For a Change by Dan Schmidt (1999)

For A Change by Dan “He’s Right, You Know” Schmidt(1999)

Rating: ***1/2

The Review…

Yes, this is all very well and good, but you see, it is I who is primarily responsible for this game, and if it wins anything, then certainly I will be the one there to take the credit.

It was a long time ago.  A simpler, more innocent age.  1997, if I remember correctly.  I met a guy on a server designed for the playing of the ancient Oriental board game Wei-Qi, or “go”, as the Japanese call it.  You know how those Japanese love to name things after squares on a Monopoly board.  But anyway, this guy was a kindred spirit.  Our wicked senses of humor played off each other like peanut butter and jelly.  We owned that place. And so it was that when I discovered the resurgence of IF, and mentioned my interest in the art, it was not upon deaf ears that my overtures fell, for he too had fond memories of the eerie glow of a computer screen, as it danced against our bedroom walls at midnight, describing in so few, but so powerful words, the south side of a nondescript white house somewhere in a forest clearing.

That guy’s name was Dan Schmidt.

Shortly after, we both set about to learn the tools of the trade and put our considerable creative powers to the test with this reborn avocation.  His first game, which I spent more than a couple hours testing and commenting on, was an unfinished, unreleased game called “Kitchen”.  The object of “Kitchen” was to make a glass of icewater on a hot, dry day.  While not lacking in imperfections, it contained more than a single brilliancy, none of which I’ll describe explicitly here (in case he wishes to reuse those great ideas in a future game), except to say that the final scene involved a hilarious parody, which required of the player a passing familiarity with those infamous Mentos ads.  It was a good game.

In the meantime, I wrote Apartment F209.  But enough about me.

With that initial burst of passion behind him, he (like so many others, including your humble narrator) drifted away, back into his go, back into his chess, and finally, it seemed, back into real life.  We’d lost one of the great ones. Two, some would say.

[Excuse me, I hate to interrupt, but are you ever planning to actually review the game that this is supposedly a review of?]  So glad you asked.  I have no fucking idea.  I’m riffing here, leave me be.  Please do not force me to lay the smack down.

But then it was another lazy, crazy day of summer (or whatever the hell season it was) when the ruffled, dog-eared pages of my old Inform 6 manual called to me once again from the box in which it’d been sequestered for far too long.  So once again, I wielded the palette and the brushes, and called upon my old friend Dan Schmidt to join me for inspiration. Slowly, but with unmistakable inertia, he rose again from oblivion to fall into the front rank.  This time, I created Annoyotron, and unbeknownst to me, in the background, Dan created For A Change.

Round two to Mr. Schmidt.

The ultimate triumph of the game might be that towards the end of development, he added one hint to the hint system which, before you even start playing the game, turns it from a daunting, tiresome-looking chore, into an absolute blast. In effect, he says, “This game uses lots of weird words and gimmicky verbs and stylized descriptions and all that crap, but it’s basically a regular, old-timey text adventure!”  And that, it is.

Inanimate objects are described using animate verbs.  Physical movements are described as emotions.  Tactile response represented as tones or colors.  In short, the game talks funny.  After my first round of beta testing, I told him that the game took me the prescribed two hours, but the first hour was wasted because I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on.  I felt like the game was smarter than I was.  All this odd wordsmithing certainly meant that I was just not getting it.  But then a magical thing happened, and I realized that I was just supposed to do regular old Infocom-type adventure stuff.  And from then on, there was no looking back, and it really was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had playing an adventure game in quite some time.  And miracle of miracles, I actually finished a game… for a change.

This is an “accidental adventure”, in that you are given a goal (however obscurely stated), but to reach that goal, you must simply solve a number of superficially related puzzles, none of which have anything to do with the goal itself, but all of which move the plot along until you do have an opportunity to accomplish the goal, and then everyone’s happy and we can all go home.  I do not count any of this as negative, as the puzzles themselves are clever and perfectly logical, without being overly challenging or frustrating, and they all fit well into the abject, mind-twisting surreality of the environment.  (“Lie Establisher”, indeed.  What is this guy on?)

If the game has faults, they lie in the gimmickry of the presentation, which borders on the ridiculous at times, while never quite stepping too far over the line.  And for one of the very few times I can remember in my IF experiences, I didn’t want it to end so soon.  But the two hours were up, and that is what the IF Competition desires.  So, my loss, the Comp’s gain.  You can’t please all the people, or however that goes.

But anyway, my point to this whole review is that, this game wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me.  What was that?  Oh, you’re quite welcome…