“Rogue of the Multiverse” by C.E.J. Pacian by Michael Hilborn

C.E.J. Pacian’sRogue of the Multiverse“, a delightful blend of comedy and science-fiction, demonstrates how good writing, endearing characters, and the incorporation of various game genres can help a title overcome what the IF community might normally consider flaws in implementation. Despite fairly linear gameplay and some outright bugs, “Rogue of the Multiverse” took third place in the 2010 Interactive Fiction Competition, and was subsequently nominated for several XYZZY Awards, including Best Game, Best NPCs, Best Use of Innovation, and Best Individual NPC, the last of which the game won.

You assume the role of an inmate within an offworld prison. Surrounded by unfriendly aliens who appear to have a distinct dislike, yet healthy appetite, for humans, your predicament deteriorates when a routine computer scan congratulates you on being selected for scientific experimentation. Under the careful observation of the reptilian Doctor Sliss, you are to be matter-transmitted to a variety of less-than-hospitable worlds where your mission is to quickly bag-and-tag valuable salvage. As might be expected in a game set within a prison, this new role as Doctor  Sliss’s ‘assistant’ ultimately provides an opportunity to escape.

Although you take the guise of the protagonist, the true heroine of this story is your antagonist, Doctor Sliss. It is not difficult to see why this character earned the game its XYZZY award: It is her wonderfully comic and spirited personality, not that of the player, that suffuses the game; it is mostly her motivations and ambitions, not those of the player, that drive the story forward. In many ways, she is the GLaDOS of this particular facility.

And where GLaDOS had her test chambers, Sliss has her offworld missions. These are a series of Rogue-like expeditions where your goal is to wander through a grid of a randomly-generated terrain collecting a series of randomly-generated objects while avoiding (or hunting) some randomly-generated monsters. If this sounds monotonous, it is, which is a shame, for the game’s title implies that perhaps these chapters were originally the heart of the story. Certainly, a great deal of care and programming went into this multiverse, and its inclusion in the game is at first interesting, but it doesn’t take long to discover that there isn’t much to explore here. Landscapes are minimally described, as are the objects for which you hunt, and you can do little with these objects other than tag or examine them. A few monsters lurk about, some even attack you, but their presence tends to be more than a nuisance than a challenge.

A nuisance rather than a challenge best describes the missions as a whole. This might have been alleviated if there had been a secondary goal to them–say, to tag objects that could directly be used to thwart Doctor Sliss or attempt your escape. Instead, the sole purpose of the missions is to trade in the tagged salvage for money. Granted, you can take advantage of these new funds to purchase items necessary to further the story, but the whole affair feels like the text adventure equivalent of a standard computer role-playing grind. Finally, the procedurally generated content resulted in at least two bugs that I encountered: A sauropod, munching on treetops in on an otherwise treeless mountain summit, cannot be examined or tagged; and there is a condor that swoops into an area, only to disappear from the game a turn later without explanation.

Nevertheless, the missions represent the most amount of interactivity and freedom you will have while playing the game. A majority of the other scenes require either (1) typing in a command suggested by someone within the game, or (2) repeating a single action over and over again. For example, to move the beginning of the story forward, you must literally move forward repeatedly, lest you face certain doom from your inmates or other hazards within the prison. It could be argued that this inability to interact is reflective of the confines of imprisonment, but if so, then I would have expected to have more freedom in my actions outside of the prison; this does not turn out to be the case. Instead, with the exception of one act, we are relentlessly pressed onward as if caught in a textual cinematic.

Despite these shortcomings, “Rogue of the Multiverse” remains a fun, entertaining experience, primarily due to the sharp, comedic wit found throughout the game. Again, a majority of this theater stems from the antics of the award-winning Doctor Sliss, but even the other, minor NPCs have distinct personalities, and contribute to the overall comic escapades (and the author isn’t afraid to sink to a little toilet humor, literally). Furthermore, Pacian’s tight prose in both descriptions and dialogue deftly conveys your predicament: You are an alien on an alien world, and there’s trouble afoot. Add to this a variety of game styles–including the aforementioned missions, an action sequence, the Sims-like ability to decorate your prison cell with in-game goods, and some sly character generation reminiscent of the Ultima IV personality test–and “Rogue of the Multiverse” deserves its placement in the Interactive Fiction Competition.


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