Adam's reviews (5/6): the D list

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Adam Cadre

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Nov 15, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/15/99
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OUTSIDED

Most people, I suspect, are going to find this game laughably bad, and
true, the writing and programming are far from competent. But at least
it had some energy and enthusiasm behind it, and the opening scene/
puzzle was something I'd never seen before -- carried off correctly, it
could have been a truly classic IF moment. I toyed with the idea of
bumping this up a rank, but in the end, I just couldn't give a 3 to a
game that starts in a "resteraunt". This author clearly has some good
and original ideas, but the craftsmanship still has to be better than
*this* before that point of distinction can translate into a higher
score.

Score: a surprisingly high TWO.

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STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT

I like city games reasonably well -- pleasant flashbacks to A MIND
FOREVER VOYAGING and LOST NEW YORK and all that -- so the idea of
roaming another IF city looking for prey was an appealing enough idea.
I didn't even much mind that most of the city locations had no
descriptive text whatsoever. But the author made some major mistakes
in the scenery he did implement:

* If you're going to randomly place descriptions rather than have a
unique one for each location, make sure there are more than three.
This game had one blurb about a car alarm, one about a streetlight
and one about some windows. That number needs to be quintupled, at
least.

* While it's not necessary to implement every noun mentioned in the
scenery, it's fairly imperative that objects to which the player's
attention is deliberately drawn actually exist. This sort of thing
happened all too often:

>N
Clay and 10th
One of the streetlights is dim here; the shadows that are cast
against the sidewalk are oddly deformed, giving the corner an
otherworldly feel.

>X STREETLIGHTS
I don't know the word "streetlights".

It wasn't just the scenery that exhibited a slapdash approach. >X ME
doesn't work ("I don't see any me here.") Conversation is extremely
buggy: >ASK MARY ABOUT TOM produces the reply, "You have no interest in
or use for the tired cashierThe bored cashier is in a rather public
place; that kind of interaction isn't advisable.Surely, you can't think
the bored cashier knows anything about it!" NPCs behave in a bizarre
manner -- Mary (whose name I somehow know even without looking at her
nametag) declares to all and sundry that she's going to the employees'
room, announcing such every step of the way, proceeds to react not at
all when I barge into the break room after her, yet oblingingly puckers
up when I move in to bite her. Er, what? (The biting, however, turns
out to be the best part of the game -- I quite liked the way *her* life
flashed before *my* eyes. Is that a standard part of vampire lore? If
not, it should be.)

Clearly, this was a game that needed to be proofread and playtested in
the worst way. Correction: it seems that it *was* proofread and
playtested in the worst way, because even though testers are thanked in
the readme, there are so very many bugs, not to mention two glaring
errors in *the first two sentences*. Yeesh!

Score: TWO.

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GUARD DUTY

What can I say? This game certainly seemed promising enough, but when
you've got a fatal crashing bug, promise doesn't count for any more
than a runner left on third when the inning's over.

(Also, a .z8 game? in the comp? Eeeek.)

Score: TWO.

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LUNATIX: THE INSANITY CIRCLE

Like SIX STORIES, this game attempts to set itself apart from the pack
with a snazzy intro, but anticipation quickly turns to dismay once the
game begins. Sure, there are some nice ideas -- I really liked the way
the room description was stored in a separate window for easy reference,
and the pictures were nice if overly pixillated -- but the text is
simply painful to read. This isn't a reflection on the author's
talents as a writer: it's hard for me to say whether he can write or
not, because looking at the letters on the screen hurt my eyes so much
that I couldn't bear to slog through more than a couple paragraphs.
Admittedly, my favorite game of all time, STAR CONTROL II, suffered
from the same malady -- it really would've been nice had the character
sets been more legible -- but whatever merits LUNATIX might have as a
game, it clearly warn't no STAR CONTROL II.

Score: TWO.

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CHAOS

I was talking to Liza Daly shortly after the Comp98 games came out.
She asked, "Have you played MUSE yet?" I said I had. She said, "Isn't
it great that we never again have to suffer through a raif thread about
whether the first person or past tense can work?"

CHAOS is chiefly interesting for its use of the third person, but it
doesn't really work; more than anything, it leads to confusion, perhaps
owing to the way that the opening text lurches from first person to
second person to third. If there are three separate people involved --
"I", "you", and "Captain Chaos" -- how is it that "I" (being "you")
somehow have the power to order "him" around? Is "he" aware of "me"
(being "you")? (The parser isn't: my first command was >X ME, to find
out who *I'm* supposed to be considering that Captain Chaos is someone
else, and it replied, "I don't know the word 'me'.") Why does the text
abruptly shift from representing the speech of a narrator to a narratee
(and are these supposed to map onto author and reader? that's not very
clear) to rendering cinematic intercuts in prose, as in the bit with
the hammock? It's all kind of a muddle.

Which, of course, doesn't prove that third person can't work. All it
takes is one game to disprove that assertion. This may not be that
game, but at least it's a game rather than a newsgroup post.

On the other hand, did we really need another game about fixing a
broken machine? Why is it that so much IF seems to be pitched to the
repairman community?

Score: TWO.

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4 SECONDS

Others have compared this game to BABEL for various reasons, but I was
reminded of BABEL primarily because in both games, for some reason I
can't really articulate, I was consumed with the urge to quit. Even
with a walkthrough in front of me, this nagging voice kept telling me,
"Hey, that doesn't say >OPEN LOCKER -- it says >QUIT! Really! It's, uh,
a typo! That's it, a typo!"

Score: TWO.

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STONE CELL

Ah, the old cutscene conundrum: how many screens of text will an IF
player sit through? One? Two? And what should an author do about the
fact that few people relish the prospect of wading through more than a
few lines at a time off a CRT or LCD?

The conventional wisdom is that if you have a long non-interactive
scene, it's a good idea to split it up with the occasional prompt, even
if there's nothing you can actually do other than >WAIT (if you're tied
to a chair with a gag in your mouth, for instance.) But that approach
only goes so far. After not being allowed to do anything for what felt
like thirty or so turns, I found myself already feeling quite hostile
toward this game, and the action that followed did little to dispel
that feeling. I understand that there's something to be said for
creating the feeling of being deep underground by taking forever to get
there, but by that same logic, you can also say that Ben Parrish's
ANNOYOTRON did a great job of creating the feeling of being in a
really, really, really long hallway.

Score: a low TWO.

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CALLIOPE

Check it out -- it's the old "can't come up with anything to write
about, so I'll write about someone who can't come up with anything to
write about" gag. Which, admittedly, was pretty clever the first time
someone tried it. And the idea may have been executed even better
since then -- I can't say for sure, because I can't read cuneiform.

This game is competent enough, but really, I'm not much interested in
reading meditations on the artistic process by people whose art I don't
already respect. Since it's hard for me to respect someone as an artist
if I've never seen any work by that person before, this makes for a poor
choice of subject matter for one's first game.

Score: a low TWO.

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SNOSAE

I found myself thinking of Comp97's A GOOD BREAKFAST as I played this
one. That too involved doors with baroque combination locks; the
reason you wanted to open the door was to get to your kitchen to eat
some cereal (which, it turned out, was an impossible task, thanks to a
bug.) In this game, you need to open the door or the planet will be
blown up. I think I preferred the former. I can't relate to bizarro
combination locks or exploding planets. Breakfast cereal? That I can
relate to.

If there's one point this game drives home, it's that motivation is
crucial. If you're going to have a puzzle involving a strangely locked
door, you must both (a) give the player a compelling reason to want to
be on the other side, and (b) give the door a compelling reason to be
strangely locked. Where (a) is concerned, bigger isn't necessarily
better: if the reward isn't something you can wrap your mind around,
then there might as well not be any. In the book A REPORT FROM GROUP
17 by Robert C. O'Brien, the bad guy kidnaps a girl and plans to
enslave the world; reading it, I found that I very, very much hoped
that the girl wouldn't come to harm, but didn't much care whether the
world was enslaved or not. You have to make the player care about
what's being threatened. Perhaps it's paradoxical, but it's much
easier to make someone care about a person than about a planet.

The other point this game drives home is that you shouldn't use twelve
different colors on the same line just because you can.

Score: a low TWO.

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SKYRANCH

I reserve 1s for memorably painful games: if you mention a game and I
cringe and say, "Aieee, not *that* one," it's a good candidate for a 1.
But if I scratch my head and say, "Hmm -- I know I didn't like it, but
don't really remember much of anything about it," then it's hard to
justify slapping it with the worst possible score. So when I saw I'd
given this one a 1, but couldn't remember why, I decided to bump it up
a rank. After all, it wasn't excruciating or anything -- it just
wasn't at all competent.

Score: a very low TWO.

-----
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
http://adamcadre.ac

Mike Snyder

unread,
Nov 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/16/99
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>LUNATIX: THE INSANITY CIRCLE
>
>Like SIX STORIES, this game attempts to set itself apart from the pack
>with a snazzy intro, but anticipation quickly turns to dismay once the
>game begins. Sure, there are some nice ideas -- I really liked the way
>the room description was stored in a separate window for easy reference,
>and the pictures were nice if overly pixillated -- but the text is
>simply painful to read. This isn't a reflection on the author's
>talents as a writer: it's hard for me to say whether he can write or
>not, because looking at the letters on the screen hurt my eyes so much
>that I couldn't bear to slog through more than a couple paragraphs.
>Admittedly, my favorite game of all time, STAR CONTROL II, suffered
>from the same malady -- it really would've been nice had the character
>sets been more legible -- but whatever merits LUNATIX might have as a
>game, it clearly warn't no STAR CONTROL II.

LUNATIX /T (text-only mode).

May have been easier on the eyes.

Mike.

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