[IFComp03] Michael's reviews (part 4 of 4)

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Michael Coyne

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Nov 27, 2003, 2:20:11 AM11/27/03
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REVIEWS IN THIS POST
BIO
Delvyn
The Fat Lardo and the Rubber Ducky
Gourmet
Slouching Towards Bedlam
Scavenger


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BIO

Author: David Linder
System: TADS2

Tagline Summary: BIO: It's better than Amnesia.

Well, after a brief stint with something good in Episode in the Life of
an Artist, we've managed to sink back down to the bottom here.

The initial location fills me with foreboding, when it begins "Your
standing". There is also a dresser mentioned, but it can't be examined.
This serves to further heighten my sense of apprehension.

Oh no! Gas is seeping in under the door. It can't be examined, or
otherwise interacted with, but this sure sounds bad! What else can I
examine in here in my effort to get out? There's a nightstand, which
apparently matches the (non-existent) dresser, and a bandage. Apart from
that... ah, a television. Hmmm. Well, the room is starting to fill up
with gas, but when I examine the television, I watch for a few minutes.
I suppose, if I'm that blasé about the gas entering the room, that it
must be a regular occurrence around here.

Hmmm... dead. I restart and try a few more things, including holding the
bandage over my mouth, but nothing works. In the end, I resort to the
walkthrough, only to discover that there is an invisible armoire in the
room, presumably a synonym change or confusion with the dresser. Easy
mistake to make, changing the name in one place but not the other, but
fatal. A quick run through the walkthrough before submission wouldn't
have found it either, as the walkthrough is correct. I can sympathise,
but ouch.

The next location is "an ordinary hallway with toupe walls and red
carpet." Toupe? Is that like a hairy brownish-grey? Though I guess that
would be 'taupee' or 'toupee'. This second location mentions your own
room back to the south, and a different room to the north. That's all.
North is closed off, as it's someone else's bedroom, but the location
gives no indication that the hallway also continues to the east.

In the next hallway location, trying to go south results in "Your to
tired to break in to this guy's room right now." This immediately struck
me as another typical amateur-IF nonsense reason for disallowing
actions. I've seen this "You're too tired ..." silliness in other games.
Radical Al's Kingdom of Amphibia does the same thing to prevent you
removing your backpack, and that isn't really the sort of association
you want to call up in a reviewer's mind.

Eventually, I arrive "to the men's bathroom" [sic], where someone has
"wrote" [sic] some graffiti on the wall. It also, ominously, contains
the body of Carl, a security guard and my buddy. Even more ominously,
you cannot 'x carl', which just seems like synonym laziness to me.

And if I'm the janitor, wouldn't I need to be able to go into the
women's washroom, regardless of the contents of my pants? Apparently
not. I wonder who cleans it?

In another hallway, this time outside the main office, I try to go east
into the office, but "run into the door." So naturally, I try 'open
door', only to be told "I don't see any door here." Hmmm.

I then try the supplies cupboard, stocked with shelves and supplies, but
neither of them can be examined. Is the point of this room solely to cut
yourself coming in?

Then, outside the security office, I see "a screws". Upon examining
them, I am told they are "Four phillips head screws", no period or other
information. I naturally assumed they were lying on the floor of the
hallway. It was upon trying to take them that I discovered they were in
fact attached to the wall.

I eventually get through the door and talk to Steve, a security guard.
Bear in mind, at this point in the game, I have learned nothing about
what is going on, other than that there is an atmospheric lockdown, a
murder has been committed with an AK-47, and all the scientists are
gone. So I ask Steve about the lockdown, but he knows nothing about it.
I try asking him about a few more things, but he is oddly reticent. I
finally consult the walkthrough to see what the heck I'm supposed to do
with Steve, and find that I should ask him about 'terrorists'. What
terrorists? I had no idea terrorists were involved until now, except
possibly at a meta/player level, certainly not as my janitor persona.

Do security guards really say things like: "those bullies..." when
talking about terrorists? It seems doubtful.

And why can't I ask or tell Steve about Carl? I wanted to ask about Carl
to find out when Steve last saw him alive... and I wanted to tell Steve
about the murder. Presumably, as fellow security guards, they'd know
each other.

On a whim, I march back to the bathroom with Steve and run into Dave
Lebling's infamous play-testing bug from Suspect when I 'show body to
steve' and find that "Steve isn't impressed." Steve is made of sterner
stuff than I would have suspected from his earlier comment about "those
bullies". On an aside, why doesn't he respond to "Steven"? Is it like me
and my refusal to respond to "Mike"?

In the hallway outside of the control room (elegantly described as
looking "like an ordinary Hallway outside of control room to me"),
there's no mention of which way the control room lies, but when I do
eventually stumble in, I run into the "its/it's" problem. I was
wondering when it would show up, and I think this is the first
occurrence in this piece. It feels like an old friend.

I was stuck once again for a while, until I discovered that, while
reading the lockpicking book only produces the same text as examine,
trying to take it causes a lockpick to fall out of it. Why doesn't
reading it make this happen? Also, I should be able to open the book and
find the lockpick, but the game responds with "I don't know how to open
the lockpicking book." Hmm, perhaps with a lockpick then?

I wouldn't quibble about the reading thing so much except that reading
the chemicals book does actually read it, not just examine it. The
lockpicking book should work the same way. Note: this is why classes can
be useful.

There is one interesting thing here, which is the pouring of acid on a
lock, which was also found in my very own Risorgimento Represso. It's
even the same type of acid, though RR refers to it by its older name of
"muriatic acid". Still, funny coincidence.

So I get into the main office and, upon looking under the desk, find "a
combination", which upon examination is "a piece of paper with a
combonation written on it." A combo-nation? Right, like Trinidad and
Tobago, I guess. Of course, 'read combonation', as per the walkthrough,
doesn't work, but 'read combination' does. This is entirely in keeping
with the obvious fact that the author doesn't know how to spell this
word. But if you don't know how to spell it, how can you get it right in
some places and wrong in others?

Anyway, I've talked far too long about this game in general, so I shall
now proceed with the encouragements.

Author Encouragement:
I can't tell whether this game had any beta-testing, as 'help', 'about',
'credits' and so on don't work, and there is no readme file. I suspect
that it did not, given the number of gameplay problems.

This game would benefit greatly from a little bit of work by a competent
tester.

The writing and spelling could also use some serious work, and the story
needs more of a hook to it, or more of an element of uncovering details
about the attack as you go, at least to interest me, anyway.

The NPCs need some work as well, to make Steve more than a
two-dimensional cut-out figure, whose only real purpose, as far as I can
remember, was to open a door or two.

Also, try to anticipate reasonable actions with the objects you put into
your game. If you're going to tell people that they've run into a door,
they're likely to try to open it. Don't just put in support for the
steps in the walkthrough, or the things you want people to do. IF
players *like* fiddling around with the scenery, trying to open, break,
kiss, touch and otherwise interfere with your carefully constructed
backdrop. It's part of the fun.

In any case, in short, it's bad, but not unredeemable. It's better than
some of the other entries. Good luck on your next effort.

Bedroom Notes:
Why does this have to start in a bedroom? Why do there have to be all
these doorways to other bedrooms we can't enter? Why not have started in
the janitor's room, amidst brooms, buckets and so on? Or anywhere else,
really? Why couldn't one of the useless empty rooms that abound in the
game be instead, say, the infirmary, a reasonable location to find the
bandage? Well, never mind

Scoring:
W: 1
This had ubiquitous spelling and grammar mistakes, coupled with a rather
weak and simplistic story, of the 'take x to location y' type.

A: 2
Not terribly appealing at all. No clear identification of PC or goals of
the game, no clear statement of what was going on. 'x me' produces the
zero-information content reply of "You look about the same as always."

There were other unanswered questions such as what is this complex where
I work? Why is it under attack by terrorists? What do they want?

B: 2
Walkthrough as written does not get you through the game. Admittedly,
the puzzle is fairly easy to solve in any case, but by the point you've
gotten tired and turned to the walkthrough, you just want to finish, not
figure out in which way the walkthrough is broken. Missing synonyms
abound, unimplemented objects are rampant, including the armoire,
required to solve the game and completely unmentioned in the opening
location.

E: 1
I had little fun with this one either, due mainly to the writing,
spelling and implementation problems.

WABE score: 3


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Delvyn

Author: Tilli Productions, Santoonie Corporation
System: TADS2

Tagline Summary: Sigh.

Irritating. That's the overwhelming feeling I get from this game. When
the initial location contains point-scoring items that can't be seen
unless you 'x bedroom', I get irritated. When the same item continues to
be mentioned after you take them, I get more irritated.

When the main character gets achingly hunger some few turns after
consuming a huge plate of pancakes, the irritation mounts.

Speaking of the main character, I'm not sure why he's an elf living in
Newberry. It doesn't seem to make the slightest bit of difference to the
story, other than the elf's infravision resulting in not having to worry
about a light source puzzle (and I would gladly have put up with a light
source puzzle in exchange for dumping the hunger "puzzle").

Directions are scarce in numerous locations in this game, spelling
mistakes abound, plot details are encapsulated in room descriptions
(thus repeating themselves every time you "look"), and I ended up
quitting after a guess-the-verb puzzle just to get to a certain location
landed me in a spot where I could find no way proceed, or go back. As no
hints or walkthrough were provided, I was forced to give up.

Oh, and did I mention the annoying music that starts playing when you
type "About" ? More irritation.

Author Encouragement:
I'm not sure I really want to take the time to encourage this sort of thing.

Bedroom Notes:
If you insist on starting your game in a bedroom, at least give it a
description. Enough said.

Scoring:
W: 2
Passable, except that the story seems weak, and the spelling and grammar
are pretty poor.

A: 2
Generally unappealing. Hunger puzzles, spelling mistakes, missing
descriptions... bleah.

B: 2
Guess-the-verb parser problems, room descriptions that repeat plot
details every time you look (e.g. "You step into the room..."), and a
location that left me stranded with no way out. No thanks.

E: 2
Not entertaining for me, but it's not a 1, just because there does seem
to be a game there.

WABE score: 4


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The Fat Lardo and the Rubber Ducky

Author: ?
System: Zcode

Tagline Summary: Why are you reading this stupid review, you moron?

The only thing I can say about this is: am I supposed to enjoy this? I
have better games to review.

WABE score: 1


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Gourmet

Author: Aaron Reed
System: Zcode

Tagline Summary: [with apologies to Fawlty Towers]
Vera Davenport: the Mr. Hutchinson of IF (though guaranteed not to turn
out to be in the sssssppppoooon trade.

This was another one I really got a kick out of, and thus, will have a
shorter review than some of the others.

Gourmet is an enjoyable little evening in a gourmet restaurant that has
you preparing dishes, dealing with customers, and generally having a
great time. It's a game that, initially, I thought I wasn't going to
enjoy. I thought I would find the tasks mundane, and too much like real
work for my liking, but that turned out not to be the case.

There are a few oddities with some actions taking place behind the
scenes, as it were, or fairly innocuous actions triggering a whole bunch
of other things to happen. That wasn't too bad once I got used to
scanning the text carefully to be sure I didn't miss everything that had
happened.

Another oddity was the stack of first aid kits in the supply cupboard,
which can't be referred to as 'kit' or 'kits' but only as 'bandages' or
'stack'. It led me to believe they were just scenery for quite some time.

And then the syntax for getting the sheet music out of the glass frame
in the toilet was a little frustrating, as the game didn't recognise the
word 'frame', so I couldn't 'smash frame'.

A few other line break oddities showed up as well, and the endgame
looked like it was missing an rtrue to abort a default response, but
otherwise, this was an enjoyable little game.

Author Encouragement:
I don't have a lot to say here. I think a little more beta-testing would
be good, and would iron out a few of the formatting and synonym
irregularities, but overall, a very enjoyable and well-written piece.

Scoring:
W: 4
The writing was great, with a good sense of how to impart the comedy of
various situations without being heavy-handed. A nice treatment of the
action scenes as well, which seem to fall flat in a lot of IF.

A: 4
I really loved going through the tasks required in this game, and really
got the feeling I was running my own restaurant. I could feel the danger
of having the whole evening crash down around my lovely chef hat.

B: 3.5
The score is a little lower here, just for a lack of extra synonyms and
verbs, as well as the linebreak and formatting issues. I also had a
little bit of an issue with the extended actions triggered as a result
of some of my actions.

E: 4
I loved this one. Definitely one of the best I've seen so far. I think
shadows on the mirror just, and only just, edges Gourmet out because of
shadow's more polished feel.

WABE score: 7.75


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Slouching Towards Bedlam

Author: Star Foster & Daniel Ravipinto
System: Zcode

Tagline Summary: It's madness, I tell you, madness!

There's not much I can say here, other than that this was one of the
most interesting and enjoyable pieces of IF I've ever played.

The only minor (and I mean minor) quibble is the nuisance of listening
to the records at the beginning. I understand why it's necessary, and
someone whose game has as many long dumps of text as mine did is hardly
in a position to quibble.

Scoring:
W: 5
Excellent writing, outstanding story. Nice use of initials for object
descriptions as well.

A: 5
This game grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Wow.

B: 5
I did not find any bugs. Seems impeccably tested.

E: 5
Incredible fun, riveting. The moment I finished, I wanted to go back and
play it all again, knowing the outcome.

WABE score: 10


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Scavenger

Author: Quintin Stone
System: Zcode

Tagline Summary: If it isn't fixed in place, take it.

I should note that I didn't get around to Scavenger before the time came
to send in my author vote, so I suppose I really played it outside the
competition. As the last review to write, it's also one of the shortest,
as my enthusiasm is waning.

This was another one that I really enjoyed, in spite of myself. By that
I mean, I loaded it up and went "Oh no, post-apocalyptic world...", but
it was worth suspending judgement for a few turns, as this is a really
well-written, solid puzzle-fest with some good NPC work thrown in.

A lot of the interiors ended up being very reminiscent of Planetfall and
Stationfall for me (that's a compliment, I enjoyed those games), and I
liked the fact that there were multiple routes through the game.
The only complaint I have is with the radiation suit: once I wore it
outside, the guard immediately knew I wasn't a member of their faction,
as I was no longer wearing the jacket. I had envisioned the radiation
suit as one of those all-enveloping white things... thus the guard
outside would have assumed I was one of his pals from the complex.
Obviously a case of an "if jacket not worn" test. Minor though.

The biggest problem with this game is that I was enjoying playing it so
much, I didn't take any notes during gameplay, meaning my judging is
going mainly from memory.

Scoring:
W: 4.5
Great writing, enjoyable story, if a trifle workmanlike.

A: 4
This game was fun, and really gave me that old-school IF feeling.

B: 4
I did not find any bugs that I can recall.

E: 4.5
Lots of fun, taking me back to the heady days of 80s IF.

WABE score: 8.5
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