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4 Stars IFReview Rating Black Sheep's Gold

IFReviewed by Emily Short on 2006-08-01 04:14 

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Drifting On


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IFR Overall Rating
4 Stars IFR Overall Rating
[Obligatory disclaimer: I played this game on the MacScare interpreter, and it is conceivable that there were some differences between my experience and what someone would experience using the ADRIFT runner. From looking at other people's comments on the game, though, I get the impression that I am not the only one suffering guess-the-verb issues. I did not encounter anything in the playthrough that seemed like evidence of a definite flaw in MacScare.]

"Black Sheep's Gold", by Driftingon, starts as a slice of life piece about an eight-year-old girl who has to clean the attic; soon, however, she discovers evidence of a treasure hidden by a relative many years before, and goes off in search of it.

The young narrator is one of the game's strongest points. Aside from some character-breaking moments towards the end, she remains perky and distinctive throughout, putting a personal spin on the rather mundane house in which she lives. She's obviously a bit precocious, but there's nothing wrong with that.

The game's prose is also quite decent -- I didn't find many problems or errors -- and the implementation (except for some parsing issues) seemed fairly strong and consistent throughout.

The NPCs in the game were varied; most only have one or two (not very interesting) lines to say, but a few are more interestingly fleshed out, including amusing in-joke cameos: ADRIFT's creator Campbell Wild appears as the rather odd owner of an aquatic pet shop, and at least one other name was familiar to me from the ADRIFT forum.

Other aspects of "Black Sheep's Gold" don't work quite as well. For one thing, I found myself faced with a number of guess-the-verb moments, and at a couple of key points could only get through with the help of a transcript. The game does alleviate some of these problems by putting correct action phrasings in italics some of the time -- but it doesn't do this quite consistently enough, and in a few places I was left high and dry. (It also italicizes the names of any important objects in a room, which is either a convenience or goofy and annoying, depending on how you look at it. It certainly draws attention away from immersion towards the user interface.)

The puzzles themselves (aside from phrasing difficulties) are extremely simple and obvious, too. Frequently the game quite blatantly tells the player how to solve them, with suggestions like "If I only had a rope ladder, I would be able to LOWER THE LADDER FROM THE WINDOW and CLIMB DOWN!". (Example changed to protect the innocent, though I'm not sure why I bother trying not to spoil puzzles that give themselves away like this.)

I don't know much about the background of the game, but I found myself starting to wonder whether it had been designed for younger players. That would explain the age of the protagonist, the not-at-all-challenging puzzle design, and the game's tendency to draw special attention to important nouns and verbs. The experienced IF puzzle-solver is likely to find most of the puzzles too simple to be very interesting, however.

One final difficulty was the pacing. A fair amount of time is given to the prologue and to what I thought were opening stages of the midgame, so I assumed that the later portions of the plot would unfold at the same rate. But just at the point of the game when things seemed to be getting interesting and I hoped for high adventure, I was ambushed... by infodumps. There comes a point where you find yourself reading pages and pages of text about all sorts of interesting but uninteractive events. Then there are a couple more fairly obvious puzzles, and the game ends. And the ending -- well, it seems to me that the final few paragraphs break with the narrator's charming personality and go somewhat more cynical and world-weary than suits the rest of the game. I was disappointed. A more obvious ending would probably have been trite, but I still didn't entirely like the effect of this, since most of what had carried me through earlier had been sympathy for the kid.

So overall I thought "Black Sheep's Gold" showed considerable effort, a fair amount of polish, and a mostly-charming narrator. On the other hand, it has some unintentionally frustrating moments, and does not offer much challenge as far as puzzles go. It might be suitable for younger players being introduced to IF, but they would still probably need a little help with phrasing a few commands correctly.

Black Sheep's Gold Awards

    Best ADRIFT Game By A New Author on the 2003 InsideADRIFT Awards.

Emily Short Profile

IFReviewer Rating
10 Stars IFReviewer Overall Rating

Name Emily Short
Gender Female