[Comp99] buzzard reviews

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Sean T Barrett

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Nov 17, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/17/99
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These reviews are theoretically spoiler free--and by 'spoiler' I mean
anything which discovering it in the game would be part of the value
of the game experience; for several games, I consider description of
the premise to be a spoiler. (There are a few small spoilers that
are explicitly flagged.)

Table of Contents:
------------------
How I judged and how I voted
About the reviewer
Reviews
Outtakes

======================================================================

HOW I JUDGED AND HOW I VOTED

Reviewing the competition games is a task fraught with peril.

Indeed, merely voting on the games was perilous. I thought of
a number of natural values by which to judge a game:

- This game brought me much enjoyment
- This game had high enjoyment per minute for me
- I'd recommend this game to someone with similar tastes
- I'd recommend this game to anyone
- I'd encourage more games just like this to be created
- I'd encourage more games to explore this direction

Certainly there aren't actually six degrees of freedom here, but
there's more than one.

I'm tempted to review the reviewers--to analyze which of the values
each of the posted reviewers seem to be judging the games by.
Instead, I will simply note that for the sake of *voting*, since
my vote is simply going to be averaged in with the vote of others,
my votes hovered in some mix of "it was fun", "good fun/minute",
and a touch of "let's see more games like this".

I do not, however, think these are the only values worth judging by.
(At times, I was tempted to consider voting a '1' on every game that
still needed significant amounts of playtest, which I think is based
on the value "I'd encourage more games like this be submitted to
future competitions".)

9: A Day for Soft Food (softfood.z5)
9: Hunter, in Darkness (huntdark.z5)
8: Winter Wonderland (winter.z5)
8: Halothane (halo.z5)
8: Six Stories (six.gam)
7: Pass the Banana (banana.z5)
6: Calliope (calliope.z5)
6: The HeBGB Horror! (hebgb.acd)
6: Death To My Enemies (death.z5)
6: On The Farm (otf.gam)
6: Beat the Devil (btd2.z5)
6: King Arthur's Night Out (arthur.acd)
6: Lunatix (lunatix.exe)
5: SNOSAE (xsnosae.exe)
5: Stone Cell (cell.gam)
5: A Moment of Hope (amoment.gam)
5: Thorfinn's Realm (tac.z5)
5: Lomalow (lomalow.z5)
5: Music Education (me.z5)
5: Spodgeville Murphy and The Jewelled Eye of Wossname (wossname.z5)
4: Jacks or better to murder, Aces to win. (jacks.z5)
4: Chicks Dig Jerks (chix.z5)
4: Four Seconds (4seconds.gam)
4: Strangers in the Night (stranger.gam)
4: Chaos (chaos.gam)
4: Erehwon (erehwon.gam)
4: Skyranch (skyranch.exe)
4: Bliss (bliss.gam)
4: Only After Dark (oad.z5)
4: Outsided (outsided.z5)
4: Life on Beal Street (beal.gam)
3: L.U.D.I.T.E. (ludite.z5)
2: The Water Bird (waterbrd.gam)
1: Guard Duty (guard.z8)
-: Remembrance (remember.htm)
-: Exhibition (exhibit.gam)
-: For a Change (change.z5)

====================================================================

ABOUT THE REVIEWER (hints about biases)

This is my first time playing competition games. In the time
between the release of Comp99 and the heyday of Infocom, I've
played very few text adventures, although I have done a fair
amount of mudding. My one serious attempt at getting into IF
again consisted of me getting nowhere in Curses and getting a
little ways into Jigsaw but being disappointed by it being
unable to live up to its opening sequence.

I've played most of LucasArt's graphic adventures, and have been
becoming increasingly disenchanted with them and their minimal
in-game clueing. Indeed, I'm very cynical about computer games
and the ways in which they are fun; such cynicism, while always
a part of me, has perhaps deepened into bitterness during the
past five years, owing in no small part to my current line of
employment. I hope, though, that I'm not being overly cynical
in my evaluations of the comp games.

I am a friend of the author of "For a Change" and beta-tested it.
It set a high standard for the rest of the competition for
no other reason than that I completed it without hints on my
initial playthrough.

Finally, one general complaint: if you make a corpse, and the corpse
is carrying some object, "get object from corpse" should work.
This failure to stick by world simulation rules nearly cost
one game four points, indirectly.

I do not now and have never owned a cat.

====================================================================

REVIEWS

For each game I provide some comments, mostly positive. I then
suggest up to three things the author could do to make *me* enjoy
the game more. It is all strictly IMHO and other people might
like things the way they are just fine, thank you. Also, most of
these are written from notes that mostly just list a few example
annoying elements of the games, so to the degree that my memory
fails me and I mischaracterize any of the games, I apologize in
advance.

Games in order I played them:

====================

SNOSAE: 5

This game was just not what I was looking for--just a lot of
(what seemed to me) very hard puzzles. I don't know whether
the puzzles were unfair or not.

(1) Motivate and hint the puzzles. "TURN PEG LEFT"? Not only
does "TURN PEG TO LEFT" not work, but what the heck does
it mean, as opposed to, say, "TURN PEG COUNTERCLOCKWISE"?
Why not "UNSCREW PEG"? If I push/pull on it, why not hint
that I'm on the right track?

(2) Include some room descriptions that give *some* sense of
space instead of just listing off the puzzle elements
at the current location.

(3) Fix the fiction: a puzzle complex built to test an alien
race shouldn't be full of human artifacts and a puzzle
based on the current date on the planet Earth. (It's
possible this is intentional and explained later in the
game, but it ruined my suspension of disbelief right
from the start.)

And put the introductory story into the game, not the readme.

This would raise it to a 6 or a 7. If I hit it on a day when
I was in the mood for a difficult puzzle romp, maybe an 8.

In my notes I wrote: "jarring colors"

====================

Outsided: 4

I smiled at the comment "...if you get upset with the game,
please don't hurt anyone important."

However, I was too impatient to get past the spelling errors.

(1) Acquire a proofreader.

Didn't play sufficiently to make further comments.

====================

A Day for Soft Food: 9

I liked this a lot, although I don't know (given my lack of
experience with current IF) how original the concept is.

I wish I had taken 5-10 hours to play this game without using
any hints. As it was it was fun, but I bet it would have been
more fun.

I strongly approve of the game design aesthetic: all visible
objects are important; minimal number of unimportant locations;
attention to detail (many games have a 'sparse' feel);
several small surprises in the plot; and the difference in
perspective between the protagonist and the player.

The "Provider exasperation" system amused me greatly (and
reminded me of Bureaucracy in reverse); although I didn't
try to "win" it, it made the game world seem more meaningful,
providing a sense of (unimportant) consequences to
(unimportant) actions, effectively increasing the feeling
of the world being a sim, not a narrative.

(1) Organize the hints better.

If a hint depends on the player having accomplished some
other task (e.g. acquiring a red balloon), make sure there
is a task-driven hint description appropriate to that task;
that way, if a player encounters a hint that assumes one's
already accomplished such a task, she won't go reading every
other hint in the section trying to figure out how to
accomplish it, thus ruining the entire last third of the
game because the hint is actually listed by a different
topic in a different section.

Note that this problem is exacerbated by the inclusion of
red herring hints, which might make such a player suspect
that the entire hint being read (which requires the red
balloon) is another red herring.

Hypothetically speaking, of course, since I'm a "he".

(2) I'm not sure what else I would improve other than the
fact that I overrelied on hints, but as I said, I think
this is attributable to the limited time available to
play it. It may be that they were a bit too hard.
Perhaps I might argue that some of the puzzles were a
bit too fantastic for anyone to ever expect them to
work; the use to which one puts the balloon seems like
this.

====================

The Water Bird: 2

This seemed like it could have been an interesting setting.
But I got a TADS error in the second room, then never went back
when I heard it was unwinnable. So I didn't play it enough
to form an opinion.

I reserved scores 1-3 for "really unfun" games. Fatal bugs
make games really unfun.

====================

A Moment of Hope: 5

I thought the story was kind of cute. Nice final line.

(1) Include some non-linear interaction of some sort. I
felt like the "narrative pretending to be a game" was
actually weaker than the "narratives not pretending to
be a game" (Beal Street, Exhibition).

(2) Pick a story that isn't so, umm, I can't even think
of an appropriate adjective. Unthrilling. I guess the
problem is that the I didn't feel like there was anything
to be learned, any insight into the situation; it was
just a familiar situation that I was watching transpire.

====================

Winter Wonderland: 8

Whee, ASCII art!

I really liked what I think of as the screenwriter's "Act I/Act II"
approach at the beginning--the opening sequence was stylistically
different, and a very simple "puzzle". It teetered on being too
wordy for me, but then it picked the exact right moment to jump
to Act II.

Several areas of the main game were imaginitive and memorable.

(1) Reduce the number of invisible sequential dependencies.
If lots of your hints have to say 'don't read these hints
until you've done X', in my opinion that's a sign that
you've gone too far down that route.

Fundamentally (but we're reaching to IMHO here), once
you hit Act II, there's simply too many places you can
immediately go, which makes it all pretty daunting. (I
suppose this was true of Zork, too.) Rather than letting
the player reach lots of puzzles that she can't yet solve,
arrange to have blocked off more areas, in much the same
way the ice floe area is initially inaccessible.

(2) I think two mazes is two too many for one game, even if
the solution isn't just exploration and mapping. The ice
floes were mazelike enough that that was where I stopped
playing, when the hints were insufficient for me to solve
it. (I also needed hints for the "real" maze, due to the
"guess the action" puzzle, but MAYBE I should have been
able to get that.)

(3) I felt like the whole "magic world" thing was a little
unmotivated. Perhaps it gets resolved if you finish the
game, which I didn't? Indeed, all of my actions in the
magic world were unmotivated, which seemed suprising
given the amount of plot in the intro. I was just solving
puzzles to try to get past them without knowing why.

This could hit a 9 easily.

====================

L.U.D.I.T.E.: 3

There are some interesting turns of phrase.

====================

Beat the Devil: 6

A relatively original story setup for a "magic world" style game,
although it all felt a little bit cheesy. The NPCs felt too much
like scenery, but I guess it's really just a puzzle romp so what
am I expecting?

(1) I feel like this could be a really fun game if it received
an awful lot of polish--by which I mean you don't add any
more objects, you don't add any more locations, you don't
change any puzzles. Just more side stuff--more detail,
more commands, more scenery.

(2) Some of the puzzles seemed kind of arbitrary although it's
possible that my reliance on the walkthrough to get past
a few bits caused me to miss necessary explanations.

With a lot of polish this could be an 8.

====================

Exhibition: n/a

At least at the time I tried it, I wasn't in the mood
to read a non-linear narrative. It looked like it might
have been an interesting work, but I was just totally
in a "play text adventure" frame of reference. So I
abstained from voting on it.

====================

Calliope: 6

Cute. Great attention to detail. I thought very highly
of it given its brevity. The "guess-the-action" nature
of the main puzzle took me a long time to overcome--there's
no reason to expect that particular detail of world
simulation to be there.

(1) Pick a situation I've never seen before. Show me a world
I've never seen--I've never even thought about.

(2) Motivate the "guess-the-action" puzzle by making revelations
about the depth of the world simulation in this department.

(3) Go for a larger scope.

The first would make it a 7; all three would make it an 8 or 9.

====================

Erehwon: 4

Maybe this game was really clever, but I didn't get
far enough to figure it out.

I bashed around in town for a while, tried a few things,
got stuck. Tried to get through the maze, got nowhere,
and said, ok, well, maybe I can't do it yet, what CAN I
do yet? After reading through the hints for a while,
I eventually determined that I was supposed to do the
entirely unclued desert. (How am I supposed to know
that sideways is the important direction to go?)

'backward' shouldn't turn you around. It's implied in
the docs that it does, but it confused me, caused me to
screw up the desert, and I gave up when I found myself
back in Erehwon but without compass directions.

That was frustrating, so I quit.

====================

Pass the Banana: 7

A hilarious 7 minute experience (seven minutes including
playing through again to get the last point).

I suspect this is all some sort of r.a.i-f in-joke which I'm
not getting, so perhaps like an American watching Monty Python,
it's even funnier in its absurdity and non-sequiturness for me
than it would be for insiders.

Like "Fingertips" on They Might Be Giant's "Apollo 18" in
shuffle-play mode, Pass the Banana offered me a fun break from
the other games. The puzzle was perhaps a little easy to solve,
but of course the real challenge is in *realizing* what you're
supposed to accomplish; the ease of typing the commands
once you "get it" is irrelevent to characterizing the
difficulty of the puzzle. Indeed, the moment of "getting it",
after some tentative experimentation, was for me a groaner
of a situation, just like a good pun.

Nice little bits of attention to detail, e.g. asking the
NPCs about each other.

(1) Attention to detail was good, but I think there could have
been more little stuff here and there.

(2) Fix the "jump" bug.

In all honesty, I don't think you could do much to this
game to get me to raise my score for it. I would love to
see more games like this than the big poorly-executed
games I ranked 4's and 5's--but on the other hand I'd
even *more* rather see larger games with the same level
of quality. But I refuse to rank this game low simply
because it's short. I'd have more fun playing an hour
of these sorts of games than I'd have playing an hour
of most of the games I rated five or six. So if an
hour of these games would be worth 7 points, what is
one worth? 7/10ths of a point? Not if I want to
encourage more people to make games like them.

I wouldn't complain if half the competition games were
"Fingertips" shuffled randomly into the mix. I might
complain if they weren't all as well executed as PtB, though.

====================

Bliss: 4

There was a daemon bug in the first puzzle (I left the room
while parts of the game still thought I was in the room where
the author intended me to be), which, between that and the
overall tone and setting, was enough to turn me off the game
right away.

====================

Jacks or better to murder, Aces to win: 4

I found the first puzzle intriguing, and the overall plot/setting
was largely engaging--although the feeling that you're playing
an infallible character made it *feel* a bit easy (even if I did
rely on hints several times).

(1) Remove the anti-clues, i.e. messages which discourage you from
pursuing the correct path. If there's an important bit of
scenery that has to be examined, don't make scenery in the
same room say things to the effect of 'Why are you wasting
your time examining this stuff?'.

(2) I finished it, but I wrote down that I was "deeply dissatisfied
with the game design aesthetic." I'm not sure what that means
exactly; I think it means I didn't really care for the puzzles
or the structure of the game or its linearity; for the sorts of
things you had to do to determine the puzzles. See "Soft Food"
for a description of "I really liked the aesthetic".

(3) The names chosen for the character titles kept making me feel
like I was seeing placeholders, not a finished product. I imagine
the intent was to avoid biasing the piece by appearing to be
a particular religion/political setup, but it was a feeling I
couldn't shake.

There's a lot of room for improvement here, but I don't know
how easy it would be, so I don't want to suggest a particular
number I'd imagine it reaching.

====================

Strangers in the Night: 4

I got a strong sense of someone's values (though I'm suspicious
they were the author's, not the character's) from the descriptions
of and encounters with several of the NPCs. I haven't seen such
a strong sense in other games--or perhaps that they just flew so
much in the face of my own that they were more noticeable (I'm
thinking of the innards of the movie theater and the goth chick).

(1) Focus. E.g. avoid mechanical contrivances that don't serve any
game purpose and require multiple commands to use (e.g. the lift).

(2) Cut. Don't make vast wastelands of rooms for the player to
traverse without accomplishing anything.

(3) Gameify. Make puzzles or interesting interactions that involve
more than just waiting, following, and typing the magic word.

This could be a fun game, although to be honest, a thorough
application of those 3 steps would basically produce a different
game with the same setting.

====================

The HeBGB Horror! : 6

Stylistically nice setting and plot. (Nice title, too,
but I don't give bonus points, even for puns.)

I see from the walkthrough there were multiple solutions to
many puzzles, which is nice in theory (although I overrelied on
the solutions after I got stuck with an early parser problem).

(1) Some of the puzzles seemed a bit arbitrary or a bit unmotivated.

(2) "talk to stranger" doesn't in any obvious way mean my character is
saying "stranger" out loud; if you're going to interpret it that
way, at least spell it out. My character knew his name. And
"tell stranger about <name>" did nothing.

With a fair amount of polish I could see calling this an 8.

====================

Skyranch: 4

A nice setting/setup. Unfortunately I couldn't get past square
one. I don't know if I just wasn't guessing the right commands
or what. (I couldn't even manage to save.)

====================

Only After Dark: 4

I couldn't get past the inital puzzle. After spending a bunch
of time trying stuff, and discerning some concerns with the
quality of the scene (e.g. "As you gather the clothes up in a
ball..." in response to a number of actions having nothing to
do with my clothes as far my intent went, anyway), I quit.

====================

Six Stories: 8

Wow. Very nice production value. Good quality implementation
and design. I'm rating this one kind of high because I think
it's a direction worth exploring.

[some very light spoilers follow]

(1) If you're going to have this much narrative, be more ambitious
with the story. (Ok, and kill me now if I'm missing something
basic here.) The five stories all seemed on the theme of roughly
"loneliness" (apartness, perhaps); but no data is provided about
the sixth story (the protagonist's)--why not set it up with the
narration at the beginning implying something about where the
player was coming from and going to? Most of the relationship
between the characters, their stories, and the locations each
ended up at seemed none to clear to me, and, indeed, by the end
game, my instinct was to simply imagine that they were all driven
by what images the author had dug up in some image library,
instead of vice versa. (I don't *actually* think that, but it
was tempting). The inventory-updated ending seemed pretty
cliche, and the whole "magic world" too unexplained,
for the conclusion to provide any satisfaction.
("Well, what good did any of that do?")

(2) Maybe a little--a little--damn I hate to ask this--but
maybe just a teensy little bit more game. The one "puzzle"
that was there took me all of fifteen seconds to solve.

I think in hindsight, after writing this review, I should have
rated Six Stories a 7--that I was too influenced by the "let's
encourage more people to go in this direction".

Calling it a 7, tightening the story would make it an 8, and
making it more of a game a 9.

====================

King Arthur's Night Out: 6

A witty setup. One puzzle felt reasonably original.

(1) "look behind", "look under", "search" do not feel like
puzzles to me.

(2) Too many dead rooms. Or perhaps it's that too many of the
rooms seem to work in isolation. Or something. Waffle.

I can't tell you how high the score could go with those
changes, as they'd be pretty substantial.

====================

Stone Cell: 5

Good attention to detail; strong aesthetics. The vocabulary
seems a bit overblown in places. Some of the style didn't sit
well with me, like the playfulness with the unknown characters'
"names" at the beginning.

I got stuck on what was either a dead-end non-solution or an
alternate unclued solution, and when I checked the walkthrough
and discovered that I was supposed to have spent 27 turns examining
the floor/ceiling/walls of every location in the cell, I quit.
I don't care if that's the logical step for the protagonist.
Tedium sucks.

(1) Provide some more obvious clues to things.

(2) Don't make puzzles that rely on unexpected world simulation
behavior.

(3) Fewer words are good sometimes, like during such a long intro.
On the other hand, rooms that you WANT people to examine the
floor/ceiling/walls of are good places for more words, words
that provide helpful cues to remind the player that the room
indeed has floors, walls, and ceilings.

I am confident that this author could write a game that I
would vote 8 or 9 on; I rather doubt that it would ever be
this game.

====================

Chicks Dig Jerks: 4

I spent a lot of time exploring the menu mazes at the beginning;
it was quite entertaining.

Nice room economy.

(1) Leaving all horrific elements until the last 25% of the
game causes player confusion about the work's style.

(2) More playtest, less brittle coding.

(3) If you're going to have a clever ending, make sure that the
thing the character asserts at the end is actually what
happened.

With polish this could hit a 6, but without rethinking the
overall prologue/main-game structure, not much more.

I found it slightly disconcerting that the game asked me yes/no
questions once or twice about what my character wanted to do,
but seemed to secretly be intending this question to mean
"do you want to see the risque business spelled out or not?"
Character intention and player intention are rather different.

====================

Lunatix: 6

Well, I can see where Mike Snyder is coming from in arguing for
wanting to do games his own way, instead of using an existing engine;
though I disagree with some of the specifics. True to the debate,
Lunatix was the only game in the competition that crashed on me
(although it only happened once--on an undo). I'd argue *very*
strongly against most of the UI design. Still, I think it's a
perfectly competitive attempt.

The art definitely helped contextualize/concretize the world
and hence the playing experience. Of the limited amount I saw,
one puzzle felt pretty original, but overall they were too
hard/arbitrary, and the game solution path was so linear that
I gave up part way through.

(1) Don't ignore player input. For example, don't refer
to a squid as a 'monster' and a 'beast' and then not
recognize those words, but instead of admitting you
don't recognize those words, provide the misleading
response "It looks about how you might expect". Let the
player see the boundary between what you sim and what
you don't sim, what your parser understands and what it
doesn't understand, or the player will never get anywhere
in the game. (I'm not kidding here. Letting me think
that I've examined an object, when I really haven't,
is just shooting yourself in the foot.)

(2) If you're going to roll your own GUI (I know, you have to
for DOS), at least do some reading and find out why people
make things the way they do. (Processing of mouse up/down
is totally nonstandard; scrollbar is non-draggable; the
"carefully designed to be readable" font doesn't provide
enough room for ascenders and descenders to make the text
legible.) There's a lot of effort in the GUI here, and
some thought clearly expended to efficient work flow (e.g.
automatically jumping to the text input box on character
input); but it's a long way from here to there.

While some people might find the always-available room
description a convenience, I found it just made more work
for me. A higher-resolution screen mode would have allowed
a bit more text (and more readable text) without sacrificing
the pictures. Yes, I know about textmode.

(3) "You swallowed a weird psychoactive pill" comes close to
the worst excuse for a "magic world" that I've seen, unless
it turns out later it wasn't just all in your head, which
it probably does, but you can only expect a player to
suspend disbelief for so long. (That is, this bit of
weirdness felt more like the Avengers than the X-Files
to me, but the game didn't have the playful tone of the
Avengers.)

All that said, I don't think a game with this linear a structure
and this much of a puzzle-fest is going to go above a 6 for me,
regardless of the GUI.

====================

Thorfinn's Realm: 5

I gave up on this as soon as I discovered the classic
non-directional maze. Too 70's for my tastes. (Actually,
I had given up in my head, but then I randomly made it out
of the forest, so I went a bit further, but certain other
lack-of-quality issues reared their heads.)

====================

Death To My Enemies: 6

I thought this was a fun little game--except in a game
of this size, allowing you to let the game become unwinnable
(by the action of *solving* a puzzle, even) seems nuts.
I had to hint to get around it--and sadly the hint came
in the form of a walkthrough, which just spelled it out.
I admit there were clues so I might have figured out the
one really really hard puzzle, but I just wasn't expecting
the possibility that I might have to restart.

====================

Hunter, in Darkness: 9

Great premise and very good writing. I got stuck on an early
puzzle and then burned by a game design decision that left me
too frustrated to continue (but was probably not easily predictable
by a game author: sometimes optional puzzles backfire), but
eventually someone encouraged me to try again and I finished it.

The puzzle in first room to the right was very satisfying,
as was the final puzzle.

(1) I don't know what to suggest to improve it. Well, to expand
on the above comment, don't set things up so that if I get
stuck on a puzzle and backtrack and try something else, I
encounter an interesting, challenging puzzle, solve that
puzzle, and am rewarded with... the original puzzle on which
I was stuck.

(2) The maze should be bidirectional (and my failed attempt
at mapping it seemed to imply it had too many rooms, but
I might have screwed up). That is, avoiding compass directions
to improve mimesis is all well and good, but not when it
leads to a protagonist who immediately forgets by which tunnel
a room was entered--hardly mimetic.

For a while this game sat at 8, but I kept A-B'ing it in my
head against other games, and it forced its way up to the 9
without any intervention from the author, and neither of the
above improvements would affect that.

This game features three things that in the abstract I utterly
abhor, but which obviously can be done right in the hands of
a talented author. Nonetheless, please don't try them at home:
I. A maze (with a non-mapping solution)
II. A complex mechanical contrivance which doesn't just
have a single-action command to do the multi-step operation,
even thought the *protagonist* should know how to operate
it like the back of his hand
III. An excess of rooms (not counting the maze) that are
just for color (an oversimplification in this case)

====================

Lomalow: 5

The story was imaginitive. I stopped when the hints told me to.
Which was all very unfortunate, as I was basically *there* without
the hints, which made me go back and ask about things I hadn't
quite asked to death but for which there was no real further
value; I think when I asked for hints, I only had three or four
responses left. [Most of this part of the game can be seen in
the outtakes section.]

====================

On The Farm: 6

A cute setup; an evocative scene.

Unfortunately, I fully explored and roughly saw how the whole
Rube Goldberg mechanism was going to go, but couldn't get the
ball rolling, and had to finally look at the walkthru to get
started. (I have three complaints about the stove puzzle; if
I had only one, I might give the details.)

I'm stumped for listing improvements, and I'm stumped for
telling you why it's not a 7. I guess it was the domino-effect
of the puzzles; a bit of arbitrariness here and there, and a
sense of sparseness (which could probably be improved by reducing
the number of rooms by 30% and increasing the detail in each).

====================

Chaos: 4

Umm. The attempt to use the third person is really disconcerting;
why can I examine things while Captain Chaos is asleep, but not
"do" anything? Because I'm a disembodied spectre who can observe
and influence Chaos' thoughts?

Mostly this loses points for being horribly broken. I don't know
*how* Tads is set up so that a game can break the undo system, but
Chaos does (undoing across 'character changes' breaks). And after
having gotten used to having infinite undo, I hadn't been making
any saved games, so it was a bit of a bummer, Hal.

There was an action I could do over and over again for infinite points,
and I couldn't figure out what action I was supposed to do next, since
the obvious next one kept telling me to do the one that got me
infinite points.

====================

Life on Beal Street: 4

I don't like games/stories in which my fate is random.
Moreover, in Beal Street, you can actually see ALL the
possible fates that were possible on a given playthrough
(assuming the random number generator is stable), thus
dispelling the notion that your choices could have made
much difference:
> 2
> UNDO
> 1
> 2
> UNDO
> 1
[etc.]

====================

Remembrance: n/a

I avoided bothering to play this for a while, but eventually
when I was online and had some free time, I decided to run it.
I dutifully enabled java in my browser, went to the page, and
it didn't work. I disabled java, and enabled javascript (these
are two entirely unrelated systems which have the misfortunate
of being similarly named), and it worked; but so did the Tripod
pop-ups, so I immediately quit.

====================

Guard Duty: 1

Umm. I didn't play enough to form an opinion.

For all I know, simply fixing whatever the (presumably
last-minute) bug was in it would make it a 9.

====================

Halothane: 8

The only game I was still playing at the two hours mark.

I found the story engaging. Things are a little sparse (a
few places are notably lacking in scenery objects), but
at least, after two hours, I was still engaged. The game
seems to have gotten suddenly harder around where I got
stuck.

It wasn't until I looked at the solutions to get unstuck
that I discovered I had missed a bunch of optional puzzles.
I don't know if this is a common paradigm that's developed
in the nineties (see also Hunter, in Darkness), but me, I
tend to do things experimentally. If the experiment advances
me in the story (say by advancing the chapter number), I'll
never go back and see if there was something "better" I could
do.

[After recording my vote, I went back and played through
some of the stuff that I had missed, and my opinion actually
dropped a little, and I didn't actually end up going any
further in the story.]

====================

Music Education: 5

Unless I missed something, this game is fatally flawed by
the player having no clue what the end goal is. I practiced
my saxophone and then was ready to go home. I tried to solve
a few puzzles, got in what I suspected was an unwinnable situation,
and eventually played through the whole thing using the walkthrough.

(1) Provided player motivation by providing protagonist motivation.

(2) Cut. You don't need all those areas for gameplay or for
you-are-thereness except in the special case of it being
for the you-or-anyone-at-your-university-are-thereness;
but presumably your target audience is larger than that.

An easy 6. Maybe a 7 with sufficient cutting and motivation.

====================

Spodgeville Murphy and The Jewelled Eye of Wossname: 4

Very entertaining, except for the part that the first puzzle
is a bit arbitrary in which commands it allows to let you get
the whole process underway, and that the second puzzle is
broken (presumably due to a last-minute bug). As you may or
may not have noticed, hard-to-solve puzzles and gameplay-affecting
bugs drive my votes down more than so-so game-design.

(1) Fix the (presumed) endgame bug.

That would bring it up to a 6, I think.

(2) Fix the other bugs, more polish, let me interact with everything
in the room more cleanly.

That would bring it up to a 7, again probably about the limit for
a game of this size.

====================

Four Seconds: 4

Interesting X-files-ish (I guess) plot. I think I'd enjoy this game
if it were done right. But as it stands, ugh. A slapdash
implementation everywhere.

===========================================================================

OUTTAKES (including some spoilers; and, no, I wasn't TRYING to break things)


>turn screw
>twist screw
>fasten screw
>tighten screw
>screw screw
>screw screw with screwdriver


However, you can walk through one of four doors--the one behind
you, the one in front of you, the one to your left, or the one to
your right.
>front
>walk front
>walk through front doors
>walk through doors in front
>walk through middle doors


>open pair of doors
[tries to open all four pairs of doors]


A nich in the wall contains a lone urn of green stone.
>x nich
You can't see any such thing.
>x niche
In the nich is an urn.


"Let's just listen to the radio."
>x radio
I don't know the word radio.
>listen
You hear nothing unexpected.


>x headset
Which headset do you mean, the headset or the headset?


>x ceiling
Which do you mean, the ceiling or the walls?


>x door
Which door do you mean, the oak door, or the outside door?
>outside
You can't quite see the door to the outside from your present position.


>wear my clothes
You can't see any such thing.
>wear your clothes
(first taking your clothes)


>pour water on man
You pour the water on the floor.


>throw dogmabook
You put the dogmabook into the rack.


>cut hammock with knife
You don't have a suitable weapon.


[to see what you're wearing:]
>i
>x me
>x clothes


>look out window
I don't know the word "window".
>look out windshield
He doesn't know what that is.


>hint
Why don't you keep asking the man about the pit?
>ask man about pit
"Don't keep going on about that."


>shoot floor
(the cave at all)
Sorry, you can only shoot one thing at a time.


>shoot bead at speaker
Save your shots for a better opportunity


The giant flaming head 712 looks bored.


>hint
Don't be dense. You've already seen 14223. Why haven't
you talked to the old woman about it?


>show glock to guy
Shayne_1 is unimpressed.


>hint
If you can see this message, you have already won.


Enter 1 to keep going or 2 to turn back.
* NO CHOICES DEFINED *


>give hat to sprite
But, You are not holding the little blue wand lying on a flower petal.


> x window
Below that window is a grassy hill.
> open window
You open the small window.
> out
Please rephrase that sentence.
> go through window
Please rephrase that sentence.
> e
The only exit is to the west.
> x window
Below that window is a grassy hill.
> look out window
Please rephrase that sentence.
> climb out window
Please rephrase that sentence.
> exit
Where?
> exit window
That would not accomplish anything.
> go out window
Please rephrase that sentence.
> help
You are doing fine.

===========================================================================

Sean Barrett

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