Author: Graham Nelson
Availability: ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/inform/ jigsaw.zip (footnotes are in separate file called jigno10.zip)
Supports: ZIP interpreter
review by Laurel Halbany
The year 1999 finds you milling about a New Year's Eve party in Century Park, counting down to the turn of the millennium. An intriguing figure in black drops a piece of a jigsaw puzzle for you to find. And there's a weird monument off at one end of the park. Could it have anything to do with the mysterious stranger? Or the strange device? If only you could get away from the party...
Jigsaw, Graham Nelson's new (and long-awaited) adventure game, promises to be every bit as interesting as its predecessor, Curses. Comparisons are inevitable, I suppose, but the two games are radically different except in their high quality, and Jigsaw manages to avoid most of the problems that made Curses less than ideal.
Structurally, the game is laid out into sixteen sections. Finishing one chapter provides the means to enter the next. The mostly linear progression helps preserve the illusion of a story in progress, instead of being a jumbled collection of get-the-bird-scare-the-snake hoops through which to jump.
The puzzles themselves are challenging without being insurmountable; players looking primarily for mind-bogglers will probably be disappointed, at least in the earlier chapters. Some of them rely on the player looking in just the right place for an item. Most are logical and straightforward, even if the right answer is not obvious. It's also very interesting to play through a puzzle or an NPC interaction more than once, trying different things, to see wildly different results. Because of the chapter-by-chapter layout of the game, it's quite possible to bungle one episode without ruining the game; failing to take the "right" action in one chapter still lets you solve another.
The game also carefully avoids giving a gender to the player. The other major NPC is cleverly described without any reference to gender at all, but in such a way that the player will fill it in on his/her own (you have, after all, been looking for this attractive person right from the Prologue). Other than some very well-done descriptions when the player looks in the mirror, there is not any personalization of the main character. This makes it a bit harder to "get in role", but it does make it easier for a wide spectrum of players to see themselves as part of the story.
One of the most interesting features of Jigsaw is the footnotes. After you solve each episode, you can look up a non-spoiler explanation of the episode that gives its background and fills in details you may or may not know. There is also a humorous list of the game's Latin tags in translation.
The bad news about this game is that it's a first release, with many of the problems you'd expect. Sometimes the game will not recognize a synonym that is given in the description (mentioning top and bottom doors at a staircase, but only OPEN UPPER DOOR works, not OPEN TOP DOOR), has items in the description that don't exist (you are told that a copy of the Times is on an armchair; the armchair is not recognized by the parser and vanishes once you pick up the paper) or will insist on a particular phrasing (at one point, you can SHAKE HANDS with an NPC, but not SHAKE HAND or SHAKE the character's HANDS). This is especially annoying in one puzzle that depend on getting the item name exactly right to find an important clue. I assumed the object in question was scenery for quite some time. There are also a few inconsistencies in the prose, such as mentioning that a particular NPC is dead, then telling you a few paragraphs later that she's been widowed. I expect that these minor glitches will be ironed out in future releases.
The real strength of Jigsaw lies in its prose. The cheery descriptions of the party in the Prologue make it seem banal, except that you're offhandedly told that you won't live out the century. In the very first chapter of the game, you find yourself in a ringside seat to watch an assassination, with an insane person as your companion. Your next adventure gives you a subtle clue that your "friend" is actually your nemesis...or is s/he? The descriptions of each chapter are also well-done, being detailed and very different for each episode without being tedious or overwhelming.
Jigsaw is an excellent example of interactive fiction. Some of the first-release bugs are nerve-grating, but the game's strengths more than overcome them. I'm eagerly waiting for the second release.
Last page! Thanks for reading this issue.
This site is maintained by Eileen Mullin