[comp03] reviews, strangely enough

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Sam Kabo Ashwell

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Nov 16, 2003, 4:09:06 AM11/16/03
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AMNESIA
Author: crazydwarf
System: TADS 2

Ah, a Worlds Apart parody. Bad spelling and lots of reference to how bad the
game is and notes of the 'ha ha look, I put in a maze' variety. Keeping at
this one was trouble; I got the impression someone was either trying to
place last, or cynically swelling the comp with poor entries to make it less
enjoyable.

Score: 1

EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN ARTIST
Author: Peter Eastman
System: TADS 2

Oh boy, an apartment section, complete with futile getting-dressed sequence.
Precisely the sort of thing that gets me all enthused about a comp entry.
Some incredibly minor actions are required, some massed up into a big
arbitrary cutscene; awfully juxtaposed quotations rankle against the
decidedly mediocre writing. There's bits in here that give me a suspicion
that this is more than it appears to be, but the overall feeling I got
wasn't enough to motivate me to go and find out whether the undiscovered
stuff was any better.

Score: 3

BIO
Author: David Linder
System: TADS 2

Okay. I didn't want to play on from the title screen, and I shall explain
precisely why.

BLAM!! is not the great first sentence that one wishes to start one's
masterwork on. Multiple exclamation marks are bad enough without the
superhero onomatopoeia.

Possibly the worst exposition ever. Not only does it reveal that I'm a
janitor (and no IF janitor has ever aroused feelings in me of anything other
than soul-destroying ennui beyond human measure), and that I'm in some sort
of scientific facility (again), it's horribly obvious and jarring.

This sentence alone would have made me want to quit:

Your standing in your room or apartment (whichever you want to call it).

Furthermore, screwing up the your / you're thing is pretty fucking basic,
and suggests not only that the level of writing is going to be low, but also
that this was either not betatested or betatested badly. And the 'room or
apartment' bit... jesus. The first sentence of the first room's description
and you waste it on producing superfluous synonyms and then justifying them?
It doesn't help that the room subsequently described is precisely the same
as every bland IF room in every bland apartment game, either.

Another reason that I shouldn't have played past the title screen: instant
death! Does this actually represent someone's best shot at making a game?

Score: 1

DELVYN
Author: 'Santoonie Corporation'
System: TADS 2

First off, I must confess I'm deeply prejudiced against any game that starts
off by saying 'You are an elf'. Or any game whose opening room has no
frickin' description. Atrociously bad dialogue, irritating flaws in
spelling, punctuation and formatting, and OH BOY INFRAVISION. Horrible AD&D
flashbacks kick in, score drops another point. To be fair, the writing isn't
quite of the ennervatingly flat tone that permeates so much IF; it shows the
odd glimmer of promise, but only a glimmer. Then for some reason I get to
eat a bloody fox head which is, apparently, delicious. After this, I got
stuck in a room with a bloody awful guess-the-verb puzzle and one salient
feature with a two-word description. Frickin' appalling.

Score: 2

THE ERUDITION CHAMBER
Author: Daniel Freas
System: TADS 2

I liked this quite a lot; a relatively simple puzzler with multiple
solutions and things changing depending on the solutions one used.
Definitely going to be replay value here. The world backstory was tolerable
if a little bit stock-alternative-history, and I doubt I'd appreciate the
elect-order thing so much if I wasn't thinking of it in terms of The Glass
Bead Game. A couple of other things annoyed me: the time-flux thing at the
start suggested that magic of some sort would be involved in the
problem-solving, and the absence of this struck me as a little odd; I'm
getting into this elite order by solving soup cans? This was kind of backed
up by being immediately able to see several solutions at once in some
puzzles. And I'd have liked the choices between orders in earlier sections
to influence the later sections a bit more than they did. Otherwise, this
was fun.

Score: 6

SCAVENGER
Author: Quinton Stone
System: TADS 2

Aah, postapocalyptic fiction. It'd be a whole lot cooler if every single
example of it didn't dwell excessively on finding evidence of the
apocalypse. By now we pretty much know that if a guy has a gun, a Geiger
counter and a barren wasteland to cross, we're talking postapocalypic here;
we don't need any more evocative last accounts from the pre-apocalypse
world, and they certainly don't comprise a point on their own. Less OH GOD
THEY BLEW IT UP, more leather-clad gang violence and possibly some actual
narrative purpose. It also successfully comes up with postapocalyptic
fiction stereotype #14048: there must always be a dirt-streaked but feisty
moppet who aids the hero. Prose-wise, not bad; a little overwritten in
places, but generally a good deal more effective than the norm.

Score: 7

SLOUCHING TOWARDS BEDLAM
Authors: Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto
System: Z-code

Very reminiscent of Anchorhead (fiddly little puzzles, atmosphere-laden,
eerily empty locations and detached NPCs) but pretty impressive for all
that; it appears somewhat large for a comp entry, to the extent that I
didn't have time to get as far as I'd have liked in order to judge it. I
liked the subtle handling of the Victorian steampunk environment (mmm,
sentient Babbage engines), and the atmosphere, though somewhat derivative of
Anchorhead and Babel, was handled very nicely indeed. I was fairly impressed
by the treatment of London; for some reason, the restriction of a very large
area to a few critical sites worked, and managed to give the impression of a
much larger environment. As a mystery, it's hard to judge it very far
without being privy to the denouement, but I feel I have an idea of where
things were going, hope to be proven wrong, and will definitely come back to
this one to find out.

Score: 8

CAFFEINATION
Author: Michael Loegering
System: Z-code

Oh, god, deja vu. Didn't we have a game where you had to search through your
office for coffee last comp? Jeez, people... let me spell this out one last
time. After this, I will look at your opening screen, quit immediately and
put OFFICE HUMOUR: 1 as my entire review.
We live in an age of office humour postmodernity. Office Space, The Office,
Dilbert et al have systematically strip-mined every shred of amusement from
the genre. We know it's a petty Kafkaesque nightmare. What is your point?

Well, that I need coffee, apparently. As one might expect from an office
game, there are two-dimensional characters, flat descriptions and an utter
lack of story hooks. For what it is, it seems a fairly well-crafted piece; I
found no bugs or spag errors, there are a swarm of multiple solutions to
most puzzles... but, well, it's an office game that makes no attempt
whatsoever to add a new angle. Worth it as coding-practise, maybe (though
even so I have no idea how anyone could stand to work on anything so dull)
but not worth publishing.

Score: 3

RISORGIMENTO REPRESSO
Author: Michael Coyne
System: Z-code

Overwritten without managing to interest much in the process. Appears, on
initial investigation, to be a thoroughly vanilla scavenger hunt with
chemistry puzzles, based on being accidentally summoned by an absent-minded
wizard. HO hum. Competent but lethally dull.

Score: 3

A PAPER MOON
Author: Andrew Krywaniuk
System: Z-code

Oh boy, I got accidentally teleported by a crazy wizard again!
I like the making-things-from-origami gimmick a great deal; however, I don't
like the rest of the game very much at all. A cave scavenger hunt has, how
do I put this, been done on occasion before. This aside, the origami kept me
entertained for a good deal longer than I'd have normally spent on a game
like this; it's kind of a shame that a basically cool idea wasn't set in a
more compelling piece.

Score: 4

NO ROOM
Author: Ben Heaton
System: Z-code

One annoyingly obvious puzzle, shabbily implemented. Not worth it.

Score: 1

THE FAT LARDO AND THE RUBBER DUCKY
Author: Somebody
System: Z-code

Thank god for force-quit. Also, tautologies annoy me.

Score: 1

INTERNAL DOCUMENTS
Author: Tom Lechner
System: Z-code

Oh boy. An epic horde of unimplemented scenery items, unresponsive NPCs, and
a maze.

Score: 2

GOURMET
Author: Aaron A. Reed
System: Z-code

Oh, the hilarity. Or not, as the case may be. This could really have worked
as a Fine-Tunedesque incompetence-comedy, in principle. In practise, it
suffered from the empty-world syndrome that damns so much of IF. Use of the
EXITS verb as a replacement rather than a supplement to listing the exits in
room description was an unwise move.

Score: 4

DOMICILE
Author: John Evans
System: Z-code

Fuck no, not another Zork tribute. Kill me now. You see my comment earlier
on about office games? Apply the same basic principle to games in which one
has to visit the deserted house of an absent relative in order to rediscover
one's past - oh, wait, that'd exclude Savoir Faire. Ahh, ranting myself into
a corner. But you get my point; the basic premise doesn't do a hell of a lot
on its own.
Okay, here are some doors. Open 'em, and more doors appear. Well and good,
but deeply tedious as a puzzle.

THE RECRUIT
Author: Mike Sousa
System: TADS 2

This was promising, but turned out to be rather dull. None of the puzzles
were particuarly inspired, and for such a puzzlecentric game this is a
killer. There turned out to be a meta-IF gist, also. Another thing that
always makes me want to kill things. Well-crafted and robust, but not very
intriguing.

Score: 5

ADOO'S STINKY STORY
Author: B. Perry
System: Z-code

As far as I can see, this is a House game with no distinguishing features
whatsoever except that there's a stink bomb involved somewhere in the
distant future for no reason the author can be bothered to come up with. The
mind-bending dullness didn't take long to have its usual effect on me. (See
below).

Score: 2

CERULEAN STOWAWAY
Author: Roger Descheneaux
System: TADS 2

This felt... flat. Flat puzzles, flat premise, flat world, flat PC, flat
writing.

Score: 2

TEMPLE OF KAOS
Author: Peter Gambles
System: TADS 2

Incredibly, incredibly shitty poetry. Um. Anti-intuitive puzzles... enh. Not
worth much on their own. And the poetry annoyed me far too much to persist.

Score: 3

ATOMIC HEART
Author: Stefan Blixt
System: Z-code

A nice idea, scrappily implemented. Disambiguation was a frustrating problem
much of the time, particuarly with regard to use of sockets. Using the
robot's approach to objects as an excuse for failing to provide more
descriptions would have been more tolerable had the database been more
extensive. As a result, a lot of the time essential hidden items take
unreasonable deal of work to find, and it's hard to tell precisely how some
physical effects work (often in puzzle-screwing ways). For something which
is ostensibly intended to be providing us with a robot's perspective, it
doesn't seem to have produced an integrated approach to handling this in the
way that, say, Bad Machine or LASH did; you can see evidence of it
beginningto come together, but it isn't complete.
This really needed a couple more runs at betatesting, to be honest; I'd have
liked to have seen the personality of the child a little more filled out,
also. (In a game about conflict between robots and humans, it's important to
make humans seem human).

Score: 7

SHADOWS ON THE WINDOW
Author: Chrysoula Tzavelas
System: TADS 3

Good stuff. Well-evoked mood, a complex NPC, minimal but well-used scenery.
Evidence that a lot of thought and design has gone into this. The ask/tell
conversation menu, as in Galatea, works here, because it's a situation where
one might genuinely have to grasp for topics. Unlike Galatea, there's also
an imperative purpose to conversation. It makes me wish a great deal that
other parts of the story were also implemented; this feels very much like
one chapter of a greater story. (This got me ruminating as to whether IF is
intrinsically more suited to fragment-of-story rather than broad-overview
approaches, which I don't think is the case, but aaanyway). We have very
nice character evocation - done in a lot of ways, but particuarly with
effective use of no-more-statements-for-topic. The whole thing's very
stylised, to the extent of cliche at times, but it's an extremely
well-crafted cliche.
There's occasional slight overwriting ('This is what had been hunting you,
night and day, across world and wane?') and I'm not sure whether to credit
this to authorial error or to the narrator being a youngish girl with a
mystery-novel inclination. Narrative voice is strong enough for me to hope
for the latter. On the other hand, there's a certain number of attempts at
adventurous phrasing that do work rather well; maybe this is down to a tiny
bit more attention to textual editing. (Not that there's any other real
evidence of failings in that department; it's generally as consistent in
terms of writing as it is in code).
Overall, it's hard, but rewards replaying a great deal. I still haven't
cracked it, but I've made what I estimate to be progress.

Score: 9

Adam Thornton

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Nov 17, 2003, 5:03:59 PM11/17/03
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In article <bp7epo$4ba$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>,

Sam Kabo Ashwell <sk...@cam.ac.uk> wrote:
>no IF janitor has ever aroused feelings in me of anything other
>>than soul-destroying ennui beyond human measure

Peter Seebach and Kevin Lynn cry!

Adam

Sam Kabo Ashwell

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Nov 17, 2003, 9:14:37 PM11/17/03
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----------


In article <bpbgkf$mu6$2...@news.fsf.net>, ad...@fsf.net (Adam Thornton) wrote:

>>no IF janitor has ever aroused feelings in me of anything other
>>>than soul-destroying ennui beyond human measure
>
> Peter Seebach and Kevin Lynn cry!

And I have virtually destroyed the prospective career of up-and-coming
talent NewKid. Remorse wells up within me.

SKA

Aaron A. Reed

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Nov 18, 2003, 7:02:55 PM11/18/03
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> GOURMET
> Author: Aaron A. Reed
> System: Z-code
>
> Oh, the hilarity. Or not, as the case may be. This could really have worked
> as a Fine-Tunedesque incompetence-comedy, in principle. In practise, it
> suffered from the empty-world syndrome that damns so much of IF.
<snip>

One of the most fascinating things about reading all the reviews is
the disparity in what works and what doesn't for individual people.
For example, I have been equally praised and damned for automating
certain tasks such as getting down the wine or serving the soup.

The "empty-world syndrome" comment is interesting since a couple
people have mentioned something like that, while others have been
impressed at the amount of things there were to interact with. There
were something like 50 seperate objects in the kitchen alone that can
be played with, and yet several people have been angry that they
didn't find certain things implemented which would "obviously" be in a
kitchen, like towels or bowls. I'd be interested to count the number
of unique objects in a real life kitchen, but I expect it'd be well
over 500.

I wonder how much of this is random luck? I.e., if your first couple
of moves happen to be unimplemented objects, do you give up trying to
interact with anything and thus miss huge chunks of the game? Or is it
more that a game set it a real world setting makes people more likely
to assume things are there, whereas if you're in a cave and you see
"There is a sword here", you just naturally assume that's the only
interesting thing in the whole room?

Branko Collin

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Nov 18, 2003, 8:52:00 PM11/18/03
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aaro...@go-utah.com (Aaron A. Reed), you wrote on 18 Nov 2003
16:02:55 -0800:

Perhaps it's because there are so many things to interact with that
people expect more. :-)

--
branko
ik schrijf woorden achterstevoren

Gene Wirchenko

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Nov 18, 2003, 10:04:25 PM11/18/03
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"Sam Kabo Ashwell" <sk...@cam.ac.uk> wrote:

Let those tears flow. Do not worry about making a mess. Someone
will be by to clean up.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko

Computerese Irregular Verb Conjugation:
I have preferences.
You have biases.
He/She has prejudices.

Andrew Krywaniuk

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Nov 19, 2003, 4:39:54 AM11/19/03
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> One of the most fascinating things about reading all the reviews is
> the disparity in what works and what doesn't for individual people.
> For example, I have been equally praised and damned for automating
> certain tasks such as getting down the wine or serving the soup.

I don't know if you are lumping my comment in with this, but I only
complained about automating the serving of the soup (and the lack of bowls
in the kitchen) because I had earlier tried to serve tea and it didn't work.
I searched for that bowl for at least 5 minutes, as it didn't even occur to
me to try "serve soup". Generally speaking, automating mundane tasks is
great.

Andrew


Aaron A. Reed

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Nov 19, 2003, 1:30:26 PM11/19/03
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"Andrew Krywaniuk" <askr...@hotmail.com> wrote in message news:<KTGub.433880$9l5.374571@pd7tw2no>...

Ah! That makes perfect sense, Andrew. In the final release there's
going to be a catch-all "extra scenery" object that responds in
various ways to players trying to interact with non-implemented
objects. A clarification on serving the soup would be a good thing to
add to that.

--Aaron

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