[SPOILERS] neilc's Comp99 reviews

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Nov 16, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/16/98
I'll be using Joe Mason's rating guide:

10 - Absolutely perfect: riveting story, interactive, great puzzles
9 - Near perfect: riveting story, interactive, few flaws
8 - Great: good story, could be more interactive or have better puzzles
7 - Well done: good story, but interactivity or balance is lacking
6 - Good effort: well done, but something doesn't click
5 - Average: average story, solid but not impressive
4 - Below average: something seriously wrong
3 - Poor: good concept or idea, but execution seriously flawed
2 - Really Bad: not even a good concept
1 - No Redeeming Value: My First Stupid Game, for instance

This is my first time as a judge in the competition, and I found it very
challenging. I have followed the competition since it started, but have never

I admire the courage and tenacity of all the entrants, and I hope none of my
comments are dismaying. The scores and reviews included reflect my personal
preference exclusively, and aren’t intended to be anything but a blip in the
popularity contest that the competition really is.

I didn’t get to play all the games, and I’m sorry for that, since I missed
some by author’s I particularly like.

I’m posting these comments in the hope that they are useful to players in
general, and individual authors specifically.

With trepidation, I'm including the rating I assigned to each game. Joe’s
sort of prevented anyone from getting a 10.

Here is the list of games I missed (they are not reviewed here). I gather I
missed some good ones.

The City
In the Spotlight
Trapped in a One-room Dilly
The Commute
Where Evil Dwells
Little Blue Men

Here is the breakdown of scores I awarded:

1: 0
2: 2
3: 3
4: 3
5: 2
6: 1
7: 3
8: 0
9: 6
10: 0

I hope these humble essays will set the ball rolling.

[Spoiler space]


Muse: An Interactive Romance:

The persona in this game is unique, and the journal entry style is
terrific. Using the game's persona, the responses to actions and questions
that the author hadn't anticipated is carried off brilliantly.

The characters in this game are excellent. They all seem to reward careful
discussion and possess a history. They all have much to distinguish them,
and they are the driving force behind the plot!

The two hour time limit prompted me to use the hints quite a lot near the
end. Even though the game's scope is small, the plot and numerous
characters suggested many possibilities to explore. Once the general
goal is learned, however, the game is reasonably easy to solve.

I thought it was really superb that you could continue the story even if
you failed to save Herr Viktor. Saving him however was the only puzzle
in the game which I didn’t think was fair.

In my heart, I wish that there had been some secret way to get her to fall for
the protagonist. Stranger things have happened to old traveling gentlemen.

9 - Near perfect: riveting story, interactive, few flaws


Acid Whiplash:

Wierd tribute to Rybread Celsius. Its quiet funny in spotess, but the
innerview itself issunt nearly as funie as playing game sectors.

The walkthru joke wassunt funee.

I never did find "Intirview part II". Lot’s of scrittering bugs, but I suppose
game enshroning Rybread must be the way.

I couldn't figure out how to hell to get out of the Pope's hat.


6 - Good effort: well done, but something doesn't click

(This review has not been ever revised or spellchequed, in onner of Rybread.)



I'm not sure what this was supposed to be. The opening section is very
disjointed, and the two hours were almost up before I even found my way to
the "school". I guess I should have used the hints sooner but I got bogged
down trying to figure out what the point was.

I was not fond of the 'guard who hates crowbars' idea. It seems like
9/10 of the puzzles involved this odd design decision.

The game certainly cops an attitude. It is filled with little digs at
Inform's syntax and general construction. I was intrigued by this, but no
unequivocal author’s opinion ever materialized.

I liked the helmet. It is an excellent gimmick that may help aspiring
authors. I have never before seen such a fine system for interactive
viewing of source code.

This is a game that you may want to skip if you are not, and don't want
to be, an Inform programmer.


5 - Average: average story, solid but not impressive



Confusing game, nearly unfollowable walkthrough. I liked the idea, except
for Karl, who I wanted to strangle. I hate Karl. The opening puzzles ought
to be removed, since you don't really do anything until after the purple
disaster. Alternately, a stronger sense of danger and urgency could be
created in some way; I was only just getting interested in snooping around
when I died the first time.

I could barely follow this game even with the walkthrough, which included
lots of commands that didn't do anything (I didn't solve it in the time
limit). I wanted to like this one more than I did since so much work seems
to have been put into it, but I couldn't get it to work.

The kiss of death seems to be when you aren't sure if something you tried
didn't work because it was wrong, or because of poor programming choices.
For example, I doubt anyone would ever guess that 'cut jungle' is a
necessary command (and more than once in the same location).

With a long round of beta-testing, this game may have some potential.


4 - Below average: something seriously wrong


Mother Loose:

I Loved it. I only solved one of the puzzles. But I loved the sense that I was
in an interesting place, with characters that rewarded interaction.

The environment was a true pleasure. Almost everything I looked at was
cleverly described.

Magically, the need to disambiguate (which do you mean, the meadow or the
meadow?) was non-existent. This is a great accomplishment considering the
number of objects that must be in this game.

The game also earns brownie points from me for the teacher's desk, which
had _more_than_one_drawer_in_it_!

The atmosphere was interesting, with equal parts childishness and
forboding vileness. I'm not sure how well this would work ultimately, but
I found it engrossing.

I will definitely be returning to this game to finish it.


9 - Near perfect: riveting story, interactive, few flaws


Persistence of Memory:

This is a very short game.

You finish the game by following the pre-determined script. I liked the
script, and the situation was unique, but I wanted it to seem less linear.

More vivid descriptions were required. For example: "lady in white" is
archetypal but it isn't terribly interesting.

The last blurb of the game explains the title, but wasn't very edifying.
I wished the game had been written as a flashback. I wanted more
illustration that the main character was haunted by this experience than
merely a paragraph saying so.


7 - Well done: good story, but interactivity or balance is lacking


The Arrival:

This is cute story about an eight year old who faces some goofy aliens.

This is the first HTML TADS game I have played, and I was very impressed.
I did experience one crash when I rubbed the panel, but that was
the only technical problem I faced.

The atmosphere was cute and funny. I though it was well judged since I
always felt focused. The price paid was that the environment didn't feel
very interactive.

There are numerous ways to make the game unwinnable, but it is fairly
obvious when that happens.

There are two timing puzzles, one tricky and one not. I don't like tricky
timing puzzles that involve irreversible actions. It eliminates the
ability to experiment without having to Restore. This may not bother
everybody and it is such a short game that the hassle is minimal.

I liked the graphical additions. The game would have been fine without
them, but they added flavoring and atmosphere that would have been
difficult to achieved in another way. I especially liked the clay figures
and the hash-mark score. I didn't like the map of the ship, which seemed

I never downloaded the sound files so I didn't include that in my rating.

The antics of the aliens made me laugh, especially the Luke Skywalker
impression. The characters in this game are not very interactive but the
author has compensated for this with lots of fun dialog.


7 - Well done: good story, but interactivity or balance is lacking


The Plant:

This is a espionage tale of breaking into an enemy complex and
trying to figure out the nefarious deeds that are occurring there. It seems
to be a large game, and I didn't have time to finish it before the time
limit (it turns out I was just moments away from the end).

Mr. Teeterwaller is a new sort of side-kick, but I like him. He is
occasionally helpful, and offers encouragement and feedback on your
actions. He is well implemented, but not thoroughly implemented (it wasn't
useful to ask him about everything). It was infuriating the way he kept
checking his pockets because there was no way to ask him what he was
looking for.

The puzzles are very nice. Except for finding the flashlight, I didn't
need to use the walk-through. The integration of the puzzles is good --
once you get into the complex. Before that, it felt a little sloppy. For
example, the schoolhouse (containing only one coincidentally very useful
textbook) and the pump which don't seem to have any reason to be there.

There are a lot of shortcuts that make the game easy to navigate
once puzzles have been solved. I loved this feature.

The game seems very skillfully coded, and I never saw any bugs while I
played. The fire-hose is especially useful.

Much of the story occurs in non-interactive segments where you just press
'z' and read. However, the player is never forced to just watch, and in
any case they fit perfectly into the story. In other words, the author took
time to create the need to eavesdrop.

I was pleased by the strong sense that I was in a busy complex, with lots
of workers running about. Even though you don't actually meet up
directly with anyone until the end, the illusion is maintained skillfully
that they are there, and that they are very busy, and just about to
find you.

The enhancements of HTLM TADS were nicely incorporated into the game,
which contained no graphics, but some nice font choices. I especially
liked the 'safety station' sign.

My only complaints about the game are: some of the opening
puzzles weren't as nicely integrated as those that followed, and
a number of interestingly useful objects are found in illogical places.

(It turned out I was very close to the end, which was nicely divided into
three possibilities (though only two that I figured out).)


9 - Near perfect: riveting story, interactive, few flaws


The Research Dig:

A short game with few pretensions. The author did a good job with thinking
of reasonable actions I might try, and implementing some optional syntax
for non-routine actions. I remember how proud I was when I added the first
working Verb directives to my own game, so I am not surprised to see the
author showing off his accomplishment in the walkthrough.

The room descriptions are poor in that they often 'tell' instead of
'show'. They are reminiscent of the more routine locations in Zork and
Adventure in this respect, but fail to be punctuated by the fine
locations that appear infrequently in those old games. The author used an
odd form of tense: you are often told, "you are stood in ...".

The author proves in this game that sometimes a boring room can be made to
come alive by cleverly chosen detail (I'm speaking of the child-proof gate
in the hall, which was very nice). I wanted more nice detail like that.

I thought the balance between useful items and red-herrings was very good,
considering how short the game was. Was it possible to look up anything
in the archeology manual?

There were two too many rooms containing heaps of useless items.

The puzzles were pretty good, except for the very mundane locked shed door
(with easily found key), and the hidden side entrance to the tunnel. I
couldn't figure out how to enter it without consulting the walkthrough.

The game really has no plot other than 'treasure hunt' until the very
last move is completed, and then it wasn't clear to me why Phil hadn't
gone ahead and found the water talisman himself. I am glad the main
character is going to get to hear Louise's rational for this story. I
wish I got to hear it too.


4 - Below average: something seriously wrong



A very short, not complete game with hardly any original material in
it. I don't think it should have been released for the competition, though
it seems to be very solidly coded. I hope the game can be completed with
some original material, since it seems the author has a fine grasp
of Inform.

The goal of the author seems to have been met, but it doesn't have any
value as a game yet, in my opinion.

It probably has value as an example game.


2 - Really Bad: not even a good concept


Cattus Atrox:

A violent, frightening, despair inducing game. The only thing to do that I
found on my own was to run aimlessly through a bunch of quickly-described,
non-interactive locations until you finally get sick of it and let yourself
be eaten by the lions. I didn't find this compelling.

The puzzles need some tweaking. For instance, the glove compartment of
the car, which is very important to completing the game, is not mentioned
in the description of the car interior.

There must be more than 20 'street' style locations. In them, 'examine
street' responds with "You don't need to refer to that in the course of
this game" -- except in two particular locations where you can find a sewer
drain. I feel that these drains must be shown in the room description, or the
streets made more interesting.

I though it was a nice touch when Karl sang "Stray Cat Strut", and I'm
sure this neat idea at home in a friday-nighter type movie. Karl is
a very good late 90's style horror movie villain. I have always liked
the idea of "every day person gets thrown into a horrific situation" and
this game is an example of that fine genre.

I think it is a good effort that needs more work. I encourage the author
to do so. Please reveal the character motivations more. Limit the scope
of the city, or allow many more possible actions to be accepted there
Excise all the useless locations. Cut the number of turns the player is
forced to push 'z'.

The various unique syntaxes that are required should be eliminated. As an
example, 'hide gun' can be replaced by giving the player something to
hide the gun in.


3 - Poor: good concept or idea, but execution seriously flawed


The Ritual of Purification:

This is a surrealist game, where you are an astral traveler seeking
'cleansing'. The text of the game is mostly very good, and often surprising
in its cleverness.

The strength of this game, I thought, was in the way it was able to take
the strange and unconnected places in which you find yourself, and make
each individual experience compelling. "Surreality" doesn't normally work for
me, but in this game it did, because of the quality and commitment of the

The spell system of the Enchanter series has been modified and used here
in a clever way. Spells are not 'memorized', but are gained through the
acquisition of wisdom. Once a spell is gained, it can be used at any time,
and the author has taken pains to encourage experimentation of all sorts
by including lots of clever responses. Even senseless actions are sometimes

The text is sometimes lengthy, but always filled with detail and subtle
commentary. The only time it broke down was in a rather bashful and
stilted description of the Nymph, where the author's voice faltered
completely. I wasn't luridly hoping for something explicit, but it was
jarring when the mood shifted so suddenly. I was glad to be spared any
Piers Anthony style "sex" scene.

The mood of each location is very well set, especially the tower
of death and the surrounding blackness. Inside, the tower is filled with
wonderful imagery.

In the end, this game is not really in a genre that I prefer, but I
enjoyed it very much.


9 - Near perfect: riveting story, interactive, few flaws


Downtown Tokyo, Present Day:

This is a nice little romp with a fun premise, a trashy B-movie style,
and a neat gimmick.

The game felt a little like playing last year's 'Reverberations' that I
liked so much.

It has a preposterous story line featuring the city of Tokyo
once again under the attack of a hyper-large animal...this time a GIANT
CHICKEN! Don't laugh. This chicken is mean.

The main character, invariably described as 'our hero' is just what you
might expect. He is a cross between Bruce Willis and Allan Quartermain,
and learns to fly a helicopter in seconds, while falling in love at a
glance from his buxom, black leather jump-suited costar.

The actions required to win this one are generally very logical,

Many interesting ways to *not* win were included. You can, for instance,
fly all over Tokyo endlessly if you want to.

With so many useless locations, it was very nice that the important
locations were nicely sign-posted off. I doubt anybody got lost in this

The neat gimmick is that you are a regular 'Joe' character in a movie
theater watching the movie (in which you can somehow control the main
character). I like the gimmick. It did not overly intrude, it set the
scene well, and it made for some interesting by-play if you typed the
right commands.

The bowls of chicken-chili-noodle soup were hilarious book-ends to this

The game is a bit on the small side, and can be won in less than 20
minutes. I encountered only one bug.

This is a nice game that succeeded in doing exactly what it set out to do.


9 - Near perfect: riveting story, interactive, few flaws


Four In One:

This was an interactive realization of one of the entries in S. Granade's
Silly Comp. When I read the sample idea, I remember thinking that it would
make for a very frustrating game. This turned out to be the case.

I was impressed with the free-style meandering of the characters.
After playing for a while, you could even find out the habits of a few of
them. The inter-dependencies of encounters were well done. For instance,
Harpo and Zeppo wouldn't both follow you at the same time unless one
other Marx Brother was also present (this is a problem since Chico will
not follow you unless ALL the other brothers are present, and Groucho
will only follow for a short time before he loses his patience).

I never could figure out why Harpo wouldn't follow me into Groucho's
room by himself. It made it a harder, because Harpo is much harder to
find than Zeppo.

This is a very hard game, complicated because I couldn't tell the difference
between a merely random occurrence and when I had actually made a
mistake. My guess is that this game is not possible to win every time unless
you get lucky. In the two hours that I played, I managed to get the brothers
all back on the sound stage once, but not long enough to get any takes.

Interactions with the characters was somewhat limited.

There is a very small map, which I found strangely confusing. I
can't account for it, except to say that I'm used to maps that go north.
In a game with so few locations, It would have been nice to have more
interesting descriptions. Also, the descriptions of the various characters
are very sketchy (except for what Scotty can tell you).

Even with the sparse prose employed by the author, the messages received
upon entering a room can be mind-boggling. Chico's dressing room
especially was often a riot of short blurbs. The overall effect of this
efficiency of expression was to leave the game a little too dry and
confusing for my taste.

I like all the care the author took to ease the pain a bit. For instance,
being able to send Val to find people, and to ask Scotty where people were.
The new verbs that were created were nice, and I put them all to good use
in my attempts.

In effect, it felt like an elaborate logic puzzle. I never really got
more involved than that. I still think the idea is very good and perhaps
if I were less of an idiot I could have solved it before the time limit.

More flavor and ambiance would make this game come alive more vividly for me.


7 - Well done: good story, but interactivity or balance is lacking



This short game is a testament to the author's good humor. It is admittedly
not finished, and contains only two puzzles.

It turns out the puzzles are pretty hard, since there is a lot of stuff to
look at, something is hidden rather absurdly, and one of the actions
required requires a strangely specific syntax.

With further development, and some beta-testing, I might enjoy this game.

I was impressed at the thoroughness with which the environment was
described. Everything mentioned in the room description was coded up with
a nice sentence or two. The birds on a wire was a nice touch.


3 - Poor: good concept or idea, but execution seriously flawed


Human Resource Stories:

The main benefit of this game seems to be a CYOA system that doesn't work
right yet.

Rating: 2

2 - Really Bad: not even a good concept



You see nothing special about this game.

I would have liked the 'fifteen' puzzle if the interface had a
bit more utility. I could only move one piece at a time by typing, 'play
##'. It would have been nice if I could just type a number alone.

I wanted to be able to move more than one piece at a time, and to move
whole rows at once.

I did solve it, but it was a finger-bender with the current interface.

I was never sure if the mega-sparse style of this game was intentional.

The soap opera quips on TV were amusing.


4 - Below average: something seriously wrong



The game is meant to be a parable, with a meaning that players can create
for themselves. I did finish the game, but I never got around to making up
a meaning. I sort of wanted the author to do that.

The game is coded very well, except for one instance of a syntax problem.
"Attack door" did not work, but "hit door" did.

The description of the naked lady was even more embarrassed than the one in
Ritual of Purification. She was very beautiful, "with hair covering her
private parts." This did not summon up visions of Venus.

I am not the type of person who enjoys vague descriptions. "You see
something strange about yourself, but you don't know what." It felt like
laziness after a while.

Most of the puzzles are of the 'there is nothing else to do, so this
must be the answer' variety. However, The puzzle of the console was good.
I liked experimenting with it. CC was set up to respond to a few possible
configurations of the word, which was a neat trick.

CC follows you around for a while, and comments on stuff. He doesn't really
do anything himself, though, and it never felt like he was needed.


5 - Average: average story, solid but not impressive



This is an interesting game. In some ways, it is the most original in the
competition so far, but in another way it is the most derivative.

Its concept is very original. An over-cautious adventurer must extinguish
all light sources in order to get past a troll. The absurdity of this
situation was almost funny enough by itself. When I got a first look at
my inventory I keeled over laughing.

The whole game occurs in one room. You might think this limits the scope
in some way, but not the way the author has chosen to realize this
situation. The intricacies of all the available objects and their
component parts are realized splendidly. So splendidly that the only way
to win is by careful use of subsidiary properties of each object. For
instance, you have a battery, but be assured that the way in which you use
that battery will not be the purpose for which batteries were created.

An extra layer of difficulty was added to this game because not all the
problems are actually solvable at all times. Sometimes side-effects of
previous actions are required in order to proceed. My favorite instance of
this was the grip-tape <--> lamp problem, whose dependencies are
interestingly inter-related.

I call this game a major triumph in the area of gadget based puzzle
design. Anyone having trouble designing puzzles should study this game.

Because the solutions to all the puzzles are so hard to guess, I spent a
lot of time doing the wrong thing. Luckily, the author took great care to
ensure that almost all wrong actions are cleverly accounted for. The only
device I greatly disliked was the "goal-tending troll".

The one game I can think of that rivals this one for complexity in one
room is the opening location of "The Legend Lives".

However, the game is very unoriginal in another way. it is firmly based
in Quendor, and greatly relies on this setting for much of its inspiration.
You will either hate this or love it.

There is a tremendous moment in this game when you finally get rid of
all your light sources, that I wouldn't dream of giving it away, even with
spoiler warnings. Enlightenment. Play it. Live it. I'm turning the lights
off in my office right now, just to make sure that I still can.


9 - Near perfect: riveting story, interactive, few flaws


I didn't know you could yodel:

I didn't know you could tackle the very difficult task of writing your own
text parser and adventure front-end, and then make a game so distasteful.
I pooped on the floor a few times, had a wet dream in the desert, and decided
this game wasn't for me.

I'm disappointed too, because I feel the authors have a flair for clever
prose. They are just stricken with a juvenile and scatological sense of
humor. If that appeals to you, you may want to give this game a try.

I've never seen such an embarrassingly large amount of self-promotion in a
game before. After being told for the fifth time that the ending was
"really great", I was SURE that it sucked. I won’t be seeing the ending.

The game logic seemed to work and I found the parser adequate.


Not rated

Neil Cerutti

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Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
>The game also earns brownie points from me for the teacher's desk, which
>had _more_than_one_drawer_in_it_!

Wait until you see...

Er, I should be saying this, should I, J?

Luc "Spoilers" French

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