The Ninth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition: Reviews
Hercules First Labor

C'mon, we can do better than this. It's 2003, for God's sake. Absent the nostalgia factor for Scott Adams' games, why would anyone consider this a worthwhile endeavor? We've had about 25 years to perfect the technical details of IF. Having a pillow listed as one of the things of interest in a room and not accepting 'examine pillow' is not acceptable. As for everything other than the technical considerations, well, I wasn't given a plot, and the scenery is, as is customary for SA-style-games, minimal.

Oh, and the whole applet didn't fit in my browser, even maximized. I might have given this a 3 if the title had an apostrophe in the right place. Punctuation is important, folks.

Rating: 2
The Adventures of the President of the United States

Huh, I once wrote a SpeedIF with the room description "This is Banff, Alberta. To the south is Calgary." The room descriptions in this one remind me more than a little of that -- and more than a little of a different SpeedIF, "The Travels of Fitzwilliam Pound". But it's quirkier than either. Lots of guess-the-noun (which beats guess-the-verb), but all-in-all, not a bad attempt. The walkthrough didn't work, though. It wins back the point it loses for that, though, by this response:

>UNDO
Life doesn't work that way. And neither does this authoring system.

Rating: 4
Rape, Pillage, Galore!

This is a joke, right? A stateless random-text generator?

Rating: 1
Slouching Towards Bedlam

Um, wow. It's about time for me to be blown away by a game's quality rather than its ineptitude. "Bedlam", like "Photopia" derives one of its primary conceits from the interaction between IF conventions and the real world, and like "Photopia" it succeeds marvelously. "Bedlam" winds around this core concept a great deal of confusing but erudite plotlines, primarily the matter of Kaballah. I found it all nicely creepy and confusing, but I picked up the central concept early -- in something from Cleve's file. I found the different endings, and the moral question, a nice touch, even if I couldn't find one of the endings. Truly, a gem.

Rating: 10
Baluthar

It's competently done, but that's about it, in my estimation. Its design is sparse enough to break my immersion a lot: I have no weapons I'd bring with me going into deadly danger? When I did find my son, I didn't feel any sense of urgency -- he didn't behave the way a captive in mortal fear would, at all. I'm sure it's all very allegorical, but I doubt. With respect to gameplay issues, I found the ghoul puzzle unintuitive, and scenery items should really be excluded from 'all'.

Rating: 6
Internal Documents

Bleah. It started out seeming promising: You're an investigator, working for the guy you're investigating, who turns out to be corrupt. It could turn into a Carl-Hiaasen-flavored morality quandry, tearing the protagontist between duty and loyalty, featuring multiple endings, and all that jazz. Unfortunately Daniel Ravipinto already wrote a game for this comp, so I guess we'll have to settle for a morally simplistic game, which I can deal with. Unfortunately, even on technical aspects alone the game doesn't do real well. I realize it's a farce, but the briefcase-opening schtick gets old fast. Beer seems to do nothing to the dogs; and on the subject of beer, the bar runs out of sandwiches and doesn't get them back if you eat them, but it does get back the beer after you drink it; presumably the bar, er, "recycles" beer. The map is way too big -- the author seems to have learned nothing from Travels in the Land of Erden. Room descriptions, especially in the house, have a tedious similarlty to each other. Most nouns aren't implemented. These aren't minor quibbles -- this sort of thing's an important part of the playing experience. Add that to the fact that I seem to have rendered the game unwinnable in the computer room, and, well, I'm not impressed.

Rating: 3
The Fat Lardo and the Rubber Ducky

Y'know, I don't need this. I read usenet. I get my abuse hand-delivered every day. The world is full of games which can't come up with anything they think is funnier than abusing the player. It's tedious, unoriginal, and offensive. As it turns out, it's, AFAICT, bug-free, but that's not actually helping my opinion of it any.

Rating: 1
No Room

Interesting concept, reasonably well implemented. I couldn't find any command but INVENTORY to check the contents of the bag, which didn't seem right (I was expecting to have to feel the bag, reach in, etc.). Once I had all the objects, the solution was pretty obvious, but, hey, it's refreshing to have a straightforward game with nothing to really complain about.

Rating: 5
Gourmet

It was clever and mostly well-written, but I had two problems: it had clearly not beta-tested, or if so, not nearly sufficiently heavily, and it ends too soon and too pat. It's little things, like not being able to actually remove the chef's hat, the fact that you need to refer to objects not in the room description, etc. which indicate an insufficient attention to detail. All in all, the experience was moderately enjoyable, but I needed recourse to the walkthrough to work around the bugs.

Rating: 6
Shadows on the Mirror

This tries so damn hard to be Galatea. It falls a bit short -- the conversation engine doesn't seem as robust, and I felt more like I was traversing a tree than taking part in an actual conversation. Nonetheless, it does a pretty good job: it has states, new avenues being opened up by certain questions. I don't know why it didn't send me too much. Maybe it was the opening puzzle-and-time-limit that did it, and got me into a puzzle-solving rather than conversation-having frame of mind.

Rating: 8
Cerulean Stowaway

If opening text needs to run longer than 2 pages, there's surely info there which can be distibuted through the story. As has been noted, there's a bug farly early in the game, making it unplayable past a certain point. I switched to another terp, but honestly found a lot of the game to exhibit suboptimal testing -- there were missing periods, unimplemented actions andscenery, and other minor quibbles. There was a lot of 'read the author's mind' and at at least one point, a 'choose the object to leave behind' puzzle. I chose the wrong one and couldn't bring myself to care.

Rating: 4
A Paper Moon

Capitalization is inconsistent and doesn't inspire confidence. Exactly whatpaper can be folded into is unclear a lot of the time -- some things I remember being common models can't be made, and a lot of things I don't remember are necessary. Mostly, I just couldn't get into the story at all. It was all completely arbitary and far too magpielike. This is 2003, folks -- a consistent world would be nice, not another senseless treasure-hunt.

Rating: 3
Risogrimento Represso

Delightful, impressively detailed, and seemingly well-tested. This is an excellent game with one crippling problem with respect to the comp. It's huge. I was extremely favorably impressed, but please, this isn't what the comp is for.

Rating: 7
Scavenger

Interesting. A good puzzlefest, with a well-crafted atmosphere. It's mostly bug-free, and fairly compact, but extra solutions made this no doubt a difficult work to assemble. I enjoyed it greatly, even if the atmosphere is slightly derivative (as the author himself notes).

Rating: 8
The Erudition Chamber

They were good puzzles, with good implementation of alternate solutions. However, no game which doesn't make at least a half-hearted attempt at a plot gets a really good score from me, sorry.

Rating: 6
Adoo's Stinky Story

Well, it's got the second-least reassuring title in the comp, for one. And the story, such as it is, basically magpielike -- the basic premise is absurd, but not in a notably comic way. I was expecting to have to know something about actual chemistry -- and instead it ends up being this weird magic-intensive thing. Bleah.

Rating: 4
Delvyn

To write a game, one must first be able to write. Virtually every sentence in this game except for default messages made me cringe.Add that to the occasional bug and my personal dislike of this Santoonie foolishness, and, well, the overall experience is not very enjoyable. It only escapes a '1' because I'm not convinced the intent was to piss me off.

Rating: 2
Bio

Damn it, people, playtest, playtest, playtest. Any decent tester would notice that the 'dresser' isn't implemented (but an invisible 'armoire' is). One who knew English would point out the difference between 'Your to' and 'You're too'. One who thought of alternate solutions would suggest a reasonable response to trying to cover one's nose and mouth with the bandage. One who cared about story consistency would note the bizarre behavior of your character in the face of danger. One who actually played the game would notice that one of the doors in the room description is missing. Please, please, please actually finish the game next time, and make sure someone other than you has played it.

Rating: 2
Temple of Kaos

This game seems to want to merge For a Change's surrealism, Schrodinger's Cat's wonky physics, and poetic messages. The result is nigh-unplayable -- it takes the surrealism too far -- Foir a Change was readable, at least, and the alternative physics, as in Schrodinger's Cat, doesn't contribute to comprehension or enjoyment.

Rating: 3
The Recruit

This reminded me a lot of "The Erudition Chamber" in its unabashed puzzleness, but it's not as flexible and a lot more frustrating. I didn't really get it at all, sorry.

Rating: 4

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