[comp03] Just five reviews

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Alexandre Owen Muniz

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Nov 20, 2003, 2:06:48 AM11/20/03
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I only got to five games this year. This is about how many I got to the previous two years
too. But this time I voted, and wrote reviews. Comp03.z5 didn't give me many Inform games
early in the lineup. It did give me Domicile, but I took a break from it and never felt
like getting back to it. So, forthwith, four TADS games and one Alan game:

Temple of KAOS

I do not like abstract-setting IF. Give me a setting that feels like a real place, give me
second and third level objects, give the PC a backstory and a family. Temple of KAOS,
instead, started by giving me two chests. Inauspicious.

The poetry, it is not good. That said, I admire the audacity of the experiment. And I
think it is well suited to the sparse abstract style here. There are few objects, with few
relevant features; giving the words in the responses some interest in themselves is a
reasonable way to keep the text interesting.

The puzzle of the chests was a good puzzle, with an "a-ha" moment of figuring out the
answer, and it worked. The range of possible actions is more constrained than I like, but
since the world does not follow the logic of our world, it may be a good design choice to
limit the range in which one can flail about to those actions that illuminate or apply the
logic that reigns in this world.

The Presence forced me to resort to the walkthrough. The desired action here was
*reasonable*, but so are many other actions, and none that I tried really clued it, or
even got non-default responses for the most part. And then I had to go back to the
walkthrough for the last required actions, which make no sense at all.

The second section had a nice twist to the darkness puzzle, which I got another little
a-ha moment from. Only I did it slightly differently than how the author intended, so I
didn't trigger the scene change and had to go back to the walkthrough and do what the
author wanted.

Eventually, like monochrome canvasses in the Rothko chapel, the abstract settings started
to add up to a bigger picture, and with the fourth section, which was the least abstract,
I started to get a real feeling for the world, which I liked a lot. This section was also,
unfortunately, full of things not making sense, and required actions that were completely
unmotivated.

In the last section I half-got the puzzle, and could have used a nudge to tell me I half
got it, instead of being forced to the walkthrough again. But it works nicely as a coda to
the game. The overall shape of the game worked well, I thought.

6.

The Recruit

All competently done. The writing is smooth, the depth of implementation is very good, the
puzzles make sense. I was able to get most of most of them on my own, and when I couldn't
solve them, the hint system did a good job of giving me just what I needed. And yet, as
flawed as the previous game was, it did so much more to capture my imagination. Here, I'm
always aware that I'm playing a game, because hey, that's all the pc is doing. And the
little IF in-jokes just make me disengage further. I'm not against in-jokes per se. I
thought they worked great in Being Andrew Plotkin, but there they were all integrated into
the world of the game enough that if I hadn't caught the references, I wouldn't have known
that I was being fed deliberate in-jokes. For example, both games include IFmud
transcripts, but in BAP you, (as zarf,) are a participant, and here we get part of a xyzzy
award ceremony thrown in without a particularly good reason for it being there.

7.

Amnesia

I hesitated about giving this a 1. I want to reserve the dreaded 1 for games where either
the author didn't make an effort, or where bugs or a really bad parser prevent me from
seeing that effort. Despite the atrocious writing, the shoddy depth of implementation,
(nearly all of the nouns that aren't directly used in a puzzle are not implemented,) the
unremarkable setting, (even Volcano Isle did this better,) the boring puzzles, (all of
which that I got to are simple find key, use key variations,) and the bugs, I recognise
that the author has put in, (barely,) enough effort to make this game deserve a 2, if
those were its only problems. However I ultimately decided that taking a game with all of
those flaws and peppering it with self-deprecating remarks is another way to earn a 1.
There you go, crazydwarf. Have a little pride, and you can double the score you get from
me next time. And maybe that pride will make you work on all of the other problems as well.

(I only got about 3/4 of the way through before giving up on this game.)

1. [Although if I had gotten to any of the truly awful games in this comp, I probably
would have bumped it up to a two after all.]

Sardoria

The game drops us into a wine cellar without a prologue. leaving me confused as to why I
am there. The info I needed was in the >X ME text, but it should have been in the prologue.

Four straight read-the-author's-mind puzzles. Then a freaking passcode lock. In a freaking
medieval fantasy. (This turned out to be the best puzzle in the entire game.) [Note: I got
it on my first try. I considered the Owl as a symbol for wisdom, but decided it would be
inappropriate, because that is a symbol from Greek mythology, and we are on a world that
is not Earth, and that is, therefore, free of Greece.] Then a bunch more read-the-author's
mind puzzles, although some of the later ones may have been better clued; by the end I had
given up trying to solve them on my own. The hints provided were rarely helpful, and I had
to go straight to the walkthroughs.

Metric in medieval fantasy bugs me. A kilogram is a metal cylinder in Paris, and it didn't
exist in medieval times. (And we are on a world that is free of Paris.)

The writing is mostly ok, but it could use a native speaker going over it carefully. I
like fantasy, which probably predisposed me to give this game a chance, but I prefer it
when a fantasy world has some distinctive features that make it different from every other
fantasy world.

3. [again, I'd have bumped it up by one if I'd played more games, I think.]

Episode in the Life of an Artist

[It seems that I got things out of this game that most people didn't, and that, indeed,
may not really be there. It may also be that many people got out of it what I did, but
didn't think it particularly profound, and my finding it so is a symptom of the
shallowness of my intellect. Note: the following is a little more spoily than the other
reviews.]

My initial reaction on starting this game was to want to smack the pc. I felt that I'd
found this year's Scary House Amulet!, a game competently produced but with a narrative
voice too annoying to bear. By the end I'd come to believe that I'd found this year's
(less polished) Shade.

Initially, I felt a little uneasy about the first person point of view, but I quickly
agreed that it was appropriate for this game. Too much of what was going on was internal,
and in second person IF showing what the PC thinks and feels is dangerous, because the
player identifies with the PC, and if the PC feels something different from what the
player does, mimesis is broken along with the sense of identification. And I didn't really
want to identify with this PC, who is most definitely not me. Eventually, I started to
feel that the PC's quirks were more endearing than annoying. And then it clicked. The
lower than average intelligence, the obsession with quotations, the love of routine and
the fear when routine is broken-- the PC is an autist. I suspect that the title is an
intentional pun.

One problem with first person IF is that it raises the question of who the player is
supposed to be, if the player is not the PC. One response, the one used by LASH and
FAIL-SAFE is to identify the player with another character who is directing the PC's
actions. The other possible approach is to beg the question, and simply direct the
player's attention away from the problem. Episode appears to take this latter tactic. And
then the PS, in a particularly stressful situation, directed to do somthing that he is
troubled by, says "Please don't make me...." The player is thrown. I thought I didn't
exist in the world of the game, but now the pc is addressing me. Who am I? Am I a voice in
his head? I put that aside, finished the game, and then, at the end, looked at the
'outtakes', (presented in the style of film outtakes,) and had my perception of the game
twisted around. The outtakes suggest that the PC, after the events of the game, has become
an actor, and is playing himself or a character similar to himself in the game.

There was one other moment that suggested the narration was not reliable. The pc uses the
word grue, then quickly corrects himself. Later on, grues come into the story. This can be
explained by referring back to the metanarrative, in which the PC, as an actor, knows
what's coming. And the metanarrative also explains the "Please don't make me" comment. The
PC has broken character, and is speaking to the player. Who is, in fact, identified with a
character in the game world after all, the one person who can make an actor do something.
The director.

It's interesting to compare this game with The Recruit. Both games use meta content, in
fact, both games posit the existence of IF companies where people within the world of the
game can work as characters.

There are a lot of little mistakes. Missing synonyms, actions that can give inappropriate
responses if they occur at the wrong place and time, an exit given the wrong direction in
a room description. You can put anything in in the wallet. The man with the chicken on his
head could use having some more responses. I spent most of the bus ride reading the book,
because I didn't find too many conversation topics. (Not that I minded. Reading the book
was fun. And a man with a chicken on his head gets a yay just on principle.)

8.

**Owen

Steve Evans

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Nov 20, 2003, 4:49:01 AM11/20/03
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On Wed, 19 Nov 2003 23:06:48 -0800, Alexandre Owen Muniz
<mun...@xprt.net> wrote:

>
>Episode in the Life of an Artist
>
>[It seems that I got things out of this game that most people didn't, and that, indeed,
>may not really be there. It may also be that many people got out of it what I did, but
>didn't think it particularly profound, and my finding it so is a symptom of the
>shallowness of my intellect

You weren't alone in getting a lot out of this game, and thinking
there may be deeper meanings. I had a similar reaction to it.

There always seems to be at least one game in each Comp that places
well below where I think it should have. This year it was Episode in
the Life of An Artist. I found it be one of the most enjoyable games
in the Comp, and (I think) very clever to boot.

After an off-putting start, having to take a seemingly pretentious PC
through his morning ablutions, I was getting ready to give it a low
score. Then came the bus ride and the man with the chicken on his
head, and from there on I found myself liking it (and the PC) more and
more, right through to the outtakes at the end - which I think are
worth the price of admission alone.

After I'd finished the game, I tried to work out why I'd enjoyed it so
much that I hadn't really cared about those logical inconsistencies
and implementation problems that others have mentioned.

In the end, I decided that EITLOAA was probably helped by having
brought to mind two very different pieces of writing that I'd really
enjoyed. One was a surreal satirical novel that I read years ago
called Smallcreep's Day by Peter C. Brown, about a guy who works in a
factory producing some sort of widget who decides one day to set off
through the factory to find what the things he makes are and what
they're used for.

But what may have really clinched it was that the thing with the
chicken reminded me of the following passage of absurdist humour by
Kenneth Patchen:

"Now the late Baron Wartley had been a noisy, foulmouthed oaf, with
considerably more than an ordinary penchantius as a cut-up; and
perhaps never more so than on the occasion of his being clawed to
death by a nesting ibis which he had locked away in the cellar with
one of his poorer nephews. Although this happened a good twenty years
ago, that boy is not only still bald but the most careful and extreme
caution must be exercised in choosing maids of a peculiar type whose
only duty is to sit very quietly on his head at night."

Now I wouldn't be surprised if I was the only person alive who finds
that passage hilariously funny. But I do, and when I came across
something in a game that made me remember it, there could be no doubt
that that game was going to score quite well. I gave it an 8.

-- Steve

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