[CompMM] Adam's C-list

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Adam Cadre

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Nov 15, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/15/00
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ENLISTED
Almost a four, but the prose just didn't sparkle enough and the
genre didn't appeal to me enough. And it seems that the bulk of the
game consists of fixing a spaceship. If fixing vehicles were my idea
of entertainment, I wouldn't burst into helpless sobs every time my
car breaks down.

Score: a high THREE.

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STUPID KITTENS
Hands down, the best title in the comp. As for the game itself...
well, it's a mixed bag. It says it's for Mature Players, but much of
the time, it seems to be aimed directly at Immature Players, with
scatological "humor" front and center: "Your soul is unclean with
hatred. And kitty-poop, cause it's been in your butt!" Har har har.
Oh, my sides. But the thing is, it's not all like this -- sometimes
you'll come across lines that are fairly amusing: I liked the
"perpetually unemployed" line, myself. So it's a bit hard to know what
to make of it. My first time through, I came away pissed at the game's
combative tone -- it was like that guy who thinks he's being funny but
who you just want to pound with a baseball bat for a few minutes. The
second time, though, I found myself laughing at quite a few of the bits.
Still, playing for a third time, I'm finding that I'm not feeling
inclined to be too charitable. With its chaotic yet linear structure
and slapped-together feel, this is basically nothing more than a longish
Speed-IF game that's been dumped into the comp. And while I once
half-seriously said that I'd have given "Chef" an 8 or so had it been a
comp game instead of Speed-IF, the reality is that even the cream of
Speed-IF doesn't meet the standards I'm looking for in a comp game.

Score: a high THREE.

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DESERT HEAT
If you're going to do a multiple choice game, you should at least
take advantage of CYOA's chief strength: if you control every decision
point and don't have to simulate the world of the story you're telling,
you can create a wide-ranging plot tree with all sorts of wild branches.
But DESERT HEAT opts to fold most choices back into the main storyline:
you can't really do anything in the house, you eventually have to enter
the brothel, etc. As for the prose, well, it's pretty good (though
there is an amusing typo leading to one character speculating as to what
might happen "if I duck you") but didn't really push any of my buttons;
my fetishes, as we have discovered, run less toward slavery and more
towards telepathy.
Also, Trevor and Trasi? Eeeagh.

Score: a high THREE.

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AND THE WAVES CHOKE THE WIND
The writing here is pretty good, and I was especially pleased to
find a game with puzzles I could get through without hints... but this
isn't a game. It's a piece of a game. And I'd submit that it's
probably easier to write a good trailer for a game than it is to write
a complete game that's just okay.

Score: THREE.

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THE PICKPOCKET
A fairly generic game set in a fictional city and country, both of
which the author, ever the humble dreamer, has named after himself.
Competent but not really memorable.

Score: THREE.

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CASTLE AMNOS
I wanted to like this one, especially given that it plugs VARICELLA
and all, but I just couldn't get into it. First, getting out of the
chair was too fiddly, what with manipulating the individual straps and
such, and then once I was free, I didn't really find much in the way
of leads to direct me as I wandered around. Ah well.
I did note that you flip the key into your lap, and then from there
pick it up with your mouth. Wow. If I could do that, I'd never leave
the house.

Score: THREE.

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PLANET OF THE INFINITE MINDS
This totally failed to grab my interest, so after spending most of
my evaluation time trying (and failing) to get the @ thing to work, I
gave up. What I saw seemed competent, but it didn't jump out as
*especially* well done, and I didn't get much enjoyment out of it, so...

Score: THREE.

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THE BIG MAMA
I don't think the author was trying hard enough. If you're going to
put the phrase "the big mama" into pretty much every response, why stop
there? Why, it could've appeared in every paragraph or, indeed, every
sentence. (The big mama.) I mean, if it's good ten thousand times,
why not a hundred thousand? Why not write in the style of Henrietta
Pussycat, only swapping in "the big mama" for "meow"? What a missed
opportunity. Also, the big mama.
So, let's see. I do like the idea of a sort of multi-turn AISLE.
But the thing about AISLE was that most of the endings were really
well-written and interesting in and of themselves, not to mention
diverse. The same cannot be said of THE BIG MAMA. There are a lot of
games in the comp for which I scribbled down notes like "rocky prose"
or "semi-literate," but this game proves that you can have an excellent
command of the language and still provoke winces. (The big mama.)
Let's see, there was the bit where a sign warns you about how the next
1.5 miles of beach are private: "'Stupid imperial measurement,' you
mutter." Urgh. Why not just give the player-character a renaissance
flute while you're at it? Oh, and the little boy. "Almost every day I
billa cassel." Throw this kid into the nearest wood chipper, please.
I mean it. Stop him before he soliloquizes again. Also, the big mama.
Even the less egregious paths all seem to lead to inane conversations
and fairly ham-handed passages desperately trying to hammer home the
theme that the ocean is pretty. Sometimes the inane conversations
result in relationships, but none of these sequences is really even
remotely convincing -- I'm sure every day there are beach encounters
that lead to hookups, but I doubt that any of them have resembled even
one of the paths set forth in this game. Also, the big mama. There
are also some quirks with the way the various characters are programmed:
the surfer alternates between sunbathing and surfing about every eight
seconds, and the teenage girl seems to have no memory whatsoever -- you
can scare her off with some creepy line, watch her wander off, and two
turns later she's back and seems to have no idea who you are. This is
the sort of thing that makes characters look like chunks of code rather
than representations of people. Also, the big mama.
More bugs of note: jumping the rail takes you to the beach, but once
you get there, the game tells you that "You're not up for that kind of
leap." Sounds like some routine is neglecting to return true somewhere
in there. Oh, and while the game notes that "everyone in town speaks
Spanish," I have to wonder -- "las" is a plural article. The only way
that works with "Lorena" is if "Lorena" is a last name and the name of
the town is a reference to a all-female family: "The Lorena Sisters",
or some such. Which I could buy as a novelty musical act from the
early 70s, but not as the name of a city. Also, the big mama.
Perhaps my favorite bit:

| 0: Say nothing.
| 1: "Yeah, let's watch a movie."
| 2: "A walk sounds great."
| 3: "Let's play a game."
| 4: "<illegal object number 357>"

Me, I thought it was a bit early in the evening to propose illegal
object number 357, but hey, turned out she was into it. Kinky!

Score: a low THREE. Also, the big mama.

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THE BEST MAN
At first this seemed like an extreme case of a learn-by-dying game:
first I got killed outside the bathroom, then I got killed inside the
bathroom by the first terrorist, then I got killed inside the bathroom
by the second terrorist... and the only way to learn what to do was to
die. I thought, "So, what, this guy is thinking, 'Hmm... better cling
to the outside of this moving train just in case some terrorists
happen by!'?" Problem is, that doesn't even work -- the triggers in
this game are so touchy that if you make a beeline for the bathroom
window, the terrorists will nonsensically burst in (out?) and kill you.
The hints refer to cleaning my jacket, but it never gets messed up in
the first place... pretty shoddy programming. And here the game had
looked fairly promising.

Score: a low THREE.

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THE END MEANS ESCAPE
I really liked the first segment of this game. Not only were the
animate objects cool and funny, but the way the player is meant to go
about resolving the situation -- asking everyone about everyone else --
appealed to me much more than if the solution had been to perform some
clever engineering trick. I wasn't quite sure how the stuff I was doing
was getting me any closer to opening the door, but I went along with it
and entered the book...
...and then splat. I didn't get part two at all. I understood how
to manipulate the words -- the hint system told me that much -- but I
didn't have the slightest clue what my goal was, and the hints crapped
out at that point. So I put the game away, figuring I'd give it about
a five. Then I read a solution to part two on the newsgroup -- and I
*still* didn't get it. It was like getting stuck on a puzzle where
you're trying to open a safe and finding out that the combination is
43-49-25... and why? Because it just sort of is. "You turn hard"?
Say what?
And then the third segment... goal, please? I think this says it
all:

>HINT
There's just some people standing around.

Right. And I was one of them. Maybe there are some people who,
presented with a bunch of playing pieces in a game they don't recognize,
would start messing around with the pieces for hours on end until
something happened; me, I'm more inclined to just leave them alone until
I have some *reason* to play with them, some *objective* I'm using them
to try to accomplish. And "escape" is insufficient. Yes, you do
escape, but how are you supposed to know that X will achieve Y? Doing
what the hints tell you to do with the segments' various playing pieces,
and consequently "escaping," is like the bit in A GOOD BREAKFAST from
Comp97 where you're looking for a spoon, happen across a robot, play
Lights-Out with it, and then when you win, the robot randomly hands you
a spoon as a reward. Or, to use an invented example for the sake of
clarity:
You're in a cell. You want to get out. The door won't budge, and
there's a guard posted outside. You have a gold coin.
GOOD DESIGN: Get the guard to open the door and let you go free in
exchange for the coin.
BAD DESIGN: Swallow the coin. This randomly causes the door to fall
off its hinges onto the guard, allowing you to make a break for it.
THE END MEANS ESCAPE is full of examples of the latter type of
design. Open up a guy's surgical incision? Why? Just because you
can (with difficulty)? Apparently so -- that's how you advance to the
next stage, though there's no particular reason why that's so. The end
justifies the means? In this game, they rarely seem remotely connected.

Score: a low THREE, and only because I did get some fun out of the
first bit.

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THE CLOCK
One of a number of games that just left me cold, I was about to give
it a two when I thought, "Hmm... I can't say that I'd necessarily
advise people to avoid this." So, a three it became.

Score: a very low THREE.

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UNNKULIA X
I've never played an Unnkulia game, so this was just Generic Fantasy
World #379 to me, and I didn't much care for it. I was also less than
thrilled by the way that there seem to be over 200 things you have to
do -- in a comp game! -- and if you take one wrong step, you often die.
But it seemed well-made enough to at least escape a two.

Score: a very low THREE.

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Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
web site: http://adamcadre.ac
novel: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060195584/adamcadreac

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