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James Mitchelhill

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Nov 19, 2006, 8:34:19 PM11/19/06
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_Requiem_ by David Whyld
Play time: 45 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 3

_Requiem_ is, at heart, a thinly disguised CYOA book with maybe five or six
different paths. Most IF is to some extent, but in good IF, the player gets
to make meaningful choices and, importantly, has a sense of agency. The
choices in _Requiem_ are not meaningful. There is little sense of agency.
And this is why Requiem is not good IF. The overall effect is like being
tied to a chair while the author shouts "Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna
do?" Uh... I'll take the first option. "HAH! Wrong!"

The plot situates itself in the film noir genre, without the stylistic
sparkle that makes film noir worth watching or reading. We have a
down-on-his-luck private detective. We have a femme fatale. Then things get
all supernatural, which seems to be something of an obsession with Whyld.
Adding supernatual elements to anything but genre horror often seems to be
an excuse for lazy plotting. Once you get rid of the rules constraining
normal plots you can do anything. This doesn't make it particularly
interesting though.

There are no real puzzles to speak of. All the puzzles are
guess-the-decision, and the kicker is that the player never has enough
information to make an educated choice about which decision will lead to
the most interesting ending. Indeed, most decisions lead to swift death.
It's like a meta version of the instant death room. Choose the wrong
doorway and die becomes choose the wrong plot decision and die.
Conversation is handled in an unusually limited fashion. The game accepts
things like "ask character about thing", but interprets these as "talk to
character". Sometimes the game gives you conversational options, sometimes
it just talks at you for a while.

In the end, _Requiem_ is a piece of static fiction given the appearance of
IF. It fails as static fiction and dressing it up with interactivity
doesn't improve it at all.

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

_Carmen Devine: Supernatural Troubleshooter_ by Rob Myall
Play time: 35 minutes
Status: Finished with hints
XYZZY reponse: No.
Score: 3

I really wish people would stop releasing their learning excercises on the
general public. Unless, y'know, they're really good. Alas, _Carmen Devine:
Supernatural Troubleshooter_ (CD:ST) isn't. It feels like a learning
exercise, with its sparseness and underimplementation.

The plot is moderately silly. The PC, the eponymous Carmen Devine, is a
werewolf, employed by some kind of supernatural CIA to keep supernatual
happenings on the down low. I didn't get this from the game itself, though.
All this is explained in the ABOUT text. That's something I hate. I want IF
games to show me their world, not tell me about it before I start playing.
If you have to impart some information before play starts, work it into the
introduction. Placing it outside the game entirely is cheap and lazy.

But what else would you expect from a learning exercise?

In tems of plot CD:ST falls behind as well. Myall sets up a reasonably
interesting world - mostly cribbed from various genre settings, it seems -
and then goes nowhere with it. Just as _Strange Geometries_ makes the world
two-dimensional without consequence, the world of CD:ST is all window
dressing. The fact that the PC is a werewolf is used once in the game,
enabling Carmen to see in the dark. I expect better from werewolf powers
than to be a poor substitute for a torch.

There's some annoying bugs and errors, too:

---------
In The Jeep
Bouncing along in a 4x4, the harsh bite of Chen's cigarette burns in your
lungs as his smoking fills the jeep.

>jump
You jump on the spot, fruitlessly.
---------

Hard to do when sitting in a jeep, one would think.

---------
>l
Stone Marker
Fighting your way through the snowdrifts, you follow the trail between the
trees. Here, just south of the village, is a large stone marker.
---------

Including movement in room descriptions is a bad idea. The second time you
read this, you've already fought your way through the snowdrifts.

---------
There's another scent, underlying the fear and death. The scent of grave
dirt, and a hint of lilies pervade the scene before you; scents of the
spirit world.

>smell
Shattered House smells pretty generic.
---------

And something that really threw me off towards the end and had me checking
the hints:

---------
>search objects
You find nothing of interest.

>x objects
Shards of pottery litter the floors. One item appears to have survived the
carnage - a small book.
---------

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

_The Bible Retold: The Bread and the Fishes_ by CelestianPower and Justin
Morgan
Play time: 50 minutes
Status: Did not finish
Score: 4

Biblical IF has never had much of a repution for quality and so it was with
a due sense of trepidation that I loaded up _The Bible Retold_.
Unfortunately, my fears were soon realised. _The Bible Retold_ is a mixture
of flat humour and annoying puzzles.

In the ABOUT section, the authors state that "While you are not
disadvantaged by being non-Christian, it might be a good idea to have a
Bible (or an Internet connection) handy while playing this game." This
would be an understatement. Having a bible to hand is essential, especailly
with one puzzle.

The plot is fairly well known, so I won't go into it here. Play consists of
wandering around performing good deeds. Although I'm not at all religious,
I felt fairly uncomfortable playing Jesus. One problem is that since you're
rewarded for solving puzzles, as is the fashion with most IF, the Jesus of
this game is not being altruistic - he's doing it to get the plot tokens
necessary to complete the next puzzle. The game, in effect, subverts the
concept of Jesus as a perfect, holy being, and drags him towards the level
of Nameless Adventurer. I'm fairly sure this wasn't the intention. The
addition of lame humour - God constantly drops stone tablets on the heads
of people you've healed - does nothing to mitigate this.

The puzzles aren't particularly well done either. I turned to the
walkthrough when I got to the chariot puzzle. The puzzle involvs Jesus
riding around a town in a chariot, where the chariot advances a certain
number of spaces each time it moves. Even after reading the walkthrough I
still don't really understand what was going on, or how I was supposed to
work it out. Puzzles aren't my thing, but these seemed particularly bad. I
managed to screw up another of the puzzles by burning some bread. I assume
that this places the game in an unwinnable state, but I couldn't be
bothered to check.

I also came across one really stange bug, where a large ornate chest
followed me around the town. Aside from this, _The Bible Retold_ is
competently programmed. In the end it does nothing to raise the bar for
religious games. Christian IF's bad reputation is secure for the moment, it
seems.

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

_Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game_ by Riff Connor
Play time: 45 minutes
Status: Finished with extensive use of hints.
Score: 4

_AGEtLRG_ doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is. It's a game
where you escape the locked room. It has ridiculous puzzles and would be
near to impossible without hints. It's reasonably funny in places and the
puzzles are solidly put together. There's one horrible guess-the-verb
moment.

There's very little else to say. It's an amusing diversion, nothing more,
nothing less.

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

_Fight or Flight_ by geelpete
Play time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough.
Score: 5

Now this is frustrating.

It's one thing for a mediocre game to be done badly. It's quite another to
see an interesting game with a fascinating concept let down by poor
implementation. Oh how I wanted this to be good. The writing's excellent,
the suspense is there, but the gameplay is sorely lacking and the plot is
flawed.

_Fight or Flight_, as the name suggests, places itself firmly in the
survival horror genre. You play a teenage camp counsellor who must choose
to either fight or flee the hideous monster that comes crashing into the
near-deserted camp. Along for the ride are your fellow counsellors, a
diverse group of personalities. The problems begin here.

The opening scene after the prologue introduces the player to Sydney,
Russell, Katherine, Jason, Chuck and Samantha. They're all having
conversations and moving around constantly. It's very difficult to keep
track of who's who, let alone have a conversation with any of them. Various
information about the relationships between these people comes out, but
there's too much of it for the player to keep track of. The author has
obviously gone to some lengths to flesh out his characters, but much of it
is wasted because he overloads the player with information. At the same
time as this is happening, the PC is meant to be investigating an odd
noise, as well as exploring the immediate environment. Unfortunately, this
means that the player never gets to care about the characters, which
substantially lessens the impact when their lives are threatened. None are
very deeply implemented - conversation is in the ask about model, but
what's there would be effective if it just had a chance.

The game also alternates between the main action at the camp and short
scenes at a military base. This gives the player a greater knowledge of the
threat than the PC has, which increases the distance between PC and player
and, again, decreases any emotional attachment to him. Switching between
scenes also has the effect of throwing the player out of any immersion they
were feeling. In some games that's not a problem - in a survival horror
it's disasterous. These cut scenes are also mostly a matter of hitting "z"
the appropriate number of times and would have been better presented (if
they had to be presented at all) as cutscenes.

I also found certain points of the plot a little bizarre. The main part of
the story sees the PC discovering the camp's maintainence man dead and
headless in his truck, which has just struck a totem pole. My assumption
was that the man was injured in the crash. Everyone at the camp jumps to
the conclusion that there's some evil menace that has pulled his head off.
None of them will even believe the PC when he tells them that the guy's
dead. In fact, the PC has to rip the blood-stained hood off the car before
any accepts he's not making it up.

The puzzles also seem a little obtuse. I was playing from the walkthrough
after a while of wandering around directionless, but from the ones I saw, I
doubt I'd have ever solved them alone. The final puzzle in the "fight" mode
of the game (I couldn't actually get the "flight" walkthrough to work) also
seems a little dumb. This beast, which has the muscle power needed to rip
someone's head off, is unable to break free of a rope. Tying the damn
creature up just would not have occurred to me. There's a couple of bugs
and a couple of typos, but nothing unforgivable that I saw.

_Fight or Flight_ could have been so good if only it had been done right,
and it's deeply annoying that it wasn't. The author obviously has good
ideas, so I wouldn't want this to be the last we see of him, but _Fight or
Flight_ is, unfortunately, a failure.

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

_MANALIVE I_ and _MANALIVE II_ by Bill Powell
Play time: 30 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 1

_MANALIVE_ presents problems from a judging point of view. First, it's
split into two entries, which should technically mean that I ought to play
and rate each independently. Secondly, MANALIVE II came up first in my
randomised list of comp games, which means I ought to play the second half
of the game first. That seems... well... dumb. After all, there was nothing
preventing the author from entering both game files as a single entry. The
idea of rating both as a single game seems to make sense, and I'm willing
to switch round the playing order to play them in order. I'm was finally
tempted to rate both with a single score and then give both games half.
Unfortunately this proved impossible for one good reason: The IFComp
doesn't let you score games with half a point.

_MANALIVE (I and II)_ is an adaptation of GK Chesterton's novel of the same
name. I don't understand why some authors seem so set on adapting their
favourite stories to IF form. When Hollywood decides to turn our favourite
books into films, we respond with suspcion and distrust. The film is seldom
as good as the book. In turning a novel into a film, there's always a
danger that the film-makers will ruin it. And yet, people will quite
happily mangle the plots of their favourite stories by cramming them into a
form they were never intended to fit. At worst, the resulting work of IF
becomes nothing more than guess-the-plot-development, with unmotivated
actions that made so much sense in the original lacking any rationale in
the IF. This, sadly, is the case with MANALIVE.

The game progresses as the player does stuff (because there's not much else
to do), and then reads the next large chunk of Chesterton's prose. I rather
like Chesterton, but the author can't be given any credit for that.


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

Emily Short

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Nov 19, 2006, 9:28:48 PM11/19/06
to

James Mitchelhill wrote:
> _Requiem_ is, at heart, a thinly disguised CYOA book with maybe five or six
> different paths. Most IF is to some extent, but in good IF, the player gets
> to make meaningful choices and, importantly, has a sense of agency. The
> choices in _Requiem_ are not meaningful. There is little sense of agency.
> And this is why Requiem is not good IF. The overall effect is like being
> tied to a chair while the author shouts "Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna
> do?" Uh... I'll take the first option. "HAH! Wrong!"

I mostly agree with this -- and it's disappointing, because I like the
idea of IF with multiple paths, so I wanted Requiem to succeed. But it
didn't work for me at all.

The first problem was that I often felt underinformed about the choice
I was being asked to make. On one occasion, I didn't realize it *was* a
choice: I was put in a location, and since I was feeling a bit
disoriented about what was happening, I decided to explore a bit.
Unfortunately, my first directional move was taken as a plot decision
rather than an attempt to get my bearings; promptly I was whisked along
to another event, feeling more confused than ever.

Second, I'd been told up front (in the first scene) how it was all
going to end. That decreased my incentive to replay when I got a
negative ending, since one of two things could happen: either I would
find that it was impossible to avoid that first scene (frustrating), or
I would find that it *was* (illogical and confusing, given the story
set-up).

Re: Carmen Devine:


> In tems of plot CD:ST falls behind as well. Myall sets up a reasonably
> interesting world - mostly cribbed from various genre settings, it seems -
> and then goes nowhere with it.

*Mostly*, though the physical location was new (at least to me). Which
gave me hopes for the game that were generally unfulfilled,
unfortunately.

> _Fight or Flight_ by geelpete

> The opening scene after the prologue introduces the player to Sydney,


> Russell, Katherine, Jason, Chuck and Samantha. They're all having
> conversations and moving around constantly. It's very difficult to keep
> track of who's who, let alone have a conversation with any of them. Various
> information about the relationships between these people comes out, but
> there's too much of it for the player to keep track of.

I agree. I had mixed feelings about it otherwise, too. This was a
pretty accurate portrayal of teenage interaction, but I find awkward
teen flirtations a bit exasperating to be around in real life, and they
annoyed me here, too. Points for realism, but I didn't enjoy it.

Still, it was sufficiently attention-getting that I spent many many
turns hanging out observing and trying to interact with my friends. I'd
heard the weird noise, but I thought that was just a prelude to some
further horrific event. After a long time, I began to wonder when the
horror was going to start happening. Once I looked at the walkthrough
and realized that I had to go perform some trigger actions in order to
make that occur, I lost interest. So I think the pacing is way off here.

Rifflesby

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Nov 20, 2006, 12:22:08 AM11/20/06
to

James Mitchelhill wrote:
> _Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game_ by Riff Connor
> Play time: 45 minutes
> Status: Finished with extensive use of hints.
> Score: 4
>
> _AGEtLRG_ doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is. It's a game
> where you escape the locked room. It has ridiculous puzzles and would be
> near to impossible without hints. It's reasonably funny in places and the
> puzzles are solidly put together. There's one horrible guess-the-verb
> moment.

Out of curiosity, what was it? Band-aids?

James Mitchelhill

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Nov 20, 2006, 12:08:21 PM11/20/06
to

That's the bunny.

On the other hand, I had no trouble at all with the aspirins.

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

unread,
Nov 20, 2006, 3:48:52 PM11/20/06
to
On Sun, Nov 19, 2006 at 06:28:48PM -0800, Emily Short wrote:
[...]

> > _Fight or Flight_ by geelpete
[...]

> Still, it was sufficiently attention-getting that I spent many many
> turns hanging out observing and trying to interact with my friends.
> I'd heard the weird noise, but I thought that was just a prelude to
> some further horrific event. After a long time, I began to wonder when
> the horror was going to start happening. Once I looked at the
> walkthrough and realized that I had to go perform some trigger actions
> in order to make that occur, I lost interest. So I think the pacing is
> way off here.

Yeah... when I first started, I was expecting a thrilling story with
lots of suspense and excitement. Unfortunately, my expectations were all
deflated when I discovered that I could essentially walk around the camp
indefinitely without anything more happening until I did the one thing
the author had preplanned. Given the scenario, I would've expected that
the killer beast wouldn't wait for me to chance upon that action.


QF

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