*comp99* capsule reviews

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Niz

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Nov 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/16/99
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Presented here are my capsule reviews (all spoiler-free) of the IF
Competition 99 Inform games. BE WARNED these reviews are not fair, balanced,
or impartial (although the scores given are the scores I submitted on my
voting form)! They contain plenty of unconstructive criticism and abuse, but
I have tried to highlight any good points I could find in even the worst
games. So, in reverse order:

Guard Duty
This could’ve been a contender. If the game lived up to the nice in-game
instructions and sample transcript. Unfortunately it contains fatal errors,
and so becomes unplayable.
(1/10)

LUDITE
There are four rooms in this game, and that’s all I can tell you, because I
never figured out how to get out of them. Rybread Celsius’s reputation goes
before him. I predicted the way to get out would be unfair and gave up.
(2/10)

Calliope
How much more incestuous can interactive fiction get? A game about writing
an IF game. No offence people, but get a life! This is throw-away stuff.
(3/10)

Music Education
The fact that I didn’t like this shows the importance of a good hook.
Something exciting needs to happen to grab your attention, or the writing
needs to be really catchy, or the genre needs to be clearly defined in an
opening scene. Music Education has none of these things. There is a
reasonably well implemented college campus here. It is large, and may
require mapping. There is no obvious goal, other than to practice your
instrument. In a word: boring. IF authors, stick with this rule: make
genre-specific games. Real-world scenarios are dull.
(3/10)

Pass the Bananas
An implementation of some form of puzzle that I didn’t understand. I managed
to win by accident, but on the way I noticed a plentiful supply of bugs and
some nice humorous touches.
(3/10)

Lomalow
You wake from an accident (how original) and find yourself in the woods.
You stumble across a log cabin, and a couple who share a secret about a
special type of phoenix. Apparently, the goal of the game is to ask the two
characters about everything. Lomalow won’t maintain your interest long
enough to reach that goal. The whole phoenix story is just too silly to take
seriously, and there are annoying puzzles that veer towards guess-the-verb.
(4/10)

Beat the Devil
As soon as you load this up, you notice a rogue room description appearing
before the intro. This does note bode well. In fact, it holds together
pretty well although there are no ground-breaking ideas here. In fact, it is
all eerily reminiscent of Perditon’s Flames: you have ended up in Hell, and
need to outwit the Seven Deadly Sins (Sins Against Mimesis, anyone?). The
big idea is that Hell has been transformed into the Mall of Hell. Well
implemented and playable enough.
(5/10)

Outsided
Another one of those ‘eccentric’ entries in Comp99. The author has made the
curious design decision of having very early line breaks. Whether the
spelling mistakes and strange implementation issues are genuine design
decisions or just mistakes is another question. Still, it certainly grabs
your attention in the opening (how to prevent your own suicide?). I couldn’t
answer that question, so the game ended very early for me. Certainly
original, and an arresting writing style.
(5/10)

Death to My Enemies
Interactive silliness: you need to use the objects at your disposal to
defeat the evil Dr. Whatsisname. Very neatly coded, with responses for
almost all actions.
(6/10)

For A Change
An intriguing story, and an instant hook in the form of the strange language
used. Its difficult to give any kind of summary because I never figured out
quite what it was all about. I would certainly have played on beyond the
judging time, but got bogged down in trying to interact with the NPC.
(6/10)

Hunter in Darkness
Oh no, a cave crawl! In fact, Hunter in Darkness is a technically
accomplished, and probably very accurate, simulation of the real pot-holing
experience. The author has put a lot of effort into making the cave areas
sound different from each other, but he doesn’t quite pull it off. There is
one stand-out scene where you are stuck fast, can’t move forward and can’t
move back. The tension is palpable, and all the more so because the author
has made it interactive rather than just a big chunk of text. However, the
fact is, caving is boring. At the end of the day, this is just a big maze.
As a result, I soon became impatient, and the sheer thought of having to map
was enough for me to end my session.
(6/10)

Spodgeville Murphy and the Jewelled Eye of Wossname
The whole thing is set up nicely as an Indiana Jones-cum-Zork style thingy.
The FULL score option is a great read. And then: the first puzzle. I simply
couldn’t solve it. The Help system had no on-line hints either. That spelled
the end of my session. A shame, because it looked great fun.
(6/10)

Chicks Dig Jerks
What the hell? Starting off like one of those ‘adult interactive fiction’
episodes (pulling in a night club), but then completely switching tone and
turning into some kind of cyberpunk horror thriller thing, Chicks Dig Jerks
is riddled with bugs, has a bizarre multiple choice conversation system, and
makes no sense whatsoever. But despite all this, its one of the most
memorable games in the competition. The writing has a real edge to it, and
for some reason I was reminded of the book SnowCrash (don’t know why). A
must-play, you’ll either love it or hate it.
(7/10)

Only After Dark
Woohoo, a genre game! My favourite, too: horror! Beware the moon, we got
ourselves some werewolves here! As soon as I saw the words ‘Day One’, I was
thinking Anchorhead 2, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. The opening
scene certainly delivered, and then the dramatic second scene topped that.
And suddenly, I was stuck. I simply couldn’t figure out a way to survive. If
only a Help system was included. With a walkthrough, this will surely be a
definite must-play.
(7/10)

Winter Wonderland
Yet another entry in the long line of children’s fairytale/ folklore
adaptations. The excellent prologue sets things up very nicely, although the
ugly ASCII art doesn’t help matters (what are those things? Snowflakes?).
The writing is high class, as is the implementation. The puzzles are at a
manageable level usually, and when they begin to get difficult, there is a
full Help system available. Its not quite original enough for my liking,
basically taking Firebird and just substituting a few winter-themed puzzles
for Firebird’s ones.
(7/10)

Halothane
Well, this is high quality stuff. The Photopian influences are clear to see,
and the implementation is pretty good for a game of this size (it is larger
than most games in Comp99). Its not up to Photopia standards however,
firstly because it uses the cliched "you fall asleep and find yourself...
somewhere else" plot formula, and secondly because the Help system is not
helpful enough (I eventually got stuck in a scenario that the Help system
doesn’t even mention).
(8/10)

Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces to Win
Very much in the Varicella mould, Jacks is a tale of political intrigue in
an unspecified location and era. You are an unspecified character,
attempting to hold on to your position from unspecified competitors. The
whole thing zips along at a steady pace, puzzles being just the right level
of difficulty, the writing generally excellent, and a faultless
implementation. Great stuff.
(9/10)

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/16/99
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Niz <n...@infidel.freeserve.co.uk> wrote:
> Hunter in Darkness
> Oh no, a cave crawl! In fact, Hunter in Darkness is a technically
> accomplished, and probably very accurate, simulation of the real pot-holing
> experience. The author has put a lot of effort into making the cave areas
> sound different from each other, but he doesn't quite pull it off. There is
> one stand-out scene where you are stuck fast, can't move forward an can't

> move back. The tension is palpable, and all the more so because the author
> has made it interactive rather than just a big chunk of text. However, the
> fact is, caving is boring. At the end of the day, this is just a big maze.
> As a result, I soon became impatient, and the sheer thought of having to map
> was enough for me to end my session.

So I guess the question is, how would you have reacted if I'd included
some in-game hints, and the first hint in that area was: "You don't have
to map any part of this game. Don't even try"?

By the way, Sarge was nice enough to give us authors a look at the
standard deviations of the scores as well as the averages. I'm fascinated
to note that _Hunter_ had the *highest* standard deviation in the
competition. People disagreed more about it than about any other game.

--Z

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

Sean T Barrett

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Nov 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/16/99
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Andrew Plotkin <erky...@netcom.com> wrote:
>By the way, Sarge was nice enough to give us authors a look at the
>standard deviations of the scores as well as the averages. I'm fascinated
>to note that _Hunter_ had the *highest* standard deviation in the
>competition. People disagreed more about it than about any other game.

My experience with another public voting system about items authored
by various people is that the valuable feedback to the author in terms
of "was this worth writing" really comes from seeing the full distribution
(though the standard deviation comes close). Some games may have two
significant lobes--the people who liked it and the people who didn't--and
finding out that, say, 10% of the voters thought your creation was the best
thing ever can be good to know.

Sean Barrett

Eric Mayer

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Nov 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/16/99
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On Tue, 16 Nov 1999 21:27:26 GMT, buz...@world.std.com (Sean T
Barrett) wrote:

>
>My experience with another public voting system about items authored
>by various people is that the valuable feedback to the author in terms
>of "was this worth writing" really comes from seeing the full distribution
>(though the standard deviation comes close). Some games may have two
>significant lobes--the people who liked it and the people who didn't--and
>finding out that, say, 10% of the voters thought your creation was the best
>thing ever can be good to know.

Absolutely true. I have seen a bit of the distribution of opinion
about my own game via reviews. Considering I'd never done an iota of
any sort of programming before this summer I was thrilled to manage a
game that wasn't just laughed out of the Comp and got a respectable
score, but seeing that quite a few people actually liked it -- WOW.
Cool. Indeed, that makes it worthwhile. Basically, I guess, you write
in hopes that the writing amuses someone and so long as it does that
the fact that it doesn't amuse everyone isn't too discouraging.

--
Eric Mayer
Web Site: <http://home.epix.net/~maywrite>
=====================================================
co-author of ONE FOR SORROW
A "John the Eunuch" mystery from Poisoned Pen Press
<http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/html/sorrow.html>
=====================================================
"The map is not the territory." -- Alfred Korzybski

David Glasser

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Nov 18, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/18/99
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[Hunter in Darkness spoilers]

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@netcom.com> wrote:

> By the way, Sarge was nice enough to give us authors a look at the
> standard deviations of the scores as well as the averages. I'm fascinated
> to note that _Hunter_ had the *highest* standard deviation in the
> competition. People disagreed more about it than about any other game.

Well, I'd guess that true enjoyment of HUNTER really only came after the
player figured out or saw the key to the game, which admittedly was
after a difficult puzzle or two that made some give up. Also, somebody
not familiar with Wumpus (I wasn't quite familiar enough until a few
weeks ago, really) would miss the point.

So it's not surprising that a game that reaches its enjoyment climax
late in the game and requires external knowledge has mixed reviews. (I
loved it myself.)

--
David Glasser | gla...@iname.com | http://www.davidglasser.net/
rec.arts.int-fiction FAQ: http://www.davidglasser.net/raiffaq/
"So, is that superior artistry, or the easy way out?"
--TenthStone on white canvases as art, on rec.arts.int-fiction

John Walsh

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Nov 18, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/18/99
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My reaction, for what it is worth (and I was unable to submit my scores
because my laptop packed up in Kunming and I couldn't recreate the file in
time despite having spent at least two hours on bloody Snosae) was that I
hated this game from the beginning - simply because I have no desire to be
a person who crawls around in caves with a crossbow (I also would have
given low marks to the soft food game and anything that makes me a pre-teen
child). I just wanted to get rid of the weapon and do something else.

No doubt I could say this about nearly all games (indeed fiction more
broadly) but there are just some situations to which I have no desire to
relate. I'm quite happy to be a graverobber or a vampire because these are,
as far as I am concerned, merely abstractions and with some vaguely
romantic appeal. However, I don't like hunters or hunting and there we are.

David Glasser <gla...@iname.com> wrote in article
<1e1dvvw.zwptfa1jrlncwN@[209.195.241.144]>...

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 18, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/18/99
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David Glasser <gla...@iname.com> wrote:
> [Hunter in Darkness spoilers]
>
> Andrew Plotkin <erky...@netcom.com> wrote:
>
>> By the way, Sarge was nice enough to give us authors a look at the
>> standard deviations of the scores as well as the averages. I'm fascinated
>> to note that _Hunter_ had the *highest* standard deviation in the
>> competition. People disagreed more about it than about any other game.
>
> Well, I'd guess that true enjoyment of HUNTER really only came after the
> player figured out or saw the key to the game, which admittedly was
> after a difficult puzzle or two that made some give up. Also, somebody
> not familiar with Wumpus (I wasn't quite familiar enough until a few
> weeks ago, really) would miss the point.

Actually, as I look at the reviews, external knowledge *wasn't* the
problem. I think just about everybody got the joke, including the people
who gave up and the people who gave me lousy scores.

M. Wesley Osam

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Nov 18, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/18/99
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In article <8113r3$p7v$2...@nntp6.atl.mindspring.net>, Andrew Plotkin
<erky...@netcom.com> wrote:

> Actually, as I look at the reviews, external knowledge *wasn't* the
> problem. I think just about everybody got the joke, including the people
> who gave up and the people who gave me lousy scores.

I didn't. What was the joke?

(And what was going on with the maze? I have to admit
that I got bored and gave up as soon as I realized what
I'd wandered into, and it might have helped the game's
score if there had been a walkthrough of some sort so
I could bypass the puzzle and get back to the story.)

David Glasser

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Nov 19, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/19/99
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[Spoilers for HUNTER, IN DARKNESS]


M. Wesley Osam <wo...@SPAMBLOCKavalon.net> wrote:

> In article <8113r3$p7v$2...@nntp6.atl.mindspring.net>, Andrew Plotkin
> <erky...@netcom.com> wrote:
>
> > Actually, as I look at the reviews, external knowledge *wasn't* the
> > problem. I think just about everybody got the joke, including the people
> > who gave up and the people who gave me lousy scores.
>
> I didn't. What was the joke?

It was a "translation" of the ancient game "hunt the wumpus". (A nice
port of that, written in perl by somebody I've seen on the IF groups,
can be found at language.perl.com/ppt/src/wump.)

In this game, you walk around a maze (the surface of a dodecahedron,
which you might recognize from a maze in Erehwon) and try to shoot a
Wumpus. Some rooms have bottomless pits or bats that teleport you
around (like in the later Zork).

The interface simply allows you to move or shoot.

> (And what was going on with the maze? I have to admit
> that I got bored and gave up as soon as I realized what
> I'd wandered into, and it might have helped the game's
> score if there had been a walkthrough of some sort so
> I could bypass the puzzle and get back to the story.)

HtW *was*, in essence, a maze. HiD would have been pointless without
it, in this fan's opinion.

The same can be said about the hunting theme.

tr/y/k;

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