The IF competition, if nothing else, seems to foster amusing experiments in point of view: 1996 and 1997 gave us Ralph and A Bear's Night Out, viewed from the perspective of a dog and a teddy bear, respectively, and 1999's A Day for Soft Food continues the trend by giving the player the persona of a cat, a common housecat. As with the other two, there's lots of fun to be had in inhabiting the role, and the author has done much to exploit the humor of the situation, and while A Day for Soft Food doesn't have as strong a sense of the limitations of the character, it works well nonetheless.
As with the other two, the game begins with a task at hand that's typical of the character's goals; the dog PC was intent on finding a bone, the teddy bear PC wanted to assemble the materials for a picnic, and the cat PC, well, just wants to eat, preferably the canned soft food of the title. Unlike the other two, though, your goals change along the way, on a few levels: you start solving problems as they present themselves, whether or not the problems have a clear connection to the ultimate goal--and you continue solving puzzles even after the original goal has been attained. While the shift makes sense on some level--the goal becomes obvious reasonably quickly--it also makes this a rather different PC from that of, say, Ralph. Part of the humor in Ralph arose from the PC's total fixation on finding the lost bone, to the exclusion of everything else; Day for Soft Food picks up on that in some measure (your Provider becomes steadily more annoyed with your antics over the course of the game), but moves away from it toward the end, and the result is a rather anthropomorphic cat. That's not bad, as such, but it does take some adjustment.
Part of the reason for this is that the puzzles are a bit of a mixed bag; some of them suggest rather catlike reasoning (particularly in the way you pester your Provider into waking up and feeding you), and some really don't--you're not finding a solution to an immediate problem so much as you're solving task A to get object B to solve puzzle C with. That aside--again, your cat nature only drives the action to a certain extent--the puzzles also have some fairness problems; a few are misleading, or unhelpful at best, in conveying the scale of some relevant objects (i.e., in relation to you), another is guess-the-syntax, and another requires that the player know something that the PC clearly doesn't. The result is that the PC is considerably less catlike than the PCs in Ralph and Bear's Night Out are doglike and bearlike--the character isn't as fully realized, and the player can too easily forget that the PC has limitations that don't afflict human PCs. (The basic problem, however--that your Provider isn't as good a Provider as he was previously because of an illness, forcing you to take matters into your own paws--fits with the cat personality; events are significant only insofar as they affect your supply of food.)
Despite these problems, though, there's lots of fun to be had here, and even though the puzzles shortchange the catty aspect of the game somewhat, the incidental details and fun stuff make up for it. There are various creative deaths to die, for one thing, and the variety and number of untimely ends you can suffer (the game occasionally warns you when an action would end the game prematurely, but usually doesn't prevent you from doing anything dumb) suggests the perverse curiosity of a real cat. (Particularly notable in this respect are the deaths when you jump onto the stump where your Provider is chopping wood, and when you set a trap then trigger it yourself.) Other amusing bits include this description of a chair: "The lumpy mountain is home to some of your finest claw and scratch marks, though your Provider has never shared much enthusiasm for the art." At its best moments, the game allows the player to recognize the significance of, say, the Provider's illness, even while the PC remains oblivious; the serene cluelessness of a cat is the main source of humor here. Even the writing is subtly catlike, as in the following description:
To the east, icicles hang like fangs within a giant maw of snow. A large pair of matching tracks lead out of shadows of the snowy mouth and to the west. A path loops north and south."
A cat describes with terms that a cat knows, and therefore icicles are "fangs," the opening is a "maw," and a car's path down the driveway is a "pair of matching tracks." Subtle touches like this help the overall feel of the game considerably.
A Day for Soft Food, like Ralph and, to a lesser extent, A Bear's Night Out, is worth playing simply to see the fun things that the author does with the premise. The puzzles have problems, but the overall charm of the game more than makes up for those deficiencies, enough that I gave it an 8 in this year's competition.
In A Day for Soft Food the player controls the hungry cat of a household. Its master (called "the Provider" in the game) is sound asleep in his bed, ill from some unknown sickness. His state of misery has left his faithful pet with barely anything to eat, and even the slightest mewl seems to annoy him. Can food be found without waking him up?
As with most modern interactive fiction, the player types in full sentences describing their intended actions (LOOK AT THE PROVIDER, MEW, and so on). The game requires a Z-interpreter to run.
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