TB's reviews, part I (1/3)

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Tony Baechler

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Nov 17, 2000, 10:24:29 PM11/17/00
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Here are my reviews and comments on the IF competition games which I was
able to play. For my convenience, I will reference them by language and
filename so I do not have to try to get the full title of the game correct.
I
will also include my ratings. They are in the order which Comp00 placed them
in.
There are a few games which I am not able to play so they will not be
reviewed
here.

First a few notes on how I grade the games.. I ask myself several questions
and
give each factor a grade from 1-10. I then average those grades for a final
score. I try to be nice to new authors and will usually forgive small bugs
or
parser problems. If the author has entered before, those things result in a
lower score. I grade on the following. Originality. How creative was it? Had
it
been done before? Writing. Were there any spelling or grammar errors? I
grade
very strictly on this because, with the number of beta testers now available
and
the amount of good spell checkers, there is no reason for less than perfect
English. If the author does not appear to use English as his/her native
language, I take this into consideration. Enjoyment. Did I enjoy the story
and
atmosphere? I generally do not like games which are all puzzles and have no
story. Also, I do not like single location or joke games. Parser. Did it
understand everything I tried? Were there enough synonyms etc.? Did I have
to
guess the correct verb or noun? Hints/walkthrough. Did it have either one?
Was
the walkthrough just a list of commands or did it actually provide extra
information? Were the hints useful and included as part of the game?
Multimedia.
Did the game rely too heavily on sounds or graphics? Could it be enjoyed
otherwise? (A quick note on this. I am blind. As a result, I will ignore the
graphics. In the case of TADS games which include resource files, I will
delete
those which only have graphics images in them. I only point this out so
authors
who spent months on their pictures will not wonder why I did not comment on
them.) Also, here is your spoiler warning. I will not try to include too
many
spoilers, but there might be some. If you have not played all of the games,
stop
reading now. Without further comment, here are my reviews.

Inform: happy

I gave this game a rating of 3. I would have prefered 2.5, but I could not
use
decimals. My main complaint was the poor writing and spelling errors. Also,
it
looked like the game had no beta testing or polishing. The author apparently
did
not know his directions because he would write "west" when he meant "east."
The
game seemed directionless, although it does have a quest. I resorted to the
walkthrough because I really had no idea what the quest was. Even after
using
the walkthrough, the game could not be completed because a needed key was
missing to open a door at the end. He used no synonyms at all. If I wanted
to
manipulate the crypt, I had to say "marble crypt." Also, the backpack seemed
unnecessary.

My advice to the author would be to use beta testers and have someone else
correct his writing. He does have potential if he includes more of a story
in
his future games. Some parts of his writing were good. Except for the
problem
mentioned above with the parser, I did not find any serious bugs.

Inform: Got ID?

I rated this a 4. There are three main things which hurt this game.
One was that the hints were too vague. They were more like gentle
nudges. If the author did not want to spoil the puzzles, that is fine,
but I wish this would have been pointed out or a walkthrough included.
Also, he used a nonstandard hint system. I really prefer the standard
Inform menu system unless there is a good reason for not using it, for
example if the hints were context-sensitive to the current puzzle.

The second thing which was a problem was the puzzles. OK, I
understood the quest just fine, and as I would expect it is not as easy
as it looks. However, why was I wandering around underground? Too many
of them felt contrived and did nothing to advance the plot. The game
felt directionless and I really was not sure what I was supposed to be
doing since the too obvious solution did not work. I finally quit
because I seemed to be at a dead end and could not retrieve the boots.

Finally, this type of game had been overdone before. It felt like a
modern Zork (R) trying to gather "treasures" and the like, with no clear
quest pointed out. See above.

What did I like about the game? I really did enjoy it and wanted to
rate it higher. If there would have been less puzzles or a better
explanation for them, and if the hints would have been better, it would
have earned at least one more point, and probably two. The writing was
funny and had few destracting errors. The store and surroundings was
obviously fantastic, but I did not mind. I do not usually like humorous
games but this kept my interest. I had about 20 minutes left of my two
hours because of the problem with the boots and because I felt like
either I was cut off, there was a bug, or I had somehow put the game in
an unwinnable state with no warning. With some more work, I think this
author has potential for good IF output.


Inform: what_if

I rated this a 2. Well, what can I say? I felt like I was reading a
textbook, only with some spelling and grammar errors. I really did not
enjoy this at all. It is not interactive except that I could pick what
history I wanted to read about in which order. It was putting me to
sleep. Some parts felt like a textbook, while others felt like I was
reading someone's high school or college paper. He had an interesting
idea, though. Unfortunately, the same type of thing was already done in
Jigsaw, including notes on the events.

I do not think the historical fiction genre has been overused, quite
the contrary. However, I think that anyone who wants to do this needs
to take a good look at Jigsaw. However, there are many historical
events not covered in Jigsaw that would make good, short competition
games. If I could have had any control over the events presented, this
game would have got at least two more points.

My advice to the author is to write an essay instead. Also, I would
suggest trying to come up with an original idea rather than copying
others. (See his previous entry, Spacestation, for example, which was
based on the sample Planetfall transcript written by Infocom.) If he
does produce any more games, make them both interactive and fiction, and
find a proofreader. The only reason it got a 2 is because the writing
did not have an abundance of spelling errors and I have never seen an
essay done in Inform before.


Inform: comp00tr

Why am I plagued with the worst games at the beginning? This got a
rating of 1. The last game (see above) was wonderful compared to this!
I do not like to be harsh to new authors or games, but I really can
think of nothing about this game which I liked. The joke was funny for
about the first room and it got old. This is just begging for MST3K
treatment. I have no advice for the author.


Inform: masque

Well, this is finally an improvement. I rated this a 6. The writing
was usually good with only small errors. The hint system was adequate,
although it was not complete. There was a good story and lots of
background.

My only major complaint is that it relied too much on talking to NPCs
and piecing together details. My other complaint is that it left me
with too many unanswered questions at the end. Just when I was about to
find out what was going on, it stopped. Also, while the hints were
adequate, they did not cover all portions of the game and left me with a
low score with no idea what I failed to do. Also, the "amusing" did not
seem to work correctly.

My advice to the author is to flesh out the hint system so it gives an
idea of how to get the full score. Also, there were some small bugs,
like one wrong direction in a room description and not being able to
return north right before the endgame. Other than that, this is a very
good game. I would really like to see an updated version so I can try
to get a full score.


Inform: enlisted

I rated this a 5. It was a fairly average game. It would have rated
higher but for the difficult space movement puzzle. I really liked the
beginning of the game. Obviously the author had beta testers and the
game had a polished feel to it. However, it did not break any new
ground and reminded me very much of "Deep Space Drifter." The beginning
was excellent but gradually went down hill. I did not see the end of
the game because the walkthrough was not working for me and I got
frustrated with the space movement puzzle.

I would advise the author to concentrate more on story and atmosphere
and less on puzzles. Also, provide built-in hints. Other than that, I
have no complaints. It was written very well and I would like to see
more from this author. I would describe this as a classic in it's own
right. It was obviously inspired by Infocom.

MSDOS: OTOS

I rated this a 3. It would have got higher if it had a better AI
engine. Well, what can I say? It is certainly unique, and with some
work could be used to help programmers in coding and playing their new
games. However, I think it is more fun, especially as a judge, to
actually play the games instead of writing them.

Because of the simple engine, it had a very hard time with even basic
puzzles. For example, I had it start out in a locked room with a door
and window. All it was supposed to do is examine the window, find the
key and open the door. However, it kept trying everything else instead,
like "give door to door." It finally gave up, but if it had a little
better mind that would not have happened.

My advice to the author would be to improve the engine and release it
as a programming tool and not a game. Learn Inform, TADS, or both and
have it generate code on the fly. Better still, try actually writing a
real game.


Inform: never

I rated this a 7. This was a truly excellent game. I really have no
complaints about this game. The writing was almost perfect, with only
one slight spelling error that I could find. The hints were good, but I
had a hard time finding some things. Although the walkthrough was only
a transcript, it did a lot of unnecessary optional things for
background, which I liked. The author made good use of the Inform
language and synonyms. This type of game is perfect for the IF medium,
adapting a published poem but letting the player experience it's full
meaning. It also allowed exploration of the tower and experimentation
in the laboratory.

So, why did it not get a 10? It lost some points for my enjoyment.
The reason was because I had a hard time finding things and the hints
were not helping. I kept putting the game in an unwinnable state
without knowing why, even after looking at the hints. Secondly, it lost
a couple of points for originality because a similar type of thing was
done in Christminster. It was a different atmosphere, but the things
done in the laboratory were similar. Finally, it lost a little because
of the difficulty in finding things in the hints and no formal
walkthrough. These were smaller problems though and really did not
detract greatly from the game.

My advice to the author is simple, keep up the good work. I would
like to see other works of literature and poetry be adapted in a similar
format. This is definitely one of the best uses of the medium I have
ever experienced. Thanks for entering it.


Inform: dinner

I really enjoyed this game and also rated it a 6. While not being
realistic, it was done for laughs and it worked for me. My only
frustration was a timing puzzle which I had to play through several
times. However, everything was done well enough that I did not mind
reading the same text over again. I also liked the end and the nice
connection to a different game.

If I liked it so much, why not rate it higher? Firstly because of the
timing puzzle. While I did not mind playing through it a few times, and
while I did quite a bit of it without hints, I still got stuck a few
times and had to keep restoring my game. It was forgiving, but it was
not totally clear at first what to do. Also, I kept finding out that I
needed items which I had no idea I would need that I would have to
restore so I could get them. Also, the writing was good and worked
well, but had at least one spelling error. The hint system seemed to
have a weird bug also.

I liked this game. My advice to the author would be very little,
since the game is good enough already except for the above. The bug
with the hints was odd, though. I would exit a hint menu and suddenly
end up in a completely different section of the hints which I did not
want to read. This gave away mild spoilers without warning. Also, keep
up that game and writing style. I would like to see later events about
this group of characters.


Inform: punkpnts

I rated this a 3. The only thing which rated it that high is it's
originality. It came with no help really and no walkthrough. I was
able to solve the first puzzle just fine, but got tired of fighting with
the parser. It did not understand anything I tried. Also, there was an
unnecessary amount of prophanity which really added nothing to the game.
I would rate it as adult just because of the language. I felt too much
like I was trying to read the author's mind. I am not sure how I solved
the first puzzle, I just guessed and the next thing I know it was solved
and I got points. Also the lack of any real story hurt this game.

I would advise the author to improve his vocabulary. I took off two
points because of the writing. Also, make more of a story and include
some sort of help or hints. Add more synonyms and responses. Make it a
little more clear what the player is supposed to do.

Inform: my_angel

I rated this a 7. I am not really sure how to review this game, so
here are my random thoughts. The writing was absolutely excellent!
This is the best writing I have encountered thus far. Also, I
appreciated the work which went into enhancing the default Inform parser
and responses. I really liked how well the story was told.
Unfortunately, I had a hard time using novel mode but I would strongly
recommend it for anyone who can use it. It helps the story flow better.
While there were no built-in hints, the walkthrough was very good.
Because of the type of game this is, I do not think hints would really
work very well. Also, it has a lot of replayability.

The reason it got a 7 was that it lost some points for originality.
This is normal, as almost every game borrows from something. However, I
was reminded of "For A Change," and "So Far," as well as "Worlds Apart"
as I was playing. There are differences though, like not using a
compass. However, this proved to make the game confusing and I really
could not figure out where I was going. Also, especially at the
beginning, I felt like I was being forced to follow the story whether I
wanted to or not. Nothing I did could deviate from the actions which I
was supposed to do. This could be more my fault though as I did follow
the walkthrough and I had a hard time trying to figure out what I was
supposed to do. In other words, I just did not get it. After it was
over, I read the afterword and thought about it, but I am still confused
and have no idea what the story is supposed to be. Because of that, it
brought down my enjoyment score quite a bit. The only thing I can
really suggest to the author is to consider my above comments. He is
obviously trying to tell a unique story and does an excellent job
writing it, but I wish it was clearer. I really felt lost long before I
was done with it.


Inform: letters

This game also got a 6 rating from me. There were some things very good
about it, but others which brought the score down. First, I think this
game would be hard for anyone who is not a native speaker of English as
it requires a good knowledge of language to solve the puzzles. Even at
that, there were quite a few solutions which I really did not
understand. I used the walkthrough so I could complete it in time, but
there are a very good set of hints. Unless you are very good at these
types of puzzles you will probably also need the solution. The writing
was very good with no spelling errors that I noticed.

There were two things which brought the game down a lot. One was
originality and the other was the somewhat confusing solutions to some
puzzles. This game is very much like "Nord And Bert" in the types of
language puzzles which made up the game, however the puzzles and
concepts themselves were quite different. I was reminded too much of
the Infocom original though, so it lost some points. The second thing,
as mentioned before, was the complexity of the puzzles. Some of them I
had no problem understanding and thought were quite cleve, however I
have no idea how or why a lot of them were solved with the actions
listed in the walkthrough and hints.

I would like to commend the author here for a very good job of
implementing the hint system. I have encountered other games before
with context-sensitive hints but I never found them to be very good. Of
course part of the reason why they work so well is because there is
something in every room to look for, and in most normal games this would
not work as well or at all. My suggestion would be to have a little
better explanation for some of the puzzles and to better clarify the
newspaper. Also, it would have been nice to figure out towards the
beginning of the game what I am supposed to do.


This concludes part 1 of my reviews. If parts are missing or
incomplete, you may visit the following ftp site to download them for
a limited time only. Please do not distribute without permission.

ftp://baechler.net/rev.zip


Tim Vanhoof

unread,
Nov 19, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/19/00
to
"Tony Baechler" <tony@baechler.<nospam> wrote:

> with the number of beta testers now available
> and
> the amount of good spell checkers, there is no reason for less than perfect
> English.

* sigh *


--
Then let us pray that come it may / As come it will for a' that
That man tae man the world o'er / Shall brothers be for a' that.
-- Robert Burns

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