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The Forest House Reviews
Author: Seciden Mencarde
Reviewed by Duncan Bowman
Fun-sized, restrained, atmospheric
This is the first of what would become a series of Speed-IF horror from Seciden Mencarde, and it is the only one which ever received a revision. It is also, in my opinion, the best of the series, not just the best because of its revision, but because of the author's restraint and management of atmosphere lacking in further episodes.
The Forest House doesn't drop the reader right into horror-atmosphere-tryout land knee-deep in gloom and corpses. It's more about restraining the player from getting what they want right away-- you want to go west? Well, the door is closed. Okay, open it, now go west. It is as though the parser is a big brother warning the player, “Are you sure? I don't think you're gonna like it...” but the obvious action is right there, and everything is so close, so the player keeps going until they finally arrive on the scene of the horror.
More than just holding the player back, The Forest House beckons them in with a sense of childish wonder, hinting at dread. True, some of the writing is a little stiff (“A basic four-legged table with a chair. The only thing that makes it a desk is your use of it in that manner.”), but this is generally a result of implementing scenery the author seemed to think negligible to the overall tale. In that moment and elsewhere, some of the game's (un)implementation choices are questionable-- likely a result of the original Speed-IF constraint, it would've been nice to see them fixed in the revision, as well.
The more important elements of the game's writing, however, tap into a dark pool through the lens of what could be a child's heroic imaginings. The house only you can see, that can only be seen at night. There might be monsters in the closet. Little touches like these reinforce the horror while luring the player through a scene of stealthy preparation with adventurous expectancy rather than slapping them in the face with horror tropes and abject darkness right away. This allows for a more subversive, but still gradual-feeling switch from a world of the expected and the rational (even including mundane flashlight battery replacement) into the unexpected and the irrational.
The sort of setup this game presents is Doing It Right. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner describes how authors draw a reader into the “fictional dream” of a work using sensory clues and elements of from life to make the reader feel the story is real, or at least plausible. This is part of buying our suspension of disbelief and, to some extent, our investment in the actors and events of a tale. In this way, the aforementioned battery replacement-- a speed bump on our way to adventure and the unknown-- exemplifies the game's use the parser, restraint, and a tedious granularity of actions to mirror the reality of a child sneaking out at night. It's an effective build-up and, because of touches like this, we can see how The Forest House operates more effectively as an IF than it might as static fiction.
Once one enters the titular forest house, the imagery changes to decay-- but even with a little bit of humor mixed in as the player character copes in the face of the grotesque and the unreal. This sort of horror, built on suspense and atmosphere, takes hold better than gore, gross-outs, or threats of physical violence alone might. I admit after several playthroughs, I still haven't been able to get the last lousy point of the game, but I'm beginning to wonder if the inability to do so-- offering us a vain and frustrating search in its place should we try-- might not be part of the game's message. As we can never fully reach back into the wondrous, nightmarish expectancies of childhood except vicariously or in senility, as those imaginings may never reach their threatened realization, so, too, might The Forest House deny us these things and be all the more creepy for it.
(Though, seriously, if you have spoilers for the last lousy point, please let me know.)
Reviewed by Eric Mayer
Comments: This game started well. I liked the idea of sneaking out to a strange house only I could see. But on the way, the three-hour limit seemed to catch up with me. After encountering some weirdly blank rooms and eerie error messages I abandoned all hope and gave up the...uh...ghost without finishing. Actually, I wasn't sure whether I was being stymied by a "guess the verb" problem or a bug so I didn't persist for too long. With such a time limit these things will happen. I suspect the problems can be easily fixed given a little more time and
the result will be quite an musing little game.
Reviewed by James Webb a.k.a. Revgiblet
Comments: Seciden lists this as his first ever game. He acknowledges that he might have been crazy to write his first game for the three-hour-comp. I think it was very brave. For a first game this has some very nice touches. Although you don't have the time for detailed description, he managed to create a nice sense of atmosphere in a few words.
There were some serious problems with the game that reflect the fact that it's a first effort and it's a three-hour-comp game. Firstly there were a few items that I couldn't interact with at all - not normally a problem and I wouldn't expect detailed descriptions for a game like this, but Seciden needed to change the "You can't see that" default message as it kept telling me that I couldn't see things that were clearly in the room descriptions. Second, there were a couple of implementation errors. I could move into the bedroom of my parents and my sister, but there was no room description. I think that they were supposed to be 'off-limits', so that would explain why there was no room description, but the fact that you can enter them isn't good. Changing the batteries in the flashlight was also harder than it needed to be. Finally, the game isn't finishable. When I moved into the bathroom and examined the mirror it should have finished the game (I think) but because there was a variable problem (again, I think) with one of the key locations in the wood the ending didn't work. When you enter said forest location you get an error message and continue with the game instead of seeing some key events.
On the plus side, Seciden didn't password lock the game so I could see how it had intended to go, and his attempt at multiple endings impressed me. I think that this was too ambitious for a first attempt under such a tight time limit (and with no beta-testers) but I think there's a good amount of potential here. Because I couldn't finish the game I marked it a '3' but I think that Seciden has a good grasp of ADRIFT mechanics and some writing talent so I look forward to seeing what he can write without the restrictions of a competition.
Reviewed by Ren Rennington
Comments: I thought it read nicely, though it's perhaps a little overwritten in places. The puzzles made sense, even if both gargoyle and the runner experienced some room craziness problems going west through the thorns. It was let down by the ending, which didn't work (I don't think either of final tasks are executable).
Reviewed by J. J. Guest:
Comments: Seciden Mencarde has been a presence on the forum for as long as I can remember, so I was surprised to learn that this is his first released game. Forest House, like so many other first games, begins in a boy's bedroom. Some implementation oddities immediately make themselves apparent; the parents' room and sister's room are enterable but non-existent. The first puzzle involves four similarly named batteries and immediately falls afoul of Adrift's lousy disambiguation routines; a problem that a more experienced Adrift author might have avoided simply by making the flashlight empty at the start of the game. But all these things can be forgiven. For a first effort, and a three-hour one at that, Forest House is not at all bad. There are some nice ideas in here, and the game builds up my interest in the mysterious house in the forest so that I can believe the central character has been itching to go there all his life. So it's all the more disappointing that three quarters of the game are devoted to getting there and a mere two locations to the house itself. The game contained a major bug; "ViewRoom error - subscript out of range" and this may or may not be why I was unable to trigger any of the three endings. It's clear that the author ran flat out of time. I hope that Seciden will return to this game and release a post-comp version as I think Forest House has potential and it would be a shame to abandon it after coming so far.
Reviewed by James Webb a.k.a. Revgiblet (2)
You can read my original review of the game in the ECTOCOMP write-up posted in this very thread. Seciden went back to the game, fixed it and re-released it. This review is of the re-released version.
The new version is pretty much identical to the original, except for some major bug-fixes, a couple of new locations and tweaking of the odd puzzle here and there. These combined changes make a world of difference to the game. For one thing, it's now possible to finish it. Secondly, it's a less frustrating experience. Thirdly, there's now no real reason for people not to like it.
You see, I think that Seciden has got it exactly right here. Not that The Forest House is anything more than a very competent, very short game. But Seciden released a game, had it played, listened to the feedback, made the changes and re-released it. This is how a first game should be done.
To anyone who is writing a first ADRIFT game - download this game and play it. Then put aside the uber-RPG you're working on and spend a week writing a small game similar to this one. Release it and beg people to play it. I'll play it for you. Get some feedback about what works and what doesn't. Get some experience of writing and bug-fixing in ADRIFT. Fix the game and re-release it. And then go back to your original project. You'll get some experience at writing a finished game with ADRIFT, as well as helpful pointers about your writing style etc. that will save you a lot of heartache if you wait until you finish your magnum opus before you invite comment.
Wow, that was a tangent wasn't it? As for The Forest House - read my review for the ECTOCOMP version and remove all the criticisms and comments about bugs. You'll be left with a review for this version. It's still well-written. It's still interesting. The endings are still a little confusing. It's still a very nice little game indeed. Thank you Seciden.
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