JoshuaH's 2006 IFComp Rant

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Joshua Houk

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Nov 16, 2006, 1:09:33 AM11/16/06
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JoshuaH's 2006 Interactive Fiction Competition Reviews

This year's entries were, to put it simply, simply awful. I knew that there
would be a large proportion of games that everyone would be better off
forgetting immediately, but this year the contestants (I hesitate to use
the word "authors") really took the cake. I played game after game of
screen dumps, guess-the-verb, and works written in Adrift. Indeed, I felt
like Sisyphus, condemned to an eternity of pushing homebrewed interpreters
and clichéd settings up a hill. This begs the question: why didn't I follow
the solution to "Sisyphus"? But then I've always had a masochistic streak
(or is that obsessive-compulsive disorder? or are those the same thing?).

Short reviews of the games in this year's IFComp follow, ranked from
favorite to least favorite. However, the fifteen (fifteen!) games that I
scored a "1" get no mention at all. If the contestant is going to flip the
metaphorical bird to the player by releasing a game that's just obviously
awful, then they've made their point. No sense in wasting any more space on
them. (There's one exception to this, but it's an obvious one to make. See
below. Far below.)

There may be spoilers.

Format:
Title : Author [sic] : Score
Short review about how I hated playing said game.

Here we go. I apologize in advance.

Floatpoint : Emily Short : 8

Far and away the best game of the competition. Ridiculously so! It's
indisputably well-written, the setting and details fantastic, the
programming tricks ingenious, and I will never shake the image of a short,
hairy man scowling while he squeezes a fruit in the palm of the PC's hand.
It's be easy to score this a "9"… except for the hassles of running the
darn thing. It's a bit of a puzzle trying to find the right version of the
right interpreter to run this, and even I did complete that non-trivial
exercise, I walked (hovered?) into a massive bug that apparently blocked
off one of the multiple solutions. These annoyances could and should have
been remedied, so I felt compelled to dock off a point. Still, it's head
and shoulders above anything else, and I'm pretty confident that Short has
her first(!) IFComp win in the bag.

Star City : Mark Sachs : 7

What really brought my realization that this year's comp was complete crap
was my complete reluctance to rank any game second. I took a look at all
the games I rated a "7" and my heart just dropped. All the games at this
level I thought were "good", mind you, but unexciting. I like grilled
cheese sandwiches… but in the end, it's only a slice of cheese between two
pieces of bread. Oh, and it's toasted. But I digress. Star City is a rather
simple game, and the play is rather unexciting (if strangely involving),
but its retro-futuristic style (Stalin! In space!!!) gives it a clear edge.
Walking through row by row of utilitarian high-rises (on a cylindrical map
grid, no less) is a cheap, simple, and effective way to illustrate Soviet
Russia (in space!), and that's pretty brilliant. And I don't believe that
I've seen an all-text flight simulator before. That takes guts, even if
that part wasn't a complete success. And that's the best pseudonym ever!

The Elysium Enigma : Eric Eve : 7

I think the failure of this pretty polished game lies in a lack of impetus.
There's certainly stuff to do here (although generally hewing very close to
standard IF tropes), but you're constantly admonished from doing it, and
there's not really any good motivation to do the things the author expects
anyway. It is clever, and the writing is pretty good… but the game remains
something of an enigma. (You know I had to do it.)

[Short and bittersweet from here on out.]

Legion : Ian Anderson : 7

The first 30 minutes of this gave me one of the biggest frickin' headaches
of my life. Just when I had enough, I started to piece things together and
say "oh, okay, I'm starting to get it" and by the end I had the whole thing
figured out front to back. Brilliant timing by the author - and great skill
to make this process invisible. Then again, the story is pretty stock
footage, and a lifetime without another game with a flashback would be too
short.

Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game : Riff Conner : 7

I didn't expect to like this game (try to guess why), but I did. Of course,
it does have five locations, so it's fudging the numbers a bit, but the
puzzles are interesting (if sometimes a bit too abstract), the writing's
pretty funny, and though you'll never figure out the ending without dying
first, it's pretty good.

Delightful Wallpaper : Edgar O. Weyrd : 7

I went almost straight to the walkthrough and never looked back. There was
no way I was finishing this one in two hours. And talk about abstract
puzzles… Anyhow, I think I liked this, but honestly, it's hard to tell. It
is done well, and the tone is gratifyingly and remarkably consistent.
There's just no way I could figure out half of the solutions in the time
allotted.

Mobius : J.D. Clemens : 6

This year's time travel game, and the conceit works. Fun to play… until the
game cheats a bit by expecting a not-quite logical action. (At least I
don't think it was logical. My head will explode if I dwell on it any
longer, so I'll digress.)

Labyrinth : Samantha Casanova Preuninger : 6

Puzzle-heavy is an understatement, although it's not as daunting as is
sounds (bar the first instance - it's been a long time since I've cracked
open a Martin Gardner book) and rather enjoyable in fact. But, dear god,
the bookended story is a painful and arbitrary excess that should have been
dropped from the game altogether.

Unauthorized Termination : Richard Otter : 6

That's how tragic this year's IF Comp is: I ranked an Adrift game 10th.
This game is pretty clever in parts - a couple missteps here and there but
nothing worth bitching over - but the interface does drag it down and the
story gets a bit weak at the end.

Hedge : Steven Richards : 5

"Middles are hard to think of as every screenwriter knows." The beginning
puzzle - ingenious if you ask me - and the finale are brilliant, but the
larger middle is a muddle that needed a lot more work.

Madam Spider's Web : Sara Dee : 5

Bit of a pain, and the ending can be unreasonably harsh, but there's a few
brilliant things about the game. All those things had to be pointed out to
me, but they are indeed brilliant. Still, the gameplay is pretty yawn-
inducing.

The Tower of the Elepahnt : Tor Andersson : 5

Straight-up adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs Conan story (not as bad
as it sounds!). Handles the text-dumps pretty well (fantasy works at the
time were 20% action and 80% head trip horror from outer space I'm ten
billion years old we've been here for millennia watching you and I will now
explain this in extreme detail with accompanying Powerpoint slides). As a
game, though, eh.

Moon-Shaped : Jason Ermer : 5

Twisted fairytale stuff that's somewhat interesting (if just about cliché
by now) but the puzzles are puzzling (read: unclued) which makes the
progress painful.

Game Producer! : Jason Bergman : 5

Fun romp where you play the lead project whateverer trying to release a new
game or whatever. However, Mr. Bergman is on my blacklist for implying that
women don't drink scotch. Then again, he did write a game about being a
game programmer, so perhaps his worldview is understandably a bit narrow.

The Primrose Path : Nolan Bonvouloir : 4

There is a game here, and I think that it may be a good one. However, the
narrator is one of the worst I've ever happened across. Try finding the
ring, for instance. Also, "touch picture" should clue the player into a
certain intended action. Instead, it makes it seem impossible. Bleh.

Strange Geometries : Philip Chambers : 4

Flatland by way of H.P. Lovecraft. Good luck getting through this without a
walkthrough, though.

Requiem : David Whyld : 4

The setting brings to mind a 50's detective novel from start to finish.
Except when you find a microwave oven in your kitchen.

Aunts and Butlers : Robin Johnson : 4

For a non-standard parser, this ain't all too shabby. The miracle of
creating a passable homebrew is somewhat dashed by the bizarre solutions to
many of the puzzles.

Carmen Devine: Supernatural Troubleshooter : Rob Myall : 4

The setting is (initially) neat and some of the mechanics, too, but many of
the locations serve no purpose whatsoever and the finale is tiresome.

The Bible Retold : by Justin Morgan and "Celestianpower" : 3

Occasionally funny (if sadly rather inoffensive), generally uninteresting.

Sisyphus : Theo Koutz : 2

The solution to this one-room game is really quite brilliant (even if
everyone will solve it, whether they intend to or not)… but it doesn't make
a game.

The Apocalypse Clock : GlorbWare : 2

Short. Pesky. Trivial.

MANALIVE, A Mystery of Madness - Part I : Bill Powell : 2

Here's a thought experiment for ya. Think about making a game where to win,
you have to figure out what a crazy person would do. Now, think about how
frustrating that would be to actually play. It's kinda cute in parts, but
all that cuteness is directly - and only - attributable to the G.K.
Chesterton book this was adapted from. The sequel, which got a "1" from me,
is even worse(!) by ridding the player of any need for interaction.

The Sisters : revgiblet : 2

I really don't know how this didn't get a "1" from me.

Fight or Flight : geelpete : 2

This had parts that were kinda like a game. That's worth something.

Xen: The Hunt : Ian Shlasko : 2

Stunningly bad. Awful story, limited interactivity, and screen after
goddamned screen of text dumps. The constant admonitions about saving the
game were not only mimesis-breaking but pointless - I had already figured
out that I should save with annoying frequency. Nice racism in the alley
scene. What may be most shocking about this game is that there were 15
games which were worse.

- JoshuaH

Mike Snyder

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Nov 16, 2006, 1:31:25 AM11/16/06
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"Joshua Houk" <jlh...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:Xns987CE16902176...@216.196.97.136...

> JoshuaH's 2006 Interactive Fiction Competition Reviews
>
> This year's entries were, to put it simply, simply awful. I knew that
there

This is nutty.

I found this to be the best competition I've even taken part in. Some
**excellent** games this year. Stinkers, yes, but not enough to keep this
from being one of the high-points in recent IFComps.

--- Mike.


James Mitchelhill

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Nov 16, 2006, 1:51:57 AM11/16/06
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Whereas I find that point of view absolutely insane. ;)

What marked this comp for me wasn't awfulness (although there was a fair
amount of that) but mediocrity. I can't remember any comp having so many
games that weren't even trying to do anything interesting, and weren't even
doing so well.

Many of the games that *were* trying to do something interesting failed
horribly for me, which probably didn't help.

--
James Mitchelhill
ja...@disorderfeed.net
http://disorderfeed.net

Michael Martin

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Nov 16, 2006, 2:25:58 AM11/16/06
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James Mitchelhill wrote:
> What marked this comp for me wasn't awfulness (although there was a fair
> amount of that) but mediocrity.

My low end has remained the same -- even in absolute numbers -- across
the past three comps (roughly 15 complete wastes of time in each). On
the other hand, my "I actually recommend checking this game out" list
was 16 this year, as compared to 8 from 2005 and 6 from 2004.

Between Legion, Polendina, Strange Geometries, Game Producer!, and
Carmen DeVine, I'm not really sure you can even claim this wasn't a
very experimental comp.

> I can't remember any comp having so many games that weren't
> even trying to do anything interesting, and weren't even
> doing so well.

I don't think there was a single seriously intended entry this year on
the level of "phantom: caverns of the killer" or "hello sword" or
"Dreary Lands" or "Stack Overflow" or "A Light's Tale". The only ones
that even came remotely close were Into the Dark and Ballymun
Adventure. Basic competence may be mediocre but I'll take it over
eye-gouging illiteracy or nonfluency any day.

Seriously, if this is the worst comp in your memory, you have been
unusually lucky in your partial judging of previous comps.

--Michael

dwh...@gmail.com

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Nov 16, 2006, 2:34:59 AM11/16/06
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Joshua Houk wrote:
> Requiem : David Whyld : 4
>
> The setting brings to mind a 50's detective novel from start to finish.
> Except when you find a microwave oven in your kitchen.
>

Did you think it *was* a 50's detective novel? It wasn't. "Requiem" was
set in the present day.

Joshua Houk

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Nov 16, 2006, 2:54:36 AM11/16/06
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On Nov 15, 11:34 pm, dwh...@gmail.com wrote:
>
> Did you think it *was* a 50's detective novel? It wasn't. "Requiem" was
> set in the present day.

Well, I knew that when I discovered the microwave oven! The problem is
that I didn't (and still don't) recall any other indication that this
game was set in more recent times, while its tone and genre have a much
closer home in the mid-20th century; private eyes, with secretaries! -
down on their luck, meeting up with bombshells, etc. The effect was
jarring when I came across it, and it threw me off for a second or two.
Not that it affected the score I gave it, but I thought it worth a
mention.

Joshua Houk

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Nov 16, 2006, 3:16:46 AM11/16/06
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On Nov 15, 10:31 pm, "Mike Snyder" <w...@prowler-pro.com> wrote:

> This is nutty.
>
> I found this to be the best competition I've even taken part in. Some
> **excellent** games this year. Stinkers, yes, but not enough to keep this
> from being one of the high-points in recent IFComps.

Of course I'm engaging in a bit of hyperbole. But heck, I might even be
dead wrong. I think that I had almost the same number of games that I
rated a "6" and above as I did in 2004. What may be coloring my opinion
is the lack of any strong games (bar one), which makes the field
overall look more paltry in comparison.

That, and the 15 "1"s. It may seem like a gross number, but anything
with at least an iota of merit in my eyes got at least a "2", so I
don't think that's too strict of a measure. (And a "6" corresponds
roughly to "recommended, with reservations".)

(For the record: Since I kinda implied by my statements that every game
not listed in my "reviews" got the lowest rating from me, I should note
that I did not rate "Visocica" nor "The Traveling Swordsman".)

Baryon

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Nov 16, 2006, 6:12:17 AM11/16/06
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"The solution to this one-room game is really quite brilliant (even if
everyone will solve it, whether they intend to or not)... but it

doesn't make
a game. "

What *is* the solution to this game? I tried for a while but couldn't
find it.


I haven't played very many games from previous comps, so I can't
compare easily, but I personally thought the quality of quite a few of
the games was very high.

> It's be easy to score this a "9"... except for the hassles of running the


> darn thing. It's a bit of a puzzle trying to find the right version of the
> right interpreter to run this, and even I did complete that non-trivial
> exercise, I walked (hovered?) into a massive bug that apparently blocked
> off one of the multiple solutions. These annoyances could and should have
> been remedied, so I felt compelled to dock off a point. Still, it's head
> and shoulders above anything else, and I'm pretty confident that Short has
> her first(!) IFComp win in the bag.
>
> Star City : Mark Sachs : 7
>
> What really brought my realization that this year's comp was complete crap
> was my complete reluctance to rank any game second. I took a look at all
> the games I rated a "7" and my heart just dropped. All the games at this
> level I thought were "good", mind you, but unexciting. I like grilled

> cheese sandwiches... but in the end, it's only a slice of cheese between two


> pieces of bread. Oh, and it's toasted. But I digress. Star City is a rather
> simple game, and the play is rather unexciting (if strangely involving),
> but its retro-futuristic style (Stalin! In space!!!) gives it a clear edge.
> Walking through row by row of utilitarian high-rises (on a cylindrical map
> grid, no less) is a cheap, simple, and effective way to illustrate Soviet
> Russia (in space!), and that's pretty brilliant. And I don't believe that
> I've seen an all-text flight simulator before. That takes guts, even if
> that part wasn't a complete success. And that's the best pseudonym ever!
>
> The Elysium Enigma : Eric Eve : 7
>
> I think the failure of this pretty polished game lies in a lack of impetus.
> There's certainly stuff to do here (although generally hewing very close to
> standard IF tropes), but you're constantly admonished from doing it, and
> there's not really any good motivation to do the things the author expects

> anyway. It is clever, and the writing is pretty good... but the game remains


> something of an enigma. (You know I had to do it.)
>
> [Short and bittersweet from here on out.]
>
> Legion : Ian Anderson : 7
>
> The first 30 minutes of this gave me one of the biggest frickin' headaches
> of my life. Just when I had enough, I started to piece things together and
> say "oh, okay, I'm starting to get it" and by the end I had the whole thing
> figured out front to back. Brilliant timing by the author - and great skill
> to make this process invisible. Then again, the story is pretty stock
> footage, and a lifetime without another game with a flashback would be too
> short.
>
> Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game : Riff Conner : 7
>
> I didn't expect to like this game (try to guess why), but I did. Of course,
> it does have five locations, so it's fudging the numbers a bit, but the
> puzzles are interesting (if sometimes a bit too abstract), the writing's
> pretty funny, and though you'll never figure out the ending without dying
> first, it's pretty good.
>
> Delightful Wallpaper : Edgar O. Weyrd : 7
>
> I went almost straight to the walkthrough and never looked back. There was
> no way I was finishing this one in two hours. And talk about abstract

> puzzles... Anyhow, I think I liked this, but honestly, it's hard to tell. It


> is done well, and the tone is gratifyingly and remarkably consistent.
> There's just no way I could figure out half of the solutions in the time
> allotted.
>
> Mobius : J.D. Clemens : 6
>

> This year's time travel game, and the conceit works. Fun to play... until the

> everyone will solve it, whether they intend to or not)... but it doesn't make

Joshua Houk

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Nov 16, 2006, 9:31:21 AM11/16/06
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SPOILERS for Sisyphus, maybe?

.
.
.
.
.
.


On Nov 16, 3:12 am, "Baryon" <feedb...@corfizz.com> wrote:
> "The solution to this one-room game is really quite brilliant (even if
> everyone will solve it, whether they intend to or not)... but it
> doesn't make
> a game. "
>
> What *is* the solution to this game? I tried for a while but couldn't
> find it.

My solution: A game that's so meta that it puts the player in the
nearly exact same situation as the PC deserves a meta solution: "quit".
There's no fancy ***YOU HAVE WON*** message, but I assumed that, like
the rest of the game, it was due to substandard implementation rather
than by design.

James Mitchelhill

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Nov 16, 2006, 12:42:23 PM11/16/06
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On 15 Nov 2006 23:25:58 -0800, Michael Martin wrote:

> James Mitchelhill wrote:
>> What marked this comp for me wasn't awfulness (although there was a fair
>> amount of that) but mediocrity.
>
> My low end has remained the same -- even in absolute numbers -- across
> the past three comps (roughly 15 complete wastes of time in each). On
> the other hand, my "I actually recommend checking this game out" list
> was 16 this year, as compared to 8 from 2005 and 6 from 2004.

I have 8 games I'd recommend this year.

> Between Legion, Polendina, Strange Geometries, Game Producer!, and
> Carmen DeVine, I'm not really sure you can even claim this wasn't a
> very experimental comp.
>
>> I can't remember any comp having so many games that weren't
>> even trying to do anything interesting, and weren't even
>> doing so well.
>
> I don't think there was a single seriously intended entry this year on
> the level of "phantom: caverns of the killer" or "hello sword" or
> "Dreary Lands" or "Stack Overflow" or "A Light's Tale". The only ones
> that even came remotely close were Into the Dark and Ballymun
> Adventure. Basic competence may be mediocre but I'll take it over
> eye-gouging illiteracy or nonfluency any day.

MANALIVE I and II reached that level of awfulness for me.

> Seriously, if this is the worst comp in your memory, you have been
> unusually lucky in your partial judging of previous comps.

Or, y'know, maybe people can actually have different opinions.

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 16, 2006, 1:00:56 PM11/16/06
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Here, Joshua Houk <jlh...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> Xen: The Hunt : Ian Shlasko : 2
>
> Stunningly bad. Awful story, limited interactivity, and screen after
> goddamned screen of text dumps. The constant admonitions about saving the
> game were not only mimesis-breaking but pointless - I had already figured
> out that I should save with annoying frequency. Nice racism in the alley
> scene. What may be most shocking about this game is that there were 15
> games which were worse.

I don't agree that the game was stunningly bad. However, parts of it
were.

This is part 2 of a story that I missed part 1 of, so I found it hard
to get into. The background didn't seem to be well presented -- yes,
it comes with a synopsis of part 1, but the game didn't give any sense
of being *in* this enormous alien-dominated world. It was your
college, except some some of your friends are aliens in disguise.

The gameplay was a bare series of events. It wasn't very interactive,
is what I mean. There isn't much opportunity to try different things
and discover what the world lets you do. In each scene, you look
around until you find the way to the next scene. Or, possibly, you
miss a cue and have to look at the hints. I wound up playing from the
walkthrough for the last half of the game.

At the end, the writing gets really, really bad. Sorry.

PS: if the gun has enough power to "kill almost anyone", it's not a
stun gun. And if you give me a magic wand, *either* "wave wand" or
"point wand at..." should be valid commands. Given the conventions of
IF as we know it, "use wand" is the *last* thing I would have thought
of.

(I suspect there's going to be a lot of argument about "use" this
year.)

Overall I thought it was a good series of events that were not very
well transformed into IF. If the writing had held up, I would have
given it a decent score. As it was, it fell at the bottom edge of my
"decent" category.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
Bush's biggest lie is his claim that it's okay to disagree with him. As soon as
you *actually* disagree with him, he sadly explains that you're undermining
America, that you're giving comfort to the enemy. That you need to be silent.

Michael Martin

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Nov 16, 2006, 6:50:33 PM11/16/06
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James Mitchelhill wrote:
> On 15 Nov 2006 23:25:58 -0800, Michael Martin wrote:
> > I don't think there was a single seriously intended entry this year on
> > the level of "phantom: caverns of the killer" or "hello sword" or
> > "Dreary Lands" or "Stack Overflow" or "A Light's Tale". The only ones
> > that even came remotely close were Into the Dark and Ballymun
> > Adventure. Basic competence may be mediocre but I'll take it over
> > eye-gouging illiteracy or nonfluency any day.
>
> MANALIVE I and II reached that level of awfulness for me.

I was unclear on this one, for which I apologize; I was referring here
primarily to basic command of the English language. People griping
about language this year were mostly doing so on the grounds of things
like "Hey, that's a comma splice" or "You opened with a dangling
modifier", and less "This game would be more comprehensible if it had
just been jammed through Babelfish" or "I have to struggle to find an
error-free sentence."

If you're going to claim MANALIVE I and II have *writing* at the level
of "legends tell, of a great egyption warriar", I move that this is not
merely a difference of opinion, but instead that you are objectively
wrong. ;)

I'm totally aware that this is, in some sense, me having extremely low
expectations. But I had to rewrite my game scoring scale this year
because otherwise nothing would have gotten a 2 or 3.

--Michael

James Mitchelhill

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Nov 16, 2006, 7:05:21 PM11/16/06
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On 16 Nov 2006 15:50:33 -0800, Michael Martin wrote:

> James Mitchelhill wrote:
>> On 15 Nov 2006 23:25:58 -0800, Michael Martin wrote:
>>> I don't think there was a single seriously intended entry this year on
>>> the level of "phantom: caverns of the killer" or "hello sword" or
>>> "Dreary Lands" or "Stack Overflow" or "A Light's Tale". The only ones
>>> that even came remotely close were Into the Dark and Ballymun
>>> Adventure. Basic competence may be mediocre but I'll take it over
>>> eye-gouging illiteracy or nonfluency any day.
>>
>> MANALIVE I and II reached that level of awfulness for me.
>
> I was unclear on this one, for which I apologize; I was referring here
> primarily to basic command of the English language. People griping
> about language this year were mostly doing so on the grounds of things
> like "Hey, that's a comma splice" or "You opened with a dangling
> modifier", and less "This game would be more comprehensible if it had
> just been jammed through Babelfish" or "I have to struggle to find an
> error-free sentence."

This is true. This may have been the best spelt comp in years.

> If you're going to claim MANALIVE I and II have *writing* at the level
> of "legends tell, of a great egyption warriar", I move that this is not
> merely a difference of opinion, but instead that you are objectively
> wrong. ;)

No, but I think I'd class Phantom: Caverns of the Killer as a marginally
better game than MANALIVE.

Richard Bos

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Nov 18, 2006, 7:19:47 PM11/18/06
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James Mitchelhill <ja...@disorderfeed.net> wrote:

Would you? I dunno. Not much worse, sure, just as bad, possibly, but
better? Nah.

Richard

James Mitchelhill

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Nov 18, 2006, 7:43:08 PM11/18/06
to

Take P:CotK and polish it up enough and it'd be a reasonable game. But the
entire premise of MANALIVE is so desperately broken that I can't imagine
any way of fixing it.

dgen...@hotmail.com

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Nov 19, 2006, 6:28:16 AM11/19/06
to

Joshua Houk wrote:
> SPOILERS for Sisyphus, maybe?
>
> .
> .
> .
> .
> .
snip

> >
> > What *is* the solution to this game? I tried for a while but couldn't
> > find it.
>
> My solution: A game that's so meta that it puts the player in the
> nearly exact same situation as the PC deserves a meta solution: "quit".
> There's no fancy ***YOU HAVE WON*** message, but I assumed that, like
> the rest of the game, it was due to substandard implementation rather
> than by design.

>From my notes, while playing Sissyphus:

Sort of a "one joke game" Given that there is only one joke, the
author should have taken more time to insure that the parser
understands "push boulder up the hill"

parser responds: I only understood you as wanting to push the boulder
up.

Its like a kid telling a stupid knock-knock joke, and messes up the
punch line.

Dave

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