The Eleventh Annual Interactive Fiction Competition: Reviews

Another year over and gone, and somehow this comp leaves me feeling unsatisfied. Maybe I've been judging comps for too long and I've gotten jaded. Or maybe it was just a piss-poor year. An awful lot of people tried hard to push the envelope, and mostly failed.

If that intro doesn't make it absolutely clear, I'm a total bitch this year. Don't worry, I was an equal-opportunity asshole. Coal in everyone's stockings tonight.

Particular causes of bitchiness:

Enough general ranting, how 'bout some ranty reviews?

Son of a...

Offputting from the intro text. Am I traveling or partying? I need a bit more to go on. Vile its/it's error in the intro and in the first room description; two more in my first four actions. I can't peel or pull the 'headliner' (is this a regionalism I don't know?). The prose is fairly flat (and juvenile). I've read enough descriptions of junkers to not really be amused any more. They're all kinda samey. Oh, and the text jumped mysteriously into fixed-width mode for no apparent reason; this should have been caught during testing, as should the other things. I had some peculiar problems with pronouns, too. I appreciate putting viable exits in the can't-go message, but I would have appreciated them in the room description more, especially when they're one-way. This is basically a minimal game, showing some construction, but no real effort and no real inspiration. I had to resort to the walkthrough on three occasions: I had no reason to believe a "control panel" was openable, the action I had to perform to clear the ladder used a command I'm not accustomed to using that way, and same for plugging in the charger.

Rating: 4
Space Horror I

I'm not a big fan of homebrew games; they strike me as misplaced energy: every minute spent designing a parser and world-model is a minute the author isn't using to make the actual game better. Add to that the awful installer (why does everything in Windows need an installer? shouldn't this just be a standalone executable?), and this game's managed to rub me the wrong way before I even start it.

Well, it's, ah, not a homebrew system. It's hypermedia. Part of me wants to give this a 1 and get on with my life, since hypermedia doesn't fit the medium of IF as is usually considered in this community, but, hey, I'll stick it out, see if it redeems itself. Still can't figure out why it needed to install to a location other than the one it was already in, or why it was listed as Windows-only (or why the links are absolute rather than relative. That seems a foolish design choice).

And, er, it's not written very well. It's not great, and it's not what I consider IF. I am a merciful God, so I'll be generous.

Rating: 2
Mortality

The writing's OK, but the storycraft seriously needs work. Starting with the essential interactive elements: they are at best hypertext and at worst completely absent. At no point is there any real option as to which action to take, but merely conversation-tree traversals. This might not be so bad if it didn't drag so. Even if they weren't hideous cliches, we'd only need so many scenes of the gold-digger going on about how she hates her husband or the conscientious police inspector nosing ever closer to the truth. If this were a more tightened-up story, with more real interactivity, it could be worthwhile: the narrative voice is well-established and competently executed, so it's just everything else that needs work here.

Rating: 6
Cheiron

It's a game set in a hospital. A sparsely-implemented hospital, with mechanically stilted writing and debug mode left on. I sense a training exercise, in several meanings of the word: training for the authors in writing Inform, meant to be training for their colleagues or similar in the medical profession. I guess "an implementation of my hospital" makes a marginally more interesting First Stupid Game than "an implementation of my house". Oh, and I ran into a programming error early on. And ran my patience thin pretty quick. Yes, I'm sure being a student doctor and having to go around diagnosing reticent patients is frustrating and tedious. I'm not sure why that tedium needed to be reproduced to share with the world, though.

Rating: 3
The Sword of Malice

One must cut the intro a little slack, I guess. I'm normally kind of down on games with more than one page of introductory text, but this one's got a lot of blank lines in it, so we can let that go; but on the other hand, that blank space exists mostly for a dramatic tension that isn't exactly achieved. Points for explicitly laying out the situation, though. There are a couple of stylistic errors (I'm sensitive to these things, it appears), and an awful lot of rooms don't have the exit directions in their descriptions. I was stymied for a while in the first corridor simply because I did not realize at one point that it was possible to go north; speaking of which, the game is rather too much laid out on a north-south axis, which makes the map feel artificially narrow. Also—something which didn't come to me early on—too damn many adverbs. Prose should have what words it needs and no more, and if everything is being done "slowly" it starts to grate. Things fall apart a fair bit by the second quest: A created-world trivia contest? And a battle? With hitpoints? I was unaware I had hitpoints. The prologue was good, but the quality of play weakened fast, to the point where I could not, in fact, complete the game. Stupid elder.

From a technical standpoint, it's not badly constructed, but there are some things which show a slight want of attention: For instance, some default actions' responses are singularly inappropriate; I'm confused as to where the journal came from, and I can't seem to find the correct command to wrap the chain around the bars for purchase (which I assume I'm expected to do) and had to find an alternative solution (points for multiple solutions, BTW). There are other places, though, where alternative actions—and, particularly, alternative phrasings —aren't allowed.

Rating: 5
The Plague (Redux)

This was not a truly wretched game. There was nothing about it that jumped out and said "hate me". There were many little things which struck me as subideal: the relentless linearity of large sections, the sparseness of the map, and my character's inconsistent motivation (the only human survivor I meet after a horrific event I dismiss as a 'turn-off'? Priorities, damnit). I could've done without about 50% less mood if it were only better. Bloodspatter, death, decay, we get it, try to do something a bit more original.

Rating: 4
Internal Vigilance

My biggest bitch with this one is thematic. It sets us up for a nice choice between support of a secure status quo and a risky but tempting unknown, presenting both sides as of some merit at least in the eyes of the character. I play the role I'm expected and made a choice, and was pretty much told that that choice was wrong and that the other choice was right. This is not what I want to see. If you're exploring a dichotomy, you can either present a really damned compelling case for one viewpoint or you can leave it openended. Trying to graft your own viewpoint onto a morally ambiguous story is cheating the player.

'Twas generally otherwise tolerably written, but I found some fairly glaring typos which should have been caught in beta (including an its/it's error. Paul O'Brien has been bitching about these for years and has had no effect; I don't know what we can do to possibly get people to use them right). The author doesn't seem to have quite down the style used in government work, nor the substance: it glared, for instance, that the file's rundown of the prisoners vitals was so sparse on particulars (I've received background checks from non-government agencies, and they're a lot more specific). The moderate grammatical, spelling, and construction errors got worse as the game progressed, suggesting that the prose had been edited, but not nearly recently enough. Add that to the heavy-handed moralization and the fairly predictable conclusion and, eh, I'm not too impressed, not given that it started somewhat promisingly.

From a technical standpoint, the beginning's pretty well-crafted from what I saw; there were very few actual coding errors or egregiously omitted responses (I got "You are unable to climb the door" at one point, which seemed peculiar). The file and NPCs are a bit fuzzy around the edges, but NPCs and consultables are hard. Points for welcome embellishments: implicitly calling the elevator, and a nod to the (all-too-common) default response in the custom responses to "X ME" (although, regrettably, with superfluous punctuation). Unfortunately, it goes downhill from there a ways, and gets shoddy in the third act; a lot of obvious actions were unimplemented, or implemented unintiutively.

Rating: 5
The Colour Pink

The intro rubbed me a bit the wrong way. I don't know why, but it feels tonally off. Not emotionally charged enough to be an inside-of-head monologue, too slanted to be just a flat intro. It read a bit like that guy who corners you at parties to complain about some particular of his life and makes you wonder if you could escape by chewing your arm off or something. I think its it's focus on a bygone event rather than the current situation that does it.

Er, where was I? Oh, yes, the game. Strange narrative voice once the game actually gets underway: descriptive text seems clipped and stilted and I'm told far too often what I'm thinking and feeling. I can't tell the Captain about the egg, which is irksome since it seems to be the one thing I can actually discover and I'm not given the option to report back before I'm whisked away by an awkward plot issue. Also, I don't entirely understand why I'm told digging wouldn't be useful—give me a shovel and a ruin to investigate, and what do you think I'd do?

After the prologue, room descriptions harp a bit too much on the "new world state" (even using that phrase, grr). Things are pink, we get it. You can stop now. The lab is sparsely furnished: that works for the ruins, but if you're going to tell me that I'm in a laboratory, I have reasonable expectations of being informed of the existence of lab equipment, and having an opportunity to interact with it. Otherwise, I'm just in some room. Large parts of the laboratory don't make sense: why place an immobile device and the immobile object on which it acts in different rooms? What motivates that? And I can't snag the watch with the scythe, which seemed the obvious solution—and I'm given no indication the ground is diggable here, when it wasn't upstairs: I figured the floor was stone.

I'm getting more than a little irritated with the way the plot-progress is motivated solely by bizarre coincidences, and the third section is completely unmotivated—even more so than the first two sections, I daresay, and its geography is sparse and poorly enough described that I needed to draw a map and even then found it confusing.

On to technical issues: the uniform was placed into scope peculiarly (perhaps with a found_in?), so it appeared to be on the ground in every room, which had some unintentional side effects. Similarly, attaching the hose to the tap is possible in every room, and turned out to be quite bewildering when I was trying to use the hose to build my oxygen gear.

The game, overall, shows some promise, but it needs a less irksome plot-construction and a lot better of a descriptive voice.

Rating: 6
A New Life

Rich worldcraft, and clearly a lot of effort went into this game. I didn't feel I got the backstory entirely, despite the memory system, but fantasy worlds are frequently underdetermined and unfold over the course of the work, so I can't rightly fault this for it. There are one or two bits which are a bit clichéd: when someone's selling objects of which you can buy only one you're pretty clearly looking at multiple-paths/multiple-solutions, but I appreciate the effort put into making those paths available. The writing's solid, and technically, it's a strong contribution, although I found one or two egregious flaws. It left me a bit cold, perhaps because my character was given insufficient motivation. I'm shunted into a charitable quest and I'm not given a strong indication that my character particularly cares about others' welfare. I got stuck in a few places, sometimes because I didn't realize what actions were viable (in particular, ASK was so often unuseful that I didn't use it where it was useful). Nonetheless, despite these flaws, this game is the best I've seen so far.

Rating: 8
Escape to New York

The grasp of English is a bit weak; the language isn't in itself bad, but the punctuation's a bit fast and loose. Dialogue's in an awkwardly stilted form of English which seems to be a fairly prevalent sign of mediocrity: it's as if mediocre authors thought nobody ever used contractions or had any personality. A similar new-author error is telling me so very often what I'm thinking. The map seems to be simultaneously too wide and too confined; I'm hunting a huge ship for a single room, without a map, and I get a feeling for the ship's size, and yet I am inexorably drawn towards the place I'm supposed to be. I'm bugged that trying to pass through locked doors indicates possible directions of travel rather than pointing out the locked door, but perhaps that's an ADRIFT limitation. I'm also bugged that ADRIFT doesn't support VERBOSE, but, again parser limitation rather than game.

On technical issues the game was not terrible, although at one point I was able to produce this response, so egregious that it has to be mentioned here:

The postal clerk stops you "I'm terribly sorry sir but passengers are not allowed in the Mail Room. You shouldn't really be in the Post Office." Without taking that much notice of you he returns to his work.

Thinking to yourself, you ponder, "If I had some sort of disguise, like one of these uniforms I could get below." The postal clerk stops you "I'm terribly sorry sir but passengers are not allowed in the Mail Room. You shouldn't really be in the Post Office." Without taking any notice of you he returns to his work. The postal clerk stops you, "I'm terribly sorry sir but passengers are not allowed in the Mail Room. You shouldn't really be in the Post Office." The postal clerk stops you, "I'm terribly sorry sir but passengers are not allowed in the Mail Room. You shouldn't really be in the Post Office." The postal clerk stops you, "I'm terribly sorry sir but passengers are not allowed in the Mail Room. You shouldn't really be in the Post Office."

All in all, kind of eh. The setting and plot are promising, but the execution needs work.
Rating: 6
History Repeating

Thank you ever so much. I have not even started up the game and already I'm bashing my head against a wall trying to get the Propellerheads out.

I'm sort of frustrated straight off: the teacher expressed concern, and I'm not being allowed to answer. I think you are allowed to talk in class if the teacher asks you a direct question. This actually sets the tone for the whole game, really, inasmuch as there are hordes of NPCs, none of whom are terribly responsive: if you're not going to implement ASK and TELL fully, you might as well stick with the menu system.

Oh, and any game that implements a locked door needs KNOCK. I don't know, this game didn't give me much reason to be invested in it. The puzzles were sort of counterintuitive, and alternative solutions (such as the aforementioned KNOCK) were unimplemented. It feels unpleasantly like a "recreation-of-my-high-school" game, and it takes a lot to make one of those good.

Rating: 5
Psyche's Lament

Whoops. I know how this story turns out, and I'd rather make it turn out differently, so I drop the knife and the lamp, and try to sleep, which renders further progress impossible, since I can't pick the dropped items back up again.

OK, take two, doing the foolish thing I'm supposed to do this time. "An Interactive Geek Myth." That's kinda clever, but looks at first like a typo. It's an amusing amalgam setting, with fairly shameless (well-implemented) puzzles, but, er, I managed to get the game caught in an infinite loop, which shouldn't be possible. An awful lot of it seems to be connecting things together until they surprise me by working (for instance, I wouldn't expect an inverter to change 1 to -1; I'd expect it to change 1 to 0), so the puzzles are actually kind of a disappointment. Also, the final puzzle is far harder than it has any right to be when using a proportional font. There's a lot to like here, but unfortunately it doesn't live up to its initial promise.

Rating: 5
Vespers

Ooh, promising. I dig on period pieces. Strong writing and characters, a compelling setting whose only flaw may be its sparseness; from the start this looked very good, and I was poised to give it a 9 or 10 depending how excellent it turned out to be. It's a bit distressing that there's a presumption I know how an abbey is laid out: I can guess what a locutory is, and contextual clues suggest at the function of a calefactory, but some better description might help. The way descriptions change over time is at first subtle and well-played. I found a few mechanical flaws and only two writing errors, so this is, as such things go, a pretty polished work, but the hints are incomplete. I didn't get the references to nonexistent verses, though, and thought they were just idiosyncratic until the end. Extremely nice: were it not for some very subtle flaws (such as incomplete hints) this would be an easy 10.

After I finished, I checked the author—whose name I didn't recall seeing mentioned. And now I'm more impressed. Jason Devlin gained some well-deserved plaudits for Sting of the Wasp: a game I personally loathed but could find no fault in other than my distaste. This game was as well-crafted and played more to my tastes: instead of rebelling against the character, I found myself trying to act in character, straightening up the abbey, making sure doors were closed, doing the sort of thing I don't normally do in adventure games. But even so, the packrat persona won, and it was amusing to see that referenced at the end of the game: sort of a sly dig at the player rather than the character. Me like.

Rating: 9
Sabotage on the Century Cauldron

Er, ah, um, I don't get it. I'm dropped into an environment and expected to make something of it. I'm naked and being chided and none of this is explained in the slightest. Getting dressed and leaving does not particularly improve the situation. It's full of weird stereotypes acting out and I still don't know what motivates me, why I'm trying to destroy the ship or what or who all these madcap people are. If it's meant to be serious, the tone's all wrong. If it's meant to be humorous, it isn't very. The writing is not bad, but on technical issues it kind of sucks. Unlocking nowadays should automatically choose the right key, and the fact that different verbs are needed for the same action is irritating. Why am I mistaken for the captain? I'm not in disguise. Feh, the whole exercise seems pointless.

Rating: 5
Mix Tape

I'm not sure being dropped in the middle of a tumultuous emotional situation works. And I don't know any of this guy's favorite music, nor particularly care about it. I don't know what led up to this, or what the big deal about the scrapbook is. And the story's on rails. I tried to put the damn scrapbook in my satchel and walk away, and I wasn't given a nearly good enough reason why I couldn't. And then:

>put book on fire
You don't need to burn that.

So, er, what am I doing here then? Oh, I'm guessing the verb, and, God, this guy's an asshole. What's his damage here? And why is telling him to go screw himself and walking away not an option?

Back in the past, and he's still an asshole. Why am I involved with this person? The conversation system is far too rigid— I should be able to ask not just about the review, but about the CD, and get a non-default action. Explicitly cluing ASK seems cheap too; if there are that few options at each conversational branch and you want them all exposed, might as well use menus. I ran out of useful things to do and couldn't bring myself to care: why should I? The game's given me no reason to identify with its protagonist

Coding-wise, it's only good as long as you stick very closely to the script. Deviate slightly, and you get responses like:

"Peter, can you unlock the Peter's front door?"

The cooked lasagna does not appear to be edible.

The cooked lasagna hits Peter without any obvious effect, and falls to the carpet.

Lastly, the writing's technically servicable, but doesn't give me any reason at all to be invested in the story.

Rating: 5
Dreary Lands

Naming a Z-code file "dreary.z5" is almost as discouraging as "terrible.z5". Yes, it's truth in advertising, but, hey, I'm just sayin'.

On the other hand, a typo in the opening text is not just discouraging but downright alarming. I'm given a nebulous backstory and essentially told to ignore it, which makes me wonder why it was brought up in the first place. The writing is (as one might suspect from initial impressions) technically flawed, not just in spelling and grammar but more subtly in usage. Embarassing techincal errors too, such an an unopenable object described as 'closed' and seats which can't be sat upon.

Oh, "HELP" indicates it's the writer's first game. Please, please, people, do not release your first game to the general public, and if you must release it, don't do so in the comp. OK? Thanks. And since the writer couldn't be bothered to put a lot of time into it, I find myself unwilling to do so either. Sorry, try again next time.

Rating: 1
On Optimism

Eeeagh! Opening-text quotebomb! And very painful actual opening text. That's painful in the sense of "painfully badly-constructed", not "painfully heart-wrenching", since I suppose it was intended to be the latter. The quality of the writing does not improve in the game proper: there's a pretension which is not actually supportable by the author's grasp of English usage. The change to the first person is pretty good, but falls down in a few places -- oddly, not in library responses.

As to the plot... well, once again, I feel like I'm dropped into someone else's angst, even down to their mawkish poetry and equally mawkish sentiments expressed in prose. A Moment of Hope kind of wore out my tolerance for people forcing their angst onto me. Best thing I can say about this game is that I didn't find any actual bugs. Then again, it might have been a lot more fun if I had.

Rating: 2
Beyond

"Due to the temathics involved, this game is not suitable for children." Hmm, temathics. I'm not exactly getting inspired with confidence right off here. Yes, I know English isn't the authors' first language, but that doesn't mean I'll cut them more breaks than I cut other people. The prose is pretty rocky in the story proper, although not as dire as I feared, and behind the mediocre English there's actually a pretty good narrative trying to get out. It's really very well-crafted and intriguing. Pretty much my only objection is to what appears to be a game-stopping bug in the third interlude, some of the prose mechanics, and to the ungainly hint system. But it's a strong enough work that I'm well-impressed even with these serious faults.

Rating: 7
Waldo's Pie

I like getting a strong story and strong motivation up front, and I got a distinctly creepy vibe; it felt a bit of a ghost town, between the run-down buildings and the unfriendly people. But my character doesn't seem teribly fazed by any of it, since it's familiar and whatnot, so there's a sort of dissonance there. I liked this game more before I had a silly quest. I could figure out before I even woke Boffo that I'd be making a pie (given the paucity of non-pie-related items I could find). I had to go to the clues to figure out the cabinet, which seemed underclued, and the henhouse fence, which was just a confusing verb. All in all, a valiant attempt, but I found myself frustrated: occasionally by unintuitive actions, sometimes by the parser.

Rating: 5
Hello sword

Another game translated from the Italian. I guess I shouldn't be surprised: the Italian IF community is pretty large, and it's natural they'd want in on the hott Comp action. This is what I initially feared Beyond might be like, but even more so. The writing's rocky and sometimes bears only a marginal resemblance to English. It's like playing an adventure run through Babelfish. The title "Hello Sword" led me to expect quirkiness of the IF-trope variety (conflating "hello sailor" and "take sword", there). I'm assuming the translation isn't supposed to be hilarious, and I hate to dismiss this out of hand when it may well be a good work but damn trying to follow descriptions in fractured English makes my head hurt. A suggestion to the author: for future English releases, perhaps team up with a native English speaker? That'd do a lot to smooth out your prose.

But never mind the language flaws: the game confuses the hell out of me too. I didn't realize I was carrying a pad. The verb to rub the pad is unintuitive, the arms shop isn't in the room description... and then I'm in a fantasy world. Ah, I give up, I give up. It escapes a "1" only because I find fractured English vaguely amusing.

Rating: 2
Tough Beans

Mmm, creepy start. As my review of Vespers indicated, I like well-done creepy. But it moves beyond this and gets less exciting when it does. "X ME" indicates that I do have a name after all, and that I'm actually pretty mundane, except for the huge angst textdumps I'm occasionally subjected to. Relationship-exploration isn't a bad topic for IF, but could we do so with just a bit more subtlety? It doesn't help that this angst is juxtaposed against a fairly ordinary puzzle game with completely unintuitive puzzles. I need to get a shoe from a dog, so I search the entire house for items to put in a dog-food bag? Sure, why not? And then I'm in a car driving to work, and apparently waiting until I actually get to work is not an option. I found myself going to the walkthrough too much to actually have any investment in the story any more.

Rating: 5
PTBAD6andoneeighth

Since I played PTBAD 3 last year and hated it (as did every other judge), I had no reason to believe this game was worth my time. And do you know what? I was right.

At least the Comp0*ter Games were vaguely entertaining. The PTBADs are jsut stupid.

Rating: 1
Gilded

I'm a big proponent of strong narrative voice, but this intro clubs you over the head and says, "See how I do not talk like a normal person!" More subtle distortions would've been fine. Also, too many moves before I actually have any freedom of action. There are a fair number of what seem to be bugs which I encountered early on, and I couldn't figure out how to make any progress beyond getting nekkid, which is always worthwhile. This is why a walkthrough is comulsory, people. So that bastards like me don't give your game a low score based on a very limited view of it.

Rating: 3
Amissville II

Oh, goody. Them again.

Well, they/he/she/it still hasn't/haven't learned to write. And, er, is it just me, or is the command line black on black for everyone else, too? Well, normally I'd investigate, but it this context I'll err on the side of assumming the authors are idiots rather than that my own settings are merely unanticipated.

To summarize: juvenile humor, limp plot, execrable writing, poor interface choices, and a sequel to a game a violently disliked. What score do I give to games like that? Oh, I remember now.

Rating: 1
Ninja II

Getting all the people who irritate me out of the way at once, now, I guess. I'm in a bind when these folks happen to write a game which isn't obviously crap (cf. Gamlet), but fortunately, they usually earn low marks on their own merits. The original Ninja was universally panned, managing to even outdo even PTBAD 3: a notable achievement, to be sure, but probably not the one desired.

So is Ninja II better than Ninja? Sure, but it would be hard to be worse. Is it any damn good? Not really.

Rating: 1
Unforgotten

Yeep. The first menu of the game treats me to a mildly accusatory "theory of IF". That doesn't exactly earn my favor right there. Add to that two writing errors in the first two chunks of text I see in the game proper, and I'm thinking the author should have spent less time on the grand theory and more on the writing.

The first actions of the game kind of irritate me too. I'm not averse to a game which forces me to be caught in the act of doing something I oughtn't, but I'd like more motivation for doing that than sheer boredom. Deferring progress of time until the player progresses the plot can work: it worked in Christminster, but it doesn't work so well when there's an action you can reasonably expect to be short-term. This bugged me in My Dinner With Andre too, to revisit old grudges.

In fact, the whole "con the player into muddling about until he does something" seems to be the whole schtick here, despite the assertions in the Grand Philosophy and hints that everything we do should be motivated by our observations. Yeah, you don't want to scream at us what our goals are, but neither do you want us muddling about when we should have clear goals. At the beginning of the second section, I had a pretty good idea of what I was doing and where, but I didn't know my specific purpose until I examined the locket. That's kind of irksome: player knowledge shouldn't be concealed from the player unless there's a good reason.

Other than some rocky English construction and my general antipathy towards this particular plot-structuring, I have no actual objection. I had to go to the walkthrough as lot, but I'm kind of weak on some of the puzzle-solving here (for instance, I don't see why I care if the Dobermans see me tossing a pie at them as an attack, as long as I'm out of range). I found the puzzles generally nonintuitive, but that may just be me.

Rating: 7
Xen: The Contest

Half the intro seems to have nothing to do with the other half. I assume it's intentional. I can't wear the backpack. I couldn't figure out the command to order a cheeseburger. I can't take the ID to give it to the cashier, or anything. The game doesn't know the word "textbooks". This is all suggestive of weak betatesting, and despite technically servicable writing, I just can't get past the bugs I run into constantly, and the constant, unexplained refusal to let me do things. Occasional restriction is fine, but not letting me unpack, not letting me remove items from my wallet, not letting me open my backpack most places... I appreciate attempting to keep inventory management realistic, but there are less obtrusive ways to do it. Artificial constraints make a game seem ultralinear, and it's even worse when those constraints are on the sensible order of actions (e.g. you have to pick up objects before you put them in a bag, but I'm prevented from doing that with my books).

As for the actual plot, eh, it's a pedestrian college scenario. With huge textdumps, and occasional indications that any minute I'll be swept away into a fantasy world. But I'm not, so, eh, why do I care about any of this?

Rating: 5
Jesus of Nazareth

Ah, Dunric, will you ever win? Or failing that, will you ever learn?

Well, it's better than either of the Ninja games were. But the parser's still kinda crap, and the language needs a lot of work. But it's an actual game and not a minimalistic exercise. I'm laughing at it (not with it, I'm afraid), so that bumps it up to a 2, but just barely.

Also, I'm pretty sure it's blasphemy to claim that Jesus had hit points. At least he has more than the soldier. But a really sucky hand-to-hand attack. He must be a 10th level cleric or something.

Rating: 2
Vendetta

It's reasonably well-crafted; minor technical errors andsome unimplemented nouns detract a bit, but overall the experience feels substantial. The coloration is a bit jarring, but this particular fruit-salad approach seems to be a common part of the ADRIFT experience for reasons beyond my ken. One mechanically jarring element of this prose, and of a lot of not-quite-up-to-scratch writing, is the lack of contractions. Real people don't talk that mechanically, or even write that mechanically, and it introduces unnecessary artificiality. It's a matter or trying too hard, really. The quality of the prose in fact drops off pretty sharply further into the game, and it gets way too textdump-intensive, and runs on rails for a long time. It started out almost promisingly, but it really didn't live up to it, at all.

Rating: 5
Distress

Strong narrative voice and good writing on this one, and there don't seem to be any mechanical errors, but there are some problems in the gamecraft: the puzzles seem to be mostly timed and the timing on them's awfully tight. I appreciate the sense of urgency, but it could stand to be loosened up a bit. It's also surprisingly short: I won and figured I'd gtten the wrong ending since it ended so quickly. There's a lot of good here: story, writing, and technical issues; but it's a work of such limited scope it feels somewhat insubstantial.

Rating: 7
Off the trolley

The prose struck me right off. I always read intros carefully, and this one had a couple of mechanical flaws (mostly comma splices). I was bugged by the seeming superficiality of my motivation, but, hey, at least I was given some motivation, which is more than some games seem to bother with. Writing flaws continue throughout the work: the writing is servicable but unpolished. I like the sort of quaint simplicity of this story but no much else: it's poorly written, the correct actions aren't properly clued, and it's too much of a trifle.

Rating: 4
Neon Nirvana

Is"browsies" a community word? I thought they were called "feelies" even when they were electronic. Anyways, the browsies fail to fill me with confidence. "open undercover cases that had vacancies open"? "previously in the past"? Do I work for the Police Department or the Department of Redundancy Department?

Moving on to the game proper, I remain unimpressed. The first three objects I examine give default responses. The next two are scenery-coded and unimplemented respectively. This should never, ever happen. I'm informed of the existence of an unimplemented verb. Folks, you get the first ten or so moves to hook your audience or alienate them. Guess which I am?

I move on and the prose becomes better, but the world is still underimplemented. I dent the car and the bouncer doesn't care. I try to shoot the car and my action is dismissed out of hand. I try to shoot the bouncer and get a similar dismissal. Sorry, no biscuit for a game that doesn't anticipate even the most obvious actions. I gave it a bit of a pass at the beginning, but once the sparseness of the world starts to irritate, I call it a day.

Rating: 2
Snatches

Starts out OK, although again I'm dropped in the deep end without context. Having doors and not implementing KNOCK is alwyas a problem. Similarly if I smell something strange, SMELL shouldn't give a default response. I'm getitng the schtick, and I'm vaguely amused, although frustrated with all the body-jumping. Points for multiple descriptions of the same place. But then I got stuck in a clock, ran into a game-stopping bug, so I backed up and tried again. Well, my impression was better before the bug; the ending's kind of limp and irrelevant.

Rating: 6
Phantom: caverns of the killer

The first sentence has an extraneous comma, a misspelling, and a miscaptalization. The second is a fragment. Get an its/it's error in there too and you'd have a complete set of writing errors. The title reminded me of "House of the Stalker": the game's already starting to do so too.

Woohoo! Debug mode's left on. Time to purloin everything! I see that there's a maze. Great. Unimplemented objects abound, the writing continues to be atrocious, and my actions are unmotivated. This author didn't explicitly say it was his first game; I'm just going to assume it is. I's not like it changes how I'm going to rate it.

Rating: 1
Chancellor

Ow. The intro writing's a bit overwhelming, a bit much. It could stand to be toned down. There's perhaps a bit too much anthropomorphism, a bit too much displacement of action (what's that rhetorical device called? I know it when I see it). Even out of the fantasy-world scenario, it's sort of overwritten. It's not bad, but the Real World section is too sparse for my tastes. I don't understand how I actually got the can out of the machine, though.

The forest and lake section is better written than the previous two, but unfortunately I made no progress. And the hints weren't helpful either. Watch out, Kevin, or you're going to become "that guy with promising games which have no hints".

Rating: 5
FutureGame (tm)

Really, what's the point? Damnit, if you don't have a game to enter in the comp, don't pretend you do, OK? I would've preferred to end on a high note instead of this bull.

Rating: 1

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
Vespers 1 1 0
Unforgotten 2 7 5
A New Life 3 2 1
Internal Vigilance 4 10 6
Beyond 5 2 3
Mortality 6 12 6
Snatches 7 8 1
The Colour Pink 8 6 2
Xen: The Contest 9 16 7
The Sword of Malice 10 28 18
History Repeating 11 13 2
Son of a... 12 15 3
Mix Tape 13 18 5
Psyche's Lament 14 21 7
Tough Beans 15 5 10
Distress 16 4 12
Chancellor 17 9 8
Escape to New York 18 11 7
The Plague (Redux) 19 22 3
Vendetta 20 14 6
Sabotage on the Century Cauldron 21 23 2
Waldo's Pie 22 18 4
Cheiron 23 26 3
Off the Trolley 24 20 4
Gilded 25 16 9
Space Horror I 26 25 1
Hello sword 27 30 3
Amissville II 28 32 4
Jesus of Nazareth 29 33 4
Neon Nirvana 30 27 3
On Optimism 31 24 7
PTBAD6andoneeighth 32 35 3
Phantom: caverns of the killer 33 31 2
Dreary Lands 34 29 5
Ninja II 35 36 1
FutureGame 36 33 3

Return to the IF reviews.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional