The Mind Electric

By Jason Dyer, August 1995 (Inform).
Review: Gareth Rees.

I enjoy playing a game in which I am plunged into a new universe with unfamiliar but logical laws which I can discover by experimentation and careful thinking. The Mind Electric seemed to promise that, but it didn't deliver. The world it presented made no sense as a real world, and still made no sense when interpreted as some kind of Neuromancer-style virtual reality (i.e., the objects and landscapes are visual representations of programs and data in the memory of a network of computers). I didn't feel as though I was in a world with logical laws that I could deduce; I felt instead that I was in a world where an ad-hoc rationalisation could be produced for any event, however meaningless. I think the majority of those who commented on The Mind Electric on (and it was the game which seemed to receive the most debate) would agree with me.

For example, at some point in the game I need to pick out one of ten thousand boxes, or else I will die. There is an intelligent cube which cannot talk, but wants to tell me the number of the correct box. There are several easy and straightforward ways it might do this. One way would be binary chop: the cube blinks if the number I guess is too high, and nods if I guess too low. Another way would be for the cube to communicate the number directly: 'The cube blinks four times, then pauses, then blinks three times, then pauses...'. But instead it insists on playing 'Mastermind' with me, which might have been appropriate in The Magic Toyshop, but not in a life and death situation!

One possibility for improvement would have been to give a set of rules at the start. Infocom's games A Mind Forever Voyaging and Suspended are similar in some ways to The Mind Electric, and those games come with manuals explaining the nature of the world into which the player is plunged, and details on the kind of commands that might be expected to work in that world. The shareware game Enhanced doesn't come with a manual, but it does have a gentle introductory section in which the player is prodded into experimenting with the game's capabilities. Either of these approaches, followed by a consistent way of interacting with the virtual world, would have helped The Mind Electric become playable.

Even ignoring the debate about the nature of the world and the difficulty of the puzzles, it was just a dull game! The backstory (who are the Kaden and the Souden?; what was I spying on and why?; how did I got into this mess in the first place?; who is the mysterious character who is trying to get me out?) sounded much more interesting than what actually happened in the game. Jason Dyer's responses in suggest that he had a much more clearly worked-out rationalisation for the events in The Mind Electric than actually appears in the game:

As for the paper puzzle, well, the paper was a gift from the tall man. He had access to the passwords, but, was unable to send messages that were too long without being detected [...] logically speaking, knowledge of how a duplicator operates is one thing not erased in loyalty transfers since both Kaden and Souden use it.

Perhaps there should have been more of this background (and maybe a character or two?).

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Andrew Clover