I recently played Aurora (Version 5) for the first time, having randomly snatched it during a perusal of the If-Archive. As one never knows what to expect from such blind fishing expeditions, my initial reaction upon running Aurora was pleasant surprise-- this seems like the sort of game I generally quite enjoy playing, and I found the particular setting and initial plot developments intriguing. I soon encountered difficulties and found this discussion. I was sad to read the game lingers in an intermediate state of development, yet presumably the author playtested the existing version from start to finish so some form of resolution must be possible-- and I'd like to explore as much of the game as is accessible, since as I said I find cogent the general concept and a number of details. Since the game has been available for some time, is not finished, and may have been abandoned, I see no need to cloak my comments and questions below in spoiler tags.
Most of my first impressions of the game have already been mentioned by others. I as well find nautical lingo unpalatable and impractical, and was pleased to see switching to mundane navigation also changed the room descriptions to offer standard directional terms. I spent a number of futile minutes wondering if Gail actually existed or instead whether Jake was delusional, as I could not locate her cryopod since the sickbay description (the player's as opposed to the character's only knowledge of the game world) makes no mention of such. The harsh bug whereby the game crashes upon attempting to talk to another character is quite obnoxious-- earlier katz mentioned talking to some certain character will work, but which one? Players ought not have to suffer the frustration of a crashed game each time they attempt to narrow down the list of potentially chatty folks, so perhaps we could record the relevant name here if anyone knows. Peter Pears had an excellent suggestion on redesigning the computer interface, which is utterly confusing for all the reasons he mentioned, into a system that plays on the "virtual reality" theme by making the directories into rooms rather than whatever they currently are.
Regarding several eccentric criteria which invariably enter into my own accounting of any game I play, Aurora scores:
+1 point for an included innocently fun response to spouses hugging or kissing each other
+1 point for functional jewelry (baubles are fun)
+1 point for inclusion of an xyzzy response (more fun)
-1 point for lack of naked people in cryostasis (though future sociologists may never resolve that inscrutable link twixt humanity's categorical loss of modesty and the invention of warp drive, this enigmatic correlation will be found to inexorably ensue in all possible future civilizations-- heck, we've only just been to the Moon, yet we already have nekkid bungee jumping and Kim Kardashian)
-1 point for lack of an "EXITS" command or similar functionality (regardless of how simple the map may be).
An EXITS function is one of the most player-friendly innovations of all time, and since this game was written with Inform 7 adding such functionality would require no more than five minutes of programming time. Barring unusual circumstances, every contemporary parser-based game should feature EXITS functionality.
With no way to apprehend the game's current state of development, I'd like to continue playing as much as I might but have no idea at what point I'll need to stop (if at all). I've played through to the point where Jake, Gail, and Feng are revived and active, and have discovered the remainder of the crew seem a vegetative sort. As Jake and Gail have clearly defined jobs (respectively doctor and computer whiz), I'm presuming Feng should go outside the ship into the strange mist-land to make himself useful and thereby advance the storyline (otherwise he has no purpose I can presently determine). The collective inventory of the characters consists of two wedding rings, a pair of gold earrings, a spacesuit, a multitool, a storage drive, some surgical tools, a defibrillator, and Aleksey's crystal. To my mind, the central mystery/goal at this time is to determine who revived Jake from stasis and why (as such will likely inform the attainment of secondary objectives such as finding out why something rather than nothing surrounds the spaceship's hull and reviving as many of the other crewmembers as may be possible).
I have some questions for anyone who has played Aurora:
1) I had an idea that Jake should cut out Aleksey's eyeball and thereby gain access to the areas locked with retinal scanners Sierra Army Depot style, on the assumption that since Aleksey is the maintenance man he ought have access to all areas of the ship for fixing-stuff purposes. Yet I have found no expression to effect this; most formulations result in some variation of either:
You must supply a noun.
You do not normally need to refer to specific parts of the body.
Maddeningly, both of these imply to me that what I'm trying to accomplish is plausible but the implementation is either esoteric or buggy. On the other hand wheeling about Aleksey's corpse (or other unconscious crewmates) and using such on a scanner doesn't facilitate access. Am I on the wrong track with this idea?
2) Perhaps per advice from his attorney, Jake steadfastly refuses to entertain exploratory surgery on his patients as an option. When Jake examines one of the comatose crew members after placing them on an exam table in sickbay, he concludes he ought perform an MRI scan to advance his diagnosis. How exactly am I supposed to do that? Off-topic, although Aurora should be given latitude in use of medical argot since a main character is a trained physician, wouldn't referring to a brain-scan be the better choice here? Surely the interstellar-voyaging future has something better than MRI devices, but in general I'm rather less frustrated with katz here than generally expressing discontent with a larger trend that apparently significant numbers of doctors and nurses have decided to start writing IF in recent years and think nothing of filling their stories with all manner of incomprehensible jargon and fanciful words as difficult to spell as they are inconvenient to type. Enterotome and Pentobarbitol? How about simply "shears" and "blue pill" instead? Ms. Dunbar managed to provide hours of fine entertainment with an unassuming bottle of Loblo, and in my opinion anything more is distraction and contrivance.
3) Gail is supposedly a computer programmer, but seems to need a "pass" to decrypt the top-secret files in the Captain's directory on the computer. What is a pass, and where do I get one? Perhaps the flash drive from the desk near the computer is needed to retrieve a pass from somewhere else?
4) My reading of Feng's reaction to studying the ship status on the computer is that he needs to perform EVA to fix an antenna or similar space-age doodad. I had him put on the spacesuit and leave the ship, whereupon he found himself in the ominous "Mist" where any action whatsoever (whether advance, retreat, or even a basic status assessment) seems implausible. What should a character strive to accomplish in this mist?
5) Gail is supposedly a nanotechnology researcher, and Jake reports the crystal from Aleksey's brain is nanotechnological-- yet Gail has no comment or reaction upon examining the device. Should she be studying or working on this crystal in some way?
6) Presumably gaining access to the storage room will be one of the last things the characters accomplish, as likely whatever is in the mysterious cryopod there (as reported by Gail while studying the computer) is responsible for the strange events on the ship and for awakening Jake from stasis immediately before play began. Therefore I'm willing to be patient and not worry about all that for now. If I'm wrong on these counts, how do I get in there?
7) Previously in this discussion, numerous mentions were made of a "wardrobe" in the crew living quarters. I cannot discern in any way the existence of such an item, and am only able to substantially interact with the jewelry box. If such an item is indeed present, the game certainly does not recognize "wardrobe" or any reasonable synonym as its moniker. Was this wardrobe removed in version 5?
Though I reserve the right to change my opinion after seeing all the game has to offer, at this time I feel Aurora could become a very fine game with embellishment by the author, and I encourage others to give what's presently offered a try.