My 1998 Competition Reviews

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Suzanne Skinner

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Nov 16, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/16/98
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(The permanent version of this document can be found off my IF web pages at
http://www.igs.net/~tril/if/competition/favs98.html).

This year I'm reviewing all the games, from the best to the least. I
decided this was fairer than just reviewing my favorites, which, while
it avoids offending people, also doesn't give feedback to those who
may be most in need of it. I've tried to be positive wherever I can.

The games are ordered as I ranked them (including those that ended up
with the same rating number, which have different ranks in my mind
nonetheless), with the exception of Enlightenment and Photopia, which
share first place.

If you're one of those people whose game I've criticized rather
harshly, please understand that it is not meant personally, nor to
dissuade you from writing IF. At worst, I feel you should further hone
your skills and/or put in more work before entering your creations in
the competition.

[Warning: Spoilers on competition games await you below. I've tried
not to give away any major puzzle solutions, but it was hard to
disguise plot points and still discuss the games in detail. If you
haven't played them yet, read with caution.]

[Spoiler Space]


Enlightenment
Author: Taro Ogawa
In a nutshell: A one-room Zorkian masterpiece.

Wow.

Where to begin? I knew before I even started up the game that I was in
for a treat, as I discovered and perused the packaged goodie (the
_Spelunkers_Today_ magazine, which incidentally looks just fine on
Netscape 4 in Linux). My fiance and I are both recreational climbers,
so we got quite a chuckle out of it. Digital goodies are, IMHO, a
great idea for those who can't afford traditional packaging! If the
game had proven to be in need of a bonus point, this would have
garnered it one.

Then I started playing, quickly figured out what the goal is, and
grinned. Suffice to say it is a very cute and original twist on a
couple of the dustiest Zorkian tropes around. And things only got
better from there.

In past competitions, I have always given first place to games heavy
on theme and plot development. This is a one-room puzzle romp, but it
is the King Of One-Room Puzzle Romps. The game consists of a number of
very cleverly designed, multi-object inventory puzzles, wrapped
together by a common thread. They are all logical and yield a little
jolt of satisfaction when solved; I never even considered looking at
the hints until I was through. Despite the inclusion of several
somewhat general-purpose items (tinderbox, gum, etc.), interaction
between objects is handled very smoothly. The programming is just
about flawless. The writing had me LOL at regular intervals
(particularly the footnotes). Appropriate and often humorous responses
are provided for scads of plausible (and quite a few implausible)
actions. If "Enlightenment" hadn't already won my heart by the time I
tried "kiss troll", it would have then.

It is made quite difficult to get the game in an unsolvable state, and
made obvious when you have managed, usually by doing something fairly
stupid, to do it anyway.

This game was pure pleasure from beginning to end. If I could legally
give it an 11, I would.

Taro Ogawa doesn't appear to be a pseudonym, or else I might finger an
Implementor. First game? This is someone to keep an eye on!

Rating: 10
___________________________________

Photopia
Author: Opal O'Donnell
In a nutshell: An interactive, immersive novella.

This game forced me to break my policy of only giving "10" to one
game, thus declaring a clear first-place winner in my mind. I played
it after "Enlightenment" was already firmly ensconced in that
position, and "Photopia" belonged there, too. I don't really mind this
though: the symmetry of a pure puzzle game next to a pure story game
is nice. Both are masters of their respective worlds. Neither is a
lesser game for what it lacks.

"Photopia" is about as close to pure puzzleless as I've ever seen
"puzzleless" IF come. Yes, there are a few instances of creative
problem solving, but I think the solutions follow naturally for anyone
of at least average intelligence. Playing through it,
*intellectually*, is effortless. I argued with myself back and forth
for a while as to whether it was missing something important because
of this, and finally decided that it wasn't. Puzzles are a very useful
tool for immersing and involving the player in a story, but here they
would have been an unneeded crutch.

What can I say to do justice to the experience? I'm tongue-tied. I've
said a few times before that a game was written with the skill of a
professional author, and meant it, but I never before had reason to
say something like this: "Photopia" is quite possibly the most
skillful, creative, and affecting piece of short fiction I have ever
experienced ("read" just doesn't feel like the right word, any more
than "played"). Static or interactive. Period. Its at first disparate
scenes fit together flawlessly, like puzzle pieces, each leading into
the next and gradually resolving into a whole. It evoked a full range
of emotions in me from light to dark, and gave me a restless night
after the day I finished it.

Despite being puzzleless, interactivity is a crucial part of the story
from beginning to end--this sort of multi-viewpoint, multi-level
structure wouldn't work nearly as well in a book, if at all. It also
aids in accomplishing a height of emotional involvement that all but
rips away the wall between story and reality. If I had been unaffected
by what was happening, I could have finished it off in about 10
minutes. As it was, it took me several days, and there was one point
(those of you who have played it can likely guess where it was) when a
growing sense of dread made it an emotional challenge to keep playing,
yet I was too engrossed to put it aside. My fingers quite literally
froze up for a minute.

There are questions I would like to ask the author: about what things
meant, what to make of the ending, etc. But I'm resisting
temptation--when an author this good leaves ambiguities, it's usually
intentional. And in good fiction, there is never a single correct
interpretation.

I'm being intentionally vague about what the game is about, because I
don't want anyone to go into it with specific preconceptions. It
should be experienced fresh. There are a couple things I want to
mention in particular, though. Firstly, I liked the use of colors. I
was skeptical about this part at first, but grudgingly booted into DOS
to get proper color handling (Linux frotz does colors, but it doesn't
handle dynamic background changes very well, at least not on my
system). I'm glad I did. They actually do add something, in terms of
setting mood and delimiting the two levels of story. Incidentally, the
only technical glitch worth noting involves the colors: they don't
always reset properly after an UNDO or RESTORE into a different
scenario, at least not in DOS jzip.

Secondly--being as vague as I can--I love the way the solution to the
crystal labyrinth is clued. I love the solution itself, too. It was
wonderfully surreal.

In short: Wow, bravo, encore. I'll be waiting for your next work.

Rating: 10
___________________________________

The Plant
Author: Michael J. Roberts
In a nutshell: A feast for X-philes and conspiracy nuts.

"The Plant" is everything I expected when I saw the author's name, and
then some. It's vintage IF--very well playtested, fairly old-fashioned
in style (right down to the whimsical ratings in "score"), and full of
interesting, moderately difficult puzzles. It also has a
well-designed, X-Files-ish storyline that kept me curious, nay,
hanging on to the edge of my seat, right 'til the end (the records
room was a wonderful way of sating some of that curiosity, BTW!) The
strongest criticism that I can make is that it's too long and too
difficult for the competition. Nevertheless, I'm really glad it was
released therein, since I've been working feverishly on my own game
and haven't set aside time to play non-competition games for awhile.

The linguistic puzzle is my favorite in the game, and the bar code
puzzle is a close second. In fact, the whole bar code gimmick is
hilarious (I kept trying to figure out if the first letters of the
names of the rebate offers spelled out nifty acronyms like NORAD, or
something).

There are a few aspects of the game that annoyed me, but these are
mainly the aspects that have always annoyed me about old-fashioned IF.
In particular, I found The Boss a rather annoying NPC. He's not
particularly interactive or helpful most of the time. He does actually
give a useful hint at one point in the game, but the rest of the time
he's pretty much following behind, looking around, and picking his
virtual nose. He bills himself as an amateur sleuth, yet, naturally,
I'm the one who does all the puzzle solving! I guess I can see the
humor in that, if it was meant to be funny, and I can see that it
wouldn't be much of a game if an NPC were solving all the puzzles, but
it's still a little grating.

One little exception, though--I like the response to "ask boss about
me".

But as a whole, I love "The Plant"--the puzzles, the conspiracy plot,
and the atmosphere. The endgame brings it all together and is truly
memorable. Along with "Mother Loose" and "Muse", it's one of the best
endings in the competition.

Rating: 9
___________________________________

Mother Loose
Author: Irene Callaci
In a nutshell: A romp with your inner child

*ROTFLMAO*

Before I played "Mother Loose", "Enlightenment" had the award for most
humorous, but this one beat it out. My fiance had to come in just to
see what I was laughing about. It takes place in a land of nursery
rhymes come-to-life, and does a wonderful job of putting you in the
mindset of a not entirely angelic seven-year-old. On the other hand,
there are choice bits of slyly adult humor which would probably sail
right over the head of someone too young to appreciate them (e.g., I
doubt a little kid would think to try "wolf, eat me", or get quite the
kick that I did out of the response).

The game is full of optional stuff and has several puzzles that can
take multiple solutions. There are two different general ways of
approaching things throughout, and this division isn't casually
obvious on the first time through (at least, not to an adult), so that
it comes as a pleasant surprise at the end when you realize all there
is to go back and try differently. Which reminds me, did anyone figure
out how to stop the spinning wheel?

Speaking of the endgame--I'm in love with it. I can't really say why
without spoiling it for others, though.

The wolf is a great NPC that reminds me of the pogo-stick devil in
"Small World" (including the somewhat anticlimactic manner of his
arrival :-). An inspiration, perhaps?

The puzzles are well done and I noticed only minor flaws in
programming.

Rating: 9
___________________________________

MUSE: An Autumn Romance
Author: Christopher Huang
In a nutshell: A gentle and rather different game about human
relationships, in a Victorian setting.

This was a game that didn't quite work for me. I'm not sure why--it
may have had something to do with my mood at the time I played it
(somewhat down)--it may have worked better somehow as static
fiction--maybe there was a little too much "reading the author's mind"
required--and/or maybe I was just a little too frustrated by the
sometimes arbitrary logic of interacting with people and getting them
to open up. "Muse" aims high in terms of allowing realistic human
interaction, and this is one of the hardest things to do successfully
in IF. Whatever the reason, I found myself resorting to the hints too
often and never feeling quite up to speed.

So why am I giving it an 8? Because it aims high, trying to convey
something I don't think I've seen any IF authors try before, and the
fact that it didn't quite work for me isn't the most important part.
This is a story about giving and caring, as the final poem shows so
clearly. Although I've seen IF games take themselves this seriously
before, it wasn't done this way....compassion is not a fashionable
topic. A 59-year-old clergyman is not a cool protagonist. I get the
impression the author is thumbing his nose at what is cool and
fashionable and instead writing about something important to him. I
like that. A lot.

And, I'm giving it an 8 because the ending almost brought me to tears
(happy tears, for the most part). If a game can have this effect on
me, even after I half-know what's going to happen from stumbling
through the hints, then the author has definitely done something
right.

Incidentally, that poem at the end is one of my favorites, and I feel
it wrapped up the story well.

The hints seem to have a bit of an attitude, as if the author
immediately expects people not to "get" this and to have to be scolded
in the right direction. This doesn't fit with the gentle tone of the
rest of the game and I found it somewhat intrusive. This includes the
"red herring" hints, which are cute but, IMHO, don't belong here.

Even though the author did some very neat things with plot branching
(which I haven't yet had the chance to fully explore......e.g., can
the game go anywhere if Viktor dies?) and other techniques confined to
IF, I can't shake the feeling that this would have worked better as
regular fiction.

Rating: 8
___________________________________

Purple
Author: Stefan Blixt
In a nutshell: A somewhat lighthearted post-apocalyptic adventure.

Now this I like: a post-apocalyptic game that manages to be fun and
non-depressing. The variety of strange, unexpected, and mutated
things, and figuring out who/what they are and how they work, is
wonderful. I have the squirrel in mind in particular, of course. I
love the way that's never really resolved--you're just left with vague
hints and suspicions.

This isn't exactly a humor game, but there are lighthearted bits
strewn throughout. Karl is an NPC who strongly reminds me of some
engineers I've known :-) His ability to jerry-rig contraptions
together out of miscellaneous flotsam had me chuckling to myself a
lot.

The "phoenix nest 2" puzzle, and the way it was clued, were terrific.

Unfortunately, the competition release of this game is riddled with
bugs. There is a list of playtesters in the credits, so I'm not sure
what to think: either they did a very inexpert job, or the game was
changed a lot after testing was done. Fortunately, none of the bugs
are fatal or insurmountable--they consist mainly of disambiguation and
guess-the-verb problems--and after they're cleaned up this will be a
truly first-rate game, worthy of a 9 at least.

Rating: 8
___________________________________

Arrival
Author: Samantha Clark
In a nutshell: Foil the aliens! Save the world! Get in lots of trouble
with your parents.

Woohoo! At last a real, live, HTML TADS game!

I had oodles of fun with this game, in which you play an 8-year-old
out to foil the aliens' devious plot to Take Over The Earth. It's not
so much a B-movie spoof, I found, as two parts Calvin&Hobbes and one
part Commander Keen. It also takes a clever tack towards the dilemma
of needing professional artists to produce decent graphics for your
game--you're seeing things from the eyes of a kid, so it isn't so
jarring that most of them look like crayon sketches!

The puzzles were fun, the story kept me laughing frequently, and most
importantly, "Arrival" passed the acid test of getting me *curious*.
After doing what I thought I was supposed to do and reaching a less
than optimal ending, I was left blinking with pleasant befuddlement.
So what exactly *was* I supposed to do? I didn't want to peek at the
hints because I didn't want to ruin it for myself.

I did find the graphics and sound added some enjoyment to the game
(especially the fake web page...that was hilarious), but tried hard to
judge the game from a pure-text angle as well. I'm confident it would
have gotten at least a 7 from me even without the embellishments.

The end of the game was the one big letdown. It ended far too soon for
me, especially since I accidentally bypassed a significant but
optional puzzle. I was dying to find out more about the examination
chamber, really wanted to be able to play with the hyperlinks on the
"homepage", and was rather hoping to get a trip into outer space at
some point. I can understand this--I'm sure the game was a lot of work
as it was, and the competition deadline was looming--but it was still
disappointing.

The biggest technical problem with "Arrival" was the sound effects: they
had a nasty habit of either repeating themselves in an infinite loop, or
breaking up into white noise. From talking with Michael Roberts, though,
this appears to be an HTML TADS problem rather than an "Arrival" problem.

Rating: 8 (fittingly enough)
___________________________________

Little Blue Men
Author: Michael S. Gentry
In a nutshell: An office game with a weird, Dark-City-ish twist.

Is it cynical and depressing? Yup. Is it more than a bit disturbing?
You bet. But I liked it--of the several games that came off like this
in the 1998 competition, this was the only one that worked. I wouldn't
look to "Little Blue Men" to expand my personal philosophy, but I had
fun with it. It managed to give me little jolts of escalating unease
as I gradually made discoveries around the office, and most
importantly, it got me curious: I went to bed in the middle wondering
just what the heck was going to happen when I found that key!

Technically and artistically, the game was fairly well-done, with only
a few real cracks in the mimesis. I especially enjoyed the easter eggs
and optional stuff (the microfiche reader, the fake dollar bill,
etc.).

I would suggest having room and object descriptions shift more
depending on the player's mood (this was done a bit, but there was a
lot of missed opportunity). Perhaps have descriptions change also as
the game progresses and the player learns more.

Rating: 7
___________________________________

Persistence of Memory
Author: Anonymous
In a nutshell: A day in the life of a soldier.

"Persistence of Memory" offers what I'm guessing is a fairly realistic
portrait of war, and its aftermath. As such, it's not really meant to
be enjoyed, and I didn't judge it on that basis. It was a well-done
and affecting vignette, with evocative writing combined with a few
good puzzles to draw the player in. The vignette is focused around a
tragedy of communication, and has a thread of compassion winding
through it--one a bit reminiscent of "Muse". A game without that
thread--one which simply showed the horrors of warfare without any
hope or counterpoint--would have evoked a much less positive response
from me.

My rating wavered between 6 and 7 and finally settled at 6, mainly
because the game's impact, unlike Photopia's and Muse's, was not deep
or lasting for me. There are probably a number of factors that
contributed to this, including parser glitches, lack of attention to
detail, and the fact that the game only lasted me about 15 minutes.
The length as well as immersion might be improved by a longer and more
interactive prologue, allowing the player to develop more of a
connection with the protagonist. I never got beyond the feeling of
comfortable distance with which I began.

On the technical side, there were a number of minor flaws, a few of
which wounded mimesis a bit, but nothing earth-shattering. I've had
very little experience with the Hugo development system, but
"Persistence of Memory" speaks well for it.

Rating: 6
___________________________________

The Ritual of Purification
Author: Sable
In a nutshell: A moody and rather suggestive trip through a surreal
mindscape.

Oh, my.

This one definitely managed to get me interested from the get-go. I
think the first room remains my favorite part, actually--the daemon is
an interesting character about whom I wanted to know more and
experience more. I do have something of a bias, here--the symbolism of
fire vs. water is one that comes up a lot in my own writing, though
with different connotations. It was neat to see someone else playing
with it.

The puzzles are so simple that this is almost purely an "experience"
game, immersing you in a lush environment and letting you explore. And
it works--which isn't easy. Without tricky puzzles to engage the mind,
the author has to be clever in other ways to get you interested.

Still, I don't feel that "Ritual" lives up to its potential and
delivers all that it could have. It's really too small to do so. More
space to explore, and richer detail throughout, would have fleshed it
out nicely. But this is forgivable for a competition game. I do hope
to see more out of this author.

Oh, btw....any of the Enigma CD's would make a great backdrop for this
game :-)

On the technical side, the programming seems quite well done. The
competition gamefile has gotten corrupted somehow, though, or else it
runs up against an obscure bug present in both jzip and xzip under
Linux--in those interpreters, it crashed hard anytime I typed in an
urecognized verb. In frotz, fortunately, it ran fine, so I was able to
finish it without trouble. I didn't mark down for this since I can't
even know whether it's the author's fault.

All in all, "Ritual of Purification" seems to accomplish its aim
pretty well (especially if its aim is tantalization :-), but I hope
the author plans to come out with a fuller version!

Rating: 6
___________________________________

Informat
Author: William J. Shlaer
In a nutshell: "Lists and Lists" for Inform

Cute.

I'm fairly happy with TADS, especially now that HTML TADS has given it
more formatting capabilities, and I've always found Inform syntax
distasteful. Thus I have no real drive to learn Inform and got bored
with this game quickly. But it looks like it's been well done and will
probably be useful to others, it's moderately funny in parts, and I
generally support the idea of educational IF. So I'll rate it
generously.

Rating: 6
___________________________________

Tokyo
Author: Digby McWiggle (but somehow I suspect it's a pen name :-)
In a nutshell: A cheesy, silly monster movie.

This was originally intended as an entry in the chicken-comp (yes,
there really was a chicken-comp. See the mini-comp section of my IF
humor collection), so that should tell you something about it.
Actually, I rather enjoyed the interlude of pure,
ascii-art-embellished silliness, despite the fact that there was only
one puzzle of note in there. The writing was good, and I especially
enjoyed the cheerful confusion between hero and moviegoer (i.e., you
play both of them). The oriental soup gag near the end was masterful.

Rating: 5
___________________________________

Trapped in a One-Room Dilly
Author: Laura A. Knauth
In a nutshell: A cute, compact puzzle game.

Another pure puzzle romp, not of Enlightment's caliber, but fun. There
is no plot, theme, or characterization to speak of, just a weird room
from which you have to escape. Some puzzles are inventory-related and
others more T7G-esque; most are quite straightforward. There's nothing
overly innovative or grabbing about the game, but it's cute, friendly,
and well-programmed. I got a laugh out of what happens if you keep
reading books.

The friendly narrative voice was especially welcome after some of the
other games I had recently played (Cattus Atrox, Little Blue Men,
etc.).

"Dilly" has humble aspirations and it fulfills them well. My only
suggestion would be to make some of the brain-teaser-type puzzles more
difficult.

Rating: 5
___________________________________

Where Evil Dwells
Author: Paul Johnson and Steve Owens
In a nutshell: Yet Another Lovecraftian Horror Game

Another game after the tradition of Theatre, Lurking Horror, etc. I
must say, for me personally, this genre is getting stale, and there is
nothing particularly new or innovative about this incarnation of it.
"Nameless horrors" tend not to scare me very much (it's the named and
real ones that I find far more unsettling), and the humor interspersed
throughout the game undermined whatever unease I might have felt. The
authors may actually have meant this as a spoof of the genre, but if
so, it didn't quite come off that way.

The game is decently designed for the most part--it has good,
atmospheric descriptions, a well-defined storyline that fits together,
and a few good puzzles. However, it suffers from some common
oversights in amateur IF: a lot of objects mentioned prominently in
the room description are not implemented, a few room and object
descriptions contain events that repeat if you look at them again,
etc. (events should always be described separately, IMHO....it looks
very amateur when a room description reads like an action narrative.
See "Detective" for an extreme example). The imp's nest in particular
needs fixing.

My strongest suggestion would be to settle on a more definite mood: do
you want the game to be dark and unsettling, or do you want it to be a
spoof? Either that, or weave the elements together more cleanly. As it
is, the humor and the horror don't mix well and tend to undermine each
other. (actually, I'm curious. this is a two-author game and is
subtitled "a creative differences production". Could that have
something to do with it?)

"Evil" probably deserves a more detailed review and generous rating
from someone with more enthusiasm for the genre than I have.

Rating: 4
___________________________________

Four In One
Author: J. Robinson Wheeler
In a nutshell: A truckload of rowdy NPC's.

"Four In One" gets the (dubious) award of most non-player-characters
in one place at a time ever in an IF game. Mind you, most of them are
quite sparsely described and implemented ("Bob is a set carpenter."),
but all are "free agents" -- they can wander around and interact with
other NPC's independent of you. This idea has been bandied around in
the community a fair bit, and "Four In One" elaborates on it with some
success. The basic idea is, you have to get 9 particular individuals
(the Marx brothers, the extras, and Margaret--not that she posed much
of a problem) to stay in one place long enough to get the damn scene
filmed (if you're wondering why I say "damn", try playing the game :-)

To be honest, I found this more annoying than fun, and ultimately I
can't be very generous to a game that I didn't enjoy. But I will give
it an extra point for handling NPC behavior well and for making me
snicker a few times. I like what happens when too many people get
packed into a room.

I'd suggest, to decrease the annoyance factor, that the author clean
up formatting a little, putting messages like "so-and-so yawns and
walks off" each on a line of their own. It makes the event text for
all the various characters a little less of snowstorm. Also, make sure
to let the player know when someone stops following them.

Rating: 4 (fittingly enough)
___________________________________

Cattus Atrox
Author: David A. Cornelson
In a nutshell: A manhunt, and you're the target.

Okay, we'll start with the positive. I really liked the way parts of
this were done, and I saw a lot of potential in the parts that weren't
well done. The author was clearly aiming to scare people witless, and
I like that in a game :-) There was a dreamlike, surreal, panicky,
things-are-getting-worse-and-worse-and-I-can't-do-anything-about-it
quality that I liked. The decorations in the living room of Scott's
apartment are an especially nice touch (though they would work better
if there were some way to insure the player notices them early on...I
was too busy trying to eavesdrop the first time around), as is what
happens if you call Karl on the phone. The latter gave me a genuine
chill.

But almost from the beginning, any sense of immersion in the game was
ruined by rips in mimesis. This game's single biggest problem is the
large number of important actors and objects that say "you can't see
any such thing" when you try to interact with them--e.g., the lion
cubs initially. The environment is also too sparsely described and too
repetitive (and yes, I know real life can be like that, but there is
such a thing as being too realistic). On the style side, even with
those problems aside, the game failed to instill in me the sense of
panic and urgency that I think it was going for, mainly because the
scenario was just a little too unconvincing. I'm sure there is a more
effective way of introducing the lions. A more gradual transition from
city to hunting ground might help also.

More liberty or at least more of an appearance of liberty is
definitely needed in the second part of the game. If the player has
seen enough to realize that they are in big trouble, they should be
allowed to at least *try* to escape! Especially when what you do or
don't do in the first half can make the second unwinnable.

I wasn't able to finish the game without hints (I didn't find the
gun), and by then I'd already rated it (not that I particularly liked
the ending, so it wouldn't have helped). I might have been more
persistent, but by then I was feeling pretty annoyed. In one of the
final scenes, almost none of the significant objects/npc's that were
supposed to be present, were. I got stuck there, not realizing I
needed an object from way back in the first half of the game that I
didn't have.

Bottom line: This wasn't fun. But it could have been.

Rating: 3
___________________________________

I Didn't Know You Could Yodel
Authors: Michael R. Eisenman and Andrew J. Indovina
In a nutshell: A goofy puzzle-pastiche with a home-brewn parser.

I tried to give this game a fighting chance, even though it rubbed me
the wrong way from the start. And I must admit: 10 years ago, I would
have probably loved it, and the authors clearly put a lot of work into
it. I had some fleeting fun with a few of the brain teasers. But this
game didn't really deliver anything that I'm looking for in modern IF.
The home-brewn parser was, although certainly an impressive
programming feat, atrocious when compared to any mature development
system like TADS or Inform. The humor was way too goofy and low-brow
for my tastes. And, well, when it comes down to it, an assortment of
brain-teasers without rhyme or reason just doesn't excite me much
anymore.

Sorry: I didn't see the end that you obviously wanted everyone to see.
I lost patience, and there were other games to judge. I would have
lost patience a lot less quickly with a better parser.

I would like to say to this author, and to others like him/her: Learn
TADS or Inform or Hugo. Please. Or even Alan or AGT, if you find those
too difficult. Please, new IF writers: don't inflict any more homemade
parsers on us. I don't care how clever a programmer you are; nothing
you can do can match up to a system that's had years to mature and is
deployed on over a dozen operating systems. If you make a game you're
proud of, do you really want to cripple it with an immature parser?
And do you really want to prevent everyone but DOS-users from playing
it?

Rating: 3
___________________________________

Research Dig
Author: Chris Armitage
In a nutshell: An archaeology dig gone weird.

This is one of those games that totally failed to inspire me, even
though it held some promise. The programming is amateurish, full of
nonexistent-objects-mentioned-prominently-in-the-room-description,
objects that do exist are rather barely implemented, the grammar is
odd (I suspect a non-native-English speaker), the puzzles are too
easy, and the game overall doesn't last very long, coming to an end
just as things start looking interesting. No in-depth character
development occurs. There is a cute short story buried in there, but
that's not enough to redeem it.

I do like the way the boat trip was done (overlapping with the
regular, on-land rooms).

I won't lump this in with the 2's, seeing as it has some actual plot
and characterization, but it needs a lot of work.

Rating: 3
___________________________________

Lightiania
Author: Gustav Bodell
In a nutshell: Get the spaceship running again.

This is the highest of the 2's, and it's here because I had to dock it
a point for grammar/spelling: I'm not a huge stickler for these
things, but this game really should have been heavily proofread by a
native English speaker.

That aside, it's a short, unoffensive little game about a tinkerer and
a broken spaceship. There are three fairly simple puzzles; the rest of
the points are garnered just by picking up objects. It wasn't very
substantial as is, but could be worthwhile with cleaned-up writing and
a lot of fleshing out.

Rating: 2
___________________________________

CC
Author: Mikko Vuorinen
In a nutshell: A short, simple puzzle game with a dash of depth thrown
in.

After assigning to "CC" my seventh 2 of the year, I started to
question whether I wasn't perhaps being a titch cantankerous.

But no matter which way I looked at it, this is where it ended up. The
3's are all on a fundamentally higher level of quality: "Cattus Atrox"
has potential to be a really good game when cleaned up and fleshed
out, "Research Dig" looks like it actually had a fair bit of effort
put into it, and "Yodel" is chock-full of brain teasers. So I'd have
to bump them up, but that would conflict with the 4's....and so on (I
wish judges had a bigger range to work with). The kindest thing I can
say is, this isn't really a bad or offensive game, it's just rather
amateur. And in a competition with so many gems, the amateur offerings
don't have much breathing room. There is actually some variation in
quality between the 2's, but it's more important to me to rank the
good games than the mediocre ones.

Okay, I should probably be more specific. "CC" strikes me as, to
borrow Graham Nelson's terminology, a crossword masquerading as a
narrative. There are some hints at depth and symbolism via the
character "CC" (whom I have to admit I found somewhat annoying), but
they don't come across as sincere. What the game boils down to is a
few fairly simple, albeit arbitrary, puzzles. Its one saving grace is
the wordplay puzzle, which I did had some fun with.

I should mention that I am a little biased against the Alan system. It
comes across as rather primitive and crippled next to more powerful
systems like Inform (also, the Linux executable fails to recognize ^?
as backspace, annoyingly). But I tried not to let this influence my
rating.

Rating: 2
___________________________________

The City
Author: Sam Barlow
In a nutshell: A minimal, existential little game about a Room and
your escape from it.

The video recorder gimmick was clever, as were the added
conversational verbs, and the premise was at least potentially
interesting, but this game totally failed to engage me. There was so
little detail and game space that there really wasn't much to grasp
onto. It's one thing to leave details shadowed ("Little Blue Men" did
a good job of this), but you've got to at least make it interesting.

The author disabled the status bar, room headings, and most system
verbs in an attempt, I suppose, to make the experience more authentic
and stream-of-consciousness-like. What he actually accomplished, at
least for me, was to give the game a primitive look-and-feel, and make
it annoying to do basic things like save and continue later.

The ending felt somewhat...pointless. It's not that the loop-back
thing can't be done well. Trinity did it well. The City didn't.

I have to give the author credit, though, for seeming, at least in the
authors' notes, to give a damn about his work, which is something I
can't say for many of the other 2's. So, in an aside to him: I'm just
one person. There are probably some who got more out of this than I
did, so don't get discouraged.

Rating: 2
___________________________________

Fifteen
Author: Ricardo Dague
In a nutshell: A minimalist treasure hunt game

Not much to say about this one....a very sparsely described bunch of
rooms wrapped around three fairly simplistic puzzles. It lasted me all
of about 10 minutes. As a "my first Inform game", it's just fine, but
perhaps not the best thing to enter in the competition.

Bonus point for implementing the 15-puzzle nicely, though (allowing
multiple moves at a time).

Rating: 2
___________________________________

The Commute
Author: ?
In a nutshell: A commute.

For some reason, I can't get the song "Time Warp" out of my head....

Was the creator of this game brought here in a time machine from the
early 80's, or what? A home-brewn parser that makes Scott Adams games
look sophisticated? A *single* save game to *DRIVE* *A:*??

Okay, so you don't believe in using compass directions. Fine. Photopia
did something similar to good effect. But when none of "enter front
door", "enter door", "enter house", "enter home", "forward",
"straight", or "in" works, what is a poor player to do? Even the
obscure "goto" command found in the walkthrough doesn't work half the
time. In general, if you don't do pretty much exactly what the author
planned for you to do, word for word, you get a blanket "I don't
understand"-type error message.

I'm sorry, but after years of playing games with good, solid parsers
and system commands, "Commute" is a downright painful experience. It
mystifies me as to why it was done this way. Seriously...if this was
meant to be nostalgic, it's a big overdose. The author can clearly
write well and seems to intend his/her creation to be fun to play. So
why cripple it by not using any one of the many development systems
out there? Even AGT would have worked better than this.

I feel bad, because some amount of misguided effort was put into this.
I checked the walkthru to see if I was missing anything cute or clever
that would garner a bonus point, but unfortunately, I didn't find it.
"Commute" does indeed appear to consist of a commute, and very little
more. As I commute to work 5 days every week, this didn't exactly
thrill me.

Rating: 2
___________________________________

In the Spotlight
Author: John Byrd
In a nutshell: A puzzle.

There are an awful lot of 2's this year.

I tried to be more generous, because the puzzle is cute, and "God" is
amusing. But c'mon, now. A one-puzzle, one-room, five-minute game?
Where the puzzle is a brain-teaser cribbed from a science magazine? To
rate this any higher would be an insult to the people who spent weeks
or even months working on their entries. I'm not saying it's
inherently a bad game, it just doesn't belong in the competition.

Rating: 2
___________________________________

Spacestation
Author: David Ledgard
In a nutshell: A very slightly embellished Infocom sample transcript.

The nutshell description pretty much says it all. Unfortunately, the
transcript the author picked wasn't a particularly interesting one
(IMHO), at least in terms of challenge. There was only one real puzzle
(I don't consider getting the cage open or using the computer a
puzzle, and considering this one a puzzle is generous), and that was
the embellishment. The game lasted me about 10 minutes, at a leisurely
pace.

To be honest, I was tempted to give this game a "1" because of the
lack of originality, but the author was at least honest and up front
about it. And he seemed to have good intentions. This isn't actually a
bad idea, but I'd suggest picking a more interesting sample transcript
(Legend Entertainment produced some good ones with clever puzzles) and
expanding on it a great deal more than he did with this one. It's okay
to use that as a starting point, but it shouldn't compose the majority
of the game.

BTW, "Spacestation" crashes both jzip and xzip (under Linux) at the
outset, but works okay with frotz...a similar problem to the one I had
with "Ritual of Purification". Are those interpreters just getting
outdated, or what?

Rating: 2
___________________________________

Acid Whiplash
Author: I have no idea.
In a nutshell: Huh?

I think I've figured out the title "Acid Whiplash". It refers to the
controlled substances the author(s) imbibed shortly before writing it,
and the resulting state of their brain(s). This is the most scrambled,
disjointed and confusing piece of IF I've ever seen, "Phlegm" not
excluded. I get the idea it was very much intended to be so, and that
it was supposed to be rife with clever in-jokes, but I've been in this
community for about three years now and I didn't get many of them. I
did get a chortle out of the title of what I presume was a
game-within-a-game ("Rybread Celsius Can't Find a Dictionary"), but
soon after that it lost me.

I *am* curious to see whether either Cody or Rybread was actually
involved in this.

Rating: 2
___________________________________

Human Resources Stories
Author: Harry M. Hardjono
In a nutshell: *yawn*

Okay, I'm usually more charitable than that. But what more is there to
say? You fill out a multiple-choice questionnaire and the game tells
you whether you got a job and how you rated. This doesn't even make
good use of the limited interactive capabilities CYOA affords. If it
was supposed to be funny, it failed, and if this was someone's idea of
a good way to sift job applicants... I'm worried.

Disabling "quit" and "restart" was inexcusable.

I can't speak for the CYOA engine which the author created. It may
well be a feat of good programming and worth incorporating into new
games. But this is a game contest, not a game library contest, and
"Human Resources Stories" didn't showcase its abilities very well.

Rating: 1


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Rybread Celsius

unread,
Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
to
>I *am* curious to see whether either Cody or Rybread was actually
>involved in this.

Yegads!!! Yes we were. oi vey.

on another note, Caligula with Malcolm McDowel was awfully pornographic.


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