James's comp06 reviews (7-12)

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James Mitchelhill

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Nov 17, 2006, 12:25:38 PM11/17/06
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No review for Legion (I scored it a 6)

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_Madam Spider's Web_ by Sara Dee
Play time: 30 minutes
Status: Finished with hints
Score: 5

Sara Dee's _Madam Spider's Web_ is an interesting, but infuriatingly
insubstantial work. The main plot takes place in a rather surreal
fairy-tale house owned by the eponymous Madame Spider and involves some
rather unusual cleaning of the house. It doesn't make sense, but captures
dream logic rather well. It's all very evocative.

The writing is excellent and the implementation is sound, but there's not
very much to do and once it's done, we're left with a glib ending that is
at once unsatisfying and clichéd. My notes state, "ah, it's getting
interesting", but the reward turned out to be Inform's game over screen.

Taken as a mood piece, _Madam Spider's Web_ works well, but it's just not
substantial enough for the ending to have any real impact. I have to wonder
the author had planned more, but ran out of time. Despite its flimsiness,
though, it's certainly worth playing.

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_Mobius_ by J.D. Clemens
Play time: 35 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 4

_Moebius_ is one of those annoying puzzle games where you're trapped in a
time loop. I'm not sure why, but we now seem to have enough of them to
count as a whole sub-genre. It's not my favourite genre, since it seems to
generally reduce to a single, big, frustrating puzzle. _Moebius_ is no
exception here.

Clemens does a good job of setting the tone, though. It's a standard SF
setting, and in the relatively small amount of prose used, manages to
reference a couple of the standard tropes. It becomes clear the PC is a
redshirt - one of those poor unfortunates doomed to be first in the firing
line of any away team. The PC's fatalism is a wry touch. I also liked the
way the Sergeant demanded to be addressed by his rank.

Other than that, I didn't get much out of the game. I played around with
the big puzzle, but soon turned to the walkthrough. Things seem well
implemented, but it was never going to be a game I'd much enjoy.

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_Unauthorised Termination_ by Richard Otter
Play time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 6

_Unauthorised Termination_ is a vividly drawn and rather strange piece of
IF. Set on an alien planet, the player takes the role of "Epsilon-Beta, a
Delta-Tyr Series 5 and a senior examiner at the Center of Examination".
There's a fairly large amount of background information that is extraneous
to the game and in another game I would object loudly to this, but it works
here. The overtly mechanical nature of the game makes it fit somehow. The
plot follows the investigation of the unauthorised termination of the title
and manages to be strangely compelling.

The hyper-authoritarianism of the setting makes for claustrophobic
gameplay. The PC is essentially an agoraphobic robot, accustomed to rules,
darkness and enclosed spaces. It's difficult to develop any emotional
attachment to such a PC, but it's surprisingly easy to empathise with it.
Characterisation isn't really an issue with other NPCs, but this isn't a
bad thing. The author might claim that this world is "a bleak and dismal
place, populated with cold and unfeeling citizens." But I never felt that
it was particularly bleak, or that anyone was cold and unfeeling. The
inhabitants of this world care deeply about things. The PC is obsessed with
the law and if the bleakness of the world is comforting to him, can it
really be called bleak?

The greastest strength of the game, regardless of the author's intention is
it manages to depict a place that would be horrible to live in, but allows
you to see it in completely different terms. Touches like the teleporter
and the communicator contribute to this sense of distant immersion, imbuing
the IF conventions of travel and information with a sense of coldness and
the primacy of information.

There's a few flaws. The puzzles aren't structured very well, leading to a
couple of find-the-key and read-the-author's-mind moments - this had me
looking at the walkthrough fairly quickly. There's a disambiguation but
between two badges (even when using the exact syntax of one it chooses the
other!) and missing spaces prove a problem. This is definitely an
imaginitive and, for odd reasons, evocative work and is certainly worth
playing.

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_Game Producer!_ by Jason Bergman
Play time: 50 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 4

What's there to say about a game that's competently programmed, has an
interesting concept, but just isn't much fun? _Game Producer!_ isn't bad,
but it's not hugely entertaining either. The game, as the title suggests,
involves taking the role of a game producer.

The main problem, compounded by a very sparse implementation, is that _Game
Producer!_ turns this concept into a run-of-the-mill IF game, requiring the
player to solve a couple of puzzles and do little else. If I'm playing the
role of a game producer, I'm not really interested in opening boxes and
fixing servers (just where are IT anyway?), I want to produce games. Or, I
want to experience the story of being that person. _Game Producer!_ does
neither. We're a nameless adventurer dropped into a fairly bland office,
concerned with picking up random paperclips and bottles of spoiled milk.

Despite its limited concept, _Game Producer!_ does manage to be a
reasonable distraction for an hour or so. It's just a bit disappointing
that this is all it is.

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_The Sisters_ by James Webb
Play time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Status: Finished
Score: 6

A classicly drawn spooky tale, _The Sisters_ is an enjoyable ghost story
marred by a few bugs. Webb shows a fine sense of pacing driven by the
principle of exposition through exploration. The beginning, with the PC
trapped in a crashed car brings Cadre's _I-0_ to mind, but the similarities
end there, as the player stumbles towards a particularly scary house.

The writing is reasonably effective, and it's pleasing to note that Webb
mostly stays away from the overwrought overstatement that can marr horror.
This changes a little towards the end, but a pleasing twist brings things
to a satisfying end. A couple of spelling errors have crept through (most
glaringly "hithertoo"). There's a few puzzles, which don't present very
much challenge, but the point is to control the player's exploration rather
than get them stuck. It's a pity that a few bugs can easily ruin this - a
little more beta testing would not have gone amiss here.

My obligatory "jump" reference here. The game responds "Whee-boinng." when
the PC is bleeding and securely strapped into a car. I'm not sure if this
is a default response - if so, it's a particularly jarring one.

More concerning (and puzzling), the pronoun "it" doesn't work properly. It
doesn't fail outright - it just lies to the player:

> read it
(the local paper)
You can't read the local paper!

But "> read the paper" works. Weird.

I actually ended up playing through twice, the second time from the
walkthrough, because it turned out I'd missed a fairly large and important
section of the game. At a certain point of the game, the player is supposed
to find a key in order to get through the door to the cellar. Except, you
can easily bypass this without ever realising the door was supposed to be
locked.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed _The Sisters_ and hope the author will fix up these
annoying bugs in a post-comp release.

--
James Mitchelhill
ja...@disorderfeed.net
http://disorderfeed.net

Emily Short

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Nov 17, 2006, 3:29:50 PM11/17/06
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James Mitchelhill wrote:
> _Unauthorised Termination_ by Richard Otter
> Play time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
> Status: Finished with walkthrough
> Score: 6

> The author might claim that this world is "a bleak and dismal


> place, populated with cold and unfeeling citizens." But I never felt that
> it was particularly bleak, or that anyone was cold and unfeeling. The
> inhabitants of this world care deeply about things. The PC is obsessed with
> the law and if the bleakness of the world is comforting to him, can it
> really be called bleak?

I agree: I thought it was cool (and rather touching) the way the robots
attach value and significance to pebbles from the surface. I found
myself perceiving certain passages as rather beautiful, even though to
human eyes the things described might be barren and tedious. Similarly,
I read feelings and even something approaching friendship into the
remarks of my robot allies.

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