Competition 2001 Reviews

by J. Robinson Wheeler

an apple from nowhere Earth And Sky Goofy A Night Guest Timeout
Bane of the Builders Elements The Gostak Schroedinger's Cat Triune
The Beetmonger's Journal The Evil Sorcerer Grayscale Stick it to the man Vicious Cycles
Begegnung am Fluss Film at Eleven Kallisti Stiffy Makane:TUC Volcano Isle
Crusade Fine Tuned The Last Just Cause Stranded

an apple from nowhere
by steven carbone

Sort of Photopia-meets-Pulp Fiction that remains somewhat confusing all the way to the only ending I found, where you die in a car crash no matter what command you enter. The problem with this ending is that it seems like there was another path I might have taken somewhere, only it doesn't seem worth the effort to keep replaying in search of it.


Fine Tuned: An Auto-Mated Romance
by Dionysius Porcupine (Dennis Jerz)

With the help of Aloysius Pratt, can Troy and Melody thwart a madman's evil plan? Apparently not. Having a walkthrough solution that actually solved the game would have helped, I think. The game was a delight at the beginning, and then the ending got successively buggier and buggier. At one point, I ended up somehow tied up in the Cellar and standing in the clearing, with Miss Sweet storming into her cabin every turn. Locks but no keys, and a walkthrough that kept taking "You can't go that way" turns. I wish I knew how it ended. Well, not counting getting blown up. With the bee making you drop the letter opener the turn before you die. Even though the letter opener is sitting in the room with you. I don't get it. I'm guessing that the author ran really short on time about two thirds of the way through, because the first chapter of the game was flawlessly implemented.

The fullscore command was probably added at the last minute, from the looks of it. Oh well. I look forward to a fixed version, or at least a fixed walkthrough.


Film at Eleven
by Bowen Greenwood

A clever and fun comic romp as a small-town reporter getting the scoop on the mayor's indiscretions. I had a good time with it. Got a bit stuck at one point near the end (but was saved by the helpful walkthrough file). I enjoyed it. The only errors I noticed were missing end-quotes at the ends of some strings that contained dialogue.


Goofy
by Ricardo Dague

The mouse puzzle was irritating, but I finally managed to solve it and win the game. Overall, this short game (a VERBOSE mode might have been nice, considering the only room descriptions that the built-in BRIEF mode excluded were telling me where the room exits were) had kind of a Scott Adams vibe that had a strange appeal to me. Most likely not going to be high on anyone's favorites list, it really wasn't that bad. I had about given up on it, but there's still something good about the moment when you finally solve a puzzle game's puzzles and see the "YOU HAVE WON" message, so I leave this one behind with no ill will.


Bane of the Builders
by Bogdan Baliuc

Starting the game with "Would you like to restore a saved game?" is a bad move, because it is annoying for a reason I can't quite put a finger on. I suppose it's that I'd rather be in charge of deciding if I'd like to restore a game or not, thank you -- and in a 2-hour game, I am unlikely to be starting up anywhere but at the very beginning anyway.

Addtionally, I wish that authors would set games VERBOSE, please.

This author needs to pay more attention to the distribution of new_lines, especially in 'describe' properties and so forth.

This is the second game I've encountered with a walkthrough that doesn't work. Particularly annoying is that the part where the walkthrough failed is the maze, one of the more irritating mazes I've seen recently. There's no way to map it, it's one of those mazes that moves you around randomly -- and you don't have enough items to drop to get oriented. Also, apparently you're suppose to now and then shoot a hatch open. Which ones? You aren't given any clue. Some of them resist blasting. The first time I tried this on my own, I got a rejection message, so I assumed it wouldn't work at all. Then I managed to find what I'm supposed to find in the maze by blasting open every closed hatch I could, only I wore out my blaster in the process, making the game unwinnable.

Even using the walkthrough, winning the game was difficult, and by then I didn't care very much. On the whole, a not unpleasant Infocom-ish puzzle game with some backstory to it, but let's provide a real walkthrough, please. And if you're supposed to open a panel, maybe a clue that the panel is openable. And I don't think "x mist" should be necessary to win, because I think it should be reasonably possible to win without consulting a walkthrough for the exact right unclued moves.


Begegnung am Fluss: Eine Abenteuer-Miniatur
by Florian Edlbauer

Ich spreche Deutche nicht.


Volcano Isle
by Paul DeWitt

Okay, once again we have a randomly-generated maze which makes the provided walkthrough for getting through the maze utterly useless. Fortunately, the maze was rather simple this time, but -- hey authors, what the heck are you THINKING?

Another old-school treasure hunt puzzle game. Once I decided I needed to consult the walkthrough to get anywhere, I pretty much went through it on auto-pilot. In retrospect, I suppose I could have solved the puzzles on my own. The thing with the amulets was a bit confusing, as was ending up with two indistinguishable amulets. (Which amulet did you mean, the amulet or the amulet?)

Someone else I know considered this game a pleasant surprise. What might have helped for me is having some sense of the scope of the game. Maybe the suspicious individual could have clued me as to how many treasures I was supposed to escape with. Then again, I don't think I used the provided hint system (the crystal ball) to its advantage because I was using the walkthrough instead.

In a game this small, and with a strict inventory limit, I'm not sure there's a good reason for having red herring items.

This is the second game in a row that prompted me to enter my name. Much like the last one, it was never used in the game. Great.

Another petition for having VERBOSE set by default goes here.


Elements
by John Evans

The third game in a row that starts off by pestering me with identity questions. Now here's a trend that should go no further; in fact, didn't this go out around 1985 or so? And with good reason?

First impression:

>help
One small hint: Examine the scenery.

>w

Earth Room
You find yourself in a small cave room. The air is close and moist.
Fungi of all kinds sprout from the soft brown soil of the floor.
They give off an eerie fluorescent light. There are exits east,
south and west.

>x soil
You can't see any such thing.

>x fungi
You can't see any such thing.

>x air
You can't see any such thing.

>x cave
You can't see any such thing.

>x light
You can't see any such thing.

...not a confidence-building one. Which scenery did you mean for me to examine, exactly?

Second impression:

>help
There are a few new verbs in this game, but nothing really odd
or obscure. Mostly it's just stuff that I thought would be
convenient, like "touch"...

>get shape
The fire's much too hot.

>touch fire
You feel nothing unexpected.

>touch shape
You feel nothing unexpected.

Sigh.

And... *two* scraps of paper? Don't worry, that won't be hard to disambiguate.

Wait, make that four or five.

[90 minutes later]

Okay, even the HINTS [not HINT, but HINTS, as I discovered when I mistyped it each and every time] system is not good enough to get me through this in two hours. I appreciate the effort, and the different kinds of puzzles, and so forth, but too many things were unimplemented or went crossways to what the hints where telling me. Sharpen the knife on the grindstone, only that didn't work. Maybe I need to work the grindstone pedal first? Too bad the pedal isn't implemented!

Anyway, I'm giving up on this one. There's a certain arbitrariness to the puzzles that's not working for me, an inconsistent logic where consistency would be friendly to the players. This one requires mind reading abilities on the part of the player, and that just doesn't work within the constraints of the competition.

Authors generally don't release straight puzzle games outside of the comp any more, but I think that they ought to; this one seems more like the kind of thing that would delight the hard-core puzzle solvers out there if released during a slow month during the year (same with Volcano), rather than plopped into the competition to vex the general audience.


Earth And Sky
by Lee Kirby (Paul O'Brian)

To be continued??? Aw, man! Just when it was getting good! That was great stuff. I'll stay tuned.


A Night Guest
by Dr. Inkalot

Well, this was an interesting experiment. Good thing there was a hint system. Otherwise, the only option is to read the author's mind or perhaps know the poem by heart, because each turn is a guess-the-verb puzzle in which you must type what will logically prompt the next verse of the poem. I was somewhat amused around six turns in when the HINT feature printed this message:

(Warning: this is going to be an obscure one.)

   after having, in previous turns, required me to guess the commands GET ANGRY, LAUGH, and (amazingly, the first of the game) SOLVE DILEMMA.

The game came with some pictures to liven things up. All of the commands I typed seemed to prompt specialized responses, although most of them were antagonistic and unfriendly, of the "What a boob you are! Of course that's not going to work!" variety.

Yes, this one was an experiment, and it was ... interesting.


Vicious Cycles
by Simon Mark

A dark short story that unfolds in a deliberately confused manner. The pacing seems off; I think reorganizing the material would help with this. After a certain point in the game, which has a few puzzles to solve, typing Z.Z.Z.Z. basically gets you to the end. This makes the game rather lopsided in terms of when it's basically just cutscenes and when it's interactive.

I'd suggest repositioning some of the cutscene material to be more evenly spaced, so that in between attempts at solving the puzzles you get the backstory nicely filled in.


The Gostak
by Carl Muckenhoupt

I don't speak this language either.


Timeout: An Interactive Paranoia Adventure
by Stephen Hilderbrand

Large mazes of rooms that I can't keep straight in my head are always a turnoff for me when I'm playing through a lot of comp games. Also, when I opened the dossier and read the paper, the game had a fatal stack overflow and crashed.

I read through the solution file, which didn't really give me any hint about how to actually win the game, saying that I was supposed to take the zah boxes to a randomly-decided location (what is it with randomness this year?). I had no idea where this location was, and when I wandered around trying to find some clue about that I was repeatedly killed.

In general, the text seemed lively and full of cheer, and I apologize to the author for not giving his game more of a chance. This is another one where I would have recommended releasing it outside the comp. Comp players (myself included) are just too fussy and impatient to give these kinds of games a decent shot.


The Evil Sorcerer
by Gren Remoz

Another game that starts with asking me if I want to restore a game! Grrrr! I've had enough of games with leading questions. This one takes the cake, though, in asking me if I'd like to have VERBOSE mode on. Well, at least I can make sure it's on this time. Still, what is this crazy rampant meme this year? Can we maybe assume that people playing these games are familiar with IF? Thank you.

Also, when I went to look at the blurb for this one in comp01.z5, I got a "You can't see any such thing." message. Then I realized it was because I had typed >X SORCEROR instead of >X SORCERER. Silly me.

However, after all of the above griping, I had a great time solving this game. There was no walkthrough, which means that the puzzles were all pitched at just the right level. The notes say that this game was in development for a long time, and it shows. Very well done. One or two guess the verb (actually, guess the preposition in one troublesome case), and I didn't manage to get a perfect score, but I had fun.


The Beetmonger's Journal: an Archaeological Epiphany
by Aubrey Foil

The readme file mentioned that the author had made some effort to design a look for HTML-TADS interpreters. One problem: he set the background to be white, but didn't bother changing the text color. Normally I have my interpreter set for a dark background and light text, meaning that when the game first loaded, it was like reading something written in invisible ink. I then had to adjust my preferences to make the text black, and will have to adjust them back to my preferred defaults after the game is done. So, just a note to HTML-TADS authors: if you're going to take control of the game's look, go all the way with it, please; also, you might want to test it on several interpreters with preferences set to various combinations of colors just to see how it turns out.

That said, I'm kind of enjoying the dawning here of an age of IF experiences that have a tailored look and feel, where the page design and so forth are also tools the author can use to get what they see in their imaginations across. Having the text trimmed with spot graphics here and there is also a pleasant effect, I find.

I'm a few turns into the game and my first impressions are positive. My input is being deftly handled, and filtered through first-person-chronicling- third-person narration. Courses of action are being liberally clued as I go.

cpirae?

The decision to end the game without giving the standard "Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE..." prompt is slightly irritating, as it meant the game quit, and I had to reload it just to keep playing. Especially in a game with a branching storyline, this is a little too inconvenient for my taste.

On the whole, though, an excellent piece of work.


Stranded
by Rich Cummings

Gee, I could have sworn this was going to be an ADRIFT game. I wonder what made me think that...

Hey, it's not in the TADS folder! Um. Guess I'll move on.


Crusade: Faith-based hijinks in the desert
John Gorenfeld

Strange little satire that quickly became unworkable. A walkthrough would have been wise.


Triune
by Papillon

The magic forest that sprawls in all directions, with one room having a big tall tree that you can climb, and sylvan streams and mushroom groves, and a unicorn that dances shyly away from you -- these are cliches by now, unfortunately. I am sure that something new could be done with them, but it would take some real grit and work and imagination. I'd like to see that kind of hard work on display, instead of the same old same old.

It gets a bit more interesting with the text in the three books in the castle. Indeed, the magic forest seems to be deliberately cliched. Things get darker by degrees and shades. It seemed like I was deliberately pointed in the direction of doing brutal things as I went along; and I did go along.

The response to eating the Fruit of Knowledge was nicely done.

Nice use of HTML to change the banner colors at a certain point in the story. Simple but effective.

And now it's over. Hmmm, that was not bad. Some nice writing, some just workable. The author had something to say, at least, and used the standard tropes to get there. It's hard to say that I enjoyed it; one doesn't leave this game laughing and singing. I'll just end by saying that, were I scoring this, I'd give Triune pretty good marks.


Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country
by One of the Bruces (Adam Thornton)

Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...


Stick it to the man
by H. Joshua Field

This game got a little crashy. I found one ending, but the others I was trying to pursue (e.g., telling Brad "Let's get out of here") tended to make the screen go dark and the computer freeze up.

Other than that, it was all right, I guess.


The Last Just Cause: A Lost Memory and Eternal Blue
by Noob

After reading the interminable readme and faq files, I was much less eager to fire this one up than if I'd started cold. Not that it would have helped the experience much to have not read them first, as I gave up on the game after losing several matches for no reason and then killing a monster. This is a homebrew game that reminds me of something I might have found entertaining for an afternoon in 1982, but I have grown up considerably since then and cannot summon the patience for it. I wish the author no particular ill will; surely, there must be some room in the IF world for people to write their little hearts out doing projects like this. If I may be so bold, however, the competition is not the place for them. The only reward for the effort is likely to be savage reviews, or maybe just general indifference, and a low score.


Schroedinger's Cat
by James Willson

Ummmmmmm. I don't get it.


Grayscale
by Daniel Freas

Another nicely done, well-implemented puzzle game with a bit of a twist to it. A seemingly random destructive action I made during the middle of the game gave a big hint about the ending; I liked that.

This is another game that seems to have a thing for primary colored displays. Must just be a meme going around this year.


Kallisti
by James A. Mitchelhill

Well, this one was entertaining insofar as it prompted an extended word association exercise for me, as I typed noun after noun after noun after noun, trying to by chance hit on a topic that Katie would have something to say about. As basically a mind-reading exercise, it was pretty much irritating. The pickings were slim, and got slimmer as the game went on. Topics were only allowed to be asked about once, so playing became a string of don't-know-the-word or we-already-covered-that error messages.

The game's help command says that the game can't be put into an unfinishable state. Oh yes it can. It comes that way out of the box.