[comp00] buzzard reviews (very long)

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Sean T Barrett

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Nov 21, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/21/00
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+--------------------------------------------------------+
| To criticize is to appreciate, to appropriate, to |
| take intellectual possession, to establish in fine |
| a relation with the criticized thing and to make it |
| one's own. -- Henry James |
+--------------------------------------------------------+

+--------------------------------------------------------+
| Nature fits all her children with something to do; |
| He who would write and can't write, can surely review. |
| -- James Russell Lowell |
+--------------------------------------------------------+

>ABOUT

I use the word "game" as shorthand for "work of interactive
fiction", and "play" as shorthand for "interact with such
a work".

I use the word "review" to mean both review and critique;
I write whatever I can think of writing, although I think I
lean more to criticism than review. But some of what I
write may reveal something about a game to authors, some
of what I write may reveal something about a game to
players, and some of what I write may reveal more about me
than about the game--I'm not always the best judge.

Two of the more than 10,000 words in this article are profane.

I only finished 13 of the 49 games I played. Up to you
whether you want to read such reviews.

As much as possible, my reviews are spoiler-free. I consider
a broad variety of things spoilers; knowing that a game ends
with a twist is a spoiler; sometimes a particular situation
is such a neat experience that it needs to be experienced
unexpected, so describing that situation would be a spoiler.
In a couple places, I spoil a puzzle to reveal why I didn't
like it. Such rare cases will have an inline spoiler warning.

>EXAMINE COMPETITION

Since my reviews aren't in chronological order, let me make
a quick comment about that aspect of my experience.

As I started it seemed like a GREAT comp: Ad Verbum first and
Metamorphoses third. The second, Best Man, seemed perfectly
fine in between them. However, this initial experience quickly
tailed away as my next 4 games were 1-2-3, Infil-traitor,
Threading the Labyrinth, and What-IF?

I still haven't found time to play the games more, so all of
my reviews are still based strictly on my original comp play
experience.

>FULL SCORE

In the end, after I tallied my original votes, my highest votes
were 8. So I bumped the 8s to 9 to allow me to spread some of
my 6s and 7s out a bit more.

Here's how I voted, roughly in my overall order of preference.

1: Cracking the Code, Anonymous
2: What-IF?, David Ledgard
2: Asendent, Sourdoh Farenheit and Kelvin Flatbread
2: Little Billy, Okey Ikeako
3: Desert Heat, Papillon
3: Marooned, Bruce Davis
4: Comp00ter Game, Austin Thorvald
4: Infil-traitor, Anonymous
4: 1-2-3..., Chris Mudd
4: Escape from Crulistan, Alan Smithee
4: Enlisted, G.F. Berry
4: The Masque of the Last Faeries, Ian Ball
5: The Pickpocket, Alex Weldon
5: Jarod's Journey, Tim Emmerich
5: The Trip, Cameron Wilkin
5: Wrecked, Campbell Wild
5: Threading the Labyrinth, Kevin F. Doughty
5: VOID: CORPORATION, Jonathan Lim
5: Aftermath, Graham Somerville
5: ON THE OTHER SIDE, Lumpi
5: Stupid Kittens, Pollyanna Huffington
5: The Clock, Cleopatra Kozlowski
5: Withdrawal Symptoms, Niclas Carlsson
5: Got ID?, Marc Valhara
5: The Best Man, Rob Menke
5: Planet of the Infinite Minds, Alfredo Garcia
5: Rameses, Stephen Bond
6: Prodly the Puffin, by some very long names
6: The Big Mama, Brendan Barnwell
6: Futz Mutz, Tim Simmons
6: Castle Amnos, John Evans
6: Shade, Ampe R. Sand
6: Punk Points, Jim Munroe
6: Guess The Verb!, Leonard Richardson
6: Letters from Home, Roger Firth
6: Nevermore, Nate Cull
6: Ad Verbum, Nick Montfort
6: My Angel, Jon Ingold
6: The Djinni Chronicles, J.D. Berry
7: A Crimson Spring, Robb Sherwin
7: The End Means Escape, D.O.
7: Transfer, Tod Levi
7: At Wit's End, Mike J. Sousa
7: Kaged, Ian Finley
7: YAGWAD, Digby McWiggle
8: Dinner with Andre, Liza Daly
8: Masquerade, Kathleen M. Fischer
9: Being Andrew Plotkin, Celie Paradis
9: Metamorphoses, Emily Short

Not played or rated or reviewed:
And the Waves Choke the Wind
Return to Zork: Another Story
Unnkulia X
Happy Ever After

>WRITE REVIEWS

Last year, for each game I offered some things I liked about
it, three things (small or large) that would improve it in my
eyes, and how high I could see the score getting without a
total rewrite of the game. Not this year.

It's hard to say something nice about every game. For a while
I thought about maybe trying to say an equal number of bad and
good things total (not per game). But I've decided to just
abandon that and give in to being harsh. For one thing, I
think it's a bad idea that people think they should just throw
anything into the comp, no matter how unpolished it is. I'd
love it if authors whose games finished in the bottom third
or bottom half of the comp would have self-selected right out
of the comp. If harsh (but fair) reviews can help produce
that, I'm game. (And if and when I release a game to the IF
community, I do indeed expect the same treatment in return.)


[press any key to continue]

The reviews themselves come in pairs, except for the top and
bottommost entries of my list. Each pair has something in
common, indicated by the review "title". These pairs are
sometimes meaningful and sometimes capricious, but at least
they usually give me something new to say. Where I have
comments on games that seem to have been broadly widely in
other reviews, I'll try to omit those comments.


>SHOPLIFTERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE

1: "Cracking the Code" by Anonymous

Make a zcode game out of the DeCSS code as a political
protest. Ok, sure, cute idea. Put it up on GMD.
Of course. Post about it to Usenet so other people
know how clever you are, sure.

But submit it to the comp? Why?

That should be the end of my review. That says what
I really think. But, ok should you insist on submitting
it (which seems utterly foolish and unreasonable to me):

A number of years ago, somebody submitted an entry
to the International Obfuscated C Code Contest (IOCCC)
which implemented a version of the Enigma cipher.
Because of munitions export laws, the IOCCC people
couldn't publish that program if it won, which
violated an official rule of the competition requiring
that entries be freely redistributable. It won anyway,
because that was a clever rule violation and they
enjoy clever rule violations, *and* because the
implementation *was* obfuscated C.

For DeCSS, the author could easily have made it vaguely
IF, say, including something explaining what the point of
it was. Or how about an interactive walkthrough of how
it works or of the legal mess that is the set of laws
that govern this piece of code? So many opportunities
wasted, leaving us with what, judged as IF, I can only
call a boring piece of crap.

This entry *could* have been the Jarod's Journey of
MPAA resistance. Oh well.


>WHAT IF THEY GAVE A COMPETITION AND NO IF WAS ENTERED?

2: "What-IF?" by David Ledgard

I'd have given this a 1 but I wanted to make absolutely
clear just how wrong I think Cracking the Code was.

Here's what I wrote in my notes at the time:

If you're going to write a piece of "IF" which is
entirely prose, don't pepper it with frequent grammatical
errors.

If you're going to write a piece of "IF" which is
pretty blatantly not IF, don't cleverly work "IF" into
the title.

Shame to waste the title on this, rather than, say, a
Jigsaw-inspired game that goes in an entirely different
direction than Jigsaw did.


>ASK OFFICER IF HE IS DEAD

4: "1-2-3..." by Chris Mudd
5: "Aftermath" by Graham Somerville

Both games feature officers. Both games feature corpses.
But the similarities don't end there! Both games are
marred by poor game design decisions and game
implementation decisions. (IMO of course, and take that
as read through the rest of my reviews.)

The starting moment of "Aftermath" is a pretty startling
situation to be in, and for the first move or two I thought
it was going to be cool. [spoilers ahead] But the
implementation of the puzzles is very incomplete; after you
push the blue man, a message is triggered mentioning legs;
but I just "look"ed and tried examining the things I could
see at that point, and legs were never mentioned again;
instead there was still just a(nother) blue man--who
himself could be pushed again.

Later the game choices seemed to become arbitrary, and I
didn't play for much longer.

The beginning of "1-2-3" is rather disorienting; first
comes a description of a hospital scene with an incapable
intern as the protagonist, maybe; then a transition to
a second-person adventure sequence (am I the intern?) in
an area full of exits of which only one is valid, but
you're not told which; and pretty quickly the gameplay
degenerates into what seems to be a linear story in which
the author hasn't implemented any commands off the
walkthrough. Others have addressed the silliness of
the "ASK ABOUT" interface; I went to the walkthrough but
quit when the game got stuck anyway, still during the first
main sequence. (I played 1-2-3 fifth chronologically in
the comp; as I got further through the comp, I became
less willing to play a game that forced reliance on
the walkthrough.)


>DOWNLOAD GENERIC ADVENTURE. PLAY IT.

3: "Marooned" by Bruce Davis
5: "VOID: CORPORATION" by Jonathan Lim

I'm not sure why I scored VOID as high as I did. I guess
I tend to give 5s to games that are "acceptably implemented
and written". Marooned offered a maze-like jungle,
inventory limits, and hunger, and got marked off accordingly,
because I'm just not interested or willing to play games
with those things.


>IT'S INTERACTIVE, BUT IS IT IF?
>NO

5: "Threading the Labyrinth" by Kevin F. Doughty
5: "ON THE OTHER SIDE" by Lumpi

Both of these "games" have a few things in common:
TtL is more a work of hypertext non-fiction than
a piece of what we normally consider IF, and OtOS
is more of a toy than a game--there's no real goal
or way to win, and it's entirely lacking in fiction.

Now, somebody could submit a set of 100 interlinked
HTML pages and manage to tell a little CYOA with it,
so just because I perceive TtL as "hypertext" doesn't
mean it's not IF. But it definitely stands at the
border for me. Similarly, in OtOS you never really
accomplish anything--the interaction is very minimal--
although you can invent goals like "make a funny
transcript" and attempt to turn it into a story.

But the reason both entries received
non-bottom-of-the-barrel votes from me were
essentially the same: both are *about* IF (in
some sense), and both are moderately clever.
Both are also awfully short, and I am willing
to judge short games by "value per minute"
as opposed to overall value. It's a short game
comp. Short games are rewarded. Short games
without bugs are rewarded even more highly.
Short games without bugs that blow my mind are
rewarded near-top-marks... but neither of these
games were.

I think somebody could have delivered a much higher
quality experience than OToS delivers (obviously,
solving AI is hard, but by actually having the
sim keep track of state better, and of the things
it has tried), but no, it's not worth somebody
trying to improve on it now. Once was enough.


>X BLACK CAT

5: "Stupid Kittens" by Pollyanna Huffington
6: "Nevermore" by Nate Cull

Stupid Kittens is a silly, silly romp with the PC a cat
that couldn't pass for "A Day for Soft Food"'s MacCatver,
full of annoying writing and sophomorics, yet strangely
original and inventive. It never failed to surprise me.
Sort of cool the way Monty Python is cool, without
resembling Monty Python in particular.

Nevermore is a gothic horror blending Poe's The Raven with
perhaps a bit of classic Frankenstein. I'm not sure what the
source of the occultism is (Lovecraft came to mind, but I'm
not well-read in this area)--it didn't feel Poe-like to me--but
it all seemed to fit together into a coherent world. The
writing dripped and oozed atmosphere, but I was frustrated
enough with the early gameplay and the disorganized hints
that I never even made it to the main puzzle. If I'd had
nothing else to play I'd have kept going, but I doubt my
opinion would have changed.

There's really no connection between them except the title
of this section.


>GET OUT OF THE FRYING PAN

7: "At Wit's End" by Mike J. Sousa
8: "Dinner with Andre" by Liza Daly

Take the PC and put him or her in a situation where
everything has gone JUST RIGHT. The PC is on top of
the world.

And then something goes a little wrong. Just a little
wrong, not ludicrous or unrealistic. But, hmm, a tad
unfortunate.

And then the player gets the PC out of the situation
and things just go from bad to worse.

AWE starts better: the PC is in a tough situation where
things could go bad or things could go good. (Heck, it
may actually be possible to fail the first puzzle, or it
may not, I don't know.) Then by solving a really easy
puzzle, *then* the PC is on top of the world. It's a
really nice, cheesily happy moment--and then trouble
starts. But the player got to participate in hitting
that top of the world. You were pretty sure it was
going to happen (although it was possible you'd fail
and it would instead be a redemption story), but even
so, it was a good moment. Oh, and then the accident.
It doesn't rob the PC of being at the top of the
world--the PC's achievement isn't called into question
or offset in any way--the PC just starts having a
(largely unrelated) misadventure.

DwA does not start quite as strongly--your character is
already (almost) at the top of the mountain, and you
don't share in the experience of having gotten to the
top. As well, DwA turns out to be a farce, but holds
off on revealing this until things start going wrong--
which makes it all the more crazy, but can get a player
invested in the game the wrong way. Still, the waiter
comes over, and if the player makes the obvious choice
of answer, there's a nice moment of feeling "yes,
everything is perfect" that is triggered by player
action. Oh, but then things start going wrong. And
where none of the problems of AWE relate to the
achievement directly (the PC has already climbed back
down the mountain he'd climbed), in DwA its the mountain
itself being put at risk. A tremor, a threat of a
landslide, and then wooosh...

I think of these sorts of games as "out of the frying
pan and into the fire" games because at every moment,
once you resolve the situation, a new peril threatens.
(The movie "After Hours" pops into mind as well.)
The last half of Kaged was more explicit that way;
in some ways it was more effective, since the peril
threatened in Kaged was your life; the peril threatened
in AWE is, well, your ability to return home; and the
peril threatened in DwA is public humiliation.

One of the reasons "out of the frying pan and into
the fire games" tickle my fancy is because they make
the character's motivation explicit. At any moment,
I know what I'm supposedly to be accomplishing in
the short term (crucial to being able to play the
game) and I also know why that action fits in with
my end goal (not getting humiliated, or returning
home). Far too many games put you in a situation
where all you can do is poke around at suspicious-seeming
objects and solve the puzzles related to them.

To me, this is what storytelling in IF should be about;
giving the player a high-level goal (a story to achieve)
and then giving the player enough information (e.g. a
low-level goal) to be able to carry out tasks *for the
purpose of achieving that goal*. Why is this storytelling?
When the player of DwA confronts the challenge of the four
waiters at once, I can imagine the zany british TV sitcom
where this exact sequence of events plays out. Whereas many
games, say, The Pickpocket or The Planet of the Infinite
Minds or even Transfer, I can't imagine comprehending this go
by on a screen; the motivations of the protagonist would be
incomprehensible. Or maybe you could imagine it as a
mystery where the audience is left in the dark; but when,
in IF, the audience is controlling the protagonist, that
way of looking at it makes little sense.

"Out of the frying pan and into the fire" isn't the only
way to achieve such "storytelling"; when I change the color
of an object in Kaged it's for a pretty obvious reason, to
achieve a pretty obvious goal that has to do with the overall
situation; but when I create a library in Planet of the
Infinite Minds I'm just doing it 'cause it's there. In
fact, "out of the frying pan and into the fire" may not
be the most effective way of giving the player lower-level
goals; letting the user set her own pace is probably a
better experience most of the time.

In fact, an "out of the frying pan and into the fire"
sequence can end up just feeling like a series of set
pieces--the mouse sequence in Transfer is a fairly good
example of a set piece, although it does rely on one
piece of game-specific knowledge--so a game that
integrates its puzzles, rather than leaving them a
series of disconnected events, may turn out to be a
stronger work. In the case of DwA, though, I thought
the pieces meshed together really well; they all tie
into the initial scenario, and the pacing is superb: a
series of linear puzzles, then the game "goes wide" with
a tough multi-element puzzle, then tightens down and is
at peace briefly, easy, relaxed, everything is going
right... and then BAM, ouch, followed by an easy end
game. Perfect. As an added plus, the elements of DwA
end up serving as a bit of a parody of some romantic
genre cliches, indeed with the ending almost coming off
as (unintentionally) mocking Masquerade, which uses
those cliches to create its archetypical romance genre
story.

AWE gets off to a rollicking start with simple, tight,
timed puzzles, but then goes much too broad and much too
hard, at least for my tastes. While all the puzzles
seemed reasonably logical, but the breadth meant a lot
of time pursuing irrelevant alternatives, and the
difficulty would have required an awful lot of player
time to solve without excessively relying on
hints/walkthroughs, which I was unwilling to do.
Therefore I can't comment on how successful the
pacing is beyond that point. But up until it goes
broad, it is an amusing alternation of "oh shit"
and "ho hum, what now?" which I quite enjoyed, since
at each moment (say, walking up to the house), I was
tensing up waiting for what would go wrong next. (And
the title helped--it was GOOD that I knew I was doomed
to be going into the fire.)

I'll go out on a limb and make a specific design suggestion
of the sort I think is pretty pretentious of me to make,
but what the hell: the spine of the story was trying to
return (which generally meant escaping each situation);
as far as I played, *everything* that happened was on the spine
of the story, except having to eat. Having to eat jarred
me horrendously because of that. Realistic? Sure.
Related to the story? Not at all. I'd cut it.
(You can argue that it's on the spine if the central peril
of the story is dying, but that was how it felt to me
anyway--tangential.)


>Z

4: "Enlisted" by G.F. Berry
6: "Shade" by Ampe R. Sand

These are the two games I played so little as to
be unable to offer any meaningful review comments.
Enlisted was played briefly for reasons I have posted
about enough elsewhere; Shade I only played briefly
before I got stuck. ("about enough elsewhere"? ugh.)


>PUT "AND THE TEXT CHOKES THE GAME" IN BIN

4: "The Masque of the Last Faeries" by Ian Ball
5: "Rameses" by Stephen Bond

IF has its origin in text adventures: an (interactive)
adventure presented in the form of text, i.e. the written
word. The grown-up term Interactive Fiction stresses that
the experience need not be adventurous, only interactive;
but at the same time it gives up the use of a term that
is unambiguously about the written word, settling for one
that CAN mean the written word in the form of books, but
has other meanings in other contexts. Since IF isn't books,
sometimes I think our new term isn't much better, and I
long for something which calls attention to the fact that
they should involve text. (Or is a CYOA told entirely though
pictures IF?)

TMotLF and Rameses are both very serious about text, as
I understand them. I'm not the best critic of the quality
of writing, but with TMotLF there are so many failures of
spacing, punctuation, and grammar that it's hard for me to
judge the writing itself anyway. And I see a flaw I'm not
sure I've ever noticed before; much like an accidental
"You" in a first-person game, TMotLF mysteriously shifts
to a narrative mode for some speech (and I don't mean the
tense error in the first line below):

"I'm sorry that I'm late. There was a commotion in
the village which slowed us up," she said.

The butler smiles and assures her than she is not
late and that the masque has not properly begun.

This variation (and I suspect it wasn't a conscious choice
to try something new in IF) robs me of feeling like I'm
there, immersed--surely the PC knows what words were said,
but I only know the content. (There are cases where people
do things like "The priest drones on and on about something
you don't care about"--e.g. Punk Points--but normally it
gives the impression that the PC is ignoring the speech,
so it's consistent that you don't know the words. Learning
the content of the speech and not the words... well, I guess
people do it with a book you can "READ" sometimes. But here
the *shift* seems as sloppy as the tense error.)

Rameses, on the other hand, gave me no reason to complain
about its writing. "Ferdia is the kind of guy who uses
semicolons in his speech" is perhaps a little over-the-top
to be in the protagonist's thoughts, but it's a nice line.

It did give me reason to complain about its text, though.
I'd call it subtext but it's plain as day. The story is
about a character who is incapable of acting, or perhaps
incapable about doing what he thinks he wants to do. The
author, apparently, attempts to deliver this text on another
level, through the interaction of the player and the PC,
initially by making the PC simply refuse to do anything the
player attempts, and later, by allowing the player to
choose actions but those actions making no actual difference.
The message that the PC is ineffective is hammered home by
making the player just as ineffective.

Where the written text of TMotLF jarred me, the text
message of Rameses left me cold: at the beginning, the
PC is incapable of accomplishing anything and living,
perhaps, in a fantasy world; at the end... the PC is
incapable of accomplishing anything and living in a
fantasy world. Not to mention the same the whole time
in between. I'm reminded of my experience watching the movie
"Nil By Mouth" (I think?) which charted the course of a
down-on-their-luck druggie family as they, well, they
didn't really get any further down on their luck, they
just stayed there. At least for the first half of the
movie, at which point I gave up on it. I did sit
through Rameses to the end, at least, but it was all
just sort of... so what?

Then again, maybe I'm too close to the protagonist (my
inability to control him makes it hard for me to really
call him a PC); I personally suffer from an inability
to act in certain circumstances (and ones not so different
from those described), and experientially that inability
seems nothing at all like two parts of me suggesting and
refusing it. Perhaps it's a legitimate analysis of some
state of mind; or perhaps it's merely a good metaphor for
communicating such an inability to those who can't imagine
it. Either way, it's a viewpoint that I can't identify
with (while being able to identify with the inability
itself), which leaves me both unsatisfied with the
accuracy of the portrayal as well as unwilling to buy
into the communication breakdown between player and
protagonist.

TMotLF had some pretty significant implementation problems.
Why is the front door an object in the room contents?
"get all from table" gets the costume without triggering
what "get costume" does (although to be honest, I hate to
blame authors for bugs like this, because the Inform libraries
and docs just don't do a good enough job of helping you to
not make these mistakes), plus there are many problems with
believing that the NPCs are really there--that the world is
solid. It also had what seemed to be an unnecessarily confusing
plot. Rameses left nothing to be desired from a technical
standpoint so far as I saw.


>GET OUT

4: "Escape from Crulistan" by Alan Smithee
6: "Futz Mutz" by Tim Simmons

EfC's premise: escape!
FM's premise: escape!

It's a classic adventure game premise, even if in FM
you start out in a cage instead of a cell. While some
might call it a cliche, I hesitate to do so, since at
least it provides the player with motivation, with a
goal. Then again, we have EfC, FM, Unnkulian X all
starting in a cell; Kaged has two prominent cell puzzles;
and last year there were Bliss and Stone Cell (if not
more). Are cell escapes the dragons of new IF?

Starting in a cage, FM chooses to cast you not as an
animal, but as a little kid mysteriously transformed
into an animal. I'm not sure if this is to dodge the
"animals aren't smart enough to do X" or not, but if it
is, I'm not sure it matters, because I don't think
humans are smart enough to solve some of FM's puzzles either.

FM starts well, with a nice visual look and what I
thought was pretty cool music, setting a bright and
cheerful tone. It looked pretty polished, I thought
it was going to be solid... and then I got immediately
stuck.

Good games make an effort to communicate to you if
you need to use unexpected commands, for example by
force-feeding you a command early on that you'll need
to use later. So when FM gave me an itch I felt like
scratching, I said, "Ah-ha! I bet I'll *need* to scratch
something at some point." Looking for a way out of my cage,
I eventually tried scratching the papers lining the
bottom of it, but doing so told me it revealed nothing.
Eventually giving up, I discovered I was right after all--but
I needed to DIG. Oops. It then turned out that FM turned
on a classic bit of illogic; to get out of the cage,
I needed to dig and do something else, not because any
of that would get me out of the cage, but because I
needed to do those things for later, and the game
wasn't going to trigger the solution to getting out
of the cage until I'd done it. Which is nice for
preventing me from getting stuck, but made absolutely
no sense in terms of cause and effect. When the next
sequence was timed, and the latter half timed so a perfect
play from the moment you realize you're under time pressure
(as opposed to the turn before, when you don't know)
is not good enough to save you, I punted. I still gave
it decent marks, relatively speaking, because it mostly
oozed quality. I never saw the personal attacks which
other people have commented on; my opinion of the game
is much lower having heard about them.

EfC wants to be wacky--there were moments when I
smiled--but it's severely underimplemented--lack of
detail everywhere--and without clues, it was just too
hard for my tastes.


>LOOK UNDER WILCAM MAT

5: "Wrecked" by Campbell Wild
5: "The Trip" by Cameron Wilkin

Two games from people named Cam---- Wil--! Who'd-'a
thunk it! But nothing else really in common except
my votes.

Wrecked was far too generic. The train puzzle--when
I played it from the walkthrough--was a cool idea even
if not clued in any way, but the credit card was
nonsensical regarding the passage of time. In fact,
the credit card application puzzle was done previously
in one of the Enchanter games, and they had some sort
of magic-time-travel postal service rationale for the
quick return.

The Trip was quite different. The title, I presume,
turns out to be a pun, but the introductory text
tells you that you're going on a trip, so at the
end of the introductory text I was thinking, "ok,
it's going to be a game about travelling to meet
my friends". Then I found myself in a motel room,
and realizes the trip must already be under way;
here's what I wrote in my notes while sitting at
that very first prompt:

What's my motivation? To go to sleep and wake
up the next morning and continue driving?

After a couple of turns, the phone rings, and you
finally find out that you're already at your
destination. (At a motel? Isn't my character
the kind of guy who'd crash with his friends? Huh.)
This sort of thing--not paying attention to what
the player knows--strikes me as really sloppy
writing, and did not put me in a good mood. But
the phone call ends with: "Finally, something to
do!" and I was like, yay! Maybe now I get to play.
I have to figure out how to go meet those guys.
Except, no, the moment I left, I'm whisked to meet
them automatically, at which point I sit around
watching the NPCs and the PC smoking pot. Since,
while playing it, I wasn't smoking pot, I didn't
really feel like a participant, and I have to admit,
the experience was a very realistic rendition of
sitting around with a bunch of people smoking pot
while you stay sober, something I used to do a lot
when I hung out with a pot-smoking group. Unfortunately,
that means it's a realistic rendition of boredom.
And when the characters started seeing lights and the
game did this:

They all begin examining the surrounding landscape, transfixed.
>X LANDSCAPE
I don't know the word "landscape".

(and the room description even has "landscape" set off
in its own paragraph to call attention to it)

--when the game did that, I decided to stop playing.
Attention to detail is worth points, and nowhere is
that more important than in a boring intro with nothing
else to do.


>SEARCH FOR OTHER ENDINGS

6: "The Big Mama" by Brendan Barnwell
7: "Kaged" by Ian Finley

A number of games in this comp had alternative endings.

I find I can best express my opinion of alternate endings
as represented by these two games not by writing a review
comment but by writing a work of IF, so go to
http://world.std.com/~buzzard/ill.zip
(which contains a zip of a z5 game written in Inform;
my apologies for the lack of betatesting, but it's
not exactly a serious game).

That pretty much covers Big Mama.

I guess Kaged was a perfectly reasonable game, and maybe I
shouldn't complain that the dystopian setting was cliche.
Looking at my notes, I see that in fact the reason it didn't
do better (well, I did rank it sixth anyway) was because
of my dissatisfaction with the premises and implementations
of several of the puzzles: it is a rare game when events
in one room affect events in another room, so one puzzle
I would never have solved, having no expectation the world
would work that way--it made perfect sense in hindsight, it's
just not a direction my mind would have ever jumped, because
of that normal isolation; the followup to that puzzle, I tried
7 different commands I tried to do before finding an eighth
that worked (actually I think I went to the walkthrough
instead of just the hints for that). And finally, upon
reading the solution to one puzzle, [spoiler coming up], I
got up from my computer, picked up a bottle of vodka, got a
bowl, and attempted to set vodka on fire. Neither a thin layer
nor a thick pool could I light with a match. Maybe it depends
on the brand?


>FOLLOW YELLOW BRICK ROAD

5: "Jarod's Journey" by Tim Emmerich
5: "The Best Man" by Rob Menke

Two road stories, one with a sunday school lesson and
the other a high school chemistry lesson. The writing
of JJ was off-putting, the game-world not very interesting,
and I couldn't even figure out what I was supposed to be
accomplishing in the first major area, and didn't much
feel like continuing.

TBM, on the other hand, I played quite far through, but
it became obvious it was walkthrough-playthrough material,
so I quit without having gotten too far. The puzzles
seemed a bit arbitrary--they made sense in hindsight,
but weren't clued or even motivated in advance. The
whole introduction was way too confusing, as it skipped
back and forth in time too much until finally dumping
you on a train. Apparently the PC knew more about the
train than I did, because at some point "one of the
reporters" came walking down the train, which was the
first I had heard of any reporters. I.e., game engines
go to a lot of effort to pick either "a" or "the" in
response to different commands to try to make things
sound reasonably natural; authors should try to live
up to those standards. Obviously "a" vs. "the" is
a tiny error, but, "one of the reporters" is pretty
far removed from, say, "a man with what appears to be
a press badge". Plus I was already a bit disoriented
by the intro, so it didn't help--I think I actually
restarted at that point thinking I must have missed
something.


>ANSWER "FOXY CLEOPATRA KOZLOWSKI VANQUISHED GAME JOB"

5: "The Clock" by Cleopatra Kozlowski
6: "Letters from Home" by Roger Firth

Two games which leave you trapped in a house, wandering
around trying to solve puzzles for no good reason.
LfH invites comparison to Ad Verbum, but hey, who
wants to be obvious with these things?

TC, so far as I can remember, was perhaps boring
but mostly sloppy. I guess there might have been
some potential in the overall setting and idea--
although really it's best to avoid the locked in a
house cliche--but the implementation was just sloppy
sloppy sloppy.

LfH was a fun bit of wordplay for a while, but the
attempts at including other puzzles (e.g. finding the
attic key) seemed totally tangential and not up to the
same level of quality. And even the main puzzles were a
bit too arbitrary in places; e.g. why the G string and not
the other three? Then again, some of the difficulty was
my own; I should make a big note that says "remember to
try pushing objects from place to place" for next comp--
it was something that I forgot with at least one other
game as well.

Is it just me, or is hearing only the *other* half
of a phone conversation the PC is participating in
a disorienting introduction? I kinda think Ad Verbum
was wiser with its decision to just tell you "it's a
wacky treasure hunt", compared to LfH trying to wrap it in
a serious story even though the game universe was still
going to be a wacky treasure hunt with a surrealistic
reality (for lack of a better phrase); indeed, the intro
story didn't bring much to the table except the chance
to work in a nod to Inform's creator, and to establish
the entirely unnecessary time constraint for the game.
I guess what I'm saying is that the author shouldn't
have bothered recruiting for the narrative army--should've
just let the crossword win the war.


>CHOOSE YOUR OWN DAMN BRUNCHNG SHUTTLECOCK

2: "Little Billy" by Okey Ikeako
3: "Desert Heat" by Papillon

LB: a supposedly-CYOA with a meaningless branch at the
beginning, a meaningless branch to multiple endings at
the end, and no branches the rest of the way through. I
didn't even read most of the text, having determined it
wasn't (IMO) IF.

DH: a CYOA with some meaningless freedom of movement.
I tried a few variations, but there seemed no choice but
to enter the brothel. Once there, I found two ways to
a situation where I would attempt to run away, given
three choices. All three of those choices led to the
same scene. I quit playing, having determined it wasn't
(IMO) IF. Of course, that may have changed later. But
then the subject matter didn't interest me either. (Still,
the vote was for lack of interactivity; the subject matter
of Jarod's Journey didn't interest me either.)


>WHAT IS STUPID?

2: "Asendent" by Sourdoh Farenheit and Kelvin Flatbread
4: "Comp00ter Game" by Austin Thorvald

I don't like JeffK.

I don't know what stupid is, but I know it when I see it.
I also know that stupid isn't funny.

I get it already. Misspelling something to parody people
who can't spell. Yeah, I get it. It's funny for about
one sentence. After that it's just kinda repetitive.

CG at least made me snicker here and there, like the
code "accidentally" leaking into the game, and the
authorial voice operating under the assumption it couldn't
go back and fix things that had already been displayed,
despite the fact that the author would in truth have
written it all in advance of the playing; a very
sophisticated breaking of the fourth wall, in some sense.

Wasn't Rybr**d's last comp game correctly spelled, at
least for the most part, and instead mostly full of
black-and-blue-bruised prose? As such Asendent's
short, misspelled descriptions felt closer to JeffK
than Rybr**d.


>SAY "PARODLY IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY"

6: "Prodly the Puffin" by some very long names
9: "Being Andrew Plotkin" by Celie Paradis

I don't like Pokey the Penguin.

In fact, Pokey the Penguin ranks right up with jerkcity in
terms of massively annoying me, simply because *several*
different people have recommended it to me, and each time
I go check it out, look at it, and say "I still don't get
it". Am I annoyed at other people for thinking it's funny?
Am I annoyed at myself for not getting it? I don't know.
I'm just annoyed.

Like I said in the last review. Misspelling? Funny once,
maybe. For Prodly (PtP), non sequitur? Funny once.

Ok, PtP is better than Pokey in this regards. I
dutifully avoided asking myself about anything because
that led to the stupidity that I fail to see any humor
in. The rest of it was mildly amusing and surreal, along
the lines of "Stupid Kittens", with a few great touches:
the mysterious hovering beak, and the one bit that made
me laugh out loud, the "bug in the menu system" bit.

PtP is, then, a game which is sort of a parody and sort
of an homage to an existing property which is itself
(supposedly) humorous, and it managed to make me laugh
out loud once.

BAP is an homage to an existing property which is itself
humorous, and it managed to make me laugh out loud twice.
(And no other comp games made me laugh out loud.)

Starting off, I was very worried about BAP (although
perhaps not as much as I was PtP after seeing its opening
quote), fearful that it would slavishly imitate "Being John
Malkovich". And, in fact, it did at first. Worse yet, the
initial scene's trivial puzzle is underwritten in an
implementational sense: not only do you have no particular
reason to push the button (indeed, the game will advance at
that point simply because it triggers an unrelated event),
but you can open the lid of the copier, and there's nothing
in it to copy; and you're not carrying anything to copy, either.

The game stayed pretty close to the movie for quite a
bit longer, which continued to worry me, along with the
questionable decision to make "open drawer" and
"pull drawer" distinct commands--is there some other
way to open a drawer? Still, it was managing to amuse
me, and I stuck with it, and it turned out that the
author very carefully both stuck to and deviated from
the movie, in exactly the right way so that he could
work economical fragments of humor by referencing the
movie, and yet deliver jokes all his own. For example,
Melvin, the character who maps onto the old lecherly
guy with a secret in "Malkovich", is both wimpy and
lecherly, but he not only has a different secret, but
this secret explains those two behavior patterns in a
totally different way--and indeed his POV was the first
laugh-out-loud moment for me.

"Malkovich" is about a puppeteer who gets the once-in-
a-lifetime chance to control another human being. Of
any funny movie one might choose to adapt into IF, this
one gets the obvious thumbs up for the thematic relevence;
indeed, I believe in the very old days some people would
explain text adventures to newcomers by describing the
PC as a 'puppet' under the player's control. (In fact,
the first thing I tried to do after my tunnel ride was type
something like "ZARF, DRINK"--and I was disappointed
when this was misdirected at an object I was carrying.)

In the end, I had so much fun with BAP I couldn't
deny it second place of all the games I played (and no,
I've never been on ifMUD). Of course it was horribly
on rails. Why didn't this bother me? I don't know.

Scenes I would have like to have seen:
a puzzle that required typing "x yz zy" instead of "x zy"
the player controlling Peter controlling Andrew Plotkin
controlling Zarf, if you know what I mean


>ANALYZE THE ZIFMIA SCROLL

6: "The Djinni Chronicles" by J.D. Berry
7: "A Crimson Spring" by Robb Sherwin

The first games Infocom released were set in a sort of
wacky swords-and-sorcery fantasy universe, with the player
playing, perhaps, some kind of cross between a fighter
and a thief.

When Infocom explored other genres, they realized that
not only did setting, characters, the flavor and tone
of the writing, and the scope and layout of the spaces
they created should be different, but they also realized
that they could amplify the feeling that the protagonist
was different by changing the capabilities of the protagonist.

Thus, in the Enchanter series, another swords-and-sorcery
set of games, the PC was given the inherent ability to
cast spells, and the player given a new set of commands
to carry out that ability.

In Deadline, as a police investigator, the PC was given
the not-quite-inherent ability to send objects to the lab
for analysis, and to arrest other characters; and the player
given a corresponding set of commands.

In Suspended... well, let's not even go there.

I think this idea is something that modern IF hasn't
made as much effort to explore. These two games do.

One truth about superheroes in every comic book universe:
they get in fights. Putting some kind of game mechanic
for superheroes in your superhero game is a smart move,
even if that's only combat. Beyond that, I didn't play
ACS enough to comment more.

In retrospect, I should have reversed the scores for
both of these games; TDC has grown on me a bit more
since I started thinking about this issue of "changing
the PC". TDC has a very unique PC--well, several--
and introduces several game mechanics to make the
PC feel different: "grant wish" and the "Purpose" system.
In fact, none of the other PCs lived up to the quality of
the first, and I think this is part of why--because they
didn't have their own special commands, only special powers
that were exercised through normal commands, and therefore
felt less magical.

The shift to first-person past-tense helps create a
foreign feel as well; it also, I think, helps make
the ending seem more appropriate.


>I'M OUT OF CLEVER IDEAS

4: "Infil-traitor" by Anonymous
5: "Withdrawal Symptoms" by Niclas Carlsson

Ho hum. In a sense, the game-development-background of
Infil is a clever tweak on feelies; but in another sense
I feel taken advantage of--indeed this bothers me more than
Jarod's Journey, which is at least explicit about its
subversion. Like some people, I am willing to judge
a work in the context of its creation; just as I don't
blame the early Beatles' music for its lack of studio
polish (or, indeed, the fact that even Sgt. Pepper's
sound is still far less polished than can be created with
modern recording techniques), I was willing to give
Infil the benefit of the doubt for having been such
an old game. I would not have given it anywhere as much
had I known that was a joke; but neither did it, in the
end, affect my vote. But I never appreciate comp games
which I feel knowingly waste my time (e.g. Cracking the
Code, What-IF?). If you're going to play a practical
joke on the IF community involving a playable game...
try to make a good one.

I'm not even sure why I grouped these two games anymore.
And I can't think of anything to say about WS that hasn't
been said elsewhere.


>SLEEP FURIOUSLY

5: "Planet of the Infinite Minds" by Alfredo Garcia
7: "The End Means Escape" by D.O.

These two games are weird for the sake of being weird.
PotIM did nothing for me, seemingly largely to be strange
for no apparent reason. I explored a bit, things seemed
incoherent, I played from the walkthrough for a bit,
things still seemed incoherent, and I quit.

TEME really grabbed me, although I never made it out
of the first room, having gotten stuck (along with the
hint system). I was one of the rare people who loved
Pass the Banana last year, and one of the things I loved
about it was its attention to detail; among other things,
you could ask each of the three NPCs about the other
NPCs.

The first scene of TEME takes this premise to its logical
extreme; about all there is to do is ask the NPCs about
the other NPCs, which serves as your "exploration". In
addition, TEME calls attention to the normally invisible
environment--the floor, walls, and ceiling--making the
room seem like a real, physical space in a very conscious
way. The "poetic" writing was fine--it didn't make me think
"how incredibly cool" the way For a Change did, but neither
did it seem pretentious or precious to me. Indeed, given
the strangeness of the universe, it seemed to lend an entirely
appropriate Alice-in-Wonderland-esque tone to the proceedings.

On the other hand, it seems from what I've read that none of
the rest of TEME lives up to that first scene.


>GUESS THE VERB

6: "Guess The Verb!" by Leonard Richardson
8: "Masquerade" by Kathleen M. Fischer

Both of these games embrace, dive into, and explore a
cliche; and both are well-known for containing
guess-the-verb puzzles, although it seems to have only
been intentional for one of them.

GtV starts wacky--playing on the IF game-design cliche
by literally inviting you to guess a verb--and gets
wackier; or at least the one scenario I played did. After
a bit of a misstart due to bad luck with a character's random
speech, I eventually got underway at guessing a verb, and was
led to a scenario, about which I wrote the following
in my notes at the time, in which you can see the clue
light going on over my head as I wrote it.

Umm, I'm in UNDO, the warlock scenario, and there seem to
be hundreds of possible actions and only one turn to try
them in, plus it takes multiple keypresses to get through
the "lose" message. It basically seems to amount to "guess
the verb", which, I guess is the point.

This was a pretty painful puzzle for me to get through--it
didn't take that long, but it sure was irritating, especially
since it took multiple keypresses to get the chance to type
"UNDO"--so I gave up on the game despite the quality of the
writing and the implementation, simply because I'm that averse
to guess-the-verb (well, action) puzzles, even if they are
intentional.

Rather than playing on IF game design cliches, Masquerade
introduces a rarely-seen genre of story, a genre that is
known for central female characters and a reliance on
formula and cliche. I'm talking, of course, about the
genre of exploitative B-movies. Upon encountering the
scene in which the PC, through no fault of her own, loses
control of her property, but before finding out what price
she'd have to pay to recover, I wrote this in my notes:

Sigh, is this a period piece or a "bikini car wash" story?
"Female gains ownership of car wash/drive-in movie theater/real
estate agency but ownership is in question and she and her friends
are forced to come up with the money in two weeks/5 days/24 hours,
ANY WAY THEY CAN".

I was a bit surprised when the game's plot actually included
in the sense of those final 4 words in the next few turns.

In seriousness, Masquerade deviates a bit from the romantic genre
cliches as far as I know them (from reading only two such, umm,
novels) by making the antagonist not seem quite so dreadful
until an eventual reveal. Whether this is because it suits
the particular story, makes for better *interactive* fiction,
or is simply an alternative strand of romance genre writing
than I've encountered, I don't know.

But I shouldn't pick on the plot so much; after all, Masquerade
ranked 3rd-best on my list. Despite the cliches, the author
was in control of her story and pulled me along, with very
simple, limited interactivity. Was it great? Not most of
the time. On the other hand, the opening scene and "puzzle"
was beautifully constructed--if not perfect, than nearly so;
and none of the rest of the game managed to ruin that impression.
None of it really quite lived up to it, either. I was
disoriented trying to keep track of which of the two male
characters was which (having their names end similarly didn't
help). The characters' reactions to each other might have
been more believeable had the exact same action and gameplay
been spread over a week in the fiction; as such, despite them
not quite seeming real, I played along with it in my head
as just being part of the genre, much as I was happy to let
the silly character behaviors in Dinner with Andre be
justified by its genre.

I'm not sure where all the branch points are in Masquerade,
but the use of yes/no questions in at least some cases
appeals to me in a way that makes me wonder if we shouldn't make
this conventional; or at least those authors who are
comfortable with encouraging the audience to know about
branch points and to help them go look for alternatives might
consider using this convention: that in most activities,
solving puzzles, the player is trying to overcome the barriers
the author has embedded in a linear plot, and that the
only non-merging branch points are at questions from other
characters. Perhaps this latter only really makes sense in
such a heavily character-driven game, but I actually had
the same reaction to "Dinner with Andre"--I wished at the
time that my answers weren't so irrelevant, that what I
said could make a difference, and yet still lead be
guaranteed to lead to an ending.


>TRANSFER KNOWLEDGE

6: "My Angel" by Jon Ingold
7: "Transfer" by Tod Levi

This review is going to spoiler the premises of both
My Angel and Transfer, for differing reasons. In
fact, it's going to spoiler a pretty major fact from
Transfer that you don't know for a while in-game.

Novel mode in My Angel. Wow wow wow. This is great,
and I'm glad the author went to the effort to realize
it, rather than just printing normal text adventure
text in this format. (From reading his description
of the making-of, it in fact went in the other order--
first the narrative style, and *then* novel mode, which
makes sense.) It's in first person--but it didn't bother
me for a moment, unlike other attempts at it.

My criticisms of it: hard to keep track of where new
text is added. I think "alternate" mode is supposed
to address this (but you couldn't change in midstream
so I didn't try it), although it sounds ugly compared to what
is there now. Not possible with the z-machine, I'm sure,
but some kind of cursor that indicates the start of the
response to the last command (but does not remain visible for
previous ones) would be my preferred solution. Another
issue was I found the lack of transitions jarring,
breaking for me the convincingness that I was watching
a novel unfolding. The author's making-of comments indicate
the player can avoid this by keeping commands more "in
context", but it never dawned on me to try this. I
did do it some without realizing it (as a player, I tend
to stay on the obvious path intended by the author), but
never noticed a pattern in the failures.

Finally, I notice from other reviews that some people
were seriously disarmed by it. Imagine how disarmed
you would be the first time sitting down trying to play
IF if you'd never seen it, never played it, and never
seen anybody play it? Infocom imagined it, and included
sample transcripts in their game to show how it was
supposed to go. (In fact, TSR did it with the Dungeon
Master's Guide for pen&paper RPGs way back when.) So
I suspect some sort of transcript might have helped people
overcome the barrier of novel mode. (It would have to be
a rather different kind of transcript, since the whole
point of the difference in mode is the way the two sides
of the participation *don't* interleave.)

Thar be spoilers ahead, matey. Last warnin'.

Transfer is a game about things going wrong at an
underground research center, which turns out, eventually,
to be a sort of mystery/thriller. My Angel, at least as
far as I got, is the story of a journey by two closely
bonded characters; both a physical one and a journey
to understand themselves (with a journey of the player
learning about the both of them tossed in, of course).

The two protagonists of My Angel are different from
the rest of the world, and bonded if for no other
reason than that difference: they are able to communicate
telepathically, to share their minds in some sense;
to share their thoughts and feelings literally. In
Transfer the player quickly discovers the centerpiece
of the scenario: a mind-transfer device which doesn't
work, and the mysterious illness of the device's
creator. Ok, that's a tenuous connection for me to
group the two, but I also grouped them because I'm
spoilering them both more than others. Speaking of
which, here comes the big spoiler for Transfer I
warned you about.

A problem I have with Transfer is nothing that you need
to know as a player is communicated to you very well,
at least not as I played it through--I could certainly
have missed something. For a long time I wasn't
actually sure that it was supposed to be a mind-transfer
device; I wasn't sure what else a transfer device
could transfer, but it was never said outright, and
when it didn't work I still didn't find out. Another
failure to communicate: at this point, the game doesn't
give the character any goal. Eventually it dawns on
you that despite you being a scientist, and despite
there being a broken machine, the game is a mystery
and your goal is to solve those mysteries; even so, for
a while I was poking at puzzles having no clue what my
goal was. After the device fails, things get more
mysterious, with characters acting a little strangely,
and the player totally unsure which of those strangely
acting characters is up to something bad. But the
failure of the device leads us to a real stumper and
honestly here comes the big spoiler--I'm ruining the game
here for you, ok, so don't say I didn't warn you: pretty soon
in the game, you have to use the mind-transfer device to
solve a puzzle, even though, as far as I had figured out
at the time, the mind-transfer device didn't work; and you
can do this because it turns out the mind-transfer device
*did* work after all, and the PC was being tricked into
thinking it didn't work. It's not clear to me that there's
any reason you should think to use the mind-transfer device
at that point; you're still haven't had a chance to interact
with the subject of the "failed" experiment to determine that
it hadn't failed; in fact, the payoff for solving this puzzle
is the revelation that the device really did work. So it
makes it a puzzle you'd only solve because you either decided
to test out the device just in case, or because you read the
hints/walkthrough. If this were a movie, we could say
"oh well, it was a plot hole", but since this is central
to the player managing to make any progress... ugh.

I also agree with many of the other complaints about the
NPC interactions; indeed, I'm not sure why I voted
Transfer as high as I did. I guess I'm pretty tolerant
of stories with intricate plots even if the characters
aren't that great (e.g. Asimov), and the underlying story
here was nicely constructed so that the mystery makes
perfect sense in hindsight, even if the PC's actions are
entirely unmotivated. (Hmm, I guess I can see an analogy
here with some people's complaints about 'A Day for Soft Food'
after all.)

I'm also not sure why I voted My Angel as low as I did.
I guess I felt like the interactivity was low--far too
often it seemed like I typed something and the game just
decided to move on without me. I was never sure whether it
was possible I could get through many portions of the
game by just typing WAIT or not--I never tested it, I
was always trying to participate. The flashbacks were
noticingly strong that way--my character kept wanting
to carry out the flashback the way it had really happened,
which of course makes perfect sense, but sometimes made
me feel as impotent as Rameses did. Still, the telepathic
lead characters are a powerful device: the author
leverages it for some very visual writing, for a
believable sense of bonding which I found very immersive,
and to allow a single command to either reminisce or
communicate--depending on the author's whim. Neat stuff,
and in hindsight I'd vote it higher to reward the effort
and to encourage others to try stuff like this.


>GET ID

5: "Got ID?" by Marc Valhara
6: "Punk Points" by Jim Munroe

GI is a quest for some fake ID (well, no, but humor me),
while PP is a quest for identity. They also both show a
sense of attitude and involve a main character who's a
wannabe of some kind. While GI had lots of wacky
responses, the gameplay just didn't work for me, and I quit
on finding I was supposed to explore a maze with a severely
limited light source, all of which had nothing visibly to do
with acquiring more beer. PP I just got stuck on in the
second act when the game finally opened up wide. (Boy do
I see a trend here.)


>LOCK GRID

5: "The Pickpocket" by Alex Weldon
6: "Ad Verbum" by Nick Montfort

Variety good. Repetition bad. The starting area of
TP was a 3x3 grid of locations. This was boring to
explore and lacked in landmarks. Worse yet, the text of
all nine rooms contained some identical sentences, which
made it all the more boring to read. (And note, the
player *has* to read it anyway, because the player can't
know for sure that it's identical until reading all the
way through, and can't afford to miss some crucial clue
or an extra exit by not reading it.)

To pick on an otherwise largely good game, AV's use of
a cluster of rooms around a stairway landing on every
floor seemed unnecessarily repetitive to me. Yeah, it's
just a silly treasure hunt, so the other trappings aren't
that important, but blah. It also suffered from its
puzzles seeming a bit repetitive.

I played AV first in the competition, and it was the
kind of game that was right up my alley. So why did it
only get a 6? It's my thirteenth-ranked game--just about
at my boundary of "worth playing"--so it's not *that*
low-ranked, but yeah. Partly because I've worked on a
game that forces the player to obey the constraints of
the game, and I wasn't happy with the level of execution
here; too many oversights and unimplemented synonyms.
Unimplemented synonyms are forgivable in most games,
but AV literally becomes a guess-the-verb game in many
places, at which point those valid-but-not-implemented
solutions change it from being clued (*any* word obeying
the constraint) to being unclued (the *right* word obeying
the constraint--i.e. the one the author is thinking of).
Of course, when the author has implemented 8 different
synonyms, it may seem unfair to criticize him for missing
the 9th, but that's the standard I'd hold myself to if it
were my game; *any* valid guess should work. (The fact
that once I figured out the constraint, the very first
command I tried in the first room I needed to didn't work
no doubt has caused my opinion on the subject to be
stronger than it otherwise might.) Of course, in a
crossword puzzle, there may be multiple words that fit
a clue, but only one will fit the crossword puzzle as
a whole; but (a) Ad Verbum isn't a crossword puzzle
and (b) the other answers in the crossword puzzle provide
clues to which word is right, so in the end it *is* clued
which specific word is needed.

Anyway, was AV fun? Sure. I solved the NEWS rooms without
clues, but at the one hour mark I started hinting.
I don't think I'd have ever figured out the some of
the puzzles, some from just being hard, and others
from being insufficiently synonymized.


>XYZZY

6: "Castle Amnos" by John Evans
7: "YAGWAD" by Digby McWiggle

I don't remember very much about CA; it's one of those
games I really need to sit down and continue playing
sometime soon. I know why I quit, and I know I hadn't
gotten far enough into it to say much meaningful about it.

YAGWAD, despite not having finished it either, I'm pretty
comfortable talking about.

Let me say that, in hindsight, it reminds me a lot of
Winter Wonderland in a few ways. Hopefully people aren't
putting status line compasses or ASCII art into their
games just because last year's winner had them; but certainly
as far as I've looked at them I have no complaints (here,
Transfer, and Masquerade--all three games that finished
in my top 10).

The other way YAGWAD reminds me of Winter Wonderland
is in how, after the prologue, it throws you into a relatively
wide-open section full of puzzles in the classic totally
unmotivated wander-around Zork tradition. There are some
clever ideas here, and the writing lives up to the quality of
writing from the prologue while finding a reasonably different
style and tone of voice (just like Winter Wonderland--well,
not WW did it better, but you can't have everything).

Advice to authors: please organize your hints so that they
make sense to the player by making them goal-directed.
Suppose the puzzle of how to get past the killer tree
requires the player have the purple sphere. Suppose
getting the purple sphere requires solving the darkroom
puzzle--but there's no way for the player to tell that
in advance.

Then you have a choice. Your hints for the killer tree
can say "you will need the purple sphere" or they can
say "you should solve the darkroom puzzle before reading
further"; but they should say one or the other early on,
to keep the player who has no possibility of solving the
puzzle from ruining it by reading more hints then he needs.
(Well, of course, if telling him which object is required
would ruin it, how early "early on" means is up to you).

If you choose the former--"you will need the purple sphere"--
you *must* include a hint somewhere with a title like "How do
I get the purple sphere?" The hint for this can just be "You
need to solve the darkroom puzzle", which still has its own
set of hints. If you don't do this--if the player knows
he needs the purple sphere but doesn't know how to get
it, the player has two choices: work on other puzzles
until he eventually finds the purple sphere, or start
reading hints to other puzzles until he finds the one
that provides the purple sphere--potentially ruining
unrelated puzzles. But think about the situation. The player
is *already* reading hints. He's probably stumped on all
the puzzles in front of him. So which is he more likely
to do, go back to working on other puzzles, or start reading
random hints looking for an answer? I know what *this*
player does in that situation.

Of course, it's even better IMO to write a game in which the
player can determine in-game that solving the darkroom puzzle
will provide the purple sphere, and in which the player can
determine that the purple sphere is likely to be needed for
the killer tree puzzle. But you can't have everything.


The elements have gone. They must be brought. You have a rock.
>LOOK FOR CHANGE

9: "Metamorphoses" by Emily Short

Everything positive I could say about it has been said
elsewhere, and I don't care to say anything negative
about it.

Well, since I have publically critiqued the undescribed
exits problem in it, I probably owe the author better
than that, since it was my top-rated game.

Last year, I think my favorite game was Dan Schmidt's
For a Change, which I playtested and therefore didn't
vote on, and didn't ever really decide how I ranked it
relative to the other games, especially since he is also
a friend/ex-coworker of mine and therefore I wasn't sure
whether I was unfairly biased. Nonetheless, it came in
second place in the comp, and this year my favorite also
came in second place. Beyond these parallels, and those
suggested by the title of this section, I think I see
some deeper parallels for why they ranked highly for me.

In a thread on r.g.i-f, I tried to describe how I see
both the writing and the interactivity of a work of IF
as being important; that one cannot be traded off for
the other. A work of IF with noticeably buggy programming
will rank low, no matter how good the writing; a work
of IF with incomprehensible writing will rank low, no
matter how good the interactivity. In the middle, a
work with flawed design cannot be significantly offset by
better writing, and a work with significant grammatical
errors cannot be offset by better interaction. The perfect
work of IF is perfect in both regards; and to fall off
from perfection from either detracts from the experience
as a whole. [For the mathematically inclined, let I and F
be the value of each aspect from 0 to 1; then consider
judging the overall value as (I+F)/2, or as max(I,F), or
as min(I,F), or as I*F. Although the description may
sound more like min(), I'm thinking I*F. Since true
mathematicians would write this last as IF, clearly I've
chosen the most aesthetically pleasing function; and as
any mathematician will tell you, mathematical truths
are aesthetically pleasing; hence the one I prefer is the
mathematically correct function--though I leave a more
formal proof of this to the reader.]

In terms of the writing, both Metamorphoses and For a
Change feature not just good writing--mechanically
flawless, as clear in meaning as the author felt appropiate
to the game context--but both offer a distinctive voice that
helped define the universe of the game for me--in both cases,
a distinctly otherworldly universe.

In terms of interactivity, both of them are unashamedly
"traditional" adventure games, both biased to the easy side.
(For a Change was one of the only puzzled-based comp99 games
I completed without any reading any hints at all.) The programming
implementations, as adventure games, were careful and detailed;
for example, For a Change took advantage of the INVENTORY command
to provide yet another little "description" of each object,
an addition that was primarily writing yet was inextricably linked
to the form being an adventure game; Metamorphoses' care shows
in its toys.

Now, I don't want to knock non-game IF, nor to knock
puzzle romps. I imagine I could score a well-designed,
well-implemented puzzle romp high; it's just that doing
such things so well is much harder. Non-game IF and
"less interactive IF" has the challenge of exploring
new territory more than building on the efforts that
have gone before and the expectations those efforts
have created in players. So herein I'm going to stick
to talking about games literally since although the
theory of computer game design may be underdeveloped,
at least it's in the process of being developed, as opposed
to the theory of non-game IF.

Returning to For a Change and Metamorphoses, that leaves
the hard vs. easy puzzles question, and rather than try to
solve it or convince anyone of anything about it overall,
let me turn to one specific context: the end game.
I mentioned in my review of Dinner with Andre that its
ending was perfect--by which I meant not merely the plot
but the level of interactivity, which was easy (although
perhaps too easy--indeed, I'd love to see a game with
a final conversation like that where the answers made
a difference).

In movies, the "ticking clock" of act III (the final act)
is not just a formulaic cliche--a bomb, a wedding across
town, an enemy army about to reach a crucial bridge, a
planet-smashing weapon about to move out from behind a
moon into position to destroy the rebel base--but a
component of almost every *good* movie as well; it not
only works, but a movie without a ticking clock almost
always works better if it is altered to have one. The
ticking clock serves a few purposes, but the central one
is to heighten the peril; the protagonist has been taking
actions to try to overcome the problems confronting her,
but now the ticking clock says: "This is your final chance.
Succeed here, or fail forever." More is on the line.
The audience, already engaged, and wanting to see the
protagonist succeed, sees the threat of danger more at
hand then ever in the face of that deadline.

Now, I'm about to impugn IF implementors everywhere, so
take this as a bit of a metaphor or analogy or just an
example scenario if you don't think it's true literally.

I think game designers (and by this I mean commercial
game developers as well as IF authors, especially as I'm
quite certain this isn't a metaphor for the former) tend
to recognize the power of the experience of movies and
attempt to recreate it without understanding why the movie
works and how difference in the relationship of audience
and protagonist in the two media means the same approach
cannot be used.

I personally dislike games which put their hardest challenges
at the end of the game--whether IF, or a boss monster in
a twitch arcade game, or simply the endless waves of enemy
fighters in all the Wing Commander games. Not only do I
personally dislike it, but I think it's the wrong thing
to do in general. And I see similar complaints from other
people on Usenet quite often (though it's hard to say
whether where the majority opinion lies).

A reason you might put the hardest challenge last is because
the hardest challenge is what produces the most satisfaction
when it is finally overcome. The climactic moment of
satisfaction should come at the climax of the game.

The problem with this is that as the player comes close to
the end of the game--starts seeing the end of the game in
sight--the frustration at failing to overcome the final
challenge (for a time) will be amplified by being close to
the end. "I was *so* close", says someone who almost defeats
a challenge, of the challenge. But, if they know they're
near the conclusion, they say "I was *so* close to finishing,
to getting to see the ending, to having things resolved",
and the frustration--from the exact same gameplay failure--is
greater.

Frustration is not an emotion movies generally try to bring
about in the audience during the onset of the conclusion.
The audience may be frustrated by a passive or incompetent
protagonist, but act III (at the latest) is where something
finally happens--almost always where the protagonist is finally
impelled to act--quite possibly because of that ticking
clock.

Game designers attempting to sufficiently challenge players
at the end of the game seem to quite nonchalantly accept
the idea that the player will feel frustration at the end;
all for (I presume) the added payoff of the heightened
satisfaction.

But it's not necessary! The heightened satisfaction can
be achieved in lots of other ways. Even just overcoming
a simple problem can feel more satisfactory if the player
knows it is what is going to really bring the game to a
close, especially if that problem is clearly connected to
the end goal of the game, and not just a locked door with
a key.

Even worse, some game designers choose to heighten the
peril at the end of the game with a ticking clock. The
combination of time constraints and hard puzzles at the
end of a game is the end of the game for me; Spider & Web
was a great game, but it was all the better (for me) for
my having played the endgame from a walkthrough.

One great compromise to heightening user satisfaction over
the final challenge is to introduce a ticking clock--a time
constraint--with a relatively easy puzzle. For a Change
stands out in my mind for this. The player has enacted
the desired change--the goal of the game (the sun must
be brought), but is in peril of perishing. The player is
in a single location, with a single object, whose rules
in the universe the player has already worked out previously,
but for which new options are available. And time is running
out for our hero... I mean for me! A *great* moment. A
moment I'll remember for a long time. A moment that defines
the game. All that--and yet it was an easy puzzle.

Alternately, a ticking clock can be introduced, but one
that isn't actually simulated. Not as powerful, but players
who are engaged and participating fully will generally not
be put off by, say, the failure of the bomb to go off before
they deactivate it; and how much do you care about the
opinion of players who have made it to the end of your
game but aren't engaged and fully participating?

Personally, I think the strongest moments of satisfaction
come from intentionality, not from the length of time
invested in coming up with the solution. By intentionality,
I mean the idea that player is faced with a situation, has
a goal in mind, has options available, and forms a plan to
reach the goal, and executes that plan. Again, the ending
from For a Change reflects this, at least as I experienced
it; a puzzle where the player is poking at it not knowing
why a given action will solve the puzzle--or not knowing why
the player should *want* to solve the puzzle because it doesn't
relate to the goal--deviates from this notion of intentionality.
(See http://www.gamasutra.com/features/19990716/design_tools_01.htm
for more description of this idea). [Indeed, many of the other
puzzles in For a Change were lacking in intentionality--
you would just try things because maybe they would do something,
uncertain of the consequences--and for this reason perhaps For
a Change isn't really quite that high up by my standards. Or
perhaps its puzzles were simply satisfying for other reasons.
Or then again, maybe there was often intentionality, but it
was limited; I wasn't sure what the consequences of my actions
were, because I wasn't sure of the nature of the world, but
that was clearly the author's intent: on thinking of the
solution to the songlantern puzzle, when I thought to myself
"Maybe I should <spoiler>", I didn't *know* it would work,
but it did make sense that it *might* work.]

As another example, the first scene of Masquerade was to me a
beautiful, perfectly intentional puzzle; I knew exactly
what it was going to accomplish as I performed it. It is
possible somebody might solve the puzzle without realizing
why the action was the right thing--since there were so few
other things to do--but I think for the vast majority of
people they would have done it intentionally ("intentionfully"?).

The most satisfying moment of solving an IF puzzle for me
was, after several days of struggling, coming up with the
right final command to solve the Royal Jewel puzzle of Zork III.
That it took me so long no doubt contributed to the
satisfaction. But the depth of the satisfaction came
also from the fact that as I entered the command into the
game, I knew with total certainty that this was the solution;
my intentionality was perfect; it was so clearly "the right
thing" to do that I had thought of it in class, far from my
home computer, and yet knew it to be right at the instant I
thought of it. Only a puzzle that was that hard would lead me
to solve it so far away in time and space from playing the game;
but any puzzle, no matter how easy, which brings me that moment
of certainty is far more powerful than any puzzle which never
does.

Thus, in Metamorphoses, although I had no clue why I needed
to ring the bell at the beginning, when it dawned on me that
it was likely to be a good idea to ring the bell, and I
canvassed about for ways to ring it, having thought of a
solution (and having, at this point in the game, faith in
the author), I was confident that it would work, and there
was a nice moment of satisfaction when it did. This "puzzle"
was incredibly easy; but it was not force-fed to me; I had to
come to a decision about just how I was going to ring the bell.
And that's enough to engage me, to involve me, to immerse me
in a way that static prose (or a game like Rameses where there
may be interactivity but there is no control) simply cannot;
and when added to everything else, that's enough to bring this
game to the top of my list.


>NOTES

Although I implied at one point that only the top 13 or so
games make my "worth playing" list, I do not mean to imply
that the other 36 that I voted on weren't worth writing.
For those authors for whom there was a substantial audience
who enjoyed their games, but that audience didn't include
me, congratulations and feel free to ignore me. I believe
that all of the top 18 games according to the comp had at
least 25 votes that were 8+; and even a game with only ten
such votes clearly has satisfied some people. (Two games
have strangely flat vote distributions--ACS and RtZAS--which
means they had a larger strongly approving audience than might
otherwise be implied by their middle ranking... as well as a
larger strongly disapproving audience.)

For those authors whose games widely received the same reaction
that I gave them, and who did not go into the comp expecting to
never write again, I hope they seek and find what constructive
criticism they can and come back next year (or even earlier!)
with something new and improved; certainly there are few
authors here who I think are beyond help; after all, this
year there was no entry from Rybr**d.

+----------------------------------------------+
| Criticism is the sincerest form of flattery. |
| -- me |
+----------------------------------------------+

>QUIT

Adam Cadre

unread,
Nov 21, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/21/00
to
Sean Barrett wrote:
> A reason you might put the hardest challenge last is because
> the hardest challenge is what produces the most satisfaction
> when it is finally overcome. The climactic moment of
> satisfaction should come at the climax of the game. [...]

> But it's not necessary! The heightened satisfaction can
> be achieved in lots of other ways. Even just overcoming
> a simple problem can feel more satisfactory if the player
> knows it is what is going to really bring the game to a
> close [...]

This is strange -- on the one hand, I want to say, "That's absolutely
right, and what's more..." while at the same time, I'm boggling at what
is to me an alien mindset. So I think what I'm going to offer here is
a separate concurring opinion.

What I like about playing IF is exploring someone else's world, and
getting entertaining messages when I try to knock over the vases. I
don't like puzzles. Puzzles are obstacles keeping me from getting to
unseen bits of the world that might have unseen entertaining messages
in them. I'd just as soon get there without having to jump over any
hurdles. The few puzzles I have liked have mostly been designed such
that they were themselves interesting bits of the world with neat
messages; I liked the language puzzle in THE EDIFICE not because it was
challenging fun to figure out how to compose the sentence that was my
supposed goal, but because it was fun to figure out how to say all
sorts of *other* wacky stuff and get nifty responses.

If you're going to make me solve a puzzle, there had better damn well
be a big reward on the other side, because I generally get no intrinsic
satisfaction from puzzle-solving. This means that if you stick the
climax at the end of the game and then dump me into a "You have won"
message, I'm going to be pissed. I want a payoff sequence. In any
event, unless you're deliberately defying storytelling convention, the
climax isn't supposed to come at the end anyway! Where's the
denouement? I don't get excited that the *finish line* is in sight --
if I want the game to end, I can always just type >QUIT -- I get excited
that I'm about to see the cool denouement that I fought through (or,
much more ofter, walked through) all these puzzles to see. The better
the denouement, the more satisfying the experience. So by all means,
go ahead and put the climax closer to the middle than to the end; the
easy puzzles thereafter will look more like a reward, whereas placed
before the climax they'd look more like part of the punishment.

-----
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
web site: http://adamcadre.ac
novel: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060195584/adamcadreac

daye...@my-deja.com

unread,
Nov 21, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/21/00
to
Rybr**d?

King Tut! Am I a genetic algorithm, now? And that's the scheme? So if
I ever get out of this local maximum I'll create a work of art?

Rybreed? eek!
Rybrend?
Rybread?
Rybräid?

oh my.


Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Before you buy.

afr...@my-deja.com

unread,
Nov 21, 2000, 8:51:08 PM11/21/00
to
In article <G4D2t...@world.std.com>,

buz...@world.std.com (Sean T Barrett) wrote:
>"Out of the frying pan and into the fire" isn't the only way to
>achieve such "storytelling"; when I change the color of an object in
>Kaged it's for a pretty obvious reason, to
>achieve a pretty obvious goal that has to do with the overall
>situation; but when I create a library in Planet of the
>Infinite Minds I'm just doing it 'cause it's there.

I felt there was some motivation behind this action (that is, the
creation of the library.) Let me go back just a little, and I’ll
explain…

I wanted the first section of this game to involve some detective work.
I thought it would be a good device for introducing the player to some
of the games stranger concepts. The gypsy who you first speak with
gives you only one lead – a photo of a man with the initials CV written
on it. When you eventually meet BetteDavisEye, he informs you that the
man’s name is CleftValet and that he has written a book –
entitled ‘Your methods are interesting… but your science is weak.’ This
book is your next big lead. So where would you find a book like that?
Hence >CREATE LIBRARY. (Also, there were hints in the beginning that
you worked in a science library - it's mentioned as having a 'Modern
Technical Science' and a 'Modern Techniques of Science' section. The
book in question is science book.) It is probably a little obscure but
it is still motivation, I feel.

I probably should have given the player some more clues, but I wasn’t
sure how I could do that without spoiling the surprise that such an
abstract action would work. Not that I don’t appreciate the criticism –
thanks for the time you gave my game.

Alfredo Garcia

Sean T Barrett

unread,
Nov 21, 2000, 11:32:49 PM11/21/00
to
Spoilers for Planet of the Infinite Minds

In article <8vf8qa$ksl$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>, <afr...@my-deja.com> wrote:
[explanation that you're creating a library because you're supposed
to be looking for a book, so it's clued--I'm summarizing here because
this post had weird non-ASCII characters which made my editor misbehave
so I couldn't trim it properly]

Ok, that makes sense. Unfortunately, the puzzle also hinges
on classic adventure game "what I say not what I mean" logic;
the world is allowed to behave in an illogical manner simply
because it matches some other language. Now, this certainly
wasn't the first time (e.g. the wearing of time), but it's
pretty clearly incoherent: the PC wants to examine a book,
so he creates a library containing that book; however, the
premise of his ability to create is that he must be able to
imagine every detail of the thing he's creating; and the
introductory text mentioned that the PC knew the library in every
detail. We are even given an example of something the player
doesn't know in every detail--the key. Wouldn't the PC's
ability to create a library with a particular book imply
the PC already knew the book? Wouldn't the ability of
the PC to create the contents of that book in every detail imply
that the PC already knew every detail ofthe book? Hence why
would the PC even want to do it?

So I can see what you intended, and I don't mean it as an insult
to call it "adventure game illogic"--ad verbum and letters
from home were both based around the same sort of thing--but
adventure game illogic can be hard to predict, which, I tihnk,
means it needs even more clueing if you want the player to feel
properly motivated. (I don't think it was hard to come up with
the idea of typing that command--I just had no clue why I
was doing it, due to the logic from the previous paragraph.)

SeanB

Jon Ingold

unread,
Nov 22, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/22/00
to
>I'm also not sure why I voted My Angel as low as I did.
>I guess I felt like the interactivity was low--far too
>often it seemed like I typed something and the game just
>decided to move on without me.

A lot of people have said this: I spent a while trying to make the game as
responsive as possible, so that for most things you typed it'd have a
sensible response. The problem is, the game tries to work out how you're
doing (and avoid repeitition) so if you're sat by a puzzle typing "look"
three times, it assumes you've given up and Angela will help out. I was
hoping to encourage players not to type the first thing they thought of, but
rather to think before each move - as I'd said before, to think
_contextually_. So for instance, some people complained that they got the
solution to the horses problem from the walkthrough, and it was illogical.
To which I'd say: there are at least 7 different ways of moving the horses,
and very few possible actions; so if you'd tried something *you* thought was
logical it should have worked.

I think another reason it seems uninteractive though is because there is
virtually no simulation element to the game; I guess it is effectively
choosing paragraphs from a CYOA book, only with a vastly increased range at
each prompt. I think people approach it as more selecting bits of text to
read than trying to produce various things, and dislike this.

Which leads me to a question: do people see "My Angel" as less interactive
than, say, "Rameses" or "Photopia"; precisely because it *doesn't* use
default library responses to convince you to stay on track?

Jon

J. Robinson Wheeler

unread,
Nov 22, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/22/00
to

Spoilers for My Angel....


Jon Ingold wrote:

> So for instance, some people complained that they got the
> solution to the horses problem from the walkthrough, and it was illogical.
> To which I'd say: there are at least 7 different ways of moving the horses,
> and very few possible actions; so if you'd tried something *you* thought was
> logical it should have worked.

My first thought was just to blow in the little pipe, making an annoying
crazy noise that would startle them. Oh well. I was on the right track, I
guess.


> I think another reason it seems uninteractive though is because there is
> virtually no simulation element to the game; I guess it is effectively
> choosing paragraphs from a CYOA book, only with a vastly increased range at
> each prompt. I think people approach it as more selecting bits of text to
> read than trying to produce various things, and dislike this.

I had the advantage, I guess, of having read a number of (positive) reviews
as well as some of your explanations of what you were going for before I
played it. I went ahead and played through in Novel mode, just to take it
for a spin, and did my best to try to produce an interesting narrative
rather than attacking it like a normal game.

Pretty cool, I thought. This is a key work in the ongoing development of
story-based IF. Lots of very smart thinking went into the design, and I
think you're really on to something here in terms of the gameplay of this
type of IF.


> Which leads me to a question: do people see "My Angel" as less interactive
> than, say, "Rameses" or "Photopia"; precisely because it *doesn't* use
> default library responses to convince you to stay on track?

Hm, gee. No. It felt fully-interactive to me, but like I said, I didn't go
into it cold, but went in kind of knowing how to approach the material. I'm
not even sure I know how to put it on a scale with "Rameses" and "Photopia"
-- they all seem so different.


--
J. Robinson Wheeler http://thekroneexperiment.com
whe...@jump.net

Sean T Barrett

unread,
Nov 22, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/22/00
to
Jon Ingold <ji...@cam.ac.uk> wrote:
>Which leads me to a question: do people see "My Angel" as less interactive
>than, say, "Rameses" or "Photopia"; precisely because it *doesn't* use
>default library responses to convince you to stay on track?

No, in this regards I had no problem with it. As a simulation
it felt no more limited than, say, a one-game room, or a game with
no inventory, or a game with no NPCs (er, three separate games,
not all three at once). I'm not really sure just how limited the
simulation was, since I didn't try to fight it, though.

SeanB

Jon Ingold

unread,
Nov 22, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/22/00
to

Sean T Barrett wrote in message ...


What I mean mainly is things like object-tree simulation: in a normal inform
game you can arrange objects to your heats content. Not so My Angel; where
the object tree is only really ever _used_ twice - for objects on the
throne, and for objects in the tube. The Insert, AttemptToTake, <snip other
major library routines> are all present and correct; it's just bloody
difficult to get any of them called.

Jon

Sean T Barrett

unread,
Nov 22, 2000, 10:47:36 PM11/22/00
to
Adam Cadre <re...@adamcadre.ac> wrote:
>climax at the end of the game and then dump me into a "You have won"
>message, I'm going to be pissed. I want a payoff sequence. In any
>event, unless you're deliberately defying storytelling convention, the
>climax isn't supposed to come at the end anyway! Where's the
>denouement? I don't get excited that the *finish line* is in sight --
>if I want the game to end, I can always just type >QUIT -- I get excited
>that I'm about to see the cool denouement that I fought through (or,
>much more ofter, walked through) all these puzzles to see. The better
>the denouement, the more satisfying the experience. So by all means,
>go ahead and put the climax closer to the middle than to the end; the
>easy puzzles thereafter will look more like a reward, whereas placed
>before the climax they'd look more like part of the punishment.

One of the problems with using existing terminology from other
media to apply to interactive fiction is that you never know whether
this is one of those rare cases where things don't translate from
non-interactive media.

The climax-denouement (which I was sloppy about in my reviews)
distinction is an important one, and one that shouldn't be skimmed
over, but it's interesting to note how many interactive works
(and I mean both IF and commercial games of every flavor) simply
cease to be interactive once the climax reaches its peak; the
denouement is a non-interactive cut-scene afterwards, almost
always. I think I can count the number of commercial games that
are not this way on one hand; indeed the only one that comes to
mind offhand from my less-than-encyclopedic knowledge of commercial games
is the original "Toejam & Earl", in which you got to return home
for the heroes' welcome interactively. I don't know if that's because
denouements just don't work if interactive, or they're hard to make
work and you have to be really good, or if game designers just
aren't thoughtful enough about it--aren't really trying.

I think this was the intent of "Dinner with Andre" in particular--what
I was talking about with the ending was really the denouement;
perhaps this was one reason some people found in unsatisfying, because
they don't want to be bothered with having to interact through the
denouement. (In truth, DwA was VERY oddly paced; solving the
4-waiters puzzle was the climax of the puzzling, but the climax
of the story is probably either the final pratfall or the
final encounter with the date; nonetheless the pacing worked perfectly
for me.)

Perhaps Masquerade was playing with this as well, although with
multiple endings it becomes even harder to decide where the
boundaries are; but for instance the one happy ending I found,
I see the climax as being when the character decides to get on
the train (ok, I decided for her, but you know what I mean), and
the final encounter with the love interest is just denouement.

Hmm, having finished only 13 of the games of the comp I'm not
too well suited to comment on this at length, especially since
at least three of those were experimental or just tailed off at
the end. I don't remember what the last command of BAP was;
I believe the last command in Rameses came at the climax; the
main endings of Kaged seemed to make the last command the climax;
etc.

SeanB

J. Robinson Wheeler

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Nov 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/23/00
to
Sean T Barrett wrote:

> Hmm, having finished only 13 of the games of the comp I'm not
> too well suited to comment on this at length, especially since
> at least three of those were experimental or just tailed off at
> the end. I don't remember what the last command of BAP was;

The last command of BAP is >LOOK. The climax is killing Melvin, the
denoument is returning to the office and setting it back in order with the
spells.

Carl Muckenhoupt

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Nov 24, 2000, 10:06:42 PM11/24/00
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On Fri, 24 Nov 2000 11:58:03 -0500, Norton Zenger <tw...@catholic.org>
wrote:

>Sean T Barrett come on down:


>
>>The climax-denouement (which I was sloppy about in my reviews)
>>distinction is an important one, and one that shouldn't be skimmed
>>over, but it's interesting to note how many interactive works
>>(and I mean both IF and commercial games of every flavor) simply
>>cease to be interactive once the climax reaches its peak; the
>>denouement is a non-interactive cut-scene afterwards, almost
>>always.
>

>This is what I liked about "A Mind Forever Voyaging".

I'd Sierra's "Quest for Glory 1" (aka "Hero'sQuest") is another
example. The climax is clearly the raid on the bandits' stronghold,
which reaches its peak at the confrontation with the bandit chieftain.
But once you've done that, there's still a small but (plowise)
significant task to be done elsewhere using equipment recovered from
the bandits.

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Mike Sousa

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Nov 25, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/25/00
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Heh... Here is how eating came to be in AWE. (in case anyone is remotely
interested)

I was designing the kitchen area at a time when there was a thread on RAIF
(I think?) about microwaves and if you implement one, it should at least
_work_ to some level in the game world. No big deal, right? Yeah...
right.

So, I created my microwave. It had buttons (including power levels) and
everything. But what does the PC do with it? Hey, let's add some pizza.
Yikes, what about the battery? Surely somebody is going to put it in.
(well, even if that somebody is Vincent Lynch!) Okay, make it explode.
Hmmm... What about the Swiss army knife? The soda? Grrr... This is a lot
of work for a 'decoration'.

Many hours later, it was done. Wow, a lot of work for something that will
probably get bypassed by most players. Okay, let me force them to at
least use it. He needs to eat, right? No big deal.

What do you mean there are over 20 bugs with the buttons/dials/power?
Screw that. Remove them all, it's an "automatic sensor" model. Okay,
let's move on, I got this simple idea on how to get gas out of the barn --
need to work on that puzzle.

A month later, bug reports come in. Why does the pizza need to be
heated? Why can't I just eat it cold? And why do I have to eat? I'm
sure Jake can get by two days without eating.

Sigh....

Okay, microwave now optional, eat the damn pizza cold, add a hurried line
somewhere that you're diabetic and need to increase your sugar level -- I
really don't have time for this eating stuff, I'm still trying to fix all
the bugs in the barn....

And that is how eating came to be in AWE -- if only I had made the barn
optional.....


Richard Bos

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Nov 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/27/00
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"Jon Ingold" <ji...@cam.ac.uk> wrote:

> Which leads me to a question: do people see "My Angel" as less interactive
> than, say, "Rameses" or "Photopia"; precisely because it *doesn't* use
> default library responses to convince you to stay on track?

No; on the contrary. Rameses strikes me as constantly telling me that
"I, the implementor, don't want you to do that.", whereas My Angel gives
the impression that even though it's more or less railroaded, I _do_
have choices, even though they're not as earth-shatteringly significant
as in some games; they may not change the greater story, much, but they
certainly changed my (player's) attitude towards the developing story.

Richard

stephe...@my-deja.com

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Nov 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/27/00
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In article <3a228d42...@news.worldonline.nl>,

in...@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl (Richard Bos) wrote:
> "Jon Ingold" <ji...@cam.ac.uk> wrote:
>
> > Which leads me to a question: do people see "My Angel" as less
interactive
> > than, say, "Rameses" or "Photopia"; precisely because it *doesn't*
use
> > default library responses to convince you to stay on track?
>
> No; on the contrary. Rameses strikes me as constantly telling me that
> "I, the implementor, don't want you to do that."
<snip>

Well, personally speaking, I, the implementor, want you to try all kinds
of stuff. I did try to put in responses for as many actions as I could
think of, so it's really the PC that doesn't want you to do them, not
me....

Stephen.

Richard Bos

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Nov 28, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/28/00
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stephe...@my-deja.com wrote:

> In article <3a228d42...@news.worldonline.nl>,
> in...@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl (Richard Bos) wrote:
> > No; on the contrary. Rameses strikes me as constantly telling me that
> > "I, the implementor, don't want you to do that."
>

> Well, personally speaking, I, the implementor, want you to try all kinds
> of stuff. I did try to put in responses for as many actions as I could
> think of, so it's really the PC that doesn't want you to do them, not
> me....

Ok... let me clarify, then. My impression (and I'm probably still wrong,
but...) was that you want me to _try_ all kinds of things, but not
actually succeed in _doing_ any of them. This rather frustrated me. It
didn't help either that the subject of the game didn't impress me much,
either; I have a very different idea of teenage angst. But that is an
additional point, and highly personal to boot.

Of course, I'm apparently in a minority here, so feel free to ignore me
if you want to win next year <g>.

Richard

stephe...@my-deja.com

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Nov 28, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/28/00
to
In article <3a23933a...@news.worldonline.nl>,
in...@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl (Richard Bos) wrote:

> stephe...@my-deja.com wrote:
>
> > Well, personally speaking, I, the implementor, want you to try all
kinds
> > of stuff. I did try to put in responses for as many actions as I
could
> > think of, so it's really the PC that doesn't want you to do them,
not
> > me....
>
> Ok... let me clarify, then. My impression (and I'm probably still
wrong,
> but...) was that you want me to _try_ all kinds of things, but not
> actually succeed in _doing_ any of them. This rather frustrated me. It
> didn't help either that the subject of the game didn't impress me
much,
> either; I have a very different idea of teenage angst. But that is an
> additional point, and highly personal to boot.

Ok fair enough :) I realise that a lot of people might find it
frustrating, but I just wanted to clarify that my game wasn't on-rails-
because-I-want-to-shout-a-story-at-you.

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