[IFComp 2014] Fifteen Minutes

Fifteen Minutes, by Ade McT, is a parser-based game written in Inform. You can download it from the comp website or play it online here. I played it offline, as I prefer to do with parser-based games. Also, the author updated the game after the Comp began, but I played the version that I downloaded on October 1.

You’re in a tight spot.

You have fifteen minutes before the Principal expels you from the cosy world of academia and into the cold harsh reality of the real world. You really should do something about it.

A time-travelling tale of paradox management.

Spoilers behind the cut.

The brief version of the review: I thought this game had a really cool concept, but I got very frustrated by how fiddly it was to play. I did not finish it.

In Fifteen Minutes, you play a student who is about to flunk out of university for failing one too many tests… UNLESS you figure out a way to use this convenient time machine to fix your mistakes. Since duplicates of yourself start materializing as you investigate the machine, it seems you might have a chance…

The game is focused primarily around figuring out the puzzle of the timeline, then recreating it without any paradoxes. The other main challenge is figuring out how the time machine works and making sure you get all the settings right. This meant that I spent most of the time that I was playing the game actually away from the parser itself, instead trying to piece together bits of information. I used a lot of tables.

One of three tables I made to keep track of things in the game, which I then meticulously cross-referenced as I played. This one was 13 pages long in Word.

One of three tables I made to keep track of things in the game, which I then meticulously cross-referenced as I played. This one was 13 pages long in Word. One of three tables I made to keep track of things in the game, which I then meticulously cross-referenced as I played. This one was 13 pages long in Word.

I enjoyed the timeline-untangling. I felt pretty clever when I managed to lay out the order of events and make a good plan. I did not so much enjoy the time machine. It felt unnecessarily complicated (not for a real time machine, which I imagine would be even more complicated! just for a game time machine), with 7 controls that had to be set before each time jump. Four of these were a set of switches with unhelpfully-named settings like “quantum,” “string” and “inflate.” I had to make copious use of the hints file to find out that these switches had to be used to redundantly input the number of minutes to travel. While this was not the most frustrating use of base-conversion-as-game-mechanic I’ve seen in IF, figuring out the settings for these switches just felt like a slog to me, particularly with their meaningless names. I didn’t feel like this task especially added to the game, and would happily have done without it. At the very least, I would have preferred the switches just labeled with numbers so I didn’t have to constantly consult my chart to use them.

If the author’s intent with the ternary switches was to make sure the game wasn’t too easy, my personal preference would instead have been for a couple more paradox-prevention tasks. A lot of my duplicates traveled back in time, stood around a while, and traveled back in time again – making the journey for no reason than because I had already seen them there. It would have been amusing if some of those mes had done something in between, even something that didn’t further the goal. Eat a snack, or spend time checking out what the back of my head looks like, or something.

As I said above, I didn’t finish the game. I was already running out of time in the two hours judges are allowed before rating a game, and I was (I think) almost to the end. Then I died yet again due to paradox, reloaded my most recent save file, and realized that it was useless because I just didn’t have enough timing wiggle room to perform a necessary action. While this kind of occurrence was sort of the point of the game, it made me feel defeated when I was so close, especially when I got muddled about exactly what was going on in my previous save file, then realized that my transcript hadn’t been saving ever since I restarted the game, so I couldn’t look it up. (Oops.)

I do want to give props for the hints system; I appreciated the good old-fashioned question-and-answer hints menu that was included. I think I would have given up far earlier without it. It would have been even better if the game had hinted a little more about how to use the machine – perhaps getting more explicit after multiple failed attempts to go anywhere.

A minor quibble: It took me a while to figure out I was getting paradox problems because I hadn’t closed the secret compartment. I’m still not sure why the state of this compartment’s door traveled back in time with me. It wasn’t on my person, and from the way it was phrased, I also didn’t think it was part of the time machine.

Despite the fiddly bits that kept me from finishing (or from quitting in a good mood), Fifteen Minutes was solidly interesting to me. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but for the kind of person that enjoys logic puzzles, taking notes, and being really precise, this could make for a satisfying evening.


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