[Comp00] Lucian's Dissolutions (4/4)

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Lucian Paul Smith

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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The last five, plus one


Planet of the Infinite Minds (6)
The Djinni Chronicles (5)
Masquerade (8)
Happy Ever After (5)
The Clock (4)
Guess the Verb! (7) (But no review--got to it last. It'll come, though,
and I promise the author I'll send it once it's written, cuz to do
otherwise is just mean ;-) I will say that it'll start off "Hee!")


Spoilers ahoy!


Planet of the Infinite Minds (planmind.gam)
Rating: 6

Ladies and Gentlemen, the winner for the category, "A more coherent
'Phlegm'": Planet of the Infinite Minds! Wacky stuff here.
Surprisingly coherent, all told. Hints a must, though things make a
certain amount of sense in retrospect.


The Djinni Chronicles (djinni.z5)
Rating: 5

Ooooo.

This game had some *fantastic* ideas that were set horribly awry by the
game design. *Bad* game design! No biscuit!

See, the game this game most closely resembles is last year's 'For a
Change'. In both, the player is presented with an overwhelming wash of
unfamiliar concepts from the get-go, and must piece things together.
Unfortunately, you are given absolutely no time to figure out what's
going on. Instead, you must immediately pick up that you must accomplish
several unintuitive actions in a row or you *die*. Without any idea
why! None! So you go to the walkthrough and discover that you should
have typed in 'grant wish'. Grant wish? *Grant* wish? Pardon me while
I peruse the list of standard IF verbs and look for 'grant'. How odd.
It's not there. And this is the first thing of substance I must do!

See, now, there's something else I have to do before that. I have to
'>TALK TO SEEGAN'. But when I type '>SEEGAN, HI' the game *tells* me
that. Feedback, see. Figuring out that I'm dying because my purpose is
running out? Minimal feedback. Sure, there's the status bar. I
noticed it once, saw that my purpose was 5, thought, "Hey I got five
points" and typed 'score'. Then I did something else and died. And
forgot about the status bar again. Only after the game actually told me
about Purpose levels did I suddenly equate the status bar with some life
force. This could have been much better clued in the story through the
use of feedback. The game *told* you about it enough. But it didn't
*show* you. The only way it showed you was when you suddenly run out
and you die. Killing someone off is not a useful way of imparting
information to them.

Granting wishes? I don't know how feedback could have helped. The
previous ones are like shooting an arrow and being told "too far left",
or "up a little". Granting a wish was more like being shown a target
and expecting you to know that if you mimed shooting a bow and arrow, a
real arrow would appear and smack into the bull's-eye. Bad. Bad
design. Did I already tell you you don't get a biscuit? Make that you
don't get *two* biscuits.

And *maybe* these problems could have been surmounted if there were
other things to do to pass the time. But there was nothing else to do
and a limited amount of time to do it in.

So then there's the second wish, which is reasonable, and I find a
necklace and a lamp, which both seem to be nicely foreshadowiffic, and
I learn that maybe granting wishes is not the best way to go after all--
I should do other stuff instead. So we get to the third wish and I
wander around, and don't seem to be able to do enough, and the
walkthrough then tells me that no, granting wishes is actually OK again.
Arrgh!

So I blindly stumble through, walkthrough in hand, trying to make
sense of all this and make it through the Seegan section. Then I show
up again in front of some general. But this time I seem to have emerged
from a bottle, and he's just *looking* at me. >LABIIQ, CAN WE BACK UP A
BIT? I SEEM TO HAVE MISSED SOMETHING. But no, idle chatter is for
those who want to know what's going on. Stumble, stumble. Ah, my old
friend the walkthrough. I've missed you--it's been three whole moves!
I'm no good on my own! Then I read one of the things to do--and start
with astonishment. I *did* that! Really! I typed >KILL WATER all on
my own! And I was told, "Unexpectedly, I did not derive the Purpose
that I felt I should have from doing that." Naturally, I assumed I was
doing something wrong. Since my time here was so short, I undid the
move and tried something else instead. Grrr.

Walkthrough two steps, play one, walkthrough two, play one. This is
becoming a pattern. Then we get to the last section with the mirror.
And I, like, get it! I figure out what I'm supposed to do! Whoop de
doo ra ray! It's a bit anticlimactic, but hey, you take what you can
get. And then we have the end.

Which is *great*! Did I mention there were fantastic ideas here? Once
I figured out what was going on, I was completely sold on the themes and
the ideas and the creative setting. I have some nitpicks, sure, but
overall I loved it. See, in the author's comments in the walkthrough,
they joked about the lack of interactivity vs. the interesting setting.
But it wasn't a lack of interactivity here that was the problem.
Indeed, if there had been *less* interactivity it could have worked
better. The problem was that the interactivity that was there was
unclued, unmotivated, and obscure. The setting *was* great. And a
great setting can make up for a lack of interactivity. But it can't
save obfuscated interactivity, which is a true shame.


Masquerade (mask.z5)
Rating: 8

I recently read an interview with Tom Hanks where he commented that the
main impact of the TV show 'Survivor' on his new film, "Cast Away" is
that it would be mentioned in the first paragraph of every review of the
film. This game has an equally obvious comparison: Plundered Hearts.
Both are set in vaguely the same time period (if not the same setting),
but more importantly, both fall into the 'romance' category. The
classic tropes are in both: a fiercely independent heroine who finds
romance (if not love) in the course of dealing with some crisis.

But while Plundered Hearts gives the player lots of action and puzzles,
while layering the romance on the side, Masquerade attempts to let the
player play the *romance* part. There are some basic puzzles to solve,
but what the player spends most of their time in is character
interaction.

As you might expect, the traditional 'ASK MR. X ABOUT THING Y' interface
has been discarded. In its place is 'YES', 'NO', and 'TALK TO MR. X'.
The game fills in your dialogue after you make those basic decisions.
This was a very wise choice. Though 'Galatea' has proven that 'ask
about' can work, the volume of responses that must go into a single
conversation is staggering. In a story such as this that covers any
ground at all, trying to implement an 'ask about' interface would likely
have fallen flat. This was a much more attainable goal.

Was it attained? For me, there were a couple scenes that worked very
nicely, and some that were OK. None really failed. The scene on the
island in particular was very nicely done. The scene upstairs, though
the lead-in was a bit disjointed for me, was similarly nice. Oh, and
the beginning was great.

Other bits didn't work as well. For one, the character of the hero
seemed vastly disjointed. Clearly, Kathleen was going for a complex
character here. But I guess I just didn't buy the whole package as
being realistic. Would a man intent on courting the heroine really act
so brusquely in the carriage? Act so duplicitously at the end,
regardless of the final turnaround? Perhaps these actions are romance
trope, and serve to characterize the hero as a rogue with a heart of
gold.

And maybe it's just that I didn't *like* the guy, and couldn't really
see the heroine fall in love with him at the end. For regardless of the
multiple denouments (I found four; the "author's favorite" and the one
similar to it, and the one where you go home for an unhappy ending and
one where you return the ring first for a happy ending), the thrust of
the story is clearly that the heroine is supposed to fall in love with
the hero. Perhaps it's simply the convention of the genre, and perhaps
Kathleen couldn't help but push the story that way, given that her
favorite ending does indeed end that way.

But I find myself unable to accept the 'give back the ring and walk away
clean' ending, even though in my reading of the story, it's clearly what
the heroine should do. Perhaps it's because I don't see that point as a
good place for closure. I could see the heroine fall in love with the
man later, perhaps, and there was definitely groundwork there, but to
have them marry *then*... it was a bit much. For me. Again, maybe
there are women out there who go for the rougue. Stranger things have
happened, and this is love, after all. But I don't admire those
characteristics myself.

On a more objective note, however, I think it's marvelous that my major
response to the story is to the characters in it. And if I didn't
like the hero, I did like the villain, and I loved the uncle. It was a
highly character-driven story, and on that level it worked.

On the down side, the action was somewhat limited, which wouldn't be a
problem necessarily except for those times when the scene seemed to call
for it. And, perhaps oddly, there were many times when I wanted to talk
to people and couldn't. Talking in this game is extremely state-
dependent, so I can understand limiting it... but I wanted more. I also
had a problem with the pacing in some scenes. It was particularly
frustrating to be stuck in the ballroom at the convenience of the plot
and not in response to anything I typed differently. And the "hiding in
the pillar's shadow" bit just seemed odd to me. I mean, the majority of
the time I freely walked west and east from those locations, in full
view of everyone. Why be secretive only in the lobby? Er, this is
breaking up into smaller and smaller atoms of criticism. Better wrap
stuff up.

In general, the story didn't quite work for me due to the character of
the hero. The other characters I pretty much universally enjoyed. As a
game, there were patches that I enjoyed (the island, the beginning, the
upstairs dance), patches that were somewhat frustrating, (parts of the
ballroom scenes), and many that were somewhat mechanical (the carriage,
the picnic, other bits of the ballroom, and many bits of the ending).
But I smiled often, and am quite impressed that Kathleen managed to do
as well as she did given the medium. Bravo! (er, Brava!)


Happy Ever After (happy.z5)
Rating: 5

A decent, if buggy, game. Especially near the end, there were many
events that took place even though I hadn't done everything I knew I
needed to do to, and yet the puzzle turned out to be solved anyway.
Very odd. Add to this a host of spacing and punctuation bugs, and the
game really lost a lot of what it could have had.

And what it had was a bunch of puzzles draped around a somewhat
hackneyed though acceptable plot. There were some odd bits--I couldn't
get the geography of the past and the geography of the present to match
up at all, and it was weird to trigger a new event in the past by
causing another already-recorded event in the past to happen. It was
also strange going through my uncle's place destroying everything I
could get my hands on. Wasn't I supposed to be house-sitting? For some
reason I got the sense that the uncle had orchestrated the whole thing,
which would be a nice touch if I thought the author thought that up, and
it wasn't something I brought to the story myself ;-)

I could talk about the puzzle design here like I've done for a few of
the other puzzles, but it's hard to do that because of the bugs. Maybe
if the bugs were fixed, the puzzles would work better. When you can
'shake nest', for example, and the bird inside doesn't react, it seems
odd to presume that showing the bird a shiny object would work when
direct physical assault hadn't. But if 'shake nest' had resulted in
'The nest is too far away,' maybe I would have tried the right thing.
And other bits simply weren't very clear (I was confused about how to
operate the Alchemotron, for example), or were off-putting: I didn't
want to experiment with the Merlin thingy since there was just this rack
of buttons with no labels. I assumed I'd have to find a clue somewhere
explaining what each did, or giving me a color sequence, but apparantly
I was meant to experiment and figure stuff out. The machine was badly
designed from a user's perspective, and in turn, that made it a bad
puzzle. Anyone designing a puzzle like that should go read, "The Design
of Everyday Things" (formerly entitled "The Philosophy of Everyday
Things") and take to heart the principles therein. IF would be a lot
more fun.


The Clock (clock.gam)
Rating: 4

Hmm.

At first, I didn't realize there was a walkthrough (from the somewhat
snarky tone of the 'hint' response), and I was about to give up in
disgust. Then I found it, and stuck pretty slavishly to it after that.
There were some decent ideas here, but overall I found it disjointed and
unintuitive. And having to feed the cat over and over and over again
from a severely limited supply of resources was simply intolerable. Oh,
and did I mention unmentioned exits? Ack ack ack.

The setting was actually fun--I particularly liked the window at the
beginning. But whew, the implementation. Ah, vell.


Adam Cadre

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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Lucian Smith wrote:
> So you go to the walkthrough and discover that you should have typed
> in 'grant wish'. Grant wish? *Grant* wish? Pardon me while I peruse
> the list of standard IF verbs and look for 'grant'. How odd. It's not
> there. And this is the first thing of substance I must do!

Another data point: I instinctively typed "grant wish" at the
appropriate moment, but as I hit Enter, I thought, "Nah, it won't
be this easy -- it'll give me an error message, and then I'll have to
figure out how to grant her wish myself." But I tried it anyway, just
because it seemed so darn obvious.

It worked. I was *tremendously* pleased.

-----
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
web site: http://adamcadre.ac
novel: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060195584/adamcadreac

Lucian Paul Smith

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
to
[Splilers for Djinni...]

Adam Cadre (a...@adamcadre.ac) wrote:
: Lucian Smith wrote:
: > So you go to the walkthrough and discover that you should have typed


: > in 'grant wish'. Grant wish? *Grant* wish? Pardon me while I peruse
: > the list of standard IF verbs and look for 'grant'. How odd. It's not
: > there. And this is the first thing of substance I must do!

: Another data point: I instinctively typed "grant wish" at the


: appropriate moment, but as I hit Enter, I thought, "Nah, it won't
: be this easy -- it'll give me an error message, and then I'll have to
: figure out how to grant her wish myself." But I tried it anyway, just
: because it seemed so darn obvious.

: It worked. I was *tremendously* pleased.

Oh, I definitely agree that having 'grant wish' be available to the player
is good. But I just don't think that's enough. If you're going to
require an odd verb to be used, you need to provide a semantic pathway for
the player from a standard verb or two to *get* to the odd verb. I have
no good ideas in this particular instance. But I still think it's
necessary.

(This also illustrates one of the quirks of IF: people's reactions to a
game can vary much more widely than to standard prose because no two
people see the same game!)

-Lucian

J.D. Berry

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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In article <8v0ec5$hs6$1...@joe.rice.edu>,

lps...@rice.edu (Lucian Paul Smith) wrote:
> [Splilers for Djinni...]
>
> Adam Cadre (a...@adamcadre.ac) wrote:
>
> : Another data point: I instinctively typed "grant wish" at the
> : appropriate moment, but as I hit Enter, I thought, "Nah, it won't
> : be this easy -- it'll give me an error message, and then I'll have
to
> : figure out how to grant her wish myself." But I tried it anyway,
just
> : because it seemed so darn obvious.
>
> : It worked. I was *tremendously* pleased.
>
> Oh, I definitely agree that having 'grant wish' be available to the
player
> is good. But I just don't think that's enough. If you're going to
> require an odd verb to be used, you need to provide a semantic
pathway for
> the player from a standard verb or two to *get* to the odd verb. I
have
> no good ideas in this particular instance. But I still think it's
> necessary.
>

Um, "fulfill" also works and is mentioned on the first screen. "I
fulfilled my summoner's desire (then hit the bricks!)" Maybe that
gives the idea that that's your job?

(And once again from this Comp I've gotten such a polar response from my
work I have no idea how to proceed. (Although this time the negatives
are 4's and 5's where last year they were 2's and 3's.))

If you blatantly mention things you get no biscuit, if you assume
knowledge you get no biscuit.

A terrific story on a surreal level OR "I had no clue what to do,
and the story was cliche."

<Raises hands into the air>

Jim


Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Before you buy.

bre...@hotmail.com

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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Thanks for the review. Very fair and balanced. I just wanted to
comment on a couple of points:
In article <8v09af$dpc$5...@joe.rice.edu>,

lps...@rice.edu (Lucian Paul Smith) wrote:
<snip>

> Happy Ever After (happy.z5)
> Rating: 5
>
> A decent, if buggy, game. Especially near the end, there were many
> events that took place even though I hadn't done everything I knew I
> needed to do to, and yet the puzzle turned out to be solved anyway.
> Very odd. Add to this a host of spacing and punctuation bugs, and the
> game really lost a lot of what it could have had.
>
> And what it had was a bunch of puzzles draped around a somewhat
> hackneyed though acceptable plot. There were some odd bits--I
couldn't
> get the geography of the past and the geography of the present to
match
> up at all, and it was weird to trigger a new event in the past by
> causing another already-recorded event in the past to happen. It was
> also strange going through my uncle's place destroying everything I
> could get my hands on. Wasn't I supposed to be house-sitting? For
some
> reason I got the sense that the uncle had orchestrated the whole
thing,
> which would be a nice touch if I thought the author thought that up,
and
> it wasn't something I brought to the story myself ;-)
Heh. If I get around to expanding the game and fixing it to match the
_original_ design document, you might be in for a suprise. In the
original design (changed because of time) you and Gwen wind up stranded
in WWII..forever..where you take over the chateau and eventually turn it
into a museum. You're your own uncle! Aint time travel grand?
<snip>

> And other bits simply weren't very clear (I was confused about how to
> operate the Alchemotron, for example), or were off-putting: I didn't
> want to experiment with the Merlin thingy since there was just this
rack
> of buttons with no labels. I assumed I'd have to find a clue
somewhere
> explaining what each did, or giving me a color sequence, but
apparantly
> I was meant to experiment and figure stuff out.

Uh, yeah. This was pretty much a direct rip^H^H^H homage to one of my
favorite puzzles of all time, the Godzilla machine in Hollywood Hijinks.
There were no labels on the buttons there, you had to expirement. I
saved/reloaded over 100 times on that puzzle, but I didn't care. The
expirementation was too much fun.

Obviously, this didnt work for you. Ah well, cant win em all.

R

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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Lucian Paul Smith <lps...@rice.edu> wrote:
> [Splilers for Djinni...]

> Adam Cadre (a...@adamcadre.ac) wrote:
> : Lucian Smith wrote:
> : > So you go to the walkthrough and discover that you should have typed


> : > in 'grant wish'. Grant wish? *Grant* wish? Pardon me while I peruse
> : > the list of standard IF verbs and look for 'grant'. How odd. It's not
> : > there. And this is the first thing of substance I must do!

> : Another data point: I instinctively typed "grant wish" at the


> : appropriate moment, but as I hit Enter, I thought, "Nah, it won't
> : be this easy -- it'll give me an error message, and then I'll have to
> : figure out how to grant her wish myself." But I tried it anyway, just
> : because it seemed so darn obvious.

> : It worked. I was *tremendously* pleased.

> Oh, I definitely agree that having 'grant wish' be available to the player
> is good. But I just don't think that's enough. If you're going to
> require an odd verb to be used, you need to provide a semantic pathway for
> the player from a standard verb or two to *get* to the odd verb. I have
> no good ideas in this particular instance. But I still think it's
> necessary.

I thought it sufficiently clued by... hm, let me actually restart the
game... well, by the "about" text for a start. But also by the very
non-standard description of the PC, the environment; the alien
viewpoint.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

Kaia Vintr

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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Andrew Plotkin wrote in message <97439190...@rexx.com>...

>I thought it sufficiently clued by... hm, let me actually restart the
>game... well, by the "about" text for a start. But also by the very
>non-standard description of the PC, the environment; the alien
>viewpoint.
>

Whatever the clue was, it worked for me -- I had no trouble guessing "grant
wish".
I like non-standard verbs because it feels less like you're pushing a
button.

- Kaia

>
>"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
>borogoves..."

At last he said "That the Carp chains, but I don't believe in me, I can
assure you a present from
head to feed...

Torbjörn Andersson

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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Adam Cadre <a...@adamcadre.ac> wrote:

> Lucian Smith wrote:
> > So you go to the walkthrough and discover that you should have typed
> > in 'grant wish'. Grant wish? *Grant* wish? Pardon me while I peruse
> > the list of standard IF verbs and look for 'grant'. How odd. It's not
> > there. And this is the first thing of substance I must do!
>

> Another data point: I instinctively typed "grant wish" at the
> appropriate moment, but as I hit Enter, I thought, "Nah, it won't
> be this easy -- it'll give me an error message, and then I'll have to
> figure out how to grant her wish myself." But I tried it anyway, just
> because it seemed so darn obvious.
>
> It worked. I was *tremendously* pleased.

Yet another data point: I had no problem with "grant wish", but I
probably wouldn't have thought of it - not right away, at least - if I
hadn't followed the game's suggestion and typed 'about'.

Torbjörn

Craxton

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
to

> The Djinni Chronicles (djinni.z5)
> Rating: 5
>

Erm...

All this is explained in the readme that comes with the game... 0_o;;;;;


> Happy Ever After (happy.z5)
> Rating: 5

>For some
> reason I got the sense that the uncle had orchestrated the whole thing,
> which would be a nice touch if I thought the author thought that up, and
> it wasn't something I brought to the story myself ;-)
>

The note he leaves you suggests that he (your uncle) did. Also, there's the
matter of the note in the diary, written in your handwriting and signed with
your name. Your uncle had to have known about that.

As for why he put all those puzzles in the way... I dunno, maybe he thought
you should *work* for your happy ending? ^_^

-Craxton

Craxton

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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> Heh. If I get around to expanding the game and fixing it to match the
> _original_ design document, you might be in for a suprise. In the
> original design (changed because of time) you and Gwen wind up stranded
> in WWII..forever..where you take over the chateau and eventually turn it
> into a museum. You're your own uncle! Aint time travel grand?
> <snip>
>

Erm... sorry, no. That makes the game look like even MORE of a Muldoon
ripoff...

-Craxton

Paul O'Brian

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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On Thu, 16 Nov 2000, Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> I thought it sufficiently clued by... hm, let me actually restart the
> game... well, by the "about" text for a start.

That's where I got it from.

--
Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
SPAG #23 will be devoted to the 2000 IF competition, and is actively
seeking reviews! Submit your comp reviews to me by December 5. Thanks!


Lucian Paul Smith

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Nov 17, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/17/00
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Andrew Plotkin (erky...@eblong.com) wrote:

: Lucian Paul Smith <lps...@rice.edu> wrote:
: > [Splilers for Djinni...]

: I thought it sufficiently clued by... hm, let me actually restart the
: game... well, by the "about" text for a start. But also by the very


: non-standard description of the PC, the environment; the alien
: viewpoint.

[Goes back to game; reads 'about' text.]

Well, whaddya know.

I usually read the about stuff at some point; dunno why I didn't for
this one.

It seems the authod did indeed do various things to get me to do this. I
just missed 'em all ;-)

-Lucian

bre...@hotmail.com

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Nov 17, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/17/00
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In article <8v1eku$psf$1...@bob.news.rcn.net>,
I said it last year and Ill say it again: having two games with vaguely
similar time travel themes does NOT make one a ripoff of the other
anymore than Barney is a ripoff of Jurassic park because they are both
about dinasours...
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