Saturday, June 15, 2013

Corruption (Magnetic Scrolls)

I've always thought of Magnetic Scrolls' Corruption has a hybrid of Infocom's Deadline and Bureaucracy. It has Deadline's strict be-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time timing combined with Bureaucracy's fatalistic the-odds-are-stacked-against-you sense of dread. Now, I can't say I've actually played very far into Bureaucracy so that summation may be incorrect, but that perception has convinced me I hate all games of this type. In fact, I find it hard to believe that these kinds of games have a sizable audience. In Bureaucracy's case, the game was given a free pass just because it's Douglas Adams, but part of me thinks that any author who writes frustration games hates his players and these games only continue to be written because authors continue to hate players. Luckily, it's not a popular sentiment.

How it Begins

The Transcript

I didn't share it, but I played with the game for a bit before deciding I'd jump straight to Stefano Lorenzin's walkthrough (available on the IF archive), so this is a mostly-by-the-solution playthrough:

Final Thoughts

There are some nice elements in this game, but more than anything, it does a good job of illuminating how far IF has come in the last 20+ years. Older games with a bunch of NPCs like this really show the weakness of the ASK/TELL system. While authors have a better shot of stocking one or two NPCs with a ton of responses, it is common to drop the ball when doing more, as is the case here. Only more recently ("recent" is a relative term here) has the system been redeemed by games that also listed available topics. Most of my off-walkthrough playing of the game consisted of NPCs not reacting to my queries (and the ones that did land often had uninteresting responses).

The game almost never lists room exits, forcing you to use the >EXITS command all of the time. Even still, by following the walkthrough, I was led to rooms that I never had found before just because I must have forgotten to type >EXITS a couple places.

Also, the game has no >UNDO, and I really am out of practice when it comes to saving everywhere so I did not enjoy that.

More interestingly, there's a >PRONOUNS meta command that lists all of the current pronoun settings, like:
It - the affidavit
Them - an affidavit
Him - Detective Inspector Goddard
Her - Theresa
It's a curious peek-behind-the-curtain that I'd almost consider adding to my Hugo games if I thought it'd actually help the player, but it feels more like a debugging verb than anything.

In covering this game, I actually looked at two walkthroughs, and the first one had a couple differences and said particularly that some of the actions in the walkthrough I used were red herrings. Of course, my game only got 190 out of 200 points so it's possible that other solution is right, but part of me thinks that there might be optional paths in the midgame. In the other path, you get attacked by a hitman tramp, whom you later tell the inspector about as proof that people are out to kill you. The other solution also did not involve going to jail, but I'm wondering if it's possible to do all of these things in one game. In any case, that aspect of the game is a nice mystery.

The story and writing could have been a lot more engaging, but I respect the game for its ambition. I also have to say, that's probably the best Magnetic Scrolls ending I've ever seen. Most of them are just jaw-droppingly horrible. The graphics have also held up a bit better than some of the other games. The cassette tape feelie that comes with the game was pretty clever, too.

By today's standards, there's a lot wrong with this game, and it's nice to try to imagine what it'd be like if it had the modern expectations of polish and ease-of-play. Also, I can see improvements over other MS games here, and I'm not finishing up this review hating the game as much as I thought I would going in. I don't think I'm going to play it again, but if someone else went through it and captured a "perfect run" that shows as much game content as possible, hey, I'd read it.


  1. So how would you change the game if you were to revise it with modern expectations of polish and ease-of-play?

    1. I mentioned most of the things I'd improve in that last section, but I'll say it again. Rooms could have used better exit listing. Considering there is actually so little to talk about, conversations with characters could be made a bit more robust with dialogue trees or maybe something even simpler; regular ASK/TELL just leaves too much dead space. Also, UNDO.

      Design-wise, I actually don't have as many gripes with the game as I thought I'd have going in.