[comp01] Norman's thoughts on some comp games

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Norman Perlmutter

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Nov 22, 2001, 1:16:04 AM11/22/01
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Well, I got through 15 comp games this year, which is about
six more than last year. This is my first year writing reviews. Some
of these reviews contain SPOILERS, and some don't, but I don't have
the energy to look over them and sort them out right now, and I
figured I'd better post them before people get tired of talking about
the comp. Anyway, I wrote most of the reviews soon after I finished
playing the games. Some are longer than others, depending on my whims.
As a disclaimer, please in the reviews should be construed as
offensive. It's just my opinion. Here's a list of the games reviewed
and the ratings I gave them, followed by the reviews. Oh, one more
note - none of my scores counted since I was a comp author. I plan on
posting some comments on my game, The Cruise, on Saturday or Sunday,
after I come back from my relatives' house where I'm spending
Thanksgiving.
Norman Perlmutter

3 : Goofy (goofy.htm)
5 : an apple from nowhere (aafn.ulx)
6 : The Cave of Morpheus (tcom.taf)
1 : Silicon Castles (castles.z5)
5 : Bane of the Builders (bb.z5)
4 : Schroedinger's Cat (schroed.z5)
5 : The Isolato Incident (isolato.acd)
2 : Fusillade (fusillad.gam)
8 : Grayscale (gryscale.gam)
6 : Heroes (heroes.z5)
9 : Vicious Cycles (cycles.z5)
3 : Invasion of the Angora-fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of
Jupiter (angora.exe)
1 : You Were Doomed From The Start (doomed/DOOMED.EXE)
7 : Film at Eleven (eleven.z5)
3 : The Chasing (chasing.acd)

Goofy
Rating: 3
If I had to describe this game in one word, I would use
sparse. The room descriptions are sparsely implemented, or, rather,
nonexistent. The size of the game was sparse; I finished it in under
an hour. The range of vocabulary that the game accepts is relatively
sparse compared to TADS and inform games.
Nonetheless, I must admit that I did somewhat enjoy the game.
However, I found the mouse puzzle to be confusing, and it was about
the only puzzle. I finally realized that I had to make the mouse say
CHIT several times in a row. Since there seemed to be no pattern to
the mouses wandering and I didn't want to keep guessing which way it
would go until I got it right, I sort of cheated by using undo
whenever I guessed wrong. But the only alternative I saw was to
repeatedly guess. If there was some sort of a pattern, I didn't see
it. I also realize now that the CHITs perhaps did not need to be
consecutive.
I also found two minor bugs, but they didn't detract from my
score. First, when you're in the pile of clothes:
> Take clothes
You'll have to move into N-space to do that.

>Move into N-space
You don't see that here.

Second, when you were in the room with the scale and there were
marbles on the scale and on the floor, I couldn't find a way to take
the marbles from the floor. I got around this by putting the marbles
on the table instead. Then I could use take marble from table.
Overall, the game was well implemented, I suppose, for a
nonstandard system, but its sparseness demonstrates the obvious
superiority of TADS and inform to offbeat systems.


an apple from nowhere
rating: 5
After the last game, it was nice to see that this one was not
sparse. In fact, it was very wordy. I especially liked how in one
scene there were several different responses
when the parser didn't understand what the player was trying to do.
However, it suffered from being way too linear. The intentionally
faulty capitalization was rather annoying, although it sort of added
to the mood, I guess.
The game was a bit short; I finished it in under 45 minutes. I
guess with so many games to play, though, the shorter they are the
more I'll get through.
I didn't find any bugs really, except for a couple of
miscellaneous typos, such as
the use of 'i' instead of 'a' in one place. Or maybe that was
intentional?
The game reminded me of 1...2...3 from last year because it
was twisted, sexual, and linear and involved switches of the player
character.. However, I liked it better than 1...2...3 because it had
more variety, the color made it interesting, and the conversations
were implemented better. So I rated it one higher than my score for
1...2...3.


Cave of Morpheus
rating: 6
Well, this was an interesting game. Before I played it, I
thought it probably wouldn't be too good since it was written in
adrift. But it turned out to be almost as competent as a TADS or
inform game. The "You can't do that here!" message seemed a bit
overused, but I liked how the system told you which ways you could go
when you typed an incorrect direction.
Nonetheless, the game got off to a bit of a rocky start. I had
5 minutes to make it to the exam . . .
>sleep
Zzzzz. Bored are you?
And I thought, "Oh, no, not another sparsely implemented
game!" But, although the verb smell always returned the default
message even though lots of things were described as smelling special,
and the NPCs wouldn't respond to many asks with other than the default
response, the game was pretty well-implemented overall.
I wouldn't have realized the theme of the game if I hadn't
read the author's blurb in Comp01.z5, which I looked at halfway
through playing the game. Then I started thinking of the game as
interesting instead of weird. All of the writing in the game was
interesting; it kept my attention. And I learned about famous
psychologists, too.
The puzzles weren't all that great, but since they weren't the
main focus of the game, I won't hold that against the author. But
wearing an old condom to defend myself against the grim reaper . . .
that was just weird!
Oh, and the game was the perfect length. I finished it in an
hour and 58 minutes.


Silicon Castles
rating: 1
I'll start out by saying that I like chess. A lot. I play in a
tournament every month. I don't, however, especially like playing
chess against computers. I also don't like playing non-IF games
disguised as IF.
When I first realized that the game was simply a chess program
disguised as IF, I should have quit right then. But for whatever
reason, I didn't. By the time I was done, I was in a lousy mood
because I was thinking of how much more fun I could have had playing
chess against a human or playing a real IF game.
As a chess program, the software is of decent strength. The
end result of my game was a draw. However, I couldn't get it to accept
commands in standard algebraic notation and had to resort to its funky
extended algebraic notation, naming the starting and ending square of
the piece. Also, it wouldn't let me castle, which took away the last
chance of its earning a 2 instead of a 1 for the effort.
The moral: If you want to enter an IF competition, write IF.
Save your chess program for somewhere else, please.


Bane of the Builders
score: 5
This is the most "standard" game I've played so far; it is
written with a standard language (inform), and it is a traditional
puzzle-based story. It is of the science fiction genre, which is
somewhat unusual for IF, but this goes to show just how unusual all
the other games I've played have been.
The game was very well-programmed; it didn't have any
significant bugs. Probably about the biggest error in it was that I
was told I couldn't set the blaster when I typed in "set blaster".
Thus, it wasn't until after I read on rgif that the blaster could be
set to stun that I typed "set blaster to stun" and found that it
worked.
I was glad that the game had hints included, although they
could have potentially been a bit more extensive.
The puzzles were of about average quality. I wouldn't have
thought to open the panel if I hadn't read the hint, but once I did,
but aside from that, changing around the circuitry was a somewhat
unique puzzle. I would have liked to have been informed by the game
when my score increased, but I guess that's just a matter of personal
taste. Also, I wish there'd been some NPC interaction.
The game was not not extremely exciting, but it was
interesting. After all the weird stuff I'd played, it was nice to play
a standard piece of IF.


Schroedinger's Cat
rating: 4
I'm couldn't quite figure out this game. I didn't have the
inclination to spend a really long time playing around with it. It
does seem sort of interesting, though, so I guess I'll give it a four.
One thing that sort of bugged me was that 4 walls were
explicitly mentioned in the room description, but trying to examine a
wall gave the default inform response, telling me to choose between
the n, ne, e, se, s, sw, w, and nw walls. Choosing one of the walls
gave a default response that there was nothing special about the wall
or something.
Sorry this review is sort of sparse; I just didn't have the
patience to figure out the game.


The Isolato Incident
rating: 5
This game's story was fascinating and original, but the
puzzles were poor. I had to reference the walkthrough several times.
Also, at least one important object (the adders in the tree) wasn't
implemented, and several other objects did not have enough possible
names, although this was somewhat remedied by the ability to "examine
all"
The story is weird in a good way. I'm not exactly sure if the
author is trying to make a point/theme or just tell a story. In some
ways I was vaguely reminded of Anne Rand's novella Anthem But at any
rate it was fascinating.
I noticed no grammatical or spelling mistakes at all.
This game might have earned a score of 6 if it had been
implemented in a more popular language, but as it was I had to
download a special interpreter and load the game from DOS, which was a
hassle. I later learned from emailing the author that there is a
windows interpreter, which would have made things easier for me.
Nonetheless, my score is still 5 since I played the game under the DOS
interpreter. If I'd downloaded the windows terp before playing it, the
score might be 6. I guess that's a bit arbitrary, but oh, well.
The game could also have possibly earned another point if it
had a hint system, since the puzzles were a bit tricky and
counterintuitive. If it had had neither a hint system nor a
walkthrough, I wouldn't have gotten very far at all, and it would have
received a 3.


Fussilade
rating: 2
The opening sequence of this game had me really excited. I
figured it would be the best game yet by far. The setting was exotic,
and there was a wide world to explore, plus a plot to figure out.
But it didn't take me long to figure out that the game was
very uninteractive. I don't mind IF that is somewhat linear. My
highest score so far has gone to a linear game, in fact. (apple from
nowhere scored a 6). However, when the author barely even makes
anything examinable other than the bare necessities and the game is
not a guess-the-verb-fest only because it was constantly telling me
exactly what verb and noun to use.
The music was sort of nice, and if the game had been real IF,
it would have been a nice complement. But good music alone does not
make a good piece of IF.
If the game had been shorter, I might have rated it higher. In
fact, after playing three or so scenes I found myself thinking the
game deserved about a five. The five slowly trickled down to a four,
then a three. By the time I was half way through the game, I was just
scrolling to the end of the text in each scene and scannning for the
key words that told me what to do next, looking in the walkthrough if
I couldn't find them easily. I might have quit early, but the
walkthrough promised "extras" at the end. The extras were slightly
interesting, but not enough so to improve the game's score.


Grayscale
rating: 8
This was the best game I've played so far. Most all of the
puzzles made sense to me, and there were only a few minor bugs. The
world was implemented relatively richly with a lots of details. The
NPC was interesting to talk to.
I did have to use some of the hints because I was getting
towards the 2 hour limit. However, if I'd had enough time I probably
would have gotten most of the puzzles.
I do wish I could have climbed some of the trees, though. Not
being able to climb them was somewhat disappointing.
It was also annoying that many objects that were actually
important to the game gave me a message saying they weren't important
when I examined them. This description really confused me when I tried
to examine the panel in the glass room.
Overall, the game was interesting and kept my attention.


Heroes
rating: 6
Seeing that this game was written by Sean Barrett, one of the
gurus on raif, I figured it would be one of the best games in the
comp. It turned out to be a decent game, but not quite as good as I'd
expected.
I liked the way that each of the characters saw the same world
from a different perspective and had to use different powers to
achieve the same goal. However, the puzzles were too difficult for me.
After my two hours were up, the only scenario I'd solved was the
dragon one.
A couple of things that bugged me. The thief didn't know to
climb onto the crate unless I explicitly told him to. I'd think with
all of his skills the up command should make him go on the crate. When
the king told someone to follow him, the person would eventually
wander away. This made it hard to accomplish things since the king
couldn't do anything without the help of his subjects. Also, trying to
arrest the baron who owned the gem or his servant gave me a TADS error
message.


Vicious Cycles
rating: 9
Wow! A few games ago I was beginning to think none of the
games were any good. Now I've hit three good games in a row.
This game was seemed somewhat simple compared to some of the
20-30 room games, but it was incredibly fun. I liked the way it got
around the idea principle that forcing a player to die in order to win
is unfair. The intermittent memories between cycles made the game more
interesting.
Almost everything was well implemented and detailed, with two
exceptions. It was annoying that I couldn't use the term pad as a
substitute for keypad, and it would have been nice if the bomb
responded to more commands, such as diffuse bomb or separate bomb.

Invasion of the Angora Fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of
Jupiter
rating: 3
This game had the most interesting title of all the comp
games. Unfortunately, that's about all I liked.
The game design system was annoying, with NPCs doing things
out of sync with the player. The look command did not tell me the
objects present in the room, so I had to scroll back up to see them.
After an hour of play, I just wasn't enjoying the game, so I quit. I'd
give it a 2, but it gets a bonus point for its creative title and also
because I feel bad for not at least trying to go through the
walkthrough. But with so many comp games to play, I don't want to
waste my time on games I don't enjoy.
Oh, one more thing: a quote from the "walkthrough" file, which
seemed rather long-winded for a walkthrough:
You can gather various pieces of info one game at a time,
string them together and then crack the case (or you can cheat like
hell and read this walkthrough.
This is a blatant violation of an article in the player's bill
of rights, stating that a player should not have to die in order to
win the game.


You were Doomed from the Start
score: 1
The readme file says the game is meant as a programming
example for writing a good IF game in C/C++. The game demonstrates
just why C/C++ should never be used to write text adventures when TADS
and inform are available.

To show just how terrible the game was, I include a brief
script:

You are in room 1, now what do you wish to do? help
This game is quite simple, with very few words used...
The word list consists of: "save", "load", "use","pickup",
quit","q" (another form of quit),"north","south","east","west"
"n","s","e","w","key" and finally "keys".
That is the word list! Good luck and hope you enjoy!

I rest my case.


Film at Eleven
rating: 7
This game was very funny. It was also laid out well in that
there were a decent number of rooms but I didn't have to draw a map.
The one thing that was bad was having to guess the verb and
noun, especially with NPC interactions. Towards the end of the story,
guessing the verb became the biggest challenge.
One other minor annoying point that I noticed was that trying
to go up through the closed trap door I got a message that made me
believe there I had to find a ladder or something when all I had to do
was open the door.
But the game was so funny that I gave it a seven anyway, since
the guess the verb was only bad at the very end. And besides, I
haven't given out any other sevens yet, so I thought it might be a
good idea since I enjoyed this game more than the previous one rated 6
and less than the previous one rated 8.

The Chasing
rating: 3

I'm writing this review a just before I post this message,
unlike the other reviews which were written soon after completing the
games. I've seen that many people seemed to like the game, but I
didn't really find it to my taste. It just seemed sort of boring.
Wander around solving puzzles and being rewarded with horses . .
whoop-de-doo. Also, the NPCs could have used some improvements.



Amit Amely

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Nov 22, 2001, 7:30:32 AM11/22/01
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"Norman Perlmutter" <normanpe...@sev.org> wrote in message
news:3bfc9460...@news.accesstoledo.com...

> Goofy
> Rating: 3
> If I had to describe this game in one word, I would use
> sparse. The room descriptions are sparsely implemented, or, rather,
> nonexistent. The size of the game was sparse; I finished it in under
> an hour.

One of the rules for posting a game to the comp is that it should be
solvable in less than 2 hours.
Do games that are solvable in a couple of minutes suffer from this rule? Are
there judges that expect the games to be solved in close to 2 hours,
therefore reduce the score of short-length games?

Cedric Knight

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Nov 22, 2001, 7:50:54 AM11/22/01
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Spoilers for "Goofy".

"Norman Perlmutter" <normanpe...@sev.org> wrote


> Goofy
...


> However, I found the mouse puzzle to be confusing, and it was about
> the only puzzle. I finally realized that I had to make the mouse say
> CHIT several times in a row. Since there seemed to be no pattern to
> the mouses wandering and I didn't want to keep guessing which way it
> would go until I got it right, I sort of cheated by using undo
> whenever I guessed wrong. But the only alternative I saw was to
> repeatedly guess. If there was some sort of a pattern, I didn't see
> it. I also realize now that the CHITs perhaps did not need to be
> consecutive.

I don't think the author should have implemented undo, as it means
several people apparently didn't solve the title puzzle, which is The
Clever Bit.

> Second, when you were in the room with the scale and there were
> marbles on the scale and on the floor, I couldn't find a way to take
> the marbles from the floor.

There's something in the washing pile that helps.


>
>
> an apple from nowhere
> rating: 5

> The game was a bit short; I finished it in under 45 minutes. I

How did you spin it out that long?

>
> Heroes
> rating: 6

> couldn't do anything without the help of his subjects. Also, trying to
> arrest the baron who owned the gem or his servant gave me a TADS error
> message.

That's odd, since the game's in Inform. :)


> The Chasing
> rating: 3
>
> I'm writing this review a just before I post this message,
> unlike the other reviews which were written soon after completing the
> games. I've seen that many people seemed to like the game, but I

Only 4/64 people voted it 9 or 10, which didn't surprise me.

> didn't really find it to my taste. It just seemed sort of boring.
> Wander around solving puzzles and being rewarded with horses . .
> whoop-de-doo. Also, the NPCs could have used some improvements.

Yeah, it's understated, but not every game has to be flash-bang-wallop.
The premise seemed to be this: What happens when a hero is too old for
slaying dragons?

Horses... power crystals... horses... power crystals... yes, it's a
matter of opinion (no offence; you know I liked The Cruise).

I also feel bound to defend my favourite against Paul's charges of poor
stable management. I surmised there had been a storm the night before
and one of the stronger horses managed to kick their way out.

"Perseverance" was also my single favourite puzzle - lucky it came at
the end of the game when I played it.

Regards,
Cedric
--
When the finger points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger.

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 22, 2001, 11:06:02 AM11/22/01
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Amit Amely <a_a...@hotmail.com> wrote:

There are certainly players who enjoy longer, more detailed games more
than tiny games. I'm one. How do you distinguish that from what you're
talking about.)

(*All other things being equal*. I'd rate a tiny, perfect game higher
than a large game full of unnecessary bloat. This goes without saying,
I hope.)

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.

Norman Perlmutter

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Nov 23, 2001, 8:41:03 PM11/23/01
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On Thu, 22 Nov 2001 14:30:32 +0200, "Amit Amely" <a_a...@hotmail.com>
wrote:

I didn't reduce the score specifically because it was short. I
just said it was short to help show how sparse it was. I have no
problem with short, richly rendered games. Also, I started out
thinking the games should ideally be as close as possible to 2 hours
without going over. As I played more games, I realized that there are
benefits to shorter games (i.e. I could play more games in the same
amount of time.) These comments were just what came to my mind after I
finished the game.

Norman Perlmutter

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Nov 23, 2001, 8:44:49 PM11/23/01
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On Thu, 22 Nov 2001 12:50:54 -0000, "Cedric Knight"
<ckn...@gn.apc.deletethis.org> wrote:
Minor spoilers for an apple from nowhere below . . .


>> an apple from nowhere
>> rating: 5
>
>> The game was a bit short; I finished it in under 45 minutes.
>

>How did you spin it out that long?

Mostly by examining a lot of stuff. I also replayed the final scene a
few times, I think.


>
>>
>> Heroes
>> rating: 6
>
>> couldn't do anything without the help of his subjects. Also, trying to
>> arrest the baron who owned the gem or his servant gave me a TADS error
>> message.
>
>That's odd, since the game's in Inform. :)

Oops. :)


Amit Amely

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Nov 25, 2001, 4:37:45 AM11/25/01
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"Norman Perlmutter" <normanpe...@sev.org> wrote in message
news:3bfef9e...@news.accesstoledo.com...

> I didn't reduce the score specifically because it was short. I
> just said it was short to help show how sparse it was.

I assumed so myself, I just used this example to raise the question for
discussion.


Billy Harris

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Nov 25, 2001, 10:49:25 PM11/25/01
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My own judging is arbitrary and capricious, but once a game achieves a
certain "quality per unit," I like bigger games.

I think that each game has an optimum number of rooms to realize the
design; unfortunately, this optimum number may not be apparent until
after the game is 99% complete. A game which packs too activity in too
few rooms feels contrived [majic toyshop]; a game which has rooms in
which nothing happens feels empty [Greyscale]. In some cases, this is
actually the effect you want, but you have to avoid having the player
being either bored or snickering at your game.

--
Billy Harris
wha...@mail.airmail.net

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