James's comp06 reviews (13-18)

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James Mitchelhill

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Nov 18, 2006, 5:41:35 PM11/18/06
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_Star City_ by Mark Sachs
Play time: 45 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 3

_Star City_ is all about promise. Unfortunately, like the depressive
mailman whose home collapsed under the weight of hoarded letters, it's not
about delivering.

I fell in love with the premise. Not the standard, schlocky, aliens ate my
species setting, but the Soviet space city. It's the kind of idea that has
everything. It's startlingly original, has depth and the potential to
develop into such an amazing story.

And then it didn't. What we actually get are a couple of nice opening
puzzles, followed by random wandering around a homogenous city, followed by
an infodump, followed by a final impossible puzzle. In fact, the final
puzzle has all the right ingredients to be amazing, but the poor
implementation ruins everything. There's no time to learn the parameters of
the puzzle before everything goes wrong.

But the city. Words cannot express my disappointment.

**************************************************

_Strange Geometries_ by Phillip Chambers
Play time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough.
Score: 4

If H.P. Lovecraft and Edwin A. Abbott had got together to write an IF game,
the results would be something like Strange Geometries. Their version would
probably make more sense and be better written, but since that
collaboration is hindered by both writers being dead, Strange Geometries
will have to do.

The story centres around disappearances in a frontier town called Malnoxet
and one intrepid reporter's quest to find out the hideous truth. The
stereotypical Lovecraft features are all present. People being driven
insane by things man was not meant to know? Check. Strange entities from
beyond? Check. Warped vegetation? Check. Crazy old farmers with tall tales?
Check. Charitibly I'll class this as referencing the tropes of the genre.
If I was being uncharitible, I'd call it laziness in plotting. It's not as
if Chambers does anything very interesting with these things.

So that's the Lovecraft influence. The Edwin A. Abbott link is a little
stranger. Like Abbott's mathematical romance, Flatland, Strange Geometries
takes place in a two-dimensional world. I was initially undecided about
whether the author was just getting mixed up over two and three
dimensionality, but later on in the plot it becomes clear that he really
means it. Unlike Flatland, the fact that the world is a plane has very
minimal effect on the way the world works. Nothing seems to be described as
being under or on top of anything, but that's as far as it goes.

That's just nitpicking, but it would have made little difference to the
game had Chambers decided to use a three-dimensional world with
four-dimensional entities.

The writing is, for the most part, servicable. Chambers does occasionally
stray into some uncomfortable territory. The first cut scene has some
annoying tense disagreement: "As you enter the market square you passed by
the spot where Alexander Hidron vanished yesterday." There's a couple of
malapropisms: "They smell foul, and have all the ascetics of a scribble."
There's also a few typos or misspellings: "Toword the back of the chamber";
"waiting for their change to gobble me". I also have to point out that
describing something as "scenes of depravity that are too terrible to look
at" and then providing a detailed description when the PC looks at them is
kind of silly.

NPC interaction is very limited and the sparseness of the world makes
everything feel a bit empty. Some puzzles are fairly well unclued. The
first, which involves searching an object without any good reason, struck
me as slightly unfair. After a certain point I turned to the walkthrough,
mainly because I had missed a location - that's one problem with not
including exits in room descriptions. Implementation of what is there is
generally solid, though there are a couple of exceptions:

---------
>x roper
You've met Roper a few times but the figure before you is hardly
recognizable. His eyes dart back and forth and he seems to be having a
conversation with another voice that you can't here.

>listen to roper
You hear nothing unexpected.
---------
>x druggist
Which do you mean, the druggist or the druggist door?
---------
...The back wall of the library borders one edge and a passage to the
southeast leads back inside it...
>se
You can't go that way.
---------

Strange Geometry is a decent attempt at a Lovecraftian horror, but it falls
well short of being a good attempt. With better NPC interaction (for a
two-dimensional world they all seem rather one-dimensional), a more
detailed world and a bit of polish on the writing it could have been much
more engaging.

*********************************************

_The Tower of the Elephant_ by Tor Andersson
Play time: 30 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 4

_The Tower of the Elephant_ is a short fantasy game based on a Conan story
by Robert E. Howard. Adaptations suck, unless done interestingly. Otherwise
they just seem lazy to me. Why shouldn't I just go read the original short
story? What does placing the work in interactive form, gain?

The answer, with _The Tower of the Elephant_ is nothing. You go through the
typical IF motions in a fairly minimalist way. Any points for the plot
should go to Howard, and some of the points for the writing, too. The
implementation seems solid, but there's nothing here to get excited about.

I did find the following exchange quite amusing, though:

>i
You are carrying:
a sword
some high strapped sandals (being worn)
a loin cloth (being worn)

>look under loin cloth
You find nothing of interest.


And hey, in this game, Conan does kill everything.

******************************************************

_Aunts and Butlers_ by Robin Johnson
Play time: 50 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 4

Aunts and Butlers is an old-school, British text adventure implemented in
javascript. I'm not sure why anyone would think it sane (or, to be honest,
interesting) to implement a text adventure in javascript, but that's what
Robin Johnson has done. The parser's a bit clunky, but it seems to work.

By old-school text adventure standards, it appears to be quite successful.
It conveys that gleeful tone that old British text adventures so often did.
Despite being British, it's a tone I've come to hate, substituting any
actual humour for a sarcastic impression of the memorable bits of Monty
Python. There's a few bits which are quite funny though. I did like the
line "You are in a maze of twisty red-brick alleyways, all alike."

So, nothing terrible about _Aunts and Butlers_, but this kind of
backward-looking game isn't my thing.

******************************************************

_Xen: The Hunt_ by Ian Shlasko
Play time: 35 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 2

In the world of static fiction, stories like this end up filed in the
wastebasket. Sci-fi plots involving numerous clichés like "kid gets super
powers he can't control" and "gods were actually alien beings" are fodder
for either landfil, or, alas, Hollywood movies. Although I never played the
first Xen game, which was in last year's comp, just reading through the
"flashback" of its plot indicates that I would have hated it.

Swaddling a bad story in IF does not transform it into a good story. When,
as an author, you're writing more text in your cut scenes and
non-interactive conversations, you should take this as a hint that perhaps
- just perhaps - your story may not be entirely suited to the medium of IF.
There's some authors whose IF would still be good if they did this, but the
ones I'm thinking of are famous static fiction authors whose prose I'd read
anywhere it turned up. In other words, this does not mean you.

I gave up on _Xen: The Hunt_. Too much crunchy badness for me to continue.

******************************************************

_Labyrinth_ by Sami Preuninger
Play time: 30 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 3

Someone's going to love this game. That person isn't me. If I want to solve
random logic puzzles, then I'll go do that. At least _Labyrinth_ didn't
implement a Towers of Hanoi puzzle.


--
James Mitchelhill
ja...@disorderfeed.net
http://disorderfeed.net

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

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Nov 18, 2006, 6:38:33 PM11/18/06
to
On Sat, Nov 18, 2006 at 10:41:35PM +0000, James Mitchelhill wrote:
[...]

> _Strange Geometries_ by Phillip Chambers
> Play time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
> Status: Finished with walkthrough.
> Score: 4
>
> If H.P. Lovecraft and Edwin A. Abbott had got together to write an IF
> game, the results would be something like Strange Geometries. Their
> version would probably make more sense and be better written, but
> since that collaboration is hindered by both writers being dead,
> Strange Geometries will have to do.

Hmm, funny you describe it this way. My experience with the game was
such that the only name that stuck out to me was Abbott. The setting was
nowhere near to be compared with Lovecraft: it struck me more as a
mystery than a horror story. As such, I rated it as a good tribute to
Abbott, which, unfortunately, didn't live up to its promise due to a
mediocre implementation and a rather thin plot.


[...]


> So that's the Lovecraft influence. The Edwin A. Abbott link is a
> little stranger. Like Abbott's mathematical romance, Flatland, Strange
> Geometries takes place in a two-dimensional world. I was initially
> undecided about whether the author was just getting mixed up over two
> and three dimensionality, but later on in the plot it becomes clear
> that he really means it. Unlike Flatland, the fact that the world is a
> plane has very minimal effect on the way the world works. Nothing
> seems to be described as being under or on top of anything, but that's
> as far as it goes.

I happened to have actually tried to GO UP, and thought the author
overlooked something when the game came back with "I don't understand
the word 'up'." Later on I realized that this was actually intentional.

Also, *I* thought it was a stroke of genius to describe the city in such
a way that it felt like a normal city (by letting the player's
imagination fill in details which actually aren't there), when it was
actually completely flat. Maybe this was lost on you because the text
does need lots of improvements, but I found it quite clever.


> That's just nitpicking, but it would have made little difference to
> the game had Chambers decided to use a three-dimensional world with
> four-dimensional entities.

Perhaps. I did find the recognition of UP and DOWN after the PC gets the
"revelation" quite thoughtful of the author. Pity it wasn't executed in
a way that more people would notice.


[...]


> NPC interaction is very limited and the sparseness of the world makes
> everything feel a bit empty. Some puzzles are fairly well unclued. The
> first, which involves searching an object without any good reason,
> struck me as slightly unfair.

Yes, the setting could've been made richer.


> After a certain point I turned to the walkthrough, mainly because I
> had missed a location - that's one problem with not including exits in
> room descriptions.

This is a problem I found in several games, which is very annoying.
There should be a rule against games that neglect to list exits.


[...]


> Strange Geometry is a decent attempt at a Lovecraftian horror, but it
> falls well short of being a good attempt.

Hmm. And *I* thought it was more a tribute to Abbott.


> With better NPC interaction (for a two-dimensional world they all seem
> rather one-dimensional), a more detailed world and a bit of polish on
> the writing it could have been much more engaging.

Agreed.


[...]


> ******************************************************
>
> _Labyrinth_ by Sami Preuninger
> Play time: 30 minutes
> Status: Finished with walkthrough
> Score: 3
>
> Someone's going to love this game. That person isn't me. If I want to
> solve random logic puzzles, then I'll go do that. At least _Labyrinth_
> didn't implement a Towers of Hanoi puzzle.

[...]

I loved it, although I did realize that the puzzles were way too hard
for non-math-oriented people to figure out in 2 hours.


QF

--
Marketing: the art of convincing people to pay for what they didn't need
before which you can't deliver after.

James Mitchelhill

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Nov 18, 2006, 7:24:46 PM11/18/06
to
On Sat, 18 Nov 2006 23:38:33 GMT, quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:

> On Sat, Nov 18, 2006 at 10:41:35PM +0000, James Mitchelhill wrote:
> [...]
>> _Strange Geometries_ by Phillip Chambers
>> Play time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
>> Status: Finished with walkthrough.
>> Score: 4
>>
>> If H.P. Lovecraft and Edwin A. Abbott had got together to write an IF
>> game, the results would be something like Strange Geometries. Their
>> version would probably make more sense and be better written, but
>> since that collaboration is hindered by both writers being dead,
>> Strange Geometries will have to do.
>
> Hmm, funny you describe it this way. My experience with the game was
> such that the only name that stuck out to me was Abbott. The setting was
> nowhere near to be compared with Lovecraft: it struck me more as a
> mystery than a horror story. As such, I rated it as a good tribute to
> Abbott, which, unfortunately, didn't live up to its promise due to a
> mediocre implementation and a rather thin plot.

Really? The premise reminded me of The Color Out of Space more than
Flatland. It's been a while since I read it, but I recall Flatland as much
more concerned with the mechanics of two-dimensional life than Strange
Geometries was.

<snip>



>> After a certain point I turned to the walkthrough, mainly because I
>> had missed a location - that's one problem with not including exits in
>> room descriptions.
>
> This is a problem I found in several games, which is very annoying.
> There should be a rule against games that neglect to list exits.

Absolutely - this annoys me intensely.

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

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Nov 20, 2006, 5:32:51 PM11/20/06
to
On Sun, Nov 19, 2006 at 12:24:46AM +0000, James Mitchelhill wrote:
> On Sat, 18 Nov 2006 23:38:33 GMT, quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
[...]

> > This is a problem I found in several games, which is very annoying.
> > There should be a rule against games that neglect to list exits.
>
> Absolutely - this annoys me intensely.
[...]

And I might also mention: games that have puzzles that rely on an
unlisted exit should be illegal. Authors really should know better than
to base a puzzle on that.


QF

--
Real Programmers use "cat > a.out".

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