[Comp05] James's Reviews: Part 1 of 3

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Nov 17, 2005, 7:27:43 AM11/17/05
You would not believe the amount of trouble posting these reviews has
turned out to be. First of all, I wrote them back when I had broadband
on the linux side of my dual boot system. After moving and getting
dial-up, I found I couldn't get my modem to work, so I went back to
using Windows for online stuff. Then, when trying to move the relevent
files from one OS to the other, I found my disk drive has stopped
working. Well then, I thought, I'll solve this problem and add another
partition that both OSes can access. So I partitioned the hard drive.
Unfortunately this came up with an error, destroying my linux partition
and forcing me to reinstall the mbr for windows so that I could access
anything. Thanks to the magic of data recovery software I managed to
recover most of my files, including my reviews. I posted them to the
newsgroup... but checking google groups I see that they've never shown
up. So, thinking size was the problem, I cut them into three pieces and
tried again. Which hasn't worked. So, as a last ditch attempt, I'm
using google groups to post them. Who'd have thought it'd turn out to
be so much trouble, eh?


A word of warning to sensitive authors: I am a bitter, twisted,
evil individual who will rip your game to shreds if it annoys me. I've
tried to be constructive where I think it's warranted, but in other
cases I've gone for cheap laughs at your expense. Them's the breaks.

Notes on scoring.

I don't go in for any of these scoring systems that some judges seem
to favour. My biases are all included right in the scores. I have a
strong preference for literary games. I don't mind puzzles. I dislike
fantasy. Bad writing almost angers me. I tend to score low. Only
games I actually enjoyed score above 5.

Chancellor (9)
Vespers (8)
A New Life (7)
Tough Beans (6)
Internal Vigilance (6)
Vendetta (6)
Psyche's Lament (6)
Son of a... (5)
Escape to New York (4)
The Colour Pink (4)
Mortality (4)
Waldo's Pie (4)
The Plague (Redux) (3)
Beyond (3)
History Repeating (3)
The Sword of Malice (3)
Neon Nirvana (2)
Unforgotten (2)
On Optimism (2)
Dreary Lands (2)
FutureGame (1)
Hello Sword! (1)
Phantom: Caverns of the Killer (1)
Amissville II (1)
PTBAD6 (1)
Cheiron (1)


And now, the reviews.

The Comp05 games have just been released. Downloaded via BitTorrent.
Fast and easy, which was nice. Only a 10 Meg zip file, so presumably
there's no huge multimedia games this year. I have one week to play as
many games as I can before I move house and end up without an internet
connection for a while. Hopefully I'll get through them all. But I'd
better play them in random order anyway. Register on the comp site, get

the email, log in, all very smooth. Downloaded the randomised list of
game and first up is...


Neon Nirvana by Tony Woods: 2/10

This is not a good start to the comp. First the half-hearted feelies
suggest lack of care rather than added value. They hint at the
nonsensical story-line to come. Are we to expect that the Director of
Undercover Operations would give a big case to a detective he has never

met and who has never been on an undercover operation before? And why
this an undercover operation when the objective is to arrest someone
whose location is known? And any real club would be deeply ashamed to
hand out flyers like the one included.

What follows is a chain of read-the-author's-mind puzzles and
guess-the-verb puzzles. Sometimes both at the same time. I'll admit
I turned to the walkthrough early on and never left it. The
implementation is patchy. While "x me" comes up with the default
response, the author pays unswerving attention to the state of
in the area.

What's worse than breaking the fourth wall to give the player
information? Not including the command you just broke the fourth wall
tell the player about:

>x graffiti
The litter is awful. It's scattered all over, and the graffiti reads
"Type HELP
for more information"

> help
That's not a verb I recognise.

This really is inexcusable.

The best that can be said about the writing is that it's there. At the
plot level, the player falls through massive holes and is left
if even the author thought any of this was remotely believable. I'm led

to wonder if the author has ever actually been to a night club, or if
the PC is just supposed to sound insane:

"Some smart-aleck hung black-light lamps on the partitions' walls,
casting an eerie, demonic look on everything within range. "Neon
Nirvana", indeed.""

Black-lights don't cast an eerie, demonic look on everything. Not
the demon is from the sixties. Black lights are a relic of
not the depraved invention of a "smart-aleck". Possibly the author is
trying to emulate the neon-styled aesthetic of Batman Forever, but if I

were emulating an aesthetic that's really not the film I'd have gone

This isn't even the worst of the writing. My internal editor almost
wept: "Patrons sit at barstools with their friends Mr. Walker, Mr.
Daniels, and Mr. Cuervo, all of them stored behind the bar under a
sign. What a considerable compromise from the darkness outside, the
room to the south, and the blinding multicolored lights of the dancing
and music to the west."

The red pen runs out. The most minor problem is that "compromise" is
wrong word. I think the author means "contrast", but it's difficult to
be sure. It's slightly worse that the PC is describing a room he
in fact, been in yet. But a word of advice for the author: Setting up a

metaphor where alcoholic drinks are thought of as friends of the
drinkers is cliched and inadvisible, but once you've made the decision
to do this you can't suddenly say that these people are stored behind
the bar. And most especially you cannot do all this in the SAME

At one point the PC uses the word "w00t!" as an interjection. Enough

And can anyone explain this nugget of prose? "The key fits snugly in
lock. A quiet little tone fills the elevator. It seems to say to you,
"Good job!". You don't feel as proud of yourself as the doors feel

I really should stop this. The game is almost crying out to be MST3ked.

But I can't help including this quote: "You are aware that the club is
silent, except for the loud music still playing."

Indeed. One point for effort. One point for being so bad it's good. No
points for writing, coding or implementation.


The Sword of Malice - Anthony Panuccio: 3/10

With a name like "Sword of Malice" I was expecting a flood of generic
fantasy tropes to wash over me. I was not disappointed. The
sets the scene, speaking of a terrible war. I'm a little uneasy with
such talk of genocide, so I was hoping that it would turn out to be
ironic. If I were to be charitible, I could argue that the ending shows

the devastating consequences of the lust for power. I'm not charitible,

though, I'm bitter and twisted. Even if we accept this interpretation,
we never actually see any consequences, which rather nullifies the

So the story didn't appeal to me. I don't like fantasy mostly, although

I can appreciate it when it's done well. This wasn't. The writing was
competent, but only just. It lacked sparkle. I can't comment on the
puzzles, because I played from the walkthrough for most of the game.

Authors: If you don't implement a response to the "x me" command, I'm
probably going to hate your work. If you don't care about your PC
to give the player some reference to work from, then I'm going to doubt

you care very much about my enjoyment of your game.

The first room is boring. This is a bad thing. The first room also
includes two really dumb implementations. When the PC breaks the
causing the body to fall to the floor, a book appears. This is not
mentioned until the player types "look". The book presents further
problems as it's implemented to show snippets of text at random. The
player has no way to know if they've seen all the text. When a piece of

text repeats itself, it's natural to assume that you've seen all the

We'll mark this game using the French dictation method. From the
ten points, we deduct: One point for dragons existing in this world
without good reason. One point off for riddles. One point off for dumb
implementation. One point off for genocide. One point off for
I don't care about. One point off for no description of the PC. One
point off for boring me.

Final score: 3/10


Psyche's Lament - John and Lara Sichi: 6/10

This is a short game with three puzzles, each of which seems well
implemented. The text is well written, but mostly exists just to give
flavour to the puzzles, which is fine if that's the kind of game you

It's hard not to like this game. It has a certain amount of charm. I'm
not a puzzle fiend, so I glanced at the walkthrough once or twice, but
found it quite enjoyable. The intro really shines as a piece of scene
setting for the game.

Unfortunately, there's one or two problems that slightly detract. I may

have missed something, but "zap" didn't occur to me as the right verb
for using the wand. Additionally, there's some problems with newlines
sometimes not being printed after text. These are fairly minor woes,
though. I'd have also appreciated "disconnect all" being implemented.

I'm giving this a 6, not because there's much wrong with it - it's a
fine piece of work - but because it's a puzzle game and I'm far more
interested in works that have a greater fiction component.


Vendetta by Fuyu Yuki: 6/10

I've never played an Adrift game before, so I was particularly
interested in what this would be like. As I'm not running Winodws, I
used the SCARE interpreter. I can't say I'm terribly impressed by the
system, but it's playable, and that's what counts, I suppose.

Enough about the system. Vendetta is quite an ambitious game, set in a
future that reminded me of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. The
writing has flaws, but the author seems to have approached the task
enthusiasm and, with a little more experience, I'm sure it'll improve.
The major problems are with the design of the game, however.

Conversation is static, giving the player only the choice to "talk to"
somebody or wait as the conversation unfolds. There are large portions
of the game where this is the only interaction. Typing "z" or just
hitting enter isn't fun. I'd be willing to give a little more leeway on

this if the writing was better. Unfortunately, along with memories the
PC has, conversation is often used for clumsy exposition. There are
other problems. The idea that the player's girlfriend has no idea about

his past or that his is asexual until a conversation during the game
stretches belief to straining point.

The SF elements are also poorly done. Good SF is generally an
extrapolation of current knowledge. Unfortunately, the author doesn't
seem to have any current knowledge. At one point he mentions that the
PC's muscles are made of "multiple amino acid chains". This is the Star

Trek strategy of throwing in scientific terms without any reference to

I'm being harsh. The game does show some signs of sparkle and
imagination, and in parts it is very good. Unlike a few entrants to
comp, I'd encourage the author to keep at it.

Unfortunately, the funniest line from the game comes from the climax. I

literally burst out laughing at this: "Execute! Execute!" The griffon
crows in a staccato parrot-like voice."

Three points for effort, three points for that line: 6/10.


A New Life by Alexandre Owen Muñiz: 7/10

I'm impressed, but the game annoyed me by letting me get completely
stuck after saying how rare this should be in the help text. (Note to
authors: Bugs are never as rare as you think they are.) However, I like

the game. And it's especially impressive for a first major game.

The memory system works well as it goes, but I'm not entirely sure I
like the idea in general. It seems like an excuse for shifting the
burden of discovering backstory to the player, instead of letting the
player discover this through the game. It's not very interactive.

The same applies to the talk system. There's not enough to talk about.
Things that I wanted to talk about didn't seem to be implemented, which

discouraged me from asking about others (which, looking at the help
text, I should have). The inclusion of a default list of topics seems
discourage the player from exploring outside those boundaries.
Otherwise, things seem well implemented.

The writing is excellent and seems well polished. The author has a
idea of what needs to be achieved. I'm not a big fan of fantasy, but
this was tolerable and some scenes were very well executed. The goblin
girl is a great example of this, but one of the reasons she stands out
is because she didn't talk.

Minor points deducted for the menu system in response to the help
command. Menu systems are bad news in terms of accessibility. Minor
points returned after seeing the response to "x me".

There appear to be vile zero errors from hell. I ignored them.

To sum up, then, an excellent competition entry and a very solid
foundation to build upon for a promising author.


Phantom: Caverns of the Killer - Brandon Coker: 1/10

Incomptence does not even begin to describe this game. When there's a
grammatical error in the second sentence, it does not bode. Follow this

with a split infinitive, several spelling errors, capitalisation errors

and a mysterious allergy the author seems to have with apostrophes -
all this before the end of the introductory paragraph - and you have a
game that inspires dread for all the wrong reasons.

The game is essentially a treasure hunt set at an undertermined time in

Egypt. I'd like to take a moment to talk about its handling of Egyptian

myth, but I can't, because it didn't. Hint: A "dome of death" would not

have images of the grim reaper painted on it because it's not medieval

As I've already wasted fifteen minutes of my life playing this
I'm not going to waste many more on this review. A short list should
suffice: Instadeath. Mazes. No depth of implementation. No
characterisation. An ending that's about as surprising and clever as an

obvious idiot in a place where one would expect to find obvious idiots.

To call it "old school" would be an insult to the old school. They had
dictionaries and beta-testers. The single point is for actually
a game. With any luck it'll be the worst I play this comp.

Dreary Lands - Paul Lee: 2/10

Why do authors feel the need, once they have decided to enter the
IFComp, of entering whatever they've ended up with after weeks of toil
even if it's no good? It must be the emotional investment. It certainly

can't be in any hope of recognition or achievement.

Here, at least, the author admits as much. The very title drains any
hope the player may have. Then, in the title, the author feels the need

to tell us it's his first game. As a player I don't care if this is
first game, or if you're a legend among the interactive fiction
community - all I care about is whether I enjoy the game. And I really
don't want to see, in the ABOUT text, that your game is "not exactly
first class". It doesn't matter to me if you had trouble implementing
things because you're new to all this. I don't care how hard something
was to do, only whether the result is good. In any case, the good
of r.a.i-f are generous with their expertise. All you had to do was

If you don't have any confidence in your work, why should I? And it's
obvious here that Paul has no confidence in his work. I can forgive
implementation details if the story and writing are good enough. The
writing here is passable, but marred by all manner of spelling mistakes

and punctuation errors.

I gave up after getting the second point. The whole thing was just too
dreary for me. Still, it's an improvement on the previous game.

So, one point for warning me that your game sucked and other for the
brief flashes of surrealism. And Paul, that other game you're working
on? Make sure it gets proofread.



Nov 17, 2005, 7:29:49 AM11/17/05
Vespers - Jason Devlin: 8/10

I have few notes for this game. The reason for this is not that there
was nothing worth noting, but that I was having far too much fun to
bother. My initial hopes were high after reading the ABOUT text. This
game had betatesters and there were no obvious errors in the
introduction. And it seemed as if there was going to be a story line. I

was right to have high hopes. This game is the best I've played yet.

The writing is excellent and conveys the sense of isolation and
incipient madness flawlessly. The way that descriptions change
throughout the game is very nicely done. The implementation is mostly
well done, although there are one or two places where it could have
better (the commands necessary for riding the horse are one example,
verb used for killing Ignatius in the cellar is another), more
I completely missed the prybar, but I'd already looked at the
walkthrough to find out how to trip the intruder, so I knew it was
there. Oh, and searching Droggo after he's dead leads to him swatting
your hand away.

These are fairly minor complaints though. Other authors could learn a
lot. Every room is necessary. The conversation system is appropriate
the game. This is how to put depth into IF.

I was impressed to find out there are multiple endings. I didn't have
time to go back and see them after I'd completed the game (I got the
"evil" ending, which was nice). I'm assuming that the hints change
upon this.

One slight problem is the risk of instadeath in places, but this is a
design issue and the appropriate player response is to type "undo" and
try again. I'm not convinced this is an entirely successful technique,
but it works to an extent I suppose.

One point deducted for the bugs, one point deducted for the reliance on

undo. Giving Vespers a grand total of 8 points and congratulations to
the author for producing a quality piece of work.


The Colour Pink - Robert Street: 4/10

I should declare my biases straight away with this one, I think. I hate

puzzle-fests. I don't hate puzzles, but I need something else to go
along with them. In other words, solving a puzzle isn't a reward in
itself for me. Especially not unless the puzzle is clever and original
(as in Psyche's Lament). So I'm really not in the target audience for
this game.

The writing appears to be decent, although its only purpose is in
providing a frame for the puzzles. The tone is humourous, but not
The conversation system is menu based, with no divergence, so the
is reduced to going through each option.

I got bored very quickly, found I didn't care at all about the game and

soon typed "quit". I still reserve the right to rate it, though.

One point for no glaring errors. One point for the slightly imaginitive

setting. One point for the hell of it. And one point because some
actually seem to like these types of games.


Hello Sword - Andrea Rezzonico: 1/10

Oh. Dear. Lord. I'm playing the English version of this. Or rather, I'm

not going to. The translation is so bad that I consider the game
completely broken. Obviously, people able to play the Italian version
may have a very different experience.

If you're going to release an English-language version of your game,
please let someone who has English as their first language assist you.
Even if it's just by looking over your initial translation and cleaning

up any errors that creep in.

I feel a little bad about rating the game a 1, but not that bad. I was
able to play through a little way using the walkthrough and what I saw
didn't impress me. I doubt I'd be able to get far without the
walkthrough and I have no desire to keep reading the text, so there's
not much point. A single point for the effort involved.


Waldo's Pie - Michael Arnaud: 4/10

Before I actually review this game, I want to pause for a moment to
about something I've always hated in text adventures: The idea that
humour is a good replacement for good writing. This isn't to say that
humour and good writing don't mix, some of the best games have been
comedies. Indeed, the IF medium is particularly suited to comedy, where

bizarre chains of logic can end up having spectacular results. Assuming

a guise of humour in order to distract attention away from poor writing

and puzzles is not a winning strategy.

Besides, humour is difficult to do well and this game doesn't do it
well. Calling a swamp the "Mucky Muck Swamp" is not inherently funny.
Calling a type of berry a "bazzleberry" doesn't have me laughing.
Clowns. Oh my. How amusing.

I haven't played an Alan game before. The system seems fine. The game
seems well implemented. There are a few problems with puzzles, but
nothing major. I had to push the stone twice before the parchment
actually showed up in my inventory. And I don't really understand the
logic of the yo-yo being used as a key. Maybe it was supposed to be
funny and I just don't have that sense of humour. And the puzzle of
waking Boffo, which is solved using a loud horn. This is in keeping
the setting, I suppose, and the game isn't striving for realism, but
when in real life would anyone ever need a loud horn to be woken?

The writing is servicable, but rather plain. One line stood out as
objectionable on a number of different levels:

> look at rolling pin
It's a common, wood rolling pin. The housewife's favorite weapon.

I'm not going to bother mentioning the inherently misogynistic
here. I don't really care if a game is misogynistic. Hell, I entered a
deeply misogynistic game into the competition a few years ago
I claim irony as a defense). The idea of a rolling pin being "the
housewife's favorite weapon" is deeply cliched and unoriginal. Maybe
missing the humour again.

One point deducted for bugs, one point deducted for the writing, one
point deducted for misogyny and three points deducted for really
annoying the hell out of me. Four points, total.


Tough Beans - Sara Dee: 6/10

Empowering slice-of-life drama isn't usually my thing, but this was
fairly enjoyable. The writing is fairly good, the implementation is
enough to be interesting. The subject matter isn't terribly original,
but that's an observation rather than a criticism.

Unfortunately, while the PC is well drawn, other characters are
stereotypes - The Cheating Boyfriend, The Sexist Boss. Apart from
anything else, a boss who was that overtly sexist would have already
drawn down the wrath of litigation. It makes the whole thing seem just
little shallow. Even the PC starts out as a fairly shallow person and
her transformation into Empowered Woman seems hollow.

That said, it's nice that there is a story to criticise. And there's
some lines in the writing that really stand out: "Windex and Pledge and

a bottle of Febreze--these are a few of your favorite things."

So, not an unqualified success, but an excellent first game. I look
forward to seeing what else Sara Dee produces. One point off for the
shallow boyfriend. One point off for the shallow boss. One point off
the empowerment theme. And one point off for the angst. Grand total -
six points.


Amissville II - A.P. Hill: 1/10

I never played the original Amissville, but I'm aware of its
Neither am I certain that the IFComp is the best venue for sequels,
either, although it does provide a rather captive audience. It was
therefore with some trepidation that I loaded up Amissville II.

Now I understand why people hated the first one so much.

One point awarded for being obvious enough to junk with the minimum of
time wasted.


Mortality - David Whyld: 4/10

The first question that needs to be asked is why the author feels the
need to tell us all about the plot of the game in the PDF file he
includes. I'd far prefer to judge a game on its own merits. If there
multiple endings, feel free to tell me about them after I've played
through the game once. The fact that the PC is an antihero should be
discovered through the game, not because of a note the author writes
about the game.

And that's the problem. A character doesn't have to be nice to be
interesting. I don't have to sympathise with someone to empathise with
them. In this game, though, the characters are neither sympathetic nor
interesting. They proceed through the game like cardboard cut-outs.
because the game is puzzleless there's really no point to reading the
text. In fact, interactivity is so limited in the game that it's almost

like one huge CYOA with sparse choices throughout long text.

A near static story like this can be interesting, but as others have
noted, it's often like being strapped down in a chair and the author
screaming the plot into your face. And this is worse if the game is
boring. And there's nothing interesting going on here. The author does
his best, telling scenes out of time and switching from one genre to
another, but in the end I never cared about anyone involved and
give a damn about whether they lived or died.

I'm sure the author thinks he's being clever and edgy. Every writer
probably goes through a phase when they have to experiment with these
kinds of plots. Unfortunately, Mortality must be consigned to the
million words of crap every author writes before they get to the good
stuff. The writing is not particularly polished, either. I spotted a
couple of spelling errors and the author needs to memorise the maxim
"show, don't tell" (not that it's a hard or fast rule, but knowing when

to break it is important). A little more subtlety would be nice, too.

Two points for trying something experimental. One point deducted for
failing. One point for decent implementation. One point for the sheer
effort put into writing that amount of deathless prose and a final
just because being so harsh makes me feel a little guilty.


FutureGame - Jon Ingold: 1/1

What can I say? This game is pure genius! It provides hours of gameplay

and the ultimate in replayability. I marvelled at the prose. I spent my

two hours engaging with challenging puzzles that never grew
And then, after I'd rated it like a good IFComp judge, I played some

The writing is both humourous and delightfully dark, providing
and witty repartee. After just a few minutes of play, the player is
to feel they are meeting an old and valued friend. Never before has
interactive fiction seen a writer of such power and versatility. The
NPCs, even the minor ones, are lifelike and have rich inner lives. The
conversation system - well, I don't want to spoil it for you, but
suffice to say that this is like NOTHING we've seen before.

To describe the game as well implemented would be an understatement.
There are no bugs that I could find. Not once did a command I tried
respond with an error message. The sheer effort that went into coding
this game must have been huge and I find it amazing that a single
is listed. Surely a team of expert programmers was necessary.

In conclusion, if the authors of Infocom were to suddenly reform, spend

three years researching modern IF techniques and a further three years
secretly developing entirely new systems - and then if they were to
resurrect P.G. Wodehouse, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and William Shakespeare to

advise them on the writing - the result would still not be as good as

Hearty congratulations! I'm sure this will be the overall winner this

Unfortunately, after the stress of the IFComp, my keyboard has
a fault and only one of my number keys is still working. The only score

I can give, therefore, is 1 out of 1. I'm sure you'll agree that's the
only score possible for a game that gives 111%.


Chancellor - Kevin Venzke: 9/10

This game disturbed the hell out of me. It's well implemented, well
written and deeply immersive. I'm incredibly glad that the author
include a walkthrough. I would have caved in and looked at it way
the end. As it was, I was still playing when the two hour deadline hit.

It takes a good game to make me play for two hours when I'm spending a
lot of time not getting anywhere. Like a good little judge, I assigned
my score, deducting a single point for being too long for the comp,
immediately went back to the game.

Like the protagonist of this story, I too have spent time as a student
on a deserted campus. I was there. The way familiar places change when
they are emptied of people, the subtle feeling of wrongness - it's all
perfectly evoked. This is immersion. I wasn't playing so that I could
win the damn thing, I was playing because I wanted to survive. The game

rewards the observant player. It may be that I got to see the polish,
because I was hopelessly stuck at some points and had little else to do

but wander around trying odd things. But the polish is there, the
implemented even though many players won't see them. It's a definite
mark of quality.

I sound like I'm raving about this game. I probably am. It's that good.

My first few notes on the game reflect my distaste for fantasy, but I
was impressed when the genre shifted suddenly. Looking back, I was
probably being fairly dense about some of the puzzles. If I had
it before the two hours were up, I'd have given it a 10.

The only thing left for me to do is to provide a handy little pullquote

in case the author feels like quoting me: Kevin Venzke's Chancellor is
truly excellent piece of work, one of the stand-out pieces of this
competition and one of the best horror games the IF community has seen.


Escape to New York - Richard Otter: 4/10

Let's start with what I liked: The well researched setting.

Well that was fast. Now, what I didn't like.

There appears to have been a lack of proofreading. I can accept the odd

spelling mistake. I can accept the odd missing comma. I can even
though not easily, a misplaced apostrophe. But to spell the same word
two different ways in a single paragraph - and not only a single
paragraph, but the paragraph that's revealed in response to "examine
me", the first command most players will type - this I cannot accept. I

will note things like this and highlight them in reviews, pausing only
to mock you.

Richard Otter, consider yourself duly mocked.

But my annoyance didn't start here. Could someone perhaps explain to me

this obsession authors seem to have with putting backstory and
characterisation outside the game itself? Surely this is sheer
I don't want to read backstory, I want to discover it through the game.

This is what short opening sequences are for. This is what
are for.

The game takes an interesting setting, applies the obvious results of
research and turns it into a treasure hunt. I don't like treasure
I don't care about the loot the PC picks up. I most especially don't
want to do this in a game that doesn't treat "look in" and "look under"

as proper verbs, leading to the response "you see no such thing" when
such a thing does, indeed, exist. It may be a limitation of the system,

but that doesn't matter to me as a player.

If you're implementing a treasure hunt in which the PC puts things in
some kind of sack-like object, please don't make me type "open
put object in suitcase. close suitcase." repeatedly. While your at it,
auto-opening doors may be a good idea. And speaking of doors, the
response "You can't go that way (at present)." is deeply annoying. If
you disallow something have a good reason and tell the player why.

The characters are generally as life-like as the suitcase.

One point for reasonably complete implementation. One point for
research. One point for setting. And one point because even this was
better than Sword of Malice by a long way.


The Plague (Redux) - Laurence Moore: 3/10

Now this is disappointing. An interesting concept and some good writing

destroyed by shoddy implementation. And boy is the implementation
shoddy. Bugs abound. I played until, judging by the walkthrough, about
half way through, before a showstopping bug trapped me. It's not just
buggy, though, basic commands don't work, completely misleading the

Some other things annoyed me. The walkthrough is in .doc format. The
game opens with dictionary definitions of the words in its title. I
what "plague" and "redux" mean, thanks. The author should lean that he
does not need to provide a different adjective for every turn of
conversation when "said" will suffice.

The opening scene was very good though. This is exactly the right way
draw a player into the game. And the writing, while a little
does strike the right tone most of the time.

The storyline is nothing original. I was led to think of the film _21
Days Later_. Charitibly one could say the game is a "tribute", those
less inclined to charity (and God knows the game doesn't inspire
charity) might be tempted to call it a rip-off.

The phrase "Like a cross between Rybread Celcius and Cattus Attrox"
comes to mind, too. But then again, every comp seems to have an author
hailed as the new Rybread.

One point for originality. One point for the terrible lust for
braaaiiinssssss. One point for strangely compelling writing. No points
at all for coding skills.



Nov 17, 2005, 7:30:54 AM11/17/05
Beyond - Mondi Confinanti: 3/10

I found this rather boring, unfortunately. One of the problems may be
that it the authors don't have English as their first language. That
isn't to say that the translation is badly done, but while the text is
mostly good english, it's not necessarily good prose. There's a couple
of minor spelling mistakes that I'm willing to let slide.

The major problem is not with the prose, though, but with the story.
It's not very interesting. The conversation system is the increasingly
familiar menu system where each item can be exhausted. This is never
very interactive. The game is broken into short scenes, so the
is essentially, exhaust menu options, do a few things, exit scene. It's

always obvious that we're on train tracks, being dragged through a

I didn't get to the end. I couldn't be bothered even to play from the
walkthrough after a while. It's possible that I missed all the dramatic

tension that was coming up, but there didn't seem to be too much in the

scenes I saw. For a murder mystery to work, the player needs a sense of

agency. The reward the player receives is from understanding things and

working out the truth. In other words, it's the perfect genre for a
open playing area with the player able to follow several leads at any
time. The missing sense of agency here pulls the game down.

There are pictures. I didn't think they added much to the game. There
a framing device. This didn't interest me much either.

So, two points deducted for uninspiring prose, two for bad design
decisions and a final two for boring me. Three in total.


On Optimism - Tim Lane: 2/10

Dear Tim,

Please don't spew your angst all over us. I don't care if it's based on

real life experiences, or if you're just imagining these situations.
They may be important to you, but they're not very interesting. Share
this with your therapist or support group if you want. A therapist is
least paid to read these things. For the rest of us it's very, very
boring. Your prose is substandard and didactic. Your poetry is
adolescent and immature.

You get one point since you seem to have coded it well and another
because your writing, while awful, at least looks as if you proofread.

Don't feel too bad about this response. Angst is something a lot of
writers find themselves mired in for a while. I'm sure you'll grow out
of it. Most people do.

Oh, and Tim, people who self-harm often find that descriptions of
self-harm trigger that desire in themselves. It would have been
considerate to include a warning at the start of your game.



Internal Vigilance - Simon Christiansen: 6/10

Interesting. Although, to be honest, I'm not sure what to make of this
game. Is the author trying to make a point? And if so is that point,
interesting. The quotes the author's included seem to lean towards one
bias, but the open ended nature of the game seems to say the issue is
complex. I don't know whether to call this moral cowardice, or not.
Since I can't decide what the game's purpose was, it's difficult to
decide whether it succeeded or not. It has left me strangely
unsatisfied, though.

I suppose, in a way, the direction in which the author took the story
was the easy way out. That way he doesn't have to say anything. I'd
found it much more interesting for the PC to remain as an agent of the
state, to be drawn into the rationalisations and to understand him. The

player would have to make the same decision once the story was
even if there was only one ending.

But that wasn't the game I played.

I have a few problems with that game. Puzzles should serve a purpose.
they are the focus of the game, they can be an end in themselves. In a
story-orientated game like this, a puzzle should not exist for the sake

of there being a puzzle. It should pace the game, and ideally lead the
player into new knowledge or appreciation. Why make the player look for

some car keys at a point in the story when all the player wants to do
get on with the story? There was no reason for that delay. Other
in the game reflect the same lack of overall design.

The occasional flashes of dark humour were good, but there weren't
enough. When the subject matter is heavy, humour often works well.
Gilliam's _Brazil_, a film this game seems to draw on in more than one
scene, is a great example of this. That said, I did particularly like
this line:

>hit stiles
Moderate physical pressure isn't the answer to this one.

A whole four points deducted because it really isn't as good as it
should be. So, six out of ten.


Cheiron - Elisabeth Polli and Sarah Clelland: 1/10

This is not interactive fiction. It's interactive, yes, but it's not
fiction. And I'm not entirely sure I understand the point of it. Is it
supposed to be a training aid? A study aid? Or what? "This is what
a medical student is like" say the authors. But they're wrong. Medical
students know what they're doing, or at least have some idea what the
results of the tests they perform mean. Most players, those without
medical knowledge, won't have any idea what they're doing.

I don't think shoe-horning this kind of thing into an IF medium works
very well. The experience of walking around a hospital adds very little

to what seems to be the main point of the game - interacting with
patients. Nor does a parser based system work well with the vocabulary
employed here:

> ausculate heart
Which do you mean, myocardial infarction, the mitral area, the
area, the aortic area, the tricuspid area or the apex beat?

This is where a hierarchy of menus in a GUI system really shines - it
gives the user a visual overview of what tests are available and which
are split into further categories. I'm a fast typist, but even I'd
prefer a menu system. Here's what I'm imagining. A diagram of the body.

Click on the heart to open a menu containing the various applicable
tests from which one would choose "listen" or "auscultate", which then
opens another menu containing the various areas available, then choose
the applicable one. That's three clicks compared to a lot of keypresses

with the additional advantage of navigation over memory.

If someone can learn Inform, then they can probably lean enough HTML
javascript to do exactly this. I suspect it would be more popular, too.

Is there an undiscovered market of IF-playing medical students aside
from these two authors? I doubt it.

Or possibly I'm missing the whole point of this effort. In any case,
this entry gets a one.


Unforgotten - Quintin Pan: 2/10

I'm not sure the author will ever forgive me for this review. But
none of my business. In my review of the excellent _Chancellor_, I
mentioned that it takes a very good game to keep me playing for two
hours. I've learnt something now. A bad game can keep me playing that
long, too, provided it's bad enough. And Unforgotten delivered in every


It's not just the writing (which we'll get to shortly), but the
implementation is rather shoddy. In the very first room:

> jump
(off the bathroom door)
You jump on the spot, fruitlessly.

That's not too bad a bug though. It's easily missed. I always type jump

as one of the first commands in any game, but this could be considered
perverse. There's a worse bug lurking, though. If you have not examined

Simon's chest:

> look under pillow
You've done that already. No need to disturb it more than you have to.

Um. No, I haven't done that already. It's also rather poor
implementation when SEARCH BED doesn't even clue for the fact that
there's a key beneath the pillow. That first scene was annoying because

of the constant need to disambiguate betwen my bunk and chest and
Simon's bunk and chest. Also, It's all very well the author telling us
to examine everything, but everything is underimplemented. Consider

> remove glasses
You take off the glasses.

> look
You can't see anything without your glasses!

> listen
You can't see or do anything without your glasses!

I can't listen without my glasses on? Do they have built-in

The puzzles seem to have been designed with no reference to reality. At

one point the PC has to feed a drugged pie to some guard dogs. The dogs

are on the other side of a gate. The player cannot give the dogs the
directly because he fears they would bite his hand off. The obvious
thing to do is to throw it to them. But, no, according to the author
in direct contradiction of the aim of the puzzle:

> throw pie
You'd rather keep it.

No, I wouldn't. The PC eventually climbs one of the walls. You'd think
he could now just drop it and it will fall to the ground where the dogs

will eat it. You'd be wrong:

> give pie to dogs
You can't reach!

> drop pie
You think it would be wise to rather hang on to the pie.

No. I wouldn't. The actual solution involves putting the pie on the end

of a fishing line and dangling it down to the dogs. And how is this is
functionally different to throwing it? It's hard to say. At no point
does the author provide the player with anything like a justification
for this bizarre logic.

All this is bad enough, but it's not enough to completely destroy a
game. For that honour, we have to look at the author's prose. This is a

writer who will never use a five dollar word when he can find a hundred

dollar one in his thesaurus. "Look at me!" he seems to be saying. "Look

at all the words I know!" And as his readers we're supposed to be
incredibly impressed. I just laughed. And laughed. Then I laughed some
more. This is why I was still playing after two hours. The time spent
marvelling at the author's incredible misuse of language slowed my
progress. I collected particularly egregious examples as I went.

Of the bathroom: "It's hardly a room." Well, it has walls and a door.
Looks like a room to me.

"Throughout the journey, you get execrated glares from Zed." I'm not
entirely sure how someone manages to construct so poor a sentence
without intending to. There's so much wrong with it.

1. Phrasing this passively lessens its impact. There's no good reason
do so.
2. Using the word "get" is lazy and inaccurate here. You don't "get"
glares; you see them.
3. There's no need for a comma.
3. "Execrated". Oh dear. The author is desperately trying to impress
with his vocabulary.
4. Unfortunately, the author doesn't actually know what this word
The glares are not execrated. This would mean that the glares
were being hated. What the author means is: "You get execrative glares
from Zed". And even that sentence is hideous.

"A single light flickers chokingly from the ceiling, peeling the walls
away." I find it difficult to even articulate why this sentence is so
awful. Did the author even read what he was typing? Why did he think
that the way the light flickered needed to be described with two
adverbial phrases? I can just about imagine a light that flickers
chokingly, but "peeling the walls away"? Now there's a truly bizarre

"A plant sits at either side of the entrance as well as the briefing
room to the south." I believe this is what they call a "garden path"
sentence. Is it the briefing room that sits either side of the

"The unfamiliar emptiness echoes the buzz of a freezer in the far
corner." This is a bad description. Emptiness doesn't echo. Sounds
reflect from surfaces.

"One swift movement from Simon was all it took. The lid flies open and
the lock dangles from it." In the first sentence we are in the past
tense, which implies the lid has already been opened. In the second
sentence we've travelled back in time and suddenly the lid is flying
open again.

"Everything slowly fades away into the white fugue, but you know beyond

the tranquil illusion, dozens of buildings lie in ruin from the
bombings that plague this area." Once again the author has no idea of
the meaning of the pretty words he chooses to use. A fugue is a musical

composition where a number of different instruments repeatedly play
variations on a phrase. A fugue state is a disocciative break after a
traumatic event. I'm not sure which the author was going for in his
overblown metaphor as neither really seems to apply.

"Other than a few twitching bodies, the place is vacated." Odd way of
putting it. "The place is vacant" or "the place has been vacated".

"A flash of loud whiteness followed by a phantasmagoric sequence of
memories. Then it all fades..." Loud whiteness? And while "a
phantasmagoric sequence of memories" does make sense, I could very
happily never see the word "phantasmagoric" in any piece of fiction

"Simon's last words cling to you as the image of his sad expression
stays forever engrafted in your mind." There appear to be two main uses

of the word "engrafted". One is archaic/poetic usage in the bible. The
other is as a technical term in medicine and genetics. Which one did
author mean?

"Shepherd's Rock didn't cartographically exist."

"You find yourself in the heart of a grassy saddle." Using the lesser
known meaning of a common word leads to unintentional hilarity.

"Smeared by a thick layer of droplets, the sketch of the ocean to the
west ripples in and out of a dream." Huh?

I could go on all night. It's not funny because it's bad. It's funny
because the author so obviously thinks it's good. This would be a great

game to play with friends. Gather round the computer with copious
quantities of your beverage of choice. Take a drink every time you see
sentence that makes you cringe.

If the author doesn't hate me now, I've not been reviewing it right. I
award one point for effort and another for unintentional hilarity,
giving the unforgettable _Unforgotten_ a grand total of two points.


Son of a... - C.S. Woodrow: 5/10

It's the story of a young college student whose car breaks down in the
middle of nowhere. Now where have I heard that story before? Imagine
Interstate-Zero without the imaginative story-line, branching paths and

pert, youthful brea... Ah wait, this isn't that sort of review. And
isn't that sort of game. There's no pretentions to literature here. No,

what we have here is a small series of puzzles described with the
minimum necessary text.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's a fairly amusing
diversion. None of the puzzles are very hard. so the whole thing speeds

by. It's not as much fun as I-0, though. And the reason is, no real
storyline, no exuberance. The restraint of the text leaves the
experience a little empty.

That said, it's solidly coded. It is what it is and it does what it

I'm struggling with this review. The game just doesn't have that much
write about.

At this point, I note, I have awarded points ranging between one and
nine, with the exception of five. So, as this is very much a
middle-of-the-road game, it can have those five points and even out my
curve a little. Ah, curves, maybe I should replay I-0...


History Repeating - Mark & Renee Choba: 3

Well that was spectacularly dull. This plays like the outline for a
game. Everything essential is there. Rooms are described, characters
converse, objects exist, but there's no atmosphere, no background
flavour. The setting - a school - gives plenty of scope for interesting

things to be going on. The rooms are minimally described, the
conversation is depressingly linear (simply go through all the options)

and is seldom about anything other than the task at hand, and the
objects are puzzle pieces. Even the story is unsatisfying, existing
to provide the framework for a rather uninspired set of puzzles.

The puzzles aren't particularly interesting. At one point the PC needs
to get into a locked room. Looking through a peep-hole into the room he

sees students there. My first response was to knock on the door. But
game doesn't even recognise "knock" as a verb. There's no way to
communicate with the students. The solution is to tell the dean about
the students who "don't seem to be getting much work done". This was
not, to me, the obvious way to go about things.

This is a first game for the authors, which means I'm supposed to be
nice and encouraging. This is difficult. Niceness and encouragement do
not (as may be seen from many of these reviews) come naturally to me.
I'll give it a go. Aside from the puzzles, which I found dumb, there's
not too much wrong with the game. But there's not enough in the game
much rightness or wrongness, anyway. You have most of the basics, now
add substance.

Possibly I have failed to grasp the essense of nice and encouraging.

One point for a lack of obvious grammatical or spelling errors. One
point for me having seen no bugs. One point for the pond puzzle, which
quite liked. Three points overall.


PTBAD6 - Slan Xorax: 1

Like Rybread Celsius without the wit.


James Mitchelhill


Nov 17, 2005, 1:52:04 PM11/17/05
>Conversation is static, giving the player only the choice to "talk to"
>somebody or wait as the conversation unfolds.

Sorry about that. Games which involve "Ask about (guess the subject)"
are usually one of my pet hates and I think there was too much speech
and information to convey for the "ask" method to handle effectively in
the time allowed (2hrs was the limit). It's an unfortunate attempt to
squeeze too much story into too small a game. I'm still not sure it

>Unfortunately, the author doesn't seem to have any current knowledge. At one point he mentions that the PC's muscles are >made of "multiple amino acid chains". This is the Star Trek strategy of throwing in scientific terms without any reference to >reality.

What is muscle fibre is actually made of, if not amino acid chains?
Okay, that's not a 100% precise description, but remember that I was
writing a game and not a scientific journal. Besides, putting in
something too fancy might have resulted in a few shouts of "Blowhard!"
from the peanut gallery, which I wouldn't have appreciated.

>Unfortunately, the funniest line from the game comes from the climax. I literally burst out laughing at this: "Execute! Execute!" >The griffon crows in a staccato parrot-like voice."

The thought had crossed my mind that somebody somewhere might react
that way, but whatever. I'm glad you liked it at least partially, but
this certainly isn't the best of my work.

Will there be a next time? Maybe, maybe not.

Raymond Martineau

Nov 17, 2005, 11:22:50 PM11/17/05
On 17 Nov 2005 04:27:43 -0800, ja...@disorderfeed.net wrote:

>Psyche's Lament - John and Lara Sichi: 6/10


>It's hard not to like this game. It has a certain amount of charm. I'm
>not a puzzle fiend, so I glanced at the walkthrough once or twice, but
>found it quite enjoyable. The intro really shines as a piece of scene
>setting for the game.
>Unfortunately, there's one or two problems that slightly detract. I may
>have missed something, but "zap" didn't occur to me as the right verb
>for using the wand. Additionally, there's some problems with newlines
>sometimes not being printed after text. These are fairly minor woes,
>though. I'd have also appreciated "disconnect all" being implemented.

I need to make a comment, as it seems most people didn't notice this:
A major flaw with the game involves the "machine" that's supposed to be
used to solve the first two puzzles. Try running the second circut without
the triangle - this creates an infinite loop.

>Phantom: Caverns of the Killer - Brandon Coker: 1/10
>Incomptence does not even begin to describe this game. When there's a
>grammatical error in the second sentence, it does not bode. Follow this
>with a split infinitive, several spelling errors, capitalisation errors
>and a mysterious allergy the author seems to have with apostrophes -
>all this before the end of the introductory paragraph - and you have a
>game that inspires dread for all the wrong reasons.

A question: what is the rationale behind the rule to never split an

Mike Snyder

Nov 17, 2005, 11:34:40 PM11/17/05
"Raymond Martineau" <bk...@ncf.ca> wrote in message

> On 17 Nov 2005 04:27:43 -0800, ja...@disorderfeed.net wrote:

> A question: what is the rationale behind the rule to never split an
> infinitive?

Here's what I found:

Doesn't seem too big a deal to me. If Star Trek can do it, it must be okay.

-- Mike.

Victor Gijsbers

Nov 18, 2005, 7:12:50 AM11/18/05
Raymond Martineau wrote:

> A question: what is the rationale behind the rule to never split an
> infinitive?

Even Strunk and White, "The Elements of Style 4th edition", are quite
relaxed concerning the split infinitve. "The split infinitive is another
trick of rethoric in which the ear must be quicker than the handbook.
Some infinitives seem to improve on being split..." (p.78) and "There is
precedent from the fourteenth century down for interposing an adverb
between 'to' and the infinitive it governs, but the construction should
be avoided unless the writer wishes to place unusual stress upon the
adverb." (p.58)

In other words: use with caution.


Neil Cerutti

Nov 18, 2005, 8:12:01 AM11/18/05
On 2005-11-18, Raymond Martineau <bk...@ncf.ca> wrote:
> A question: what is the rationale behind the rule to never
> split an infinitive?

It's a wart remaining from misguided attempts to Latinize English
usage. In Latin, Infinitives are one word, so they can't
be split.

To artfully split an infinitive often brings good results. Even
Strunk & White's seminal work endorses the practice as long when
you're sure it results in a better sentence.

Neil Cerutti

Sophie Fruehling

Nov 18, 2005, 8:44:37 AM11/18/05
bk...@ncf.ca (Raymond Martineau) writes:

>On 17 Nov 2005 04:27:43 -0800, ja...@disorderfeed.net wrote:

>>Psyche's Lament - John and Lara Sichi: 6/10

>I need to make a comment, as it seems most people didn't notice this:
>A major flaw with the game involves the "machine" that's supposed to be
>used to solve the first two puzzles. Try running the second circut without
>the triangle - this creates an infinite loop.

Yes, I did that, too. I put my coffee mug on the spacebar for the
[more] prompts and went away to do something else, checking back
every now and then. It took about half an hour to crash, IIRC,
which happened at the number 16351. The transscript file is 4.7 MB,
but zipped, it is only 60 KB. :)

Sophie Frühling

The cube tastes like sugar. You are suddenly surrounded by a herd
of moose. They start talking to you about a moose-load of things.

Kevin Forchione

Nov 18, 2005, 11:41:29 AM11/18/05
"Sophie Fruehling" <sfrue...@LOVELY-SPAM.aon.at.invalid> wrote in message

> bk...@ncf.ca (Raymond Martineau) writes:
>>On 17 Nov 2005 04:27:43 -0800, ja...@disorderfeed.net wrote:
>>>Psyche's Lament - John and Lara Sichi: 6/10
>>I need to make a comment, as it seems most people didn't notice this:
>>A major flaw with the game involves the "machine" that's supposed to be
>>used to solve the first two puzzles. Try running the second circut
>>the triangle - this creates an infinite loop.
> Yes, I did that, too. I put my coffee mug on the spacebar for the
> [more] prompts and went away to do something else, checking back
> every now and then. It took about half an hour to crash, IIRC,
> which happened at the number 16351. The transscript file is 4.7 MB,
> but zipped, it is only 60 KB. :)

One hopes the coffee mug was empty. It seems a shame to have let a good
cuppa go cold in that manner.


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