[IFComp 2015] 5 Minutes to Burn Something!

I just played 5 Minutes to Burn Something! by Alex Butterfield.

Cover art for

5 Minutes to Burn Something! is sort of a slice-of-life game, if your life is pretty wacky and your morals a bit tenuous. It’s a Z-code game, which I played using Zoom. It was updated almost immediately after the competition started to remove a bug that made the game possibly unwinnable, so I downloaded the updated version.

You’re great at burning bridges and midnight oil, but figurative fire can’t save you now.

Nice blurb.

You can download the game or play it online, both from IFComp.org. (At least while the comp is going on. I’ll try to remember to put in updated download information when the comp ends…)

Spoilers after the cut.

From the CREDITS page and my Googling*, it seems like 5 Minutes to Burn Something! is Alex Butterfield’s first published game. It’s a solid first work: clearly-planned, free of major bugs, and cohesive.

The player is a broke, broken-up-with woman named Bernadette. Bernie’s not doing so well. Her ex recently moved out and took almost all their shared belongings, her apartment is kind of a spartan dump, and she just accidentally set off the fire alarm. She’s also not very good at making decisions: faced with the prospect of a fine for summoning the firefighters when there was no real emergency, she decides the best way to stay out of trouble is to light an actual fire.

The game that follows is old-school text adventure fare. Find objects around the apartment and use them in unusual ways to achieve your goals. Meanwhile, a timer counts down your five minutes, subtracting a few seconds every time you take an action. I appreciated that commands about examining objects did not count towards this timer, though I admit I wasted a bit of time confusing east and west (purely my own fault!).

The five minutes is a pretty tight time limit. It’s plenty of time to perform all the necessary actions, but doesn’t leave a lot of time to investigate your surroundings for potentially useful objects. I was probably meant to fail the game at least once, but instead I wound up using the hint system a fair amount. This hint system was well-implemented, with progressively more direct hints.

A few of the puzzles were a bit wonky. None were as bad as the crazy inflatable-duck puzzle from The Longest Journey (if you don’t know the one I mean, thank your stars) but there were some I think I would not have figured out without the hints – like the fan switch being hidden behind the cobwebs of the laundry nook. There were also a few instances of guess-the-verb, especially “MAKE LASSO OUT OF STOCKINGS” followed by “LASSO BRANCH”.

I also admit that I strongly disliked the protagonist and rather wanted her to fail. Her attitude toward her ex, and the actions she took, were really reprehensible. I don’t think he really deserved to get arrested when his only observable wrongs were breaking up with me, taking all the stuff, being lousy as a woodworker, and apparently never doing the dishes when we lived together.

There were some really nice writing moments, though. I especially admired this description: “The sun-bleached lino floor bears an assortment of dark rectangles, shadows of a more decadently furnished past.  A single framed photo hangs on the wall beside the front door.  Little else adorns the room, just an old futon and a slow spinning ceiling fan suspended from the impractically high ceiling.” I can picture that room, and it’s satisfyingly bleak.

I give the author props for having a scientific advisor for his game to fact-check it for realism. That’s pretty cool, and I’ve seen games that need that! I think he would have benefitted from having more playtesters. In the credits, he only lists his wife, stating that she had never played IF before. I think having an IF novice as a playtester is great, but having some experienced players would have also been useful. Additionally, having multiple playtesters means the ability to test, revise, and test again, using someone new for the second round so you still have a pair of fresh eyes that haven’t seen these puzzles before.

All in all, though, a good first game. I look forward to more from this author in the future.

*The only results I turned up for “Alex Butterfield” that didn’t relate to this game referred to his involvement in the Watergate investigation when he was in charge of the Federal Aviation Administration. A versatile man, our Col. Butterfield.

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