The Tenth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition: Reviews

For the first time ever, I completed all of the games. Reviews are included for all of them except "Who Created that Monster?", for which I was a beta-tester.

Typo

Was the error-correction part of things supposed to be a horrendous pain in the ass? It kept on perverting what I told it, and I had trouble even opening the door to the first compartment. The gimmicky nature of the typo correction wears thin; I'd rather it not comprehend me than try to help me and usually do it wrong. Also, I'm not sure if this is related, but the consultation didn't work too well -- and for a game that has consulting a book as a major part of it, that's a killer. I got one system working only with the help of the clues; the second failed when the hoses mysteriously disappeared. I've liked unmotivated "fiddle with this mechanism" games less and less of late, and this doesn't do anything interesting or new with its irritating bouts of metalepsis either.

Rating: 5
Mingsheng

There's a lot of promise in this: there's some trouble gone to to create a consistent atmosphere and cohesive geography, which may be why certain shifts in tone were rather jarring; in particular, being sent by an old man on a fairly traditional treasure-hunt after dealing with a basically nature-oriented world-view rather changed the dynamic of the game halfway through, and it was unwelcome. Also, perhaps it's because of such an attempt to be evocative, but the room descriptions sometimes feel a bit off, in an unquantifiable way. These are quibbles I'd probably never noticed were it not for the fact that they mar the primary strengths of the game. Also, I couldn't get excited about the actual stance descriptions, but that's probably my problem, not the game's.

Rating: 7
Kurusu City

Maybe it's my dirty mind or too much bad anime, but I see Japanese schoolgirls and I'm immediately prepared for disturbing sexuality. A lamentably vague death message early on reinforces that suspicion (I really hope the activity which is being described is spanking, not rape, but not being able to tell which is never a good sign). Judging by the hints, there's an entire randomly occurring branch off from early in the story that has no successful ending (the remedial math class), which sort of sucks. I couldn't make overmuch progress and ended up not even being able to make progress with the walkthrough, for which I always dock another point.

Rating: 5
The Orion Agenda

There's an awful lot done well about this. Fairly responsive NPCs (including one who actually took me to task for not talking to him before poking around his house; I liked that). There are slight cracks in the style and the narrative voice, but nothing serious. Overall, it's a fairly solid story, well-crafted and engaging; what injokes there are are unobtrusive, and the few plot holes are reasonably well-smoothed-over. It's a bit heavy-handed about its messages, but I'll forgive that.

Rating: 8
Murder at the Aero Club

The intro rubbed me immediately the wrong way -- a bit adjective-laden, and with at least one misspelling. A number of scenery -- and even seemingly non-scenery -- objects aren't implemented, giving this game a fairly unfinished feel. It's odd that I know immediately everyone's name except that of the corpse. The tone, too, is uneven -- it doesn't seem to know whether to take itself seriously or not. Also, there's no real mystery, which is unusual in the mystery genre. One suspect immediately comes up, and lo and behold he's guilty. And apparently, even though I'm a police inspector on a job, I am unwilling to interrupt my suspects when they're working. Or demand that they give up important things like fuel for my pursuit vehicle. Or not punch them in the face when they laugh at me. Australia clearly has kinder, gentler police. But all in all, this work is a bit underdeveloped.

Rating: 3
Ninja v1.30

Bleah. It doesn't recognize straightforward abbreviations, a number of obvious actions don't have the correct effect, there are random instadeaths, most objects aren't implemented, some debugging codes seem to have been left in, and it won't let me quit. It's not 1982 any more, and this no longer impresses.

Rating: 1
A Day In The Life Of A Super Hero

A little roughly written, but fairly consistent tonewise. Superheroics and particularly comic superheroics have been done before, and done better. The fact that the protagonist is a slob is hammered home a bit too heavily. There are a couple weird parser bugs, which I chalk up to ADRIFT, not this particular game, but which nonetheless marred my play-session. There are a couple of bugs, or things which appear to be bugs, and I don't think "manic" means what you think it means.

Rating: 5
A Light's Tale

The use of the first-person pronoun is rather idiosyncratic and slightly reminiscent of the genre of solidly mediocre 'self-deprecating' games. Feels linear, and rather heavy-handed about what it expects you to do. Sentence fragments abound, and I find myself basically underwhelmed by the writing, which seems to eschew actual structure.

Rating: 3
The Realm

There's something, it seems, about people who write swords-and-sorcery things; their opening text always seems fairly self-conscious, with sentences weighted down with unnecessary clauses. It doesn't improve much from there, either. There's no internal logic and insufficient humor to really carry it without anything else to recommend it, and the world is too large and full of unresponsive characters.

Rating: 4
Identity

Another ponderous intro, although grammatically somewhat better. Amnesia is an old and rather tired device, used clumsily here. In spite of that, this work is mostly well-written except for some technical flaws, with a couple of good puzzles (although at least one is inexplicable from a physical standpoint). In the end, the amnesia ends up annoyingly dropped to no purpose, but still, this is a moderately satisfactory piece of work.

Rating: 6
Stack Overflow

Quite rough stylistically. No game which uses more than 2 punctuation marks in a row can get on my good side; misspellings and grammatical oddities abound. The cleverest bit I saw in the first 10 minutes was shamelessly stolen from "Bad Machine". Then from there bits stolen from "Spellbreaker" and a sci-fi sequence. Is pastiche still an IF genre? Anyways, I have a feeling English isn't the author's first language (the errors are more characteristic of lack-of-fluency than laziness), and please, please, please, people, get someone to look at your work before you submit it. This could have been cleaned up a lot simply by having an English-speaker comment. Also, the elevator doesn't seem to work, and the plot is thin: there doesn't seem to be a cohesive motivation for, er, anything at all.

Rating: 4
Gamlet

Um. I disapprove of injokes which encourage unpleasant states of affairs. Call it political, but I think the best thing to do about assholes is ignore them. Which is a pity, since the author of this work appears to be able to write. Tough luck. Write something worth reading next time. I dislike this sort of thing enough that I was tempted to actually give it a poor rating, but in the end it's more honest to simply abstain.

Not Rated

Zero

Damnit. Oh well, must get all the resident bastards all at once. This one seems considerably more technically shoddy than their last offering but more cohesive in tone (although I couldn't finish up in the lair, so maybe it changes later). Oh, and I starved to death for no good reason. Also, no walkthrough.

Rating: 3
Magocracy

Yow. Maybe it's the influence of the last couple of games, but I could just feel myself dying of cliche poisoning as I read the intro. War Mages? Check. Seductress? Check. Character named "Rhiannon"? Check. As for the game, there's not much of what i come to regard as IF here. It's mostly hack-and-slash stuff. I'm sure it's a very nice combat engine, but, y'know, this is what CRPGs are for. Rating this was difficult, since it's a reasonably good creation of something which is not, in fact, IF.

Rating: 2
Getting Back To Sleep

I dislike being forced to install software on my computer and being forced to use Windows, but that's another story entirely. It doesn't help that the framework here is kludgy (I had font and display issues) and poorly designed (not accepting 'l' as a synonym for 'look', or 'exit' while in a closet is no longer acceptable). The parser here is basically not remotely up to modern standards. The writing's notably unspectacular too.

Rating: 2
The Great Xavio

The fact that I always begin my reviews with this makes me feel like a complete martinet, but I spotted a fair bit of awkward writing in the intro. The sentence fragments can be excused as stylistic elements, but there are a few awkward turns of phrase which can't really be justified. My main problem, though, was that at about midgame I lost all motivation. I did what I'd set out to do and the game wasn't over. There are a couple of rough spots and unimplemented nouns and objects (getting into the bathroom required some unusual phrasing), and together these aspects drag it down. It's a pity, since it's an intriguing work, but it's really overambitious.

Rating: 8
Redeye

At least two misplaced punctuation marks in the intro. I feel like a grammar Nazi. Leaving that off, I find the meandering style of the intro rather off-putting. The ASCII art doesn't format correctly in a non-monospace 'terp. There's a disambiguation issue in the bathroom. I received no real motivation and no real reason to give a damn what happens, and that takes this from "technically flawed" down to "waste of my time". One important plot problem: I did something clearly pointless and stupid and an undesirable result transpired, so I undid and went and looked for what it was I was supposed to do (not having been clued to do anything particular). Turns out that stupid act was what I had to do to advance the plot. Bah.

Rating: 3
Goose, Egg, Badger

Strange, but fairly internally consistent and well-constructed. This game is fairly unreprentantly puzzle-laden, and carries it off well. The inventory limit is frustrating -- and apparently purposeless, and there are some incomprehensible world-model errors, but nonetheless, I found this a sufficiently delightful trifle that I was loathe to rate it too low. It would have rated higher if not for all the (apparently intentionally) frustrating design decisions.

Rating: 6
Zero One

Whoops... if I'm told I hear a conversation, 'LISTEN' should really do something non-generic. As for the rest of the game, I found it unmotivated, kludgy (some of which may have been ALAN's fault), and stylistically inconsistent. The writing's actually good in a visceral sort of way, and if the author turned to a good system and manufactured a plot, he'd show some promise. I'm afraid I gave up after a man I had killed kept attacking me. I couldn't find a way past that.

Rating: 3
Luminous Horizon

Right off: hooray for the feelies! Brilliant art by Rob Wheeler, and a nice way of bringing those of us who missed one or the other of the first two (I never played EAS2; shame on me) up to speed. Also, interesting idea, writing a comic in a semihypothetical second-person. As with the first installment, I found myself having a lot of fun; it's a genre I like, and a technically well-constructed work. The writing's more than just competent; it's fun, giving a strong sense of genre and whimsy.

Rating: 9
PTBAD 3

Misspellings, incomprehensible surreality... did we need another Rybread Celsius tribute? No walkthrough, and unconnected unrelated bits. Life is too short for me to waste my time on this.

Rating: 1
Blue Chairs

Moderately anti-mimetic, but consciously so (which doesn't necessarily excuse it, but it's largely a venial sin in this case). The writing made me smile, and at times laugh out loud, which is rare. Neat z-machine tricks impressed, and they were well-integrated into the story. This is twisted, weird, and somehow cohesive. I really want this game to win, based on what I think of the other games in the comp, so I'll give it a 10, but on technical points it has only earned a 9.

Rating: 10
I Must Play

The IF Arcade did pretty much all of this better. The writing here grated badly. I just didn't much like this at all. The social commentary was not amusing or interesting, and the correspondences to the the intended videogames were just too listlessly done to really be exciting. Also, I found the self-insertion -- and basically the generally loud presence of the author in the writing -- irritating.

Rating: 4
Bellclap

Kinda funky stylistically. The response style as if I were issuing commands reminds me a bit of Fail-Safe, although there's also whoever the intermediary is (which is left vague). This is actually mildly frustrating, since as a god, I presumably have powers I could use, but I'm locked into 'instruction-giving' mode, so I can't perform actions which would help the poor bastard out, but can only issue directives to him. Maybe that's a bit of a metaphor for the role-interaction in IF, but I doubt it's intended (although it's explicitly mentioned in the info). It's an interesting quirky, and largely cohesive work, and though short, impressively detailed. But the actions required are unintuitive and a bit guess-the-verbish.

Rating: 7
Square Circle

The premises are rather Kafkaesque, but the design and writing don't live up to the initial promise. We have a bad case of adjective poisoning -- bad enough that I noticed it. Everything involved in the story seems rather random -- things are various places and do various things for seemingly no reason. The whole game basically has the soup-can Sphinx vibe, which is OK for what it is, but the prologue led me to expect something more. A number of technical errors (including great irritation, from a mathematical perspective, with the inflexibility of the particular answer given to the main puzzle). Then I got restarted for some ill-explained reason. It's technically reasonably sound, but that conceals a disappointing lack of skill and cohesion.

Rating: 5
Ruined Robots

This put me off nearly immediately. Idiosyncratic capitalization in the first room description, and the explicit, attention-drawing mention of an object that I can't interact with. Too much fourth-wall-breaking to no purpose for me to really approve. Also, hunger. What is it with hunger timers? They're unrealistic and rarely useful. Grammatical and design errors abound, strongly suggesting a rather lacking betatest phase.

Rating: 4
Splashdown

The author is clearly nostalgic for Infocom, just looking at the documentation. There's a silly chestnut in the intro text. Spider is clearly meant to be Floydesque, with his perkiness and occasional departures and returns. Why then do I find him so irritating? Maybe because the danger here seems a lot more immediate and the levity's entirely out of place. Unpleasant timing puzzle makes it far too easy for the game to be unwinnable. All in all, however, a valiant effort, fairly well detailed.

Rating: 7
Chronicle Play Torn

Yow. The first question I see has delicately fractured vocabulary and questionable grammar. It bugs me that this is always the first thing I notice. I probably wouldn't, really, if it weren't so damn common. Add that to what seems to be rather wooden writing, and on the groundss of writing my verdict is immediately that it is at its best competent, and at its worst quite inferior. The technical aspects fall down a bit too; there are a few unimplemented objects, although all in all the world's well-constructed. I ran into a disasterous error while trying to enter the pool which should really have been caught during beta-testing. There are a number of old-fashioned irritations, most notably the fading light-source and inventory limits. I find myself inexplicably disappointed; certain elements of the game seemed promising, but overall it ended up a bit of a mess.

Rating: 3
Sting of the Wasp

It's fairly competently written, but I couldn't get into it at all. Presumably it's supposed to show the shallowness of the idle rich's world -- preaching to the choir here, I'm afraid, and I found it mostly bitter without a humorous edge to recommend it. I found the puzzles largely unintuitive, but maybe that's because I don't care much what other people think and can't figure out why, say, walking into the kitchen when someone's watching is so horrifying. Mainly, I can't figure out who this is written for, for that reason: either you already hate these people and can't figure out their damage, or you like them and will get offended. There's a way to do this right, I'd imagine, but this wasn't it.

Rating: 7
Order

Oh, boy. Amnesia again, this time in a fantasy setting. It improves fairly from this unpromising start, although it's largely guess-the-noun. The timed puzzle is rather frustrating. It's a pity, again, because this is a promising system, but far too open-ended; half of what I wanted to create I couldn't. I'd feel a lot more invested in the final showdown if, y'know, I could be bothered to assign actual identities and personalities to the characters. I can't be shocked by the betrayal of a character I didn't even know existed.

Rating: 5
The Big Scoop

Slight awkwardness in language usage. The timing on the first situation is really rather unreasonable, and the plot from there on in seems awfully set on rails, and full of idiots. I have a couple moves where Duncan's not watching me, but I can't call the police. Duncan inexplicably conceals us rather than killing us. The ending is pat and didn't seem to be worth all the trouble.

Rating: 6
Blink

Awfully heavy-handed, and unnecessarily linear. I already think war is a Bad Thing, that soldiers are frequently poorly-behaved, and tried to make that clear in both conversations I had. Didn't matter; I still got cast in the role of a villain and had to go through this montage of being ashamed of myself.. If you're going to give me a choice, let me work it through to its logical conclusion, OK?

Rating: 4
Blue Sky

Whoops; scenery objects aren't excluded from "all", I follow my tour group to a locaiton, wait outside, and don't see them coming out. The map is bizarre; there are some non-two-way paths. Tourists and whatnot aren't animate. The ending was fairly tepid and made me wonder why I bothered.

Rating: 4
All Things Devours

Highly flowery writing; it's not adjective-poisoning, but a subtler form of overwriting. Perhaps it's the personification of everything that does it. There are weird disambiguation issues which make this difficult to play at points. However, the basic device is devilish, must have been hell to code, and is a tour de force of a puzzle. Unfortunately, I'm not up to the challenge of figuring out how to avoid myself. Being able to hear where the former me was would help. Nonetheless, I have to rate it well, because of the absolute niftiness of the device, even if it is, in practice, awfully frustrating. I think part of it was my getting into the act. I had 6 minutes, so it was going to be a quick in and out job. Not pausing made life hell when I tried to evade my other self. This is an absurdly difficult puzzle, but a completely logical one, and I must admit to being impressed.

Rating: 9
Trading Punches

This author is trying so hard to make their room descriptions majestic, and end up just making them adjective-heavy, ands of course clubbing you over the head with the knowledge that this is a fantasy world (with such exotic trees as "elmpines" and "everpalms"). I found the heavy-handed cluing and ornately unclear goals rather trying, in the end, but I guess the author gets credit for completeness.

Rating: 5

For the amusement of others, here are my wild-assed guesses at the final rankings, based on my playthrough and some assessment of community standards:

Game My Ranking Estimate Actual Ranking Error
All Things Devours 1 3 2
Luminous Horizon 2 1 1
Kurusu City 3 20 17
Blue Chairs 4 2 2
The Orion Agenda 5 6 1
The Great Xavio 6 11 5
Mingsheng 7 7 0
A Day in the Life of a Super Hero 8 23 15
Splashdown 9 8 1
Goose, Egg, Badger 10 12 2
Bellclap 11 17 6
Sting of the Wasp 12 4 8
Typo 13 19 6
Gamlet 14 9 5
Who Created That Monster? 15 25 10
Square Circle 16 5 11
Stack Overflow 17 29 12
I Must Play 18 14 4
Identity 19 15 4
Chronicle Play Torn 20 22 2
Blink 21 21 0
Trading Punches 22 10 12
A Light's Tale 23 32 9
Redeye 24 28 4
The Big Scoop 25 13 12
Murder at the Aero Club 26 16 10
Zero 27 30 3
Order 28 24 4
Ruined Robots 29 34 5
Blue Sky 30 26 4
The Realm 31 27 4
Zero One 32 31 1
Magocracy 33 18 15
Getting Back To Sleep 34 33 1
PTBAD 3 35 35 0
Ninja v1.30 36 36 0

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