[COMP99] Reviews -- okay me too

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Tomas Clark

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Nov 17, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/17/99
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I told myself I wasn't going to add to the clutter and post reviews, but
now I've read so many and found such an interesting diversity of opinion
that I feel like I have to chime in too... before the competition I
hadn't played any IF at all since the very first competition. Before that
point I'd played just about everything that existed. And now I have the
bug again, so I might as well comment before I get back to Mulldoon and
trying to catch up on the last three years of commercial and non-
commercial IF.

So, from bottom to top (I didn't play the MS-DOS games):

Outsided
Rating: 1
I have to admit the suicide puzzle was funny. And I solved by reacting in
a manner that, for me at least, makes psychological sense... get too
drunk to walk. So far so good... but after that the whole game dissolved
into a pastiche of bad UPN-television style sci-fi, deadly puzzles that
were patently impossible to figure out without the walkthrough, a general
sloppiness that didn't improve my opinion at all, and an ending that
tried to cram a game's worth of "interesting concept" into a brief
paragraph. This game left me with an incredibly bad taste in mouth...

Guard Duty and The Water Bird
Rating: 2
Unplayable so low-rated, but the atmosphere of both games seemed pretty
intriguing, so I look forward to playing bug-fixed releases of both.
Guard Duty seems like an especially amusing concept, and the Water Bird's
educational bent and thematic integrity are commendable too.

A Moment of Hope
Rating: 3
This was the most linear entry, I think... I didn't feel like I was
solving anything or contributing input to the story at all. I just kind
of sat there and hit "z" over and over for most of the story,
occasionally walking around the map a bit. This might have been okay if
the story was interesting, but it just seemed cliche to me. There were
hints that you were supposed to find the character either ludicrously
dorky or sympathetic, and really good writers (Joyce, Portrait of an
Artist) can do both at once, but this piece failed to do either for me...
I just had to cringe in horror.

Chaos
Rating: 3
The third-person approach was novel but left me with a "marionette"
feeling akin to playing Super Mario 64 or Tomb Raider, but without the
fun 3D graphics... some puzzles were easy, but problems with the parser
and synonyms made some unsolvable for me. I wasn't even sure if I had won
the game or not, but I think I failed. Some rooms and objects were
carefully described while other, more interactive aspects of the game
were sorely neglected. I got bored quickly.

L.U.D.I.T.E.
Rating: 3
It's got funk, I'll give it that.

The HeBGB Horror
Rating: 3
My experience with this game was plagued by a number of bugs that may
have originated in my version of Arun, but I'm not sure. In any case, I
couldn't be persuaded to persist with it as it just didn't hold my
interest. The theme/setting had a lot of promised but I didn't really
feel like it was fulfilled by the sparse descriptions and somewhat
arbitrary-feeling puzzles. I found myself with a desire to just get
through the game quickly, which is a bad sign -- I usually would rather
take my time and explore, and enjoy. The paucity of description may have
irritated me because I live in the neighborhood described, though.

Thorfinn's Realm
Rating: 3
This reminds me of a lot of old, cliched, silly games from the late 80s
and early 90s, with lots of rooms, lots of bigs, and very little coherent
theme.

Chicks Dig Jerks
Rating: 4
Promising at first, what with the novel conversational "puzzles" and all
the risque content. I was content for quite some time to just mess around
and see how many women I could either insult or get to perform sexual
favors. If that had been the whole game, and a bit more developed, I
would have rated it higher. But after the unavoidable fight scene near
the bathroom, a rather long but boring porn cut-scene, and some more
sequences of waiting, I found myself in an incomprehensible jumble of a
graveyard with a few puzzles, lots of death, and no connection to
anything in the first half of the game. Huh?

Erehwon
Rating: 4
This looked promising... small-town boredom and peer pressure, etc. But
the puzzles... oy, the mathematical, mind-numbing, physics-knowledge
puzzles. There's no way I could solve most of them in a million years,
without a walkthrough, and so I ended up walkthroughing the whole thing.
The puzzles were so "heavy" in the experience that I was left with little
else, although the various endings were nice.

Life on Beal Street
Rating: 4
Interesting concept, poor execution. I quickly discovered the thin
underlying structure here, and spent the rest of the time just jamming
the keyboard seeing if I could get a more interesting ending. I couldn't.
The writing was nice in places, horribly cliched in others, and generally
got tiresome to read after the first time through -- and playing multiple
times is the whole point here, I think. Also, the attempt to be gender-
neutral failed in several places. Too much obsessing about relationships
for it to work maybe -- Jigsaw balanced the issue nicely on the liminal
line.

Remembrance
Rating: 4
Doing IF on the web with javascript -- interesting idea doomed to
failure. As a local expert on javascript, I feel confident in saying that
it's way too buggy at this time. Someone's browser is going to break. In
this case, most people's probably did, for various reasons. I had to hack
into the code to play, and discovered that the story was basically
linear. Not a bad story, not spectacular, so the project remains
unredeemed.

Calliope
Rating: 5
Perfectly decent first attempt, a little thin in places, and the meta-
concept sort of... well, lacks a concept. I didn't understand the whole
television-dream connection until the third time I played, after I rated
it. So there are some holes, but it's amusing.

Death to My Enemies
Rating: 5
Hee hee hee!

Four Seconds
Rating: 5
Somewhat interesting stories, obviously a lot of X-Files and late-90s
horror influence, so not incredibly novel, but it was scary at the end. I
missed a lot of the events at the beginning by not following my coworkers
right out the door, though, and then getting my directions confused. So
the rest of the game was like, huh?? I had to restart.

On the Farm
Rating: 5
Perfectly decent game, the setting is sort of incidental to the puzzles,
and some puzzles are too hard, but fairly well rounded. Liked the stuff
about the character's mother -- too bad there wasn't more.

Pass the Banana
Rating: 5
Hee hee hee! take two. I actually found this funny even though apparently
it's an in-hoke. I wish I could have gotten that last point, though.

Strangers in the Night
Rating: 5
Theme stolen from Anne Rice, White Wolf. Most amusing character: priest.
Interesting gameplay and scoring ideas, but a little too easy except for
one victim who I couldn't find. And most of the map was empty -- surely
there was a better way to handle descriptions automatically, or
something.

Beat the Devil
Rating: 6
Very funny, and very promising. Clever puzzles, some of which didn't make
much sense. Getting rid of certain "sins" was intuitive, i.e. figure out
what their weakness is, but others were not quite as obvious and some
puzzles were practically impossible. A lot of locations were only used
for one tiny thing, which is okay in a game set in Hell, but is usually a
sign of "where do I put the solution for this puzzle... guess I'll make
another room for it!"

Exhibition
Rating: 6
Very nicely done in a lot of ways, and I like how the image of the artist
emerges via triangulation (well, quadrangulation) from the opinions of
others. A bit heavy on the reading, though... like having to grade art-
history papers or something. I kept on hoping for a bit more to do,
however, like interacting with people or grabbing the balloon. Guess it
just wasn't that kind of un-game.

Music Education
Rating: 6
Strangely satisfying! A lot of clever puzzles, with the possible
exception of the post office one. The whole goal of the game was a little
vague, but progressing by helping out other people in the department was
nice. Felt a little in-jokey in places.

A Day for Soft Food
Rating: 7
Of course, the animal POV was charming, and the setting from that POV was
nice too... but the puzzles were extremely hard! I couldn't get anywhere
near the end in 2 hours. Still, gets high marks.

Bliss
Rating: 7
The beginning is clunky, boring, and hard to beat... but I was so amused
by the ending that I decided to regard the whole opening as a parody of
bad adventure games, not only in terms of writing and cliches, but also
in terms of game design. I don't know, maybe it's too charitable, but any
game writer who has the guts to admit that game-playing might be
unhealthy or dangerous, and only in a half-joking way, gets points.

Hunter, in Darkness
Rating: 7
Mmmm, I remember playing Hunt the Wumpus, and this is a gritty, fleshed
out, evil version of that. Could have used some more texture and fleshing
out in some places -- but I loved the puzzles involving bats, and the one
involving sheer persistence. Brilliant.

Lomalow
Rating: 7
Marvelous, fanciful backstory, ending perhaps a bit predictable, but it
was fun to "explore" by talking to the characters about everything
possible. A couple bugs that have been mentioned, so it took a while to
hit certain "triggers" (the final one, mostly) but little tidbits like
the old man and the granola bar made up for that.

Only After Dark
Rating: 7
Brief, quick game... kind of tough but managed to solve it -- I think
this game required a slightly different kind of problem-solving, maybe
too simplistic in some ways, but I think it works in fast-paced scenes
and games, and this was definitely high-adrenaline / fast-paced. Wish
there was a bit more to it, but it was exhilarating. I could see how it
wouldn't have been if you got stuck at all.

Spodgeville Murphy and the Jewelled Eye of Wossname
Rating: 7
Okay, so I'm a sucker for references. Kind of shameful but true. Frobozz
Magical Umbrella... couldn't resist. The last puzzle was a silly doozy --
couldn't locate the scenery in question for a long time -- but other than
that, not too bad. I'm wondering why the Eye itself doesn't provide the
character any insight, though??

For a Change
Rating: 8
Weird language, great fun... reminiscent of children's books and the best
most off-the-wall science fiction. And almost any puzzle will fit... I
mean, in this setting it's perfectly natural to have a character that
will exchange one tool for another because, well, it's the Toolman!
Without any of the forced "I stuck this in here to serve a particular
function even if it doesn't work thematically" that haunts some games.

Halothane
Rating: 8
Reminiscent of Photopia, of course, and kind of linear, but I liked the
way you could skip over certain optional scenes. Nice puzzles too, not
too hard or too easy. Complex story, and a big game, but solvable in two
hours.

Six Stories
Rating: 8
The one puzzle was a bit simplistic, but everything else made up for the
lack of gameplay. Very nice.

Stone Cell
Rating: 8
Very good character development and immersion in the first part of the
game, especially the optional puzzle concerning the medallion, which took
me quite some time to figure out. The cell was a nice, cramped sequence
too, although perhaps a little too tricky. The last half of the game was
a little more arbitrary - lots of save and restore involved, and you kind
of lose the character. But memorable nonetheless.

Winter Wonderland
Rating: 8
Well, I liked this game for the same reasons everyone else did. ASCII
graphics, charming setting, nice opening sequence, and friendly puzzles.
The ice floes bugged me a bit, though... a little too hard to picture
what's going on.

Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces to Win
Rating: 9
This hit the top spot for me for several reasons: the dynamic
storytelling, which moved you along in a compelling way without
completely obliterating stories; the almost ideal balance between player
control and a very well-developed main character with his own thoughts;
the highly original and amusing setting; the fact that you play the Pope,
or equivalent; and the very funny religious speech, a cross between
corporate seminars, self-help books, and Catholic dogma. Nicely polished,
too, with few missing pieces. I do wish the puzzles were slightly
tougher, especially the endgame, which seemed a little too independent of
the player (one tiny action, and the character carries out a whole series
of actions), but I think it would be perfect as an introduction to IF.
I've already suggested it to friends... and I really want to play more
games in this setting!


Congrats the winners and thanks to every last author... they were all
fun. And thanks to my girlfriend Mary, who reminded me that I had never
finished Lost New York, and prompted me to dig out my TADS and Zcode
interpreters again...

Tomas Clark
tcl...@word.com


Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Before you buy.

Mike Snyder

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Nov 19, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/19/99
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> Remembrance
> Rating: 4
> Doing IF on the web with javascript -- interesting idea doomed to
> failure. As a local expert on javascript, I feel confident in saying that
> it's way too buggy at this time. Someone's browser is going to break. In
> this case, most people's probably did, for various reasons. I had to hack
> into the code to play, and discovered that the story was basically
> linear. Not a bad story, not spectacular, so the project remains
> unredeemed.

I disagree that doing IF on the web with javascript is doomed to failure.
However, I think having it totally HTML/Javascript based is a bad idea. I
don't mean resort to Java applets or anything -- I just mean it would help
to have a server back-end to generate the pages instead (maybe CGI). For the
competition, this would have been horrible since many people found that to
play it, they needed to download it, and most people probably don't have a
personal web server.

I'm not an expert by any means, but I spent a year writing CGI/Web software
for AT&T, I've written a couple of interesting Perl scripts (a chat and a
poll) which are ranked fairly high at www.cgi-resources.com (and are fairly
popular) and my company has a multiplayer RPG out there in Perl -->
HTML/Javascript which supports near real-time interaction between multiple
players. I'm confident that web-based IF could work and work very well and
would in no way be doomed to failure. :)

Mike.

Tomas Clark

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Nov 20, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/20/99
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"Mike Snyder" <mikes...@worldnet.att.net> wrote:
> I disagree that doing IF on the web with javascript is doomed to
> failure. However, I think having it totally HTML/Javascript based is a
> bad idea. I don't mean resort to Java applets or anything -- I just
> mean it would help to have a server back-end to generate the pages
> instead (maybe CGI). For the competition, this would have been
> horrible since many people found that to play it, they needed to
> download it, and most > people probably don't have personal web
> server.

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I was almost going to say the same
thing in my post. CGI and Perl would be much better tools -- and
honestly, although there's a slightly steeper learning curve for
beginning-level tasks, at intermediate and advanced levels it's MUCH
easier to use than Javascript. And you don't really have to worry about
differences in client software like you do with HTML and Javascript; if
someone can stay connected to the net long enough to play your game,
it's probably accessible to anyone. You could even support saves.

And since Perl hooks up very well to databases and all sorts of other
things, it probably wouldn't be too hard for an experienced programmer
to build a complex parser etc. or maybe even do a port of Inform or TADS
that could work with CGI. Adding in multimedia support is trivial since
the interface is HTML already, and even more flexible than HTML-TADS.
Someone please correct me if I'm pipe-dreaming because I only know a
very little about the authoring systems, and only a little more about
Perl. :)


> I'm not an expert by any means, but I spent a year writing CGI/Web
> software for AT&T, I've written a couple of interesting Perl scripts
> (a chat and a poll) which are ranked fairly high at www.cgi-
> resources.com (and are fairly popular) and my company has a
> multiplayer RPG out there in Perl --> HTML/Javascript which supports
> near real-time interaction between multiple players. I'm confident
> that web-based IF could work and work very well and would in no way be
> doomed to failure. :)

What's the address of the multiplayer RPG?

Mike Snyder

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Nov 20, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/20/99
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>What's the address of the multiplayer RPG?

http://www.lunatix-online.com/

If you've got a decent connection (and you're not on the other side of the
world, typically) it'll play fine. It does quite a bit in the way of
interaction (Perl chat module is built right in, too) using HTML/Javascript.
Javascript is limited mostly to page refresh (to serve as a "heartbeat" so
the server knows the player is still there) and for yes/no questions and
popup boxes. The game itself is basically HTML.

I'm pretty sure an IF language could work as well over the web. I've started
developing my own (initally in windows, but to be ported to the web at
http://www.prowler-pro.com/sage/) but I'm not sure where that is headed. One
with the complete C source available would be a good candidate (HUGO... are
the others open source?)

I mentioned when I first "came back" a few months ago that I think web-based
IF is a step that needs to be taken. More and more, people are on the web
ALL the time -- especially people that might be interested in playing IF,
IMO. You've got the DOOM'ers and the UO'ers and so forth which it doesn't
appeal to, but there are others (people who like to read, people who
remember games from decades-gone-by, and other people who can't really be
categorized) who *would* enjoy it. Having it on the web (with graphics, if
possible, or at least with a slick and nice-looking "shell" around the
actual game) would help attract people.

I've been short on time (and motivation) lately. I'm not sure what the
future holds for SAGE, or even if I'm the right person (or if SAGE is the
right idea) to make the leap to web-based IF. I've had some experience
writing "scripting" language (lacking the power of C-like languages) and
have ported my Lunatix IGM language (LunScript) to the web. I'm pretty sure,
with motivation, I could do it. But, it seems to make more sense to port
HUGO. So, I'm kind of sitting on my kiester not sure *what* I'm gonna work
on next.

Mike.

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