This game didn't exactly set my pulse a-racin', but it's a good solid
text adventure with entertaining responses to most actions and a
welcome sense of fun. The humor is mostly of the roll-eyes-and-smile
variety, but failure to elicit a really gutbusting laugh certainly
isn't a sign of outright suckage. This may all sound like I'm damning
the game with faint praise, but what it comes down to is this: I had a
pretty good time playing this game, and an even better time paging
through the source code. In the entire comp, there were only four
games I liked more and thirty-two I liked less. Even in a weak year,
that's not too shabby.
If TRAPPED IN A ONE-ROOM DILLY from Comp98 was a game that wanted to be
your friend, SIX STORIES is a game that wants to be your most bestest
friend in the whole wide world. It falls over backwards offering help
of all kinds, clearly pitching itself to the player who's never seen an
IF game before, and boasts one of the most flexible, friendliest, and
flat-out chattiest parsers on record. This is a game where, when you
first pick something up, it not only moves the object into your
inventory, not only automatically examines the object for you, not only
informs you that it's about to describe the object before doing so, but
also pipes in with instructions on how to turn off automatic
description, just in case you don't like that. This is all very cool,
though I was reminded of the Jerry Seinfeld riff about the passenger
who pops his head into the cockpit to inform the pilots that "just for
your information, I'm having the peanuts now."
The heart of the story is the series of stories told by the NPCs, which
are not bad at all, but are also not the sort of thing I generally go
in for. The multimedia aspect was fairly interesting, though I found
my attention drifting as the voices washed over me, and found that I
preferred reading the stories in my little DOS window to listening to
the recitations. The pictures were nice, though. That goes double for
the slide show that introduces the game, though again, I could have
done without the spoken narration: I usually turn off the voices even
in commercial efforts with professional actors, so this is probably
just a personal quirk. Most impressive of all, though, was the title
sequence crediting Tela and announcing the name of the game -- it made
me wonder if I'd somehow had fifty bucks charged to my credit card in
the process of downloading the game.
There were also some bugs, but nothing too dire. I did end up
channelling CE Forman for a moment and typing >Z until noon the
following day (game time, not real time -- I'm not *that* psychotic)
just to see if the sun would ever rise (it didn't.) But as Bill
Clinton said, every day can't be sunshine.
Score: appropriately enough, a low SIX. I wavered between five and
six, but typing >REMOVE GLASSES and seeing the status line snarkily
change from "9:22 PM" to "Night" (can't read my watch anymore, you see)
was the stroke that convinced me to err on the side of generosity.
A DAY FOR SOFT FOOD
More than once I've heard TADS programmers remark that one of the
advantages of their chosen IF language is that at present there's no
utility to perform a text dump on a .gam file, the way that TXD can
disassemble Z-code. One fewer way for players to cheat, they say.
Well, I *like* text dumps. In most cases, I prefer perusing TXD output
to actually playing the game.
Had this been a TADS game, I wouldn't have given it as high a grade.
Doing cat things is entertaining enough, I suppose -- and again, as
with my two favorite games of Comp99, much of the fun is figuring out
exactly what's being described -- but the author makes the, in my
opinion, poor choice of requiring the player to solve puzzles, rather
than just presenting a varied array of feline pastimes for our
delectation. I lost my patience with the puzzles long before the
endgame, and so would have slapped a low three on the game and moved
on had I not had TXD waiting to spring into action.
TXD allowed me to have a look at the concluding passage without having
to slog through the tedious puzzles to get there, and as such, I was
able to bump this game's score up a couple notches for having one of
the best endings I've ever seen. And in retrospect, this makes one of
the key game design decisions even more regrettable, because this
ending could just have easily been used in a game where the cat doesn't
save the owner's life in fairly ridiculous fashion; just have the owner
punch his MedicAlert beeper before hitting the floor, and the cat
could've been a cat instead of a four-legged MacGyver.
HUNTER, IN DARKNESS
Sort of a paradox, this one: the joke is that it's a full-length,
deadly serious game based on a particular humorous premise; once the
player has gotten the joke, there's really no reason to keep playing;
but if it were only long enough for the player to get the joke, it
would no longer be a full-length, deadly serious game, and the joke
would fall apart.
Luckily, there's more to it than just the joke. Here's a project of
remarkable discipline, a cave crawl set forth in clean, elegant prose.
So, yeah, mad propz for being a laser of a game in the midst of a
compful of bargain-basement flashlights. It even held my attention up
to the point where I found myself in a maze. But one of the problems
with trimming all extraneous material is that there's no extraneous
material to look at when you get stuck. All that's left is the puzzle,
and consequently, my interest level drops to zero. So off went the
game, and with it, any inclination I might have to return.
Score: a high FOUR.
This should have worked better than it did, but it still worked pretty
well. The concept is top-notch: in theory, building a more complete
impression of an object, especially a wrought object like a painting,
should be a very interesting exercise. In many cases, it is, enough so
to qualify this as a top-ten game; still, there are some elements that
are just a little... off.
One contributing factor may well be the simple *shape* of the text.
A good actor can make a line of dialogue sound like it's only just now
occurred to the character, even on the hundredth recitation. In this
light, EXHIBITION comes off sounding like a really bad actor. The fact
that every time I looked at a painting, a neat rectangle of text would
scroll into the window, each rectangle virtually the exact same size,
tended to detract from the impression that I was eavesdropping on
someone's thoughts. It felt more like I was reading a chunk of prose
that someone had toiled over for rather a long time, smothering any
life the language might have otherwise had.
This also works against the characterization, which is already a bit
spotty. I mean, the effort is clearly there, but perhaps that's exactly
the problem -- all too often I was aware of the author writing as
someone else, rather than feeling that I was actually reading someone
else's words. It suddenly occurs to me that what might have been more
interesting would be just this sort of thing with genuinely different
people writing responses to existing artworks. Or, y'know, not.
Enhancing the feeling that this game was an exercise in solipsism was
the way that the entire game takes place inside the characters' heads.
My first inclination was to track down the other three characters and
engage in some dialogue or fisticuffs or smoochies or *something*, but
it seems that only one character exists at a time -- all you can do is
look at paintings and read the text. This could just as easily have
been hypertext, and probably should have been.
Score: a low FOUR.
Laura Knauth puts so much care into her games that I really wish I
liked them more. This one starts off with an extended prologue
sequence that reminded me a lot of Majid Majidi's film CHILDREN OF
HEAVEN, which was unobjectionable enough; but after the game began in
earnest, I found myself growing impatient, and a perusal of the TXD
didn't reveal anything that I found especially enticing.
Correction: there was one moment that I did find quite striking -- it
occurred in the MAKING OF text. Here's the sentence:
"Perhaps growing up in the desert has made me too sentimental about
a moonlit snow-covered night in the forest, but I had a wonderful
time creating the scenery and characters for Winter Wonderland and
hope you enjoy them too."
Now *that* would've been interesting! I've come across enough vaguely
Teutonic fairy tales and Christmas stories that I don't foresee myself
ever being too enraptured by them -- but a magical Christmas in Arizona?
That's new! That's interesting! And it would've been informed by
personal experience and observation, instead of a pastiche of other
peoples' tales from half a world away. The game about a moonlit snow-
covered night really didn't do anything for me, I'm sorry to say. But
the game about growing up in the desert? I suspect that one'll knock
my socks off.
Score: a low FOUR.
ON THE FARM
To be honest, I'm not all that sure why this game jumped out at me as
worth more than a three. It may be something as simple as the way the
front and back pictures nailed down the feeling of the game world, or
maybe it was nice touches like the way the NPCs grew impatient with you
if you didn't answer their questions the moment they asked. It's quite
possible that the line about the moon boots did the trick. I suppose
that in the end, asking why I picked this game to round out the B list
is like asking why someone picked up *that* particular kitten from the
animal shelter. Sometimes you just think, "Okay, yeah, that one."
Score: a low FOUR.
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
That's harsh. But there is a utility to make the TADS text
readable. Unfortunately it exists only on my hard drive. It was
intended to be a TADS disassembler, but I managed to finish the game
that was irritating me before I even came close to finishing it.
Matthew T. Russotto russ...@pond.com
"Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in pursuit
of justice is no virtue."
Any chance that you'll ever release it to the starving masses?