Ninja's Fate

Entry to the IF Competition 2010 (26th place), English language, Z-Code.


Release 1


Ninja's Fate is a tribute to the late Paul Allen Panks. Paul died in 2009, having written dozens of text-based Adventure games. This game makes many references to him and his games. To enjoy it fully, you should follow the two links found in this paragraph first. The original dedication (also found within the game), is this:

He was a true character. Never mainstream and never attempting to be. Not always nice to everybody, not even always making sense, but always dedicated and, at the bottom of all he wrote, sympathetic. Because he had passion. A completely uncynical sort of passion. A deep love for the genre of Interactive Fiction. His games, as quirky as they were, were never welcomed too warmly by the community. Yet he kept going, never losing his enthusiasm even after the hundredth bad review. And though by most common standards, he may never have made a true masterpiece, many of his game showed that enthusiasm and passion. Some even let us get a glimpse of how the world looked like inside his head. Those flashes were always fascinating.

Paul died in July 2009. His presence within these circles will be missed! I hope he would have enjoyed this little game, even if it exceeds the 2K limit and it's not written in BASIC.

Given its background as a tribute game, Ninja's Fate isn't a "good" game by common standards. It's short and very simple; experienced players should be able to not just finish it in half an hour, but also to have explored everything. You will encounter some oddities and design decisions which are usually frowned upon in modern games. None of these things should really ever put a stop to your progress, though.

Usually, it is not a good idea for an author to discuss his own work in detail, but Ninja's Fate, being a sort of meta game, is different. The following is a fairly extensive list of things which appear or happen in the game and their sources. This is the ultimate spoiler - better skip this until you've played the game yourself!

Ninja's Fate
Paul released two games with a ninja as a protagonist which became quite notorious (see Ninja Rooms).
Although Ninja's Fate makes allusions to many gameplay-related decisions found in Paul's games, it does not incorporate any intentional implementation failures, bugs or buggy behaviour. The one single thing refering to a weird bug in one of Paul's games has been combined with a pseudo philosophical statement and thus turned into a story issue (see Ninja Rooms).
Unlike most of Paul's games, Ninja's Fate has been implemented quite extensively. Although not many actions are required to solve the game, trying out as much as possible is encouraged and should be rewarded with custom responses.
The plot of Paul's Ninja games involved one ninja going to a shrine to get an idol from there. Another ninja tried stopping him, but, if the player succeeded in his mission, failed (meaning that in the clichéd terms which western people usually apply to ninja stories, he was 'disgraced'). The idea here is that the antagonist ninja has become the protagonist of this story. Given the later developments of this story (see Location and Ghost), it could even be imaginable that the ninja protagonist in these earlier games was actually Paul Panks himself.
Player/Protagonist relationship
Ninja's Fate employs a storytelling technique commonly found in suspense movies: Since the protagonist does not understand the English language, he can only spell the words he sees. He doesn't understand them, but the player does, creating an imbalance of information between the two. The purpose here is to strengthen the player's role as a 'guiding mentor' which is well established in the ninja genre (usually, this role is taken by a character in the story, of course). As an ironic twist, although he is unable to understand or speak English, the protagonist turns out to be 'fluent' in the language of the dragons.
Some of Paul's games had a fairly nonsensical scoring system. At least one game changed the maximum number of points each time it was run (most likely due to a bug). This made it possible to finish the game with more than the maximum amount of points.
Apart from simply not getting all the positive points in Ninja's Fate, the player can also lose points by dishonouring the bust found in the entrance hall.
Although its protagonist does not know this (not understanding the English language), the game is set in a museum dedicated to Paul's IF related work (reference: the writing on the main entry). The main hall has got a bust of him and leaflets containing a floor plan. All further rooms have their names written on the portals leading to them.
East Wing
The east wing only contains supplies. These rooms are not open to the public.
West Wing
The west wing is named Westfront after Paul's largest Adventure. It boasts "1728 rooms spread across four different continents" and had lots of RPG style combat. To 'simulate' this virtual infinity, the player in Ninja's Fate is always looped back to the same room in this section, no matter where he goes. Every time, the room gets a new description which is randomly picked from a list. Likewise, one or two objects will randomly appear, none of which can ever actually be interacted with. Last, but not least, monsters/enemies will appear at random. The enemies can be disposed of using the protagonist's sword. Using anything else as a weapon, there is a random 50% chance of winning the fight. Attacking with bare hands will have the protagonist die.
The hard thing to do here was to keep this acceptable gameplay-wise as it is essentially a maze from the player's perspective. Walking straight east as many times as the player has moved west before will always get him back out, regardless of movements to north and south. Exit signs will point in that direction. To make the player notice this section is randomised and basically pointless, the number of room descriptions has been limited in a way that it will start repeating itself at the point which was considered short enough to not get completely discouraged to carry on with the game.
North Wing
The north wing consists of the Unfinished Room, the Ninja Rooms and the Galleries
Unfinished Room
The specific instance this room refers to is Paul's wish to have a Wikipedia page about him (reference: letters on the portal). The action of painting the unpainted wall is equivalent of entering him into Wikipedia. Of course (untested hypothesis), such a page would be quickly deleted again due to Wikipedia's 'relevance criteria', hence the unknown powers in this room quoting 'relevance'.
On a more general level, this room also serves as an allegory of Paul's standing within the IF community. At some point, he had just reached a (negative) standing from which it wouldn't have mattered anymore what we would have released - chances are it would have been met with disapproval anyway. Or, from the reverse perspective, although his attempts might have been earnest, he just could never put the things which distanced himself from the rest of the pack behind him. His vision and work was simply incompatible with the 'powers that be'.
Ninja Rooms
Although it looks as if there are two ninja rooms, it is actually just one whose exits are changed a little bit depending on how the player entered. This is an allusion to Paul publishing two ninja games which were essentially identical. The only difference was the addition of a computer playing dragon in the second one whom the player had to (literally) 'beat' to get on (the subtitle of Ninja II was Dare you beat dragon?). If it had been applied by the letter, this would have been a violation of one of the IF Comp's rules, but nobody cared enough since both incarnations of the game took last place in the respective years anyway.
Paul's ninja games also had a tree (which was relevant to one puzzle) which he described as looking climbable. The verb CLIMB was not understood by the game, though. This lead to the 'climbable tree' in the ninja room not actually being climbable. The obviously fake silhouette of Tokyo appearing on the picture is a comment on the clichéd non-Japanese treatment of westernised pseudo Japanese culture in these games. The dragon playing Space War! on a PDP-1 is a reference to Paul's game Space War!...and the PDP-1 , of course.
The idol and the footsteps are discussed under Endings.
The galleries document Paul's games in general and the ones entered into the IF Comp in particular. Also, the player can find some classic computers here which Paul seemed to be so obsessed with. The computers are functional; when turned on, it is alluded that they boot right into Paul's games. The protagonist can't play them, though, due to his lack of language skills again. The idea of including one of his games here as an easter egg was considered in the design phase, however, this would have been a copyright nightmare - even if it would have been extremely unlikely anyone would have objected.
The ghost appearing in the game in three places (Unfinished Room, trying to leave the museum and at the ending) is, of course, Paul himself. Paul not only believed in ghosts, but claimed to have been visited by some on several occasions. That is why it seemed appropriate to have him 'haunt' his own museum. The idea here is that he's a benevolent ghost. He has got none of the real life Paul's hot-headed qualities. In this place, he is supposed to have finally found his peace; he is content. The texts describing these ghost encounters differ slightly based on how much the protagonist has already learned before.
There are several things to consider here about the two main endings:


You can find reviews of the game through its entry at The Interactive Fiction Wiki. You will find that the reactions differed vastly. People who have been active in these circles for some time seemed to like it, but it baffled many newcomers. One or two reviewers didn't even figure out that there is an EXAMINE verb in the game.

If you look the game up in any of the common databases which allow for game ratings, keep in mind that quite a few reviewers specifically stated they would give Ninja's Fate the worst rating available, because they felt this would be right given Paul's own history within the community and especially the IF Comp.

No reviews pointed out any actual implementation bugs. There were some interesting enhancement suggestions, but not enough to warrant a second release. If you find any bugs or have comments, don't hesitate to contact me!

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