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How Suzy Got Her Powers Reviews
Author: David Whyld
Date: 2011
ADRIFT 4.0


Reviewed by Matt Wigdahl

The prolific David Whyld returns with a short vignette — an introduction to a larger superhero story. While I object to game fragments in the Comp on principle (I’m looking at you, Awake the Mighty Dread), this one is terminated in such a way that there seemed to be sufficient closure. He also lets you know it is a fragment right up front, so it didn’t feel quite so much like a bait and switch.

I’ve never played a Whyld game before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. What immediately struck me was the sheer enthusiasm for storytelling that came through. There were some proofreading issues, sure, and the writing was at times a bit erratic and over-chatty, but I thought he did a very good job of establishing Suzy’s voice and telling the short tale he told with infectious energy. I was left wanting more, which I presume was the point.

I ended up finishing the game with 11 out of 22 points, which made me scratch my head — how could I miss so much and still win? But then Whyld reassures me: Hey, that’s OK, you’re still a superhero. Now go out and save the world! For a very short, pretty easy game with no particular technical or storytelling innovation to speak of, I’d normally cap this out at a 6, in fairness to more substantial or innovative titles. But I’m giving Whyld a bonus point for apparently boundless energy and enthusiasm, so let’s call it a 7.


Reviewed by Sam Kabo Ashwell

This is pitched as an origin piece for a projected and much larger work of superhero fiction, Scarlet. As a superhero origin story, it doesn't really work, mostly because it's too short. It seems to me that a more natural venue for this would have been Introcomp, but there's too little information delivered even to be an effective teaser: we don't see Suzy's new powers, get much background about the sort of world she lives in or the specific events leading up to the game's story. We're given no idea about the kinds of things that will be at stake in Scarlet or the kind of superhero Suzy will be. And as an origin story, it's painfully generic: protagonist engages in mundane heroism, encounters dying superhero, dying superhero hands on powers, the end.

In terms of implementation, the game works fine, although the flow of gameplay's not great; there's no sense of the urgency that a burning building should really engender. But... it's as if the question "How do I design this game to best serve the aims I want it to accomplish?" wasn't answered, wasn't asked, never even struck the author as relevant.

These rather substantial problems might have been offset by various things. But prose doesn't carry it: it's chatty and undisciplined without being lively. Setting doesn't carry it: the locations are basic, and there's no broader worldbuilding. Character doesn't carry it: there isn't very much to Suzy, and what there is is mostly defined by male gaze. When first encountered she's a petite, naive blue-eyed blonde in heels, a short skirt and her early twenties. Beyond her physical attributes we don't learn very much about her. She's presented as brave but not particularly bright. She's a waitress. Her father seems to take satisfaction in diminishing her, and the game seems mixed about whether it wants to do so as well. She doesn't want to grow her hair long (and look like a bimbo) or cut it short (and look like an awful businesswoman), so her internalised misogyny seems weirdly stuck somewhere around the 1980s. There's nothing much that suggests that this is likely to be unpacked later.

Also, the narration misuses 'begs the question'. I am a grouchy old pedant.

There are some unusual uses of formatting; >INVENTORY is displayed as a bulleted list and includes descriptions of the objects in a smaller case. (This is a pretty good idea, I think, although it would become hopelessly cumbersome with a less brief inventory.)

A final problem. There is a line between personal heroism and senseless self-endangerment that makes a crisis worse; the line can get shifted a bit by genre, but only so far. What Suzy does is very definitely the latter: she doesn't call for help, she has no training or equipment, no plan, no real idea where the person she's trying to save is. She deals with the fire in a way which, in the real world, would be more likely to do nothing or to kill her. Maybe I've been spending too much time around actual life-saving professionals, but I don't want this person charging around trying to do good, I want her handcuffed and kept safely out of the way while people who know what they're doing deal with things.

So, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, but what it sets out to do is fail. 3..
 


Reviewed by Emily Short

How Suzy Got Her Powers is very very short; there are really only two puzzles in the whole piece. I was slowed down a little bit by some alternate phrasings going unrecognized for the second solution (I had the right idea, but had to go to hints anyway because I was expressing it wrong), but even with that delay it still took less than fifteen minutes to get through.

I also felt that much of the game’s most interesting content happened in swathes of static cut text: conversation and action sequences that could have been more engaging pass without input from the player. While this does make it hard for those sequences to go wrong (and action is not an easy thing to do well in IF), I felt it diminished the impact quite a bit.

This piece is apparently meant to be a background for a further, much longer game by the author. It kind of makes sense viewed as a teaser for a full game rather than as a game in its own right — but even then I slightly wish it had done a little more narratively. More after the spoiler space.

Your typical superhero origin story has a couple of important things to accomplish.

First, it needs to set up the psychological background. Who was this person before s/he received superheroic powers? What fears, anxieties, and motivations might carry over after the transformation? Does s/he have friends or family to protect? A past grief to live down? An old enemy? This material often provides some of the most interesting conflict in the body of the superhero narrative, because it’s rooted in the time when the character wasn’t all-powerful.

We learn a tiny bit of this about Suzy if we read a menu item in the game, but it’s not dramatized by the gameplay, and even so the answers we get aren’t tremendously compelling — she just comes off sounding like your basic mild loser. She has a starting inventory, but it’s a really uninformative collection of stuff: mints she doesn’t really like; a cell phone she doesn’t like to use and that isn’t working at the moment; a single crumpled tissue. And yeah, maybe that tells me something about her — but it’s more about what she isn’t than about what she is. Millions of women could have those same things in her purse. What makes Suzy herself? Why should I care about her?

Second, it needs to tell us what the superheroic powers do! What’s Suzy’s new capability? She’s got a magic pendant and a magic trident, but what are they for? So far we’ve only used the trident as a big lever.

So I come out of this scenario knowing that Suzy might want to avenge the dead woman… except the dead woman is someone she hardly knows, and parent to one of the most generic children the world has ever known; we don’t even find out whether the adorable tot is male or female. And I have no information about what else might fire Suzy’s passions, or what abilities are at her disposal. That strikes me as a sadly wasted opportunity, and it means I came away from this piece feeling fairly lukewarm about it.


Reviewed by TempestDash

I’ve played a few David Whyld games in the past which all had several things in common. They usually have an unusual voice, which in this case means awkward, and are somewhat simplistic. This game does not surprise in either department.

How Suzy Got Her Powers is a short ADRIFT game that is presented as the ‘origin’ of a superhero that Whyld intends to use in future projects. Whether those projects are IF games, comic books, or novels, it is not clear to me. In either case, the game is strictly linear, with the player intended to traverse 5 locations, in order, with obviously obstacles in their way. At the fifth location, you have the titular event, and it is implied that Suzy gets her ‘powers.’ Although what those powers are, what she can do with them, and what she must do with her powers are all left blissfully unstated.

After coming from Nick Roger’s expansive work, this one is almost trivial. The game does apparently have 22 points that you can obtain, but in multiple playthroughs (which take less than 3 minutes on successive plays) I have only been able to amass 11 of those points. The game seems to imply that it’s not a big deal to not have all the points, and I believe that it might be impossible. There are different ways to get past a couple of the obstacles in the game and I noticed that different possibilities award different point amounts. I am curious if somehow the 22 points is the total of all possible paths.

Update: As it turns out, you can get all 22 points, as David replied in a comment below. I’m not sure he helped his case much, however. While the game can be completed with as little as 9 points, getting all 22 requires you to both go to great lengths to keep yourself safe (even trying to avoid breathing in smoke while in a burning building) and great lengths to save the ‘visitor’ at the end of the game (even though the game chides you for trying).

The major hurdle this game needs to overcome is the disparity between the creator’s logic and the players. While it may seem obvious to David that you would flap your arms to clear lingering smoke, as a player, with no indication from the game that the smoke is preventing me from seeing anything, I’m not even aware I should be *trying* to clear the smoke. It’s a burning building, after all! Isn’t such actions futile?

Furthermore, there is a situation where to get a point you need to do something that is plainly useless. The game even TELLS YOU that it serves no purpose, but gives you a point for trying anyway. I imagine this is intended to reward heroic INTENTIONS regardless of their effectiveness, but the game: a.) never hints to you that heroism is what grants you points; and b.) the game is rewarding pointless behavior, shouldn’t a hero be focusing on *effective* strategies?

I’m happy I got to experience the full extent of the game, but I’m still not impressed. The game has a good idea, a good premise, but is not executing at the level it needs to in order to stand out in the this crowd of 30 entries. I’m sorry, I wish I thought differently.

There were few bugs I could identify, though I didn’t go to any great lengths to break the game. When what you have to do is obvious, there is little need. I did try to push the borders a bit to get those extra 11 points, but I couldn’t find anything tangible. So the game is relatively well put together, at least what little there is.

Ultimately this game failed to impress me at all, really. The story is not developed enough to be interesting, there are inconsistent amounts of text after actions, and it’s so short that it never really becomes entertaining or diverting. I am somewhat puzzled by the fact that I only got half the possible points, but the game hasn’t given me any indication as to how to max out my score, and I’m not interested in trying anymore. Not recommended.


Reviewed by Carl Muckenhoupt

The indefatigable David Whyld brings us a sample of his latest efforts in Adrift. Spoilers follow the break.

So, this is basically a teaser for a larger work. This seems to be a trend in recent Comps. People figured out some time back that they could exploit the rules of the Comp to get people people play games that they wouldn’t choose to play voluntarily, but now they’re using it to, in effect, expose people to advertisements.

The larger work is apparently a superhero epic in which you, as the heroine Scarlet, battle villains with names like Krusher and Fyreball. (No, I’m not making that up. Both of those names are in the game’s “About” text. I hope Fyreball is a reference to Textfyre somehow.) Scarlet’s origin story is told here, in Whyld’s overly-wordy style. How wordy? Here’s the response to “EXAMINE ME”:

You’re Suzy Loman, twenty-three years old, single, currently employed as a waitress in a restaurant which is hardly what you’d call high class (the Meal of the Day is often Pig’s Liver which probably says it all). You’re small for your age (“short” as your father would so eloquently put it) but pretty in an elfin sort of way (so you’d like to think) and you have perfect, sparkling blue eyes (again, in your opinion). You keep your hair (light blonde) at shoulder length, having neither the willpower to let it grow any longer (and look like a bimbo) or the nerve to cut it short (and look like you’re one of those horribly professional business women).

And it keeps on going for another paragraph describing your clothes. How much of this is relevant to the story we’re in? Just the fact that you’re short (if I may put it eloquently). And these are apparently Suzy’s self-evaluative thoughts while trapped in a burning building. That’s the entire story here: you charge into a conflagration to rescue a stranger, solve a simple environmental puzzle or two, and then are apparently rewarded for your courage with superpowers. But you don’t get to use those powers, or even find out what they are, because the game ends with a big textdump first. It’s like a game about the origin of Green Lantern that ends with Abin Sur giving Hal the ring.


Reviewed by Matt Weiner

“How Suzy Got Her Powers,” by David Whyld. As the title suggests, a superhero origin story. It’s a part of a larger planned saga. In fact, it turns out to be a very small part of a larger planned saga; I was expecting the PC to get her powers and then do something with them, but it ends at the point at which she gets her powers. (Which means that everything she does is done as an ordinary waitress in a troublesome situation.) This involves solving a few environmental puzzles in fairly naturalistic ways; everything you do at least aspires to behave the way it might in real life.

This was a nice enough game, reasonably well written — and a good thing too, because there’s a fair amount of prose every time you solve a puzzle (which basically involves getting to a new area). At least some of the puzzles have multiple solutions, and the implementation is fairly solid; games written in the ADRIFT system have the reputation of being sketchily implemented, but I remember this one as being pretty responsive to most of the things I did; though there’s one big complaint (which involves a major puzzle spoiler) below the spoiler space. (Also the default response to jumping, “wheee-boinng,” doesn’t belong here.) There’s a slightly odd metagame aspect to it; you can finish the game with 9 out of 22 points, and getting all the points seems to involve finding alternative puzzle solutions or doing things that might look useful but don’t actually accomplish anything (I’ll mention one or two below the spoiler space). Some people might be motivated to replay to get all the points; not me, though.

Anyway, this was fine, but also pretty slight. I can’t help thinking it would’ve been better suited for IntroComp. The main emotion it stirred was curiosity about the real story. Kudos for not annoying me by making the whole thing a timed puzzle, though.


Reviewed by Yoon Ha Lee

Huh, I'm not optimistic about the introduction; Suzy comes across as kind of a stereotype of an underachieving waitress. :-( I want to like her more.

Hmm, this is part of a longer series, but I am going to judge it as a stand-alone as who knows if I ever will play the follow-ups. As a rule, I am completely uninterested in hearing about your grand plans for the stunning many-hour saga that this game is just an appetizer to. One area where I prefer to be shown (actual game) rather than told (plans for game that may never materialize).

I'm trying to determine whether this game has betas listed.

Also, as soon as I get into the game, I have my virtual ears blasted off by
“La-dddyyyyyyyy!”
You blink. Jeez, that was loud! Does the kid have a pair of
loudspeakers in his lungs or something?
“Lady, he-llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllp!” the kids screeches.

This immediately puts me in a foul mood. If you want to use some exaggerated orthography to get across a tone of voice, fine, but for heaven's sake don't try my patience like this.

CREDITS (not supported), INFO (redirects to ABOUT), and ABOUT turn up nothing, and the introductory menu has nothing on beta testers. This is an auto-1 unless I hear otherwise, in which case I'll start the game again.

Out: 8:59 p.m. (6 min.)
Rating: 1
 


Reviewed by Duncan Bowsman

As promised, I'm posting my thoughts on this year's ADRIFT games from the IFComp in the form of letters to the authors. I'm beginning tonight with a letter to David Whyld, author of "How Suzy Got Her Powers."

* * * *

David,

I was glad to see you entered IFComp this year, as I've been glad for your renewed activity with IF in general. Unfortunately, I have to say I was disappointed with your IFComp entry this year. Perhaps I'm just used to expecting off-the-wall comedy from your work, but I can't say I haven't also enjoyed your more serious writings like "The Final Question." I think part of what nagged at me about this one was that it seemed more like an IntroComp entry than one meant as an IFComp entry, so it felt out of place. As a superhero origin story, it left me unfulfilled.

A superhero origin story needs to go beyond the plain fact of how one gets their powers. To take an example, Peter Parker doesn't just get bitten by a spider, "The End." He gets bitten by a spider and chooses to use that power become a crime fighter. An origin story should tell us what a hero fights and why. Suzy, aka Scarlet, is fighting... what exactly? We don't ever really see it. She's not fighting from intrinsic motivation either, which makes her harder to work into the mold of a heroic figure. A lot more is left vague than I would've liked in that regard.

Superheroes need to be strong characters, defined by what they do. What does Suzy do? The interpretation I got was that she's a sexually harrassed waitress who hates kids and lugs around useless items that she loathes. Especially given her items, I felt like I was getting mixed signals, expecting Suzy to be a farcical superheroine, but that didn't pan out.

The story claims that her usual response when a crying child says their mother is trapped a building she can see is currently burning is "to shrug [her] shoulders and say, 'Yes? And?'", which didn't do a lot to make her likable to me. Is she supposed to be an anti-hero? I get strong reluctant hero vibes from her, but that doesn't really work with the rest of the setup unless the Magic Eye compel completely changes her. If it does, though, we don't get to see any of that, so we're missing out on major character development.

I feel like I should've gotten some development from Suzy's debatably brave rush into danger, but it sort of happens and is done, and that's it. Quite a bit of the game, instead, is spent developing interactions between Suzy and the annoying child (giving it the mints and wiping its face with a tissue, oh-so-motherly-like), even when those motherly representations seem to run counter to the rest of her character. Is she motherly at heart or does she hate kids? If she balances this contradiction, might there be a better way to show it? As it is, the nurturing actions are all optional content. Was there other optional content I missed that maybe made her character stronger than I'm getting from what I played? I'd be curious how the scoring breakdown of the game characterizes Suzy.

Come to think of it, overall I'm just confused about who Suzy *is*. Messages are too mixed. If you could pick one action in the game defines her as a heroine, what would it be? Is it her expression of apathy? Her rush into danger? The way she gives mints to kids? Or throws fire extinguishers? Or is it just the virtue of her always being the only one around?

It's pretty hard to get an audience into a conflict the protagonist doesn't even care about. Like Suzy herself, the writing felt like it was just reluctantly going through the motions in an aimless, "Well, I guess I'm here, I might as well" sort of way. I much prefer your writing when it lets loose from conventions and blasts off full force into its subject matter, like in For Love of Digby or Back to Life... Unfortunately. There are a lot of stock phrases in this story that I think you could easily re-write into something thematically potent and exciting. I know you have the talent to do it.

I played through about four times and never did get full points. I appreciated that some work went into getting players to execute non-standard commands and into the presentation of the inventory. I imagine the inventory as it is would mean always having to keep the number of dynamic items down in order to avoid one's inventory from really bloating up the screen, but I think that could be a good design decision overall. I would've liked to be able to throw my brick of a cell phone at the sprinkler system I couldn't otherwise reach. At least then it might've been good for something. The tissue and mint... also didn't really do much for me in terms of character development or usefulness. What does the story lack without them that it needs?

I'd've liked to see how Suzy reacts to being Magic Eye compelled, too. The story just kind of ends at that point, but we don't know how she feels about it. Again, it sort of felt like if we just said, "Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider-- the end." Maybe giving us one bad guy to hunt down or one crime scene to investigate afterwards could've helped to better establish expectations of Scarlet as a heroine.

We didn't really get to use our New Alien Toy for very much. How do you envision it working in the future Scarlet release or releases? It would've been nice to use it in that intended way at least once in the set up so we'd be ready for it when it comes up again.

Overall, what direction do you see Scarlet going in? What non-spoilery info could you tell me about the villainy she'll face? Will she have a costume? If so, what do you envision and what does it tell us about her?

I hope your game's reception in the IFComp has not dampened your enthusiasm for writing this character or her story, but I'd like to see more development in both. To that end, I am eager to see more of this work. I think you might do well to follow an episodic model for releases in this case. I could really see it working, especially as that's been more-or-less the normative mode for superhero development.

Well, that's about all the input I have on that for now. Any thoughts? Please comment below, or perhaps we can take this over to a thread on the ADRIFT Forum or intfiction.org (in which case I'll update this post with a link).

Hope all is well,
Duncan


Reviewed by MathBrush

This Adrift game is a brief prelude to a much larger proposed work by David Whyld called Scarlet. It shows how a woman named Suzy obtains her superpowers.

It is a small game. There are 5 locations, and I found 2 NPCs and 2 items.

This game was nominated for an XYZZY for Best Individual Puzzle for 'putting out the fire'.

The game has pretty typical writing for Adrift. Similar to the PK Girl (by a different author), the female lead is described in a kind of anime/pedestal way; for instance, it says:

". You’re small for your age (“short” as your father would so
eloquently put it) but pretty in an elfin sort of way (so you like to think) and you have perfect,
sparkling blue eyes (again, in your opinion). You keep your hair (light blonde) at shoulder
length, having neither the willpower to let it grow any longer (and look like a bimbo) or the
nerve to cut it short (and look like you’re one of those horribly professional business women)."

Overall, it was a fun, short exercise. I beat it with only 9/22 points, so there may be more I didn't see.


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