James's comp06 reviews (the rest)

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James Mitchelhill

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Nov 20, 2006, 6:54:06 PM11/20/06
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Since I've got to the stage where most of my remaining reviews will be
unrelenting vitriol, I've decided not to drag things out any longer and
just post the rest as a big clump of bitterness. There's one exception: I
rather liked Polendina.


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

_Hedge_ by Steven Richards
Play time: 45 minutes
Status: Finished.
Score: 4

_Hedge_ is Richards' first game and it shows. It always seems to be the
first time authors who make the surreal games (except for Zarf, but every
Zarf game is like the first game of a very, very talented newbie). A couple
of notes: Authors telling me that they're new to all this is one of my
cherised hates. I don't care if this is your first game, or if you've never
seen a computer before, the game stands on its own. And surreal is very
often a synonym for "no real ideas".

The plot is vague, the narrative tone conversational. It all adds up to
nothing much, but it's an amusing distraction for a while, which seems to
be the author's intention. Unlike many surreal games, this isn't an excuse
for packing together a number of uninspired puzzles. There are puzzles, but
they're fairly easy.

OK, Steven, you've played around with Inform and got it to do your bidding.
You've made your jokey first game. Now go write something good.

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

No review for _A Broken Man_ (I scored it a 4)

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

_Polendina_ by Christopher Lewis
Play time: 20 minutes
Status: Finished
Score: 5

_Polendina_ is a short game, with fairly sketchy implementation and a few
bugs, but it manages to emotionally connect with the reader and achieve
some interesting things along the way.

The interesting thing about the game is the narrative tone, which is openly
hostile to the player. It becomes clear that it's not merely a narrative
the player is experiencing, but also the PC. The overall tone is slightly
disturbing, with a minumum of words, the author manages to convey the
experience of something not being right here.

Of course, it's not a large work, but it does use IF to its best effect and
I was surprised to find that after the game finishes (I would classify it
as a mistake not to have a game over screen - the player just wanders
about, turns to the walkthrough and gets annoyed) I found that the story
had resonated with me. Hell, _Polendia_ even manages to subtly suggest
backstory.

If this was the author's first game, I'm impressed. Not by the coding or
the implementation, but by the effectiveness in spite of the obvious
deficits in each. The prose was, perhaps, a little heavy handed at times,
but overall I'd say this was a successful effort and future works can only
improve on the weaknesses demonstrated here.

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

_Initial State_ by Matt Barton
Play time: 45 minutes
Status: Finished
Score: 2

Initial State is depressing in every possible way. Normally I'd say that
homebrew parsers are a bad idea, but this one perfectly complemented the
futility of the game. The way it reduces almost every verb to "USE". The
way it responds to examining anything not implemented with blank lines. It
puts you in exactly the right mindset to properly experience the story.

For example:

Enter your command: put cylinder in slot
I don't follow you. Type HELP if you're confused.

Enter your command: unlock hatch
The glass cylinder did the trick! The hatch is now unlocked.

or

Enter your command: screen
Even if I could screen the screen I wouldn't.

We've seen angst in the IFComp before. Quite a lot of it in some truly
dreadful games. But _Initial State_ surpasses them all. You have to wonder
if Matt Barton is still around, or if uploading this game was the last
thing he did before slitting his wrists. Surprisingly, the writing isn't
truly awful, it's just that reading more than a couple of paragraphs is
like being tied to a chair while someone screams YOU SUCK! YOU SUCK! YOU
SUCK! in your face. Kind of like being incarcerated in Gitmo, I'd guess.
Equally, the plot could be interesting if handled well. Barton manages some
honest to God exposition and pacing. But the tone is so relentlessly
depressing that any effect is washed away in the sheer absurdity of it.
Very existentialist, but also rather pointless.

The implementation is horrible. I won't go into details since my will to
live has been utterly sapped. Bizarrely this makes the game oddly
compelling. It's simplistic puzzles prove no obstacle and the limited range
of action keeps the player zipping along, pausing only to contemplate
smashing their head through the screen at every turn. Playing _Initial
State_ is rather like watching a street crazy gesticulating at you from
behind a thick glass wall. Fascinating and yet repellant. Barton obviously
has some talent - nobody could possibly construct such a monstrosity
without at least some literary skill - but that doesn't mean it's
particularly fun to play or interesting in any other way.

Christ, but the IFComp can launch some weird shit at you if you're not
careful.

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

_Pathfinder_ by Tony Woods
Play time: 40 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 2

One of the reasons I write these reviews is because I hope that authors
will be able to look past the invective and use my criticisms to improve
upon their work. Of course, I also enjoy savagely mocking works that I
consider deserving of mockery, but that's not the whole point. Tony Woods
is a familiar name in this respect. His comp05 entry, _Neon Nirvana_ was
absolutely awful. One would hope that a year later his work would have
improved.

Alas, it has not. _Pathfinder_ is, if anything, even worse than _Neon
Nirvana_. A nonsensical plot, bizarre writing choices, rooms that
completely lack direction information, errors of logic that suggest a truly
tenuous grasp on reality. I consider it all but unplayable.

The introduction starts off reasonably, but the game soon finds itself in
trouble. X ME returns the default response, though JUMP has a nice
response. I appreciate the effort, really I do, but far more players will
be typing X ME than JUMP.

The plot, such as it is, appears to concern a man who finds himself tricked
into murder by the shady Pathfinder Corporation. Trapped outside on a
wintery night and facing a long walk back to the office, the PC is picked
up by a black sedan. No explanation is given as to why the PC would be
willing to get into a random car that turned up unnanounced. It takes him
to the home of a co-worker, who he is tricked into murdering. The incident
that causes such muderous outrage? One of his colleagues thinks he's a
"luser". After quickly gathering together all the incriminating evidence
(including a towel that somehow has the PC's fingerprints on it), he is
spirited away, across the border and things begin to make even less sense.

Figuring out what the hints actually mean is in itself a puzzle.

I'll give Woods this - he's certainly persistent, and unlike some of the
other authors in this comp, the work seems like a sincere attempt at
writing IF. Sincere, but in no way good. I don't like to be directly
discouraging, but Tony, have you considered that maybe IF isn't your forte?

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

_The Apolcalypse Clock_ by GlorbWare
Play time: 15 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 1

I hate games like this. Which is why I played from the walkthrough for most
of it. Not funny, not interesting, not any good, not going to get any
points.

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

_Wumpus Run_ by Cheryl Howard
Play time: 10 minutes
Status: Unfinished.
Score: 1

If I wanted to play Hunt The Wumpus, I would. I don't.

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

_Ballymun Adventure_ by Brendan Cribbin
Play time: 40 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 2

In the about text, Cribbin tells us that "Ballymun Adventure was my attempt
to introduce my students(teenage boys) to the world of the text
adventures." Isn't this a little like introducing students to the world of
literature by making them read your own poorly written novel? There's lots
of great IF out there, much of it appropriate for teenage students. I find
it hard to believe that Cribbin's effort could do anything but convince his
students that text adventures are dull, patronising exercises in
badly-written boredom.

I hope Cribbin isn't an English teacher. Grammar like this isn't setting a
good example: "Some of the rooms will be open but for others you will have
to find a key to get inside!. The keys may be hidden in the most unusual of
places !"

Aside from the pedagogic nature of the game, it reads pretty much like any
other poorly-done first attempt at a text adventure. Actions are
incorporated into room descriptions. The author forces players to use exact
phrasings of commands, while still recognising alternative phrasings:

>put connector in recorder
Be more exact. Put the connector into the tape port.

And various things are horribly broken - the map for example:

Its a map of the school with all the rooms numbered from 1 - 30.
By clicking on a particular area with the mouse you can instantly go there

[click]

> transport to Room 1
I don't know the word "transport".

It's a bad, bad game with no redeeming features.

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

_Tentellian Island_ by Zack Wood
Play time: 35 minutes
Status: Finished with hints.
Score: 2

Let's start with the thing that everyone's going to hate: The home-brew
parser and interpreter. There's a good reason why the IF community almost
universally recommends using an existing system to write games. The one you
code yourself is going to suck. Tentellian Island is no exception.

The parser is the usual two word affair and lacks all the nice features
that popular IF systems include. Tentellian Island doesn't understand "look
at something" to mean anything other than "look". It doesn't understand
"it". It doesn't let you turn on verbose mode. It doesn't implement save,
restore, restart or undo. It doesn't understand "it". There's no command
history. The interpreter's no better. I can't change the font size, adjust
the default black-on-white colour scheme to something that's better on the
eyes.

So the interface didn't exactly leave me filled with anticipation for the
game itself. Tentellian Island turns out to be a short collection of a few
simplistic puzzles in true old-school style. Objects lying around for no
good reason. You know the kind of thing. The writing's nothing special, but
seemed free of any glaring errors. The implementation is minimal. Even >X
ME responds with "You can't examine any such thing." Plot is minimal to say
the least.

There's a couple of bugs. Any command beginning with "swim" responds with a
blank line. More seriously, trying to cut anything that's not implemented
locks up the game.

Tentellian Island isn't abysmal and I'm sure the author's proud of writing
the whole thing from scratch. It's just that it's a little like entering
your home-made go-kart in the Paris-Dakar rally. No matter how much fun it
was to make, you'll still be pedalling furiously past the Eiffel tower
while everyone else is tipping sand out of their shoes.

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

_Lawn of Love_ by Tilli Productions/Santoonie Corporation
Play time: 30 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 1

Intentionally bad.

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

_Beam_ by Madrone Eddy
Play time: 25 minutes
Status: Finished with walkthrough
Score: 1

Quest sucks. My lord, I've seen some bad IF systems, but Quest really beats
them all. People have made better systems than this *in javascript*.
Really, I should be reviewing the game, not the system, but when the system
is this bad it's hard to get past it. There were better IF systems than
this available for the ZX fucking Spectrum. And this authoring system is
sold to people for $29.95. What the fuck are these people thinking? Let me
just take a moment to pick myself off the floor and regain some composure
and I'll actually get on with the review.

OK, perhaps _Beam_ is just a bad example of a Quest game, but I have better
things to do than explore the questionable games of some obscure IF system
and _Beam_ is certainly no advertisement for it. An IF system lives or dies
by its libraries and Quest doesn't appear to have any. At least any that
_Beam_ uses. Basic things like X ME completely fail. USE is the main verb.

But there's things in _BEAM_ that can't be pushed onto the authoring
system. Descriptions are incredibly short. Objects that are in a room
aren't mentioned in the main text, but rely on the "places and objects"
window of the interpreter. There are an ungodly amount of empty locations.
And this won't win any favours:

> hint
hahaha No way.

...particularly since the game does come with a hint file!

_Beam_ is unquestionably awful.

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

_Enter the Dark_ by Peter R Shushmaruk
Play time: 20 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 1

Thank goodness for small mercies. I was beginning to take a real dislike to
this game. There's a missing apostrophe in the first paragraph, which only
serves to distract from the painful melodrama of the surrounding words.
Basic synonyms are not supported, including "x" for examine, which I
consider essential. Very few of the objects mentioned are implmented at
all, and the very first puzzle suffers from guess-the-exact-phrasing.
Before things get any worse, there's a show-stopping bug and the player
breathes a sigh of relief.

Authors: Test your final version against your walkthrough. Seriously. Of
you'll look silly when the bug you'd missed turns out to make your game
practically unwinnable.

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

No review for _Green Falls_ (I scored it a 1)

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

_Sisyphus_ by Theo Koutz
Play time: 5 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 1

Joke game. Unfinishable and annoying.

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

_Visocica_ by Thorben Bürgel
Play time: 1 hour
Status: Unfinished
Score: 2

Playing _Visocica_ presented me with a few problems. First the file was
mislabelled as a .exe when it should have been a .zip, then the damn thing
turned out to be in German. Fortunately, I do speak a little German.
Unfortunately, the limits of my German are around the level of Rammstein
lyrics. I can ask "Wo ist das rathaus?", but wouldn't have any chance of
understanding the reply.

Some judges are going to avoid playing this game purely because they don't
understand it. Fools and cowards, the lot of 'em. If I was going to abstain
from rating games that I don't understand, my review of _Delightful
Wallpaper_ would have been very short.

So, armed with mutiple browser tabs loaded with Google Translate, I set
forth on my journey into die Deutsche Textabenteuerszene. The introduction
sounded interesting. Bosnian Pyramids - what will they think of next? After
translating the verbs I'd need, I began to play. After stumbling around in
the dark for a while, completely failing to understand how to turn on my
lamp and having a HHGTTG flashback moment when I thought I'd need to
guess-the-foreign-verb for OPEN EYES, I hit the walkthrough.

Walkthroughs are tempting even at the best of times. This wasn't the best
of times. Hard as it is to judge the effectiveness of a foreign text
mangled by automatic translation, my guess is that it's functional, but
less than inspiring. More importantly, directions seem to be omitted from
rooms, which didn't help me at all.

T.A.M. - the system used to create _Visocica_ seems like a fairly well
designed system, though, as such things go.

I wandered around for a bit. I tried to attack a golem. I died. Glancing
through the walkthrough, the impression I get is that there's a lot of
empty rooms.

I speak the wrong language to be in this game's target audience, but even
were it in English I don't think it'd be the kind of game I like. You've
got to have some balls to enter a German-language, Windows-only cave romp
to the IFComp, though.

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

_Simple Adventure_ by Paul Panks
Play time: 10 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 1

I'll be honest here. I may have been a little biased when playing this
game. I didn't give it much of a chance to impress me during the whole ten
minutes I spent on it. In fact I was pretty sure that I'd hate it utterly.
Paul Panks is a name to strike fear into any comp reviewer. Simply by
opening up his game, I pretty much feared that my immortal soul was in
danger.

Ah, good old mentally-ill Panks and his crazy ultra-retro adventure games.
It's important to understand that Paul writes his games purely as an
amusement to himself. He can't be under any illusion that anyone in the IF
community actually likes them since we've told him many, many times. His
tenacity (or should the be obstinancy?) is a testament to something, though
I'm not sure what. In amusing himself I'm sure he's been completely
successful. In amusing others, not so much.

In the accompanying readme, he tells us that he wrote _Simple Adventure_ to
show new programmers how to write one. He's also sure that it will appeal
to most players. Given that the only person who writes adventures like this
is Panks, it's hard to tell who he expects to use his example. And given
that most players seem to hate his games, it's hard to tell why he thinks
that this style of game will appeal to... well, anyone. Maybe he is still
under an illusion about the IF community's opinion about his games.

Play consists of donning armour, arming yourself with any weapons you find,
carrying around a lantern and killing random creatures. You do this by
typing "kill <thing>", and then hitting "f" (for fight) repeatedly, or "r"
(for run away) once. This isn't a lot of fun. Indeed, it ran out of
fun-ness long before my ten minutes of torture were up. There are no
puzzles to speak of, the barest of implementations and the parser is so
primitive that it'd have amateur adventure game writers from 1982 laughing
at it with dismay.

Even given this hideousness, there's some design decisions I can directly
criticise. I might as well - writing a bitter review is much more fun than
the game.

* Lime green text on a blue background. - why?
* "x" is not implemented as a synonym for "examine"
* "Examine <any unimplemented object> results in "You notice nothing
unusual about the <object>".
* "use" is used as a verb wherever more than two words would be needed.
* The armor in the game doesn't just protect you - it heals you. -
Nonsensical.

To sum up then, _Simple Adventure_ offers a gaming experience more painful
than jamming an over-revved Black-and-Decker cordless drill deep into your
teeth, and about as much fun. I heartily recommend it to all my enemies.

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

_Fetters Grim_ by Paul Panks
Play time: 15 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 1

A hideous and buggy trawl through Panks' head.

To sum up then, _Fetters Grime_ offers a gaming experience more painful
than jamming an over-revved Black-and-Decker cordless drill deep into your
teeth, and about as much fun. I heartily recommend it to all my enemies.

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

_PTGOOD 8*10^23_ by Sartre Malvolio
Play time: 5 minutes
Status: Unfinished
Score: 1

2KB of IF hideousness. Why bother?

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

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