[COMP99] Duncan's Thoughts and a Poll

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Second April

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Nov 17, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/17/99
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I'm sending full-length reviews of a few of this year's best to SPAG. Some
other thoughts in the meantime:

1. Congratulations to Laura--proof that persistence in IF authorship is
rewarded!

2. I was one of the few dissenters on the merits of Photopia last year; I
didn't think it worked all that well as a game, though I found it engaging
as fiction. In light of the number of entries that tried to achieve
Photopia-like effects this year and didn't do it very well, though, I've
gained a renewed appreciation for Photopia in retrospect--it did what it
was trying to do, which is more than I can say for some of its imitators.
It's all the more paintful because, well, I don't mind so much reading
through a not-very-interactive game if Adam writes it, because Adam knows
what he's doing with prose. Whereas...well, you see where I'm heading. In
short, though I'm still not a Photopia enthusiast, I prefer the original
to most of what it's spawned.

2. Maybe I'm getting jaded, but the top of my scale seems to be sinking.
1997: one 10, three 9s, three 8s, three 7s. 1998: four 9s, three 8s, three
7s. 1999: 1 9, five 8s, four 7s. Eventually, I'll have everything in the
4-6 range.

3. Not many "wow" moments for me this year--a few in Hunter, but not many
that I can think of beyond that. Mostly, when I enjoyed something, I
recognized solid work--but I rarely, how shall I say, caught my breath and
forgot where I was. Again, maybe I'm getting jaded, but I still remember
judging the 1997 comp--fourth on my list was something called Sunset Over
Savannah, and I loaded it up late on a Saturday afternoon with a college
football game playing on TV. Two hours later, I looked up and realized
that the game was over and that I had absolutely no idea what had happened
or who had won. _That's_ a "wow" experience.

(I'm sure Ivan will use that as an advertising blurb: "Sunset Over
Savannah: 4 out of 5 reviewers say it's more interesting than college
football.")

4. On a similar "wow" note; Adam's favorable review of Chicks seems at
odds with the prevailing view, and while I don't share Adam's opinion, I
think I understand where his review comes from. When something about a
game grabs me and pulls me in early on, I'm reluctant to admit that the
game didn't live up to its initial promise. With Purple last year, for
example, I knew, intuitively, that it wasn't all that solid a game--but I
gave it a 7 because there was one moment early on that just transfixed me,
and from then on I was hell-bent on giving the game a favorable review.
With Chicks--well, there are well-done turns of phrase, I admit, and there
are some rather badly done ones too, I'd say, but I can see myself being
captivated by some of the good writing and saying, dammit, I don't care if
there are multiple genres here and they're all poorly done, I can't rate
down a game that made me say on a few separate occasions "hey, cool,
that's well written."

At least, that's my take. For the record, _nothing_ about Chicks
captivated me: the conversation trees seemed broken--I kept running out of
things to say at weird times--I hated the PC, and the event triggers were
screwed up in the graveyard in a way that prevented me from finishing it.
I gave it a 2. But to each his own.

5. I liked Adam's comment about e.e. cummings and For a Change, and I had
the same reaction--specifically, the cummings poem "anyone lived in a
pretty how town." The reader's initial reaction is "what?", but read over
the poem a few times and the syntax falls into place, enough that you
hardly notice it's nonstandard.

6. Did anyone bother to finish SNOSAE? I did, God help me. Not only isn't
this a two-hour game, it's barely a six-hour game; after a while, I went
straight to the hints upon entering every room, and it still took
me--well, I dunno, but quite a while. If this isn't the longest comp entry
ever, it should be. It definitely should be. The ending is kind of cool,
but chances are that you won't have much patience left by the time you get
there--lots of absurd puzzles, including one that's so badly bugged that
the game becomes unsolvable if you're not in a specific room at a specific
time when a specific surprise event happens. Argh. It doesn't help that
changes in the environment--attaching two objects, say--aren't included in
the room description, so if you're building a complicated device, which
you have to do in a couple of puzzles, it's up to your memory to keep
track of what you've done so far.

7. The competition still serves quite well--better than ever, maybe--as a
forum for experimental IF, which was part of why it was begun; to that
end, while I can say that a bunch of experiments weren't roaring
successes, I can't fault the authors for trying. To that end, reviewers,
remember that some of the authors were straying from the beaten track; by
all means say whether they succeed, but don't blast them for doing
something new. (OTOH, some of the authors didn't stray at all, and I have
much fewer qualms about blasting them. ;) )

8. People have complained, justifiably to some extent, about untested
games, and while I'll echo that complaint, I also think that the low end
of the competition has gotten much better in recent years. Very few
entries this year didn't seem to have been tested at all, and not too many
more seemed to have had minimal testing. (Whereas, a few years ago, there
were a good, oh, say, 10 entries that had pretty clearly never encountered
any sort of tester.) Thanks, Liza and Ryan!

9. The fifth year of the competition seems a good time to look back, and
so, a poll: what are the top ten games in the history of the competition?
Consider later releases if applicable--I never played the competition
release of Delusions, for example, since I wasn't around that year, but I
can still judge its merits on the whole.

My picks:

10. The Edifice: the first and third levels are competent and well put
together, but the second level is very nearly a masterpiece.
9. Bear's Night Out: still the exception to the rule that unexciting
settings make for an unexciting game. Very, very thoroughly done.
8. Small World: I'm considering the most recent release here, which
eliminated some irritating features (notably the gravity problem).
Wonderfully realized, a wealth of humor, plenty of clever puzzles.
7. Little Blue Men: the most twisted comp entry yet, I think, but also one
of the most innovative. Mixes farce and dystopia to great effect.
6. Meteor...: both an homage to and an improvement upon the Zork universe,
with atmosphere as good as any of Infocom's works.
5. Hunter, in Darkness: no cave has ever been so well rendered, or taken
such a toll on the player.
4. Delusions: at the forefront of the research-experiment IF trend, filled
with more ideas and complex imagery than all of its imitators combined,
arguably...
3. Babel: ...but this one is still the more chilling playing experience;
some of the writing is over the top, but most is nicely crafted.
2. Change in the Weather: frustrating but rewarding, with skillful writing
and a nice magic-realist feel.
1. Sunset Over Savannah: see above; the only 10 I've given so far. I don't
expect to have a more mesmerizing IF experience.

Honorable mentions: Fear, For a Change, Zero Sum Game, Kissing the
Buddha's Feet, Mother Loose, Photopia, Tapestry, She's Got a Thing...,
Muse, Uncle Zebulon's Will, Enlightenment, Glowgrass, A Day for Soft Food,
Ralph, Arrival.

Thoughts, picks?

Duncan Stevens
d-st...@nwu.edu
773-728-9721

Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from her hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do,
"Look what I have!--And these are all for you."

--Edna St. Vincent Millay


Second April

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Nov 17, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/17/99
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Forgot the most important thing:

Many thanks to Stephen for his organizational skills and his patience! How
he finds the time to play the part he does in the IF community and still
work on getting a degree, I just dunno.

Paul O'Brian

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Nov 17, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/17/99
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On Wed, 17 Nov 1999, Second April wrote:

> 9. The fifth year of the competition seems a good time to look back, and
> so, a poll: what are the top ten games in the history of the competition?

Well, the best answer I can come up with for this is to look at the
consolidated score list from my 96-99 reviews. This leaves out 1995 games,
but I don't think any of those games would have made my top ten anyway.
Weather, while wonderfully written, just drove me insane with its puzzle.
The other highlights from that year (Toyshop, Zebulon, The One) I enjoyed,
but weren't quite top ten material. Here, then, is my top ten:

Title Score Year
----- ----- ----
Exhibition 9.9 99
Photopia 9.9 98
Hunter, In Darkness 9.8 99
Babel 9.8 97
Delusions 9.8 96
The Arrival 9.6 98
Sunset Over Savannah 9.6 97
Glowgrass 9.4 97
Kissing The Buddha's Feet 9.4 96
Tapestry 9.4 96

Note that the games whose scores are tied are listed in order of year, not
any other sort of preference. In other words, I don't think of Exhibition
as the *best* game -- it's tied with Photopia.

--
Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
"Sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears."
-- Paul Simon


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