[Comp99] dswelbourn reviews

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David Welbourn

Nov 18, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/18/99
This is my first year judging the IF comp games. I'd like to be
brief in my initial comments, so I'll discuss the games in the order I
ranked them, from worst to best.

Rated 1: Skyranch.
I reserved the "1" ranking for games that were, well, hopeless. Skyranch,
alas, was the only game to win this dread rating from me. The lack of
useable verbs, like "examine" or "ask" was extremely frustrating. I
couldn't take, examine, or count the keys on a key rack. The machine
knowledgeable robot that followed me failed to inform me about any machines.
The last straw came when I couldn't even push a button on an easy-to-use
control panel, and had no way to tell what the problem was. I'd like to say
something nice about it though: it has an interesting premise and you get a
robot companion. (*sniff*) Floyd, where are you?!?

Rated 2: Pass the Banana; Life on Beal Street; L.U.D.I.T.E.
I didn't know at first what a game would have to do to earn a "2" from me.
The answer: it has to be pointless. If there was something funny in Pass
the Banana, I missed it entirely. And, sorry, I don't much care what you
have to do for the bonus point -- I don't play these games for the "points".
Life on Beal Street was like reading flipcards; sorry, it didn't appeal to
me. And L.U.D.I.T.E. could at least have implemented the verbs in its
title. I won the game, but so what?

Rated 3: SNOSAE; Guard Duty; Four Seconds; Erehwon.
Finally, some games I can enjoy -- at least a little bit. The unifying
theme here is: it's in theory playable, but not really without the hints or
I had the misfortune of playing SNOSAE first. My initial problem with
the game was not finding the nail clippers, but wondering who am I? and who
is the alien? and why are we here? and where are we anyway? and why does the
alien want to destroy the world?, etc. The biggest problem, of course, is
that the puzzles are simply too hard, too unfair, or both. The best thing,
though, is the shear wealth of puzzles and excellent hint system. Someday,
I'm going to play the rest of the game to its end, just to see what's in
Guard Duty, alas, crashed immediately on "inventory", but I like the
premise. I do hope the author will fix the bugs and re-release it.
Four Seconds starts out reasonably well, but is extremely buggy in the
endgame. And the visibility of objects inside open containers has to be
Erehwon seems to be the story of a boring town with SNOSAE's crossroad
landscape. Why the author bothered to implement 20 useless pegs in the
museum's dodecahedron but not explain what a Hamiltonian circuit was is
baffling. Knowledge of uncommon concepts should be explained. The whole
game was like this; I was both confused AND bored.

Rated 4: Outsided; Only After Dark; A Moment of Hope; Calliope; Chicks Dig
All these games, except Calliope, gave me a bad-taste-in-the-mouth feeling.
Outsided was poorly structured and poorly worded -- but I got to the end
reasonably well, so it was better than a "3". Only After Dark and A Moment
of Hope are far too linear. Why bother making it into a game if you're not
going to give me any choices? (And I do hope A Moment of Hope isn't
autobiographical. The protagonist is such a loser; I couldn't identify with
him at all.) Chicks Dig Jerks made me feel dirty, and is at least as buggy
at Four Seconds -- but I felt that introducing me to the slang of the day
was worth a point, a new frontier in my adventuring that ought to be
rewarded slightly. Calliope shows promise; it simply wasn't interesting
enough to get a "5".

Rated 5: Music Education; King Arthur's Night Out; Exhibition; Spodgeville
Murphy...Wossname; The
Water Bird.
Here we begin to see games that made an effort to do something well, be
it the programming or the humour or the research. The success of the effort
is another story.
Music Education was competant but bland; there was no motivation. King
Arthur's Night Out was fun, but far too short. It also breaks my rule that
unless the protagonist is an antihero, s/he should end up better than s/he
started. I found Exhibition interesting, but the lack of interaction was
annoying. I dearly wanted to find something under the bench that would get
the balloon down so I could use it as a filter to view the gaudy painting
for a secret message -- but I couldn't even get a canape. Wossname, again,
was just too short an adventure. And, despite the bugs, I loved what I saw
of The Water Bird to give it a "5". I spent several turns talking to my mom
and looking at my father's bow, wondering when I'd be old enough to have one
like that. I also felt proud when the speaker gave me a task; finally I had
a way to help my tribe!

Rated 6: Death To My Enemies; Remembrance; Chaos
What rated a "6"? Games that would be a "5" but had an extra something,
usually humour.
Death To My Enemies made me smile a few times, and I had fun assembling
all the combinations of gadgets. The game's programming bugs and the game's
simplicity prevented a higher rating.
Remembrance isn't really worth a 6, but I felt patriotic. (If someone
else can reward the use of flaming heads, then I can reward the use of
Canadian history.) It's too linear, and even Skyranch lets you "look at"
things; Remembrance doesn't. I liked how the letters looked, and wondered
at the curious absence of even static graphics on a webpage.
One plays Chaos for the humour. My biggest problem with Chaos was not
realizing that there were two headsets, as in "what headset do you mean, the
headset or the headset?" That and Capt Chaos didn't do anything all that
evil in the game. I only vaguely remember that it wasn't in 2nd person, but
I adjusted easily enough, so I didn't even consider that an issue.

Rated 7: Halothane; The HeBGB Horror!; Stone Cell; Bliss; Lomalow; Jacks or
Better (etc); Strangers in the Night; Six Stories; Thorfinn's Realm.
My slush pile of acceptable games. They didn't do enough wrong to be rated
lower, or anything exceptional to be rated higher.

Rated 8: For A Change; On The Farm; Hunter, in Darkness; Lunatix; Winter
Well, I guess each of these games did something exceptional. For A Change's
language usage, obviously. On The Farm, despite some very annoying object
handling, managed to be both reasonably straightforward and tell a sweet
story. Hunter, in Darkness let me explore a cave and made me feel it was
real; I panicked in the tight squeeze area. Lunatix gets credit for its
graphics and engine, even flawed as it is. Winter Wonderland was, well,
wonderful. Very much like walking inside a fairy tale, and the ASCII
graphics did make a difference.

Rated 9: A Day for Soft Food; Beat the Devil.
Mmm, pleasure. I only needed one hint to get under the garage, but
otherwise I had a great time playing and solving the puzzles in A Day for
Soft Food. Purrrr. The puzzles were just the right level of difficulty for
me -- I didn't solve any puzzle right away, but with experimentation and
examination, aha!, I do solve it! It's not easy to find that balance of
difficulty and solvability, and I felt that should be rewarded. Plus, the
cat viewpoint was a new thing for me, and also done well.
Beat the Devil won me over almost immediately: the goals were stated
clearly upfront. I can't tell you how relieved I was not to have to guess
for once. The game also uses my favorite septuplets from literature, The
Seven Deadly Sins, which appealed to me greatly. Add in the just right
amount of geography and objects in the game (including the un-un machine!)
and I felt like the author had recaptured the thrill of playing Leather
Goddesses of Phobos once again. I have no idea what the last point is for,
but as I mentioned earlier, I don't play for points.

Rated 10: none. Sorry.

-- David Welbourn

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