Competition Aught-Two Reviews

by J. Robinson Wheeler

Another Earth, Another Sky Constraints Janitor Ramon and Jonathan TOOKiE'S SONG
Augustine Evacuate Koan Rent-A-Spy When Help Collides
BOFH The Granite Book Moonbase Screen
The Case of Samuel Gregor Hell: A Comedy of Errors The Moonlit Tower The Temple
Color and Number Identity Thief MythTale Terrible Lizards
Concrete Paradise Jane Not Much Time Till Death Makes a Monk-Fish Out of Me!

janitor.gif

Janitor
It's a living.
by Peter Seebach / Kevin Lynn

This was my first game of the comp, and I spent three hours on it. It took me a long time to figure out the point of it, ie what the story was about, even after reading most of the hints several times.

It is, in effect, clever, maybe too much so. It's an homage to text-adventure-ness, in which you need to reverse-engineer the starting conditions of an adventure game- within-the-game that starts out in its "solved" state. Along the way, you supposedly deduce that there is something funny going on, and the actual game turns into an IF detective story of sorts. I say supposedly, because I only learned this by reading the hints file.

I spent a lot of time wandering around not understanding the concept of restoring the game-within-a-game to its original conditions, and then once I grokked that, I got involved in the task. A few too many red herring objects cluttered things up, and I nearly got stuck and gave up with two unrestored puzzles left open and an NPC demanding that I finish this task before the game would continue. The hints were sort of letting me down at that point, but somehow I ended up figuring out the last two bits of it.

Then there was a strange little endgame that played itself out while I watched.

The game was nearly free of bugs and typos. The one typo that really caught my attention was one that you'd think the authors or the beta-testers would have identified long before release:

>x bottom
This shelf is the place of honor for a single stick
of butter, on a marble pedestal.On the bottom shelf is
a stick of butter.

As for buggy behavior, I found a certain response to the trap door in the Moor Gnivil/Tnemesab locations confusing:

>x trap
It's a beautiful oak trap door, with fine brass fittings,
which is currently open.


>stand on trap
The stairs have collapsed, and it doesn't look like the
attic is particularly accessible.

>d
Tnemesab
This cozy basement has beautiful wood-panel walls. Above
you is the living room, and a doorway is to the west. A heavy
iron ladder hangs down from the ceiling. In the northeast
corner, a floating arrangement of glowing blue runes indicates
the location of access door N3E, which is open.

>stand on trap
You can't go that way.

That extra line after you examine the trap is one of the formatting errors I noticed along the way.

All in all, not bad, but perhaps a little "meta" for my tastes. As usual, I'd like to see the same authors put their same craft and imagination in service of an original piece of IF, rather than a piece of meta-IF-that-is-an-homage-to-IF-and-IF-tropes. Any game that refers to a "mimesis generator" should set off warning buzzers at this point in IF's history.


moonlit.gif

The Moonlit Tower
by Yoon Ha Lee

This was a fairly heady pool in which to take a quick dip, following the straightforward meat-and-potatoes IF of "Janitor." The author's first IF, she describes having been inspired by Emily Short and Andrew Plotkin, and that's sort of what we get.

I was somewhat led to believe the game would be more extensive than it is, because the volume of supplemental material in the game (in the form of author's notes and hints) almost outweighs the actual substance of the game. The rather rich prose style (verging on poetry), with hints of elaborate and mythic backstory, also added to this effect.

It was short and sweet, and quite an auspicious introductory work for a new author. If she takes what she learned from writing this piece and puts it to use on a larger work, we'd all better watch out, because there is going to be some stiff Xyzzy Awards competition coming up soon.


evacuate.gif

Evacuate
by Jeff Rissman

I would like to like this one a little more than I did. Released out of the competition, where I wouldn't be in so much of a rush, I could potentially spend a pleasant Saturday afternoon puzzle-solving my way through an old-school science fiction IF game like this one.

The main problem with it is that a lot of the ideas are, by now, well within the domain of cliche. However, this is the point where I become somewhat torn. I like to encourage new authors to take their best bash at completing a game, and not so much worry about whether their ideas are excitingly original or not. I understand that what motivates a lot of authors is to create something rather a lot like the work that inspired them in the first place, to come up with puzzles that are, to the authors, slightly new twists on ideas they know have been done before.

At the same time, too much of the material here felt rather creaky. Deadliest of all, for a Competition game, "Evacuate" sports an extremely tedious maze about a third of the way through. The poor author is going to learn this lesson the hard way, as I imagine that the maze he put in here is going to earn him a lot of instant 1's from seething judges.

The author did provide a complete walkthrough, including a map of the maze, but it was still a chore to get through it, because the maze randomizes your sense of direction each turn, and the ascii art of the walkthrough's map was a little hard to translate into what I was seeing. The idea the author was going for here seems, to me, to be a valid enough reason for the exercise: you have a compass, and actually have to use it like you'd use a real compass, registering which way is true north and adjusting your relative sense of direction accordingly.

I just think it is a bad, bad, bad idea for a competition game. I think we need to create some sort of IFComp primer guide that will let new authors know what they need to know to have a good chance at a decent score from the judges. Rule One: It's a minefield. Rule Two: BOOM. *** You have died ***

The writing is workably crafted, although it does show an eager young writer's tendency to overload on the use of adjectives. The game had many, many variations on the theme of "You see a control panel with two buttons and a lever." It had a couple of puzzles that I might have been able to solve without a walkthrough, but only if I were extremely patient and forgiving and thorough.

Rule Three: Competition judges are neither patient, forgiving, or thorough.

This is yet another game for which I want to say to the author, "You have now gotten these old ideas out of your system. For the next one, dig a little deeper and think more originally, because you've got the skills."

There were a couple of bugs in the early rooms of the game. Pulling the green rug printed a blank line instead of a response, a common enough TADS error. I was slightly annoyed at some red herring objects in a game that was otherwise rather meticulous about distinguishing between important objects (which will have one important use later on) and scenery, which doesn't go with you (and doesn't even show up with TAKE ALL, which means the author has taken the kinds of pains I like to see). What's that animate plant for? Why let me pick up all of those paintings if they're completely useless? Especially if the game has a rather small inventory limit?

Rule Four: Don't have an inventory limit.

And while I'm at it, why have a hunger puzzle? It's easily solved, but so why have it at all, then?

Rule Five: Don't have hunger puzzles.

The only time I really hit something frustrating was the retinal scanner, which comes equipped with lasers, cameras, and a cylinder, none of which the game recognizes as words. It didn't even understand the concept of putting objects into the "scanner" -- you have to >PUT OBJECT IN CHAMBER. I discovered, after a lot of frustration, the word "chamber" was the right one by just typing "PUT OBJECT" and seeing the game automatically say "(in the chamber)". Good enough, I guess, but some more synonyms would be handy.


tookie.gif

TOOKiE'S SONG
A Text Adventure Game
by Jessica Knoch

This game has the same relentlessly cheerful narrative tone that Laura Knauth's "Trapped in a One Room Dilly" did. I don't know whether such a tone is good or bad on its own, but if the player happens to be in a surly mood when it comes belting out at him, it can be a bit much.

However, I don't take off points for friendliness; I just thought I'd mention it.

The first comment I'd like to make is a general one, but I'll use "Tookie" as an example. I think that authors need to exercise restraint when it comes to opening text. One brief paragraph will usually suffice, if carefully crafted. If you need more than that to get across all of the material you have imagined, perhaps what you need to do is start the game in a different place, and have the exposition unfold interactively.

Here is the first third of "Tookie"'s opening text:

It started out a normal enough Saturday...

You slept in late and watched part of the ball game in
between naps, until Tookie, your faithful hound, ran over
with the leash and would not be refused. You set out on a
walk through the neighborhood (fully intending to be back in
time to see the last few minutes of the game), when you
spotted a rather strange thing in the sky.

By this point, I was already thinking to myself, "Gee, this could have been done as IF, instead of as a cutscene." I could have started the game plopped out on the couch, or whatever, and Tookie could have run in with the leash and nagged at me until I figured out that I needed to put the leash on his collar and take him outside. And then I could have been alerted something in the sky, perhaps by Tookie, and EXAMINEd it for myself.

It continues:

Before you could say "Golly, I wonder what that is," an alien
spacecraft had landed and three beings that looked like giant
cats in silver jumpsuits had hopped out, grabbed Tookie right
off his leash, and hustled him back into their spaceship! A voice
hissed out at you, "Perhaps if you're clever enough, you can have
him back, earthling," and then the spacecraft jumped right
into the ground, leaving nothing behind but a small hole and
some scorch marks!

Well, naturally enough, you started down the hole in pursuit of
your dog! Man's best friend, and let's not forget this one is a
purebred bloodhound, but the point is that no alien cat is going
to steal your Tookie! The tunnel twisted and turned, but you
followed it all the way down, slipping a bit at the end to find
yourself here.... but where is here?

See what I mean? This material also could have been part of the game. It might have been more fun, and more engaging of my interest. Although, if it had started that way, I might have ended up being disappointed with what I found down in the hole, which was a "collect the four gems" set-up, with multiple puzzles obstructing the path to each one.

I can enjoy a good collect-the-gems game now and then. This one was not bad, although I was groaning a bit when I discovered that one of the puzzles was an algebra problem and another was a bowling match, even though I knew there would probably be a sensible solution to each of them.

I was going to complain about the very first puzzle in the game, the acquisition of a ring of keys to the four locked doors, but I found out later on that the element I was going to complain about reappeared to more useful effect later in the game. Uh oh, thing-in-the-well won't let me touch the keys! I'd better figure out how to defeat it! Except, uh, I don't have anything to defeat it with. This turns out to be misdirection, and you can get the keys anyway, and the defeating of the thing in the well comes later on, for a different reason. Still, it kept me thinking along the wrong lines enough so that I went to the hints instead of solving it myself. I think that could have been designed a bit better, because the actual solution to the keys problem, and the in-game clues to solving it, were fairly original and clever, but I didn't appreciate it very much because I had to look up the answer.

The game slightly confused me at one point, when I saw two rooms with holes in the wall, one of which had a gigantic aquarium tank, and I put a bowling ball through the hole in the wall upstairs from the tank, heard a smashing of glass, and returned to the tank to see that nothing had happened. I thought there was a bug, and I restarted, only to find out the bowling ball had shown up again in a completely different place, with no clue as to why. The in-game hints say that the aquarium is a completely useless bit of scenery -- so, er, why is it there? Just because the author had fun coding up a giant squid in a tank? I guess that's allowed. I guess.

I had some gripes about the ring of keys, in that the game almost acted like it was smart enough to disambiguate automatically which one I meant -- I went south first, and the game took it upon itself to try the key for that door for me. But, for the other three doors, the process was more tedious. Once I have the key ring, the doors should just fling themselves open when I walk in the right direction.

I want to point out two strange authorial choices that were irritating when they did not need to be. First:

>x door
You can't put your finger on it, but something about the
large door in the wall makes you think of it as a "dropping"
door. There is a row of colored leaves hanging from the top
of the door.

>x leaves
See the row of icicles text.

If you're going to bother to make a scenery object and give it a description, just put an actual description there. Especially when a) the reference is mimesis-breaking (mentioning game "text"), and b) the reference, if consulted, doesn't make any sense:

>x icicles
Cool, sharp, aloof. Each icicle looks to be about a handswidth
long, perfectly symmetrical, and slightly bluish. I suppose
that's to be expected.

So the leaves are also cool, sharp, aloof, a handswidth long, perfectly symmetrical, and slightly bluish, as to be expected?

The second example, similarly, shows the author taking the time to code a response that provides an unhelpful redirection, instead of being practical:

>u
The wide staircase curves around to enter the upstairs room on
the north wall.

Space Bar
The walls here are decorated with black paint and pictures of
stars and planets, which, coupled with the futuristic-looking
tables and chairs scattered about and the bar, lead you to
believe that what you are in is supposed to be, well, a space
bar. The room is brightly lit, and all of the tables are empty
of people, but there is a strange looking figure standing
behind the bar. Finally, you can see the top of a curving
staircase set in the north wall.

>d
There are two ways of going down from here: you may walk north
to the spiral staircase, or enter the hole in the corner of the
room.

If I can go "UP" to get here, why can't I go "DOWN" to leave by the same staircase? You know where I want to go when I type that, because you put the code there to print this message. Maybe it's that you wanted to make sure I tried "ENTER HOLE" (which isn't actually an exit, either), because the response to that command provides a hint for a puzzle. Bad form.

I had some gripes about the solution to Eddie's math problem. The problem was that I was saying "10" instead of "TEN," but I think that the author could reasonably have accounted for this, sparing me trying a dozen different variations:

>say 10 a.m. to eddie
>say "10 a.m." to eddie
>eddie, 10 a.m.
>answer 10 a.m. to eddie
>answer 10 am to eddie
>answer "10 am" to eddie
>answer "10" to eddie
>answer 10 to eddie
>eddie, 10
>say 10
>say "10"
>say "10 A.M."

My final gripe is that once the puzzle about Fred the bowling cat has been "solved," you shouldn't have to sit through all ten frames of a simulated bowling game. There really is no entertainment value to it, especially when it's padded out with [More] prompts for some kind of attempt at suspense. I can understand why coding this up was fun for the author, but the effect on the player is, unfortunately, tedium.

>BOWL <space> <space> <space>
>G <space> <space> <space>
>G <space> <space> <space>
[repeat 7 more times]

There is enthusiasm and energy to spare here, and some neat ideas. In the endgame, your "performance" is assessed, which I thought was amusing. Because I finished it after restarting, I took a few shortcuts (such as grabbing the key ring directly), and was marked off for this. Once again, I look forward to this brand-new author's next works, now that they've gotten this initial batch of IF ideas out of their system, and will have to dig a little deeper the next time.

Also, "TOOKiE'S SONG"? What song? And why the lowercase i in "TOOKiE"?


moonbase.gif

Moonbase
A TADS Adventure
by QA Dude

There is a difference between a new author and a novice author. Some IF authors appear with their skills and imaginations fully formed, and their sense of craftsmanship already honed to a certain degree. Novice authors have an interest in the medium and a few ideas for a game, and not a lot in the way of craftsmanship.

I was going to be slightly harsher on "Moonbase" and its formatting, until I played it in a different interpreter and it looked fine. It was clearly designed to be played on an HTML-TADS-equipped interpreter, and never tested on a standard TADS2 interpreter, which is what I normally use. I'm not sure what the author did in terms of HTML formatting, but there were crazy extra amounts of new-lines all over the place:

earthside transporter room

This is the Earth-side transporter room, the primary link to
Moonbase Alpha.

The transporter gate takes up the entire north wall of the room.
It looks like a giant silver ring, and there is a shimmering
curtain of green light inside the ring.


The control console takes up a good portion of one wall. This
is really surprising considering that there are only two buttons
on the entire thing. There is a green button on the left end of
the console, and a red button on the right end.



You see a ray gun here.

>

There was not much consistency in terms of capitalization of room names. Some were all lowercase, as above, and some were capitalized. The scene descriptions were at times, shall we say, scantly realized:

corridor
   If you've seen one hallway, you've seen them all.
You can go east and west in the hall, and there are doors to
the north and south.

Actually, I've seen some pretty unique hallway descriptions in IF. This is what I mean by skills and imaginations being fully formed. You're the author. It's your moonbase. Take ten minutes, figure out what it actually looks like, and tell us.

It seems silly to criticize a game for having easy puzzles, but I was somewhat confounded by how little effort when into hiding the various pieces of puzzles. You find an exoskeleton, but it won't operate until you put a battery into it. Oh, but you're in luck, it's sitting right next to the exoskeleton. You find a VCR, and it's missing a part. But, you're in luck. On your way into that room, you find a "small gear of some sort, the kind that would fit inside some complicated piece of machinery." You find a five-digit combination lock, but in another room a piece of paper is sitting out in the open with the combination written on it.

There were some noticeable bugs here and there. The author explains in the pelting introductory text that he has implemented some new verbs, only he neglected to provide the sdesc property (excuse the TADS jargon), which means the game can't print the name of the verb in error messages:

>shoot console
I don't know how to the control console.

Another bug occurs in one of the rooms outside the moonbase. There's a triplet of rooms arranged North-South, and after the first time you pass through the middle room, it neglects to print any description at all (even with Verbose turned on, which of course I had to set myself):

>s
lunar surface
   You are on the lunar surface outside the moonbase. The
moonbase is built into the rim of a small crater, and the
airlock is directly north of you. Below and to the south,
you can see a narrow trail leading to the crater floor.
All other directions are pretty much impassable.
   You see a rock here.

>s
You are on the floor of the crater. The trail you are on
leads north and south. The surface around you is strewn with
boulders about the size of a small car. The trail is covered
with dust.

>s
crater wall

This is the far side of the crater. A pile of junk sits on one
side of the trail. The trail from the north ends here, and
further progress is impossible.

   You see a wrench here.

>n

>n
lunar surface
   You are on the lunar surface outside the moonbase. The
moonbase is built into the rim of a small crater, and the
airlock is directly north of you. Below and to the south,
you can see a narrow trail leading to the crater floor.
All other directions are pretty much impassable.
   You see a rock here.

>s

>

In terms of finding something nice to say, all of the movable objects in the game were provided with plenty of synonyms, and I never had a problem with the game not knowing an abbreviated form of a noun I had entered.

Because of my own silly fault, I missed seeing a clearly-listed exit, and for that reason, got stuck in a game that is virtually impossible to get stuck in. I decided to check the walkthrough, which the intro text said was available through a "WALKTHRU" command. Except that command didn't bring up a walkthrough, it printed out a URL to a website which is hosting the walkthrough. This was pretty irritating, and I suspect that the author did this instead of just including the walkthrough with the game file (as long as he was including all of the sound effects files, what's the difference?) because he was hoping to increase traffic to his home page. Bad idea. Once you get to that webpage, you get kind of a general blurb about IF and an advertisement for "Moonbase," the author's first IF game (since the 80s, when he dabbled). He describes it as probably not a winning entry, but pretty good in his own opinion.

Speaking of URLs, one of the first puzzles in the game involves finding a ladder to climb up high enough to read a plaque on the wall:

>x plaque

The shiny plaque has some writing on it... it looks
important. You could read it if you had a ladder.

>climb ladder

You can read the sign from up here.


>x sign

The sign is a very impressive metal plaque that has words
engraved upon it. You could probably read it once you climbed
the ladder.


>read it

From the top of the ladder you are able to read the sign. You
see the following: Visit the ASI moonbase MOO at
http://www.asi.org/adb/09/08/04/mootcan/standalone.html

Grrr.


ramon.gif

Ramon and Jonathan
An interactive rescue
by Daniele A. Gewurz

Among the people, far from where you are, there is
some commotion. You do not understand what is now
happening.

That text sums up my reaction to "Ramon and Jonathan." There is some commotion, but I do not understand what is happening. I will have to assume that English is not the author's first language. If it is, then there are serious problems. If not, then I can't be too unfair about it. I doubt I would be able to conjure flowing prose if I were to write a game in, say, Italian.

However, this extremely brief game is not crafted well enough to give it a very good score. Impossible without a walkthrough (ASK NPC ABOUT <IMPOSSIBLE-TO-GUESS-TOPIC-WORD> being the penultimate command of the winning solution to the game), I never quite figured out what the story was, or my relation to it, because of the way it was written. Am I for or against Ramon and Jonathan? Actually, I guess it is pretty clear that I'm against -- well, no, it isn't, because that's where I was confused. The subtitle, "An interactive rescue," made me think that my goal was to rescue these guys. Except they're already being rescued by someone else. So I should stop the rescue? No, that's not quite it, either. It is clear that Iliana, one of the NPCs, is against Ramon and Jonathan. Or is she? Everyone seems to want justice, but I was never quite sure what that meant. I found a few non-winning endings, one of which told me, "Well, you accomplished this -- but you should not have done so." Okay, so...

There were two objects in the game with the same noun but different adjectives, and because of the terseness of the text, I thought the game was describing the same object in two different ways, which kept me from progressing. Fortunately, there was a walkthrough.

On the plus side, I liked the response to XYZZY.


samuelgregor.gif

An Interactive Existential Adventure
by Stephen Hilderbrand

This is an odd one. It is fairly duly implemented and debugged, and the writing is fine, but the game makes a bizarre switch partway through that left me somewhat baffled, even when all was eventually (sort of) explained. I think the author started out with an idea that really interested him, but that he failed to get it across well enough.

The game starts you off as a definite character with a definite mission (with, once again, a very large cutscene before the first prompt), but after you complete the first part of the mission -- looking at the desk of Samuel Gregor, and taking what you find there -- you are left pretty much hanging as far as what to do next.

There are taxis that take you everywhere you will want to or need to go in the game's world, the capital city of the "Bohemian Empire" during the Industrial Revolution. Having nothing else to do, I wandered from place to place, looking for hints of what actually to accomplish. There were a number of basically decorative NPCs stationed here and there, and after several unsuccessful experiments in trying to interact with them, I decided they were all just animated scenery, there to create the illusion of this little world.

Eventually, I had to go to the walkthrough, where I discovered that the thing I needed to do next was interact with one of the NPCs. I suppose I could have eventually figured that out on my own, but I didn't, for the above reason.

There were a number of good points about the game, mainly the setting, and the interesting idea (the baffling plot twist) that was buried in there somewhere. The game was thoroughly tested, and I can't complain about that, but I also can't seem to make myself give it a very high rating. Overall, it left me somewhat cold.


jane.gif

Jane
By Joseph Grzesiak

This entry is a well-written, very thoughtful, serious work of fiction on the subject of spousal abuse.

It is often the case that there is more to say about a game with flaws than a game with few to speak of, and this is no exception. The author has made a brave choice of material here, and has crafted it with respect and thoroughness.

The only thing I can think of to say is that I tried to KISS JANE at one point, and got the disappointing (and harshly mimesis-breaking) default response, "Keep your mind on the game."


koan.gif

KOAN
An Interactive Zen Puzzle
by Anonymous

On a fine autumn morning, the young disciple approaches the venerable master at the banks of the lily pond.

"How may I find wisdom, O master?" asks the disciple.

The venerable one draws on his slender bamboo pipe and says to the student, "There is a game called Koan. Your task is to break a stone slab; to do that, you will need the pot on top of a pillar. However, this may be more difficult than you think, or perhaps less so, because it is not the pot you need at all. There will be objects elsewhere in the game, but they may or may not be helpful, and there will be nothing else to do."

The student thinks silently upon this for a few minutes. Finally, he answers the master, "But master, in what way is this a game?"

The master regards the student sagely and says, "The only winning move is not to play."


color_number.gif

Color and Number (2.0)
by Steven Kollmansberger

2.0? Really? Because the game has a bug that makes it unwinnable. What a profound disappointment. How could it get past testing like this? Did the author make one last-minute change that broke it? Because you'd think this would have been noticed by testers. The game is obviously well-tested. I was really enjoying it. Oh sure, I was trigger-happy at the start, ready to snark about yet another game with too much introductory text, only to find myself immersed in a well-crafted set of puzzles, in a setting that was just the right size. I had to grab pen and paper and make some notes to figure out the central code of the game, but I liked doing that. Once I had my notes, puzzles were being solved, click, click, click, my first attempts working out. At one point, I wasn't sure if I was interpreting the clues correctly, so I peeked at the in-game hint system, which was tightly designed. I knew what to do. I set about doing it.

And then, on what would have been the winning move for that puzzle:

[TADS-1022: index value too high (must be at most length(list))]

Sigh. There goes the score I was going to give it. This author must already feel terrible. Absolutely disastrous. It reminds me of when I was working on "Being Andrew Plotkin," and a bug was popping up that I wasn't sure how to fix, but it crashed the game, made it impossible to win. There weren't many days left, and I was really in a panic. What I felt might be a pretty highly rated game would be utterly discarded if such a bug ended up in the release.

Fortunately, I knew about it, and I did fix it before the release. I guess this author didn't know about his bug. He'll find out what it means, I guess.

Hard lesson.

   =========

Part two. Okay, I looked at the walkthrough, and saw that it suggested I solve this particular puzzle right away, and when I did so, I did not get the error message. This is probably why the testers didn't notice it. Tsk. The above comments apply, but at least I got to see the rest of the game.

Seeing the rest of the game is still a shame, because the puzzles become increasingly infernal. A lot of the puzzles seem to owe something to Myst and Riven, where you flip valves on and off in the right combination to open a door. These were pretty good at the beginning of the game, when I was fresh and full of enthusiasm, and the combinations were easier to ascertain.

Later on, in an effort to make things more challenging as you go along, the number of combinations increases, leading to a lot more tedium.

Following that, you come to a read-the-author's-mind puzzle. Thankfully, the hint system is there to explain-what-the-author-was-thinking. I have no clue how you'd solve it on your own.

Following that, you come to a maze.

 
Ahem.

 
 
 
 
 
D O   N O T   P U T   M A Z E S   I N T O   C O M P E T I T I O N   G A M E S.
 
 
 
 
 

Can that be any clearer? How is it that authors still don't know this simple rule? If you're going to put a maze into a Comp game, it had better be so damn clever that you win a Best Puzzle Xyzzy Award the following Spring. In other words, you have to be more clever than Andrew Plotkin, because he already did it once and the bar is that much higher.

I diligently mapped the maze, managing to walk into the end room of the maze only after I'd systematically logged all the other rooms. Every single room, even though if I'd been smart, I could have walked out in 8 moves. Sigh. It's a straightforward maze, as mazes go. It doesn't twist and turn and double back; it's mappable; it's color-coded. It's just ... a maze. Right as you're getting to the endgame.

A maze is NOT a good endgame puzzle. It's not a good beginning puzzle, either. Hey, I've written mazes. This is how I know. You will get docked points for mazes. Your game's overall score will suffer. Why a maze? Why?

It certainly didn't make the game any more fun or exciting.

Then, after that, there's an easy puzzle, and then the final puzzle of the game, which was the most impenetrable of all. I guess that's appropriate, but even after reading how to do it in the hints file, which suggests the algorithm but not the direct solution, I had to do a lot of very, very, very tedious trial-and-error. I must have burned a hundred and fifty turns on it, consisting of this:

>TURN DIAL. PUSH LEVER.

It is so much fun to type that 150 times! At the end of the game! With an NPC printing taunting messages each turn! This is sarcasm!

The game I thought had disappointed me greatly by aborting early disappointed me in a different way by concluding with none of the inspiration and fun of the early part. I'm not sure which disappointment I'd prefer. I was going to give the game no rating at all when I thought it was unwinnable, and now that I have completed it, I have to give it a middling score.

Advice: Please do try harder.


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TILL DEATH MAKES A MONK-FISH OUT OF ME
by Mike Sousa and Jon Ingold

Ha! Well, okay. From the right brain of Jon Ingold and the left brain of Mike Sousa, a bizarre little comic science fiction story with Ingold's signature elements of time loops and identity-swapping. Last year's comp winner, Ingold shows no sign of running out of ideas, and every sign that he's continuing to refine his IF storytelling techniques.

Immaculately tested, the game had the odd typo here and there, but was generally well-proofed as well.

At times, the text came in such a rush that I couldn't figure out what was happening, and never quite did -- most especially during the action sequence that marks the transition from part one of the game to part two.

The puzzles were clever and integrated with the story, but a couple of them would have been utterly baffling without the in-game hint system. In the matter of determining the password to a computer, I think I would have preferred if it had dispensed with the arcane puzzle solution (which, admittedly, is a clever idea -- probably something Ingold has had in mind for a while, and wanted to use somewhere) and followed a simpler line of logic that the game had already established, in terms of guessing a word or a name that the person who owned the computer would likely have used as a password. I think that would have been more satisfying than the rather contorted solution provided, which required using the walkthrough. There's a door password to get to the computer, which relates directly to a book you find in the room; couldn't the computer password also have related to the book, so that the book wasn't just a red herring sitting there to distract me?

Apart from the above gripe, there is nothing really negative to say about the game. It's very nicely crafted, and I did enjoy it, but for the most undefinable and subjective of reasons, I can't give it a perfect score.


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ANOTHER EARTH, ANOTHER SKY
Earth And Sky: Episode 2
Serial interactive fiction by Paul O'Brian

Well, this one is pretty great. I liked the first installment, and I liked this one too. Superhero stuff definitely works for me, as does the bugless, thorough implementation. As does the Myst/Riven-like world you end up in. Works for me quite well, indeed.

I liked the use of Glulx to put giant cartoon sound effects in. Nothing like stomping on the floor and getting a good ol' THOOM! out of it, or typing >HIT ROBOT and getting SKRANG! SKRANG! and mopping the floor with them. (Or littering the floor with them, to be precise.)

I also like serials. Waiting a year between installments is sad, of course.

One minor bug: I gave the headset to Emily while I was in the observatory, and she took it, but the recording cylinder still thought I had it with me. And I thought the solution to the puzzle involving sand should have been just a little bit better clued.

Speaking of clues, if you are going to do HTML InvisiClues, you must set the page's background color to the clue color yourself, because people like me don't have their default background color set to white, rendering all of the clues visible from the get-go. I had to edit the HTML page to make sensible use of the hints.

Wish I could say more, but it's uniformly good. I was especially amused by the responses to talking to various creatures in the game. And when I talked back to a bully and he replied, "Oh, stink." Hee hee.

Anyway, I'll be tuning in next year for part three. Excelsior!


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Augustine
A TADS Adventure written by Terrence V. Koch

This is another first game from a new author, and at first, I wasn't sure whether I was going to enjoy it or not. There were the usual problems of spotty implementation and quirky behavior one associates with new IF authors. Specifically, authors that are unfamiliar with with the finer points of creating a smooth user experience in the language they've chosen (TADS 2, in this case).

Ultimately, I liked "Augustine," in spite of these problems. By the climax of the game, you're in a swashbuckling swordfight with the villain, leaping around from deck to forecastle on a ship. The fight scene is kind of written on rails, and uses a limited interface (two commands for attack, one command for defense), and follows a pretty standard swordfight choreography -- but hey, it's still IF, and playing it out myself by entering commands is more fun than watching it happen on a television set.

I also tend to endorse earnest efforts by new writers. The game is kind of sketchy and lacks detail, but I learned not to worry about poking around examining and trying to pick up everything; if I followed the story, the experience was not bad, and it eventually picked up some pretty good momentum. By the end of the game, I surprised myself by knowing my way around the streets of St. Augustine without help, just because the game had by then toured me back and forth through it enough that I knew the names of the streets and the major landmarks.

The author apologizes in his introductory Readme file for the similarities between this game and the movie Highlander, explaining that he came up with the central ideas and characters when he was a kid, before Highlander was released. I'm glad he wrote this, because I cut him the necessary slack to let the story work on its own terms, instead of reading it as a copy of something else.

The writing style has that kind of pseudo-formal tone that I associate with fan fiction of a certain sort. I have no problem with the author's using this voice (which, in some sense, is the only way to go when you're telling the story of immortal enemies who are locked in a centuries-old struggle), but he sometimes fails to sustain it. There are asides that lapse into a colloquial tone that clashes with the rest of the writing:

She weaves for you her dream of building a traveling
stage out of a horse trailer and performing Shakespearean
theater on the road. Of course, the stage would have to be
haunted. The ghost was to be a horse named "Lady" after a
horse she once owned. (You kinda think "Mr. Dead" would
have been good name, but then again you aren't very original.
... What right does a 600 year old immortal have to question
the authenticity of St. Augustine's ghosts? Heck, you
ARE some of St. Augustine's ghosts!)

Heck, that's kinda out of character, dontcha think?

I am inclined to think that the author should seek out some expert IF testers (instead of relying on his friends and cubicle neighbors at work) and spend some time fleshing out the game and cleaning up its quirks. (For example, the swashbuckling is sometimes confused due to a quirk in the TADS library, which puts a shadow NPC in the room, if that NPC just walked somewhere else, and the shadow NPC responds to all commands (except "FOLLOW") with "The <NPC-name> isn't important."

Clearly, the author cares about this story and his characters; I'd like the quality of the game to be beefed up to match the author's pride in it. Fill out the little details, work much more on the beginning chapters of the game so we get pulled in and immersed, and thereby help the game find a few more fans than it will if left in its current state.

Because, hey -- swashbuckling.


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IDENTITY THIEF
An interactive cyperpunk thriller.
by Rob Shaw-Fuller

There is a mix of good and bad things to this game. Good ideas and bad ideas, good implementation and bad implementation, good gameplay and bad gameplay.

I'm not fond of playing creeps; the PC in this game is one. Oh well. I'll go along with it -- being a thief and a murderer and so forth. The first part of the game is, as its subtitle suggests, a kind of Neal Stephenson-ish pumped-up cybertech tale. Your mission: steal a datachip. Okay, so you do so.

The puzzles at this point in the game are mostly logical; I relied on the walkthrough, but I suppose I needn't have if I'd worked at it a little more thoughtfully.

Once you escape, the guess-the-verb puzzles start coming faster. Only the walkthrough allows you to continue. Some in-game prompts would have cleared this up. Such as, when you climb into the getaway vehicle, it could tell you, "You're starting to bleed through the bandage again, and you'd better drive to the doctor right away." How else am I going to know >DRIVE TO DOCTOR is what I need to do?

Once you arrive at the doctor, who is one of those shady doctors who cater to underworld element in pulp stories like this, the game turns into an opportunity for exposition. Lots of exposition. Then there's a point where you get frozen, with no clue how to get out. Walkthrough again. Major guess-the-verb. What am I, a cyberthief or a mindreader?

Anyway, after that, more exposition; and, sadly, the game abandons its cyberpunk trappings and reveals that the actual story of the game is something ripped from the pages of season three of The X-Files. Oh well.

The game was well-tested, although I wish the testers had mentioned that the guess-the-verb puzzles needed to be clued in order to work. I just wish the material didn't seem so much like a stew of reheated leftovers. Even given my dislike for playing nasty PC's, the game at least started out with potential; in the end, it was all wind-up and no follow-through.


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The Bastard Operator from Hell
BOFH:Interactive Fiction Edition.
by Howard A. Sherman (BOFH © Simon Travaglia)

This was a game designed to amuse the author himself, and he succeeded in this ambition. He seems not to have thought beyond that at all, which makes it unsuccessful from a player's perspective.

After yet another gigantic cutscene at the very start (a real problem this year), I was about eighty moves into this game, with nothing accomplished except a mental list of poorly-implemented objects and actions -- the commands that description text seemed to directly clue me to use were not implemented after all -- when I decided to look at the walkthrough. After looking at it, I stopped playing. It turns out the author provided not just a walkthrough of commands, but a complete transcript of the game. It was immediately clear that the solutions to the puzzles, the means of winning points in the game, were not following any logic a player might use.

>x safe
[...] This is one of the more recent models; instead of
the standard knobs this one is secured with a biometric
hand reader. Touching the door with your hand opens the
safe. [...]

>touch safe
You feel nothing unexpected.

>touch door
You can't see any such thing.

>x safe door
I only understood you as far as wanting to examine the
Armageddon-proof safe.

>feel safe
You feel nothing unexpected.

>touch safe with hand
I only understood you as far as wanting to touch the
Armageddon-proof safe.

>open safe
You open the Armageddon-proof safe, revealing Amsterdam
Travel Photos.

It seems to me that if you're going to describe a safe as opening by touch, it should open by touch. Likewise:

>x swipe
Your swipe card looks much the same as the magnetic-stripe
cards you use to get into hotel rooms, money at the ATM, and
so on. You've become so used to using that you swipe things
almost without thinking.

>e

Entrance to Comms And Servers Area
This is a highly secure area to prevent unauthorized access
to the sensitive equipment due east.

The security door is closed and locked.

>e
You can't, since the steel door is in the way.

>swipe
That's not a verb I recognise.

>grr
That's not a verb I recognise.

>unlock door with card
You unlock the steel door.

>e
You can't, since the steel door is in the way.

>open door
You open the steel door.
If you're going to give me a swipe card I'm so used to using that I swipe without thinking, I should just be able to walk east and have the game say "(first swiping the card)". Or, failing that, make >SWIPE CARD work. Or, failing that, make the door open once I've unlocked it with the card.

This brings me to when I threw up my hands and went to the walkthrough. The game started me off with a direct, simple mission: to find a repair guy and see why he wasn't doing his job. I sort of got the point of the game from the Readme file. I'm supposed to act the part of a complete jerk to the hilt. I was told this idiot NPC needed to be taught a serious lesson. I was equipped with an electric prod. Right, so:

>x tech
Your Technical Services company must have scraped the
bottom of the barrel to come up with this winner. [...]
You cannot shrug off the feeling that this plonker needs
to be taught a lesson.

>x prod
As every great swordsman has his blade, you have your trusty
cattle prod. Yours is a top-of-the-line model that can deliver
5,000 volts of pain to any unfortunate soul that happens to
be on the receiving end. [...]

>hit tech with prod
I only understood you as far as wanting to hit The technician.

>touch tech with prod
I only understood you as far as wanting to touch The technician.

>push tech with prod
You can't see any such thing.

>zap
That's not a verb I recognise.

>prod
That's not a verb I recognise.

>give prod to tech
The technician doesn't seem interested.

>talk to tech
That's not a verb I recognise.

>ask tech about server
The technician shrugs and says "I'm not paid to have
conversations."

>swing
(The technician)
There's nothing sensible to swing here.

>swing prod
There's nothing sensible to swing here.

>turn prod on
That's not something you can switch.

>touch prod
You feel nothing unexpected.

I went to the walkthrough to figure out how to use it, but instead it backed up my suspicion that the prod had a description property and no other implementation. The only time the prod gets used in the game is indirectly; when you speak a magic-word command in a later setting, the cutscene that follows describes how you whip out the prod and deliver a shock with it.

Reading further, I saw that this was typical of the game and explained my frustrating experiences so far. It was clear to me that it was not worth retyping the commands from the walkthrough. Instead, I just read the transcript. I sort of pretended this was an entry for a transcript competition.

As a transcript of an imaginary game that would never work in reality, it was kind of amusing. I'm glad it was there, otherwise I never would have seen any of it.

I hate to be the Bastard Reviewer from Hell, here, but this author really needed to think outside his own little box a bit more. The game would be drastically improved by keeping all of the material that's here and then implementing the dozens of alternate solutions that are not. Did none of the beta-testers attempt to prod the idiot repair tech? Did the author just say, "No, see, it's because you do this thing later on to get rid of him," and they said, "Oh, okay. So never mind about putting in a response for that action."

As it stands, "BOFH" is a transcript of the author having fun playing his own game, not an actual game that I could feasibly play through. I guess in general my opinion is that the game could be turned into something playable and reasonably enjoyable (provided you like this sort of thing), and perhaps the author should release a post-comp version that improves it (because there are people who would like this sort of thing).

And while you're at it, make the opening scene interactive instead of static.


granite.gif

The Granite Book
by James Mitchelhill

I've taken a slightly different approach to reviewing this work, the latest by the author of the most-vilified game of last year's competition. My usual practice is to write my thoughts down as soon as I reach the end of the game. For this one, which left me more than a little baffled, I didn't write anything right away. I took a brief break to mull it over, then I engaged a couple of friends in conversation about it, sharing my reactions and processing theirs. Then I slept on it, played another game, and reviewed that one. Then I opened the transcript from my "Granite Book" session and re-read the whole thing, paying more attention to details I skimmed while playing it.

Now, here I am, still wondering what to say. I'll start with what I said to my friends last night: This is another work where the author seems to have a clear idea what it's about, but it's not coming across very clearly. The game exists in its own universe, bending even parser messages to conform to its distinctive voice. It is all symbolic, like a dream; also like a dream, its symbols are difficult to reckon. There is enough consistency to the story and its imagery to seem thoroughly thought out, but it remains opaque to my comprehension all the same. I can see that there is an active mind behind it, but I cannot fathom what the mind intended to communicate to me.

One of my friends had a definite theory that worked for him, one which explained the characters and the settings; part of his theory keyed on the response to "UP" in the first scene of the game: "We had lost our wings long ago." Once with wings, now with claws. Lost underground. I don't know.

On a technical level, I had one or two sore spots with the implementation. The game shied me away from interacting with an NPC, and then the hint file copped a funny tone as it instructed me that I needed to do exactly this to proceed in the game:

>talk
   [We could not understand the word "talk".]

>ask girl
   [what should we ask it about?]

>girl
   She would not reply to anything we said. We began to
think she did not understand our language.

>show vellum to girl
   [The girl did not react.]

>girl, get on pedestal
   [The girl either did not understand our commands, or she
would not obey them.]

>girl, get on table
   [The girl either did not understand our commands, or she
would not obey them.]

>girl, sit on table
   [The girl either did not understand our commands, or she
would not obey them.]

---

Q. So what's this about the table?

Light: Have you tried laying on it?

Medium: You can order the girl to do some things, you know.

Heavy:
GIRL, LIE ON TABLE

The girl doesn't understand our language, nor any command I tried. So no, I don't know I can do this, thank you.

I remain bothered by two unexplained elements: the sheet of vellum with designs on it, and the plate on which you find the vellum.

In general, the only direct fault I can find with it is that it is not to my taste; however, I can see how it might also be someone else's favorite game. By which I mean, I cannot personally rate it highly, but I cannot say that it is of poor quality, either.


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When Help Collides
The Wreck of the H. M. S. Snark
A Parodic Drama by J. D. Berry

I don't get it. Perhaps because I come from planet Earth.


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MythTale
An Interactive Myth
by Temari Seikaiha

I am beginning to get skittish about games which have implementations of housepets. Oh well, this one was not so bad. It is a mix of light- hearted, domestic puzzle-play and a series of separate sequences based on Greek myths. The puzzles in the domestic section were a little more labored, a little more of a reach -- contrived is the word I'm looking for, I suppose -- than the puzzles in the mythic scenes. The writing tended to be better, and the implementation more thoughtful, in the mythic scenes as well. Compare:

Undergrowth
You stand in a tiny clearing in the forest. Dim light
filters down through the trees. The air is hot and stifling
here, you feel that every breath must be fought for. Tall
buckthorns surround this clearing, with smaller bushes
twisted amongst them. Those on the western side of the
clearing seem particularly twisted and warped, as though
some creature once made some burrow beneath them.
The clearing is alive with insects. They whine around you,
and seek your flesh.
With:
Bathroom
A bathroom with all the usual bathroom fittings... shower,
sink, etc... The exit is to the south.

It's no wonder the author was uninterested in describing the bathroom; the bathroom location serves no purpose in the game. The only reason it is there is because the setting was a house, and houses have bathrooms. Sigh.

The game had a built-in hint system on which I relied fairly heavily for the domestic scenes and didn't often need for the myth scenes. The domestic part had a contraption puzzle that was particularly far-fetched, a puzzle for the sake of a puzzle that really didn't belong in the world described by the game. I suppose it was a fairly new idea, as far as puzzles go, but a little tedious to play through even after reading the solution in the hint files. Guessable on one's own? I doubt it; the game gives no feedback to let you know whether you're on the right track with it or not.

So, a mixed game; it gets a mixed score, sort of. Right in the middle.


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Constraints
Some Restricted Interactions
By Martin Bays

This was pretty good, pretty interesting, pretty -- hmm. There are three parts (not counting the Endgame section, which was fun for about ten minutes, then I realized -- uh, why am I proceeding with this?), each demonstrating a theme. The first one is very experimental, the second one a little more traditional (although you are inanimate), and the third pretty straightforward modern-style IF. The writing is a little different in each case; hyperbolic in the first section, strainingly self-conscious in the second, and political in the third. Political is not quite the right word, but it'll do.

The first segment interested me because I once started working on an IF experiment that was, in some respects, quite like it.

The second segment interested me because it reminds me of the writing I was doing when I was about 20 or 21 years old. I would start out with an idea I thought was kind of new and, to me, bold, but I would start to doubt myself, and create some very talky characters who engaged in dialogue which would undercut the experiment by commenting on it. The commentary would seem to be slightly self-mocking, and intended to be oblique, but really it was kind of blatantly done, and not hiding anything. Bit of a squirm to see someone else doing that, kind of like it would be to read any of my own material from that period today. But, not bad.

The third segment interested me because for the past four or five days, I keep inadvertently coming across (or having foisted upon me) polemics directed at the oil industry. I can't account for the pattern, but I'm being pelted with it. Here's another pelting.

All of the segments are sort of railroad-y, but I don't mind that so much. Everything was well-implemented, and the built-in hint sections helped things along.

I played it with the colors on, courtesy of DOS Frotz. Looked good to me.

There were quirks in the writing here and there -- "span" instead of "spun", to name the one that comes quickest to mind -- and missing commas that hindered the flow of the text by creating momentary ambiguities. Other than that, though, a solid piece of work, with what seems like a full z-code Nethack thrown in just for laughs. Maybe I'll return to that section in the near future, instead of playing Tetris or something.


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Concrete Paradise
by Tyson Ibele

Ha, okay, this was amusing. I'll say this for it: it kept moving, which is an interesting trick in a game where you keep getting locked in prison cells. The pacing was comically accelerated, and the mood always kind of light, and the puzzles were pretty easy to figure out ...

...except for the fact that some of them were poorly implemented. Had to do a bit too much guessing at a certain point where the actions were obvious, but the commands to get the game to do those actions were not.

Examples:

>x bucket
This must be the janitor's bucket because it is
accompanied by a tall mop. The bucket itself is quite
filthy, and the water inside doesn't look too clean
either.

>search bucket
You find nothing of interest.

>search water
You find nothing of interest.

>look in bucket
You peer inside the bucket. It is filled with dirty water.

>look in water
In the dirty water there seems to be a rusty key.

This one was annoying because I happen to know that if you use the standard TADS search-hider code, LOOK IN and SEARCH are synonymous.

>push radiator s
I don't understand that sentence.

>push radiator
Pushing the old radiator doesn't do anything.

>get radiator
You don't need the radiator.

>look behind radiator
There's nothing behind the old radiator.

>pull radiator
Pulling the old radiator doesn't have any effect.

>move radiator
You move the old radiator aside, revealing a vent behind
the place where it once stood.

>GRR!
I don't know the word "grr".

And then, immediately following the above:

>x vent
Before you moved the radiator, this vent was hidden behind
it. Its opening is covered by a grate.

>open vent
I don't know how to open the vent.

>x grate
This is the metal grate that covers the opening of the vent.
Two screws attach it to the vent, one screw on its left side,
and one on its right side. The grate itself looks pretty
scratched up.

>unscrew screws with screwdriver
I don't know the word "screws".

>unscrew grate with screwdriver
I don't know how to unscrew the vent grate.

>turn screws
I don't know the word "screws".

>x screw
Which screw do you mean, the left screw, or the right screw?

>GRR!
I don't know the word "grr".

And, once we've removed the grate, we have this capper to the sequence:

>enter vent
I don't know how to enter the vent.

>x vent
Before you moved the radiator, this vent was hidden behind
it. The grate that once covered its opening has been
removed, revealing its opening.

>enter grate
I don't know how to enter the vent grate.

>search vent
You find nothing of interest.

>look in vent
From here, you can see that there is nothing in the vent.

>get in vent
I don't know how to get on the vent.

>l
East End of the Passage

   You're currently standing at the east end of the passage
leading into your cell. [...] an old radiator is leaning
against the east wall.

>e
You climb into the tiny vent. It's quite a squeeze, but
you're just small enough to fit inside.

>GRR!
I don't know the word "grr".

But, anyway. Yeah, this game amused me. Prison-break genre? Sure, why not? Maybe it could be cleaned up a bit, but it gets points for being fun.


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Hell: A Comedy of Errors
by John Evans

Hell is:

  ... A game that comes with a special verb that lists known bugs, instead of those bugs being fixed.
  ...

A game whose special "BUGS" command tells you this:

Okay, this game didn't get NEARLY as much testing as it should have. BUT it is possible to win...in at least one fashion. Hope it isn't too frustrating.
  ...

A game that makes you go through a whole bunch of menus right away for choosing your form and appearance, even though none of these will matter much.

  ...

A game where perhaps all of these choices do make a difference, but there's no way to find out what until you're committed to them.

  ...

A game that then gives you a book with a dozen different individual headings (not counting the table of contents) that you need to tediously read before you can get anywhere.

  ...

A game with a book you need to consult over and over again, but which does this to you:

>look up contents
What do you want to look up in?

Or, alternatively:

>look up items
(in the green sphere)
You discover nothing of interest in the green sphere.

>look up tortures
(in Frank Gollum)
You discover nothing of interest in Frank Gollum.
  ...

A game that tells you to type the "SCORE" command to see how you're doing in terms of game money and game points, but just displays "Score: 0" continually in the status line.

  ...

A game that then seems to go on and on and on without much point, rather repetitively.

  ...

A game which says to type "HINTS" for hints, and then all it says is that you should read the book, which then tells you "hints are scattered all over."

  ...

A game which tells you that what you need to do is buy items of torture, which you will drop into a room, and then put things into, only to refuse to let you drop items you buy into any room, or to let you put anything into it until you've dropped it.

  ...

Playing a game which starts with this disclaimer:

if you feel you may be bothered by this game, please quit now.
  ...

And then failing to heed its advice.

Hell0: Goodbye.


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Terrible Lizards! v0.01
One terrible lizard can ruin your whole day...
by Alan and Ian Mead

It's pretty dangerous to release a game whose filename is "terrible.gam". Kind of like releasing a movie called, I don't know, "Big Flop" or "Zero stars."

It is also not recommended that authors include walkthroughs that are actual transcripts of gameplay, because I end up just reading them and not playing.

I find it highly suspect that one of the first commands typed by the authors in the walkthrough transcript is "VERBOSE". Hello?

I also find it suspect that when I played the game, I wandered through an interminable maze of a forest only to end up in an interminable maze of a cave, the latter of which never appeared in the transcript.

I also take exception to the fact that the game starts with an object in my inventory which describes my mission, which is to find objects A, B, C, and D -- and then the transcript describes how to win the game by acquiring object E instead.

Too, the game banner says that it is "v0.01". So, this is some sort of primitive alpha version? Odd.

Lastly, concerning both the game as I played it and the transcript as the authors played it, for a game about dinosaurs -- well, let me put it like this:

Player: It's not much of a dinosaur game, is it?

Authors: The finest in the Comp, sir!

Player: Pray explain the logic underlying that conclusion.

Authors: Well, it's so clean!

Player: It's certainly uncontaminated by dinosaurs.

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Screen
by Edward Floren

Huh? This game started out with a rather nice set of introductory scenes steeped in childhood nostalgia. The first kiss -- sort of, a childhood dare undertaken, the carving of initials within a heart.

Then you get inside the mysterious old house, and find a sparsely implemented couple of rooms centered around a gimmick that doesn't fit in with the rest of what we've seen at all; however, given the title of the game, it seemingly was supposed to be the point of the thing.

I liked the other stuff better.

Moreover, there's a strange brevity to it. (As the old joke goes: "The food here is terrible!" "Yes, and such small portions!") You take a couple of trips to TV-land. Not three, which would make sense in terms of a basic structural device. Just two. Then the game ends.

Worse, in TV-land part two, you can die. You can't UNDO and keep playing, because it's a timed puzzle, and the timer has run out. I had to start over. It didn't take long to do that, but it was vexing to say the least.

I have the feeling that the game was supposed to go on a lot longer, because, in addition to the strange brevity I just mentioned, there are a lot of loose threads to the backstory. The cutscenes don't add up to a full portrait, but it seems like they were heading that way.

I suspect that the author planned a more extensive game and then ran out of time to enter the Comp. My advice: finish it the way you intended, then release it. (Although, my real wish would be that the author would drop the gimmick and make a game that's just about the other stuff, because that's what's worthwhile here.)


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The Temple
An Interactive Homage to H.P. Lovecraft
by Johan Berntsson

Hrm. Okay. I was going to give this game a pretty high score, and then I got horribly, completely, maddeningly stuck, even after hints from friends. Fed up, I just abandoned it. Then I had another talk with friends, and discovered it was my own silly fault: I had missed an obvious exit early in the game, preventing me from winning (and from the game's built-in hint system from helping me out).

Eventually, I returned to it, used the exit I missed seeing, and won the game pretty quickly after that. However, I still had to cheat and look at the hints one more time, because you were supposed to put an object on something else, but I was putting it there along with something else, which didn't work. I guess the response to doing that was supposed to be a clue to just put one thing on there at a time, but I couldn't tell that. Grumph.

However, I guess I will still give the game a pretty high score. I am not at all a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, but I thought the game was well-conceived and written all the same. At one point, a companion NPC appears and tags along with you for a while. This author managed to achieve an effect that I have been intending to do for a while (and started to implement, only to pull it due to lack of time to do it properly, in my last Comp game), which is to have an NPC who is somewhat aware of the puzzles facing the player as he goes along, and either offers help or is instrumental in solving them. So, I gave it some points for being the first instance of this I can recall seeing. (There may be others that I have not seen.)

The author also gets a brownie point for his end-game notes, in which he describes using the "write the transcript first"-method of IF development and commends its advantages -- just because I have been a public proponent of this method. Whether he learned this from my writing about it, I don't know, but I can pretend he did long enough to feel that my ego has been stroked.

Pander to the judges: good strategy.


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Rent-A-Spy
An interactive spy adventure
by John Eriksson

Hey, I give this one a lot of points for having thought through the whole concept of carrying out a secret spy mission much more than I, as the player, was giving it credit for. In fact, aside from some problems of having to guess at verbs (which could be fixed in a second release), the only thing I would wish for would be more in-game hints that would keep me thinking along the right lines.

For example, there's an elevator which refuses to go to the third of three floors because it requires a passcard to be slid through a slot. So naturally, I thought that what I needed to do was poke around until I came across a passcard. Eventually, after a lot of poking, I looked at the walkthrough, and discovered that the solution had nothing to do with finding a passcard (which makes sense -- people don't go conveniently leaving them lying around) and everything to do with being a really clever spy and finding a way to get to the third floor anyway. My esteem for the author and this game shot way up when I saw what the elevator puzzle's solution was. My only regret is that I didn't figure it out myself, solely because I was thinking along the wrong lines. Maybe if something had said, "It seems to need a passcard. Unfortunately, security is so enforced around here, you're probably not going to find one." Well, maybe not that blatantly. Or maybe so.

The game had other instances of that. Lots of them. Like, I read this:

>x safe
It's an old-fashioned safe. There's no keyhole only a combination
dial. If you had a stethoscope it might have been possible to
crack it, you think. But the easiest way to get it open is of
course to use the correct code.

And so, what am I to conclude but that I should hunt around to find the correct code? Wrong, it's actually the first suggested solution that's the right tack, not the second one. So here the author led me astray by saying too much. Actually, it would have been more helpful if he had just reversed the order:

>x safe
It's an old-fashioned safe. There's no keyhole only a combination
dial. The easiest way to get it open is of course to use the
correct code. But if you had a stethoscope it might be possible
to crack it, you think.

See what I mean? That would have been much more helpful, and it might have been a puzzle I would have solved on my own instead of reading in the walkthrough. Sigh. It's so much nicer to solve well-thought-out puzzles than to look up the answers. And I do consider this game's puzzles to be well-thought out.

The earliest problem in the game, as far as guessing verbs, happens in the opening scene. In fact, the opening scene is kind of the weakest in the whole game, and gave me a totally wrong idea of what the overall quality would be. Very sparsely implemented and hinted. Makes the game seem like a cheap piece of plastic, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I quickly find a sack, and a pile of sand, and my first instinct (without even know what use it's going to be) is to put the sand in the sack. The only command that works is "FILL SACK WITH SAND". All other variations produce generic Inform errors that are extremely unhelpful. I recommend making sure there's a half dozen sensible alternatives to FILL SACK WITH SAND implemented.

Similarly, much later on, when I wanted to distract a guard, I had the right idea and tried throwing an object I was holding. I got the generic Inform response: "Dropped." Turns out I needed to throw it specifically at something else. It would have been nice if the game had intuited that on my behalf.

Another feature of the game that I would have completely failed to consider if I hadn't looked at the walkthrough was the idea that, since I am supposed to be a good spy, I should carefully put everything back the way I found it before sneaking out again. That's really logical, but here I was, thinking like a generic adventurer instead of a super spy, taking things willy nilly as I needed them and carting them with me everywhere, even though it sure would look in the morning like someone had broken in, rifled through desks, safes, and computers, and absconded with all sorts of evidence. D'oh.

So anyway, this game was smarter than I was about what it was about. And I like a spy adventure. I had a lot of fun. I wish I could have solved the whole thing on my own. I hope the author spruces it up a little bit for a post-comp release, especially the opening scene and in terms of nudging the player carefully to be a little more clever about solving problems.


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Not Much Time
by Tyson Ibele

Okay, playing Tyson Ibele's games is beginning to strike me as a guilty pleasure. They're sort of rough-hewn, but fun all the way through. And, since this was the second of Ibele's games that I played for this Comp, I was aware of certain idiosyncracies of his -- like how you have to LOOK IN things instead of SEARCHing them, if there's something hidden in there. I found a few objects that way, although none of them turned out to be very important in the game, which had a number of red herrings strewn throughout. This author could use a good proofreader, but he seems to know what he's doing. He's not aiming to advance the art form, but he is managing to churn out some (to me) pretty fun old-school short-form IF.

The puzzles were pretty straightforward, but, like I said, fun. The game is written in a slight, almost children's-book style. The only reason I feel weird about rating this game highly is that my friends will make fun of me for having lowbrow tastes in IF.

Oh well. I guess I do have lowbrow tastes in IF. So sue me.

Random aside: For whatever reason, I assumed the PC was female, until a bit of dialogue in the game referred to the PC as male. While I'm at it, I should mention that this exchange, from the same section, was pretty funny:

"What? How could you be a witch? There's no such
thing as magic! Just look at you, your a perfectly
normal..." you think for a moment. "...cat. I guess
it's true then, you are a witch. Oh well, that's still
better than Uncle Norman. He's a toupe model..."
Hee hee.