Would you look at the time. Voting for IntroComp 2011 is all fut, and I haven’t so much as reviewed half the entries. I should feel ashamed of myself, but I had to wash my hair some time, you know.

Let’s ignore that for a moment, shall we? The important thing is that I’m standing next to a corpse. The smell of roasted personflesh is slung on the air, but I’m not fazed in the littlest.

This aught to be perplexing, but I’ve never been bugged by minimalist death.

I’m more bugged by the living people in The Z-Machine Matter, actually. I award this IntroComp 2011 entry the prize for trying hardest to erode my sense of self.

A little background is in order. In the Z-Machine Matter, you play a glorified insurance assessor investigating a life insurance claim on a dead mad scientist type.

Coincidentally or not, I dealt with an insurance assessor quite recently, with the result that I am certain insurance assessors are actually centipedes in latex suits. As such I felt reluctant to dig into The Z-Machine Matter, but my calcified outer shell of professionalism gave me little choice.

As I suspected it would, the game left me feeling strung out.

Here is an example: On arrival at murder mystery manor, a woman called Beverly Hugo said hello to me. It’s only polite to return a greeting like that, isn’t it? So you know what, I returned that greeting.

“Well hello, sailor,” she responded. “Is that the best you can do?”

Now that’s just fucking rude. I don’t like Beverley Hugo. I might have liked her more if she were the archetypical bombshell commonly attached to games of the gumshoe style. As it stands all I could glean from this game, whose descriptions are as miserly as an insurance assessor, is that she wore an “elegant black evening dress” and was of the smile-around-death variety.

This experience was, I gleaned, merely a taster of what was to come. This is one of those dialogue-heavy games, understand. Just about the only way I can stomach heavy dialogue is when it’s packaged in the form of multiple-choice responses.

In The Z-Machine Matter, dialogue is handled in the traditional “tell X about” or “ask X about” format. Emily Short’s momentous achievement with Galatea aside, this way of representing conversation makes me want to commit suicide, especially when it’s used as half-cocked as it is in The Z-Machine. Unless I was in exactly the right place at the right time, important repartee simply vanished, and certain characters lost no time in asking me completely senseless questions.

In a moment of abject weakness, I turned to the game’s walkthrough, only to lapse into a catatonic state. Somehow, the game’s author considered a complete transcript of the game, sans editing or formatting, to be usable. I’d rather read Shakespeare in machine code, actually.

The ethics of walkthroughs aside, The Z-Machine Matter’s spoiler document made me think the game’s author was just lazy. This is odd, because the game’s Golden Age documentation is pretty spiffing; I get the impression the developer lost interest once the actual programming got under way. This is almost certainly incorrect, and I know from experience how hard it is to program even a basic piece of interactive fiction with any sense of thoroughness. I can’t fault the author’s vision, but it just isn’t reflected adequately in the entry’s current incarnation.

Do I need to spell it out any further? As it is, The Z-Machine Matter is a tiresome game whose logic is easy to confound by sheer accident. It left me feeling annoyed.

But this is no longer of any consequence, because IntroComp 2011 is dusted. Woe, et cetera.

My vote’s on Speculative Fiction.

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