By Guy Marquardt

Reviewed by Quentin D. Thompson

Father Brown's Verdict:

"My dear Flambeau, this is a most charming game."

Miss Sierra's Verdict:

"If all preachers kept their sugary lies in video games, and stopped taking it out on kids, life'd be much better. It's a |expletive deleted| shame."

My Verdict:

Simply put, this is one of the best AGT games ever. Er, scratch that. Let's just say it's a great game, AGT or not.

One-Liner: A day in the life of a Lutheran pastor.

The Review

At first glance - or to anyone reading a blurb - Guy Marquardt's excellent PASTORAL PITFALLS doesn't sound like the kind of game you'd particularly want to play. After all, all it deals with is one day in the life of a Lutheran minister. Hardly exciting - memories of "Aunt Nancy's House" come to mind.....besides, we all know what religious IF is like after playing through "Christian Text Adventure - 1" and "Two Ways". But take the time to get past the opening screen, start playing the game, and you'll realize just how erroneous your first impressions were.

Gameplay and Interaction: (9/10)

"Pastoral Pitfalls" is a wonderful game to play. Most religious IF tends to fall into a preachy, propagandist rut that's hard to get out of, but this game cleverly turns the tables on that formula, and _you_'re the preacher. You're the one who has to teach Sunday School, prepare a sermon, sort out some kids' troubles, visit the sick, and so on. To add to the effect of time running out on you, Marquardt has imposed a sort of time limit, and situations that can cause you to lose time (some of them are extremely funny, like a book of theology that's so boring it makes you sleep, or a video game on your computer that you end up playing for three hours) so that, at the end of the day, you get a score and ranking based on what you've achieved. It's an interesting and novel idea, and there never is any high degree of moralizing or condemnation. In fact, at one point, the game penalizes you for taking an overly severe stand on a minor issue. The puzzles are nice and straightforward, there's a neat little hint system (which, however, penalizes you for using it) and there's no guess-the-verb once you realize what your duties are (meaning that, once you know you're a Lutheran minister, verbs like BAPTIZE, PRAY and SING are fairly intuitive.) There is one maze, set in a hospital of all places, and that's probably all that keeps me from handing out a 10 here.

Participation: (9/10)

Another area where Marquardt excels. By making me, the player character, a person with so many responsibilities - administrative, pastoral and even family matters - and adding the very realistic time limit, he ensures that it's Pastor John Smith who's playing the game, not Quentin D. Thompson. It's not at the emotional level of, say, Photopia or Common Ground, but he's done it very well.

Story and Writing: (9/10)

The writing is very good, and never too cloying to sit through. Added to this, it's tempered by a gentle sense of humour that I found particularly winning, and the story is shaped by what I do - there are lots of things to do in this game, and it had optional puzzles years before Worlds Apart. Some of them rank right up there with pakal-saving: remembering your secretary's birthday, for example.

Programming: (10/10)

What can I say. It's games like this that make me wonder how I could ever think I wrote AGT well. Hint system, adaptive WAIT command, tons of verbs implemented, circumvention of most crappy AGT library messages, no shut-outs, even reasonably good NPC interaction - this one's the goods, folks.

NPCs: (7/10)

For an AGT game, the NPCs are very good. Perhaps they verge a little on cliche - the dutiful secretary, the mother in hospital and my 'lovely wife' for example - but they at least have the virtue of being likeable. PLUS there's no bogeyman shouting things like "Evolution!" whom we're all supposed to consider the bad guy, which earns it even more points. A lot of the puzzles centre around the people, which I liked. Erm, coming to think of that, Muse did something similar, but that was a different kind of game.

Humour: (8/10)

A religious game with a sense of humour is a rarity, and Marquardt's handled it very well indeed. Lots of neat, subdued little bits. It's no King Arthur's Night Out or Death To My Enemies (or even the MiSTing of Stiffy Makane) but it's good enough.

Originality: (10/10)

No complaints here.

Design decisions: (9/10)

For someone who's written his first game - and a pretty large one at that - Marquardt's got all his design notions in the right place. Good pacing, nice sense of purpose, no unwinnable situations.

Philosophy (10/10)

Let's just say that Guy Marquardt (unlike, say, Bob Nance and Grant Metcalf) actually understands what Christianity is, and understands that it doesn't mean acting like a stuck-up jerk, and let's leave it at that.

Overall Impression:

A very good game. Perhaps some people might find it a little boring (in that way, it slightly resembles "On The Farm") but this one has plenty going for it. As interactive fiction, as a vignette of what it means to be a pastor, a church official and a family man at the same time, and as a fine piece of AGT programming, it's an unmitigated success.

My rating for "Pastoral Pitfalls": 9 out of 10.

[NOTE: I hand out very few 10s in my reviews. 7s and 8s in buckets. 9s at considerably regular intervals. But 10s? The 10s that come to my mind right now are Firebird, Theatre, Shades Of, that's about all, I guess.]

Reader Remarks

Jay Goemmer sprach the following on June 19th, 2000:

To quote Second April, as a "conservative to moderate Christian" (end of quote), *I* was offended by "Christian Text Adventure's" heavy-handedness. Regardless of the given philosophical viewpoint, if you're shoving it down the listener/reader/player's throat, it's PROPAGANDA. Hey, even in the Biblical book of Job, God said, "Come, let us *reason* together. Cheers to Guy for this game, and for "Quentin" for his gracious review.

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