Norman's Comp Reviews [File 2 of 3]

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Norman Perlmutter

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Nov 16, 2003, 12:16:51 AM11/16/03
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Order of reviews in this file:
10 Scavenger
9 Sophie's Adventure
8 Shadows in the Mirror
7 Risorgimento Represso
7 Cerulean Stowaway
7 Gourmet
7 Erudition Chamber
7 The Recruit
7 Adoo's Stinky Story
7 Episode in the Life of an Artist
6 The Adventures of the President of the United States
6 The Atomic Heart
6 Domicile
6 A Paper Moon

*******THE TOP 3 GAMES**********
I gave scored the top three games a 10, a 9, and an 8. These are, in
my opinion, the cream of the crop.


MY FAVORITE GAME
Scavenger
Score: 10
Genre: Dark Science Fiction
Humor/Seriousness: Primarily a serious game, with a small but
significant amount of humor in appropriate places

This game is not perfect, but it was my favorite, so I gave it
a 10. It is much, much better than most of the other comp games in
terms of the quality of the simulation (Evaluation Criterion #1). I
can do virtually any reasonable action. The game notes (available
after you beat the game) say the author spent nearly a year
beta-testing the game, and I believe it.
The game took me a little over the 2 hours allotted, even with
a fair number of hints, but I did manage to get a fair amount of the
way through it in the two hours.
The NPCs are well-done, especially the little girl.
The game also has good replayability because the choices you
make at the beginning effect how you have to proceed later on.
The puzzles are hard, but mostly fair, and the hint system is
very good.
The game does contain some profanity and violence, as noted in
its readme file.
I would recommend this game to any IF player, whether the
player enjoys puzzles, environmental exploration, or both.


THE RUNNER UP
Sophie's Adventure
Score: 9
Genres: Fantasy/Parody
Humor/Seriousness: Very humorous

This game is may not be all that great objectively, but for
some reason, I really enjoyed it. The humor really clicked with me,
and the game seems to flow without too much effort on the player's
part, while still being very interactive. One other reason I might
have liked it was that it involves an evil wizard, power crystals, and
saving the world, as did my 2001 comp game (The Cruise).
The game proved to me that Adrift is a viable IF authoring
system. Because it is written in Adrift, it has a different feel and
style from TADS and Inform games, but it is still good. It is has many
long blocks of narrative and/or dialogue, which some players may
dislike, but the writing is good. Sophie's Adventure is also the only
game in the comp to implement a menu-based conversation system. The
same items sometimes pop up again on the menus, but overall, the
conversation system works well with the game because it allows the
author to implement a large number of NPCs with a lot of dialogue for
each.
The game is fairly easy, but also fairly long - I think I got
about halfway through it in the two hours. It does have a couple of
serious bugs, but they did not interfere with my enjoyment of the game
because the game's main strength is its humorous writing rather than
its puzzles. It sort of feels like a modern RPG for the PC with lots
of conversation, minus the fighting and graphics. This game also has
replayability because you can choose among several companions at the
beginning of the game. (Actually it might force you into picking a
specific one - I'm didn't check - at least it gives the illusion of
replayability in that case).
I would not recommend this game to people who want to play a
game that follows a strict IF style, but for people willing to try a
text adventure in a different style, I strongly recommend it.


THIRD PLACE
Shadows on the Mirror
Score: 8
Genre: Science Fiction
Humor/Seriousness: Almost entirely serious, but a tiny bit of humor

Shadows on the Mirror is primarily, but not entirely,
conversation-based. It uses the ask/tell system. Ask about and tell
about can be abbreviated to a and t respectively, which makes the
interface simple. One of its strengths is that it has multiple
endings, around 30, in fact, according to an email from the author. On
the first few play-throughs, the conversation seems very realistic. On
subsequent playthroughs, however, it starts to feel like I'm just
guessing things to ask and tell about without really paying attention
to the answers. Still, since many games wouldn't be much fun at all on
subsequent playthroughs, this is not a big weakness. The writing is
strong, the story is engaging, and the game is virtually bug-free. I
would strongly recommend the game to anyone who enjoys
conversation-based IF.


**********THE SEVENS************
I awarded a score of 7 to more games than any other individual
score, for a total of seven 7s. I gave a game a 7 if I enjoyed it and
considered it to be generally quite good, but in some aspect not
perfect enough to be one of the very best of the comp. However, if one
of these does end up winning, I wouldn't be terribly surprised.
The first three games reviewed in this section were fun games
with good writing but bad puzzles. The next two are notable in that
they are sort of studies of different types of puzzles in IF. The last
two are miscellaneous.


Risorgimento Represso
Score: 7
Genre: Fantasy
Humor Seriousness: Very Humorous, with a couple of serious ideas mixed
in

This game is one of the few best-written of the comp. As noted
above in the special awards section, it uses quite a large vocabulary.
It also has quite detailed descriptions of all the items. It does a
good job of modifying the default responses.
One problem with the game was that it is too long. I did not
even get a third of the way through it in the two hours, I think. The
puzzles are OK, but not outstanding. Actually, I only experienced a
couple of them, because they are rather hard, though there are hints,
which I eventually used. If the author had instead made the game a
third as long, he could have made some really awesome puzzles that
would respond to all reasonable solutions instead of just some.
I won't give away the premise - play it and find out. I
recommend this game to just about anyone.


Cerulean Stowaway
Score: 7
Genre: Science Fiction
Humor/Seriousness: Humorous

In Cerulean Stowaway, you play a stowaway on an alien space
ship. First, you must find a way to get onto the ship, and then the
rest of the game takes place on the ship. The game is very funny, and
it lots of different endings possible, although the plot is linear,
making for little replay value. Some of the puzzles are poorly
designed, as is the hint system - even with the hints I was unable to
beat the game within the two hours. Still, the writing is fairly good,
and the game is fun. I would recommend the game to anyone who likes
humor and science fiction.


Gourmet
Score: 7
Genre: Quasi-realistic
Humor/Seriousness: Humorous

Well, here's another game with a great idea, but mediocre
puzzles. I liked this game for a number of reasons. For one thing,
it's about a restaurant, and I like restaurants. The restaurant is not
at all ordinary - the setting is quite amusing. For another thing, it
has a kitchen in it with working implements. This was fun, because in
the typical IF kitchen, you've got a bunch of kitchen appliances, but
you can't use them.
The basic premise is that you're a chef trying to run a
restaurant and impress a famous reviewer. I find it odd that you know
the reviewer is coming that night and even recognize her - usually
restaurant reviewers are anonymous.
I would recommend this game to the typical IF player.


The Erudition Chamber
Score: 7
Genre: Fantasy
Humor/Seriousness: Serious

This is the first of the "study" games - it is an explicit
puzzlefest with a thin back story that makes a point of studying
different types of puzzles. In fact, there are four ways to solve each
puzzle, and each method employs a different school of thought. At the
end of the game, you get a tally of how you solved each puzzle. By its
very nature, it accepts all reasonable solutions to a puzzle, which
makes it very fair, if not terribly challenging. Another drawback is
that it's rather short - I think it took me under an hour. Also, even
though each puzzle has multiple solutions, I didn't feel strongly
motivated to go back and replay the game. The game was well-written
and virtually bug-free, which makes up for some of its shortcomings.
As it is short and easy, playing it is not a big risk in terms of time
investment. Therefore, I would recommend it to anyone who likes games
with puzzles as the primary focus.


The Recruit
Score: 7
Genre: Quasi-realistic
Humor/seriousness: Humorous

This second "study" game differs from Erudition Chamber in
that it is more challenging but less complete. Instead of having
puzzles that can be solved in many different ways, it has several
puzzles, each of which is explicitly given a distinct category. A
couple of them are very good, but a couple are rather bad. One is,
IMHO, the cleverest puzzle of the whole comp, but I won't say which
one because that would be a spoiler. The Recruit also features a very
short literary within the game that provides an amusing diversion - it
has nothing to do with the rest of the game. At the end of the game,
you learn something about your puzzle-solving habits. I recommend The
Recruit to everyone, because, in spite of some drawbacks, it contains
the cleverest puzzle in the comp.


Episode in the Life of the Artist
Score: 7
Genre: Satire
Humor/Seriousness: Humorous, but with some serious points

This game is fairly short and easy. Its main strength is its
writing and its commentary. This commentary makes the player think
about certain issues, but leaves them up to interpretation. The game
is also noteworthy for its inclusion of lots of random quotes. I
noticed no major bugs, if I remember correctly. The end of the game
has some nice extras. I won't give away too much about this game, but
I'll just tell you one more thing to possibly peak your interest: the
meaning of the title is not as straightforward as it may seem. I'd
recommend to anyone who likes games where puzzles are not the main
focus.


Adoo's Stinky Story
Score: 7
Genre: Quasi-realistic
Humor/Seriousness: Humorous

This game is a lot of fun. The writing is nothing special, nor
is the coding. The hint system leaves something a little to be
desired, but mostly does its job. The NPCs are fairly unremarkable.
The game's main strength's are its humor and puzzles. The puzzles are
neither too easy nor too hard. The concept is amusing: you must build
a stink-bomb out of materials found around your house. I will not give
away more about how you build the bomb - play it for yourself and see.
The game's length was about right for the comp. I would recommend it
to the typical player of humorous IF.


********* THE SIXES *********
Generally speaking, the sixes had great ideas, but terrible
implementation.


The Adventures of the President of the United States
Score: 6
Genre: Satire
Humor/Seriousness: Very Humorous

I strongly recommend this game to everyone because it is the
funniest game in the whole comp. Its satirical skill turns some of the
worst drawbacks of the IF genre into excellent features. I
particularly recommend it to people who dislike George W. Bush. I will
not give away much about it, because that would spoil the humor. The
reason it got a relatively low score is that the puzzles are terrible.
They are frequently of the guess-the-verb or guess-the- noun type, or
else of the do something entirely arbitrary type. If you have trouble
with the first puzzle, don't give up - do a google groups search for
my hint request on rgif. When I was stuck on the first puzzle, I
almost gave up and gave the game a very low score, but I decided to
make the hint request post. After playing the game, I rated it a 5,
but later, when I decided it was the funniest game of the whole comp,
and one of the most memorable, I raised the score to 6.


The Atomic Heart
Score: 6
Genre: Science Fiction
Humor/Seriousness: Serious

The Atomic Heart is another game with a great idea but bad
implementation. You are a robot. It's probably been done before, but
I'm not terribly experienced in IF, so it's my first time playing such
a game.
The puzzles are not particularly well implemented, though, and
you have to go through some rather clunky commands to manipulate a
bunch of different cords and sockets and modules with very long names
that you can't easily abbreviate. Still, I recommend this game to
science fiction fans.


Domicile
Score: 6
Genre: Surreal fantasy
Humor/Seriousness: Serious

As mentioned in the special awards, this is one of the two
most surreal games in the comp. You explore a house you inherited and
the grounds surrounding it, and weird things happen, and you meet
magical and weird beings, and you learn magic.
Several bugs make it possible to unknowingly put the game into
an unwinnable state, unless I'm missing something obvious. Even using
all the hints, I was unable to progress past the first major section
of the game.
A further problem is that many items in room descriptions are
not described at all, including several items that are fairly crucial
to the game. Also, the compass direction to get from point B to point
A is often different from the direction from point A to point B for no
good reason.
This game does have one strength, though: its downright
weirdness. It may have contained the strangest NPC in the comp. I
enjoyed the exploration aspect of the small part of the game I was
able to access, and I think I would have enjoyed the game even more if
I could have gotten further into it.

A Paper Moon
Score: 6
Genre: Fantasy
Humor/Seriousness: Humorous

A Paper Moon is yet another game with a nifty idea but poor
execution. The idea is to solve puzzles by making works of origami.
The PC is your stereotypical main character of a humorous IF game,
which is to say that he's a loser thrown into a difficult situation.
The hint system is neither menu-based nor exhaustive, so I was
unable to complete the game. Still, I enjoyed what I saw of it, even
enough to keep playing a little after the two hours. It might have
scored a little higher, but it contained some serious bugs that
interfered with gameplay/simulation quality, including
guess-the-verbs, guess-the-nouns, and mimesis-murdering masterpieces
such as

>put brochure in chasm
That can't contain things.

But I enjoyed this game, so I would recommend it to the player
who's willing to put up with bugs for the sake of enjoying a creative
game.

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