[Comp 98] Lucian's Reviews

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Lucian Paul Smith

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Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
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Below are my reactions to the games, written in the order Comp98 gave
them to me and, generally, in the order I played them. I tried and
usually succeeded in writing each review shortly after I had finished
each game, before I forgot too much about it. Nothing was rated at the
time; after I was completely done, I went back and gave numbers to
everything.

The numbers reflect the range of games within this competition alone.
Unlike two years ago, I went ahead and actually gave out some 1's this
time, but it should be emphasized that this represents the low end of
this particular set of games, and not of IF in general. And, of course,
they only represent my opinions about my particular 2-hour or less
experience with each. I felt that all the games were worthy efforts,
and would encourage all the authors to take up their keyboard and try
again, whether for another competition or as a general release--there's
a lot of talent here, and I would love to see it put to good use.

Also, any given review might not seem to match up with the rating it
got. This is perfectly normal, and nothing to worry about. The reviews
tend to meander about whatever I was thinking about at the time. The
numbers were given based on overall impressions, using the reviews as a
memory refresher. Sometimes, it may not be clear why I gave one game a
higher number than another. Sorry about that, but there you go.

Oh, and most of the reviews assume that you've played the game already.
Some give away spoilers, and others will probably just be
incomprehensible if you haven't played it already. So proceed with
caution.

A few general notes: Many of the games entered this year were quite
short--much shorter, for me, than two full hours. This was often quite
nice, as it allowed me to fully explore the game in the allotted time
without feeling like I was under pressure to finish the game. Truth be
told, I never strictly adhered to a schedule, but I did feel that none
of the games took longer than the 2 hours. Knowing how hard this was
for me last year, I applaud everyone's efforts. There also seemed to be
a preponderance of aliens and one-room games this year. Can you
psychoanalyze a group? I'm sure this means something. Fortunately,
each one managed to bring their own perspective to the subject, and none
of the games seemed tired or worn out.

I've put the rating of each game at the top, remember, though, that I
actually distributed numbers well after writing the review.

--------
Downtown Tokyo. Present Day. (Rating 7):

Wheee, my first game! All together, a promising beginning for the
competition, too. A bit short, Tokyo nevertheless manages to firmly
entertain, as well as break new ground with the double perspective of
the you in the 'audience' juxtaposed with the way you control the hero
on the 'screen'. As a designer, I found this game to be fascinating the
way I was much more aware of this duality at the beginning of the game,
and became more and more immersed as I went along--not unlike the
experience of watching a real movie.

The gameplay was a bit uneven--in the game's main sequence, it falls
prey to the unlisted crucial exit ploy, and although you were clearly
able to explore Tokyo freely, it seemed relatively out of character to
do so, and I was surprised when it became necessary. The red herrings
in the game don't help in this regard, either, although they do provide
excellent fodder to play with. My only twinge of disappointment with
the game came, in fact, from not being able to use the various red
herrings in some elaborate puzzle, which the scene seemed to call for
(in my view). Still, this was a fun game, and played up to the
stereotypes it parodied with aplomb.

--------
I Didn't Know You Could Yodel (Rating 3):

Whew. This is obviously an 'old school' adventure, and quite a lot of
work seems to have gone into it,... but it's daunting to play when you
know there are better techniques for writing adventures out there. The
game made me laugh many times, I'll admit, but, for me, Zork Zero was
about the last adventure I could play that included so many old
chestnuts, although I will admit there were some new ones here for me.
As a puzzle game with mildly entertaining things to do between puzzles,
it succeeds, but I've come to expect more from adventure games, and, as
such, was unable to appreciate this one very much. One day when I'm more
in the mood I'll probably come back to this and finish off the puzzles.
It was interesting (and maybe unintentional?) to have a saved game
included in the download, but it did serve to allow me to see the ending
without spoiling the puzzles for me. An interesting technique--perhaps
with the advent of the Quetzal format for Inform games (and I dunno what
for TADS), other authors might include the same in future competition
releases. It was actually kind of nice to be able to 'skip to the end'
and see what was there. And although it was kind of disappointing to
find out the answer was, "more of the same," it at least softened the
blow reaching the end on my own would have been, and allowed me to
relax, with lowered expectations, and tackle some more of the mid-game
without having to resort to the walkthrough.

On a technical note, there were quite a few spelling errors, although
they did tend to be more 'sophisticated' errors, whatever that means.
There also seemed to be some problems with error-catching; you could
type several random words in a row, and it would try to execute each one
in turn. (foo bar e, for example, yields, "I don't know the word 'foo'.
I don't know the word 'bar'. (Heading east) [next room description]")
Other now-standard amenities were also missed, like 'verbose' and 'x'
for 'examine' (although 'l' was an acceptable alternative). For a
project accomplished in Modula 2, though, I am still quite impressed.

--------
Where Evil Dwells (Rating 6):

This game is a combination of a grim, foreboding, Lovecraftian
atmosphere and utter, utter farce. It was weird. And, somehow, it
worked. I think. The game has two authors; I presume that one style came
from one and the other from the other, although one never knows. Both
styles were skillfully done--I was generally creeped out one moment and
laughing out loud the next. The resulting text kept me consistently
off-balance--an appropriate enough feeling, I think, considering the
subject matter. Not at all a standard method, but I think it worked. The
plot elements were quite standard Lovecraftian fare (at least I assume
so, not having read Lovecraft myself-- they were remarkably similar to
those in 'Anchorhead'), but well stretched into a decently coherent
plot.

The puzzles were generally decent; I particularly enjoyed how the
information in the journals could be put to use. Some were a bit beyond
me, and I had to get help from the hints/walkthrough (the hints were a
good idea, as it happens, although it would have been nice to have tried
to design a way around the 'wandering eye' problem). One thing: Map?!?
What map?!?

Technically, the game had an "I *almost* finished coding everything,
really!" feel to it--many objects in one room were implemented quite
completely, while objects in the next would not be recognized at all.
This would be easy to fix, but were still somewhat disappointing to
encounter. Those items that were implemented were done so quite well,
as a general rule, which made the non-implemented items more
disappointing. Still, a solid game.

--------
The City (Rating 7):

Ah. Hmmm.

If 'The Space Under The Window' is IF as poetry, this game is IF as
sculpture. Or a painting. Magritte, probably.

After consulting the help to discover that I had started off with an
inventory (grrr), I then had to consult the help again to solve the
first puzzle. Once started down that path, I was able to find the
ending, though.

And, uh, that was it. Expecting a story and finding a painting was a
little startling. But, accepting it on its own terms, I think it
accomplished its goal. Did I *like* it? Hard to say. It made me
think, which was good. It provoked a stark mental image, along with a
powerful emotion (the desire to forget) to go along with it. That's
probably a longer lasting image than I get from a lot of IF.

I'm struggling here with my thwarted desire to have the story continue
(or go back), and trying to decide whether that's bad or good. I believe
it to be the author's intent. Whether I think that was a worthy
goal,...is subject to some debate. I think I'll ruminate on this a
while, and come back to it later, possibly with more thoughts.

---
Well, I'm rating the games now, and I do have something to add.
As I suspected, this game is really stuck in my memory. It so
powerfully planted its image in my head I still can remember it just as
clearly now as when I played it about a month ago. The same can't be
said of many of the other games.

--------
The Ritual of Purification (Rating 5):

First off: You can cast spells in this game. As far as I can tell, the
only way you can learn this is by reading the fifth menu item in the
'about' section. This should be mentioned in the text. (I felt the
same way about 'Meteor', so the game is, at least, in auspicious
company.)

As for the game itself,... it was interesting. Certainly a unique
setting. I think I would have preferred a bit more background, although
having it provided within the game (as a piece was if you tried to re-
enter the arch) would have sufficed. The message of this game seemed to
be to embrace paradox, which is quite a powerful message, but the game
didn't provide enough context for that message to seem to *matter* to
anyone, leaving it somewhat empty. Kudos for attempting the sublime,
but with nothing to attach it to, it drifted towards the ridiculous.

Come to think of it, I had the same problem with this game that I do
with other rituals that have likewise lost their meaning. The ritual is
still there, and there is a sense that it could mean more, but without
real life to serve as a foundation on top of which to build the ritual,
it is easily knocked down.

Still well done, though, for what it was. I had to consult the
walkthrough again (this is becoming a common refrain, isn't it?) for
some puzzles that could have been more clearly clued at, but they did
work within the context of the game, and I liked that. A few bugs
(notably the 'light' spell) but nothing show-stopping, which was nice.

--------
Lightiania (Rating 2):

Well. A brief game replete with spelling and grammar errors, but at
least they seem to be *consistent* errors, indicating that the author
actually didn't know how to spell the word, as opposed to just being
lazy. Given that the author's name is 'Gustav', this seems likely. A
quick trip to the beta-testing site or through an English spell checker
would have found many of them pretty quickly, though, and it's
unfortunate this didn't happen. The plot is simplistic, though fairly
completely implemented, and the main character is whimsically though
again simplistically portrayed through the description of her (yes, her,
though this is easy to miss) house. Not very exciting, but reasonably
entertaining--if you could get past the spelling.

--------
Trapped in a One-Room Dilly (Rating 6):

An entertaining puzzle-fest, reminiscent of Gareth Reese's 'The Magic
Toyshop' from the very first competition--only these puzzles had much
more to do with the environment than that game did. However, like
Toyshop, this game contained several clever uses of items in the room
that at first seemed merely like scenery. The few red herrings in this
game seemed a bit out of place. Perhaps they were remnants of puzzles
that didn't quite make it, but in a finely-crafted game like this, the
out-of-place elements jarred a bit. The puzzles were mostly logical,
although I did have to check the hints for a few, some of which I know I
never would have thought to try.

Technically, the game was quite robust. I never found any bugs, and
almost every action I tried evoked a non-canned response that changed as
the room state changed. The hint system was interesting--one wonders if
Laura knew about the menus libraries in the Inform directory, since they
were not used, but the system used instead was unique and creative--and
one which TADS authors might wish to emulate, since they cannot make
menus like Inform can. (Well, maybe they can now with hTADS; I really
don't know.) Essentially, when the player types 'hints', they are
transported to a new room whose room description contains the list of
hint topics. The only verbs allowed in this room relate to reading the
hints, and typing 'exit' takes you back to the original room. A very
solid game.

--------
The Plant (Rating 9):

This was a nice, enjoyable game. The plot unfolded smoothly, from a
clear setup to some nice developments. Instrumental in this were
several 'cut scenes' (not all at once, though--usually spread out over
several moves), each of which happened seemingly spontaneously (although
upon reflection it was clear what innocent action triggered each).
There was even some foreshadowing going on in the items found in the car
in the beginning--although it wasn't particularly subtle. The puzzles
all were logical extensions of the game world as presented to us--my
favorite (and, indeed, my favorite in the competition so far) had to be
dealing with the dog. Bringing together several bits of information
into that one simple command was just a joy. Mike also did an excellent
job with his puzzle design in other spots, not the least of which were
two times where something complex had to be done to pass an obstacle the
first time, but, once passed, an easy way was provided to pass it the
next times. And the catwalk puzzle was probably my next favorite,
because I had already figured out the first half earlier, and knew
almost instantly I had found where to use the second half when I got
here. Of the three endings possible in this game (that I found), there
was no mystery as to which was considered 'correct'--that's the one that
got you the last several points. Since the other endings weren't so
terrible, I wished that I had gotten *some* compensation for choosing
them, at least, even if not as many as I got for the 'right' one. That
said, however, I felt the design of the final puzzle was excellently put
together so that the player would indeed find all three endings; the
first two more easily, and the third (correct one) after working at it a
bit.

My one complaint about the game was the lack of hints. Having to use
the walkthrough meant that in order to get to the solution to a puzzle I
was stuck on (unfairly, I felt--did anyone else feel that the note was
terribly misleading?) I had to solve several other puzzles first, a few
of which I hadn't realized I had to solve yet. My advice to others
playing this game would be: Take it slow, examine all objects, don't be
distracted by the graphical bits, and don't put any faith in post-it
notes. I wasn't keeping a strict eye on the clock while playing this
game, and I felt that I probably went a bit over the two hour limit, but
I definitely enjoyed the time spent playing this game.

--------
Photopia (Rating 10):

Wow.

I'll leave this space for those of you who haven't played this yet to go
do so. Now. I'm serious. On a color-capable interpreter, no less.
It's not extremely long, and not hard at all. I'll be here when you get
back.

[Note: spoilers follow, both for this game and for the movie 'Pulp
Fiction'.]

Wow, again. Can you tell I'm impressed by this game? Let's start with
the technical stuff. It'll spoil the illusion somewhat if you haven't
played it, but I'm an author, and can't help it.

I have never seen a more astounding example of adroit use of the
"magician's choice". Did you notice? The geography is often completely
plastic in the game, molding to fit the player's whims. "Pick a
direction, any direction," Opal tells us, while forcing us to choose the
one she's pre-picked. This happens on two occasions (at least)--the red
world and the blue one (yes, the blue one. Replay it and you'll see
what I mean.) This is an impressive bit of coding, as well as an
impressive bit of puzzle design. A clearer example of "the player
walking through a field, not realizing they're following a path" I could
not imagine. Now that isn't precisely the "magician's choice" but I'll
give you an example elsewhere that was: When you were driving Alley
home, did you type 'stop' when you entered that intersection? I know I
did. I think Opal planned on you doing so, really. It's perfectly
timed to occur just after you've exhausted your conversation options,
and there's been enough hinting up till now that you should really see
what's about to happen, and 'stop' is the most logical command to try to
prevent it--and it happens anyway. Wow. It is so dang effective.

And I loved the way the descriptions changed. The first time anywhere
was usually accompanied by various explanations of the 'difficult'
words, but subsequent visits merely described the scene. I think it
served two purposes--one, it served to drive you away from old scenes
and into new ones, because that was where the new text was, and two, it
perfectly set up the 'backstory' of the tale being told to a young girl.
This confused me a bit at first, since the first scene was obviously not
particularly appropriate fodder as a children's tale, but I eventually
caught on to the pattern of the colored sections being the tale, and the
white sections being 'real life'.

So now, on to the plot itself. This is where 'photopia' really shines.
It's a relatively simple 'Priest plot' (thanks, Adam!) where bits of the
story are revealed out of chronological order from the rest, and which
you must piece back together as you go along. I personally have only
encountered this device before two places--Umberto Eco's "Foucault's
Pendulum" and Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction". Like the latter, a story like
this can continue despite the death of the protagonist halfway through.
Heck--despite the death of the protagonist in the *first scene*!
(Although you don't realize it at the time, of course.) Which makes it
all the more tragic and sad by the end of the game. When the game
ended, I was *so sad*! "No!" I cried, "You can't end yet! I need
closure! I need to know that some good came out of this! I need to
know that that poor boy worked up the courage to ask someone out again!"
But it wasn't there. I replayed the entire game, hoping to find some
way out, but there was none, and absolving myself of some complicity by
dropping myself off in the first scene was small comfort.

But there is hope here, I think. The planted seed that feeds the wolf
in the midst of death is rich with metaphor, and one explanation would
be that the seed is the seed of creativity and wonder planted in the
mind of Wendy. And then there's the purple dream, which is quite
confusing. How can Alley be dreaming of herself in the future if she
has no future? When does she get to become the queen of her dream?
Although she dies, does she live on in some metaphysical sense,
revisiting her earlier self in her dreams? And what was up with that
photopia machine? It seemed rather mysterious, like it could have some
connection with the whole mystery of the dream as well. And I just
realized--just as Alley had been entranced by the photopia's colors as a
child, so too was Wendy entranced by Alley's colorful stories.

So what to say? In my idealized sequel to 'Photopia', Wendy is visited
by Alley in her dreams, just as Alley was earlier. Together, they
transform the petrified forest into a real live forest until the day
when Alley abdicates the throne and Wendy becomes the new queen. And
maybe Alley can visit poor Jonathan, too, just to tell him everything's
going to be OK in the end.

--------
Acid Whiplash (Rating 5):

Heh. From the sublime to the ridiculous. You have to have been a IFfer
for a few years to get this, but if you have, you'll laugh. I have
almost nothing to add to this--it's one of those works that just stands
on its own, enigmatic yet entertaining. Oh, and Laurie Anderson is
indeed an excellent artist. Buy and listen.

--------
In the Spotlight (Rating 1):

Hmm. Yup, it's a puzzle all right. There it is. And, uh, I wasn't
able to visualize it properly. And that's it, I guess.

--------
Spacestation (Rating 3):

Whew, the third quick game in a row. As the subtitle suggests, this was
based on the sample transcript that was included with Planetfall and
Stationfall. In fact, although the author apparantly wants to expand
this game in the future, the *entirety* of the game (with the exception
of the final 3 points) is just the transcript. It was implemented
cleanly, and there's original text here and there that fits smoothly
with the original style. It's not an extremely engrossing game yet,
though. As a two-month project upon first finding Inform, it excels; as
IF... it leaves a little to be desired. Still, a worthy attempt.

--------
Four in One (Rating 8):

OK, I have to admit. After reading the transcript of this game for
Stephen Granade's IFFF, I didn't think I would like playing this game
very much (although it was a very funny read), and I skipped it when I
got to it, not feeling up to the challenge. I went ahead and played it
next to last, though, and was pleasantly surprised. True, it was
frustrating, but not *too* much so, and it was actually kind of fun to
discover the internal logic of the various characters as they wandered
around creation. It reminded me, oddly enough, of the different ghosts
in Pac Man--four characters, each with their own modus operandi, which
you could discover through playing the game. The game would have been
nigh impossible without the 'undo' command, but with it, it was possible
to figure things out and get through it. Actually, now that I think
about it, this was one of the few games I played where I actually got
through the whole thing without any hints. Which is interesting,
because it certainly *seemed* a lot harder than many others!

The various NPC's were pretty well characterized, too. This probably
has something to do with the fact that I didn't talk to them much, but
this was encouraged, and helped the illusion thereby. And it was quite
funny, in a situational-comedy way, which is pretty appropriate
considering the subject matter ;-)

--------
The Commute (Rating 1):

AAAAAAgggggghhhhh!

This game was *so frustrating* to play! No synonyms, guess-the-verb all
over the place, no shortcuts like 'x'. Sigh. The walkthrough was an
*absolute must* for this game, and even so, I couldn't get to the
ending, although I tried wholeheartedly over five times. Sheesh!

The writing was good, if a bit cheesy. And I must say I enjoyed driving
my motorcycle all over the house. But those were the only redeeming
features for this otherwise frustrating game.

--------
Informatory (Rating 6):

What an intriguing premise.

This was really a rather ordinary pastiche game for the first section.
Then I got the helmet and whole vistas opened up before me--I could see
the code of all the objects in the game! That was pretty cool. I'm not
an Inform novice myself, but I can imagine that it could be incredibly
helpful to see how things worked in this way had I been one. The
puzzles (of course) became pretty simple at that point, but that was
fine--the puzzles were no longer how to get past the various obstacles,
they were how to understand how everything worked. Even knowing Inform,
it was an intriguing look inside the head of another programmer. If I
*did* want to learn Inform, I might start here, at least for reference.
It would be interesting looking at a puzzle and at the code
simultaneously, and to be able to discover how the code worked directly
in the real-life setting. Even the maze became interesting in this
fashion, because the exits were actually listed--in the code. I feel
like I should deduct one point on principle, however, just for teaching
others how to code them ;-) The end meta-game 'final exam' was fun, too
(even though I must admit I just gave myself five points). The
unpretentious method of giving you those points was--charming, at least.

I generally liked the simple humor of the game, and the various tributes
scattered throughout. In general, it gains high marks for sheer concept
for what it would have otherwise lacked in the game department.

--------
Little Blue Men (Rating 7):

Hrm. Interesting, at least. The game had a very consistent feel that
was kind of hard to get into for me, but it never wavered from its
chosen path, and I respect that. It was a little grotesque, though.
But funny, I must admit.

The questions posed by the author in the afterwords seemed a bit
presumptuous, instead of thought-provoking. Not in an annoying way,
just in a "Huh. No, probably not," kind of way.

--------
Mother Loose (Rating 8):

A fun game that pretty much managed to keep its particular perspective
on things. With the exception of the well puzzle, I was able to play
through the whole game without hints (I think), which was fun. The
scoring was very interesting--you were encouraged *not* to get the 'last
lousy 25 points', but rather to experiment with how not to get them.
Which was fun. Generally, the setting was well coded and consistent,
and it was quite easy to get into character.

--------
Research Dig (Rating 4):

There's a lot of creativity that went into this one. It was fun
discovering new things about the world, and it seemed as if there was a
lot of backstory to it. Unfortunately, I never got enough of a sense
of the backstory for it to make sense as a whole to me. It seemed as if
there was a lot of places that the story could have been fleshed out
more, but wasn't--whether this was because of time, or because of
inexperience is hard to tell. I would love to see a reworked version of
the story, possibly with many of the locations fleshed out or even
changed altogether into a more tightly paced plot.

The writing was adequate, barring the odd spelling error or two. The
kid never sounded kid-like to me, though. The ending was ambiguous
enough that this may have been intentional, but I still think she should
have had a slightly different vocabulary. The more I think about it,
the more it seems likely that the author had more in mind when he
started than he was able to end up with; the sheer number of essentially
useless locations that nonetheless seem like they should do something or
have something in them. But a nice snippet anyway.

--------
Persistence of Memory (Rating 9):

What a fascinating vignette.

The game did a good job of suckering you the same way the protagonist
was suckered. You saw open, if dangerous vistas before you, but then
were suddenly locked in position. Given the nature of the piece, I am
*very* glad the author implemented the 'wait' command as (s?)he did.
Interestingly, this would not work at all for most games, so extra kudos
should be lauded on the author for creating a very unique work. In
fact, of the variety of one-room games in this year's competition (and,
indeed, from prior years'), this had the most believable and compelling
*reason* for you to be there. (Not that that was a design goal of the
others. I just particularly liked it here, and think that it's neat
that more than one method is available to us to present the player with
one-room adventures.)

--------
Purple (Rating 4):

This game had promise, but for me, at least, the pacing seemed to be
off. The sense of urgency so needed in the opening scene was completely
lacking, and what could have been more of a sense of wonder in the
second scene was more a sense of unexplained oddness. That's somewhat
valid, I suppose, and the squirrel was implemented well enough for its
purposes, but the purple blob was completely unfathomable. If it had
simply been there and been unfathomable that would have been one thing,
but to have it serve some unfathomable purpose as well was too much to
ask, I felt. Either more information or less requirement would have
made it better (but in the latter case, it would have become a red
herring--I dunno).

After Karl was awakened, I could feel the plot completely grind to a
halt. In its place, I was forced to acquire a set of 'plot coupons' (to
quote the Turkey City Lexicon) to hand in before I could advance
further. While some of the items I had to obtain were somewhat clever,
many of them were rather mundane and/or obscure. Overall, they weren't
very fun to acquire (in contrast, having to use knowledge of the control
labels after they were no longer there was a nice piece of work). In
the end, when the squirrel showed back up, the plot perked up a bit,
but it had been comatose for so long, it was hard to enjoy.

--------
Human Resources Stories (Rating 1):

Huh. That was a mildly amusing five minutes. I feel like there was
some deeply hidden inside joke here that I completely failed to get.
Oh, well.

--------
Cattus Atrox (Rating 2):

Sheesh.

Sigh. This game just didn't work for me, on so many levels. The
opening did manage to build up a certain amount of spookiness, but it
was outweighed by the sheer farcicalness of it all. I kept wanting to
try things like, >KARL, TELL ME ABOUT WHY YOU'RE ACTING LIKE SUCH A
LOON. And at the end, when they were all so surprised that I lasted so
long. Well, yeah. I had employed the brilliant stratagem of WANDERING
AROUND THE MAP LIKE A LOST SHEEP. If there were scary creatures about,
I moved. They never stood a chance. Well, once armed with the
walkthrough they never stood a chance. And here I thought Susan would
only offer me emotional support as I faced this time of crisis.

And what was up with that laughably silly sex scene at the end? I give
up. Kudos to Jarb for sheer concept--nobody can say his entry this year
was unoriginal--but this was more like a B-movie version of a bad dream
than any kind of structured entertainment. Oh, well.

...Actually, that could explain a lot. It *does* play like a dream.
Almost explicitly. I would not be surprised at all to find out that
this game was an almost direct write-up of a nightmare David had. Like
a dream, it makes almost no sense when viewed as a whole, some of
the pieces seem vaguely symbolic, and there's a lot of running around
through narrow streets, pursued by monsters. Well, OK. But if you want
dream logic to work in anything vaguely realistic, you're going to have
to tweak things. A lot. And this still needs a lot of tweaking.

--------
Enlightenment (Rating 8):

After I got into this game, I *really* enjoyed it. For some reason, it
took me a while to figure it out. Maybe it's because I've played a lot
of games by this point, and am getting jaded. Maybe the middle actually
was better than the beginning--although the only real difference was in
the hints. And that's what finally did it for me. The overall problem
was obvious to me at the very beginning, but I was looking for an
overarching solution to it, instead of the piecemeal efforts I actually
had to go through. But once I figured it out, the game won me over.
The puzzles were all so thoroughly integrated into the scene, it was
totally believable, and I didn't mind that some of them were too hard
and/or obscure to me, and that I had to get hints. The ones I was able
to solve on my own were a joy to finish and the ones I didn't were fun
to implement anyway. The end game was very nicely paced, as well, and
made the overall game very satisfying to solve. The revelation of the
final puzzle was vaguely reminiscent of 'Kissing the Buddha's Feet' from
the '96 competition and, though completely different, had a similar feel
to that excellent work. In a way. I'm probably stretching here. But
any way, this was another fun game, with yet another different method of
presenting a one-room adventure, which seem to be inordinately popular
this year.

--------
Fifteen (Rating 5):

This game is "modeled after Scott Adams' 'Adventureland'" and it means
it. But even though I haven't played any of Scott's games, there is a
certain pristine charm that comes with a game in this genre, almost like
the old-style westerns, where the good guys were distinguishable by
their white hats from the bad guys in their black hats. Everything is
obviously puzzle-fodder, so you don't have to *worry* about it. You
just go and solve the puzzles. Which I managed to do without help. Two
of the three puzzles were pretty hoary chestnuts, but for some reason I
always get a kick out of the 15 puzzle, so that was fun. *Major* kudos
to the author for providing a way to breeze through the puzzle by typing
multiple numbers per input--that saved a ton of time, and is actually
the way I think about that puzzle anyway (in terms of sets of moves).
The maze-ish puzzle *might* have been done better... but I dunno. For
what it was, it pretty much needed the setting and scope given. And it
actually wasn't that hard to play through for me, even just keeping the
layout in my head. The gut reaction is still 'Eeeagh! Maze!', though,
and I'm sure the author will get marked down on several ballots for it,
but such is life.

I'm planning on rating all the games at once, and I can tell I'm going
to have a problem deciding what to give these types of games that aim
low and thoroughly accomplish their goal. Probably give 'em around 5,
I suppose. But that shouldn't be seen as abject criticism--the game
*did* entertain, it just didn't venture out into new territory. You
have to start somewhere, after all.

--------
Arrival (Rating 9):

This was an extremely fun game. And it was, in my opinion, a perfect
use of the HTML capacity of hTADS. Nothing that attempted to be photo-
realistic (except for the, er, photos), but pictures that instead fit
the feeling of the work, and were the best examples of their kind that
could exist. An illustrated story, if you will, instead of a graphical
story. I appreciated this kind of graphical addition more than (say)
that of Guilty Bastards (a Hugo game), whose graphics weren't that
great, and, as a result, looked sub-par. The graphics here were 'sub-
par' for a graphical adventure, but not for this game. If I'm making
any sense any more. Anyway, good job.

The story was fun, if somewhat impossible to finish optimally without
knowledge from prior lives. Like Trinity, it is vaguely conceivable
that you could finish it in one shot, but it would be highly unlikely--
and I think that this was the design. It didn't take long to replay,
and I could incrementally get better scores as I went. I needed some
hints at times (notably for the rec room bit) but it was fun solving the
bits I was able to solve, and usually fun playing the bits I had to get
hints for. And I usually didn't have to get complete hints, just
initial nudges in the right direction. Quite fun to play.

--------
CC (Rating 4):

This was an odd little game. Oddly, I *did* have to get hints from the
walkthrough, despite the admonition that I wouldn't need them. Not
knowing that I started with an inventory was my first problem, and I had
a couple others (the end scene, and the button/word scene (which would
have been extremely tedious without the walkthrough)). Generally well
implemented, I still didn't get a lot out of it. Leaving things
ambiguous here didn't work as well for me as other games (like, say, So
Far), because I wasn't able to fill in any/much of the possible
background. Perhaps the fact that even the author doesn't know what
happened has something to do with this. At any rate, the overall feel
of the surroundings was pretty consistent, and moody, which was nice.
But it felt a little shallow, overall.

--------
Muse: An Autumn Romance (Rating 10):

Wow. What a great story. Very bittersweet, and touching. The only
problem with it was that its reach was slightly longer than its grasp--
but not much. The game did a very credible job of portraying characters
and the NPC in a believable light that did not, in general, depend on
any tricks to make it more believable--they were all implemented within
the rubric of the ask/tell model, which is an amazing accomplishment.
It did, of course, break down a little around the edges, but even these
edges (default responses to undecipherable input) had personality and
charm that rounded them off, so that the illusion was almost perfectly
carried off.

Probably the greatest technical acheivement of the work was the
transformation of the game from second person present tense to first
person past. The whole tenor of the game was affected, and very
effectively, too. It's neat to know that this can be accomplished
without being a hindrance to game play.

The gameplay was slightly uneven, though generally enjoyable. It
followed the Christminster model of advancing the time and plot in
response to character actions, which would usually work--until you
didn't realize you were supposed to do some action, and ground the plot
to a halt. This happened to me a couple times, and it was unfortunate.
When it worked, it worked smoothly, but when it didn't work, the
connection between myself and the story was strained. For some reason,
I also had problems at times figuring out where in the hint menu lay the
question I was stuck on. At the end of the story, too, I unwittingly
went down the wrong path, and the resulting story seemed a bit odd and
unresolved. Realistic, perhaps, but I would have prefered more obvious
clues that I had done the wrong thing.

But the oh-so-bittersweet ending more than made up for any difficulties
I had had with the story before then. Going back to fix my mistake, I
found many clues I had blithely ignored the first time through that made
me feel almost ashamed of myself. And the final quotation from St.
Francis of Assisi so perfectly epitomized the situation that it made me
teary (sniff). A great work of art, and a fine game.

----------

That's it! Thanks again, authors, for your great efforts! And thanks
Ddyte for taking up the torch and facilitating another successful year.

-Lucian


Jonadab the Unsightly One

unread,
Nov 23, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/23/98
to

> There also seemed to be
> a preponderance of aliens and one-room games this year. Can you
> psychoanalyze a group? I'm sure this means something.

I don't know about aliens, but I'd attribute the number of one-room
games to the thread a while back about the possibilities of
one-location games.

- jonadab

David Brain

unread,
Nov 23, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/23/98
to
In article <3658ff2f...@news.bright.net>, jon...@zerospam.com (Jonadab the
Unsightly One) wrote:

> I don't know about aliens, but I'd attribute the number of one-room
> games to the thread a while back about the possibilities of
> one-location games.

And was Muse connected to the thread about first-person games? Not that I'm bitter, or
anything, but *Muse* made me tear up my half-completed game and start again...
(because it showed me how it should be done.)

--
David Brain

Apotheosis can be somewhat unnerving.
-- Expecting Someone Taller, Tom Holt


Trevor Barrie

unread,
Nov 23, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/23/98
to
On 17 Nov 1998 05:15:43 GMT, Lucian Paul Smith <lps...@rice.edu> wrote:

>--------
>The City (Rating 7):
>

>After consulting the help to discover that I had started off with an
>inventory (grrr),

Interesting. I pretty much always make "i" and "x me" the first two commands
I type in any game (not necessarily in that order) - am I the only one? I
mean, why would you assume that you're starting the game empty-handed?

Sam Barlow

unread,
Nov 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/24/98
to
On 23 Nov 1998, Trevor Barrie wrote:

> On 17 Nov 1998 05:15:43 GMT, Lucian Paul Smith <lps...@rice.edu> wrote:
> >

> >After consulting the help to discover that I had started off with an
> >inventory (grrr),
>

> Interesting. I pretty much always make "i" and "x me" the first two commands
> I type in any game (not necessarily in that order) - am I the only one? I
> mean, why would you assume that you're starting the game empty-handed?
>

Me too; in fact if a game does start me off with -nothing- then my
reaction is usually a (grrr). Though I think Lucian's point is more
valid as regards my game-- because it is more ^abstract^ or removed from
reality it is -unfair- to ask the player to assume anything. If I player
a ^real-life^ game then I think it is fair to expect to be holding your
wallet, or keys, etc. And I doubt many adventurers would embark on a
quest without their trusty sword, lantern, etc. But if the
player-character isn't even sure where he is, what he is doing there,
etc. then I think it *is* unfair to have the player assume he has an
inventory. The improved City release will start with a "you are awake
and holding a remote" to rectify this.

Sam.


Lucian Paul Smith

unread,
Nov 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/24/98
to
J. Robinson Wheeler (whe...@jump.net) wrote:

: Trevor Barrie wrote:
: >
: > On 17 Nov 1998 05:15:43 GMT, Lucian Paul Smith <lps...@rice.edu> wrote:

: > >After consulting the help to discover that I had started off with an
: > >inventory (grrr),
: >
: > Interesting. I pretty much always make "i" and "x me" the first two commands


: > I type in any game (not necessarily in that order) - am I the only one? I
: > mean, why would you assume that you're starting the game empty-handed?

: I certainly take inventory right off the bat. I don't necessarily examine
: myself immediately, as most of the time I look about the same as always.

OK, here are more expanded thoughts on the issue:

First, I think it's bad design to *assume* that a player will take
inventory before they pick up anything. Yes, some of us have been trained
to do so. No, not everybody is so trained.

Personally, I take inventory at the beginning of the game *if* there is
some indication in the opening text that I'm carrying something. In the
game in question (City), starts off 'you gain conciousness'. Usually when
this happens to me, I'm not carrying anything (the author already
acknowledged that this was a problem, and has said that the future version
will start with something like 'you gain conciousness, carrying a remote'
or some such). In 'Enlightenment', even though an inventory was not
specifically mentioned (I think), I nevertheless assumed from the opening
text that I was carrying stuff. 'Anchorhead' starts off with "...you open
your umbrella." The way that Trinity handled your initial inventory was
also good--nothing was mentioned in the text, but the stuff you were
carrying wasn't in your hands, just on your person. When you found that
you needed cash for something, the immediate reaction is to check your
pockets--and, indeed, you're carrying some money with you.

My feeling is that if you start off with something in your hands, this
fact should be either mentioned directly or hinted at in the opening text.
Things you're wearing or have in your pockets can usually be safely
ignored, with the possible exception of items you'll need to use very
early on in the game.

Does this seem fair? Am I the only so-called veteran around who doesn't
type 'i' as their first move?

-Lucian

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Nov 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/24/98
to
Lucian Paul Smith (lps...@rice.edu) wrote:

> My feeling is that if you start off with something in your hands, this
> fact should be either mentioned directly or hinted at in the opening text.
> Things you're wearing or have in your pockets can usually be safely
> ignored, with the possible exception of items you'll need to use very
> early on in the game.

> Does this seem fair? Am I the only so-called veteran around who doesn't
> type 'i' as their first move?

I don't know if you're the *only* one, but I usually start with "i", and I
certainly take inventory the first time I come to anything that looks
remotely like an obstacle.

And (as an author) I don't feel it's necessary to put in hints about
player inventory. In fact, I like the idea of using this as a (very small)
bit of player characterization. The opening text mentions stuff that *the
protagonist* finds worthy of attention. The things *not* mention, the
things taken for granted, reveal as much about the situation as the things
that *are* mentioned.

--Z

--

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

J. Kerr

unread,
Nov 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/24/98
to
lps...@rice.edu (Lucian Paul Smith) wrote:
>First, I think it's bad design to *assume* that a player will take
>inventory before they pick up anything. Yes, some of us have been trained
>to do so. No, not everybody is so trained.

>My feeling is that if you start off with something in your hands, this


>fact should be either mentioned directly or hinted at in the opening text.
>Things you're wearing or have in your pockets can usually be safely
>ignored, with the possible exception of items you'll need to use very
>early on in the game.

>Does this seem fair? Am I the only so-called veteran around who doesn't
>type 'i' as their first move?

What if the game starts in a location that (a) doesn't mention any
particular objects lying around waiting to be picked up and (b)
implies that you've a very specific purpose for being there?

e.g. It's night; you're in a bank vault; you can see the open grill
through which you just gained access; there's a massive safe set into
the wall.

In such circumstances, I think it would be reasonable to expect the
player to type 'i', if not as their first move, at least within the
first few, even without including any explicit hints in the opening
text. (And the player could reasonably expect to find the necessary
safe-cracking equipment in his/her inventory too.)

I wouldn't necessarily type 'i' immediately if I'm presented with a
rich scene to begin with (e.g. the opening description in "Trapped in
a One-Room Dilly"), but if the initial scene is sparse (as in The
City), I probably would.

(And I'm usually sort of disappointed if I start out with no
inventory.)

Jane

(And thanks for the pointer on IndirectlyContains)


Lucian Paul Smith

unread,
Nov 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/24/98
to
J. Kerr (byw...@zetnet.co.uk) wrote:

: What if the game starts in a location that (a) doesn't mention any


: particular objects lying around waiting to be picked up and (b)
: implies that you've a very specific purpose for being there?

: e.g. It's night; you're in a bank vault; you can see the open grill
: through which you just gained access; there's a massive safe set into
: the wall.

: In such circumstances, I think it would be reasonable to expect the
: player to type 'i', if not as their first move, at least within the
: first few, even without including any explicit hints in the opening
: text. (And the player could reasonably expect to find the necessary
: safe-cracking equipment in his/her inventory too.)

The key phrase in the setup you've described is 'through which you just
gained access', for me. This implies a history, and, as such, that you
might be carrying something. That you probably are, as a matter of fact.

This is the kind of thing I meant by 'hints'.

-Lucian

Doeadeer3

unread,
Nov 25, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/25/98
to

In article <erkyrathF...@netcom.com>, erky...@netcom.com (Andrew
Plotkin) writes:

>And (as an author) I don't feel it's necessary to put in hints about
>player inventory. In fact, I like the idea of using this as a (very small)
>bit of player characterization. The opening text mentions stuff that *the
>protagonist* finds worthy of attention. The things *not* mention, the
>things taken for granted, reveal as much about the situation as the things
>that *are* mentioned.

I tend to agree with that. Like in Enlightenment the inventory can be funny or
it can be used to make sly remarks about the personality of the PC.

I usually "i" first thing, although I can see how someone didn't in City,
because the player just regained consciousness (I did "i" though, habit). Also
makes me think of Hitchhiker's, IIRC the player just woke up. But in almost all
other situations, one would assume sooner or later the player takes an
inventory.

Doe :-)


Doe doea...@aol.com (formerly known as FemaleDeer)
****************************************************************************
"In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane." Mark Twain

Jonadab the Unsightly One

unread,
Nov 25, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/25/98
to
Sam Barlow <sb6...@bris.ac.uk> wrote:

> > Interesting. I pretty much always make "i" and "x me" the first two commands

> Me too; in fact if a game does start me off with -nothing- then my

I don't have any particular order, but I always assess the situation
before doing anyting. So I look through the room description and
examine everything listed, take inventory and examine every
item, and examine myself. Every new room I get to I examine
everything in sight. Tis a habbit I picked up in Curses, I guess
(first IF I ever played).

I'm annoyed when a game doesn't give me time to do all of this.
(Although sometimes it wouldn't make sense to, and that's fine.
I end up restarting or reloading enough times to finish my
assessment anyway.)


- jonadab

Den of Iniquity

unread,
Nov 25, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/25/98
to
On Tue, 24 Nov 1998, Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> Lucian Paul Smith (lps...@rice.edu) wrote:

>> Am I the only so-called veteran around who doesn't
>> type 'i' as their first move?
>

> I don't know if you're the *only* one, but I usually start with "i"...
> In fact, I like the idea of using this as a (very small) bit of player
> characterization.

I couldn't agree more. I almost always check inventory as my first move.
And it does give plenty of opportunity for characterisation - I envisage
an opening scene in which the player sees a perfectly ordinary description
of an ordinary situation. Then the inventory reveals a blood-soaked
knife... A player would probably expect an 'EXAMINE KNIFE' action to offer
some explanation of its presence in the inventory and so that would be a
good place for a flashback. Well, maybe you need not go quite that far.
It's a shame if it's completely lost on one of our veterans. :)

Also I'm put in mind of our so-called kleptomaniac adventurer. Anyone ever
written anything wherein the PC adds items to his inventory without
asking, without signifying it? Hmm - Comp 99 - the year of the
insane/mendacious protagonists.

--
Den


David Glasser

unread,
Nov 26, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/26/98
to
Jonadab the Unsightly One <jon...@zerospam.com> wrote:

> I'm annoyed when a game doesn't give me time to do all of this.
> (Although sometimes it wouldn't make sense to, and that's fine.
> I end up restarting or reloading enough times to finish my
> assessment anyway.)

You all do *not* want to know how much time I spent betatesting the
first two turns of Muse. It's sick, really.

Let's just say that one of my emails to Chris had the subject of "muse:
i've gotten past room 1!"

(For those of you who are Musely deprived, it only takes about five
turns of typing nothing special to be able to get to the second room.)

--
David Glasser gla...@NOSPAMuscom.com http://onramp.uscom.com/~glasser
DGlasser @ ifMUD : fovea.retina.net 4000 (webpage fovea.retina.net:4001)
Sadie Hawkins, official band of David Glasser: http://sadie.retina.net
"We take our icons very seriously in this class."

Jonadab the Unsightly One

unread,
Nov 27, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/27/98
to
Den of Iniquity <dms...@york.ac.uk> wrote:

> Also I'm put in mind of our so-called kleptomaniac adventurer. Anyone ever
> written anything wherein the PC adds items to his inventory without
> asking, without signifying it? Hmm - Comp 99 - the year of the
> insane/mendacious protagonists.

Anyone want to do an IF adaptation of something by Poe?

- jonadab

xhu...@po-box.mcgill.ca

unread,
Nov 28, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/28/98
to
In article <1dj2ip3.1ce...@usol-209-186-16-92.uscom.com>,

gla...@DELETEuscom.com (David Glasser) wrote:
> Jonadab the Unsightly One <jon...@zerospam.com> wrote:
>
> > I'm annoyed when a game doesn't give me time to do all of this.
> > (Although sometimes it wouldn't make sense to, and that's fine.
> > I end up restarting or reloading enough times to finish my
> > assessment anyway.)
>
> You all do *not* want to know how much time I spent betatesting the
> first two turns of Muse. It's sick, really.
>
> Let's just say that one of my emails to Chris had the subject of "muse:
> i've gotten past room 1!"
>
> (For those of you who are Musely deprived, it only takes about five
> turns of typing nothing special to be able to get to the second room.)

Hey, I'm muesli deprived! Oh wait....
Okay, must buy cereal.

-----------== Posted via Deja News, The Discussion Network ==----------
http://www.dejanews.com/ Search, Read, Discuss, or Start Your Own

TenthStone

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Nov 28, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/28/98
to
Jonadab the Unsightly One thus inscribed this day of Fri, 27 Nov 1998
03:38:03 GMT:

>Anyone want to do an IF adaptation of something by Poe?

Sure. You can do The Fall of the House of Usher, and I'll do
The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Good luck.

-----------

The imperturbable TenthStone
tenth...@hotmail.com mcc...@erols.com mcc...@gsgis.k12.va.us

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Nov 28, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/28/98
to
TenthStone (mcc...@erols.com) wrote:
> Jonadab the Unsightly One thus inscribed this day of Fri, 27 Nov 1998
> 03:38:03 GMT:
> >Anyone want to do an IF adaptation of something by Poe?

> Sure. You can do The Fall of the House of Usher, and I'll do
> The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Good luck.

You'll recall _The Dark Eye_ (graphical IF, with a Poe pastiche story
interspersed with mini-games based on actual Poe stories.)

TenthStone

unread,
Dec 3, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/3/98
to
Andrew Plotkin thus inscribed this day of Sat, 28 Nov 1998 20:45:26 GMT:

>TenthStone (mcc...@erols.com) wrote:
>> Jonadab the Unsightly One thus inscribed this day of Fri, 27 Nov 1998
>> 03:38:03 GMT:
>> >Anyone want to do an IF adaptation of something by Poe?
>
>> Sure. You can do The Fall of the House of Usher, and I'll do
>> The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Good luck.
>
>You'll recall _The Dark Eye_ (graphical IF, with a Poe pastiche story
>interspersed with mini-games based on actual Poe stories.)

In fact, I won't. I've only heard of it.

You'll recall Rue Morgue (detective story, unlike the Poe stereotype
of horror stories.)

Granted, much of Poe relies upon suspense, and his best works are
generally horror. However, there is always The Landscape Garden.

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