Score: TEN. Not a perfect game, but I loved it.
THE DJINNI CHRONICLES
I keep wanting to call this a small game. It's certainly one of
the smaller games in the comp byte-wise, makes use of maps that are
wonderfully free from sprawl, is written in a pleasingly spare style...
you might say that the game has undercurrents of smallness. But one
aspect of the game is far from small: there is a *ton* of imagination
crammed into this thing. It's a gem.
I dig games with their own physics, or metaphysics, so long as I
know what the ground rules are; THE DJINNI CHRONICLES sets forth a
metaphysics that has a heck of a lot to it -- the three types of
Servants, Purpose and the laws governing its expenditure and
containment, the manipulation of undercurrents, San and Ebo and Aje,
the list goes on -- but yet it was presented in such a way that it
flowed effortlessly into my store of knowledge, never confusing, never
awkward or forced, and always fascinating.
The story is terrific, and I loved going about my djinnistical
duties... combine what is for me a really appealing premise with
first-rate execution and you've got yourself a great game. It's not
quite a ten -- the verse in the last section was something less than
poetry, and the ending fell a bit flat -- but all in all, I had a blast.
Want some Catcher in the Rye? Course ya do.
So, here we have a short story with some minimal amount of
interactivity. As a story, it's a huge success. The plot is just
perfect, with its neat little bookends, and the characterization is
top-notch -- though of course it's easier to do top-notch
characterization when the author controls every action the character
in question takes. RAMESES is also a triumph of voice, with narration
that rarely rings even the slightest bit false; I'm not the sort of
person to forget that I'm reading a book or playing a computer game,
but I did manage to keep forgetting that the protagonist of the game
I was playing was a construction of an author who might well be very
different, and not a real person writing an Inform game as a cri de
coeur. (Hmm... I wonder how much of a role the Irish phrasings played
in selling the voice for me. Would the same story cast in the vocal
mannerisms of a kid from LA have been as successful, or would it have
struck me as banal?) The story also succeeds in evoking real emotion:
when Wayne started destroying Paddy's portfolio, I was ready to hop on
a plane to Dublin, track him down and punch his teeth in. As fiction
goes, RAMESES is first-rate.
Whether it's first-rate as *interactive* fiction is a different
story. When you can finish a game and get most of the experience by
typing >Z repeatedly, you have to wonder whether the author really
picked the right medium. However, in the final analysis I think the
interactivity is sufficient to qualify RAMESES as genuine IF. Here's
* If this had been static fiction, the author would have had to
choose where the info-dumps about the various characters should go.
In IF, players can choose for themselves what they'd like some extra
information about, and when. This is a more important consideration
than one might think. Think about it in terms of film. Films are
considered, at least under the auteur theory, to be the works of not
the screenwriters, but the directors. And the director decides not
what is going on in the story -- that's the screenwriter's job -- but
how the audience is to *look* at the story, what the camera is to point
at from moment to moment. In this sense, while the *writer* of RAMESES
may be an author who's confined the story to a very tight set of rails,
the *director* is the player. And from this perspective, I'd say the
power balance in the collaboration between author and player is not as
one-sided as it may at first seem.
* Another way of looking at the role of the player is this. I've
had people I know with social anxiety (ie, shyness) tell me that
oftentimes it feels as if their true selves are saying, "Hey, go talk
to that person over there!" or "Here's a funny response to what that
guy just said -- c'mon, say it!" but that some foreign agent vetoes
the idea. In this sense, one might say that the player, who suggests
dialogue to say or actions to take, and Alex, who rejects all these
suggestions, together comprise a single character with this disorder.
This is an interesting enough gambit that I'm willing to put up with
it, at least this time out. I don't know whether I'd be quite so
tolerant of such unresponsive player-characters in the future, though.
One final note: some have drawn a parallel between this game and
last year's A MOMENT OF HOPE, which I pretty much despised. I can
see how one might make the comparison: both stories are on rails and
involve fairly pathetic, emotionally stunted characters. The difference
is that RAMESES is a masterful dissection of such a character,
highlighting the feebleness of his rationales for his inaction; A MOMENT
OF HOPE, on the other hand, was a creepy play for sympathy.
Plus, RAMESES contains no renaissance flutes. It's win-win.
Score: EIGHT. I didn't love it the way I loved MY ANGEL, and I didn't
enjoy it the way I enjoyed THE DJINNI CHRONICLES, so I couldn't bring
myself to give it a 9 or 10. But 3rd out of 53 ain't bad.
I'm tempted to try to place this game in the context of the author's
other work, but since these reviews may arrive before the revelation of
the author's identity, I'll shelve those remarks. (But c'mon, isn't it
obvious? The radio algorithm alone... well, there'll be time enough for
So, anyway -- a fun story, with images that stuck with me long after
my frustration with touchy event triggers had faded.
Score: a high SEVEN.
DINNER WITH ANDRE
Sort of the mirror image of SHADE -- whereas SHADE struck me as a
trifle while I was playing it but stuck with me long thereafter, DINNER
WITH ANDRE was sort of like a fluffy pastry: marvelous while I was
actually playing it, but evanescent. This isn't meant as a put-down --
I *like* fluffy pastry. The game was funny, with snarky responses to
just about everything, and while the waiter puzzles were a bit overly
fussy about the timing, I didn't really mind it too much.
I also have a note here saying "toilet disambiguation problems."
While referring to a small bug I found in the game, I believe this is
also the politically correct term for "not potty-trained."
Hey, check it out -- I finally found an Ian Finley game I like.
Though there are still slips here and there into the sort of devices
that make 9th-grade English teachers swoon -- "silent as a seagull"? --
they were infrequent enough that I didn't mind them, and for the most
part the writing is fine. And the setting is great -- maybe a bit
derivative of 1984 and the like, but hey, I like 1984, and the little
details like the pedestrians' dust masks sold it. (The Governmental
Enthusiasm Test, on the other hand... I mean, I had to *take* a
corporate enthusiasm test when I applied for a summer job in '96 (and
flunked it.) One of the nice things about the public sector is that
for government wages, they don't expect you to be happy.)
Other stuff: didn't care for the "you're on Candid Camera"-type
ending, but the puzzles were mostly fine. And I didn't really get a
whole lot out of the multimedia stuff, but it didn't detract. Overall,
a solid game. Kongrats. Now all we need is to get Buckner & Garcia
back together to record "Ackmaan Fever"...
I actually did this a couple times. "Constrained passageway"-style
alliteration exercises, I mean. I wrote a letter to Marvel Age Magazine
in which every word started with the letter M... it got printed in issue
#77, if I recall correctly. Then the editor-in-chief of my school paper
bet me lunch that I couldn't pull off a 48-line feature in which every
word started with M; "Miscellany: My Miserable Memoirs" appeared in the
April 1989 issue, but I never did receive that lunch.
This game doesn't seem to be much more than a puzzle box, but since
the puzzles were to my taste, that didn't bother me. In fact, I sort
of liked the fact that I could boot up the game, play through a couple
of rooms, and turn it off again at my leisure without having to worry
about "finding my place" or anything like that. Fun stuff.
Score: solid submission, so slightly sub-SEVEN.
BEING ANDREW PLOTKIN
Derivative? Yes -- it doesn't just borrow the premise of BEING JOHN
MALKOVICH, but many of the peripheral elements as well. On rails? You
bet, at least until the climax. But it's pretty amusing, and while
"pretty amusing" isn't quite enough to make it to the A list, this one
| You say, "Details not important. I have a mission to destroy evil
| inky says, "probably some sort of foaming cleanser is in order"
I laughed loudly enough to frighten people in Canada.
Also, this is yet another game (SHADE being the first) that tries to
sucker people into thinking it was written by me. Which is cool,
because it means that if I ever do enter the comp again, I can make my
identity clear as day and no one will believe it.
Score: a low SEVEN.
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
web site: http://adamcadre.ac
And a couple minutes after I posted this, Zarf revealed himself. So,
a little bit of elaboration...
> (But c'mon, isn't it obvious? The radio algorithm alone... well,
> there'll be time enough for that later.)
The connection I was making here was between the radio algorithm in
SHADE and the curse-generator in the opening scene of SO FAR. Maybe
it's a fairly common trick, but that was the association I made.
> So, anyway -- a fun story, with images that stuck with me long after
> my frustration with touchy event triggers had faded.
To elaborate just a bit: the bulk of the game, inside the apartment,
I found interesting but not really enthralling. However, the (hmm, I'll
try to avoid spoilers here) other place I found myself visualizing in
vivid detail, which I usually don't do. And the final line of dialogue
was... what's the word? Chilling? Not exactly. Powerful? Closer, but
still not quite it. Wait, I've got it: "perfect."
> Want some Catcher in the Rye? Course ya do.
> * If this had been static fiction, the author would have had to
> choose where the info-dumps about the various characters should go.
> In IF, players can choose for themselves what they'd like some extra
> information about, and when. This is a more important consideration
> than one might think. Think about it in terms of film. Films are
> considered, at least under the auteur theory, to be the works of not
> the screenwriters, but the directors. And the director decides not
> what is going on in the story -- that's the screenwriter's job -- but
> how the audience is to *look* at the story, what the camera is to point
> at from moment to moment. In this sense, while the *writer* of RAMESES
> may be an author who's confined the story to a very tight set of rails,
> the *director* is the player. And from this perspective, I'd say the
> power balance in the collaboration between author and player is not as
> one-sided as it may at first seem.
I like this analysis a lot. It puts into words what I was fuzzily
trying to think about.
> * Another way of looking at the role of the player is this. I've
> had people I know with social anxiety (ie, shyness) tell me that
> oftentimes it feels as if their true selves are saying, "Hey, go talk
> to that person over there!" or "Here's a funny response to what that
> guy just said -- c'mon, say it!" but that some foreign agent vetoes
> the idea. In this sense, one might say that the player, who suggests
> dialogue to say or actions to take, and Alex, who rejects all these
> suggestions, together comprise a single character with this
This puts into words what I put into words, and then deleted from my
review because I didn't want to get that far into spoilerdom. :-)
> This is an interesting enough gambit that I'm willing to put up with
> it, at least this time out. I don't know whether I'd be quite so
> tolerant of such unresponsive player-characters in the future, though.
Yeah. I'm glad that it was done right the first time.
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the