[Comp98] My Reviews

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Chris Markwyn

Nov 16, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/16/98
All right, since I actually wrote up short reviews this year, I figure I
might as well post 'em. Disclaimer: I wrote these immediately after
playing the game in question for the most part, so none of them are
terribly in depth, and they tend towards the impressionistic rather than
the detailed. Anything that might be found offensive in them was randomly
inserted by autonomous AI's, not by me. I may post more in-depth reviews
of certain games later, but for the moment, this is it.

Well, here goes. In the order I played them:


A short game, relatively inoffensive, and apparently written by a non-native
English speaker, since there were a number of awkward phrasings. A flying
saucer crashes near your house, and you have to go fix it. A few puzzles,
none of note, but none overly difficult. Though I am getting really sick
of having to look under/behind/around/etc. objects to find keys/cards/etc.
There were far too many puzzles in the competition this year that relied
on this sort of thing.

THE ARRIVAL (Score: 6)

Another game where a flying saucer lands nearby, this was redeemed by humor
and a couple of clever puzzles. The problem with THE ARRIVAL, though, is not
that there is anything wrong with it--it is well programmed and humorous--but
that there is nothing outstanding about it. Nothing about the game made me
say, "Wow, that was neat," or presented a new twist on an old standby.
Perfectly competent, but in the end, not memorable.

THE COMMUTE (Score: 3)

One of two games written without a pre-existing authoring system. I have to
confess that I did not finish playing THE COMMUTE. The parser was irritating
and the subject matter was uninteresting to me. While I don't insist that
every game look just like an Infocom game, I would hope that a new interface
would present some new advantages, and I simply found THE COMMUTE to be
difficult to play.


A game heavy on symbolism and metaphysics. The problem with RITUAL is that
there is no underlying sense of structure beneath the metaphysics. Instead
we get a jumble of mythological creatures, clotted prose, and magic burying a
few rather easy puzzles. Perhaps the game is too short to develop a really
systematic metaphysical structure, but some sense of organization might
have helped improve this game.


A poor man's LURKING HORROR or ANCHORHEAD, this game is a mishmash of horror
cliches. It starts out as a hardboiled detective story but quickly falls
apart into a series of find-the-key puzzles. Many of the objects mentioned
are not implemented, and there are a number of typos and dropped periods. The
attempts at humor do not mesh with the attempts at horror, leaving a confused
impression in the player.


This was difficult to score. It succeeds on its own terms, I suppose, but I
felt I had to judge it as a game, and as a game, it fails. It is a series
of multiple choice questions designed to judge the player's qualifications
for a programmer position. The only game-like element is seeing how good
a salary and grade one can get after the test is over. It might be useful
for a human-resource department, but as a game it is a failure.

FIFTEEN (Score: 3)

A not-very-interesting homage to Scott Adam's ADVENTURELAND, it seems to
have been built around an implementation of the classic "15" puzzle in
Inform. One of the puzzles is a decent variant on the "moving-rocks" puzzle
from SPELLBREAKER, but the rest are unexciting. In all, not very exciting.


A clever game, in which you are an adventurer trying to get out of a Zork-like
cave after plundering treasure, slaying monsters, and so forth. All that
blocks you from leaving is a troll... The game's main conceit (hidden in
the title) is good, and the puzzles are in general clever, though a couple
seemed less than inspired. As an example of the recent spate of games that
function as revisionist versions of classics like ZORK and ADVENTURE, such
as ZERO-SUM GAME and SHERBET, this game is a competent and mostly
enjoyable addition to this trend.


One of the more original games of the competition, I did not manage to reach
the better endings that seem to exist (at least from a txd dump of the z-code.)
But it gets points for originality from me. It's not giving away too much to
reveal the basic story, which involves a man named Karl, his pet pride of
lions, and a lot of foggy streets...CATTUS ATROX creates, at times, a real
atmosphere of suspense and dread, and the NPCs, though not extremely fleshed
out or interactive, are certainly memorable. Especially the lions. The
problem with the game, however, is that it doesn't do much with its originality.
It sets up a situation and then fails to explore it very far. It is above-
average in originality, but without anything of significance beyond mere
originality. (Note: after I wrote the above, I did manage to reach what I
guess is the "optimum" ending, using the walkthrough that was provided
after the start of the comeptition. But this didn't significantly change
my opinion of the game.)


Another of the story-less games of the competition, this is nothing but an
exercise to see if a game could be written entirely in one room. Yes, it can.
The room is filled with puzzles, some better than others. None of them were
truly outstanding, and none terribly original. The replay value is nil, and
so the value of the game is entirely dependent on how much you enjoy this
sort of thing. I was reminded of Gareth Rees's MAGIC TOYSHOP from the first
competition, which I thought had better puzzles. Myself, I do not really
enjoy solving puzzles for puzzles's sake, so this game felt like more of a
chore than recreation.


Even shorter than DILLY, this is again a one-room game, only this has only
one puzzle. Since I'd seen it before, it was remarkably easy to solve, and
so I did not get a whole lot from SPOTLIGHT. I gave it a 3 for the creative
methods of suicide included in the game.


Apparently a learning-Inform exercise for the author, this game is a odd
combination of bits of Zork, Adventure, and the Inform Designer's Manual.
Not really a game, as such, but more like the Museum of Inform. There is
an interesting solution to most of the puzzles that I found to be the best
part of the game. INFORMATORY is one of those entries (like Andrew Plotkin's
LISTS AND LISTS) that is hard to score; I gave it a 5, since it is below-
average as a game but above-average on its own terms.

THE CITY (Score: 6)

An above-average experiment, this is a surreal little game vaguely reminiscent
of the TV show "The Prisoner," or the short story "The Squirrel Cage" by
Thomas Disch. It has some rather effective technical tricks and actually
has a thematic structure that supports these tricks. Quite succesful at
creating a consistent atmosphere, it doesn't pursue the implications of
its setting very far, but is still refreshingly different and tries to avoid
treading over the same old ground. It does fall into a recent group of
games, notably C.E. Forman's DELUSIONS and Andrew Plotkin's SPIDER AND WEB,
that use the same basic technique of repetition. THE CITY is not as good
or as deep (in terms of gameplay) as either of those games, but it uses the
technique to reasonable ends.

PHOTOPIA (Score: 9)

Coming down firmly on the "story" side of the puzzle/story dichotomy (which
is, of course, a false one), PHOTOPIA tells one of the best stories of the
competition. This is a piece of i-f that succeeds in nearly every way,
using the limitations and conventions of the genre as strengths, and telling
a story with actual real people in it. The various threads of the narrative,
told by several different characters, mesh together beautifully. The few
puzzles that exist are easily solved, and even this ease fits into the
story of the game. The colored text is not just a gimmick, but I think
succeeds in enhancing the story. PHOTOPIA is one of the best games I've
played recently, not just in the competition. This is the type of fiction
that points the way to the future of i-f, using the strengths of the medium
to tell a story that could not be told in another form.


A clever game, originally intended for the infamous Chicken Competition
sponsored by Adam Cadre, but short enough for the competition. There's not
a whole lot to it, but it cleverly parodies a certain genre of movie
and is humorous enough to get an above-average score. It is also told
as if the player were watching the action on a movie screen, which is
an interesting technique.


A game reconstructed from the Infocom transcript that accompanied PLANETFALL,
so this isn't technically an original game. The puzzles are fairly simple
and I solved the game without any hints. The author promises to expand the
game with new puzzles later, but at the moment, this is nothing special.


At first I thought, Oh God, another trapped in the boring office game. I've
worked in offices. I don't want to play games about them. But the character
seemed interesting, so I kept playing...and damn, this was actually a good
game! Quirky, vaguely horrific, and the postscript at the end asked some
questions that I hope will actually turn up in discussion on raif after the
competition is over (Michael, enjoy those peanuts!) This is a game that, like
several other competition games, had an original idea, but unlike the
majority of the games, LITTLE BLUE MEN actually did something with that idea.
Plus it had a big ol' heaping serving of ambiguity, which always gets points
with me. Oh yeah, and the puzzles were good, too. It made me think some
after I was done, and most games don't do that.


All right. I'll admit it. Rybread Celsius does nothing for me. The typos
and misspellings, the crazed logic, the insane plots, it all just drives
me up the wall. The game has no point, it isn't funny, and the only reason
I didn't give it a lower score is that I hate to give anything a one.

--Chris Markwyn

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