I just finished playing Planetfall. Started yesterday. I was very curious to see how it would hold to up a modern-day player, who’s thoroughly enjoyed such titles as Mulldoon Legacy and Hadean Lands.
Well, it holds amazingly well! Knowing in advance that I’d have several timers against me, I played in a save/restore loop, ever optimising, not wanting to put myself in a state where I simply would not have time to finish (as happened to me, quite dreadfully, with Fish!).
The result? I finished the adventure in a day and a half (in-game days). I understand there are a number of days which the adventure can span. This is one of the things I do so love about Infocom - their timers are not prohibitive. You do have time to explore; you just don’t have time to dally.
The game seemed downright easy, but intensely atmospheric. The sparcity of things to interact with only added to that. At no time did I feel the empty rooms were filler. On the contrary, since I was always very way of time passing, I thought they were designed to waste my time AND to create a feeling of real geography. “People lived here. They played games. Look, this is where they slept. Naturally, there were bathrooms too”.
I loathe red herrings. But somehow, in this game they didn’t feel like red herrings. They felt like significant substance that added to the atmosphere and the feeling of exploration. When I got to the end and realised that the light source was a total red herring (there’s a couple of rooms in darkness, and there IS a light source, but it turns out that you can’t get it and stay alive), I found that hysterically funny; the ultimate in humour-by-perverting-player’s-expectations.
I found also a bit of brilliance in the design. First day - getting your bearings, seeing to the immediate needs, possibly get started on fixing the enunciator. I started the second day fresh and hopeful, having mastered the complex and seen to the basic needs, and ready to board the shuttle to explore Whatever Lay Beyond. I went to the room that was my inventory dump and very carefully selected the items that I thought would be most helpful in my expedition. I was mostly right, though I could have left the fuses where I’d found them!
This was an amazing feeling. It was like “All right, I’m packed up, let’s see what else there is for me to discover!”. Somehow, Infocom games (for their most part) are the best at evoking these feelings in me.
The modern player can still enjoy Planetfall thoroughly, as long as they know they are expected to do some move-optimising. Compared to Hadean Lands, and other post-Infocom IF titles, it’s shockingly shallow - in that there are many empty rooms, and in that there’s little to interact with. But that does help you focus on what you need to focus on, and it’s never just filler. Filler gets annoying. These empty rooms are the equivalent of character-building in an NPC.
Really, I found it pretty easy. But very much worthwhile. Coming to the slow realisation of what’s happening; reading about the symptoms of Xe Dizeez; understanding what happened to the inhabitants of the planet and how the various malfunctions caused their current predicaments, and that they are currently waiting to die without even knowing it…
…I mean, that stuff was seriously, genuinely creepy. I was too spoiled to take much notice of Floyd’s death (but it didn’t leave me untouched, and afterwards the complex seemed a bit too desolate, too silent, too lonely), but the way in which the player discovers the backstory? And its implications, and the understanding of what’s riding on their actions?