Adam's reviews (4/6): the C list

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Adam Cadre

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

Here's a game that's too clever by 'arf, as the saying goes. This
one featured some very nice ideas -- the emotional baggage bit is
truly inspired -- but also a lot of material that was just not my
bag at all. Someone like Douglas Hofstadter would no doubt be giggling
with glee at the transformational mazes and mathematics-intesive
puzzles -- or maybe it's just that I find Hofstadter to be vaguely
irritating and found that large portions of this game rubbed me in
the same wrong way.

Score: a high THREE.

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THE HEBGB HORROR

I actually quite liked the atmosphere of this one, but it was just a
tad too long -- I found my attention waning and wished I had a text
dump handy. Wish I had more to say, but there it is.

(Can you tell I'm not writing these reviews in order? I feel bad for
shortchanging this author, but this is the last one and my reserves of
review-writing energy are just about shot. I figure I'll be recharged
sometime around October 2000.)

Score: a high THREE.

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JACKS, ACES

Here's a fairly original milieu, which is always cheering to see. The
prose is also polished and assured, enough so that I can't help but
wonder if the score below might not be a bit harsh. But there's one
thing that kept me from enjoying this game as much as I might have:
the knowledge puzzles were just a bit too arbitrary and frustrating.

In a Xyzzy News roundtable thingie a couple years back -- issue #14,
for those playing along at home -- Neil deMause posed the question,
"I have a game in the early stages of design where the whole plot
hinges on gaining knowledge about something [...] how can I tell when
the player has figured it out? More generally, my question is: How
does one design a knowledge puzzle?" I ran into this problem with
one of the optional puzzles in VARICELLA -- every time you play, the
PC has to ask a certain character a certain question before he can use
the information elsewhere. *You*, the player, may know the information
forever after, but *he* has to relearn it with each resurrection. I
was skittish enough about that, but this game takes things a step
further by requiring the PC to examine scenery before allowing certain
actions. True, one of the advantages of characterizing the protagonist
is that you can get away with the old "You don't want to do that" gag,
but still, it irked me every time I was prevented from doing something
just because I hadn't looked at enough of the nouns buried three
paragraphs back.

Score: a high THREE.

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ONLY AFTER DARK

This isn't a bad game, but it feels a bit like being caught in stop-
and-go traffic. Rarely is there any space to explore; instead, we
read a middlingly long passage, find ourselves in a particular
dangerous situation, and then either deal with it and hop on the
next passage (a sort of textual bus to the next scenario) or fail to
deal with it and die. The material isn't really strong enough to
compensate for the loss of a game world to roam around in, dooming
the game to land fairly squarely in the middle of the pack.

Score: a high THREE.

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MUSIC EDUCATION

Here's another "wander around my dorm and interact with my friends"
game, only this one's set not at the dorm itself but a couple blocks
away in the music building. But hey, at least it's a really well-done
example of such a game -- implemented reasonably well and whatnot.

Score: a highish THREE.

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DEATH TO MY ENEMIES

It's got the best title of any game in the comp, and some actual comedy
-- the "stomach full of chili" line was especially well done -- but the
amusing prose didn't quite make up for the amateurish feel of the
project or the unguessable puzzles. Alas.

Score: THREE.

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HALOTHANE

This is an extremely sprawling game, meaning that there are bound to
be a few nice bits in it but also that those nice bits might well end
up bobbing around in a sea of chaff. I couldn't summon up the will to
swim to the other side, myself.

Score: THREE.

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THE WATER BIRD

This game is so very, very buggy. In addition to being unfinishable,
it's got punctuation and spacing problems, wild responses to innocent
commands like >X ARROWS, TADS errors up the kazoo, unopenable doors,
and perhaps most disturbing of all, a declaration that "There's nothing
under your loincloth." Really disappointing, in that here was a milieu
I'd never seen before in an IF game, and a highly absorbing one at
that. What a missed opportunity.

Score: a low THREE.

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SPODGEVILLE WOSSNAME

This game is somewhat amusing -- the response to >FULL has some
particularly funny moments -- but nothing else really jumps out as
all that noteworthy. If anything, what people might remember about
this game is the way the parser had to be tricked into revealing the
solution to the central puzzle.

Score: a low THREE.

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THORFINN'S REALM

This is a treasure hunt.

Score: a low THREE.

Okay, I should say more than that, I suppose. So, um. Let's see.
Well, at least the game wasn't set underground, and it was nice to see
a medieval game that didn't seem to be entirely inspired by D&D. But
basically, yeah, this is a treasure hunt.

Score: a low THREE.

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LOMALOW

This game started well -- I was really enjoying it rather a lot, till
I reached the shack -- but proceeded to fall apart. The mentioned but
not implemented doors bode ill for what was to come, but eventually,
after far more frustration than I would normally have tolerated, I
made it inside the shack.

I found myself in the kitchen, and then headed into the living room.
Now, here's a game that bills itself as being centered around its NPCs,
so naturally they're going to be really thoroughly implemented, right?

"You can see an old woman here."

Okay, maybe not. So let me get this straight: I'm a bedraggled
stranger, and I've just broken into the cabin of this elderly couple
(which must have been quite a shock to them, since their "security
system" guaranteed that it'd be close to half an hour before I could
get inside.) I storm into the living room, and the lady of the house
remarks upon this not at all. So I throw her a curveball and ask her
about the fruit in the fridge. Does she scream? Threaten to call the
police? Ask who the hell I am? No, she replies, "Oh, have you tried
any of the fruit yet?" with nary a bat of an eye. This is supposed to
be a game where the drama builds through conversation?

Score: a low THREE.

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

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