[CONTEST] Here's what I thought... [O-Z]

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C.E. Forman

Nov 22, 1996, 3:00:00 AM11/22/96



"Of Forms Unknown"
An attempt to continue the "expressive" I-F tradition of "So Far" - that
is, an interactive Bergman film that dwells on exploration, shifting
between various areas representing human thoughts and feelings, and old-
fashioned puzzle-solving, with little or no genuine plot to tie the
experiences together.

I'm not sure I like this new trend. To give credit, "So Far" is a very
imaginative, ground-breaking new style of I-F, but the derivativeness of
"Forms" shows (the author himself admits this). I fear that a glut of
this type of game will quickly make it tiresome and unpopular, much like
having too many "hunt-the-treasures-and-store-them-somewhere" games.

The writing is good, but painfully derivative while lacking much of the
depth of "So Far". The puzzles in "Forms" are thoroughly motivationless,
and they didn't hold my interest as well as Andrew Plotkin's work did.
(Even with Plotkin's work, I felt I was forcing myself through a few
parts of it. I guess I'm just not crazy about this type of game.) I
was able to figure out most of the early puzzles, but the later ones
required delving into the built-in hints to find out, for instance, the
right place to dig. The final puzzle exhibits inexcusably frustrating
parsing, made more difficult by the fact that the hints are in error -
you must turn the _device_, not the wheel, but the hints say the
wheel. (I played the original uploaded version, not the revised one
that appeared a few days after the deadline, so maybe this is fixed.)

Enjoyable at first, but tiresome toward the end.

My score: 6


Ever wanted to see "Space Aliens Laughed at My Cardigan" on the
Z-machine? Here it is. Enjoy.

The scary part is that the author seems to know what he (she? it? none
of the above?) is doing -- the writing is for the most part gramatically
correct and game is not as buggy as "Cardigan", with the exception of
some screwed-up directions and incomplete direction lists, which almost
appear to be intentional.

It's every bit as incongruous as the great Andre M. Boyle's work,
though. One minute you're in Ancient Mayan Ruins, the next at the End
of the World. Add a series of blatant, gratuitous rip-offs (the needle
in the haystack from "Nord and Bert", the llama food and Restaurant at
the End of the Universe from Douglas Adams' works) that don't fit in at
all, and some thoroughly motivationless, illogical puzzles -- I'm
guessing that NO ONE figured out how to use Leo the lemming to scare
away the moose worshippers, right? -- and you've got a great contender
for absolute rock-bottom last place.

Perhaps "Phlegm" was intended as a satire of the likes of "Cardigan" and
"Detective"? If so, it ultimately fails because there is no discernable
difference between the parody and the parodied. Good for a number of
cheap laughs (particularly Leo), but unlike "Kissing the Buddha's Feet",
few of them are genuine. The title itself is also misleading - I found
no phlegm anywhere in the game. The author must have forseen all these
problems. His/her/its/whatever's name is left off the credits. Wise
choice, friend.

My score: 3


"Piece of Mind"
Now here's a real dilemma.

First, let me congratulate the author on a number of things:

1) The switching of tense - from first-person past in the
introduction, to first-person present in the main framework,
to an omnipresent third-person tense for a sub-"plot" - is a
very ambitious hack of the Inform grammar.
2) I thought it was quite imaginative the way you divided one
"room" into six different "locations". A neat map twist.
3) The "Outer Files" parody. ROTFL! Glad to see a fellow X-
Phile writing I-F. The truth is out there. Trust no one.
4) I was delighted to see the words of evil Professor Elvin
Atombender of Epyx's "Impossible Mission" pop up. Even ten
years after the fact, I can _still_ hear that digitized voice
perfectly, and it never fails to give me a nostalgic shiver.
That was a GREAT game! (And companies today think crap like
"Phantasmagoria" can hold a candle. Hmmph.)

Now some (hopefully) constructive criticism:

1) Typos. Particularly in the revised default grammar messages.
Lots of missing periods, misspelled words, missing line-
feeds, etc. Double-check these the next time around.
2) Try to give your entry a little more plot and consistency.
This year we've seen a lot of entries - "Phlegm", "Rippled
Flesh", and "Of Forms Unknown" come immediately to mind -
where plots have been thrown out completely in exchange for
wandering from one situation to the next. These get old
after awhile. The drawn-into-a-book subgame is not as
polished as the T.S. Eliot scene in "Curses", and most of
the rest feels like excerpts from someone's private life
that I'd rather not know a lot about. Most of the
situations make no sense, even under the guise of drug-
induced hallucination.

My score: 4


The biggest drawback to this entry is its interpreter, which runs only
under OS/2. I sincerely hope that this isn't detrimental to its vote
count, because it's a lot of fun, and deserves more attention than the
(relatively) small OS/2 crowd can give it.

Essentially, "Promoted!" is a zany satire of life in the corporate
world, with a well-established mythos and lots of in-jokes that non-
office players probably won't get much out of. The biggest plus is
that the setting is not just a bunch of inside jokes based solely on
DeSanto's place of employment. Anyone who's worked in a maze of twisty
little cubicles (all alike) will be able to relate to the situations
presented here. DeSanto's take on corporate culture is amusing and well
thought out, and he has a good grasp of what REALLY goes on in an
office, though it's not quite up to the level of Scott Adams (and when I
say Scott Adams here, I am of course referring to the "Dilbert" Scott
Adams, not the SCOTT ADAMS Scott Adams).

On the other hand, some of the puzzles could be improved. There's lots
of death without warning, a bit too much in a game without "UNDO", and
some very text-adventurish situations. The colored tape puzzle, for
example, felt exactly like something that didn't quite make it into a
"Zork" game. The disguise puzzles, on the other hand, are neat, and
quiz the player on the details of the world DeSanto has built.

I also encountered some difficulty with Rexx-Adventure itself. It's a
neat engine, a snap to grasp, but a bit buggy. Before I'd finished
"Promoted!", I'd crashed the engine multiple times, receiving VX-REXX
errors when I clicked among the lists a bit too fast, or when I tried
to exceed my inventory's capacity. Future bug fixes should eliminate
this. One advantage to the interface is the fact that its obviation of
guess-the-verb paves the way for some obscure puzzles that wouldn't be
acceptable with typed commands (i.e. "STRIP WIRES"). Here's hoping
Rexx-Adventure sees ports to more systems.

My score: 6


"Punkirita Quest One: Liquid"

I tried to like this one (I really did!), but even after finishing it I
felt I had virtually no grasp of the world the author was attempting to
create. It's fantasy, of course, but aside from the introduction, there
is virtually no text to help players learn more about the world around
them. Most rooms are empty and useless, and many of them have obscure
pop-culture jokes that appear hopelessly out of place.

The major puzzles are quite illogical, and there's really no way of
figuring them out without the walkthrough, as there are no characters to
talk to or ancient tomes to consult. The writing is unfortunately quite
atrocious, with every kind of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and
capitalization error imaginable, which makes it a chore to read.

The author seems reluctant to add new verbs to the grammar: Help
screens, footnotes, and some attempts at background information are
stored in a separate text file. (Then again, I did the same thing with
MST3K1 last year, so I guess I'm not fit to cast the first stone here.)

Perhaps this game might have turned out better in a longer format. It
seems the author had a lot more to put into this game, but was daunted
by the two-hour limit. I hope he's not overly discouraged by my
criticism here. Hopefully the next release will feature better world-
building and the use of a spell-checker.

My score: 1


"Ralph" was short (3 puzzles), not too difficult, and fun. I found this
one to be very cute, and it just oozes with charm (I smiled at
Christopher Robin and Blamant the Teddy, felt a certain sadness at
seeing Ralph's unkind owners, and laughed out loud at the fate of poor
Benny the Fluff Duck).

The writing is good, but sometimes seems geared toward a human's manner
of thinking rather than a dog's. The glass sheet puzzle, for instance,
seemed slightly out of place in a game about a dog. Further, the
descriptions of some objects lend a distinct air of anthropomorphism,
rather than a pure dog's-eye view of the world. Would a dog really
think of a sheet of glass, or a man's pipe, with the same words as a

A different approach to vocabulary (perhaps adopting Richard Adams'
technique of an animal language as seen in "Watership Down") might have
made me feel a bit more like a real dog, but there are still plenty of
doggy situations and doggy verbs to investigate.

"Ralph" may not be "top dog" this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if
it's one of the competition's most fondly remembered entries. (Benny
the Fluff Duck, we hardly knew ye.)

My score: 6


Say what you want, but I LIKED this one! The plot - pizza guy gets
caught up in battle with mafia and causes earthquake threatening to
destroy city while simultaneously building friendship with cute female
lawyer - has the look and feel of one of those really bad "Up All Night"
movies they show on Fridays and Saturdays on the USA network. At 11:00
and 10:00, respectively. Not that I actually WATCH those awful things.
Well, not usually. Oh, okay, you caught me! Happy?!

The puzzles in "Reverberations" are full of very text-adventure-like
situations, and the room descriptions consist largely of lists of exits,
but the rest of the text is just plain fun, and the answerable
rhetorical questions and southern-California dictionary provided with
the game provide many a laugh. A couple of minor bugs (some of the
"amusing" commands don't seem to work properly), but nothing major to
gripe at.

A really fun way to kill half an hour or so.

My score: 6


"Rippled Flesh"
Another horror story that doesn't succeed at being creepy, although it
comes close once or twice if you let your imagination fill in the gaps
that the less-than-convincing text leaves.

There are a lot of puzzles that require guessing the author's manner of
thinking, and, though a couple were kind of neat, the game has the same
feel of "Punkirita", by the same author, with lots of incongruous ideas
slapped together, peppered with pop-culture references that don't seem
to fit. (To the author: The first "Alien" movie was good, too. It's
only the third one that sucked. And the fourth, if they make it.)

The text file with the game explains that the author didn't know how to
implement some features, so I have a brief word for potential authors:
Don't be afraid to post requests for help on rec.arts.int-fiction. We
were all new to Inform at some point. (Even Graham Nelson, sort of.)

Finally, let me just urge players to stick with this game to the end.
Please, PLEASE don't deprive yourselves of the attempt at an explanation
for everything that happened during the course of the game. It's a
major (unintentional) hoot, and I loved it so much I gave the game an
extra point!

Also, if you don't mind my asking: What's the DEAL with disco this year?
Both "Rippled Flesh" and "Phlegm" make use of it. Is disco, as those
annoying music commercials claim, really "back and hotter than ever"?

My score: 4


"Sir Ramic Hobbs and the Oriental Walk (Wok?)"
First off, will someone please tell me whether the last word of this
game's title is "walk" or "wok"? The game says "walk", the filenames
say "wok". Also, is it "Sir Ramic Hobbs" or "Sir Ramric Hobbs"? The
other game starring this character says "Sir Ramric". I'm bumfuzzled.

Having never played the other Sir Ramic (Ramric?) Hobbs game, "Sir Ramic
Hobbs and the High-Level Gorilla", I can't comment on how this game
stacks up to its predecessor. I can say, however, that it explores both
extremes of enjoyability. The ability to shapeshift into different
animals was a lot of fun, and brought back fond memories of Infocom's
"Arthur". It's funny, with clever object descriptions and commentary by
the game's parser, which assumes the persona of a wizard who follows you
about. His comments are frequently witty taunting, but it's done good-
naturedly, unlike "Stalker". This is much more entertaining than the
nameless, faceless entity that most adventure game parsers never rise
above (though "Lost New York" does come close). The method of travel
(via armchair) is amusing. Also, it's impossible to make the game

My score was dragged down, however, by a great deal of typical AGT fare:
Incongruities, a lack of apparent plot until the very end, obscure
puzzles, a maze where one wasn't necessary, odd results when the author
didn't anticipate something (entering the library when invisible, for
instance, still gets you stopped by the librarian), and of course the
almanac puzzle. Ohhhh, do not even get me STARTED on the almanac
puzzle. After nearly an hour of wandering about, squinting in vain at
the teeny tiny letters on my screen, trying to deduce a compass
direction from them, then finding I'd made a wrong turn when I followed
the directions I DID find... blur-r-r-r-gh!

Half good, half bad, which means...

My score: 5


"Small World"
I'm not sure how fit I am to comment on this one, as I didn't finish it
completely. Treat my opinion as worthless if you think it appropriate.

"Small World" is a nicely-programmed little work (at the outset anyway),
with an imaginative map layout and some nice features like the "sack
object" (its first appearance in a TADS game, if I'm not mistaken), a
"warning mode" like PTF's, and the direct elimination of a great many
useless verbs, which ends up saving a great deal of wasted typing
(programmers take note).

It also has a cute scoring system (earning percentages of a single
coveted point), one of the most amusing NPCs of the entire competition
(the devil), and some theological issues that got me thinking.

Now for the bad part. After my getting about 18% of the point, plot
advancement abruptly ground to a screeching halt, reducing the
remainder of my playing experience to the following:

"Okay, the hint system tells me that I'm making progress simply by
moving around. Wandering around... yep, wandering around... no visible
Still says that moving around makes progress... Hoooooo-KAYyyyyy...
wandering around some more... la de da de dee... still no visible
progress... doot de doot, hmm hmm hmm... nope, not yet... maybe if I
wander around in a slightly different manner?... huh-uh, no change...
noon, afternoon, twilight, evening, midnight, gloaming, dawn...
aaaaaaand back again... dawn, gloaming, midnight, evening, twilight,
afternoon, noon... still wandering around... I must be making a LOT of
progress now... Damn, time's up."

My score: 5


The author admits that this is a prologue for a much longer game, and
as that it succeeds perfectly, with easy puzzles to set up Ali for his
quest, and a limited area to explore at the outset. The layout (a
village with townspeople to interact with) reminded me of my own "Path
to Fortune".

Some clever, obscure name references, if you can find them (Keraptis,
for instance, is the name of a winged beast from the "Pirates of Dark
Water" cartoon serial of a few years back). All in all, though, it's
pretty standard fantasy stuff, remaining relatively enjoyable without
breaking any new ground (or trying to, for that matter). But given the
current opinions toward D&D-based fantasy I-F, perhaps it's for the
best that the game in its entirety was never finished.

My score: 5


This is the first one I played (if that makes a difference).

I loved the writing in "Tapestry", particularly the purgatorial prologue
scenes. Vivid and absorbing, the prose makes you feel, which is rare
for I-F. The author of this game seems to have put the most effort into
his writing of any of the Inform entries, as indicated by the fact that
it's both the longest Inform entry and one of the shortest actual games.

The depth comes from the "fiction" aspect, not the "interactive" aspect.
All the interactive scenes are short and small and offer relatively
little room for experimentation, since the major choices you must make
are limited to one of two paths. Still, I'm a sucker for multiple

Most surprising to me: Neither of the paths is decidedly "better" than
the other. Doing what the web-weavers say changes nothing, but gives
Timothy an impression of strength and willingness to accept what has
been done. Doing what Morningstar says is right always ends in someone
else's tragedy. Yet the insightful, non-judgmental epilogue makes
either choice feel proper in the grand scheme of events, adding depth to
the otherwise simplistic plot.

All in all, a nicely polished entry, with imaginative characters, and a
story that could do with perhaps a bit more overall interactivity.
Daniel Ravipinto is either a new author to watch closely, or a
pseudonym, and if he's the latter I'm dying to know his true identity.

My score: 8


"Wearing the Claw"
Last but not least.

I'm torn with this one. Using the changing hand as a marker for the
player's progress is very imaginitive, but this doesn't quite mask the
game's overall linearity. Still, there are enough red herrings to keep
it from being immediately apparent, and there is a nice re-use of
puzzles, building on the previous challenges, particularly with the
enchanted coat.

The author comments that the claw was inspired by the desire to create a
game without a scoring system, as he feels scores make I-F feel too much
like a game rather than a story. I'm not sure I agree entirely with the
author's intentions here. I personally use the score as a means of
reassuring myself that I haven't just botched the game entirely (though
of course it's not 100% effective). The truth is, nearly every game 've
seen to date has an optimum ending, the "real" ending to the game tht
closes the story as the author sees best. Scoring is the easiest ofa
very few ways to let the player know when that ending has been reachd.
If a game is designed in such a way as to allow plotting without scoe,
that's wonderful, but otherwise I don't think I-F should be penalize
for failing to comply with this standard. A lot of games use the
scoring system effectively, even artistically.

I sort of got off track there, didn't I? Well, it'll give us something
more to debate. Overall, "Wearing the Claw" is a nice
middle-of-the-road entry.

My score: 6


Let's see... 15 of the entries I rated 6 or higher, so it seems the
overall quality of entries is improving... 26 entries total, but I don't
see 5 by female authors, so it doesn't look like the free "Circle"
registrations will be awarded. (Good thing too, because it looks like
we're putting the project on hold.)

Well, that's enough for one night. I'm outta here. ('Bout time, huh?)

C.E. Forman cefo...@worldnet.att.net
Read XYZZYnews at http://www.interport.net/~eileen/design/xyzzynews.html
Vote I-F in 1996! Visit http://www.xs4all.nl/~jojo/index.html for info!
"Circle of Armageddon", Vol. 2 of "The Windhall Chronicles" -- ?????????
Classic I-F FS/T in Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe! (Mail for current stock.)


Nov 25, 1996, 3:00:00 AM11/25/96

"C.E. Forman" <cefo...@postoffice.worldnet.att.net> wrote:


>"Ralph" was short (3 puzzles), not too difficult, and fun. I found this
>one to be very cute, and it just oozes with charm (I smiled at
>Christopher Robin and Blamant the Teddy, felt a certain sadness at
>seeing Ralph's unkind owners, and laughed out loud at the fate of poor
>Benny the Fluff Duck).


>"Ralph" may not be "top dog" this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if
>it's one of the competition's most fondly remembered entries. (Benny
>the Fluff Duck, we hardly knew ye.)

Err, Benny the Fluff Duck? I went through Ralph but had no Fluff Duck
sightings whatsoever. What am I missing here?


C.E. Forman

Nov 26, 1996, 3:00:00 AM11/26/96

bpd...@sprynet.com (BPD) wrote:
>"C.E. Forman" <cefo...@postoffice.worldnet.att.net> wrote:
>Err, Benny the Fluff Duck? I went through Ralph but had no Fluff Duck
>sightings whatsoever. What am I missing here?

Try peeing on Blamant the Teddy.


Nov 26, 1996, 3:00:00 AM11/26/96

"C.E. Forman" <cefo...@postoffice.worldnet.att.net> wrote:

>bpd...@sprynet.com (BPD) wrote:
>>"C.E. Forman" <cefo...@postoffice.worldnet.att.net> wrote:
>>Err, Benny the Fluff Duck? I went through Ralph but had no Fluff Duck
>>sightings whatsoever. What am I missing here?

>Try peeing on Blamant the Teddy.

In a word: ewwwwww! ;-)

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