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I V

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Nov 18, 2003, 12:24:19 PM11/18/03
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As ever, I didn't manage to play as many games as I'd wanted. Having
jotted down a few short remarks about those games I did play, however, I
thought I might as well post them now, where they'll hopefully get lost in
the flurry of reviews. These are just off-the-cuff remarks, and are
sometimes fairly acerbic so, if you are an author, and are offended by
anything I say, sorry.


1: "Gourmet"

Why do Americans call main courses 'entrees'? That eternal mystery was
not resolved by 'Gourmet', but it looked like being a fun game anyway.
The setting, a 'five-star restaurant' is original and well-drawn.
Unfortunately, it's is marred by the same kind of identikit cynicism
which we've seen a hundred times before in IF. For no readily apparent
reason, the PC is a loser, and her restaurant sucks (a rather nice
description of the 40s style tables in the restaurant finished by telling
us that they 'used to be part of a sewage processing plant'). The
mechanics of the game are also a bit dubious - asking NPCs perfectly
reasonable questions brings smart-alec responses, and certain commands do
more than they should (To make 'take bottles' fill up a wine-glass is
merely mimesis-breaking. Later, when 'take soup' puts the soup in a bowl
and then into the automated serving system, it's an irritating way of
railroading the player into a puzzle). Finally, a bug involving an
undropable lobster appears to make the game uncompletable. A shame,
because any game where an undropable lobster is even a possibility has to
gain points for originality (particularly when it earlier mentions a
'poultry professor'). What could have been a fun new twist on
conventional puzzle-based IF is ultimately undone by a ropey
implementation. (4)

2: "A Paper Moon"

Given that Zork exists, I'm not sure there was any need to write this
game. On the other hand, given that someone has gone to the trouble to
write this, I don't see any reason to condemn them. Very old-school it
may be, but it's got a neat gimmick (the origami paper), it's solidly
implemented (I did see one crashing bug when I attempted to 'yell', and I
was slightly surprised to find from the walkthrough that I'm expected to
burn things with an unlit torch, but that's nitpicking), and it's
amusingly done (I particularly liked the response to my attempts to make
a paper hat - 'You wouldn't look good as a pirate'). So, all in all, an
entirely worthy attempt. (6)

3: "Curse of Manorland"

This is a strange game. It reminds me of nothing so much as the Pokemon
fan-fiction you see on the 'net. That is to say, it reads like it's the
work of a barely literate, if unusually imaginative and energetic,
teenager. But do teenagers write IF? I suppose, when I was an illiterate
teenager, I wrote IF, and, judged by the standards my attempts set, Curse
Of Manorland isn't all _that_ bad. The style may also, of course, be
deliberate, a stylistic choice of some sort. The in-game information
hints at a possible reason, describing the setting of the game as 'a
world me and my friend created when we were little.' If that is the
reasoning, though, Curse of Manorland takes it too far; the game
mechanics have the same incompetent zest about them, too. Apart from
being embarrasing (your bedroom has no door), they often make the game
basically unplayable (you can't open the window, but you're supposed to
throw your mattress through it). On the one hand, it seems a shame to
mark something so enthusiatic so low (check out the 'trailers' and 'DVD
commentary', for example). On the other hand, it is shite. (2)

4: "The Fat Lardo And The Rubber Ducky"

Well, we finally come to a game I can see the point in creating. It's
anti-IF: no plot, no puzzles, just a scenario were you play around with
the interpreter. Unfortunately, it's not very clever. It understands very
few verbs, and, for a game which swears at you like a sailor, it
understands remarkably little in the way of filth. Worse, though, is the
simple fact that it's not funny, just the lame old kerazy geekiness of, I
don't know, Wierd Al or somebody. (3).

5: "CaffeiNation"

What is it with geeks and coffee? I should say, American geeks and
coffee. Fucking puritans. In civilised countries, we start drinking
coffee before we can walk. It's no more a drug (or 'chemical enthusiasm',
as the game calls it) than fucking orange juice is. The game, you say? A
bit dull, and the puzzles make no sense. (4)

6: "Temple of Kaos"

'Temple of Kaos'. Aah, sounds like a goofy, dungeon-crawly puzzler. And
it's in verse? Good fun, eh? Actually, rather more than that: genuine IF
poetry. I don't mean by that that the meter is particularly sophisticated,
or anything like that, but Temple Of Kaos _does_ have a metaphorical,
allusive quality that plays nicely with the non-literal nature of the
language. This being IF, of course, that means puzzles, and, for a game
that specifically says that "the normal rules of logic, cause-effect, and
physics may not apply," the puzzles are remarkable reasonable. Not
_rational_, of course (that would defeat the point), but definitely
solvable if the player is open to the breadth of allusion and the
plasticity of metaphor. In that, Temple of Kaos is rather reminiscent of
Andrew Plotkin's So Far (which has been described as 'high modernist IF'),
and it does suffer by comparison with that game; it doesn't have So Far's
depth or linguistic power. However, the excursion into poetry does suggest
some interesting possibilities. Temple Of Kaos isn't The Waste Land, but
it's not doggerel, either. (7)

7: "No Room"

This is a bit frustrating. The author is clearly competent and
intelligent. The game is a nice twist on the fabled grue-filled darkness,
and OOC comments in the game suggest an interest in the ontology of
Inform programming that I'm sure would be worth exploring. But the
practical upshot is a straitforward puzzle, except you have to type
'feel' to look at an object (I say that because little is made of the
tactility inherent in feeling, rather than looking). One puzzle, and it's
not even interesting. Pointless. (2)

8: "Scavenger"

This game just goes to show the dangers of prejudice. Reading the
readme.txt, I noted that this game was based on a Unreal Tournament mod.
Oh dear, I thought. But, actually, it's pretty good. It may be a string
of clichés welded together by puzzles, but it's competently done, both
in terms of writing and implementation (I was impressed that it
understood the verb 'comfort', for example). A few too many of the
puzzles require that you look behind or under things you've no
pre-existing reason too, which is a pain, but there's also some fairly
well thought-out puzzles and good clues. Not stellar, but it certainly
held my interest. (7)

9: "Delvyn"

Possibly I'm in a bad mood, but this game strikes me as utterly
worthless. I've no idea what the fuck's going on or what I'm supposed to
do (there isn't even any indication of the exit to the first room in the
game! You have to guess the way out). Worst of all, though, the game
shows no interest in persuading me to get involved. Also, if you're not a
corporation, don't call yourself one. It makes you look like a cunt. (2)

I note, looking at my list of games, that I gave up just before reaching
the eventual winner, 'Slouching Towards Bedlam'. Damn. I'm surprised that
'Scavenger' placed so high (although I liked it, I'd assumed the rather
familiar setting would have put off many judges), and that 'Gourmet' did
so well (it struck me as both fairly unoriginal, except for the general
idea of the setting, and poorly implemented). But the tail-end of the
results are entirely what I expected. Possibly, that makes me an old
curmudgeon.

--
" - Penny, I worry that you are loosing heart... You are not the sweet little
girl I once knew. Where's your sense of wonder?
- Currently flowing into a sanitary napkin... Guess where my childlike
innocence and idle dreams are currently wedged. Come on, I dare you."
http://www.huh.34sp.com/

Åke Nordenborg

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Nov 18, 2003, 8:53:04 PM11/18/03
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> Why do Americans call main courses 'entrees'?

It has to do with the way the order of the meal evolved in various countries
where the term is used. In formal French dining, the entree is not the first
course served. It's the third, after soup and fish, I think. In other words,
the entree does not introduce the meal, that's not the origin of the word in
any language. In a formal British or American meal, there's some other
structure. As the various courses dropped out and standard restaurant meals
in most Western countries settled into the three-course format, the entree
designation got left in different places.

[...]

> (To make 'take bottles' fill up a wine-glass is
> merely mimesis-breaking. Later, when 'take soup' puts the soup in a bowl
> and then into the automated serving system, it's an irritating way of
> railroading the player into a puzzle).

Personally, I think it's a good design choice to spare the player some of
the tedium involved in performing trivial actions. When done well, it can
make the PC less stale and predictable.


I V

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Nov 19, 2003, 12:52:39 PM11/19/03
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On Wed, 19 Nov 2003 01:53:04 +0000, Åke Nordenborg wrote:

>> Why do Americans call main courses 'entrees'?

[snip explanation]

I never knew that. Thanks.



>> (To make 'take bottles' fill up a wine-glass is
>> merely mimesis-breaking. Later, when 'take soup' puts the soup in a bowl
>> and then into the automated serving system, it's an irritating way of
>> railroading the player into a puzzle).
>
> Personally, I think it's a good design choice to spare the player some of
> the tedium involved in performing trivial actions. When done well, it can
> make the PC less stale and predictable.

Oh, I've no objection to the idea in principle. However, there's a fine
line between assisting the player and second-guessing me. When there are
plausibly alternatives to the action performed (perhaps I want to open
the wine and to allow it to chambre, for example), this interferes with
the illusion that I am interacting with the world. When the action is one
I definitely _don't_ want to perform (using the automated serving system
hadn't occoured to me, particularly as, earlier in the game, I had had to
serve something by hand), it's extremely irritating.

Aaron A. Reed

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Nov 20, 2003, 3:15:58 PM11/20/03
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"I V" <ivl...@gmx.co.uk> wrote in message news:<pan.2003.11.19....@gmx.co.uk>...

> On Wed, 19 Nov 2003 01:53:04 +0000, Åke Nordenborg wrote:
>
> >> Why do Americans call main courses 'entrees'?
>
> [snip explanation]
>
> I never knew that. Thanks.
>
> >> (To make 'take bottles' fill up a wine-glass is
> >> merely mimesis-breaking. Later, when 'take soup' puts the soup in a bowl
> >> and then into the automated serving system, it's an irritating way of
> >> railroading the player into a puzzle).
> >
> > Personally, I think it's a good design choice to spare the player some of
> > the tedium involved in performing trivial actions. When done well, it can
> > make the PC less stale and predictable.
>
> Oh, I've no objection to the idea in principle. However, there's a fine
> line between assisting the player and second-guessing me. When there are
> plausibly alternatives to the action performed (perhaps I want to open
> the wine and to allow it to chambre, for example), this interferes with
> the illusion that I am interacting with the world. When the action is one
> I definitely _don't_ want to perform (using the automated serving system
> hadn't occoured to me, particularly as, earlier in the game, I had had to
> serve something by hand), it's extremely irritating.

The only reason your character would have for not wanting to use the
automated system (leaving out the earlier serving issue for the
moment) is if you had already played the game and knew it was going to
cause a puzzle. I see no problem with railroading you into a puzzle
that, in the game universe, is a logical action for you to take.

In the case of the wine, it's just a matter of this being a game
versus an accurate simulation of an environment. The fact that the
whole process of getting down the wine and filling the glass is
automated is the game's way of saying "The individual wine bottles are
not important to this game." If they were in fact implemented
seperately, players might think they played some significance in the
plot, carry them around, try to use them everywhere. If you start
implementing everything this way you quickly have far too complex of a
game to effectively deal with, either for the author or the player.

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