[INTROCOMP] Voting ends. Let the reviews begin!

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Jacqueline A. Lott

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Apr 1, 2003, 12:17:01 AM4/1/03
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The voting period for IntroComp03 concluded at midnight, EST.

Let me take a moment to thank everyone who set aside time to play the
introductions and vote for the games they'd most like to see finished.

Since voting is now done, I see no reason to hold back on reviews...
post away, friends.

We'll spend the next few days tallying votes. The top three winners
will be announced this coming Saturday, April 5, in a ceremony to be
held in the auditorium on ifMUD (http://ifmud.port4000.com:4001/).

I hope you'll be able to join us.

- Jacqueline
_____

The waters of Usenet were once rich in posters. Then the Usenet
trawlers set their nets and devastated the population, leaving the
ecology in serious imbalance.

Jacqueline A. Lott

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Apr 1, 2003, 12:34:41 AM4/1/03
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> The top three winners
> will be announced this coming Saturday, April 5, in a ceremony to be
> held in the auditorium on ifMUD (http://ifmud.port4000.com:4001/).

Um, sorry about that. The ceremony's at 1:00PM, EST.

See you there, hopefully!

Emily Short

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Apr 1, 2003, 3:27:34 AM4/1/03
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In article <3E8920CD...@mountainmemoirs.com>,
jacqu...@mountainmemoirs.com wrote:

> The voting period for IntroComp03 concluded at midnight, EST.
>
> Let me take a moment to thank everyone who set aside time to play the
> introductions and vote for the games they'd most like to see finished.
>
> Since voting is now done, I see no reason to hold back on reviews...
> post away, friends.

Well, okay.

My brief reviews are at

http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/Introcomp2.html

--
Emily Short
http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/index.htm

Cedric Knight

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Apr 1, 2003, 4:01:47 AM4/1/03
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No April Fool's joke here. Just some bog-standard matter-of-fact
impressions of the intros, in the order I played them.

'Ophelia' would be a rewriting of Hamlet with the new title character
placed centrally as PC. The demo consists of a very few rooms in
Elsinore and some commands to produce plot outlines. I waited in my
sewing closet for Hamlet to arrive, doublet unbraced, but it didn't
happen. In fact, the only objects implemented so far are uninteresting
locations like broom cupboards and privies, yet the demo doesn't give
much indication that the finished result would be particularly humorous.
While Ophelia as a character is arguably underdeveloped by Shakespeare,
other signs suggesting the author is no Stoppard include the incongruous
name 'Fuchsia' and a (shock! horror!) grocer's apostrophe.

It's hard to judge at this stage how good either the game play or the
Java-based parser will be, given that, so far, it is possible to perform
very few actions. I would suggest that the author packages his
class-file as a web page (like Ricardo Dague did with 'Goofy') to make
it simpler to play for Wind32 users. 3/4

'Agency: An Interactive Theodicy' I like the subtitle, at least once I
looked it up. A near-future dystopia that is more Greg Egan than Bill
Gibson (what do I mean by that? one aspect is that the characters seem
more like ordinary professionals than supercool streetwise cyberkids;
it's a plus for me). The locations felt real enough too. Although it
concluded in a very predictable way, the intro is nicely paced, spinning
out the inevitable. Something about the writing grated slightly at
first. On the other hand, I like the word 'runtogether'. Inert NPCs.
One reason to play on would be to discover the meaning of some of the
included technological artefacts, and the nature of this future world.
5

'Harlequin Girl' is a weird and vivid (although fairly short) intro,
apparently set somewhere between present-day psychedelic subculture and
outright magical fantasy. Although it needs better testing and
proof-reading of responses and more scenery implemented, this intro has
a lot going for it in terms of intriguing elements, and could develop in
many different directions. Of these, I hope it will maintain the
macabre start of the intro rather than degenerate into monster-fighting.
I also very much like the hint that the player is going to have to face
classic moral choices. The actions do not feel forced perhaps because
the 'puzzles' are easy. The writing is of variable quality, and uses
clichés too easily, but this is a favourite for me because of the
effective opening puzzle. 7

I could be wrong, but there seems to be a bug that makes it impossible
to complete 'Harrington House'. This is a real shame, as the
implementation, setting and story have a lot going for them, and this is
the largest and most ambitious of the four intros I have so far played.
The genre is by now very familiar: recently deceased relative, exploring
old house, a hint of ancient magic and/or crime. However, the somewhat
unimaginative title, typical of that genre, doesn't do justice to the
intro's realism or to its sophistication of puzzles.

The writing is usually unobtrusive, which means it's probably good,
except when daemons repeat themselves in such a way that you see the
same message - which would be effective once or twice - over and over
again. There are two ways to finish an intro - with an announcement
that that is all there is, or to peter out, and it's unfortunate for
this one that it ended in the second way for me (due to the bug;
probably Inform's print_ret vs print). On the whole, though, it's
relatively bug-free but challenging, since the play is less linear,
episodic or modular than the other entries. I've no real idea where the
story's going yet, but there are several mysteries to solve and it looks
fun. 6/7

'The Mage Wars: Statue', like 'Ophelia' is a chance to showcase a new
system, in this case Jim Fisher's extensive 'OnyxRing' (OR) Inform
add-on library. (Is it just me who finds it confusing that there is
another Inform add-on for 'WarMage', and that this game is part of a
series called 'Mage Wars'?)

One of the most interesting features of OR for writers and players is
the ability to shift viewpoint between first and third person and past
and present tense, which is employed a great deal here with about
half-a-dozen different Player Characters. I felt this worked very well
indeed, not only technically, but in terms of narrative. The
conversation and magic systems also seemed very flexible. Other
features weren't so useful: the player has problems referring to objects
only by adjectives; looking while sitting at a desk produced no room
description at all; and there's what seems to be a timed input mechanism
that affects the WinFrotz cursor and scrollback in slightly irritating
ways.

What of the intro itself? It is the largest and most ambitious of the
entries, and about Comp-length, suggesting that the final game or series
will be huge. It's a kind of SF/fantasy crossover, where players will
expect some hi-tech explanation for the use of magic later in the
series; unfortunately, I was unconvinced by the scientific aspects of a
plot device that is central to the intro. But it is well structured,
introducing what look certain to be the main protagonist and antagonist,
several incidental characters, and the imaginary geography and society
of a vastly different world (although leaving its basis a mystery).

It seems almost as much attention has been paid to the writing as to the
programming, but that that has resulted in the text being overwrought at
times. In describing the grief of an accident survivor, 'I was
unforgivably unscathed' is great. It says it all. But later the prose
repeats and goes over-the-top with 'In the empty coffeepot, which I
still held, my refracted reflection returned my gaze, reminding me of
the perversity of my existence.' Maybe it's an attempt at the repeated
alliteration of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem but, for me, refracted
reflection leads to distraction. Then there's 'manilla parchment'
implying an attempt at a rich object description that couldn't decide
which way to go, 'riffle' instead of 'rifle' and what seems to be a
last-minute search-and-replace capitalisation that went too far and
probably shouldn't have been done at all. Quibbles, I know, given the
vast amount of work that's gone into it and the fact that the author
undeniably has talent as a writer. The big challenges seems to be
whether the emotional involvement will be maintained, and whether themes
raised so far (rationality versus myth, death, grief, millenarianism)
will be brought together dramatically. Such a feat is not impossible,
but it might also make it the most ambitious IF project since Avalon. 8

Finally, although I beta-tested 'Reality's End', I want to review it
anyway for completeness. It has a lot of the elements that work in the
other entries: a mystery, a good cliffhanger, a well-developed PC, and a
blend of the mundane and the other-worldly. 'Mundane' refers to the
time before the protagonist has faced their crisis or crises, so there
will be a certain amount of this in any intro. But 'mundane' doesn't
necessarily imply 'boring'. Here we open with hints of the
extraordinary, and then return to the everyday life of an 11-year-old
schoolboy in an ordinary town in wintertime.

The nice thing about the writing, which is sometimes striking but rarely
over-elaborate, is the way it conveys both atmosphere and a gentle sense
of humour. Although there are not too many locations implemented, they
are sufficiently broad and varied to give the impression of a much
bigger space. I think it should also be fairly obvious that some
features (such as a snowball fight) are purely decorative, at least at
this stage of the game. The demo consists of four scenes, each
involving a little exploration and a simple puzzle, so it is a little
more than half the length of 'Statue'.

Maybe an intro would whet the appetite more if it were not so
self-contained. That is, that several features of the rest of the game
are hinted at teasingly, even if they are not properly functional in the
demo. As it is, we can be pretty sure there are fun and thrills to
come, but it's hard to guess what the rest of the game might be like. 8

In sum, an excellent IntroComp, with some really promising stuff.
Thanks to Jacqueline and the authors.

Dan Shiovitz

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Apr 1, 2003, 4:14:06 AM4/1/03
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In article <emshort-0104...@dialup-209.245.174.55.dial1.seattle1.level3.net>,

Emily Short <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>In article <3E8920CD...@mountainmemoirs.com>,
>jacqu...@mountainmemoirs.com wrote:
>
>> The voting period for IntroComp03 concluded at midnight, EST.
>>
>> Let me take a moment to thank everyone who set aside time to play the
>> introductions and vote for the games they'd most like to see finished.
>>
>> Since voting is now done, I see no reason to hold back on reviews...
>> post away, friends.
>
>Well, okay.
>
>My brief reviews are at
>
>http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/Introcomp2.html

And my even-briefer ones (but if they write the full game, I'll write
a longer review, promise) are at http://www.drizzle.com/~dans/if/introcomp.html

--
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW

Jon Ingold

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Apr 1, 2003, 6:27:10 AM4/1/03
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(Although I played most of the games, this was the one that gave me
something to talk about. Other recommendations are for Harlequin, because
the objects laid out in the first room provide a splendid suggestion of
history, and Agency because it propels you carefully but reasonably
unobtrusively. I was less fond of Reality's End, because I couldn't help
feeling it was all a little silly).

So: Statue: Mage Wars: A title with almost as many colons as "Lara Croft:
Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life".

The first thing to note is this thing is clearly huge, and rather nicely
competent. There are some beta-issues, but there are always going to be in a
first release of this size - and, I suspect, code complexity. The other
thing that's rather good about it is that it's huge, very little actually
happens, and it's not dull, but rather engaging. It's that feeling you get
reading a novel that It's All Going Somewhere, the lack of which afflicts so
many IF games and results in the standard three-move game (I, EXAMINE ME,
QUIT) that serves only to up the Archive download stats.

The code-base is impressive. I like the ease with which the parser flips
itself around; I like the dialogue menus even if they were somewhat
underused in the first couple of chapters (later conversations are a little
more interesting). The plethora of first-time only description which can be
recalled at will was also smooth and very pleasing. Spell-casting appeared
easy and flexible. Now all we need is a couple of
rope-dripped-in-bucket-of-oil scenarios and it'll rank amongst the most
impressive collections of plug-ins ever.

One of the things which tends to be off-putting in IF is variance in the
standard "You are ..." format of presentation; not necessarily a bad thing
(or a good thing), but with a tendency to bring you up short. The thing I
found most remarkable about Fisher's game is that it at no point jarred, as
the narrative danced from first to third, past to present with abandon. But
of course if you're going to tell a multi-threaded sci-fantasy epic, then
you need multiple threads, and you need multiple protagonists. The ability
(audacity) to actually do that was excellent, the structuring of the
chapters was well-handled, giving a good sense of something growing in on
itself from many directions. There's a nice fluidity to it, and it adds a
sense of depth to the world in which the story is being constructed - where
normally IF games are rather insular and you get little more than the
occasional balcony-vista of wide expanses with which to provide context.
This thing gives you context in a direct, authorial fashion, and it makes
the whole thing seem a lot more worthwhile.

I have some complaints. The writing in one section is rather overdone
(coffee-pots and photographs), and the conversation runs a bit stickily.
However, this is forgivable because in this chapter the game at no time
tells you what you're supposed to do but you go and do it anyway, partly
because it's atmospherically correct and partly because you know a little of
what's going to happen later on in the plot (thanks to a non-chronological
opening). That's neat; the feeling of player and computer working together
in a unspoken contract. The second complaint is a brief puzzle section with
curious machines - now this sort of thing is a) a staple and b) one of the
things I always liked about IF (c.f. a great little game called "Rimworld"
that might even be in AGT, which has wonderful gadget puzzles) - and here
there is a severe drawback from vagueness of implementation. The only way an
IF player can tell what's important and what's not is through how many times
you mention it's noun-handle, and if you're going to implement sub-parts a
throwaway line is perhaps not the best place. On the other hand though, it
was all perfectly soluble once you found your way around, and it was
sufficiently tight to keep you on track.

So the game is perhaps really about the story, as it plays like a novel,
waiting for the player to pick the right route forward. This is effective;
there's not too much Z-waiting but also not to much dithering around. It
inspires trust to play like a reader and not an explorer - for instance, a
section gives you a choice of two ways round the side of the building, and I
*didn't feel compelled to go and look at the other side after choosing*.
That's just not the way you play IF; games are about casing and cataloging
and then interacting; but at this stage it had inspired enough trust that I
wasn't playing that way. This is pleasing.

Now I have very little interest in sci-fantasy epics in general; they're
quite samey and tend to be under characterised - and most likely these same
faults will afflict this game when it grows to full size. I have a feeling
though I will forgive it because it's an IF game; with the major difference
that there are other reasons to be engaged. We all forgave Infocom their
Belbozs and Jeears because the settings where nice and the puzzles were fun;
the same here applies. For every part of me that doesn't want to read about
wizards operating El Myjick, part of me does want to throw spells around a
simulated environment. And I especially liked the way the "main protagonist"
is integrated into this future world; his own special ability proceeding
naturally from the set-up all around. Hokey science to get there, yes, but
never mind, it's Sci-fantasy and parents name their children with names
longer than most tax-return forms so it's allowed to be hokey.

Overall, Statue was one of the more enjoyable hour-and-a-half's of IF I've
experienced in a while and I think I will curl up with it for the duration
when it is finally released.

Jon


Jacqueline A. Lott

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Apr 1, 2003, 11:46:30 AM4/1/03
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> In sum, an excellent IntroComp, with some really promising stuff.
> Thanks to Jacqueline and the authors.

You're welcome, Cedric, but I can't take all the credit.

Thanks also to Neil deMause for (a) trusting me to facilitate this
year's IntroComp and (b) helping me behind the scenes.

We *really* need to thank Eileen Mullin and XyzzyNews for sponsoring
the comp, hosting the game files and voting form, and compiling votes.

Finally, thanks to everyone who participated: authors, testers,
players, voters and reviewers - you are the people who made the comp
successful.

Cedric Knight

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Apr 8, 2003, 6:55:27 AM4/8/03
to
Congrats to Jim, Harry and Ricardo. I'm looking forward to full
versions of each of the pieces.

A few more comments a propos of nothing. In particular, among the less
polished intros (the most important lesson in any comp must be how much
testing is involved), I feel like defending my statement that
'Harrington House' is 'relatively bug-free', and giving some unsolicited
hints for it (below).

"Jacqueline A. Lott" <jacqu...@mountainmemoirs.com> wrote


> We *really* need to thank Eileen Mullin and XyzzyNews for sponsoring
> the comp, hosting the game files and voting form, and compiling votes.

Oops, yes. Thanks, Eileen, and Neil [deM].

"Ricardo SIGNES" <rjbs-...@public.manxome.org> wrote
> http://rjbs.manxome.org/reviews/if/introcomp

For some reason this page doesn't get cached.

[on Reality's End]
'I think I know the mood Gadget wanted, and I just don't feel like it
was established. I don't know why, and I have no idea what he could've
done differently, but I didn't feel like I was in a suspense/horror
game, although I could tell that I was. With just ten percent more ooky,
the atmosphere would be great.'

Ooky? Ooky? What is this word 'ooky'? Can anyone define it (shock?
foreboding? sinister-ness?)? How do IF authors get more of it into
their writing? Do we need an ooky theory book?

On a similar note, isn't 'to leverage' to do with money borrowed to buy
(or wreck) someone else's company? It's been leveraged on at least 3
occasions in connection with the IntroComp. What does it mean distinct
from 'use'? Should it be added to standard grammars so we can LEVERAGE
CROWBAR ON DOOR, perhaps?

-----------

'Harrington House' didn't seem unplayably buggy to me, apart from the
one big bug that most other reviewers mentioned: you can't take the
stepladder. This is needed to complete the story, unless you use TXD to
produce the information below. I reported half-a-dozen bugs, but other
than that big one they were all superficial, to do with conflicting
object descriptions (although I now notice you can 'take house' on the
first move.) All the other puzzles work, in terms of programming and
giving satisfaction in their solution. I'd like to see a version 2 of
this Act I at least, given that the intro is so nearly there.

So here are some spoilers on the 'Harrington House' intro.

s
p
o
i
l
e
r
s

The initial puzzle, entering the house, was surprisingly difficult
because of sparse cluing, even when the player is 'close', but the
solution seemed pretty realistic afterwards. Yes, it's fairly clear
that Aunt Elizabeth died at home and maybe there should have been a key
available - I thought this was a case of the PC knowing more than the
player.

There are four major actions to do in the bedroom, one of which isn't
necessary to finish the intro, but which provides background.

Given that you have used all the items you have discovered (except the
rock and the tile), you should be needing the stepladder to enter a dark
space. What you would see is roughly as follows:

s
p
o
i
l
e
r
s


--------
This hidden room is really just a crawl space; there's just enough room
for you to crouch inside it.

A strange series of letters is scrawled on the wall in front of you.

The message appears to have been scrawled in black crayon. The letters
are much larger and more widely spaced than you remember your aunt's
small, cramped handwriting. The message reads 'Face. Beg. Bed. Faded.'

A cornhusk doll lies on its side beneath the scrawled message. She
appears to be very old; the husks that make up her skirt are so brittle
you're nearly afraid to touch them.

The cornhusk doll seems very old and very fragile. You can't imagine how
she's survived many years in this house.

She is wearing a long dress made of husks that have been dyed or stained
black; the cap that covers her hair is made of white cloth. It seems
that some long ago child--or perhaps simply a mouse--has mutilated her
face; there is a deep gash on its left side.

--------------

CK

Ricardo SIGNES

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Apr 8, 2003, 8:03:26 AM4/8/03
to
In article <1Gyka.800$xd5.1...@stones.force9.net>, Cedric Knight wrote:
> "Ricardo SIGNES" <rjbs-...@public.manxome.org> wrote

> [on Reality's End]
> > 'I think I know the mood Gadget wanted, and I just don't feel like it
> > was established. I don't know why, and I have no idea what he could've
> > done differently, but I didn't feel like I was in a suspense/horror
> > game, although I could tell that I was. With just ten percent more ooky,
> > the atmosphere would be great.'
>
> Ooky? Ooky? What is this word 'ooky'? Can anyone define it (shock?
> foreboding? sinister-ness?)? How do IF authors get more of it into
> their writing? Do we need an ooky theory book?

they're creepy and they're kooky
mysterious and spooky
they're altogether ooky
the Addams family

-- "Addams Family" Theme Song

> On a similar note, isn't 'to leverage' to do with money borrowed to buy
> (or wreck) someone else's company? It's been leveraged on at least 3
> occasions in connection with the IntroComp. What does it mean distinct
> from 'use'? Should it be added to standard grammars so we can LEVERAGE
> CROWBAR ON DOOR, perhaps?

I asked dict.org for a definition:

2: strategic advantage; power to act effectively

With regard to my comment on Ophelia and Java, I'm saying that it's worth doing
in Java if doing so grants the author some strategic advantage. If not, what
was the point?

--
rjbs

David Welbourn

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Apr 8, 2003, 8:17:13 AM4/8/03
to
"Cedric Knight" wrote:
>
> 'Harrington House' didn't seem unplayably buggy to me, apart from the
> one big bug that most other reviewers mentioned: you can't take the
> stepladder. This is needed to complete the story, unless you use TXD to
> produce the information below.

Actually, there IS a way to get around the stepladder bug without using TXD.

> s
> p
> o
> i
> l
> e
> r
> s
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>

Instead of trying "take stepladder", just "stand on stepladder", then walk
away. The game will think that you're still on the stepladder elsewhere in
the game where it would make a difference.

-- David Welbourn

Quintin Stone

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Apr 8, 2003, 9:33:08 AM4/8/03
to
On Tue, 8 Apr 2003, Cedric Knight wrote:

> 'Harrington House' didn't seem unplayably buggy to me, apart from the
> one big bug that most other reviewers mentioned: you can't take the
> stepladder.

Actually, I had a lot of problems with it because I used "get"
exclusively, and the game kept responding with "What do you want to get
<thing> out of?" Needless to say, I found this to be utterly baffling
behavior and it occur to me to try "take" instead to see if it worked
differently. So I never did get very far in Harrington House.

/====================================================================\
|| Quintin Stone O- > "You speak of necessary evil? One ||
|| Code Monkey < of those necessities is that if ||
|| Rebel Programmers Society > innocents must suffer, the guilty must ||
|| st...@rps.net < suffer more." -- Mackenzie Calhoun ||
|| http://www.rps.net/ > "Once Burned" by Peter David ||
\====================================================================/


Harry

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Apr 8, 2003, 10:46:11 AM4/8/03
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On Tue, 08 Apr 2003 07:03:26 -0500, Ricardo SIGNES
<rjbs-...@public.manxome.org> wrote:

>In article <1Gyka.800$xd5.1...@stones.force9.net>, Cedric Knight wrote:
>> "Ricardo SIGNES" <rjbs-...@public.manxome.org> wrote
>> [on Reality's End]
>> > 'I think I know the mood Gadget wanted, and I just don't feel like it
>> > was established. I don't know why, and I have no idea what he could've
>> > done differently, but I didn't feel like I was in a suspense/horror
>> > game, although I could tell that I was. With just ten percent more ooky,
>> > the atmosphere would be great.'
>>
>> Ooky? Ooky? What is this word 'ooky'? Can anyone define it (shock?
>> foreboding? sinister-ness?)? How do IF authors get more of it into
>> their writing? Do we need an ooky theory book?
>
> they're creepy and they're kooky
> mysterious and spooky
> they're altogether ooky
> the Addams family
>
> -- "Addams Family" Theme Song
>

Now I still don't know what 'ooky' means *and* I've got that blasted
song stuck in my head...


-------------------------
"Hey, aren't you Gadget?"
"I was."

(To send e-mail, remove SPAMBLOCK from address)

Quintin Stone

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Apr 8, 2003, 11:09:31 AM4/8/03
to
On Tue, 8 Apr 2003, Quintin Stone wrote:

> On Tue, 8 Apr 2003, Cedric Knight wrote:
>
> > 'Harrington House' didn't seem unplayably buggy to me, apart from the
> > one big bug that most other reviewers mentioned: you can't take the
> > stepladder.
>
> Actually, I had a lot of problems with it because I used "get"
> exclusively, and the game kept responding with "What do you want to get
> <thing> out of?" Needless to say, I found this to be utterly baffling
> behavior and it occur to me to try "take" instead to see if it worked
> differently. So I never did get very far in Harrington House.

Err, there should be the word "didn't" before "occur".

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