[Comp03]My thoughts on comp games

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Rikard Peterson

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Nov 16, 2003, 1:56:42 AM11/16/03
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This has been the second year I played and judged the games in the
ifcomp. Like last year, I set out with the goal to play all the games
and like last year I had time for much less. I've followed the order
suggested by Comp03.z5 strictly, so at least the few games I played
are randomly selected.

I've also tried to improve my reviews compared to last year, where
according to Mike Sousa my comments often were too generic and the
best thing about them were the close relation to the final results (I
agree with him, btw). Well, there are more words in each review this
year - I hope there's more content as well. I'm no writer myself, and
any suggestions and comments are simply a general player's thoughts.
Hopefully, there'll at least be some indications in this text of what
I liked and why I liked it.

- - - - -

_5_: Sweet Dreams (sweetdreams.exe)

From the accompanying text file:

'I know, I know. "What was she THINKING? Entering a completely
graphical game into a text adventure competition?"

Well... somebody had to do it. :)'

I wanted to do that one day (and be the first one), so I'm not
completely averse to the idea. (Though I was thinking more in the
lines of Eric the Unready and not pure point-n-click.) It still feels
a bit odd that the first game I'll play in the ifcomp is a graphical
game. It's not what you expect. Anyway - on with the review! I gave
Sweet Dreams 5 points. It didn't make me wish I'd never downloaded
it, but it didn't grab me either. I think the biggest reason for that
failure is the prologue where I felt unmotivated. Hadn't something
happened when it did, I would have quit and given the game a really
low score. It does get a bit better but the characters still feel
flat.

The puzzles are mostly straightforward with one exception: Why was
"magic's bane" that particular object? I simply solved it by using
the unused object with the barrier. Why it worked, I still don't
know. Motivation is what this game is lacking.

Graphics. Not bad, but not that special either. It doesn't look like
any adventure games I've seen before, but plenty of RPG-engine-work-
in-progress-things that I've seen have had that look, both in choice
of viewing angle and graphical style. In the words of internet
celebrety Stongbad: "You gotta have blue hair!"

Sound. The first piece of music got annoying very quickly, mainly
beacuse it's too repetetive, but later music is actually really nice,
and does a lot for the mood.

The pathfinding is horrible, which the author realizes and apologises
for in the game info. Getting stuck near walls was a frequent
occurence, and while it was always possible to get unstuck, it was
annoying. So was the "You're not close enough" messages that popped
up very often when I tried to interact with something. I wanted to
scream "Why don't you just walk a little closer, then!" It's the same
thing as the often critisized parser error "If you want to eat the
fish, type EAT FISH."

- - - - -

_2_: Domicile (domicile.z5)

Most of all, this game is severly unimplemented. *Many* things are
mentioned that simply doesn't exist. I haven't found anything in the
text that produces any reaction besides "You can't see any such
thing." - all real items seem to be listed after the room
description. "You can see a ____ here." Even the big important
looking things (such as a tree that "stands regally") are
unimplemented.

"Please see the accompanying image file for pictures of the
symbols." What image file?

The status bar says "Score 0", but I seriously suspect that score is
unused, and the author simply hasn't bothered to remove it from the
status bar.

"The only exit is east." No, it isn't. The only exit is west. Was
this game beta tested at all?

After 40 minutes I was considering to quit playing, and when my
attempt to take a can of paint was met with "You're carrying too many
things already.", I did quit and left Domicile with a score of 2.

- - - - -

_6_: Cerulean Stowaway (stowaway.gam)

First evening. Played for half an hour. I'm not really in puzzle mood
(too tired) but the hints were good! After entering the ship, I quit
in order to save the rest for when my mind is more focused (and
beacuse Futurama will be on the TV in a minute).

It seems somewhat promising - this could be something that I'll like.

Accepting the word "lift" for the elevator would have been nice.
(It's so long to type, and I'm lazy.) It'd also have been nice to be
able the "exit" verb work in the lift and in the toilets.

Inventory juggling. Oh how fun.

Spoiler (ROT13): Va gur zrng ybpxre jr svaq qrnq uhznaf. N fprar yvxr
guvf zhfg or irel uneq gb jevgr, naq hasbehangryl V qba'g guvax gur
nhgube chyyrq vg bss. Jul? V guvax fbzr xvaq bs ernpgvba jbhyq unir
orra va beqre. Nf vg fgnaqf, gur svefg guvat qrfpevorq vf zl oerngu
naq gur puvyylarff bs gur ebbz naq gura gur pbecfrf ner qrfpevorq nf
nal cvrpr bs zrng unatvat sebz gur prvyvat. Zl bayl ernpgvba jnf "bu,
fb gurl jrer rivy naq uhzna-rngvat". Yngre jr trg gb urne n erpbeqvat
bs gur jbzna fnlvat: "Bu, cyrnfr, gung'f fb O-zbivr." V nterr.

I also think the Cerulean writing is over-emphasized. All over the
place we find "... has some Cerulean writing on it." Particulary
after the means of reading that text was found, I often wished that
wording would go away. I noted the exceptions ("There's a small door
to the north labelled maintenance in Cerulean."), but there should
have been more of them. Maybe it's unneeded to point out all the time
that the writing is Cerulean, too.

Hmm. A description of a corridor turns into a small essay on the
value of using "north" and "south" even those directions doesn't
apply anymore. Maybe it was intended to be funny. For me, it ruined
most of what immersion was left, but I will continue playing since
I'm still curious how the rest will turn out, and the hint system is
pretty good.

Hmm. Seems that I failed to bring items that I needed from Earth, due
to the inventory-juggling earlier. I don't feel like replaying, and
I've now have played for almost two hours anyway, so I give the game
a score of 6 and move on.

- - - - -

_7_: Baluthar (baluthar.z5)

I've played 40 minutes so far, and it seems the most solid of the
games I've played so far. It's also somewhat creepy and gory... After
fifteen more minutes, I've finished the game. At the moment, I can't
think of much to say about it, except that which can be seen in my
score: I liked playing it, but I've seen better.

- - - - -

_10_: Slouching Towards Bedlam (slouch.z5)

I'm really enjoying this exploration! What's going on? Two hours have
passed, and I now have to give it a score (10!), but I'll play this
to the end anyway...

Oh, *that* was the mystery! Weird, but I won't say more about it,
since I don't want to spoil it for those that haven't played this
one.

All I can say is that enjoyed this a lot, and didn't notice anything
to complain about so I don't regret giving the top score.

- - - - -

_1_: The Fat Lardo And The Rubber Ducky (lardo.z5)

The score says it all, really.

- - - - -

_3_: Adoo's Stinky Story (adoo.z5)

This feels like a first attempt. For one thing, it takes place in
what could be the author's house, something that's commonly advised
against. It also feels weakly implemented, with things like:

You can hear music blasting from somewhere nearby.

>listen
You hear nothing unexpected.

You can hear music blasting from somewhere nearby."

When listening, I should have heard that the loud music came from
Jim's room, which I'm standing right outside.

You see a ... here.

You can also see a ..., ..., and a ... here.

This is also very common in the game, and also a thing that takes me
out of the game. "Breaks Mimesis", if you will. I'd suggest that you
work more things into the room descriptions or otherwise integrate
them in the game.

Also, Jim doesn't even notice when you exchange his CD with Dad's
(while he is listening), which is an action that is required in order
to win. The only indication that something is different is that there
is now a Poodle Rock CD in the inventory instead of a Music CD.

Things like these take away from the enjoyment of a game, and led to
me typing "hint" repeatedly. Not beacuse the puzzles were hard, but
beacuse I didn't care enough about the game to bother about them.

- - - - -

Well, that's it for this year.

Rikard

Dan Shiovitz

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Nov 16, 2003, 3:39:39 AM11/16/03
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In article <Xns943550D17A03Ftr...@130.133.1.4>,
Rikard Peterson <trumg...@bigfoot.com> wrote:
[..]
>_5_: Sweet Dreams (sweetdreams.exe)
>
[minor spoilers]


>The puzzles are mostly straightforward with one exception: Why was
>"magic's bane" that particular object? I simply solved it by using
>the unused object with the barrier. Why it worked, I still don't
>know. Motivation is what this game is lacking.

There's a traditional idea that iron is anti-magic (or, well, iron is
anti-faery, and this carries it over to magic in general). I assume
the poker's supposed to be iron.

--
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW


Papillon

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Nov 16, 2003, 4:32:46 AM11/16/03
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d...@cs.wisc.edu (Dan Shiovitz) wrote:

>In article <Xns943550D17A03Ftr...@130.133.1.4>,
>Rikard Peterson <trumg...@bigfoot.com> wrote:
>[..]
>>_5_: Sweet Dreams (sweetdreams.exe)
>>
>[minor spoilers]
>
>>The puzzles are mostly straightforward with one exception: Why was
>>"magic's bane" that particular object? I simply solved it by using
>>the unused object with the barrier. Why it worked, I still don't
>>know. Motivation is what this game is lacking.
>
>There's a traditional idea that iron is anti-magic (or, well, iron is
>anti-faery, and this carries it over to magic in general). I assume
>the poker's supposed to be iron.

Yes, the poker's description (if you looked at it before picking it up)
mentioned that it was iron. Obviously this would be clearer if you were able
to examine it once it was IN your inventory. :)
---
Hanako Games
http://www.hanakogames.com/

Åke Nordenborg

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Nov 16, 2003, 9:47:41 AM11/16/03
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Rikard Peterson

[...]

> _10_: Slouching Towards Bedlam (slouch.z5)
>
> I'm really enjoying this exploration! What's going on? Two hours have
> passed, and I now have to give it a score (10!), but I'll play this
> to the end anyway...
>
> Oh, *that* was the mystery! Weird, but I won't say more about it,
> since I don't want to spoil it for those that haven't played this
> one.
>
> All I can say is that enjoyed this a lot, and didn't notice anything
> to complain about so I don't regret giving the top score.

[...]

> _3_: Adoo's Stinky Story (adoo.z5)
>
> This feels like a first attempt. For one thing, it takes place in
> what could be the author's house, something that's commonly advised
> against. It also feels weakly implemented, with things like:
>
> You can hear music blasting from somewhere nearby.
>
> >listen
> You hear nothing unexpected.
>
> You can hear music blasting from somewhere nearby."
>
> When listening, I should have heard that the loud music came from
> Jim's room, which I'm standing right outside.
>
> You see a ... here.
>
> You can also see a ..., ..., and a ... here.
>
> This is also very common in the game, and also a thing that takes me
> out of the game. "Breaks Mimesis", if you will. I'd suggest that you
> work more things into the room descriptions or otherwise integrate
> them in the game.
>
> Also, Jim doesn't even notice when you exchange his CD with Dad's
> (while he is listening), which is an action that is required in order
> to win. The only indication that something is different is that there
> is now a Poodle Rock CD in the inventory instead of a Music CD.
>
> Things like these take away from the enjoyment of a game, and led to
> me typing "hint" repeatedly. Not beacuse the puzzles were hard, but
> beacuse I didn't care enough about the game to bother about them.

Slouching:

speaking of weak implementation

->LISTEN
> Nothing unexpected can be heard.
>
> The phonograph continues to play.
>
> "I discredit my profession [...]"

and guess the verb

->X DESK
>
> [...] One side of the blotter seems slightly higher than the other.
>
->SEARCH BLOTTER
>
> Nothing of interest is to be found.
>
->LOOK UNDER BLOTTER
>
> Beneath the blotter is a small key [...]

and sloppy props

> Office
> [...] Papers, files, and books cover nearly every flat surface in the
room.
>
> There is a phonograph on the table near the window.
>
> A black cube on wheels sits near the door to the south.
>
->X BOOKS (or files, or papers)
>
> They appear to be of little consequence.

->X WINDOW
>
> The open window looks down upon the courtyard and adjoining buildings far
below.
>
->CLOSE WINDOW
>
> That's not something that can be closed.

Maybe there's some clever explenation for this, but when a game doesn't tell
me who I am or where I am, I expect the props to be more informative than
that. I'm also not sure why "You see... here" is inferior to "There is...
here". "listen" is poorly implemented in both games, but somehow that didn't
bother you in Slouching.

->SMELL
>
>You smell nothing unexpected.

Some of the default responses were altered to account for the "clever
metafictional explanation for the IF interface" (Emily Short) replacing the
second person indicative with passive voice, but others were left unchanged.


These shortcomings are much more annoying in an aspiring game than in a
rather inconspicuous one. I'm therefore somewhat taken aback by the fact
that you have chosen to berate Adoo's but closed your eyes to very similar
problems in Slouching.


Eytan Zweig

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Nov 16, 2003, 10:16:15 AM11/16/03
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"Åke Nordenborg" <norde...@mail.com> wrote in message
news:h6Mtb.33880$mU6.1...@newsb.telia.net...

[snip comparison of messages between the two games]

> These shortcomings are much more annoying in an aspiring game than in a
> rather inconspicuous one. I'm therefore somewhat taken aback by the fact
> that you have chosen to berate Adoo's but closed your eyes to very
similar
> problems in Slouching.

Well, I can't speak for Rikard Peterson, but I had much the same
impressions as he did so I can justify them for myself: I found Slouching
towards Bedlam to be an incredibly compelling game. I cared about the
story, the characters, and solving the mystery. I didn't go about testing
the interface, because that seemed like a waste of time to me. And when I
did run into an interface problem, I didn't pay much attention, because
they didn't get in the way of the plot and I always immediately found
something that did work.

Adoo's Stinky Story, while amusing, was not compelling. I didn't care much
about the story or characters, but I did find the descriptions amusing. So
I spent most of my time not actually playing the game but walking around
testing things out. So I noticed a whole lot more when things didn't work.
Neither game had any serious bugs (that I could find), but for Bedlam, the
depth of implementation was secondary to the depth of the story. For Adoo,
it was my primary experience. Which is why it bothered me there a lot
more.

On the general note, however - literary judgements of any type - IF or
other - are not objective measurments. If two games share a property,
whether good or bad, it may be very salient in one game and not in the
other. And a lot of it just comes down to personal taste - I love
supernatural mysteries. I don't love stories about college students. Ergo,
I care about different things in each genre.

Eytan


Rikard Peterson

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Nov 16, 2003, 10:19:00 AM11/16/03
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Åke Nordenborg wrote in news:h6Mtb.33880$mU6.1...@newsb.telia.net:

> These shortcomings are much more annoying in an aspiring game than
> in a rather inconspicuous one. I'm therefore somewhat taken aback
> by the fact that you have chosen to berate Adoo's but closed your
> eyes to very similar problems in Slouching.

It was beacuse I only saw them in Adoo (and beacuse I felt them
typical for the game). I never noticed the things you mention in
Slouching, which is why I didn't mention them. My approach to playing
(and judging) is to first of all enjoy myself - and my scoring
reflects that - the critical thinking and judging comes second to me.
I'm not betatesting or looking for faults.

That said, I still stand by my original comments. While I agree that
the examples you mention are faults with Slouching, and that you
could call them bugs, there is still a difference between the games.
It's more jarring when you are told to look for bad music, hear it
coming "from somewhere nearby" and can't localise it than when you
can't listen closer to the phonograph. The former is a part of a
puzzle, while the later is lack of polish. You already know all you
need to know about the sound from the phonograph, while you are not
told where the music is coming from.

Slouching is a more solid game. If you find the remaining faults more
annoying beacuse of that (if that's not what you're saying, then I
misunderstood you), then that seems strange to me, but I suppose we
all approach things differently.

Rikard

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