


Reviewed by Carl Muckenhoupt

A game written in ADRIFT by someone using the pseudonym “revgiblet”. (The game data contains what might be revgiblet’s real name, but I won’t state it here.) The premise: you’re Death. Spoilers follow the break.

The grim reaper in this story seems more than a little influenced by Terry Pratchett, with his pointless little house in the void and his flying horse and all, but he’s not the same. For one thing, Pratchett’s Death can walk through walls, whereas Death in this game has difficulty getting through security doors. (Some assassin against whom no lock will hold.) Also, this Death speaks with a lisp, which the author tries to play for laughs, even though it basically has negative humor value. Still, they share a basic operating procedure: they don’t need to be personally present for every single death that occurs, as long they cover the ones that need personal attention. In this game, that means cases where the soul has failed to move on for one reason or another. And that provides the game’s goals. There are five souls you have to reap in different parts of the world, from Nevada to Nepal, and the process leads to visits to several other locales as well.

The fact that it’s written in ADRIFT made me uneasy at first. It’s one of those little warning signs. ADRIFT is a system for writing text adventures, and it’s been positioned from the very beginning as easier to use than the other IF languages such as TADS and Inform. Consequently, it’s the system of choice for incompetent authors. But just because a system has produced a lot of bad stuff doesn’t mean it’s incapable of producing good stuff, and this game is actually pretty well-designed. It gives the player a lot of freedom, for one thing — when I started the game, I didn’t even go straight into the assigned tasks right away, but just hung out in San Francisco for a while, picking up hints and useful objects for later. It seems like there are some alternate solutions in there, too. And the puzzle content is pretty nice — more often than not, finding solutions seems to involve an “Aha!” moment where I suddenly realize the significance of something I had discovered earlier. My only real gripe with the design is that there seems to be a limit on the number of turns you can take. I hate that sort of constraint, and there’s no real artistic justification for it here.

For all that it’s about death, it’s a light and cartoonish piece of work. At the two-hour mark, when I had to submit a rating, I had not yet finished it, but I wanted to keep going, and that speaks well of it.

Rating: 6
 


Reviewed by Wesley Osam

A Fine Day for Reaping does not work. The premise is that you’re Death–the author admits to a Pratchett influence, here–and you need to round up the souls stuck in the “denial” stage. To which end your employers–whoever they are–mail you a list. Therein lies the problem.

I pick up Death’s mail. The list is in there somewhere. “You can’t read the mail!” says A Fine Day for Reaping. Okay. In my experience mail usually has words on it, which are usually readable, but maybe afterlife mail is different. I take a closer look. “You see nothing special about the mail.” Possibly I need to take it out of the envelope first? No, I can’t open the mail either. I’m running out of ideas here. There’s a bin in the foyer, and I’m tempted to chuck the mail in, but it turns out the bin can’t contain things.

The problem, apparently, is that when I entered the foyer I typed “GET ALL” instead of “GET MAIL.” This is the “guess the verb” problem: you know what to do, but the author’s given you only one way to do it, and you can’t figure out what it is. That the author didn’t anticipate “GET ALL” suggests that A Fine Day for Reaping wasn’t hugely tested. I didn’t continue with this one.
 


Reviewed by Jimmy Maher (SPAG 52)

Sometimes you play a game that you ought to treat harshly in light of its flaws, but that has such an energetic friendliness about it that you just can't bear to give it the stern talking-to it deserves. Many of Robb Sherwin's games fall into that category for me, and now James Webb's A Fine Day for Reaping does as well.

The game has you playing a version of Death (a.k.a. the Grim Reaper) inspired by the portrayal of same in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. I haven't read that depiction -- I bounced hard off a couple of Discworld novels that did not feature Death years ago, and can't work up the interest to return to the series -- but I can say that in game form he (or He) is very, very funny. It's a pleasure to play a genuinely funny game, and one that doesn't come along as often as I wish, as most jokey IF tends to feel labored to me. Death in this game is a bit of a loser, really, with a pronounced lisp and a decided lack of self-confidence, but he's only the tip of the proverbial comedy iceberg. There are many, many funny situations and turns of phrase that made me smile often and laugh out loud at least occasionally, engendering enough good will to let me overlook -- or at least not punish too badly -- plenty of faults.

As Death, you have been instructed by the Powers That Be to reap five unfortunate souls who have proven reluctent to leave their bodies behind. (Death in this milieu is, it seems, is a kind of second-level troubleshooting service, dealing only with those souls who prove problematic and presumably cannot be reaped by lower minions.) These souls are located all over the world, but easily enough reached through the use of the unimaginatively named Horse, your skeletal steed. The game design is really quite clever, much more intricate than the typical effort. The scenes of all of these passings -- plus your extra-dimensional home and a few other locations you may discover as you play along -- interrelate with one another. Items from one are often required to solve puzzles in another, etc. Further, the problems surrounding each soul can be solved in two or three different ways, all of them generally clever and satisfying. The end result is an impressive example of open, non-linear gameplay. It wouldn't work quite so well in a more serious, intricately plotted game, but here it's a real treat.

All is not sunshine and roses, though. There's the terrible parser, which I'm not even sure is worthy of the name. The author wrestles actively with its limitations, but that only leads to ugly solutions like this to the problem of using an elevator:

Type either 0,1,2 or 3 depending on whether you want to go to the lobby, first or second floor or simply exit the lift at the floor you are already on.

Apparently something like "push first button" is too much for the ADRIFT parser.  In other places Mr. Webb has come up with some quite clever, intricate puzzles, but the game solves them for you in response to the simplest beginning on your part, which really leaches a lot of the fun out of them.

And then there is a certain sloppiness here that cannot be blamed on ADRIFT, including lots of typos, run-ons, etc., that could have been corrected with a bit more proof-reading, and some significant bugs and glitches as well. I found I could solve the Paris problem at least twice due to the game's not recognizing that the soul there had already been reaped. And stuff like this is everywhere:

Room 247 (Paris)

You are in a hotel room in a luxurious Parisian hotel. The decor is of the usual standard expected by those who have plenty of money but no class. Gold trim and regal, red wallpaper with extravagant, crystal light fittings and a white smoke alarm that looks out of place. The floor is polished oak, or some other kind of luxury wood. There is a four-poster double bed against the far wall. Everything is very wet from the sprinkler, and the chalk-line has been erased.

Exits: East

Agathe Laurent's corpse lies on the bed.

examine bed

A large, soft bed. It's probably very, very bad for your back. Agathe Laurent beckons you over, grinning.

The annoyances and problems in this one never overwhelmed my enjoyment, though. It kept me entertained and interested throughout, and stands for me as one of the real gems of 2007.

 


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