yet more comp reviews.

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sam ashwell

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Nov 18, 2002, 7:32:36 PM11/18/02
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Ah, the many and varied joys of the IF Comp, an opportunity for me to spend
too much time spending too little time on a lot of shoddy games, yet an
absolute social necessity if one wishes to stay afloat in the cutthroat,
intrigue-laden world of IF appreciation. Surely no good can come of this;
I'll just have to grit my teeth and churn through the games...
But wait! While I may fail to enjoy these games when sober enough to
understand them, this minor inconvenience shrinks into insignificance when
set off against the glorious promise of reviewing them unfairly and snarkily
while drunk.
For the purposes of this, I will be the one person in the history of the
comp who has ever actually bothered to play the games in the order the
front-end determined. After playing the games, I will drink an indefinite
quantity of gin as I review, possibly while reclining in the gutter outside
a pawn shop, my face contorted in an animalistic rictus of intoxication as
my malnourished baby falls unnoticed into a midden.

If any authors happen to read this: my reviews are unfair, prejudiced and
written principally to gratify some deep-rooted and sordid little complex of
mine that you are better off never knowing about. If, therefore, I insult
your game and you take exception to this, it is because it was crap. If I
didn't actively enjoy a game, there is no way on earth it is getting above a
5. If, on the other hand, by some drunken accident of fate I say something
insightful and genuine about your work, please contact me immediately and I
will do my best to correct this.


Constraints
Some Restricted Interactions
by Martin Bays

So. Meta-ness has never really done much for me; it smells of the ability to
think about narrative without the ability to write it. Competent writing,
with few overt flaws (mostly gratingly close repetitions of the same word,
which would be unforseeable from a coding point of view) but equally without
any real passion or originality. I think the author's doing himself a
disservice by subject matter as well as the methodology. And IF in several
parts seems to be making a job more difficult for oneself more so than
collected short stories somehow, though I'm not sure exactly why.
Interactive fiction is meant to work interactively; you are meant to be able
to determine the protagonist's fate to some meaningful extent (even without
multiple endings, there should be some level of changing the story as
opposed to changing the nature of events rather than the order they come in
or si r trivial effects). To me, IF on the topic of restriction with
subject-matter reflected in form seems like painting about bad art by doing
a really crappy painting.
In individual sections: the falling section is, as far as I can tell, pure
observation, and is much better regarded as plain prose rather than IF, with
a few optional extras. This sort of technique would be acceptable in a
longer piece, where some context could give you something to latch on to,
but on its own (as it is presented) it really leaves one flat. As prose,
it's not that great; true, it's not bad, but it isn't great either. To be
fair, extreme emotion and physical sensation are very hard topics to
directly write prose about; poetry and suggestive prose can evoke it very
well, but if you want to describe them precisely and blow-by-blow they very
easily lose their punch; they just aren't suited to verbal description and
it's incredibly hard to hammer them into that shape. The author makes a
noble, if orthodox attempt, and fails to really connect. This kind of
description's all very well for talking to your psychiatrist, but it doesn't
cut the mustard in writing.
The vase sequence... well, I'm bored with inanimate protagonists. It's a
story that only really needs to be told once, and then is exhausted; maybe
you can take a handful of different angles on it (The Butterfly and the
Diving Bell, Primo Levi's story of a carbon atom in The Periodic Table,
Russell Hoban's The Mouse and His Child) but a different angle is necessary;
if the inanimate protagonist serves as nothing more than a viewpoint, why
bother with the protagonist? While I appreciated the hints at narrative
justification of existence, there was not much emotive investment in the
protagonist and so I didn't care enough for this to mean much. The character
names smacked of pretension. And as soon as anyone mentions mimesis in
serious or semi-serious IF I always go OH FUCK OFF immediately.
Ah, environmentalism. Nice message, nothing new; I watch the news and have
half a brain, I know the situation's fucked up and hopeless. I've read
Gridlock and The Sheep Look Up; I've seen it dealt with narratively, and the
reason these pieces work is because they play around with the basic problem
and give it interesting narrative twists. It's not e nough that we recognise
the feelings and dilemmas of a character, or that issues are raised; you
have to do something intere sting with those dilemmas an d issues, and this
piece fails to do that.
Again, a good attempt but lacking in essential originality; IF about normal
people doing normal things has been done so many hundreds of times that it's
dull as hell, and the Aisle-like nature of the structure has been repeated
often enough to present no real interest.

The generally miserable tone I can get down with, but in order for such a
tone to be effective some sort of characterisation is usually necessary. In
order for a character to become a really effective everyman they have to
demonstrate some proof of humanity, and here as so often in IF the
characters are unspeakably vague. So, for example, once I realise I can't
influence the course of events in the falling sequence I just get bored and
type z's until I go splat; I don't care about this guy because I have
nothing to empathise with apart from unimpressively described blind fear, so
hell, if he turns into shish kebab I couldn't give a shit. A story about the
inability of the protagonist/s to influence the course of the story is a
nice idea, but it requires a slower buildup and a more subtle approach;
incapacity is not a very interesting device if it's utterly transparent. The
key to hopelessness is hope; as soon as the player realises there's no hope,
they're not going to thrash futilely about or rage against the dying light,
because they realise there's no point. In IF this is particularly true, due
to the level of control the player has over the protagonist; if there's one
thing that IF guarantees the player, it's control over how much effort the
protagonist puts in. This is, perhaps, the biggest narrative problem an IF
author will face, and this game's backbone is broken against it.

Cheesy wizard-based endgame intro; and the types of paralysis read as if
it's a concise list. Much as my anal-retentive tendencies love a weird list,
this one seems incomplete and arbitrary, reminding me of the Chinese list of
Types of Animals mentioned in the introduction of Foucault's The Order of
Things.
And zcode abuse. Eeeagh. Zcode abuse is bad enough as a standalone, but when
it's segued into what's aiming to be a proper piece of IF, I am filled with
an urge to propel the author's head through a plate-glass window. Or
stained-glass, since it has big chunks of lead in. Nonetheless, I regarded
this as a bit like a minor foul in pool by a drunk buddy; it's such a
ridiculously bad mistake that there's no point in acknowledging its
existence.

Score: 6


Rent-A-Spy
An interactive spy adventure
by John Eriksson

Silly punctuation makes itself visible from the start, and irritates me
constantly to the point of genocidal Old Testament-style wrath. Oh, and

"The agency accepts all kinds of missions but only in the name of peace and
humanity."

Wow, it'll be broke within a week.
Uh-oh. Short and unevocative room descriptions... I can smell the crappy
illogical puzzles already, and if I need the walkthrough at any point this
game is not getting played. DO YOU SEE HOW IMPORTANT FIRST IMPRESSIONS ARE,
GAME DESIGNERS OF THE WORLD?
Nice to see that as a professional spy I'm utterly unequipped and have to
rummage through horribly obvious junk piles in order to find equipment that
I should have never left home without. And a heap of sand. Okay, I refuse to
solve any puzzle (since one looms inevitably on the horizon like a

Unengaging and random-feeling puzzles. The interest in spyfic is that the
spy knows exactly what he's doing; this isn't a total obstacle (in Spider
and Web this got handled admirably by the framestory) but it needs
addressing in some way, and no attempt is made here. There is a bulging
surfeit of spy IF, mostly substandard, and another one is just adding
surplus to unoriginality.
Aagh, an enter-code puzzle you can only solve by brute force? Screw this. A
game with writing quality as bad as this one need only give me so many
excuses to quit.

Score: 2 (escapes a 1 because it's not obviously buggy)


Janitor
Peter Seebach and Kevin Lynn

All right, I have very little interest in old-school IF, so this didn't
fascinate me; there is a shameless and utterly transparent attempt to grab
the old-school nostalgia vote. I played Cave a bit when I was a kid, but
never got very far or very interested; hence, this game is obviously not
aimed at me. Furthermore, any reference to mimesis within an actual game
irritates me. OK, not so much if the game's topic is directly about it (as
opposed to just sneaking in the odd reference, which really pisses me off),
but I still would rather people wrote games about real things, as opposed to
games about games. For some reason the IF genre is absolutely obsessed with
games about games - perhaps because it's a nascent genre and hasn't had time
and tradition to steel itself against the petty look-what-I-can-do
pseudointelligensiata of postmodernism, or perhaps it's because there are
lots of authors with no fucking good ideas. After this comp, if I see
another game featuring the inside workings of an IF game I will mercilessly
slate it, even if it's an existential thriller about the !Kung Bushmen
written by Emily Short and Louis de Bernieres with a complex jiujitsu
sequence.
In terms of craft, the room descriptions are fairly unexceptional and
there's no obvious plot direction or pointers; this is particularly awkward
when there are many rooms available to the player from the very beginning,
and (especially within comp conditions, if that matters) this is very likely
to daunt players.

Score: 3

Fort Aegea
by Francesco Bova

Hooray, I'm a druid. Time for bloody human sacrifice... okay, female druid?
Ah well, I suppose the chances of the word 'druid' being used for anything
other than a watered-down morally acceptable airy-fairy tree-hugging D&D
clone with 20th century gender equality seems unlikely. OH GOD, old-school
spellcasting. The use of the phrases 'public relations', 'psyche yourself
up', and 'environmentally friendly' in a medieval-fantasy environment.

Mmm, moon salt. Daaamn straight.

I really dislike it when IF falls back onto genre convention, particularly
onto fantasy D&D genre convention. First and foremost, it demonstrates a
lack of basic individuality and imagination on the part of the author;
furthermore, I already know about D&D conventions, so when I have them
repeated at me I'm not exactly fascinated by the wonderful and intriguing
new world the author is unravelling before my eyes; my initial reaction is
'OK, you're an identikit cleric with a historical background rolled up using
the Worldbuilder's Gamebook. Remind me, the Q button's top left of the
keyboard, yeah?' Not only that, it perpetuates the geeky image of IF, and
dispels the fond image I have of the field as being full of iconoclastic
wildfire geniuses ready to topple all lawtables in pursuit of their Vision.
Jesus, if you feel a dire need to tell this story stick at being a GM and
keep it in an appropriate medium.

Occasional annoying grammatical mistakes, such as - AAGH - the use of
greater and larger signs instead of parentheses. If you do not want to use
the punctuation conventions of standard prose, please reserve your
masterpiece for transmission over IRC instead of passing it off as IF, or
else do something weird and interesting with punctuation that nobody's ready
for. You might as well write the whole thing in l33tspeak. Jeeezus.

Genre fantasy is at its most hideously tedious when it takes itself very
seriously indeed; while this game tried to do so, I was rather amused by
this:
"Four virgins? Over the age of thirty no le ss! Sounds more like an old
witch's fable or a terribly cliched myth."
I'm not sure the double-entendre was meant, but I'm laughing anyway.

Woo, option-based conversation, but presented in an ugly and awkward way as
main body text, and requiring you to repea t the TALK TO command every time.
And wow, if I pick the wrong options, I'm immediately screwed! To me, this
flies in the face of the whole point of menu-based conversation; menu-based
should be smooth, easy to use, allow the player to change topics, and
provide multiple paths to positive outcomes if not multiple positive
outcomes.

Relatively competent design, but constant death looming on the horizon isn't
much of a motive when the player couldn't give a shit whether or not the
characterless character lives or dies; for that matter, constant death
looming on the horizon tends to be a bad game design element anywhere.

Score: 4


Four Mile Island

Miniscule descriptions. Horribly awkward interface. Repetitive and
two-dimensional NPC. Inform, TADS and Hugo are not that difficult to learn.
Honestly.

Score: 1

Identity Thief by Rob Shaw-Fullers

I'm not too well-versed in the cyberpunk genre: I've played Shadowrun and I
know that Johnny Mnemonic sucks ass, but that's about the limit of it. From
what I've seen, I quite like the vibe but dislike the formulaic nature,
particularly the endless repetition of 'megacorp hires
superhacker/psychic/etc to steal/transport/destroy vital information'.

Oh, god, Roswell conspiracy crap. Now that's a genre I really have no time
for.

To be honest, this feels like the aborted introduction to a larger game that
the author couldn't be bothered to finish. You're given a bunch of fun toys
to play with (reminiscent of the powers in Heroine, which were very
enjoyable in and IF context), and you expect to be given a chance to use
them in lots of fun situations; the plot revolves around a big crisis for
the character, but you don't have enough time to get attached to the
character first, so it doesn't have much emotional wallop.

Score: 5


The Temple by Johan Berntsson

Never read any Lovecraft.
Lots of irritatingly bad grammar. Repetitive and awkward NPC. Dull
descriptions. Got bored exceptionally fast.

Score: 2


Scary House Amulet! by Shrimpenstein

Irritating. Spoofs can be funny, but not when their entire joke is how crap
they are. And crappy combat systems are a particular bugbear of mine. Just
because you're self-conscious about how bad a game is doesn't make the game
any better. Spoofing has to be clever to work.

Score: 1

Not Much Time by Tyson Ibele

Any game with splash text including the phrase 'Obviously, something is
terribly wrong with your dear Au ntie' in a non-sarcastic way makes
something deep inside me sigh deeply and folornly before rolling over and
reaching for the Scotch.

'You've heard that taking an aspirin a day will help stop you from having a
stroke.' AAGH! Abysmal medical advice as well as well as a crap game? There
are so many aging people who follow this advice and consequently rot their
stomachs into collapsible goo and die long before they'd ever have had a
stroke - okay, okay, so I'm just resentful that there's a pill in the game
and it's not entertainingly illegal. You'd have thought dear old Auntie
would at least keep some ganj to combat her ME; I know mine does.

Okay, excruciatingly dull surroundings in the vein of the horrific My First
Apartment Game, old-school random item placement, unrealistically repetitive
random flavour events, weight limit... I can tell you, it was an effort to
play for anything vaguely resembling a fair amount of time. Utterly, utterly
dull in every respect. In short, I find the title somewhat ironic, as it
describes exactly how long I was prepared to dedicate to it.

Score: 2


TOOKiE'S SONG by Jessica Knoch

SPACE CATS STOLE MY DOGGIE. Ho hum. If Dostoevsky had come up with plots
like that, he might have made something of his life.
As it is, it turns out to be a random assortment of silly puzzles with a
token attempt at thematic organisation a la all those infuriatingly bad
games trying to be Metamorphosesesque (man, that's a pleasant word to type)
in last year's comp.

>x leaves
See the row of icicles text.
Weeell, one feels that some betatesters could have been of use here.

Oookay. This game may suck somewhat, but there is a bartender and he gives
me drinks for free. Sadly, I appear to have a liver of steel, and no comical
drunkenness ensues. I consider this an oversight of herculean proportions.
I'm sure it was that filthy foreign space cat alcohol-free alcohol. This,
and the fact that they are good at bowling, demonstrates conclusively that
these cats intend to drain the universe of all enjoyment, taking this game
along with it.
And I like a detailed pencil description. However, overall this felt
disjointed and not as funny as it was trying to be.

Score: 5


The Moonlit Tower by Yoon Ha Lee

Mmm. Nice. Excellently evoked atmosphere and generally good writing, puzzles
appropriate to the mood (if a little unintuitive at times).
Very apparent reliance on Emily Short's technique, but class is an adequate
substitute for originality. Tersely elegant turns of phrase, aesthetically
pleasant objects for you to play with, unintuitive mysticism, metaphysical
Devices; I like it all a great deal, although after one or two more of these
come out they'll probably start to really irritate me, if only out of envy.
I'm a great fan of Chinese/Japanese art, poetry, religion and myth, so I was
a total sucker for the theme (and, indeed, spent quite a lot of time going
'urr, is that right? and why are there no I Ching references?').
Failed to get a 10 because cryptic and terse references to the past are a
relatively cheap way of establishing character background, because the
ending felt vaguely unsatisfying, because of insufficient characterisation
and because it occasionally transgresses the line between lyricism and
pretension. Nonetheless, if it fails to win I will complain at great volume
and length to anyone who will listen.

Score: 9

Screen by Edward Floren

Irritating Hallmark Network-style cliched childhood flashbacks. Awkward and
unimaginative prose. Missing objects. After a while, there seems to be
absolutely nothing to do any more.

Score: 2


Photograph by Steve Evans

IF YOU BETATESTED FOR FIVE SECONDS you would realise that giving a system
command in the title info which then doesn't work is a little bit silly.
I didn't finish this, but I got the definite impression that the entire game
was building up to the end; well, I don't expect a plot twist per se, but I
imagine that if there's any sort of attempt at having themes (as the early
stages definitely suggest) it'll be made apparent towards the end. After the
first scene, which had a lot of potential and I liked quite a lot, this was
pretty unexceptional; I get the feel that much of this is not meant to be
anything more than buildup, but I can't confirm this as I haven't finished
the game. As a result, this is one of the few games I'd like to replay after
I've finished judging. There was also not very much to do in most of the
scenes, which may have been partly the point, but even so.

Score: 6

Moonbase by QA Dude

I see a ray gun here. That sight certainly fills me with a vast and
inexhaustible feeling of confidence in the literary quality of this game.
The extra verbs KISS, SHOOT, SMASH, and WATCH are all implemented. I have to
save Moonbase Alpha. There is a giant console with only two buttons on it.
Man, I can feel the great authors of Western literature quaking in terror as
a new leviathan makes its dominating presence felt.

There are sound effects. Big fucking whoop.

Playing this game makes me want to find the person who designed it and get a
restraining order keeping them away from any computer that might concievably
be used to design a game of any variety whatsoever. Consequently, I quit
early on, on the assumption that the chances of it improving in any way at
all if I wasted any more of my life on it were slim to nil.

Score: 1

Augustine by Terrence V. Koch

I am immediately prejudiced against this game because it mentions (in the
intro text, no less) Shrewsbury, the greatest town in all my not-very-native
land of Shropshire and quite possibly the most dull place in all existence,
devoid of all interest apart from that speciality Japanese shop with all the
interesting spices I am always too poor to buy the vast quantities of I so
eminently deserve and that T-shirt I am going to have to buy despite my
poverty-stricken state. Since this game does not mention this T-shirt, or
indeed the shop, it has in my eyes failed in some deep and meaningful way.
Furthermore, its inaccurate depiction of a Welsh peasant life circa 1400
irritates me somewhat. As everybody knows, the most important point in any
historical recreation is how much shit there is. The more shit, the more
accurate the depiction; this is especially true of Wales, though of course
times have moved on now and almost nobody in Wales has lived in a one-room
wattle-and-daub shack full of shit since at least 1995. Not only the absence
of shit, but the actual presence of tables, beds and chairs shocked me to
the core. A great big heap of sheep dung has always traditionally served the
function of all furniture in the traditional peasant cottage.
Wow, cool, on the first play my little sister gets raped and me and my
family get randomly killed while just wandering about. This is what peasant
life is all about.
Ooo, and my parents each get their own pool of blood? In my day peasants
were only allowed one pool of blood per village. And hey, it'd be
irresponsible to leave my family and village when they've all been
slaughtered!
Otherwise, crappy implementation and writing. Normally I'd have quit by the
first scene-change, but it gave me the promise of crappy combat simulation,
and crappy combat simulation is always an easy target for scorn. And that
promise is righteously fulfilled: by typing SLASH AT REBEL and then hitting
a million G's I can kill more rebels than the entire population of 15th
century Aberystwyth! Noble a cause as decimating Aberystwyth may be,
however, I eventually followed the obvious GO NORTHWEST FOR THAT IS WHERE
YOUR ENEMY IS-style pointer to discover the most cliched evil bad guy in
history.

Oh, boy, now I've been cursed for all eternity and granted eternal life, and
what do I do? Do I go steadily insane from my awful past? Does the rack of
time break my frail body? Do I quest endlessly to hunt down the awful Kasil?
No, I go to Florida and draw DoodleCad civil engineering projects. Some
people really, really don't deserve immortality.

With such great lines as 'You personally took Aurielle behind a hut', 'Lad,
your kind are a pence a dozen' and 'I want to remember the young knight who
offered me a decent challenge before foolishly falling into a lava pit',
this game was so appallingly, gut-wrenchingly bad that it afforded me a good
deal more amusement than many games superior to it. (Note that said lava pit
was found in Aberystwyth, well-known locally for its heaving tectonic
activity). This almost made me be kind and give it a 2, but then I didn't.

Score: 1


Evacuate by Jeff Rissman

Hoo boy. Save the spaceliner from the evil al iens. To be honest, I got very
bored very quickly, headed to the walkthrough, saw that there was a random
maze puzzle and quit.

Score: 1

Ramon and Jonathan by Daniele A. Gewurz

Terse writing of the exceptionally-dull variety, lots of superfluous
exclamation marks. Absolutely no background or atmosphere. Rapid death if
you don't do certain things at the right time. Irritating simplistic
morality with no real exploration of issues involved, although its heart is
in the right place. In summation, completely appalling.

Score: 1


Terrible Lizards! by Alan and Ian Mead

It's sad but true that for the majority of IF games, just viewing the
initial text will provide you with all the materials you need to decide
whether to quit or not. Lizards! is a case in point. For a start, any title
ending in an exclamation mark will almost guarantee a sub-5 score. A game
whose basic plot is laid out as an ex-accountant time-travelling in order to
steal dinosaur eggs and then uses the phrase 'at least there's none of that
fake science fiction "changing probabilities" garbage to worry about'
suggests an author lacking the most basic faculties of self-awareness
necessary to write anything with a scrap of merit. Ho hum, I muse, filling
those five obligatory minutes will not be easy.
Now, what's this? The first ob vious puzzle requires me to give, to a man
quite clearly identified as my nemesis, a metre of sharp, heavy, lethal
metal of the variety generally used to lop through hardwood branches or
butcher large mammals? Hmm, sounds feasible.
Apart from this, there appears to be a lot of random wandering about with a
robot that pretends to fart. This game was quite evidently produced by
pre-adolescents, and playing it any further would serve no purpose
whatsoever.

Score: 1

The Bastard Operator from Hell by Simon Travaglia / Howard A. Sherman

Now, for a start, any game with an intro including the lines 'Tonight is the
most important night of your life. Ah! Here's the pub!' wins my approval.
Sadly, this game appears to be about evil network administrators, a subject
too geeky for even my pathetic loserness to tolerate.

Score: 3


The Case of Samuel Gregor by Stephen Hilderbrand

Mmmm, existentialism in title script. This should guarantee that I will
either love this immensely or hate it until it rolls over and dies.
The writing is fairly dull, which bodes ill; there is some semblance of a
plot, however, and vibey anti-establishment social-outcast European urban
stuff taps directly into the pretentious Sartre-loving side of my literary
appreciation, which is currently swollen to such proportions that it is
crowding out most of the rest of my brain.

The use of the term 'carny' in the context of bohemian Europe amuses me no
end, and there are quite a few similar inconsistencies; I'm very happy for
people to set their pieces in cultures and settings they're not familiar
with, and I'm no fan of meticulous research, but things which make it
glaringly obvious spoil the atmosphere somewhat. '5'8", 145 lbs. Of course
it is in centimeters and kilograms' in particular gave the impression that
the author was stumbling over himself in an attempt to be authentic. The
city is overall not evoked too badly, however, although frequent missing
scenery objects and a great many other implementation oversights spoil the
continuity somewhat. Similarly, there's an element of personality change in
the plot which fails to be reflected in the description. That, and an
infuriating inventory limit.
This game could have done with a good deal more betatesting, a little more
work overall on the writing, and perhaps less attention to the time limits.
I liked the way that changing personalities was handled. Nonetheless, one of
the more interesting games I've played so far.

Score: 6


Another Earth, Another Sky by Paul O'Brian

I didn't enjoy the first EAS as much as most people appeared to, so I was a
little apprehensive about this. Also, at this point I'd already had one
wearisome encounter with cat-aliens, and wasn't too receptive to the idea of
any more.
Nonetheless, the game's more free-flowing than most of the comp, and while
I'm not much of a fan of superhero schlock; the big violent sound-effect
text was rather good, though.
To my mind, the mini-planet was too reminiscent of Small World, the writing
was unexceptional but acceptable; my overall reaction is mostly 'enh'.
There's nothing really very wrong with this, but nothing that really caught
my attention either.

Score: 5


TILL DEATH MAKES A MONK-FISH OUT OF ME by Michael J. Sousa and Jon Ingold

Engagingly bizarre; nice juxtaposition between the tired old time-travel and
body-swap genres. The mood (well, and the fact that you spend most of the
time as a walking corpse) reminded me vaguely of Edgar Allen Poe, while the
structure and content reminded me very much of old Asimov short stories.
Somewhat confusing to review; I quite liked this but I'm not entirely sure
why, as it was packed with things which would normally turn me off a game.
Overall, though, nothing in particular that stood out in the memory.

Score: 7


Concrete Paradise by Tyson Ibele

Once again I am reminded how glad I am that I don't live in the States,
where walking across the road is illegal. Speaking of things which should be
illegal, this has all the hallmarks of a gut-writhingly immature game.

Score: 1


Color and Number

Irritating overuse of bold typeface again. Quotation marks exist for a
reason: to give me a valid excuse to be pissy about ugly formatting.
Ah, ever since Time Cube insane cult writings seem to have lost all will to
live. In this case, the insane cult torture innocent gameplayers by making
them run about solving tortuous puzzles.
My initial fear is that my least favourite puzzle from Savoir-Faire will be
reprised on a massive scale. I'm not usually fond of games with a heavy
focus on puzzles, especially when they are presented very clearly as 'try
everything, see what happens, then work out logically what you have to do in
order to produce some as yet undefined yet presumably desirable effect'.
When a great big puzzle is obviously the raison d'etre of a piece of IF,
with background and writing obviously intended to be very secondary, I
generally find it a bit hard to grade it; my immediate response is to go 'as
fiction, this sucks: 1' but at the same time I'm aware that... enh, fuck it.
As far as I'm concerned, puzzles are all very well, but if you're going to
bill it as fiction, character development, motivation and various other
essential fiction techniques have to be paid attention to first. A game
like, say, System's Twilight is essentially about lots and lots of puzzles.
I love System's Twilight, but if I was given all the puzzles with no
atmosphere, storyline or character development, I'd have given them up in a
shot. Puzzles can be fun, but as far as I'm concerned I don't really give a
shit whether the puzzle is solved or not, for its own sake; I only care if a
puzzle's solved because I want to see the next part of the story, or because
I empathise with the protagonist and will be pleased if he succeeds, or just
because (this works in System's Twilight but fails elsewhere) the puzzles
and their solutions are deeply tied in to the piece's themes. This piece
makes an utterly half-hearted attempt to justify this being classifiable as
IF, but that's about as far as it goes.

Score: 2


Koan

I like koan very much, and I like the idea of an IF game based around
koan-like antilogic. However, this wasn't much of a game: no presentation,
no characterisation, a solitary puzzle, no involvement whatsoever, and so
short that it would have been better suited to a SpeedIF.

Score: 1


MythTale by Temari Seikaiha.

Horribly overwritten and overwrought intro. And yet another game with an
unchanged protagonist description. However, the writing isn't bad for a
generic My House game, and although the retellings are fairly orthodox
they're not appallingly bad, and have the occasional snatch of nice
description.
Any game that includes a book object claiming to be a massive reference tome
is asking for trouble. The Bible in Babel is a good example: a comprehensive
guide to Greek myths is almost as bad. After ten engaging minutes looking up
obscure characters and laughing when the book contained no references to
them, I decided to stop being so immature and get back to the game.
The game itself is pretty obviously an old-school treasure hunt; we have a
torch item.
There are also lots of cats. Many of them pose significant problems. In my
humble experience no cat can pose a problem that cannot be solved with a
light kick up the arse, however many claws it may have.

Score: 5

When Help Collides by J. D. Berry

"We are NOT in one of those snotty experimental games where the player
character's motives differ from that of the player's."

No, we're in one of those irritating meta-games where the player's motives
are openly sneered at.

A definite feeling of disconnectedness between the four parts; it would have
been much better, I think, to have made each game seperately and put a good
deal more work into it; in particular, into cutting down on the repetitive
elements and beefing up the verbosity a little.

The central part was a nice idea but very irritating on many counts. First
of all, as mentioned already, I hate meta-game games with a fiery vitriolic
passion similar to that of the Spanish Inquisition, so this started off on
the wrong foot; nonetheless, I like the idea of a psychological game where
you're playing (possibly) the subconscious trying to salvage the fuckups of
the conscious. Maybe that's just because I'm a depressive and I love any
writing about depressives; that notwithstanding, I found the main game
rather daunting. Firstly, I got the idea that OUT was just a silly idea
after trying it twice, and was genuinely surprised when the walkthrough
suggested it. Okay, so player-PC conflict is good, but it needs to be
encouraged a little more.
Once in the main framegame, I was really unsure as to how I should handle
things. For a start, I had no idea what JUKE or KIBITZ mean. And for some
reason, use of the HELP verb seemed to be crucial, despite the fact that all
it did was dispense infuriating stereotypical platitudes. Parody or no
parody, you can fuck off and die in agonising pain if you think 'You can do
it' is going to do any fucking good. And, hell, a necromancer, like I care.
Eat morbid failure, you infuriating stereotype.

Level 50 was okay as a piss-take of how cringeworthy and formulaic RPGs can
get, but not particularly noteworthy as a game. I really wouldn't have
noticed if it hadn't been included.

Bleach of Etiquette was very borderline as text-based IF - perhaps the worst
offender on the repetition front, but definitely the most enjoyable of the
four. Games which would be better suited, in terms of interface, to being
made as non-IF games - Lock and Key springs to mind - have worked before,
and despite finding the handling a little awkward I enjoyed this a great
deal.
I thought this was the potentially most strong of all the pieces, if only
because there were so many points where a couple of hours' extra work could
have made so much better. I really like the idea of training for a test -
okay, it's only because I'm still paranoid about my forthcoming orange-belt
grading, but you get the idea. I feel that there were so many opportunities
for more detail and more interactivity - giving the training geishas some
more character, giving a little more detail to the individual pursuits than
'You learned a new element', (because, y'know, there's a difference between
mathematics and dance), adding more possibilities if you choose not to do
anything, or just playing out some more of the encounters with clients in a
little more detail (hell, you could make kimono selection before meetings a
challenge in itself)... and, more importantly, cutting back on the amount of
repetition. I mean, these pursuits are all really fucking interesting; it'd
be nice if you gave us some detail about them as the protagonist learns. I'm
interested in these things, I'd like them to be distinguished between. In
the interests of realism, I know that any delicate skill, whether it's
flower arrangement, mathematics or performing a shoulder throw on a
psychopath with a broken bottle, is virtually impossible to improve on to
any real degree in so short a time as a week, but this isn't really the
point. Oh, and it had a Japanese pronunciation l/r joke in the title, which
made me gag however much albinism tried to feebly justify it afterwards.

Parched Mesa was initially exceptionally similar to Dead Man, my favourite
film in the whole wide world; it didn't really cut the mustard, however.
Weakest of the bunch. Too fast a progression; if you want to do massive
extaplanar horrors you have to do it veeeery slowly, a la Anchorhead (and
even then it felt a little bit contrived). No gravity at all. There were a
few nice atmospheric touches, but identity crises aren't very effective if
you don't have time to get settled into the original identity first.

All the codes stuff struck me as silliness; if you want people to work at
getting the codes, don't fucking well include them in the walkthrough, and
if you want the codes obvious don't bother with codes at all. Fuck's sake.
Another symptom of four games pretending to be one game. Make up your mind
and make one game, and make that one game really good.

Oh yeah, and the feelies were really, really very very very lame, especially
compared to the actual game. MS Word is not an acceptable medium for making
feelies. Feelies should be a complete image that won't look awful if the
page layout changes. If you don't want to make a complex graphic file,
incorporate the text into the game proper.

Score: 7


The Granite Book by James Mitchelhill

Bad overwriting makes itself apparent from the beginning; while I can't say
in good faith that I didn't have one eye on Kallisti when I fired this up,
but even so... jesus.
The worrying thing about this piece is that any review is going to say more
about the author than the actual writing. The game is shit; abjectly so.
This is readily apparent. Any further investigation would only be an
exploration of the self-aggrandising, intellectually devoid psyche of the
insect who produced this dreg of a game. Constructive advice: get beaten up
in a few genuine literary discussions, get a sense of perspective, and stop
thinking that you're the best thing since sliced bread. And overt lack of
humility in a mediocre talent is about as unpleasant as having a leprous
ferret inserted up a private orifice.
Symbolism alone does not make a good story. Symbolism is very easy to make
up and very easy to make impenetrably obscure; the challenge lies in weaving
the symbolism into an engaging narrative, unless you happen to consider
yourself be the equal of Lao Tzu or TS Eliot. Moreover, this extreme of
symbolism doesn't make for good IF, because it relies very heavily on the
audience knowing how you want your symbols to be interpreted.

Score: 1


Jane by Joseph Grzesiak

No matter how important an issue is, or how sincere the author's motives in
writing this, Big Issues do not a story make. This felt very identikit; so
much so, in fact, that it's possible the author was consciously attempting
to . More than anything else, this reminded me of those interminable and
unwatchable American TV movies in which a dull but heroic woman (usually
with a nauseatingly adorable moppet in tow) conflicts in some way with a
conniving and evil man and wins through the plucky spirit and
sticktoitiveness that flows through the veins of every all-American woman.
Or one of those two-dimensional Ethical Situations that crop up every five
seconds in hospital dramas. Important issues, sure, realistic approach,
maybe, but as far as fiction goes it's dull as dirt.
In a way, it's a fairly cheap way of producing emotion in an audience;
writing about abuse will always give the reader a sick feeling in the pit of
their stomach, no matter how bad the actual writing is, and since literary
response is at its core a very emotional process this is likely to snag
people into thinking it's better than it is. (Not that I'm accusing the
author of consciously exploiting this; far from it).
Writing style. Ho hum, I smell someone very fond of Photopia; at least it
gets admitted. Photopia got away with massive railroading because its
central character was very powerful and very well-evoked, because it was
lyrically beautiful, and because it did interesting things with narrative.
(Switching between POVs isn't really sufficient for that). Nonetheless, the
railroading did save me the infuriating situation, all too common in the
comp, where the plot is utterly stuck and the author hasn't generated nearly
enough interest for me to start fiddling around. And the writing wasn't
infuriatingly bad, or the perspectives deeply flawed; they just weren't
particularly good in any way whatsoever.

Score: 5


Eric's Gift by Joao Mendes

The dialogue in this ranges between the slightly awkward to the absolutely
cringeworthy, and the writing as a whole is ungainly and over-terse;
generally unexceptional with the occasional turn of phrase that sounds
utterly ridiculous; this alone lost it a point or so, to my mind. In
particular, there are a great deal of 'the X isn't important' responses,
which are irritating in any circumstance but particularly when nothing else
is happening, as occurs rather frequently. Conversation-driven games require
good dialogue first and foremost; moreover, in order to make the
conversation feel natural there should be a *lot* more topics available, or
a different conversation system that prevents the big gaps where every topic
you can possibly think of fails. And having a character say 'I'm afraid I
don't know much about that' or similar is a method with a cast-iron
guarantee; it will always make the character look like a cardboard cut-out.
Throughout I got the feeling that I was expected to do something important
to change the scene, but only the author knew what that was. For example, in
the second scene you have to examine figures in a painting to trigger Eric's
entrance; because of the generally low level of detail in the rest of the
game, I didn't expect there to be individual elements within the painting,
and spent a long time trying to find relevant topics to talk about with
Cappella, who was magnificently unresponsive; as a result when I finally
examined the figure and Eric burst in, the pacing felt totally artificial.
Oh, speaking of which, if you're going to have a central character whose
name is in the title, why the hell would you call him Eric? Moreover, the
author seems to think that prefixing everything with 'synth-' will create a
magnificent impression of the future.
Oh dear god no. The Gift of the story is made explicit in a way that screams
HELLO THIS IS A FORESHADOW in a cheesy Hollywood baritone.
The story really is too short and too badly written to give the central
characters the force they need; third-wheel stories require a lot of
personality development to be effective. Nonetheless, I see the kernel of a
good story here; but there's a whole lot of technique that needs to be
addressed first.

Score: 4


Coffee Quest II by Dog Solitude

Really irritating formatting issues, rock-bottom writing, and apostrophe use
of screaming evil. And generic office games are almost as devoid of
atmosphere or interest as generic apartment games.

Score: 1


Hell: A Comedy of Errors

Lot of potential here; a very Dungeon Masteresque management game. However,
it makes a few crucial flaws that could have been solved fairly easily with
a little betatesting (hopefully from someone other than *cough* 'Arwen
Tyler') and some more time working on design, pacing and descriptions.
Now, I enjoyed being able to design my demon, but I'd have liked those
choices to have some effect on gameplay. I really, really liked the idea of
having to work out each individual soul's special quirks and fears in order
to drive that extra little bit of penance from them, but there didn't seem
to be any way of working out what that was except by trial and error (made
more difficult by the fact that if you removed a soul from torture, your
Penance score didn't decrease). I can think of so many cool ways that could
have been used to do this, which is a little frustrating; talking with the
souls, examining their past lives, giving them their own specific responses
to certain tortures - although this game had an idea which would have worked
quite nicely as management IF, it owed too much to non-IF management games,
with too much emphasis on drag-and-drop and fiddling around with conditions
until they happen to work, and not enough on good writing. A particular
symptom of this is the out-in-the-open scoring system; I'd rather have had
the souls' level of suffering be made apparent by their actions and
descriptions.

Score: 5

Peter Seebach

unread,
Nov 18, 2002, 9:40:37 PM11/18/02
to
In article <arc0vb$od2$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>,

sam ashwell <sk...@cam.ac.uk> wrote:
> All right, I have very little interest in old-school IF, so this didn't
>fascinate me; there is a shameless and utterly transparent attempt to grab
>the old-school nostalgia vote.

Huh?

We just assumed that, since everyone had played those games, the references
would be understandable - and furthermore, we hoped it'd serve as a way to
make it a bit easier to "unravel" the puzzles, since we assumed typical
players were familiar with them.

>For some reason the IF genre is absolutely obsessed with
>games about games - perhaps because it's a nascent genre and hasn't had time
>and tradition to steel itself against the petty look-what-I-can-do
>pseudointelligensiata of postmodernism, or perhaps it's because there are
>lots of authors with no fucking good ideas.

Or maybe it's because most game writers are at least sort of programmers,
and thus inclined to recursion and metahumor? :)

>In terms of craft, the room descriptions are fairly unexceptional and
>there's no obvious plot direction or pointers; this is particularly awkward
>when there are many rooms available to the player from the very beginning,
>and (especially within comp conditions, if that matters) this is very likely
>to daunt players.

The unobviousness of the plot is moderately intentional; it is a feature
that one can "win" the game without understanding most of it.

-s
--
Copyright 2002, all wrongs reversed. Peter Seebach / se...@plethora.net
$ chmod a+x /bin/laden Please do not feed or harbor the terrorists.
C/Unix wizard, Pro-commerce radical, Spam fighter. Boycott Spamazon!
Consulting, computers, web hosting, and shell access: http://www.plethora.net/

Peter Seebach

unread,
Nov 18, 2002, 3:40:37 PM11/18/02
to
+ User FidoNet address: 1:396/4
From: se...@plethora.net (Peter Seebach)

In article <arc0vb$od2$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>,
sam ashwell <sk...@cam.ac.uk> wrote:
> All right, I have very little interest in old-school IF, so this didn't
>fascinate me; there is a shameless and utterly transparent attempt to grab
>the old-school nostalgia vote.

Huh?

We just assumed that, since everyone had played those games, the references
would be understandable - and furthermore, we hoped it'd serve as a way to
make it a bit easier to "unravel" the puzzles, since we assumed typical
players were familiar with them.

>For some reason the IF genre is absolutely obsessed with
>games about games - perhaps because it's a nascent genre and hasn't had time
>and tradition to steel itself against the petty look-what-I-can-do
>pseudointelligensiata of postmodernism, or perhaps it's because there are

>lots of authors with no ####ing good ideas.

Or maybe it's because most game writers are at least sort of programmers,
and thus inclined to recursion and metahumor? :)

>In terms of craft, the room descriptions are fairly unexceptional and
>there's no obvious plot direction or pointers; this is particularly awkward
>when there are many rooms available to the player from the very beginning,
>and (especially within comp conditions, if that matters) this is very likely
>to daunt players.

The unobviousness of the plot is moderately intentional; it is a feature
that one can "win" the game without understanding most of it.

-s
--
Copyright 2002, all wrongs reversed. Peter Seebach / se...@plethora.net
$ chmod a+x /bin/laden Please do not feed or harbor the terrorists.
C/Unix wizard, Pro-commerce radical, Spam fighter. Boycott Spamazon!
Consulting, computers, web hosting, and shell access: http://www.plethora.net/

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+ The FidoNet News Gate (New Orleans LA USA) +
+ The views of this user are strictly his or her own. +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Cedric Knight

unread,
Nov 19, 2002, 7:01:06 PM11/19/02
to
"sam ashwell" <sk...@cam.ac.uk> wrote

> Augustine by Terrence V. Koch
>
> I am immediately prejudiced against this game because it mentions (in the
> intro text, no less) Shrewsbury, the greatest town in all my not-very-native
> land of Shropshire and quite possibly the most dull place in all existence,
> devoid of all interest apart from that speciality Japanese shop with all the
> interesting spices I am always too poor to buy the vast quantities of I so
> eminently deserve and that T-shirt I am going to have to buy despite my
> poverty-stricken state. Since this game does not mention this T-shirt, or
> indeed the shop, it has in my eyes failed in some deep and meaningful way.

Good to see that all reviewers are aspiring to the same high level of
critical independence and objectivity.

> Furthermore, its inaccurate depiction of a Welsh peasant life circa 1400
> irritates me somewhat. As everybody knows, the most important point in any
> historical recreation is how much shit there is. The more shit, the more
> accurate the depiction; this is especially true of Wales, though of course
> times have moved on now and almost nobody in Wales has lived in a one-room
> wattle-and-daub shack full of shit since at least 1995. Not only the absence
> of shit, but the actual presence of tables, beds and chairs shocked me to
> the core. A great big heap of sheep dung has always traditionally served the
> function of all furniture in the traditional peasant cottage.

I have absolutely no reason to quote the above paragraph. I just wanted
to see it again. Playing games is neither a waste of time if you enjoy
the game or OTOH if you hate it enough to write a review like this.

Genuine 15th century conversation:

Blackadder: So, farewell then, Baldrick. I suppose now you're leaving
my service, you'll go back to where I found you, shovelling pig dung.

Baldrick: Oh, no, my Lord. It took me ten years to work myself up to that
level.

Can I therefore suggest that the author replace his ill-advised pit of
magical lava with a silo full of magical pigshit? On the above thesis,
most fifteenth-century magical spells must have involved as ingredients
large quantities of shit in any case, since there was very little else
to hand. I feel it would also heighten dramatic tension in that scene.

CK

Zoltan Carnovasch

unread,
Nov 23, 2002, 9:11:49 AM11/23/02
to
se...@plethora.net (Peter Seebach) wrote in message news:<3dd9a4a5$0$22477$3c09...@news.plethora.net>...

> In article <arc0vb$od2$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>,
> sam ashwell <sk...@cam.ac.uk> wrote:
> > All right, I have very little interest in old-school IF, so this didn't
> >fascinate me; there is a shameless and utterly transparent attempt to grab
> >the old-school nostalgia vote.
>
> Huh?
>
> We just assumed that, since everyone had played those games,...
Frankly I don't think everyone has played those games, at least not
all of them.

Sam, thanks for you reviews, I enjoyed reading them. About such games
as "Granite Book" I agree with you, but maybe you should try to be not
that harsh in your writing.
Zoltan

Taoc

unread,
Nov 23, 2002, 6:16:43 PM11/23/02
to
> Sam, thanks for you reviews, I enjoyed reading them. About such games
> as "Granite Book" I agree with you, but maybe you should try to be not
> that harsh in your writing.

I think these reviews were more for laughs than for objectivity. They
made me laugh, anyway.

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