[comp00] The lessons learned from the Comp, your lessons may vary

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PTN

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Nov 18, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/18/00
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If there's a rule of thumb I took away from this competition, its this:

Less Fiction, more Interactive.

I didn't have the time to play more than half the games. I only voted for a
little over a dozen. I am offering these comments not only for the authors
who wrote the games but also for implementors working on their next games. I
hope that when I finally have the time to conduct a beta test of the game I
have written, those who like these comments will think of me and offer to
help with the beta. And those who don't like these comments will confuse me
with someone else and offer to help anyway.

THE BEST OF THE BEST

The peak of gaming in this Comp, for me, had two games resting neatly on it:
YAGWAD, and Metamorphoses. Best of comp? I would have to give it to YAGWAD.
Which I didn't expect at all, especially after the silly save-the-princess
beginning which had very little interactivity and for that matter very
little point. It set the tone for the game: I fully expected a sloppy,
juvenile, tiresome game in which one must type a single, specific command
during a key turn to 'solve' a puzzle. Groan. But thankfully this was not
what the game was like at all. Imagine my suprise when I discovered the game
itself is crisp and clean, no caffeine. When I ran into the guy at the well
I knew I had a winner on my hands. The game was fun, clear, and
entertaining, even though it was filled with all the elements everyone has
dismissed as old and tired. Turns out there's life in there yet. And I must
appreciate this unselfish author. Instead of making something arty,
depressing, or irritating for the player, he has created something fun. When
I sat down for YAGWAD, it was not because I was enchanted by the story. It
was because I wanted to PLAY. Hooray! (The minus: as noted above, I
recommend dumping the intro.)

Metamorphoses hits a high note in its implementation of object modification,
and the many different ways each puzzle can be solved as a result. This one
featured a bit more moody writing, but it didn't detract from the fun of the
game. In fact, I rather liked the mystic, slave-like status of the player
who gathers tetrahedrons for her mysterious master. An enchanting
atmosphere, and mostly brilliant puzzles. One of the greatest challenges of
IF is creating a game that feels like there are limitless possibilites for
the player. I felt that way here. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (The
minus: I tried looking into the mirror, touching it, all expecting to be
transported, finally had to look at the hints to figure out how to finish
the game. A small point.)

THE BEST OF THE REST

Of the rest of the games, there were a few that I felt stood out as
worthwhile in some way but for one reason or another, did not reach the
quality and playability as the two mentioned above. But make no mistake,
these games are good. I'm talking about Nevermore, Ad Verbum, The Djinni
Chronicles, and Dinner with Andre. Their strength lies in their solid
implementation and consistent tone.

I had a blast playing Dinner with Andre. A fun game which played kind of
like an episode of Seinfeld. When I have fun playing a game, it reminds me
that in fact that's why I play IF. Not for a great story. Not to be moved or
touched. Not to marvel at some cutting-edge experimental IF equivalent of
performance art. But to have fun. I enjoyed the constantly deteriorating
date crisis of our heroine. If I had complaints, which of course I do, the
beginning is too linear. I want more options. Maybe I can take him home and
end the game right there. Or follow him into the bathroom. Or get a drink at
the bar. I want to feel less constricted in my role. (Implementation note: I
tried calling everyone on the phone a dozen times. Finally had to look in
the hints to see I had to CALL NOKIA, the brand of the phone. I expected
CALL <name of person> would ring up that person's cell phone).

Nevermore was the first game I played, and it seemed like it had everything.
A great mood (I love Poe), a wonderful integration of the poem THE RAVEN
with the room descriptions and characters. But then the little things
started to stack up. The coca powder demon was a bit too fast and furious
for me. Flipping through the books over and over again to make sure you get
all the hints was also frustrating. But I would be OK with both of those
things. What got me was when I realized that the main puzzle was a very
complicated alchemical experiment that you pretty much have to puzzle out
with pen and paper before even trying it in the game. Even then, the clues
were too obscure to KNOW what you're supposed to do. Too much trial and
error + not enough direction = no fun. I felt like I stumbled across an
analytical problem right out of the GRE. I have no doubt though that I will
gladly, perhaps even eagerly, play the author's next game, whatever it may
be.

Ad Verbum: an extended game of guess the verb. Which is its fatal flaw. But
when it worked, I had a great time with it: the different rooms where you
can only use words starting with a particular letter are sheer genius.
Arguing with the kid, opening the door, all of these were good puzzles.
Getting rid of the feed and the dog however seemed to require leaps of logic
beyond what one would normally make, however. Still, fun was had, puzzles
were solved.

The Djinni Chronicles was the only game in the comp where there was a unique
conceptual story idea that was still matched with decent puzzles. I loved
the ability to go in any direction. Again -- the feeling of limitless
possibilities. I enjoyed fulfilling my Purpose, once I figured out what it
was. I especially enjoyed destroying everything. This game was fresh and
original while still maintaining an interactive, puzzle environment that
challenges the player. (The minus: I wanted more to do as the mirror. And a
bigger ending).

THE REST OF THE REST

There seemed to be an overabundance of games which simply led you from one
scene to another as if you were on one of those moving walkways at airports.
This trait is enough to kill all enjoyment of a game for me in and of
itself, regardless of plot or any other consideration. The ones I played, or
at least started, were: My Angel, At Wit's End, Being Andrew Plotkin,
Enlisted, And the Waves Choke the Wind. Briefly:

Enlisted: After a quick game of guess the verb with the recruiter, you are
swept along through the enlisting process. During this time, your only
choices are apparently character choices: whether to get an implant, male or
female, clone. I got as far as the debrief and launch before I gave up,
having not had a single undirected move yet. I figured since the name of the
game is "Enlisted," this was all there was. I now understand there's a whole
traditional puzzle solving game after this intro, so I need to go back and
give it another shot. If only I had saved my game, though! The thought of
going through the enlistment again is not pleasant. This game reminded me
that, in general, I DON'T like games where you choose your character before
you play, and this effects the outcome. I prefer if a game gives you a
predefined character, and when you finish, you're done. Games which offer
multiple different players often claim this is for replayability, but in
general, who has the time to do this? I didn't even play DIABLO a second
time.

When playing At Wit's End, I was reminded of another game: Dragon's Lair. To
wit: You watch a sequence of events. Then, at a crucial moment, you tap the
joystick in a direction. Tap in the wrong direction, you die. The right one,
you get another sequence, another choice. This is how I felt with At Wit's
End. I played until I was tied up in the house, then quit. Again, I
understand there is more to the game, now. But I lost patience with the
constricted nature of the characters' movements for what was for me, far too
long of a time.

And the Waves Choke the Wind scores high for me because I love H.P.
Lovecraft. Though I'm not sure the mood was caught here. In fact, it kind of
made me laugh when on the island I stumbled into Yog-Soloth(sp?) or whatever
in the volcano. Anyway, I really, really want to enjoy this game, and I will
certainly play it when the full version is released. As it is, though, too
restrictive in character movements. Riding the rails.

My Angel. Imagine my suprise when this was rated so highly among players.
For myself, it seemed the very worst kind of non-interactive fiction. Add
that to the syrupy sweet pursuit of 'her', and I just couldn't take it. So I
liked it when John Lennon wrote deeply loving and simple music with an open
heart, but ever since he was shot I've lost my taste for that sort of thing.
Maybe I'm just getting old. For those who have been wondering why it didn't
score higher, allow me to step forward and take partial blame.

And Being Andrew Plotkin...thought Being John Malkovich was cute, but not
that cute, never understood why anyone would want to be John Malkovich
anyway, and I pretty much had the same problem here. I got bored quickly,
didn't even give it enough time to vote on it.

CONCLUSIONS

One thing I came away from the Comp understanding better is why I play IF in
the first place. I play it for two reasons: to have fun, and to challenge
myself. I understand now that I most certainly do not play it to read a work
of fiction. If I wanted to read some fiction, no doubt I would go buy a book
and immerse myself in that way. I wonder if this Comp has made any writers
or players besides myself come to realize that the best thing about IF is
what it was in the first place: a text Adventure. Though I think players
would also realize that the Scott Adams days are not quite as far back as we
want to go (ADRIFT, anybody?). Here's a list of things that I decided just
do not work for me, based on the games in the Comp:

THINGS THAT DIDN'T WORK:
"riding the rails" - see above
puzzleless fiction - just not my slice of tea
dialog menus instead of ASK - creates a feeling of restricted options,
whereas the traditional ASK and TELL, if implemented correctly, makes
character interaction a much deeper and more rewarding experience.
ADRIFT - why use this when TADS and Inform are readily available and far
superior?
mispelling things on purpose - One santence latere, i typ 'Quite'
choose-your-own-adventure - why on earth would anyone want to write a game
in Inform, then strip it of its powerful parser?

I can't think of any more right now. And I still have more games to play.
Based on other reviews, I need to get to Kaged, at the very least. It looks
like I do NOT need to get to Rameses. But still, I am grateful to all the
authors who participated in the Comp. And actually, all the Comps, without
which the current IF scene would be much smaller indeed.

-- Peter

The Illuminated Lantern
http://www.illuminatedlantern.com
October - November 2000: Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril

Carl Muckenhoupt

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Nov 18, 2000, 7:57:53 PM11/18/00
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On Sat, 18 Nov 2000 13:35:31 -0600, "PTN" <petern...@gmx.de> wrote:

>The peak of gaming in this Comp, for me, had two games resting neatly on it:
>YAGWAD, and Metamorphoses. Best of comp? I would have to give it to YAGWAD.
>Which I didn't expect at all, especially after the silly save-the-princess
>beginning which had very little interactivity and for that matter very
>little point. It set the tone for the game: I fully expected a sloppy,
>juvenile, tiresome game in which one must type a single, specific command
>during a key turn to 'solve' a puzzle. Groan. But thankfully this was not
>what the game was like at all.

If you haven't tried it yet,go through the opening sequence without
"solving" the "puzzle". The results are amusing.

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PTN

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Nov 19, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/19/00
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Carl Muckenhoupt wrote in message
<3a172459...@goliath2.usenet-access.com>...

>On Sat, 18 Nov 2000 13:35:31 -0600, "PTN" <petern...@gmx.de> wrote:
>
>>The peak of gaming in this Comp, for me, had two games resting neatly on
it:
>>YAGWAD, and Metamorphoses. Best of comp? I would have to give it to
YAGWAD.
>>Which I didn't expect at all, especially after the silly save-the-princess
>>beginning which had very little interactivity and for that matter very
>>little point. It set the tone for the game: I fully expected a sloppy,
>>juvenile, tiresome game in which one must type a single, specific command
>>during a key turn to 'solve' a puzzle. Groan. But thankfully this was not
>>what the game was like at all.
>
>If you haven't tried it yet,go through the opening sequence without
>"solving" the "puzzle". The results are amusing.


Thanks, Carl. I just fired it up and tried, and it is pretty amusing. But
the intro still just doesn't mesh with the rest of the piece. The intro is
clever, I suppose, its a parody of the save-the-princess type stuff, but
just doesn't match the quality of the rest of the game. It didn't make me
lower my score for YAGWAD or anything, but it has a tacked-on feel
nonetheless.

- Peter

Mark J. Tilford

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Nov 19, 2000, 10:58:28 PM11/19/00
to
On Sun, 19 Nov 2000 15:19:27 -0600, PTN <petern...@gmx.de> wrote:
>
>Carl Muckenhoupt wrote in message
><3a172459...@goliath2.usenet-access.com>...
>>On Sat, 18 Nov 2000 13:35:31 -0600, "PTN" <petern...@gmx.de> wrote:
>>
>>>The peak of gaming in this Comp, for me, had two games resting neatly on
>it:
>>>YAGWAD, and Metamorphoses. Best of comp? I would have to give it to
>YAGWAD.
>>>Which I didn't expect at all, especially after the silly save-the-princess
>>>beginning which had very little interactivity and for that matter very
>>>little point. It set the tone for the game: I fully expected a sloppy,
>>>juvenile, tiresome game in which one must type a single, specific command
>>>during a key turn to 'solve' a puzzle. Groan. But thankfully this was not
>>>what the game was like at all.
>>
>>If you haven't tried it yet,go through the opening sequence without
>>"solving" the "puzzle". The results are amusing.
>
>
>Thanks, Carl. I just fired it up and tried, and it is pretty amusing. But
>the intro still just doesn't mesh with the rest of the piece. The intro is
>clever, I suppose, its a parody of the save-the-princess type stuff, but
>just doesn't match the quality of the rest of the game. It didn't make me
>lower my score for YAGWAD or anything, but it has a tacked-on feel
>nonetheless.
>

The introduction is also there to give you a clue for the last puzzle.

>- Peter
>
>


--
-----------------------
Mark Jeffrey Tilford
til...@its.caltech.edu

Sean T Barrett

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Nov 20, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/20/00
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spoiler for Dinner with Andre, mainly syntax but it's a meta-clue.

PTN <petern...@gmx.de> wrote:
>(Implementation note: I
>tried calling everyone on the phone a dozen times. Finally had to look in
>the hints to see I had to CALL NOKIA, the brand of the phone. I expected
>CALL <name of person> would ring up that person's cell phone).

CALL DATE worked for me; did he have a name?

SeanB

Liza Daly

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Nov 21, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/21/00
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Sean T Barrett (buz...@world.std.com) wrote:
: spoiler for Dinner with Andre, mainly syntax but it's a meta-clue.

> PTN <petern...@gmx.de> wrote:
> >(Implementation note: I
> >tried calling everyone on the phone a dozen times. Finally had to look in
> >the hints to see I had to CALL NOKIA, the brand of the phone. I expected
> >CALL <name of person> would ring up that person's cell phone).

> CALL DATE worked for me; did he have a name?

It was intended to work, and indeed it does. CALL ME, however, does
not work, although it should.

(No, he doesn't have a name.)

--Liza

--
http://www.retina.net/~liza/

PTN

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Nov 21, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/21/00
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Liza Daly wrote in message ...

>Sean T Barrett (buz...@world.std.com) wrote:
>: spoiler for Dinner with Andre, mainly syntax but it's a meta-clue.
>
>
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>
>
>
>
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>
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>> CALL DATE worked for me; did he have a name?
>
>It was intended to work, and indeed it does. CALL ME, however, does
>not work, although it should.
>
>(No, he doesn't have a name.)
>


If only I had scripted the session...I must have tried about a dozen
different ways to call, none of them working. If I had any kind of memory, I
would tell you what they were, perhaps CALL BOYFRIEND, CALL SELF, USE PHONE,
but I don't really remember. I kept looking for a number to dial or
automatic list of numbers on my phone, or something more complicated than
what it turned out to be. I think I was trying too hard. (I think I might've
tried CALL ANDRE, for that matter).

- Peter

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