>x panel Flat black glass, a panel that uses all manner of fancy beams to read over your palm-print and check you are who you think you are. Unfortunately, it's not clever enough to realise you now think you are someone that you actually aren't. Or you think you are someone who you're not, but really are. Or something like that. Anyway, it's a pig-ignorant machine.I love it when an IF game makes me laugh out loud, and that happened frequently in this game.
Then there's the coding. This coding is good. Really good. A raft of nonstandard verbs get recognized and handled. There are a variety of special commands provided, such as "R" or "REVIEW", which repeats the room description without using any game time. Descriptions of rooms, objects and events alter themselves in various subtle and blatant ways, depending on what's come before. Timed events, even events where a huge amount is happening at once, run smoothly along their tracks with nary a glitch. There's a very fine adaptive hint system, quite sensitive to situation and even possessing a self-destruct capability that removes the blatant walkthrough answers after the comp period has ended. Library messages adapt seamlessly to the PC's situation and point-of-view. Oh, and how could I forget the special effects? TDMAMOOM takes control of the interpreter to create a beautiful Infocom/Inform-style look-and-feel; people who don't care for the general appearance of TADS games should definitely try this one. The game even features a little bit of sound, throwing in a system beep at an appropriate time.
Working with the coding and the writing to propel this game to greatness, the story is killer, a wild thrill ride through surprises small and large. Like its predecessors Delusions and Babel, TDMAMOOM takes place in that most favored of IF locales, an isolated scientific research station. I won't even get into the plot here, because players should experience it for themselves with as few spoilers as possible up front, except to say that it all fits together very nicely, and every time I had doubts, the game anticipated them and tied up the loose ends. Along with all this, just a quick word about the puzzles: many of them are not only inventive but pitched at just the right level of difficulty, providing several of those wonderful "aha!" moments for me. Some of them are rather complicated, but they're always scrupulously fair. I ended up turning to the hints so that I could see more of the game before time ran out, but I think if I'd had the time available, this game's puzzles would have rewarded me for spending it. So we're talking about a pretty phenomenal game, here. In fact, almost depressingly so, given that I'm an entrant this year and TDMAMOOM is miles better than my game. It's not perfect, mind. I found a few spelling and grammar errors, and there were times I wished for clearer descriptions of events and objects. But those flaws are minor and cosmetic, and they do nothing to change the fact that this is a damn good game. Bravo.
The girl is clothed in a silky blue dress. Long vibrant hair cascades over her shoulders and down her back. Her countenance seems to reflect all feminine virtue, inclusive of kindness, submissiveness, empathy, and consciousness of time and place.So "submissiveness" is a feminine trait, in fact a feminine virtue? And kindness and empathy are outside the male domain? Certainly the female characters don't have a lock on self-consciousness, as evidenced by the PC's reaction to entering a women's clothing store:
Why did you come in here? There is nothing terribly exciting here by any male's estimations. To a female, this could well be a lesser incarnation of paradise. A wealth of clothing is available on circular racks situated in aisles throughout the store, for trying on and for purchase. The exit is west.Yes, we know that all women love clothes-shopping. And men have no interest whatsoever in women's fashion, which is why all fashion designers are women. Oh, wait. At its worst moments, the game spits out statements that wouldn't seem out of place in a Victorian behavior manual:
GET PLATE You don't need to take the plate; There are females here to clean up after you.Give me a break! If this is a manga thing, I don't think I'll be reading manga anytime soon.
On the technical (and more positive) side, The PK Girl is the long-awaited game that rises above ADRIFT's initial limitations to take a place among games created by the top-tier development systems. An unbelievable amount of care has gone into crafting this game. First of all, it addresses all the flaws in the ADRIFT parser that I've railed about in previous reviews. The game handles conversation very smoothly indeed, blending the ASK ABOUT approach with a menu-based approach in a somewhat similar fashion to my Earth And Sky games. On the rare occasions when the parser asks a question, it's almost always prepared to handle the answer. SEARCH works, and in fact it works better than in most games, because the game explicitly assumes that it includes looking under and looking behind an object, and says so. Best of all, I never encountered the generic "Nothing special" message for an unrecognized noun, partly because the game changed the default message to be more Inform-like, but mostly because nouns are implemented in exquisite depth. For that matter, not only are almost all nouns described, but a prodigious number are included in the first place. I didn't come close to finishing this game in the two hours allotted, but I must confess that may be my own fault, because I frequently deserted the plot in order to wander around the game and marvel at the level of detail included. For this virtue alone, The PK Girl is one of the most immersive games in this year's comp. In addition to its significant improvement on the standard ADRIFT parser, the game also includes professional-looking illustrations and an enjoyable MIDI soundtrack. This latter can get a little grating after a while, and I sometimes wished that a piece of music would play once and stop rather than continuously looping (or that I at least had the option of making the game behave that way), but it did enhance the scenes' mood quite effectively.
As for the story itself, I found it pretty entertaining. After a fairly tranquil opening, the plot kicks into high gear with a dramatic incident, and events follow sensibly upon each other from there on. NPCs help propel the story forward by sometimes continuing about their business without waiting for the PC, thus forcing the player to keep up or lose the plot entirely. As I said, I didn't get all the way through the story, but the portion I saw delivered excitement and fun, even if the writing sometimes had an oddly elevated tone which worked counter to the brisk pace. There were some problem spots in the writing, phrases that didn't make much sense or that suggested with their awkwardness a few lapses in English skill. Still, for the most part they didn't get in the way of the game's ability to tell a good story. Because its story is fun and quite chaste, The PK Girl might make a nice IF selection for kids, though perhaps it ought to be counterpointed by something rather less sexist. In fact, although I'm clueless about anime, the game reminded me distinctly of another branch of animation, the Disney feature film: technically impressive and proficient while remaining on the political level utterly, utterly reactionary.
The technical elements, unfortunately, weren't as trouble-free. To begin with, UG started with the inherent disadvantages of the ADRIFT parser, and didn't manage to overcome them with careful compensation like The PK Girl did. Because the game is more or less puzzleless, the parser's deficiencies didn't hurt it as much as they hurt this year's other ADRIFT game, A Party To Murder, but they were still fairly irritating. In addition, this game had its own unique problem, which was that it was plagued by a mysterious lack of articles. For instance:
X FOLDER A typed label on the manilla folder reads, "Time Magazine draft article." Manilla folder is closed. GET FOLDER You take manilla folder from the desk. OPEN IT (manilla folder) You open manilla folder.This kind of thing happened throughout the game, and kept reminding me of that old Saturday Night Live skit from the 80s where Tonto, Tarzan, and Frankenstein sing or read well-known works like "The Raven": "Once upon... midnight dreary... While pondered... weak, weary..." The frequent injection of unintentional comedy doesn't do much for a dramatic story. The grammar errors didn't help either.
Still, I found some value in UG despite these flaws, and there's one more thing I'd like to point out about it: this game is pretty clearly a work of Christian IF, and it is Christian IF done properly. I'm not a Christian, and I've been offended in the past by games like Jarod's Journey whose overt mission is an evangelical one. This game chooses a richer path, which is to tell a story set in a world in which Christian myths turn out to be true, and exploring the consequences and subsequent choices for the characters once this revelation occurs. It's not exactly great religious literature, but it does manage to portray a Christian world without condescension or arrogance. Because it allows a little complexity into its world, UG ends up a more thought-provoking and rewarding piece of work than the sort of Christian IF that just wants to shout scripture at the player.
Thus forearmed, I fired up the game. The very first thing I noticed was that the debugging verbs are left on. Not a good sign. Shortly after that, I discovered that the game suffers from grammar problems, and some rather poor implementation, like the laptop that can be neither opened nor switched on. Also, the writing fails to explain critical points, such as the fact that after somebody magically appears, he also apparently magically disappears without notice. It seems that newlines also frequently disappear (or rather, never appear to begin with), which looks ugly. Shortly after all that, I found the room where an NPC repeats the same exact speech over and over again, because that speech is apparently implemented as part of his "initial" property, and since he never acquires the "moved" attribute he never switches from using this attribute to a more reasonable description. It was at about that point that I decided, "Hey, I'm a BOFH, right? It's my job to punish stupidity with cruelty, right? Let's go, then." I typed TREE to get a look at the game's object tree, then PURLOINed any items that looked interesting. I PURLOINed the NPC, which shut him up quite handily. A SHOWOBJ confirmed that indeed, his speech was implemented in his "initial" property. Tsk tsk.
After a while, the charm faded from this activity, so I just restarted the game and went through according to the walkthrough, still employing the occasional judicious PURLOIN or GONEAR when something looked like too much trouble to bother with. It doesn't get any better. Rather than mutating entirely into the Bastard Reviewer From Hell, I'll just say that it would seem Mr. Travaglia should have requested editorial control rather than just giving permission carte blanche, since I'd be rather surprised if this is the game he wants representing his work as IF. My advice is to spend your time reading the stories on his archive if cruel humor is your cup of tea. They're sure to be more entertaining and less frustrating than this game, which turns out to be less of a Bastard and more of a luser.
Rating: 3.4 (so close, but ah well, there you are)
In Comp2000, Chris Charla entered a game called Infil-Traitor, which purported to be a rickety BASIC game from 1982, but was in fact a rickety BASIC game he had programmed himself the month before the comp started. I didn't play that game because the compiled version had a fatal bug, so it fell to the bottom of my list and I never got around to actually recompiling it in order to try the playable version. Given that I only found out after the comp was over that the entry was submitted under false pretenses, I kinda thought I'd dodged a bullet there. I was wrong, because he did it again. Four Mile Island comes with a long and detailed readme which tells the story of how the author used to work in a warehouse that some computer magazines had used as office space and found an old, never-published type-in computer game, typed it in and entered it in the comp with the permission of the author. Even if all this was true, it'd hardly make for a promising comp entry, but of course it isn't true, it's just a made-up cover to allow the author to create a near-perfect facsimile of an early Eighties magazine type-in adventure game.
Of course, the question that leaps to mind here, and I'm sure I'm not the only one asking this is: why? Those who played Infil-Traitor are no doubt asking, "For God's sake, man, why twice?" I mean, sure, it plays just like a game whose source code might appear in a 1984 computing magazine. Yeah, it's written in BASIC. Yeah, it's got a two-word parser. Yeah, the plot is something about the Cold War and nuclear bombs. Yeah, it's pretty buggy. Yeah, it's got an annoying maze. I grant all these things. But are they virtues? They were the best we could do at the time, but are they worth recreating? Not to me, they aren't. I actually like being able to save my game. I think UNDO is a good thing. I think it's kind of cool how a game can end now and I can actually read the ending text because it's not running in a DOS window that shuts down after the program exits. An exact replica of a primitive game is no more fun to play than an actual primitive game. I think that's one of those Zen aphorisms, or something.
Of course, that's just me. We all have our preferences. And I'm quite sure that to some, my fascination with Infocom-style text adventures and their modern descendents would be just as quirky as someone else's fascination with type-in games. So let's hear it for the IF competition, which allows even the strangest retro-text-gaming passions some outlet. If somebody's idea of a good time is to write up a BASIC two-word parser game that feels just like one I might have typed into my Atari 800 when I was 14 years old, more power to 'em. It just doesn't happen to be my idea of a good game. Tastes vary.
> x family photo In the photo you see the professor together with his family. > x family The professor is standing in the photo with his wife and five children. > x children The photo is really rather old as the children in it are still very young. You know that none of them lives at home anymore. On the left there are twin boys, looking to be of the age at which they have just started going to school. In the middle, the youngest child, just a baby, is sitting in her mother's lap. It seems to be hardly one year old: you cannot tell if it's a boy or a girl, even from the clothes. [...] > x baby The baby, whose sex you are not able to tell, is dressed in a pink overall. > x overall It is just an ordinary babies' outfit.Given that OOTS is a one-room game, this depth of implementation goes a very long way towards making the environment feel real and interactive. Intriguingly, the point of this depth isn't just to increase immersion; it's actually an element of the game's puzzles, and clues are often buried several levels deep. Enlightenment, from Comp98, explored this technique a little, but OOTS takes it much further.
This game's puzzles are definitely its best feature. Like many one-room games, it has only a modicum of plot -- you're a thief who has been trapped inside the place you're robbing, and you must investigate the environment to figure out how to escape. To do so, you have to figure out the mindset of the room's occupant, and all the regular puzzles are subsections of that overriding goal. The design is generally sound, and I appreciated the fact that the environment was so richly implemented, but it would have been a lot more fun were it not so buggy. There's a bit of an insect theme in this game, but actual game bugs are not welcome no matter how many metalevels of irony they provide. Some of the problems may have been due to the ALAN parser; for instance, I found I couldn't refer to objects by their adjectives, as in the following example where both a "torn photograph" and a "family photograph" are in scope:
> x photograph [It is not clear which photograph you mean.] > x torn [You must supply a noun.]Being able to refer to an object by any of its name words is a behavior I've come to love in IF, and I missed it a great deal during this game. Other things were clearly the game's fault. For instance, "examine" and "read" were implemented as different verbs, but their implementation was not well-tested, resulting in exchanges like this:
> read books There is nothing written on the books.Hope you didn't pay too much for those books, professor -- they aren't worth the paper they aren't written on.
Between the game's bugs, its quirks, and its lack of a walkthrough, I came thisclose to just abandoning it altogether. Happily, some folks over at ifMUD helped me get unstuck so I could reach the ending. Unhappily, that ending is a bit of a disappointment. OOTS succumbs to the temptation to tack on a rather cutesy "twist" ending, but my reaction to it was neither "awwwww" nor "whoa!", but rather "huh?" In my view, all that ending does is to make hash of everything that came before, as well as to make the player's labors seem rather fruitless. I don't even think it can be justified as bringing some sort of justice to the thief, because it's unclear how much reality has actually shifted, or how much we are to assume about the game as a whole. There are some good puzzles and a very well-crafted setting here, and with a round or two more of testing and a better ending, OOTS could be a pretty good piece of IF.
Paul O's 2002 Competition Game Reviews -- Page 5 / Paul O'Brian / obrian at colorado.edu / Revised November 2002