Valentine's belated If-Comp comments - part 2

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u...@mail.ru

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Nov 23, 2007, 1:35:08 PM11/23/07
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Here comes the rest of my IF-Competition comments.

Jealousy Duel X - 5

One of the IF rules (which I apparently just made up myself) says: if
you make a game so full of obscure puzzles and so unforgiveful to the
player's "mistakes" ("false" moves rendering it unwinnable
immediately), you should at least provide a save/restore facility. The
game is completely unfinishable within two hours without hints. Even
with hints, the risk of doing something wrong is still there. That's a
pity indeed: on one hand, the game excited me enough to make me sorry
I didn't finish it; on the other hand, not enough to make me force my
way through one and the same tedious click sequences over and over
again.

My Name is Jack Mills - 5

The author seems to have done everything right - there are many
endings, the player's goals stand out pretty clearly, and the puzzles
are well thought-out, with multiple solutions - but the result somehow
didn't impress me too much. I think the main complaint is the
impassibility of the narration, along with completely stereotyped
characters (there are many of them here - maybe even more than
locations). As the saying goes, there's nothing to catch one's
attention. Well, and sometimes (although not too often) the game world
alludes (mostly by means of underimplementation) to the need of
following the plot line more strictly. While the game's subtitle
(Interactive Pulp Fiction) suggests it was meant to be a parody, it's
not expressive enough even for that.

Across The Stars - 6

The game is made with great care, comes with a bunch of feelies and
generally demonstrates a very solid level of polish, but it still
didn't move me too much. I think the problem lies in (sorry for the
pun) lack of atmosphere in deep space: all the way I felt somehow
detached from the game, and didn't get any compensation for this (say,
in the form of super-interesting puzzles). Well, and it can't be
denied the story is full of cliches, either.

In the Mind of the Master - 6

At least for the third year in a row David Whyld enters a product of
the same product line into the competition, which I would call
(another bad pun) "mind games": all these works share the common
mystic idea of reincarnation/transmigration expressed in various
forms, along with a gameplay style that sometimes resembles CYOA, and
a somewhat emotionless narration. In the Mind of the Master isn't an
exception, although the author used a few tricks to allow multiple
paths through the game. Also, he did his best to create a very fancy
plot; however, I got the feeling it was done entirely for the sake of,
well, having a fancy plot. Turning to technical issues, I should
mention Adrift's "ears" - peculiar glitchies I tend to associate with
this development platform - poking out from all places. (Maybe I'm
wrong in my assumption those are platform-specific bugs; however, for
one thing, I mostly see them in Adrift games, not in Inform or TADS
(even if the latter are written badly); for another, I can't say
anything about Inform, but in TADS, you'd have to create such
peculiarities on purpose). I wouldn't mention those trifling things at
all, but I think such an experienced author should have learned by now
how to iron such "birthmarks" out (the more so as another Adrift entry
brilliantly demonstrates it can be done - see below for details).

All in all, I'd like to wish the author to come off the well-beaten
rut (which, to tell the truth, starts becoming pretty boring) next
year. He already proved he can write better than that (I'm thinking of
his Spot of Bother, for instance).

Varkana - 6

The story isn't bad, but is told not too emotionally. Among other
advantages, it has a rather thoroughly implemented game world
(although towards the end the author seemed to start running out of
patience). On the other hand, considering the gameplay consists of
talking with NPCs to at least fifty percent, the conversation system
has too many glitches. And, of course, puzzles of the "read the
author's mind" type combined with their persistent striving for
rendering the game unwinnable become a real scourge at some point.

Wish - 6

What can I say? Sorta very touching story about a little girl, but
somehow too uncomplicated. Nothing one can complain about, but leaves
me pretty cold at the same time. The puzzles match the story well -
they're as simple.

The Chinese Room - 7

You need way more than two hours to complete this game, especially
considering it anything but disposes to rushing (I'd even say, racing
through such a rich and well-implemented game world in a hurry is
almost a crime). However, this fact didn't affect my rating. The work
is created around a humorous fight against philosophyical concepts and
is done well, although a certain number of minor bugs, glitches and
obscure puzzles (including guess-the-verb moments) are also present.
But then, some of the jokes are really splendid.

Deadline Enchanter - 7

Probably the strangest game of this Competition. It probably even can
be called interactive fiction at a stretch only, since the player does
nothing other than following the walkthrough the narrator thrusts on
her/him - and yet, it's exciting. The central idea of the game
probably will make most people say: "Hah, that's nothing special!
Everyone could do that!" Besides, this idea made the author's work
easier to some extent. Yet, with all its apparent simplicity - it
seems so simple after someone has thought it up for you; besides, it's
implemented splendidly. The writing will remain in my memory for a
long time - it was exaggeratedly ponderous, and required (especially
from me referring to the dictionary a lot, and yet, it was thrilling
somehow.

My first association was Constraints from IF-Comp 2002, but after I
learned the author's name, I realized I should have known it better:
of course, Isolato Incident, 2001.

A Fine Day for Reaping - 7

Here, you have the unique opportunity to walk in the shoes of the Old
Lady with a Scythe*).

The gameplay made me think of a roller coaster ride: a rapid ascension
(for instance, a splendidly depicted cut-scene) was followed by a deep
fall (a bug, an unimplemented object in a room or a puzzle driving me
into a stupor). Apropos of puzzles: each... uhm... problem in the game
can be solved in three or four ways (of varying difficulty), but some
things I'd never have guessed myself (for instance, the fact that I
can visit places not mentioned in the list I'm give at the very
start). Several events/puzzle hints are controlled by a random
generator.


But I apply a blind eye to all this. Why? Because the bugs aren't
something unique and therefore will be forgotten soon, while all the
good features (in particular, the wonderful player character) will
stay in my memory associated with this very game!

* - Russians do everything over the left shoulder: our version of The
Grim Reaper is female.

Packrat - 7

Many players probably will be surprised by such a high rating. I'll
try to ground it. First of all, I found out about the objectively most
unfortunate features of the game, which could have inclined me against
it, from other reviews - somehow, I managed to avoid them myself for
the most part. Secondly, as to the other stumbling block, obscure
puzzles... I'm certainly not the person to complain about that. What
other drawbacks do we have? Several tiny glitchies/unimplemented
objects, and the game required me waiting almost several dozens turns
doing nothing at one point... Well, in my eyes, that's nothing
compared to the quality of the text. The wonderfully ironical
atmosphere pays for all. Meeting someone who has the same sense of
humour as you is always great!

Slap that Fish - 8

And one more most cheerful game (this competiton seems to have so many
of them). A pseudo-RPG(or pseudo-fighting), where you have various
fish as enemies. The only things to complain about are the obvious
lack of beta-testing and a somewhat overextended "prologue" (several
warm-up fights that can be won easily, yet tediously).

Update: The warm-up fights probably aren't necessarily tedious,
because you can develop strategies for getting the maximal score.
Personally, I didn't feel motivated to do that, but that's probably
just me.

An Act of Murder - 9

The most convincing IF-mystery I've ever seen, which in addition
allows multiple play-throughs. Besides, I person with such an
addiction to puns like myself just was bound to appreciate the game's
literary style. Considering all that, I forgave the game most of its
objective and subjective drawbacks, such as: subsequent play-throughs
aren't as interesting as the first one, because many actions remain
the same, and one has to reproduce them, which is somewhat tedious; a
few rather minor bugs (because of one of them, the chief inspector I
needed to report to didn't come at the time he should); some glitches
of the conversation system, as well as somewhat cumbersome procedure
for referencing records in the notebook (the game allways requires the
full form, "read about <topic> in notebook"); finally, the oblegatory
routine of reporting about practically each and any of these records
to the chief inspector (again, this gets especially annoying at
subsequent play-throughs). Still, all these are just minor issues for
such a wonderful detective story.

BTW, a curious observance: that's only the second game of the Comp for
which I needed to draw a map on paper (the first one was Reconciling
Mother). Either my memory gets more and more trained after all the
years playing IF, or approaches to game design do change indeed...

Finally, an advice: try experimenting with XYZZY in various rooms.

Lost Pig - 9

Now, I'm enjoying this competition more and more... A game with
writing stylized to resemble a semi-literate orc, a most detailed
world and great jokes... Too bad I wasn't the one who has written it!

And I typed that even before I knew the results of the Comp.

My Mind's Mishmash - 9

Yeah, that's cyberpunk in full action! (To be honest, I'm still not
quite sure what the term "cyberpunk" actually means, but as far as I
can tell - that's the very it. Indeed, that's probably the best Adrift
game I've ever seen. The only things one could take away a point for
(although I didn't) are a few somewhat obscure commands, as well as
the default reaction to "kill <somebody>". In every other respect,
it's an excellent game, which in addition has a non-trivial central
idea.

Orevore Courier - 10

You're a locked-in security officer of a spaceship carrying a high-
valuable (and specially dangerous) cargo, that suddenly gets attacked
by pirates. Oh, and you also have a zombie on board, who tries to
force his way through your door yelling "B-r-r-r-a-a-a-i-i-i-n-s!"

A wonderful, technically and stylistically flawless game. A small
revolution in gameplay - you interact with your environment
exclusively by means of the control panel. There's only one complain
(or, rather, a minor quibble) - the only intricate puzzle of the game
turned out to be incredibly tough; among other things, it requires
multiple restarts - certainly to the dislike of IF-purists. Yes, I had
to consult the full walkthrough to complete it... but I'm not going to
wreak out my frustration on that super-game just because I've been too
stupid to solve it!

Andreas Davour

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Nov 30, 2007, 4:01:26 PM11/30/07
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u...@mail.ru writes:

> Here comes the rest of my IF-Competition comments.

> My Name is Jack Mills - 5


>
> The author seems to have done everything right - there are many
> endings, the player's goals stand out pretty clearly, and the puzzles
> are well thought-out, with multiple solutions - but the result somehow
> didn't impress me too much. I think the main complaint is the
> impassibility of the narration, along with completely stereotyped
> characters (there are many of them here - maybe even more than
> locations). As the saying goes, there's nothing to catch one's
> attention. Well, and sometimes (although not too often) the game world
> alludes (mostly by means of underimplementation) to the need of
> following the plot line more strictly. While the game's subtitle
> (Interactive Pulp Fiction) suggests it was meant to be a parody, it's
> not expressive enough even for that.

You are aware of the fact that in noir fiction, stereotypes are part of
the genre, are you?

/Andreas

--
A: Because it fouls the order in which people normally read text.
Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?
A: Top-posting.
Q: What is the most annoying thing on usenet and in e-mail?

u...@mail.ru

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Dec 1, 2007, 5:40:31 AM12/1/07
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On 1 дек, 00:01, Andreas Davour <ante...@updateLIKE.uu.HELLse> wrote:
> u...@mail.ru writes:
> > Here comes the rest of my IF-Competition comments.
> > My Name is Jack Mills - 5
>
> > The author seems to have done everything right - there are many
> > endings, the player's goals stand out pretty clearly, and the puzzles
> > are well thought-out, with multiple solutions - but the result somehow
> > didn't impress me too much. I think the main complaint is the
> > impassibility of the narration, along with completely stereotyped
> > characters (there are many of them here - maybe even more than
> > locations). As the saying goes, there's nothing to catch one's
> > attention. Well, and sometimes (although not too often) the game world
> > alludes (mostly by means of underimplementation) to the need of
> > following the plot line more strictly. While the game's subtitle
> > (Interactive Pulp Fiction) suggests it was meant to be a parody, it's
> > not expressive enough even for that.
>
> You are aware of the fact that in noir fiction, stereotypes are part of
> the genre, are you?
>
> /Andreas

a) I don't think My Name Is Jack Mills can be called noir fiction.
Here's a definition of the genre from Wikipedia:

"Noir fiction is the name sometimes given to a mode of crime fiction
regarded as a subset of the hardboiled style. According to noir
aficionado George Tuttle,

In this sub-genre, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but
instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone
tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the
situation. Other common characteristics...are the emphasis on sexual
relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-
destructive qualities of the lead characters. This type of fiction
also has the lean, direct writing style and the gritty realism
commonly associated with hardboiled fiction."

Jack Mills *is* an outsider called to solve or fix the situation.
There's no emphasis on sexual relationships, etc., etc. Thus, probably
"hardboiled fiction" is a more appropriate definition of the genre
(although IMHO the PC barely demonstrated any "hardboiled" qualities).
Yes, I know you'd still point out that even in hardboiled fiction,
stereotypes are part of the genre;). See point b.

b) There are stereotypes and stereotypes. You can create a stereotyped
character that is fun for the reader/player in spite of being
stereotyped, or a lifeless puppet one can't say much about except of
it being, well, a stereotype. Unfortunately, the characters in Jack
Mills seemed to be of the second sort (at least, to me).

Valentine

Andreas Davour

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Dec 1, 2007, 2:45:54 PM12/1/07
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u...@mail.ru writes:

> On 1 дек, 00:01, Andreas Davour <ante...@updateLIKE.uu.HELLse> wrote:
>> u...@mail.ru writes:
>> > Here comes the rest of my IF-Competition comments.
>> > My Name is Jack Mills - 5
>>
>> > The author seems to have done everything right - there are many
>> > endings, the player's goals stand out pretty clearly, and the puzzles
>> > are well thought-out, with multiple solutions - but the result somehow
>> > didn't impress me too much. I think the main complaint is the
>> > impassibility of the narration, along with completely stereotyped
>> > characters (there are many of them here - maybe even more than
>> > locations). As the saying goes, there's nothing to catch one's
>> > attention. Well, and sometimes (although not too often) the game world
>> > alludes (mostly by means of underimplementation) to the need of
>> > following the plot line more strictly. While the game's subtitle
>> > (Interactive Pulp Fiction) suggests it was meant to be a parody, it's
>> > not expressive enough even for that.
>>
>> You are aware of the fact that in noir fiction, stereotypes are part of
>> the genre, are you?
>>
>

> a) I don't think My Name Is Jack Mills can be called noir fiction.
> Here's a definition of the genre from Wikipedia:

[snip]

> b) There are stereotypes and stereotypes. You can create a stereotyped
> character that is fun for the reader/player in spite of being
> stereotyped, or a lifeless puppet one can't say much about except of
> it being, well, a stereotype. Unfortunately, the characters in Jack
> Mills seemed to be of the second sort (at least, to me).

I think you read the definition on Wikipedia way to litterally, but
that's beside the point. You knew of the conventions but didn't enjoy
them as used. Fair enough.

Now, what would be interesting to know is what constitutes a character
that's fun for the reader/player, according to you? It's an important
step in writing good IF to engage the player. I have very low grades to
some games in the comp since they failed me in that aspect.

Poster

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Dec 1, 2007, 2:54:22 PM12/1/07
to

George Tuttle is not always right. Neither is Wikipedia. Please don't
suggest that works of fiction have hard-and-fast rules that every
example of the genre must follow!

> In this sub-genre, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but
> instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone
> tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the
> situation. Other common characteristics...are the emphasis on sexual
> relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-
> destructive qualities of the lead characters. This type of fiction
> also has the lean, direct writing style and the gritty realism
> commonly associated with hardboiled fiction."
>
> Jack Mills *is* an outsider called to solve or fix the situation.

Usually <> always.

> There's no emphasis on sexual relationships, etc., etc. Thus, probably

Common <> always.

> "hardboiled fiction" is a more appropriate definition of the genre
> (although IMHO the PC barely demonstrated any "hardboiled" qualities).
> Yes, I know you'd still point out that even in hardboiled fiction,
> stereotypes are part of the genre;). See point b.
>
> b) There are stereotypes and stereotypes. You can create a stereotyped
> character that is fun for the reader/player in spite of being
> stereotyped, or a lifeless puppet one can't say much about except of
> it being, well, a stereotype. Unfortunately, the characters in Jack
> Mills seemed to be of the second sort (at least, to me).

Harsh criticism of non-major IF authors is one of the *wonderful*
aspects of the IF community. It's like, "welcome to our party and here's
a complimentary knife in the back."

-- Poster

www.intaligo.com Building, INFORM, Seasons (upcoming!)

Daphne Brinkerhoff

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Dec 1, 2007, 10:42:43 PM12/1/07
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On Dec 1, 1:54 pm, Poster <poster@!nospam!.aurora.cotse.net> wrote:

> u...@mail.ru wrote:
> > b) There are stereotypes and stereotypes. You can create a stereotyped
> > character that is fun for the reader/player in spite of being
> > stereotyped, or a lifeless puppet one can't say much about except of
> > it being, well, a stereotype. Unfortunately, the characters in Jack
> > Mills seemed to be of the second sort (at least, to me).
>
> Harsh criticism of non-major IF authors is one of the *wonderful*
> aspects of the IF community. It's like, "welcome to our party and here's
> a complimentary knife in the back."

I'm sorry, but I can't agree that Valentine's comments constitute
"harsh criticism". The cruelest phrase he uses is "lifeless
puppet" (which doesn't seem very damning to me), and then he goes on
to imply that it may be just a personal opinion ("seemed to be... at
least, to me"). Also, his original post contained many praises for
"non-major IF authors" (like Admiral Jota, Brian Rapp, and Hugh
Dunnett [still pseudonymous at the time of Valentine's review,
AFAICT]) -- including praise for "My Name is Jack Mills", a game of
which he wrote, "The author seems to have done everything right". I
don't think the "non-major"-ness had anything to do with his opinions.

--
Daphne

u...@mail.ru

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Dec 2, 2007, 12:51:06 PM12/2/07
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On 1 Dec, 22:45, Andreas Davour <ante...@updateLIKE.uu.HELLse> wrote:

> I think you read the definition on Wikipedia way to litterally, but
> that's beside the point. You knew of the conventions but didn't enjoy
> them as used. Fair enough.
>
> Now, what would be interesting to know is what constitutes a character
> that's fun for the reader/player, according to you? It's an important
> step in writing good IF to engage the player. I have very low grades to
> some games in the comp since they failed me in that aspect.
>
> /Andreas

Hah! If I knew this, my game probably would end up in the top three!;)

Seriously, though, I really don't know what to answer, since there are
so many ways of making a character "alive" (and since it's such a
subjective matter what's likeable about a character and what not). The
best I could think of was the statement, "I like characters with a
well-defined personality". I'm pretty aware that's still very vague
and commonplace, though, so it might be better to refer to a few
specific examples. Characters in this Competition I liked best where
Grunk from Lost Pig (of course!), the zombies and pirates from Orevore
Courier, Packrat's PC, and the characters in A Fine Day for Reaping.
Specifically in the context of our discussion, I also have to mention
A Spot of Bother by David Whyld, where the characters, while nominally
stereotyped, where just hilarious. So, if you think that helps you...

On Dec 1, 22:45, Poster <poster@!nospam!.aurora.cotse.net> wrote:

> George Tuttle is not always right. Neither is Wikipedia. Please don't
> suggest that works of fiction have hard-and-fast rules that every
> example of the genre must follow!

I was just expressing my opinion, and you must have missed the word
"probably" in my post:

> Thus, *PROBABLY* "hardboiled fiction" is a more appropriate definition of the genre


> (although IMHO the PC barely demonstrated any "hardboiled" qualities).

I don't blame you, though, since there were so many other words
there;).

On Dec 1, 22:45, Poster <poster@!nospam!.aurora.cotse.net> wrote:

> Harsh criticism of non-major IF authors is one of the *wonderful*
> aspects of the IF community. It's like, "welcome to our party and here's
> a complimentary knife in the back."

Whether you believe it or not - I don't like being harsh at all, among
other things because I know how it feels when your game is ripped
apart. OTOH, I'm not going to say I liked a game even if I didn't.

On Dec 1, 6:42, Daphne Brinkerhoff wrote:

> I'm sorry, but I can't agree that Valentine's comments constitute
> "harsh criticism". The cruelest phrase he uses is "lifeless
> puppet" (which doesn't seem very damning to me), and then he goes on
> to imply that it may be just a personal opinion ("seemed to be... at
> least, to me"). Also, his original post contained many praises for
> "non-major IF authors" (like Admiral Jota, Brian Rapp, and Hugh
> Dunnett [still pseudonymous at the time of Valentine's review,
> AFAICT]) -- including praise for "My Name is Jack Mills", a game of
> which he wrote, "The author seems to have done everything right". I
> don't think the "non-major"-ness had anything to do with his opinions.

Thanks Daphne.

Valentine

Andreas Davour

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Dec 4, 2007, 1:18:14 PM12/4/07
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u...@mail.ru writes:

> On 1 Dec, 22:45, Andreas Davour <ante...@updateLIKE.uu.HELLse> wrote:
>
>> I think you read the definition on Wikipedia way to litterally, but
>> that's beside the point. You knew of the conventions but didn't enjoy
>> them as used. Fair enough.
>>
>> Now, what would be interesting to know is what constitutes a character
>> that's fun for the reader/player, according to you? It's an important
>> step in writing good IF to engage the player. I have very low grades to
>> some games in the comp since they failed me in that aspect.
>>
>

> Hah! If I knew this, my game probably would end up in the top three!;)

Now I notice that you was actually an author in the latest Comp. Thanks
for the entertainment I got!

I liked your game, even though I felt it had a bit of a stop-and-go feel
when you suddenly stumbled on a puzzle that had to be solved before
getting along. It did have, at least in my mind, an engaging
character. He was kind of ellusive, but you got some impressions of how
the character saw the world and I could "get inside his head" quite
quickly and identify with him. If the main character is a suave and
smooth thief and comments upon the world with a certain aloofness I find
it a good way to establish character and get you hooked. Just like in
"Lost Pig" where everything is described from the point of view of an
unsofisticated orc. Comment from an "objective" point of view is the
killer, I think.

> Seriously, though, I really don't know what to answer, since there are
> so many ways of making a character "alive" (and since it's such a
> subjective matter what's likeable about a character and what not). The
> best I could think of was the statement, "I like characters with a
> well-defined personality". I'm pretty aware that's still very vague
> and commonplace, though, so it might be better to refer to a few
> specific examples. Characters in this Competition I liked best where
> Grunk from Lost Pig (of course!), the zombies and pirates from Orevore
> Courier, Packrat's PC, and the characters in A Fine Day for Reaping.
> Specifically in the context of our discussion, I also have to mention
> A Spot of Bother by David Whyld, where the characters, while nominally
> stereotyped, where just hilarious. So, if you think that helps you...

Thanks for your thoughts! I might have to check "A Spot of Bother"
out. I realize that enaging and real character don't need to be the same
thing in my mind. I very seldom care if the character feel "real" or
not. Grunk felt consistent, and that made him good. I think you could
write IF with a totally consistent character that don't feel engaging,
though. There were games in the latest Comp which might have been "real"
but I just found them annoying and for me I must first sympathize with a
character, and them I might realize it's "real" and consistent, unless I
get caught up in just solving puzzles and collecting treasure which I
still think is more fun than stories where nothing gets done.

u...@mail.ru

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Dec 4, 2007, 9:55:02 PM12/4/07
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On 4 Dec, 21:18, Andreas Davour <ante...@updateLIKE.uu.HELLse> wrote:

> I liked your game, even though I felt it had a bit of a stop-and-go feel
> when you suddenly stumbled on a puzzle that had to be solved before
> getting along. It did have, at least in my mind, an engaging
> character. He was kind of ellusive, but you got some impressions of how
> the character saw the world and I could "get inside his head" quite
> quickly and identify with him. If the main character is a suave and
> smooth thief and comments upon the world with a certain aloofness I find
> it a good way to establish character and get you hooked.

Why, thank you!

> I very seldom care if the character feel "real" or
> not. Grunk felt consistent, and that made him good. I think you could
> write IF with a totally consistent character that don't feel engaging,
> though. There were games in the latest Comp which might have been "real"
> but I just found them annoying and for me I must first sympathize with a
> character, and them I might realize it's "real" and consistent, unless I
> get caught up in just solving puzzles and collecting treasure which I
> still think is more fun than stories where nothing gets done.

Yes, that's so much like in real life. I met enough people who
undoubtedly were genuinely real, but completely uninteresting at the
same time;).

Valentine

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