[Comp00] Tril's Competition Reviews (2 of 4)

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Suzanne Britton

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Nov 16, 2000, 12:08:22 AM11/16/00
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Guess The Verb!
by Leonard Richardson

I'm afraid this one didn't get much of a chance. Of the five available
scenarios, the first one I hit was the way, waaaay too injokey college
scene. I was in a CS club in my college days, and it was still too much.
I'd basically been tossed into the middle of someone else's life without
warning--complete with authentic recreations of his pals and himself.
Ennnh. Perhaps this is what BAP would feel like to someone who's never
heard of Andrew Plotkin.

Anyway, I tired of this PDQ, and went to the hints to find out if there
was more to the game. There was, as it turned out, so I went to explore
some of the other scenarios. Overall, I didn't find the random assortment
of scenes and "guess the verb" puzzles very interesting, although it's
hard to tell whether my interest would have held up better without that
first scenario. The game at least seems to be decently programmed and
well-meaning, which keeps it out of the 1-2 range. Since I suspect I got
an unfair first impression, I'll bump it up to 4.

Oh well. At least I got a chuckle out of this:

>give clip to fred
Fred eyes the paperclip with disdain. "If I wanted a paperclip, I'd use
vigor," he says.

Rating: 4

-------------------------------------------------------

Stupid Kittens
By Pollyanna Huffington

Hoo boy.

Perhaps I'm biased by being a cat-lover, but there just isn't much to like
here. In fact, there isn't much here at all.

On the bright side, games like this make the 53-game competition bundle
seem that much less daunting.

Rating: 1

-------------------------------------------------------

Letters From Home
by Roger Firth

"I'm sick of seeing people's houses. Everywhere I look there's people's
houses. Why, God, WHY?!"
-- C.E. Forman

This bit of classic CEF sums up my criticism of "Letters From Home",
another wordplay game which, unfortunately, failed to satisfy as "Ad
Verbum" did. Most of the game is spent exploring a large, rather dull
house and gathering objects (actually, gathering letters of the alphabet
masquerading as objects -- but "Spellcasting 101" did this sort of thing
better, IMHO, with the "kabbul" puzzle). The only thing that kept me going
through this was the promise of crosswordy goodness in the game's
prologue.

And finally I got there: an elegant little cryptic crossword using each
letter of the alphabet once. As mentioned previously, I'm a fan of
cryptics, so I liked this part. Then again, I have books filled with them,
and there was nothing particularly interesting about the crossword in
"Letters" besides its pangrammic quality.

I was nevertheless inclined to give this game a 7, until I reached the
end. It wasn't exactly a satisfying ending. Is there a better one? I
couldn't find it.

Hmm. I'm sounding more lackluster about "Letters From Home" than I wanted
to. It *was* highly clever (the various easter eggs, the fact that the words
in the crossword form a well-known pangram sentence, etc.) and I did enjoy
parts of it. I just found the experience dry and unsatisfying in the end.

Rating: 6

-------------------------------------------------------

Masquerade
by Kathleen M. Fischer

"Masquerade" is an excellent work of story-based IF in a little-used genre
(romance, specifically, civil-war era romance). It is perhaps the most
immersive game I've played yet this year. When I started playing, my mind
was still spinning with outside thoughts and residual stress. Soon, I
became utterly engrossed in the well-sketched gameworld and all else faded
to black.

The setting is impeccable: no anachronisms or oversights. I truly felt
like I was in the 1800's. The protagonist (a feminist before her time)
also came across quite strongly, and I enjoyed stepping into the shoes of
someone so like and yet unlike me.

Though the plot of "Masquerade" is fairly linear, for most of the way,
there are several forks in the later parts of the game which lead to
different endings based on your decisions. This was a big part of my
enjoyment: of the 12 endings, I've found about a third, and am eager to go
back and find more after the comp. I was especially pleased that choosing
to strike out on your own (sans deed, sans husband) was a valid option,
and though the author didn't quite sanction it as a "winning" ending (an
odd word to use with story-based IF anyway), the outcome was positive and
rewarding (it's my favorite ending of those I found). In that respect,
Masquerade is hardly a "genre" romance.

In spite of this praise, "Masquerade" didn't quite make my 9-10 bracket.
There are several reasons for this. The first is something the author
couldn't have done much about: the genre is not my usual cup of tea. I
prefer stories with fantastical or SF elements (the story-in-a-story in
"Photopia" counts) to straight fiction.

The second is implementation: there were enough guess-the-verb and
guess-the-action problems to be annoying. This is an especial show-stopper
in such a linear game, which often halts your progress entirely, locking
you in your current location, until you deal with the matter at hand.
Example: "dance with Jonathan". It sounds embarrassingly obvious now, but
at the time, I assumed that we would go into the ballroom together, *then*
dance. But "west" returned the stock failure message about Mrs. Stanford
being at the door, and this stymied me for a while.

Sometimes the problem is syntax, other times it's more a problem of being
expected to read the author's mind. I'm not referring to puzzles (of which
there are a few), rather cases where what I want to do is obvious, but how
to tell the game that is not-so-obvious. Another example: the only way
I've found to get Ethan's attention in the train is to "get tickets".
Until I've done that, I can't talk to him, touch him, sit with him, or
otherwise interact with him. The reason given is fairly lame ("You
wouldn't want to be that forward") and doesn't do much to point me in the
right direction. Worse, if I flounder around like that for more than a few
turns, I'm ejected from the train and it takes off!

When the game mechanics worked--and make no mistake, they often did--they
worked *splendidly*. I wended my way through the story in mimetic bliss,
barely conscious of the fact that I was typing rather than living out my
actions. The tight boundaries of the gameworld remained invisible. But
when the mechanics failed, they failed with a loud crunching halt.

(One extra positive note on implementation: I was impressed by and
appreciative of the many stock message replacements [in fact, I've been
impressed that way by several games this year]. E.g., when you type an
invalid command: "You mutter something incomprehensible". Or for
disambiguation, "You pause to think, <x> or <y>?")

Third: the game sometimes went overboard in limiting my actions. Some of
this is acceptable--there are things a 19th-century woman simply does not
do--but some of it came across as programming laziness. Whatever the
reason, I was disappointed at not being allowed to give Jonathan a good
slap!

Rating: 8

-------------------------------------------------------

The Masque of the Last Faeries
by Ian Ball

Ah yes, mystery and intrigue at a masque--a worthy tradition dating back
to Poe. "The Masque of the Last Faeries" is a well-conceived story of a
plot-within-a-plot-within-a-plot, set on the backdrop of a masquerade
party whose staged storyline seems to mirror the "real" story. This game
also employs the trick introduced by Adam Cadre in "9:05": your character
is not quite who you think he is. But unlike "9:05", the plot does not
resolve itself in the end. "Masque" cheerfully leaves the player with more
questions than answers, at least in all the endings I could find.

I wish I could rate this one higher, because I really like the concept and
the storytelling. Regrettably, the author's writing and programming skills
didn't live up to the task. Both are amateur and poorly proofread, leading
to a gaming experience that frustrated me and stymied my every attempt to
immerse myself in the story. The first part, the writing, has potential
(the room descriptions within the masque are especially evocative), but
needs serious polishing and a bucketful of extra punctuation ("The lady
says that it was nice meeting you and that she had better hurry and get
into her costume now.").

The programming problems are more serious: much of what goes into making a
truly interactive gameworld is either buggy or missing. Few of the stock
library responses have been customized. When they aren't in cut scenes, or
responding to a few key puzzle-related topics, the characters seem about
as responsive as cardboard:

>ask julia about herself
There is no reply.
>ask julia about julia
There is no reply.
>ask julia about me
There is no reply.
>tell julia about me
This provokes no reaction.

It's hard to tell how much of this unresponsiveness is due to bugs, and
how much to lack of implementation. The hints claim that I can tell the
goblin about what's going on, for instance--but I tried at least 100
different ways of doing just that (tell about locket, tell about Julia,
give locket, etc.) and none of it interested him. I've run the gamefile
through txd and that revealed that I missed a fair bit of optional
dialogue, for whatever reason. This inclines me to be at least a little
more forgiving.

There were also a number of obvious logic/timing bugs and oversights. How
is it that the green man is simultaneously at the masque, and chasing me
around the house? I can be chatting jovially with him one turn, and
then...

>ask green man about masque
"I guess it's a bit of fun if you like that sort of thing,' he says.

Your pursuit is at an end, trapped by the green skinned man and a couple
of heavy servants. [etc.]

So, at the end of it all, "The Masque of the Last Faeries" gets the same
score I gave "Lomalow" last year: 10 for concept, 0 for follow-through. I
hope to see more from this author in the future, as I'm sure that the
second part will improve with practice.

Rating: 5

-------------------------------------------------------

Metamorphoses
by Emily Short

I started this one while on break at work, and I realized from the first
screenful of text that I was in for something special. Soon after, I
reached this point:

The only furniture is an ornate metal pole, branching at the top, with
dozens of bells hung from the branches.

>x pole
Tiny silver bells, each with its tongue.

>shake pole
The sound is light and clear. A thousand tiny circles form and dissipate
on the surface of the water, as though it rained.

--And with that, I set the game aside. I realized that this one deserved
way better than being played over my lunch break.

(But the vision it had just painted stayed in my mind for at least the
next hour.)

I returned to "Metamorphoses" that night, and had the most enchanting two
hours this competition has offered me yet. Halfway through, I realized
that it was going to get a 10. By the end, I wanted to give it an 11.

"Metamorphoses" takes place in an otherworldly realm--a plane obliquely
linked with the physical world--to which you have been sent on an errand.
The experience abounds with breathtaking bits of imagery like the one
above, clever and well-organized symbolism (e.g. the many mirrors), and
many optional nooks and crannies to explore as you perform your task. In
the process of exploration, you may learn more about yourself and your
past as well.

The theme of "Metamorphoses" is, appropriately, metamorphosis.
Transformation of objects, of elements, of light, of the universe, of
yourself. The last is what made this game not merely an evocative
experience, but an inspiring one. Your character is strengthened and
changed by the travails she goes through to complete her assignment. She
comes out of the experience with a power of complete self-determination,
and therefore the ending of this strange tale is entirely up to the
player. I found four different endings and there may well be more.

It must be noted that the inspiring quality of "Metamorphosis" is neither
warm nor personal. The protagonist seems to live in a cold, lonely, almost
Nietzchean reality. There is her, there is a distant, shadowy master who
uses her as a tool, and all else is symbol, machinery, visions, paintings
on the wall. She rises through mastery of this impersonal world, a lone
figure in the night. It's hard to say whether this coldness is a
reflection of her own inner character (there are hints of a painful and
isolating past), or an external reality. I didn't find this depressing,
but certainly, "Metamorphoses" is not a game that stokes soft, human
sentiments. It appeals to the scientist in us, to the lover of sharp,
mathematical beauty, and also to the proud loner. "Metamorphoses" didn't
make me cry or make me grin, but it made me catch my breath in awe many,
many times.

The programming is no less than astounding. It is both technically and
creatively flawless. Every object can be transformed in multiple ways,
leading to inventory listings like this:

You are holding:
a tube (made of cloth) (enlarged)

--and everything behaves as it should in its current state (just playing
with the object transformers is great fun, apart from the rest of the
game). Paintings and sculptures that already teem with detail, open up yet
more if you take a magnifying glass to them. Every puzzle yielded to a
logical solution--when I thought of something that *should* work according
to the laws of physics, it *did* work!

Writing: also impeccable. Emily's writing style is clearly inspired by
Plotkin's, but IMHO, goes beyond it (and yes, that's saying a lot).

The multiple endings were the icing on the cake--a final pleasant
surprise. My favorite was in the Dome of Broken Light.

I have only one criticism of any substance: the pop-up quotes. They add
nothing to the game, IMHO, and interrupt the flow of immersion.

"Metamorphoses" is the first IF work that I consider a peer to "Photopia".

Rating: 10

-------------------------------------------------------

Prodly the Puffin
by Craig Timpany and Jim Crawford

This one took me by surprise.

Just the name raised a skeptical eyebrow. And when I saw the opening text,
I braced myself for another "Stupid Kittens". To my (pleasant) surprise,
"Prodly the Puffin" is both playable and fun. It's a bizarre and manic
romp, reminiscent of the best of the SpeedIF games (though rather more
polished for obvious reasons): you're a puffin, and dammit, you want your
pitchfork back.

I'm not sure whether I'm as twisted as the authors, or just got lucky, but
I was able to complete "Puffin" (with minimal hints) in a half hour.
Rather than being logical, the puzzles were the sort where I stumbled
across the solution naturally in the process of playing around. The game
encourages such experimentation by being well-programmed (another thing
that took me by surprise), providing plenty of optional detail and snarky
responses.

Most of all, "Prodly the Puffin" is funny. Exchanges like this one had me
giggling like a maniac:

>ask people about luggage belt
"This place is a blimin' shambles! Me poor old pussycat went to
Valhalla, when it should be coming with me to Hell. Hate to think how
long it's going to take to track the old thing down. Inexcusable! It's
only 'cause they've got a monopoly you know..."

>ask them about valhalla
"To go to Valhalla, you have to be killed in battle. Must have been some
kick-ass cat," someone reasons.

This was just what I needed to lighten me up after coming out of the
deadly serious "Metamorphoses".

"Prodly the Puffin" isn't what anyone would call a masterpiece, but it's
fun.

Rating: 6

-------------------------------------------------------

My Angel
by Jon Ingold

[Warning: spoiler city. I wasn't able to talk about "My Angel" in any
detail without giving away its conceit.]

Another wonderful surprise.

I started "My Angel" in the default "novel" mode--command line in a frame
at the top, paragraphs presented without intervening blank lines at the
bottom. I took an instant dislike to this, and to the way the game seemed
to coerce my actions, paying little attention to what I typed in and
shuttling me through the storyline unbidden. Well, I turned off novel mode
(whew--much better), continued on with the story, and by the time I
reached part II, I was spellbound. My unlikely suitor had swept me off my
feet.

"My Angel" is a vivid stream-of-consciousness tale of a flight and a
discovery. In the background, throughout, is the telepathic connection
between you and your companion, your "angel". The author did a terrific
job of this (a better job, I fear, than I did in trying to portray a
telepath in "Worlds Apart"). It felt *right*, as natural as breathing.
However, I did not discover the "think about" syntax until I checked the
walkthrough--it would be good to better document this or at least hint at
it.

The writing felt rough, unpolished, after coming recently out of
"Metamorphoses" (what a hard act to live up to!), but once I got used to
the author's voice, it grew on me. It was very stream-of-consciousness, as
I mentioned--rather than getting a precise room description as you look
around, you get your own thoughts regarding what you see (often these
thoughts change each time you type "look"). In time, I fell into that
stream and drank with abandon, immersing myself in the dual-identity of
myself and my angel.

The feeling of "coercion" I mentioned faded with time--the author seems to
gradually hand over the reins to the player, letting them drive the story,
and letting them overcome the obstacles on their own (this might make "My
Angel" a good novice game). Puzzles were logical and for the most part
easy to solve.

There were a few special high points. I loved the flashbacks, especially
the flashback as Angela. It dawned on me slowly that I was now typing
commands as her, not as myself--the realization felt natural, intuitive,
just as it might be in a true dream sequence. The glowing vines, and the
two puzzles they involved, were another favorite bit. I loved the imagery
of sap made of light.

The ending left everything in perfect mystery.

My biggest criticism, I guess, is the lack of documentation on "think
about". This is such an important part of the game--revealing so many
details of your past that would otherwise stay hidden--that I think it
should be mentioned in the help (what I tried initially was the standard
"ask about", assuming that the game would translate this to a telepathic
query if appropriate). But I can see that this presents a challenge: the
author has mentioned in e-mail that he wants people to figure out the
telepathy aspect for themselves (it's not immediately obvious that it even
exists), and I agree, making this discovery oneself is neat. How to cue
people on "think about" without giving it away?

I didn't care for "Novel" mode, as mentioned, but perhaps I'm just too
stuck in my ways. The biggest problem was the lack of intervening blank
lines -- text on a computer screen is just painful to read without those
("alternate" mode helps, but I still prefer the old-fashioned way). But
this can be configured away, so it's not really a problem.

The way objects are automatically placed in your satchel is a nice touch,
although it confused me at first, when I picked things up and they didn't
show in my inventory. The inventory style itself makes it harder to see
what you're carrying at a glance, but also blends with the novel-like
format better than a standard mechanical inventory would.

Rating: 10

-------------------------------------------------------

Nevermore
by Nate Cull

A classic in every respect. Nevermore is one of the less experimental
games this year, but it succeeds splendidly in the old style: intricate
inventory-based puzzles, weighty tomes to pore over, and a spooky old
tower to explore. There is no lack of good writing and good plot-setting
either, though this isn't as much a story-based work as, say, "My Angel",
and there is almost no NPC interaction.

The game, as one might guess, is inspired by Poe's "The Raven", yet it is
not at all derivative. Rather, the author has picked bits of theme and
imagery out of the poem and created an original story which encompasses
them.

The puzzles are the star of the show. There is really one major puzzle,
the ritual, with many components. Most of the game is spent gathering
information for this ritual, interpreting the veiled, allegorical
instructions found in the aforementioned weighty tomes. You must also
gather the materials for the ritual, though this part is straightforward
once you know what you need. The process of information gathering and
interpretation is great fun. I had to consult the hints a few times,
though I suspect I could have done it on my own if not for the two-hour
limit. Speaking of which, the hint system is well done, and the "winnable"
verb (which lets you know if you have inadvertently cut yourself off from
the endgame) is much appreciated.

There are a few bugs, some nearly show-stoppers. Perhaps the worst is that
'say "<magic word>"' (with quotes) in the pit doesn't work, and gives no
indication that your syntax is wrong rather than your word. For the most
part, though, the parser works as expected, and the gameworld feels
complete and polished.

The bit about linen ashes (which I assume is a red herring) stymied me for
some time. Also, shouldn't the game be marked unwinnable once you've
burned the strips? (And if so, this is a rather brutal red herring.)

Rating: 9

[Continued]

--
tr...@igs.net - http://www.igs.net/~tril/
"I'm aware of that, sweetheart. It's just that when I wake up to a hissing
goat skull on my nightstand, and it hops off and runs across the floor on
spider legs, I sleep a lot better knowing where it ran off to."
- Ted (Red Meat)

Craxton

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Nov 16, 2000, 2:32:47 AM11/16/00
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Crap! 0_o;;;; There were FOUR endings to Metamorphesis? I only found two,
I'll have to go play through it again now...

Goody. ^_^

-Craxton


Domokov

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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>Crap! 0_o;;;; There were FOUR endings to Metamorphesis? I only found two,
>I'll have to go play through it again now..

There are CONSIDERABLY more than four endings in Metamorphosis. I was amazed.

(also, there are considerably more endings to Kaged than some people have
mentioned, but that's another thread)

Ian Finley

ka...@plover.net

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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In rec.arts.int-fiction Craxton <cra...@erols.com> wrote:
: Crap! 0_o;;;; There were FOUR endings to Metamorphesis? I only found two,

: I'll have to go play through it again now...

: Goody. ^_^

We were counting over on ifMUD, and we found 12-13 (depending on how you
count). Knowing Emily, there's prolly more.

katre


Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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[SPOILERS, obviously]

In rec.arts.int-fiction ka...@plover.net wrote:
> In rec.arts.int-fiction Craxton <cra...@erols.com> wrote:

> : Crap! 0_o;;;; There were FOUR endings to Metamorphesis? I only found two,


> : I'll have to go play through it again now...
>

> We were counting over on ifMUD, and we found 12-13 (depending on how you
> count). Knowing Emily, there's prolly more.

Okay, time to count.

I found exactly two: get five shapes and go back through the original
mirror; get five shapes and go back through the curved mirror.

It was obvious that the beam of light led to an ending somehow, but
either I missed a clue or I failed a guess-the-verb test, because I
couldn't make it do anything.

More?

(followups to rec.games.int-fiction only, please)

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

ka...@plover.net

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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In rec.arts.int-fiction Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
: [SPOILERS, obviously]

:> We were counting over on ifMUD, and we found 12-13 (depending on how you


:> count). Knowing Emily, there's prolly more.

: Okay, time to count.

: I found exactly two: get five shapes and go back through the original
: mirror; get five shapes and go back through the curved mirror.

I'd be happy to go into the list, but Lucian gives a much better description
than I could, in his reviews on rgif. Read, enjoy, good luck.

(And for the record, Lucian, I had no clue that there _was_ a solution to
the grate puzzle that used th yarn, so I'm sorry if my hints weren't very
helpful.)

katre


Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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ka...@plover.net wrote:
> In rec.arts.int-fiction Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
> : [SPOILERS, obviously]

> :> We were counting over on ifMUD, and we found 12-13 (depending on how you
> :> count). Knowing Emily, there's prolly more.

> : Okay, time to count.

> : I found exactly two: get five shapes and go back through the original
> : mirror; get five shapes and go back through the curved mirror.

> I'd be happy to go into the list, but Lucian gives a much better description
> than I could, in his reviews on rgif.

And his transcript page. Thanks be.

Emily Short

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Nov 16, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/16/00
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----------
In article <97439123...@rexx.com>, Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com>
wrote:


>ka...@plover.net wrote:
>> In rec.arts.int-fiction Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>> : [SPOILERS, obviously]
>
>
>
>> :> We were counting over on ifMUD, and we found 12-13 (depending on how you
>> :> count). Knowing Emily, there's prolly more.

No, that's pretty much it. Galatea this is not.

>> : Okay, time to count.
>
>> : I found exactly two: get five shapes and go back through the original
>> : mirror; get five shapes and go back through the curved mirror.
>
>> I'd be happy to go into the list, but Lucian gives a much better description
>> than I could, in his reviews on rgif.
>
>And his transcript page. Thanks be.

Or, if you like: emshort.home.mindspring.com/games.htm has assorted related
stuff, including a sort of making-of write-up and a list of all the options
for puzzle solutions.

ES

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