[C32 Comp] Jimmy's Reviews

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Jimmy Maher

Dec 15, 2004, 11:22:05 PM12/15/04
This was the first competition of any sort in which I played all of the
games and acted as a judge. I've lurked here on and off through the
years, and played my share of IF, but I've made an early new year's
resolution to be a bit more active. So, with that in mind...

I was not completely thrilled with the idea of this contest, to tell the
truth. I don't consider myself a retrogamer, and in general I am more
excited about the future potential of IF than I am nostalgic for its
past. I appreciate the amazing work done by programmers and designers
in the early days of the home computer age to make those primitive
machines entertain us with often surprisingly deep and playable games.
Still, I'd rather see today's developers (in IF and other genres)
concentrate on giving us more original experiences than on squeezing
"ZorkQuest XV" into some arbritary byte limit.

Still, I was surprised by what these games achieved within some very
strict limitations. I actually enjoyed, to one degree or another, five
of the six entrants. From my reading of IF Comp reviews of years gone
by, this is a ratio to die for.

My personal ranking:
1. Turning Point
2. Downtown Train
3. Endgame
4. Amusement Park
5. Zombies
6. Paparazzi

Here are my reviews, in the order I played the games. These are all
*very* spoilery, so if you are still planning to have a go at these,
wait until after you have played them. All except my #6 are in my
opinion worthy of a bit of your time.


A clever premise that made me smile. You are at the endgame of an
old-school adventure, having already scored 350 of 500 points. Having
made your preperations and gathered your materials, you have
successfully summoned a demon. Well, a demon's egg actually, and therin
lies the problem. I remember that some of the Infocom games had a habit
of awarding you a whole pile of points right at the end, so the idea
that you are just a few moves from the end with 150 points still to
score is not that far-fetched. Unfortunately...

I figured out what I need to do fairly quickly, but the game seemed
determined not to allow me to do it:

>erase pentagram
You'll need to be more specific.

Eventually, in desperation I tried:

>get pentagram
(Erasing the pentagram from the floor.)
Using the sleeve of your robe, you erase the pentagram from the floor.

What the hell? I never even knew I had a robe. Still, that did the
trick, and I could proceed to fry up and eat the demon, which made me
smile again.

If the author had made my robe show up in my inventory and cleaned up
the implementation of the erase verb a bit, I would have awarded this
one a 1 or 2 point higher grade. I think that would have been doable in
the 2K he had to spare. As it stands, though...

Summary: A fun effort, well-written and clever, but plagued by a few
parser frustrations.

Score: 7 out of 10.

Amusement Park:

Considering the size constraints of this contest, there is really quite
a lot to do here. I was surprised at how many objects were described...
not extensively described, mind you, but the player generally gets a
short sentence or so in return for examining just about anything in the

The premise was nice enough, although I somehow didn't really feel like
the author wrung everything possible out of it. The setting of a faded,
abandoned amusement park is evocative as hell after all. Then again,
maybe I'm just projecting my own feelings upon the setting. I made it a
point to seek out Coney Island on my first trip to New York after all,
just to bask in its faded Americana. And anyway, with only 32k to work
with, how much literary genius can we reasonably expect?

The writing was clear, notwithstanding the sporadic typo. I got the
impression English is not the author's first language, but the
occasional slightly odd phrasing didn't bother me.

I finished the game with 85 points and having experienced all 7
attractions. I'm not sure if there is a proper ending if the player
scores 100 points, or if the game always ends only when you get bored
and depart the amusement park. I didn't see how to score the other 15
points, although I didn't exactly kill myself looking either. I suspect
it might involve that barrel in the basement of the haunted mansion.
(After exploring that area, I spent some time wandering around and
saying "xyzzy" and "plugh," but couldn't find anywhere where this had an

Summary: Another neat little gem, if a bit incosequential.

Score: 6 out of 10.


Well, this one baffles me entirely. A car and a bike are here, but I
can't interact with them at all. Asking the guard about the boyfriends
and the girlfriend scores me 2 out of the 3 points. I'm assuming I can
get the last point by asking about something, but I can't figure out what.

Summary: Is this all there is, or am I missing something? I mean, this
thing is 32k, right? Where's the rest of it? Oh, well, might as well
move on.

Score: 2 out of 10.

Turning Point:

This one is great! A mix of golden-age science fiction and Douglas
Adams-style lunacy. Yes, the wacky science fiction comedy thing has
been done a lot in IF, but the writing is restrained enough that it
feels very fresh here.

The implentation is very good. Once I realized that indirect objects
(i.e., "shoot... with blaster") were a no-no, I had no problems at all
with the parser. The game area is only a half-dozen locations or so,
but the author has used some clever techniques to make things feel much

Virtually everything in the descriptions is implemented. There are even
some extra objects that didn't need to be there but that flesh things
out a bit -- the two additional food objects and the vents in every
room. The computer is a wonderful touch. Who would have expected
research puzzles (of sorts, at least) in a 32k game?

The whole thing is fun and satisfying, well-designed even if we ignore
the size constraints of this contest.

Summary: A little jewel that made me feel like a wide-eyed kid again.
It's hard to imagine anyone doing anything better with just 32k, but
here's hoping one of the last 2 games will astonish me.

Score: 10 out of 10.


Well, there's a comma splice in the first praragraph. That's not so
great. As I played on, I found a fair share of typos, as well as some
general gameplay weirdness. Worst of all, typing "empty bag" once said
bag has been found and opened crashes the game with an illegal opcode.
"Drop powder" on the other hand works. I'm not sure if this is a bug in
the game or the mInform library, but from the end user's perspective --
that's me -- it doesn't really matter, does it?

It's a pity about all the problems, because the game is actually quite
charming. In very little space, the author has managed to charactize
the protaganist quite well as an endearing loser, and there are some
very funny bits. I found it immensely amusing that my character took
the time to steal $.73 off his boss' corpse. My favorite part, though,
is this:

>x Tina
Your fantasy of playing airport security guard and drug smuggler with
Tina finally comes true. Sure she became a zombie, was beheaded and is
no longer moving, but that's only a small blemish on an otherwise
enjoyable experience. You find and take the key to the outer door.

I had a hard time figuring out how to find that key, by the way, since
the game at that stage seems uncertain whether Tina is lying in a bloody
heap or still stalking me. The game never tells me a locked door is
present in that location until I try to go through it. And why do I
sill have the brains after feeding them to Tina?

And then there was that weirdness with the score always showing up as 0.
I understand the reasons for it -- version 3 games MUST display either
a score or the current time on the status line -- but it could have been
cleaned up. The story could have been set up as a time game quite
easily if the author didn't wish to bother with scoring. As it is, it
just contributes to the generally rushed and unpolished feel of things.

Summary: Sure, we've got bugs and typos galore, but the game has
personality and charmed me enough that I'll give it...

Score: 5 out of 10.

Downtown Train:

Wow. Very avant garde, and the only game in the contest that doesn't go
the safe and easy old-school route. Bonus points for the author's
excellent taste in music, too... well, for the Tom Waits original, not
the Rod Stewart "interpretation" (ahem).

For quite a while, I really had no clue what I was supposed to be doing.
I was scoring points for touching people's hands, but I didn't
understand why. Just as I was about to move on, the premise of the
puzzle clicked for me. I then had a great time solving it. It's one of
those complicated by solvable puzzles I just love, the sort I like to
savor with a notebook in hand and not rush through.

I'm not clear on what the story really means. I'm guessing that these
other people on the train are figures from my memories, and that I have
to make my peace with them before I can move on to this new girl. It
all sounds a bit cliched and self-helpy phrased like that, but it feels
natural in the context of the game. Then again, I might be completely
wrong about everything. And how does the last scene fit in? Am I
waking up from a dream, or is something else going on?

I think the vagueness on the whole works. Each player is allowed to
create his or her own narrative around the little sketch that's been
presented. Interactive fiction, indeed... With just a few words, the
author has managed to conjure up such a special mood, and that's what
this work is really all about.

Very few commands are implemented, to the point that a parser was almost
unnecessary. And it is somewhat odd that I am going around holding the
hands of a handsome athlete, teenage girls, my dentist, etc. I guess if
this is all a dream I can be excused, but otherwise I think that sort of
behavior would most likely leave me in jail, or in a bloody pulp, or both.

Summary: Richly evocative and original. Perhaps it could be accused of
substituting vagueness for profundity, but I was nevertheless very

Score: 8 out of 10.

-- Jimmy

Mike Snyder

Dec 15, 2004, 11:31:39 PM12/15/04
"Jimmy Maher" <mah...@SPAMgrandecom.net> wrote in message

> Amusement Park:

> I finished the game with 85 points and having experienced all 7
> attractions. I'm not sure if there is a proper ending if the player
> scores 100 points, or if the game always ends only when you get bored
> and depart the amusement park. I didn't see how to score the other 15
> points, although I didn't exactly kill myself looking either. I suspect

You can only win by leaving the park. You can leave at any time, so you're
pretty much right. You can score a full 100 points though:

(spoiler space)
Did you eat the waffle cone (marzipan) and look in (or search) the ticket
booth? Did you ride down the slide a second time? I'm guessing those may be
the points you missed. I think the ticket booth is worth 10 by itself.

---- Mike.

Jimmy Maher

Dec 16, 2004, 12:10:20 AM12/16/04

Well, let's see. I definitely ate the cone. I went down the slide
several times WITHOUT the carpet, but probably only went down once with
it. I fiddled around with the ticket booth quite a bit, but must have
missed the phrasing the game was looking for. I tried to open the
window, reach in it, etc., but I don't recall trying SEARCH there.

So... sounds like your analysis was correct.

-- Jimmy

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