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Matthew Clemson

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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Hmmm. I started out with such good intentions, but I only got through
10 of the comp games this year - although that's still a fair wodge
more than any other year, this being the first time I've even come
close to judging. I can't fail to agree that there were indeed a good
crop of games this year; I was even pleasantly surprised (although not
overwhelmingly so) by some I wasn't expecting to like.

Without further ado, I'll paste my review file. All these were written
more-or-less immediately after I played the game, with occasional
tweaks.

Minor spoilers ahead.

Reviewed games:
Infil-Traitor, Void: Corporation, Planet Of Infinite Minds, Escape
from Crulistan, Prodly the Puffin, Shade, Marooned, Metamorphoses,
Rameses, Kaged.

---

Mini-reviews for IFComp 2k

1. Infil-Traitor (5/10/00)

Aargh! The first game I get from the randomiser, and it's the BASIC
one... must... resist... prejudices...

Actually, it's not too bad. No real glaring bugs, although
occasionally matters get confusing; it's sometimes not clear that
you've solved a puzzle, and 'cue' not being recognised, while 'pool
cue' is... For a game that's out to provide the *feel* of something
from the eighties, it works very well indeed.

Some nice non-winning 'solutions', too, giving it a more story-based
feel... things like the realisation that you can't win, so suicide is
preferable to capture, that sort of thing. I got the impression there
was an alternative solution to the time-limited problem that's the
only likely cause of death in the middle portion of the game, but I
must have missed the precise syntax for it; I thought mixing soda and
vinegar in a jar and then closing the lid would create quite a big
bang, but apparently not.

The problem is that it's just so, well, bland - indeed, it's so very
early eighties - but if that's when it was written, or if that's the
feel they're trying to get across, they've succeeded - which makes me
reluctant to mark it too low. I'll go for 5 - taking the game entirely
at face value - although I feel that that's a bit harsh.

I don't believe this was created in 1982, though. I get the impression
this is a *very* elaborate pseudonymous approach. The bigfoot
expedition mentioned on the webpage, multiple endings being a rare
concept back then (Er, I think), the fact that everything in the
backstory of the history of the game seems a little *too* explained,
the fact that XYZZY gives a response, when I think homages like that
are a bit more recent... Maybe I'm just a suspicious pain in the neck
:-)

Rating: 5

2. Void: Corporation (8/10/00)

And now I get the AGT one. Comp00 *HATES* me. Ah, well...

Oh. Actually, this isn't *bad*, either. It's well-written, on the
whole, and it's got a fairly coherent universe, although it does
suffer somewhat from objects having illogical start locations. Puzzles
are simple to the point where this could almost be called puzzle-less
IF.

However, it's not good. AGT's flaws rear their ugly heads once more,
and there are some very questionable design decisions; random attacks,
for instance - not a game element I'm a great fan of - and to add to
that, the fact that after attacking you drop your weapon...
Occasionally the character comments on things he shouldn't know about,
or has a room description take the place of a train of thought - not a
good idea if the character follows that train of thought more than
once.

So, what is there to say about this? It's small, it's well written -
but it's buggy - although the author deserves credit, it's not as bad
as it potentially could be - flawed, and not well thought-through.
Another 5, with a proviso that I'd like to see what else could come
out of this universe.

Rating: 5

3. Planet of the Infinite Minds (10/10/00)

Er. Um. It's... odd, there's no denying that. It's generally
bug-and-typo free, but it's resoundingly... odd. It's what I'd imagine
a Rybread Celsius game to be like if it was done, well, right. Some
great puzzles, although there's rather a lot of
guess-the-author's-mind - I had to use hints several times - we're
back to the oddness again; indeed, parts of it kept reminding me of
Nord and Bert. Indeed, like N&B, it's at times laugh-out-loud funny -
the problems relating to the end of the universe spring to mind.

Some puzzles, OTOH, are really ingenious, although they are, again,
sometimes let down by the guess-the-author's-thoughts aspects; I
particularly (gasp) *enjoyed the maze*; it was a different approach to
any I'd known, and worked well. Mind you, most people would argue that
it's not a maze :-).

There was one puzzle towards the end which was a little out-of-sorts,
though; and the author admits it in the walkthrough. All-in-all, I
didn't dock a point for it, since I enjoyed the rest of the game so
much; other people might be tempted to, and I'd understand it if they
did. In retrospect, looking at the walkthrough, it's at least nice
that they allowed a cleaner verb than the one I actually used, which
probably says more about my mind than that of the author :-)

It's a little too enthusiastic with 'last lousy points', but they do
seem at least vaguely logical; OTOH, the entire response to Xyzzy is a
whole new and intelligent approach that I've not encountered before. I
didn't enjoy the game from the challenge and puzzle aspect - but from
the entertainment aspect, I was enthralled.

Rating: 7

4. Escape from Crulistan (11/10/00)

Well, this is the first one I've given up on - it's too difficult and
linear, despite what the HELP response gives. In short, I didn't like
it. It made too many demands of the player, I felt, while offering
insufficient information to go on. It wasn't too obvious what was
required and what was not, and I fought against a cruel parser more
than once (PUT LADDER OVER GORGE did not work, PUT LADDER ON GORGE was
what was required). There were one or two minor bugs, such as when I
put something in the sink in my cell, I couldn't then get it out of
there!

I got stuck at a point which appeared to be close to the end, when
some rebels wanted a password so I could get past some rocks to head
onwards; however, I couldn't work out where to find the password, or
if I was supposed to deduce it, or find some other solution.

To its credit, I *did* appreciate how there were several solutions to
the first major problem; I found two, there may have been more - and
the humour in the game earnt a smile occasionally, but no belly-laughs
like POTIM gained. The Darwin Awards for creative suicides also were
worthwhile. These factors, while beneficial, didn't hold my attention
for long enough to make me last the full two hours, or earn it any
extra points from the 4 it'd get. Not being a great player of IF, a
walkthrough might have pushed it up a mark, but that's just me.

Rating: 4

5. Prodly the Puffin (12/10/00)

You know you're in for something good when, before the game even
starts, you are laughing out loud at the ABOUT section.

And it carries through. I laughed quite a few times during this,
although some design choices didn't make a great deal of sense until I
beat the game and read the Author's notes; since it's a parody, many
odd factors made more sense, although I'm still not entirely sure I
liked some of the directions the game went; having read the cartoon
strip it's based off since playing it, it makes sense that they're
necessary, but still... Then again, no-one actually dies, I suppose.
Well, not permanently, anyway. Nevertheless, knowing it's a parody in
advance may have made me view it in a different light.

In design terms, the puzzles were on the whole logical, with the one
illogical one becoming easily apparent over time. In-game hints were
excellent, on the whole; if you weren't quite syntactically correct,
chances are you'd be given a better way of phrasing it. You had to use
a nice mix of information from different sources, including the
aforementioned ABOUT section. I also *really* liked the aspect that
you could ASK yourself about things, as a sort of inbuilt hint system,
although it wasn't a great help, since Prodly... well, he tends to
spout off about just about anything, really, not always in greatly
helpful directions.

Hmmm, what else. Oh, yes. The response to XYZZY had me bursting out
laughing, and in retrospect, it's more funny - but to the credit of
the authors, it's not actually as alienating as some in-jokey games
can be. That's not a bad feat, really.

Rating: 7

6. Shade (12/10/00)

Ampe R. Sand. Yeah, right. Pseudonym time!

Sand, mind you, is something of a recurring feature in this game.
Rather a lot of it. This is really more a puzzle-less work; there are
a few simple puzzles, it's not quite as puzzleless as Photopia, but,
well, there's not a lot. This is just a story about someone going on
holiday... but with layers and layers of metaphor. And sand. And sandy
metaphors. After an out-and-out silly game (Now awaiting the deluge of
emails about the hidden metaphor for life in Prodly), a quiet, subtle
(Well, at first), meaningful game was effective.

What can I say against it? Well, I didn't *QUITE* get it, in the end,
which probably hindered the mark a bit, and the recurring theme became
a bit too recurring... I was left with a feeling that I may have
missed something major, since the ending just tailed off,
unsatisfactorily. I was left with a nagging feeling that 'The only way
to win is not to play' was something that was supposed to tie in with
the figure, or something... but no confirmation either way just ended
up with me looking bemused. Ah, well. 8 seems fair, I think.

So, it's a pseudonymous approach... who might it be? Well, the lack of
a response to SCORE suggests to me that it might be Mr Plotkin,
attempting something a bit different from his usual evil
puzzlefests...

Rating: 8

7. Marooned (13/10/00)

Oh dear. This is my first encounter with Adrift, and I'm a little
worried that it's put me off reviewing the other Adrift game fairly; I
didn't enjoy this one, unfortunately.

Firstly, we have bugs. Nothing fatal, but there were a great many
confusing incorrect responses; for instance, we have SHAKE CAN giving
'Ha, as if I'd tell you', and HIT FLINT AGAINST CAN giving 'Because
that's just the way it is'; I'm guessing some sort of
misinterpretation of 'can', but it's a pain, nonetheless.

Next, the design isn't great; the island's made up of too many
apparently useless locations, so there's a lot of traipsing back and
forth; add to this the item limit, and you have a pretty hefty
problem. The diary, rather than being readable, is a container of five
pages, each of which is readable instead - but only when the diary has
been opened. Somewhat more complicated than necessary?

There are only a couple of puzzles that need to be solved to beat the
game, although there are a lot of spare points available for general
'survival' things; the walkthrough only covers the necessary ones, and
those are just about all I could cope with; guess-the-authors
intention appeared to be rife, since making a fire out of driftwood
and the map and lighting it with a spark from the flint - what I
*wanted* to do - was not allowed, whereas the rather more difficult to
grasp burning-tyres fire was. Mind you, having never been shipwrecked
myself, perhaps tyres are rather easier to get hold of in general than
I supposed.

I'm coming across as being a little too harsh; the intention to write
a good work is there, and I like the *idea* behind getting extra
points for general survivally things, and parts of the text are quite
evocative; A 4, then.

A final note: I tried not to be influenced too much by the fact that I
didn't get on with parts of the interpreter; however, I was fighting
against it sometimes.

Rating: 4

8. Metamorphoses (15/10/00)

What do we have here? Some excellent concepts in object manipulation,
that's what. But we don't just have that; there's a pretty good work
around it.

Let's talk about the first of those; this game has some truly
ingenious gadgets in it. Stuff I've certainly never seen before -
those gadgets, beside having must have made the game a programming
nightmare (Congratulations to the author; it's impressive, considering
all the interactions I encountered actually gave sensible,
non-generic-sounding responses. A real feat). Also, the puzzles using
said gadgets make perfect sense; while I had to glance at the
walkthrough once or twice, once I'd understood the concepts behind the
game it was completely logical.

The game itself, well; as I said, the puzzles are on the whole
sensible; they tend to consist of 'work out the problem; work out how
to get the object to solve the problem' - this took a bit of working
out as a concept, and sometimes it's not entirely clear what the
problem is or why the solution object you've come up with isn't
correct

The plot - there are two universes involved; the game universe, and
the background universe. The former evokes much imagery, but nothing
is explained; ultimately, this style adds more than detracts from the
game. The background universe is more fleshed-out, and the choice of
endings depending on what endings you find or how you treat the
background discoveries is a nice touch; I got three of them. It's
worth pointing out that parts of it reminded me somewhat of Zork:
Nemesis, stylistically in particular, although it's easily different
enough to not be a derivative work.

Oh, finally, a word must be said on the writing. It's not only
excellent, it's also thorough; there were only three times in the game
during natural play that I can recall getting a 'You don't need to
refer to that in the course of the game" from an EXAMINE. Everything
else was fleshed out very fully with layers and layers of detail given
depending on how deeply you examined things; very impressive.

I'm toying between a 9 and a 10 here, and I'm not sure which to go
for. Let's cover the negative parts briefly, and then weigh them up:
First, the object manipulation is a great concept, but as I said
above, sometimes the puzzles were a little too unclear; I had some
trouble with the 'Water' puzzle, for instance, because I thought that
*I* was supposed to go down on the hook - but that's more my fault;
indeed, the multiple solutions I discovered afterwards (er, for other
puzzles; I didn't find any for that specific one) highlighted just how
much attention had been paid to allowing for the players thought
processes - but hinting at a solution was less common. Another slight
problem is the fact that there was a niggling bug I encountered; after
enlarging the workbox a few times, I couldn't then shrink it again -
but that's understandable, considering the amount of interactions that
must have been coded. Finally, the description of the grating wasn't
clear that it could be unlocked...

...but I'm dredging the bottom of the barrel here. I can't fault this
game much at all. A well-deserved 10.

Rating: 10

9. Rameses (16/10/00)

I saw the opening paragraph, and instantly thought I wouldn't like
this one.

I thought the same when seeing the opening paragraph of Photopia.

Funny how things work out, eh?

This is the most Photopia-like game yet; it even lifts some code from
it (The conversation engine) - so it's clear that this is a
puzzle-less story-based game from the outset; but it's a very
different game. It's got quite a few deeply unlikeable characters in
it, and I was even left uncertain about whether I liked *my* character
throughout.

This does bring up another point; your character is *not* you, in
this; you're pressed into the role, which many people dislike -
however, there is some very nice breaking of the fourth wall in the
game, where the character addresses you directly, and at one point,
commented on precisely what I was thinking about at the time - a move
which shocked me, to say the least! Anyway, despite being forced into
this mould, these stylistic choices result in more of a feel that
you're advising a character who has a mind of their own, rather than
controlling yourself; an awkward concept, but one which is effective
if it's executed well, and here, it's executed well.

The responses to strange suggestions is also worthy of mention; a lot
of incorrect inputs, sensible or not, earned a response which was
worthy of a smile or two; TALK TO ALEX being one I liked, and both the
responses to SCORE...

What else is there? I didn't find more than one ending, although I was
left with a vivid feeling that there should be one; part of me felt
that the 'objective' of the game should be to convince Alex to be more
strongly willed - but if that was at all possible, I couldn't achieve
it. This did leave me a little dissatisfied by the ending; but then,
the ending seemed to conflict with itself, and I was left completely
uncertain as to what was supposed to have happened.

...despite this confusion - possibly more my fault than the games' - I
really enjoyed it. The characters were well fleshed-out, and I really
felt for some while loathing others with a passion. It's a
well-written story - rather like Photopia, in fact, although not quite
reaching the dizzying heights of that effort. 8, I think.

Rating: 8

10. Kaged (18/10/00)

Wow.

I really liked Babel, so I came into this being slightly predisposed
to liking it. Still, I wasn't expecting *this*. The puzzles were
sometimes a bit confusing, but the plot was totally and utterly
engaging, with a nice selection of endings too - and I appreciated the
fact that the ending which was, to me, most satisfactory wasn't the
'obvious' one - the one the walkthrough told you about. The music
included set the scene very nicely, although the pictures were little
more than confusing - having said that, chances are I (once again)
missed the point.

Rating: 10

---

Er, yes. That really is all I wrote for Kaged. It was at about that
point where I ran out of new and interesting things to say. It was a
game I struggled to describe at all. Oops...

Anyway, yes. My first time judging, and I totally enjoyed it. Perhaps
I can put a bit more work in next year - after all, this year I was
*so* disappointed about not getting to 'Being Andrew Plotkin'...

--
---------|---------|---------|---------|---------|---------|---------|
-Matt

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