[Comp03] Larry & Robin's reviews [1/3]

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Larry Kwong

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Nov 17, 2003, 11:37:14 PM11/17/03
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A brief introduction: my sister Robin and I have been playing IF since
our father loaded up a strange game called Adventure almost 20 years
ago. We’ve played many of the past competition entries (as well as
non-comp games), but we always missed the judging period. This year, we
finally got together in time to vote and write reviews. I’m a grad
student now and Roberta is working, so we had to use voice chat to play
the games, telling each other what we were typing on our end. Slow, but
fun and effective. We only played a small portion of the games together,
and the rest I played alone.

Neither of us are active in the IF community (neither on raif nor
IFMud... though I’m Larry on the Mud if you you’ve seen me there). Also,
we aren’t really game authors ourselves. Our one game has pretty much
languished for four years being about 1/10 done. Hopefully, we can bring
a different perspective to the reviews, as we’ve not had much influence
from within the community.

At the end of each review I’ve included an "Aside:" basically an
opportunity for me to poke some additional fun at the game, especially
if I’ve been too serious about it.

Sweet Dreams
Score: 6.3

Laudable for a few months of work, Sweet Dreams is a nice little
throwback to graphics-oriented quests, presenting limited interactions
with a reasonably wide range of objects. Aside from the obvious
departure from traditional IFComp entries, the basic game mechanics are
familiar: examine, take, use (on), and search. The puzzles I got around
to solving are fairly well thought-out and implemented, and the graphics
(which are quite beautiful at points) are suited to their nature.

However, the prevailing question throughout my playing experience was:
"what’s the point?" I felt the game threw into sharp relief the idea
that text can be more evocative than graphics. As an adventure game,
Sweet Dreams is quite entertaining. Yet it should be judged against its
peers; this is, after all, a fair competition. And the beauty of the
graphics falls short of the beauty of many entries of prose. The text
that is present is fairly utilitarian, in that it tends to get out of
the way of the graphics rather than enhance them.

Furthermore, I felt that the pop-up menus limited my range of actions
too far. One of the perks of a deep parser is the ability to throw in
responses to eat, kiss, kill, etc. Here, the menus make the game feel
very linear, causing the creation of a lighthearted atmosphere to rest
too heavily on the graphics and story line. I found no obvious bugs,
which is fairly impressive.

Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives, but the inherent handicap
of the interface knocks quite a few points off the final score. While I
welcome these kinds of entries into the Comp, one or two may be enough.

Finished? No. Part of it was having to trudge between rooms and objects
just to see if I could do anything with them. Fantasy turned to boredom,
and I ran out of time.

Aside: I’m really glad there was an option to turn off the music.

A Paper Moon
Score: 7.1
(with Roberta)

A Paper Moon is a game with a delightful basic premise: you have an
unlimited stack of origami paper which you can fold into various
devices. I can’t help but be reminded of "Metamorphoses," which had a
similar feel for making many things from one. The test of a great
premise, of course, is in the execution. Here, the majority of the
puzzles are quite satisfying from a logical standpoint, particularly the
ones involving the said origami. There is that "Aha!" quality to solving
most of them, even the little ones.

However, two major puzzles stand out as poorly done, and even the good
puzzles are plagued by bugs (including one game-crashing one). The first
of the two aforementioned puzzles involves a maze that requires
extensive restoring and requires the player to take leaps of faith about
whether certain objects may be required later in the game. (A bug adds
to this latter problem, as you can go back and take more of an object,
but the text doesn’t let you know). It’s still a clever puzzle, but
annoying to solve. The second one is a guess-what-the-author’s thinking
one, with very subtle clues that only make sense in hindsight. Scratch
that, it still doesn’t make any sense. (Spoiler: Really, if Samson had
one of those, Delilah would be in hot water.)

The writing left the emphasis mainly on the puzzle solving, but painted
just enough of a picture to keep you interested. Not too wordy, not too
sparse, and technically fine. [I don’t like point out spelling errors,
but it seems particularly ironic that I should be looking at a "pearl of
wisdmon."]

Finished? Yes, but only with the walkthrough. The ending was silly to
say the least, and felt like it was slapped on in a rush.

Aside: Where can I get a pill box like that? Holds a TV, seat, a beer,
and more. Why can’t any of the more interesting bugs exist in real life?


Baluthar
Score: 2.9
(with Roberta)

Jim Theis lives! Okay, maybe that’s a harsh exaggeration, but the first
couple of text dumps left me and my sister rolling in laughter. Sorry,
really! But I have to judge what I see. Some examples from the first
room: "Every old, dry vein on the leaves that make up your roof is an
adversary, mocking your continued life with its quiet dead greyness." Or
"Striking your head with your fist, you resolve not to lose both mother
and son
to fate's pitiless curses." It goes on like this for everything in the
first couple of rooms (it gets a little better later, but not by much).
The darkness and gore also get old fast.

The game seems to have been developed around a deeper mythology, but it
never quite feels self-contained. It’s a lot like the ghoul in the game,
with bits of skin oozing off and reforming. You could basically insert
Name A into Plot B and nothing ever really explains anything else.
Furthermore, the son you go to save is ungrateful and annoying. At least
give us the satisfaction of killing the little bastard!

There are really only two puzzles that require any amount of thinking,
and both are reasonably well implemented. One even has an alternate
solution. However, the one major bug in the game overshadows the coding:

>take all
handful of mud: You already have that.
handwritten note: You already have that.
glass jar: You already have that.
statue: That's fixed in place.
wind: The wind resists your clumsy efforts with the mad energies of its
eternal
youth.
bead curtain: That's hardly portable.
your hand: Your hand is stuck to you already.
foliage: The strong, leathery foliage resists effortlessly your attempts
at
breaking off a leaf.
statue's head: That's hardly portable.
statue's body: That's hardly portable.
boulder: Even in the days of your youth a feat such as that would have
been
beyond you!
hut: That's hardly portable.
village: The village isn't here.
well: That's hardly portable.
rocks: Those seem to be a part of the well.
yourself: You are always self-possessed.

Finshed? Yes. A short game, but it still required the walkthrough (If I
have to do something twice, there should really be some hints in the
text).

Aside: I was lying for days in bed before I read the note on my bedside
table written by my missing son? The PC is a real deadbeat dad and dumb
as rocks. Every time he picks up the same insect, he gets stung several
times. Agh!

No Room
Score: 1.0

Mediocre idea, boring game. The one puzzle was blindingly obvious
(groan). A lot more could have been done with this by trying to make a
statement about nihilism or existentialism... but why bother wasting
more text reviewing this game?

Finished? Yes. Duh.

The Erudition Chamber
Score: 8.8

This is a very clever implementation revolving entirely around the idea
of multiple solutions to a puzzle. The framework of the story seems just
about right to set the puzzles into, and the backstory to the four
professions is just long enough to read enjoyably (I particularly liked
the idea of breaking up an info dump into separately readable
paragraphs). The solutions were all logical, even though I needed the
walkthrough for a few of the alternate methods. The coding is solid.

The idea that different people play the same game with completely
different approaches is intriguing. I found myself an artisan on my
first round, which may very well be true to my usual playing style.
Examine everything first, then try obvious commands with every object. I
certainly would like to see the informal "poll" tally at the end with
different scores. I wonder if people who grew up with Adventure and Zork
(like myself) might play differently than those who started with Jigsaw
and Curses.

Ultimately, the game lacks that certain "Oomph" to bring it to 10
status. It felt more like a test... like a game, than it did interactive
fiction. Like the story was built around the idea. Which is not
necessarily a bad thing, but which has to take a bow to games like
Slouching Towards Bedlam.

Finished? Yes. It’s quite short, but has a lot of depth generated by
replayability.

Aside: Standing in the room with Maester Drummond... I can’t help but
imagine myself as Gary Coleman in renaissance wear.


Larry Kwong

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Nov 18, 2003, 1:04:02 AM11/18/03
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Disclaimer: None of the reviews are meant to insult the author(s)
personally. They put their games out for judging, and me and my sister
judged them. Any harsh language is intended for effect only, and reflects
the way I tend to judge most things in life. So don't take anything
personally, and I hope everyone continues to make games and to improve.

Andrew Krywaniuk

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Nov 18, 2003, 3:00:13 AM11/18/03
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> A Paper Moon

> The second one is a guess-what-the-author's thinking
> one, with very subtle clues that only make sense in hindsight. Scratch
> that, it still doesn't make any sense. (Spoiler: Really, if Samson had
> one of those, Delilah would be in hot water.)

Ahh... but what did Delilah *do* with the hair she cut off?

> Aside: Where can I get a pill box like that? Holds a TV, seat, a beer,
> and more. Why can't any of the more interesting bugs exist in real life?

Yep, but it's not a puzzle-spoiler cuz you can't take them back out. :-)

P.S. I don't suppose it occured to you that the pill box is a merely a
portal back to your own dimension.

Andrew


Larry Kwong

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Nov 18, 2003, 7:58:58 PM11/18/03
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Our reviews are available in html at the following URL:

http://www.sit.wisc.edu/~lnkwong/IFComp03.html

Thanks.

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