[Comp99] Reviews: Change, Skyranch, Banana, Guard, Winter Wonderland

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David Ledgard

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Nov 19, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/19/99
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Change, Inform, Score: 3 out of 10

This story quite garbed me although I couldn't do much with it. The prose
seems more like poetry than writing. The guidebook had entries on just about
every subject I would expect and the map was simple enough to remember in my
head. I couldn't finish this game or indeed solve any puzzles, if that was
it's purpose, as it didn't seem to have a score it may not have been. The
toolman didn't seem to be of any use either, I imagined he might supply me
with a rope or lantern. There was I nice touch when you come in from the
flagpole, it says you feel relieved echoing your feelings and you truly do,
imagining yourself on a flagpole a top a giant tower.

This game reminds me of a science fiction book I once read where this planet
is on 'the edge of the universe'. The people living there don't know that
and live beside a giant wall that goes on forever. They expend a vast effort
to build a platform to get on top of the wall and see what is on the other
side. When built they send one man up, and he walks across the top of the
wall and finds he gets back to where he started (i.e. space is curved), and
orders the platform destroyed without telling anyone else what he found.

****************************************************************************

Skyranch, MSDOS Executable, Score: 3 out of 10

It's nice to see a Science Fiction story in the Comp as that's my favourite
type of IF. I really think the IF-archive should divide games into
categories like Infocom did e.g. Science Fiction, Mystery, Horror,
Historic... as there are so many games on there now that you can't play them
all so should be given the option of trying the ones in your favourite field
first.

The Author doesn't seem to have English as his first language, I say this as
some worlds seem to be in the wrong order in sentences and many European
languages do this (from our perspective). But you can't hold this against
him as his standard of English if very high. May be I'm wrong anyway and he
just couldn't be bothered to re-read his transcript.

I really don't think there is any virtue anymore in writing your own text
adventure engine. They never measure up to the ones like Inform, TADS and
Alan which have had many man hours of work put into them, not just by the
current programmers, players and testers but by companies like Infocom that
pioneered the Z Machine standard they are based on. No one [mortal] person
can hope to equal them, I know because I originally tried to write my
Spacestation game in Pascal and found it was hopeless. I got quite a lot
done through like a map, movement, picking up (but not dropping objects),
status line, text roll-over, simple inventory... This shows very much in
this game, commands like 'x' don't work; 'examine <object>' is even worse,
it just displays blanks lines, I found 'look at object' is more helpful;
when text takes up more than one page, the roll-over doesn't just leave the
last line at the top of the screen, it leaves about 10 previous lines; I
also found I couldn't talk to the only character I found in the game.

It is a real shame the author didn't choose to write his game using one of
the major text adventure engines as his prose and story is quite good, if
limited from the bits I was able to try. But unfortunately due to the
limitations of the program you can't interact with the story much. There is
also a robot called Lloyd, remind you of another IF character?

************************************************************************

Banana, Inform, Score: 2 out of 10

This is a small mildly amusing game. The author seems to have been
influenced by Monkey Island (the only Graphic Adventure I ever liked) and
makes a couple of remarks relating to Planetfall and Hitchhikers Guide to
the Galaxy. Unfortunately it has a rather stupid bug, when you do something
right the score is increased but the status line score is not updated, thus
for every action I tried I got a negative response even when it was correct.
I had to resort to the walkthrough to find out how to solve a game that I
could have solved myself if this feature had been working properly. Just
type score after every action, then it tells you the score and updates the
status line, so you know when you are on the right track. I got 9 out of 10
points but couldn't work out how to get the final point, and it wasn't xyzzy
or plugh which made a refreshing change.

*************************************************************************

Guard, Inform, Score: 3 out of 10

This is a classic adventure in the grand tradition of Zork. I have a theory
that Zork is really Orc from Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' with a Z put in front so
it sounds exotic and the K changed to a c so no one notices. The game
unfortunately has a few bugs that ruin it. This shows the vital need have
your game playtested. The author has clearly put a lot of work into this
game but the bugs just make it virtually unplayable. Hopefully he will
release a fixed version later so we can all enjoy what looks like it
otherwise would be a great game, but I fear this won't help his score in the
competition. My commiseration's to the author, I know how much work goes
into writing an IF game, and it much be really annoying to have such a
stupid bug ruin it. I think the competition riles should be altered to allow
authors to fix silly bugs like this and resubmit their games. If there
hadn't been any bugs I would probably have doubled the given score. But then
classic IF isn't to everyone's taste anyway.

The player apparently starts with 12 identical business cards unfortunately
when you do an inventory they cause the game to crash. You can solve this
problem (courtesy of a rec.games.int-fiction post) by typing:

drop card.g.g.g.g.g.g.g.g.g.g.g

Unfortunately this means you can't pick up any further objects, which
greatly restricts what you can do, including vital keys and a list telling
you where to find treasures. If you remove your cloak everything goes dark,
this is probably another bug. Try take all in the study and you get 'crystal
bridge: that isn't available' over a dozen times, which seems absolutely
burzar.

The game does have a few novel features. Four adventurers arrive to plunder
all the treasures, so you get to view the game from an NPC viewpoint in some
ways. They also carry lights so you can follow them into dark rooms and see
what is in there, but they tend to move on quickly. There is one room you
can enter but not leave, it has three possible exits after you have tried
them all the game ends preventing you being stuck in there forever, which is
quite good. The standard response for bumping into walls has been changed to
something witty but most scenery objects haven't been implemented which
rather counteracts this good effect. It also has a sample transcript which
is included with it of good quality, but it would have been better if it had
finished with the player moving the boulder I think. I detect influences of
my site ( http://members.tripod.com/~infoscripts in case you were wondering
;-) ) which is about Infocom sample transcripts and how to use libraries to
make coding more bug resistant and less work, but then this just may be
vanity.

A novice adventure might get stuck at the start of the game, not being able
to think what to do. This scene reminds me of the mountain where the dragon
lives in 'the Hobbit'. Also the dark room might foil an unseasoned player as
well. When you draw a map some of the rooms and exits seem to overlap which
is annoying.

****************************************************************************

Winter Wonderland, Inform, Score: 5 out of 10

This game started well but then in my opinion went down hill, probably
because the author spent more time on the beginning bit than the end bit. I
solved all the puzzles in the prologue myself, not that they were very
difficult. The ASCII and map graphics were good. Perhaps some enterprising
soul (the author?) could convert the map code (which shows all possible
exits) into a standard Inform library so other games could use this very
useful feature. Not quite up to the standards of the Beyond Zork map but
still a great deal better than nothing.

The prologue over did the poverty angle a bit but was still quite
entertaining. All objects seemed to be implemented and the mother had
several possible responses. There seem to have been more female characters
in this game than most, probably because the author is female. The game also
had catches to prevent you leaving the Tavern without finding what you are
supposed to in a specific object, and leaving the village without spending
the coin.

I found the main game rather disappointing in comparison. It was too
airy-fairy for my tastes and had a maze like map which have long been done
to death. I couldn't solve any of the puzzles and didn't bother looking up
the hints as I regard this both as cheating and a chore. If the puzzles in
this section had been a little bit easier and the characters less fantasy
based I would have much preferred it. The drawf mine looked interesting but
I couldn't explore it properly without light.

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