Interactive Fiction Review:
Fine Tuned by Dionysius Porcupine (a.k.a. Dennis Jerz)

First posted in SPAG March, 2002

[ This review was written based upon Release 5 of the game. ]

"The life of a daredevil adventurer leaves precious little time for rest. There's always wickedness to thwart, innocence to preserve, and honour to uphold." ...and with that short yet intriguing introduction, you find yourself in the shoes (and goggles) of Troy Sterling, a man well ahead of his time.

Fine-Tuned, in my opinion, is one of the better light-hearted games to come along in quite awhile. Though early releases of the game were known for being buggy, release five seems to be free of such distractions, and is well worth setting aside an evening or two to enjoy. If you're familiar with earlier versions of Fine-Tuned, release five has some extra features as well, including enhanced interaction between the characters, different solutions to some of the puzzles, a modified point system, and additional implementation in certain areas of the game.

Dennis Jerz, writing as Dionysius Porcupine (a pen name which is explained in the credits of the game), does a fantastic job of creating an enjoyable game world, filled with memorable NPCs. As a player, I normally don't enjoy games which are heavily scripted; I don't feel like I'm playing the game so much as being dragged along through the plot. Fortunately, Fine-Tuned is written in such a playful and imaginative way that the player tends to forget that their fate is pre-determined. Multiple solutions exist for some of the puzzles, and though each solution garners the same number of points, the play differs somewhat, giving the game replay value. Instead of arbitrarily forcing the plot, chapters serve to break up the puzzles, allowing the player to focus on the right objects in the right order, without that terrible "Led By The Hand" feeling. The chapters also give you the opportunity to explore other characters in the game aside from Troy Sterling, which makes for interesting twists on how different characters think, feel, and interact with the situations that are presented to them.

I could go on and on about who will enjoy this game. In short, I think anyone with a sense of humor will have a fantastic time. If you've played a variety of other IF titles, or are familiar with some of the current authors of IF, you'll enjoy it a bit more. Beyond that, I found that Jerz pulls in varied bits and pieces of real life from all over the place. I laughed at loud several times because the game hit home on a personal level, and I don't think I'm alone in this respect.

It is really little wonder that Fine-Tuned received nominations for Best Setting and Best Player Character for the 2001 Xyzzy Awards. At the time of this writing, the awards have not yet been handed out, and Fine-Tuned's nominations wait alongside other deserving nominees. Regardless of how the awards are distributed, Fine-Tuned is deserving of both honors. Normally, I prefer to imagine that it's me in the game, but for once, I really enjoyed playing the part of a highly developed PC. Troy Sterling is a man of fashion, a hero for the younger generation, defender of the environment and protector of the weak. He has definite flair, and it's just plain fun to imagine yourself in his world - a world with great friends, malicious enemies, fun puzzles, and humor at every turn. All this, combined with Jerz's well-developed story, make playing Fine Tuned a delight.