[COMP00] Everyone's doing it (Jake's reviews)

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Jake Wildstrom

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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Well, I only got through 12 games this year, but seeing as everyone else is
doing it... they're short, and it seems I missed out on a lot of things other
people picked up on (the snide Inform cracks in Futz Mutz, for instance). I
also apparently missed a lot of really good games. I'll get back to them (which
is what I said about this time _last_ year).

1: "The Clock" 4

I didn't find the story too compelling (De gustibus...), but my
particular gripes were with the timed actions. _Coming Home_ ruined
hunger puzzles for all of us :-). Also, there are a _lot_ of little
bugs, typos, non-intuitive actions, and whatnot that make the game
almost unplayable. An awful lot of the things I was supposed to do
simply weren't, from all appearances, doable. For instance... you need
to go north from the living room at one point, but there is no
indication that there is an exit to the north. Also, when in the
bathroom, "turn on tap" didn't work, leading me to believe the tap was
just scenery (add to that the convoluted phrasing necessary to fill
the container, and an inventory bug, and you have an unworkable
situation). Basically, this game could have used a hell of a lot of
beta-testing, and better writing. But it wasn't bad in the
I-can't-believe-it's-so-terrible sense, and the premise and puzzles
aren't bad.

2: "Futz Mutz" 6

Unbuggy, but fairly puerile. Decent puzzles though. It seemed
uninspired but not particularly bad. I really can't think of too much
to say.

3: "1-2-3..." 5

FTSOAdam Cadre, I say. Every game thinks it's Photopia these days.
Deterministic, linear plot, requirements to perform certain actions,
changing perspectives. Except it isn't really as good. It feels kind
of like "A Moment of Hope" meets "Cattus Atrox". Well, maybe not -- it
gives a better illusion of free will than "Moment" and is somewhat
better written than "Cattus". Maybe throw an ounce or two of "Bliss"
in there too. Nonetheless, by the final scene, I was ready to toss it
all in. To me at least the ending was obvious --- hardly a
shocker. And a police captain, even a desk worker, would know better
self-defense than to be easily overpowered by a barehanded psychotic
-- in fact, knowing a dangerous psychotic was in the office, wouldn't
she have come armed? I located one minor typo and no real errors
except for the shameless imitation of themes and structures we've seen
done before. But I felt the psychotic's character wasn't fully
developed. Just slapping MPD and an Oedipal complex on someone does
not a serial killer make.

While we're at it, a point about mental illness. Interactive fiction
is full of raving psychotics (1-2-3, Bliss, Anchorhead) but rather
short on people suffering everyday mental illnesses. I can't help but
think that sufferers of psychological disorders are demonized enough
without our help.

4: "Castle Amnos" 7

Erm, wow. I was quite impressed by the size and scope of this
game. I'm fairly sure I didn't see or do all there was to see and do,
but there was enough. I like all the choices you get. I'd meant to
write something similar, and I'm kind of irritated that John Evans got
there first :-). Very nice effort, this was, and I have only two real
complaints. First, some of the puzzles are a bit unintuitive. In
particular I never quite got what was up with the levers in the
sewers. That's the only really badly designed puzzle I can
remember. Also, a _lot_ of scenery isn't implemented. This to me is
fairly unforgivable. Great sprawling games are fine as far as I'm
concerned, but not at the expense of detailed implementation. I'm not
even talking picky stuff here. For instance, all the storage rooms
have boxes in them. That's _all_ they have in them, so I don't think
it's asking too much to have "x boxes" work. As a nitpicky point,
either there's a map bug on the first floor, or an unexplained magic
teleporting closet.


5: "Aftermath" 6

Oodles of grammatical/spelling problems and unimplemented nouns. A
truly bizarre end-game bug. Nonetheless, a fairly stirringly written
work, although I just wanted to beat the clerk over the head with the
shovel and be done with it. His presence in the whole scenario seemed
an unreal and forced part of what otherwise seemed a grittily
realistic narrative. I would have given this one a lot better a score
if it showed any signs of having been beta tested. That's a kind of
familiar theme so far.

6: "Metamorphoses" 9

Wow. After working through buggy and uninspired games, this just blew
my mind. Let's start with the nifty devices for changing intrinsic
properties of an object. It's obvious a lot of work went into them,
and they really work very well and are wonderfully clever. I found one
cosmetic bug and one serious bug, but the game generally seems
well-written and fairly well-tested (well, _one_ of the bugs should
have been caught in testing, at least). But those are technical
issues. The game itself is well-crafted in itself, with clever puzzles
and an atmosphere surreal enough to be enchanting, yet not too
confusing. I'm not sure I can really do this justice. But it's an
excellent game, so far the best I've seen in this comp.

7: "Being Andrew Plotkin" 5

Well, I'm probably at a disadvantage, having never seen "Being John
Malkovitch". I got maybe half of the in-jokes, namely those which had
to do with the IF community and not BJM. Tough to judge, but as far as
I can tell mostly technically unflawed, although it's too easy to have
the game cut off by the conversation system (I hope I'm not alone in
finding the Photopian system monumentally irritating, but that has the
makings of a holy war in it). Again, as a personal preference, I
didn't like it because I didn't "get it". Which is I suppose what it's
supposed to do, being an in-joke.

8: "The Djinni Chronicles" 8

Well, this one was certainly interesting. Let's start with the fact
that it was, as far as I can tell, bug-free, which certainly makes it
worth a closer look. Well, first of all, I felt dropped in the middle
of something I didn't quite understand. We've got a couple of terms
which have different meanings than I'm used to -- Purpose, San, Ebo,
Aje. This in itself isn't bad, and I think a lot of what's behind
those terms is fairly quickly described. The setting is pretty rich,
even if the plot's a little thin. All in all, a good work.

9: "The Masque of the Last Faeries" 5

There are occasional minor errors, but this one is mostly bug-free. My
main problem is that there wasn't much for _me_ to do. I spent a lot
of time standing around wainting for other people to do stuff. It just
didn't strike me as all that interactive. Also, a nitpicky point: the
description of a lockpick is inaccurate, and picking requires two
tools, a pick and a torque bar.

10: "Threading the Labyrinth" 6

An interesting but unfortunately not original experiment. I'm not sure
I really like it. The conceit is very similar to Andrew Plotkin's
"Space Under the Window", but the execution diverges in two respects,
one of which I find laudable, the other unimpressive. First, _every_ word in
the narrative has some sort of "hot text", even ones which you might think
are fairly meaningless, and the hot text is, if overwhelmingly philosophical,
both related to the word and the narrative. I'm unimpressed, however, by how
little the paths diverge. This is a valiant attempt, and I grade it down
chiefly because it's not exactly original in what it's trying to do.

11: "Dinner with Andre" 6

Disclaimer: I've never seen the movie of the same name but have heard
a lot about it. Out of curiosity, I tried to get capsule information
from IMDB in case it was relevant to this game. From what I could
tell, it wasn't, which is a good thing, I suppose. Anyways, it seemed
like a pretty straightforward puzzlefest, and a fairly well done
one. One major complaint about one puzzle: "HIDE UNDER TABLE", which I
tried, didn't work, leading me to believe there had to be a different
solution. My only other issue is with the narrator's motivations. It
started at the beginning -- sure, I _could_ steal my date's money, but
wouldn't it be more civil to wait for him to return from the bathroom
and explain my predicament? Of course, he never does, which seems a
kludgy way to force me to be dishonest.From there on, I seem to
consistently be resorting to deceptions and generally making others
unhappy, leading up to the finale -- wherein I get "rescued" by a
third party and decide, all of a sudden, that my date is a jerk. Of
course, I hadn't thought that up to that point. And my "hero", who
apparently has been conspiring with the waitstaff to make my life a
living hell and ruin my clothes, is not. I'm sorry, but that doesn't
fly for me. A good game, other than the dubious motivations.

12: "The Pickpocket" 5

I feel like an idiot. The game claimed it was easy, but I got stuck. I
picked up all sorts of stuff, including the 200-Myc coin and the
scimitar (which was very nice indeed) but couldn't get further. I
assumed I was supposed to by a soda, but the machine doesn't work, and
all the usual commands to use on a nonfunctioning vending machine
(push, hit) didn't work. Also, I wanted to throw the briefcase of the
roof at some point to see if I could crack it open, but it didn't
go. This game is not bad, but the comp instructions do say they should
have walkthroughs for the puzzle-untalented like myself, so I'm going
to have to dock it.

+--First Church of Briantology--Order of the Holy Quaternion--+
| A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into |
| theorems. -Paul Erdos |
+-------------------------------------------------------------+
| Jake Wildstrom |
+-------------------------------------------------------------+

Craxton

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Nov 17, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/17/00
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"Jake Wildstrom" <wil...@mit.edu> wrote in message
news:3a142e2d$0$57...@senator-bedfellow.mit.edu...

> While we're at it, a point about mental illness. Interactive fiction
> is full of raving psychotics (1-2-3, Bliss, Anchorhead) but rather
> short on people suffering everyday mental illnesses. I can't help but
> think that sufferers of psychological disorders are demonized enough
> without our help.

"Rameses" comes to mind. Debatably...

> 4: "Castle Amnos" 7
>
> Erm, wow. I was quite impressed by the size and scope of this
> game. I'm fairly sure I didn't see or do all there was to see and do,
> but there was enough. I like all the choices you get. I'd meant to
> write something similar, and I'm kind of irritated that John Evans got
> there first :-). Very nice effort, this was, and I have only two real
> complaints. First, some of the puzzles are a bit unintuitive. In
> particular I never quite got what was up with the levers in the
> sewers. That's the only really badly designed puzzle I can
> remember. Also, a _lot_ of scenery isn't implemented. This to me is
> fairly unforgivable. Great sprawling games are fine as far as I'm
> concerned, but not at the expense of detailed implementation. I'm not
> even talking picky stuff here. For instance, all the storage rooms
> have boxes in them. That's _all_ they have in them, so I don't think
> it's asking too much to have "x boxes" work. As a nitpicky point,
> either there's a map bug on the first floor, or an unexplained magic
> teleporting closet.
>

Yeah, Amnos has some real serious problems... my personal least favorite
aspect is that the central concept is intriguing enough that you really,
really, REALLY want to see what happens when you crack the shell, and you
can't BECAUSE THERE'S A BUG IN THE WAY!!!! >_<

> And my "hero", who
> apparently has been conspiring with the waitstaff to make my life a
> living hell and ruin my clothes, is not. I'm sorry, but that doesn't
> fly for me. A good game, other than the dubious motivations.

Point of order- The "hero" had nothing to do with the travails of the plot.
Those were the waiter's doing, "hero" just got a note from the waiter
telling him to stay in his seat. And of course, the waiter's original plan
was probably quite different from what actually happened- complications
forced him to improvise.

-Craxton

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