One interesting thing about OQDA is that not every object in its world serves a purpose within the game. There are locked doors that never need (or even can) be opened. There are many objects that serve no specific purpose. In fact, as far as I can tell, there are a number of puzzles that never need to be solved in order to complete the game. This strategy has its weaknesses: the danger of the red herring count exceeding the tolerable limit is quite high, and solving puzzles is less satisfying when you realize that your brainwork has achieved no appreciable results. Still, on balance, I liked the feeling of openness and mystique that resulted from all these frills in the game universe. That, along with the author's willingness to implement multiple puzzle solutions and the fact that OQDA is apparently the first chapter of an ongoing work, gave me a similar feeling to that which I had when I first played Zork: the experience of being in a mysterious world which is simultaneously a fun game.
However, there were several elements of the game world which I could have done without. One of these is the way that OQDA constructs its player character. You are told from the beginning that you work in your present job because you were expelled from school during your senior year, due to an "incident involving a freshman (of the opposite gender), a stolen time machine and a bottle of cheap champagne." The opening text makes clear that you mourn your lost career hopes. Fine. After that, though, almost every single room in the campus Physics building has some kind of remark about how you spend your days weeping and crying. Example: upon examining a couch, "You have spent many an afternoon lying on this couch and weeping into the pillows, wondering what happened to your life. It's very cozy." After a while of this, I started to wonder why I cared about this miserable loser who seemed physically incapable of getting on with life. I stopped wanting to play the character, because my sympathy and identification were eroded by a stream of self-pitying text. Infidel plays a similar trick with an unsympathetic player character, but while Infidel at least gives you the pleasure of playing an outright villain, OQDA just provides the less thrilling experience of playing a pathetic whiner.
Prose: As I just mentioned, the prose sometimes goes much too far in repeating the same thematic point in object after object. Another example of this is the game's treatment of the Anthropology building. There are eight locations around the perimeter of the building; six of these use the word "massive", "looms", or "towers", or some combination of these three. We get the point. On the plus side, the humor in the writing often works well, and some of the silly points within the game were really quite funny. [JOKE SPOILERS AHEAD] I especially enjoyed some of the professors' names, like French professor Dr. Eaubooboo, or Philosophy teacher Dr. Jobless -- "pronounced (zhahb- LAY)."
Plot: Well, it's hard to say too much about the plot at this point, since the game makes clear that it is only the first chapter of an ongoing saga (the second chapter is apparently scheduled to be delivered for the '98 competition). So far as it goes, OQDA's plot rests on a very realistic device exaggerated to the point of hilarity. Your boss, Temporal Physics professor Dr. Bignose, has asked you to deliver an envelope to a box on his colleague's desk. He even gives you a key to the appropriate building. However, in typical absent-minded professorial fashion, he isn't quite sure where he left the envelope, nor can he verify that his colleague's office is where he thinks it is, or even if that key really unlocks the building it's supposed to (predictably, it doesn't). Unsurprisingly, this apparently simple errand turns into a wide-ranging exploration of a very strange campus. It seems to be only a prelude, but it works well.
Puzzles: One great thing about the puzzles in OQDA is that a number of them are solvable with more than one method. Such a capability always takes extra effort on an author's part, and it does not go unappreciated. The game has its fair complement of locked doors and their corresponding keys, and there are a number of more inventive puzzles as well. The only problem I really found with the puzzles is that a few of them seemed to be based on wanton destruction for no satisfying reason. There's nothing anywhere in the prose to indicate that the character is evil (only pathetic and possessed of rather bad judgment), so puzzles which require highly destructive actions went against the grain for me.
writing -- There are a goodly number of technical problems in the game's writing, including misspellings, typos, awkward sentences, and mangled grammar.
coding -- A number of bugs also exist within the game. The majority of these are puzzles which can be solved over and over, and objects which do not behave consistently when their state is changed.
OVERALL: A 6.9
If you haven't played much IF, and in fact even if you haven't spent much time on the IF newsgroups, most of this game is going to mean very little to you. Even its title is an allusion: to Crimes Against Mimesis, a well-crafted series of articles posted to the newsgroups by Roger Giner-Sorolla (whatever happened to him, anyway?) a year or so ago. The rest of the game continues in that vein. The opening paragraph alludes to Jigsaw. The score of the initial part of the game is kept in IF disks which magically pop into the player's inventory every time a correct move is made. In some ways, this familiar, almost conspiratorial approach is a weakness. Certainly in the context of the competition it won't endear Sins to any judge who stands on the outside of the privileged circle at which the game aims itself. Even for an insider, the constant barrage of "if you're one of us, you'll know what I mean" references can start to feel a little cloying. However, the game is cleanly coded and competently written, and on the first time through I found it quite entertaining.
There aren't many games which I would highly recommend to one group of people and discourage others from playing, but Sins is one of them. If you're an raif and rgif regular, I think you'll find Sins quite funny and entertaining. If not, forget it. It's bound to be more baffling and irritating than anything else.
Prose: The prose is generally somewhere between functionally good and rather well done, with occasional moments of brilliant hilarity. [SPOILERS AHEAD] The best one has to be when the game is in "lewd" mode and the player amorously approaches the plant: "Your embrace becomes hot and heavy and you surrender to the delights of floral sex." An LGOP reference and an extremely bad pun at once! Can it get any better?
Plot: The plot is based around several clever tricks which are quite funny at the time, but aren't worth repeating. If you've already played, you know what they are, and if you haven't played yet I won't give away the jokes. Like the rest of Sins, the plot is funny the first time through but won't wear well.
Puzzles: Actually, this was the weakest part of the game. Many of the puzzles can be solved by performing extremely basic actions, which of course hardly makes them puzzles at all. Others, however, depend either on extremely specific (and not well-clued) actions or on deducing something about the surroundings which is not included in object or room descriptions. For a game so adamantly self-aware, it's ironic that Sins falls into some of the most basic blunders of puzzle design.
writing -- I found no mechanical errors in Sins' writing.
coding -- I found no bugs either.
OVERALL: An 8.3
See, he just doesn't write in English. Sure, it may look like English, but on closer inspection we find that the resemblance is passing, perhaps even coincidental. Misspellings and bad grammar are just the tip of the iceberg. The sentences often just don't make sense. (For example, "A small persian rug sits as an isolated in the center of the room..." I'm not making this up. In fact, this all comes before a single move can be made in the game.)
But OK, say you were smart and had a good translator, and could understand what the game is talking about. Then, my friend, you would have to deal with the bugs. The game world makes almost zero sense, even if you can get past the prose. Simple commands like "get in bed" thrust you into darkness, at the same time insisting "But you're already in the Your Bed." (you weren't.) Perhaps you'd turn to the walkthrough in such a situation. No luck. In fact, the (twelve-move) walkthrough includes a command which isn't even in the game's vocabulary. The best you can achieve is "A Phyric Victory" (I think he means "Pyrrhic.")
I don't mean this as a personal attack. I really don't. I would love to be proved wrong, to see "Rybread" come up with a great game, or even an understandable one. But I'm not holding my breath. Go ahead, play "Symetry." Just don't say I didn't warn you.
Prose: ... oh, forget it.
OVERALL: A 1.4 (you've got to give the guy credit for persistence.)
Unfortunately, after this promising beginning Zombie! stumbles badly. [MORE SPOILERS HERE] For one thing, after taking so much time to develop the relationship between Valerie and Scott, the game never returns to it! I fully expected to see Valerie show up again as a zombie, to see Scott's emotional reaction to encountering her in that state, and to find out what happens after he rescues her from zombification. A reunion, perhaps? Well, no. In fact, the prologue is the last we see of Valerie. Now, I usually like it when a game proves itself less predictable than I thought it would be, but this time I felt cheated. I wouldn't have paid so much attention to Valerie or put so much time into learning about the relationship had I realized that she was just a throwaway character. Doubly unfortunate is the fact this is far from Zombie!'s only problem. There are numerous bugs in the code, hand-in-hand (as they so often are) with an unpleasantly high count of mechanical errors in the writing.
I kept finding myself feeling frustrated, because every time I really got into the game, allowed myself to get interested in its tensions, a bug or a spelling error would come along that would shatter mimesis and deflate the emotional effect. The thing is, the game does a great job of building that tension. It's a b-movie all the way, no deep or serious issues here, but it's definitely got that suspenseful, creepy feeling that the best b-movies have. (Yes, I'm aware of the irony in that phrase, so you needn't bother pointing it out.) The sound of heavy footsteps approaching, or the feeling of driving rain beating against a worn, gothic mansion, or the sight of horrific creatures staring dead ahead (literally!), and similar gothic pleasures were all very well-executed in this game, until you hit the inevitable technical error. Still, better to have a good game with lots of bugs than a mediocre game executed flawlessly. Bugs are easy to fix. When Starkey fixes them, Zombie! will definitely be one to recommend.
Prose: The prose isn't beautiful by any means, and it often shows signs of awkward construction or phrasing. On the other hand, it does achieve many suspenseful moments, and quite often has some very nice pieces of description or atmosphere. I found the rain very convincing, and the eerie outside of the mansion was also well-portrayed. In addition, the prologue had some well-done dialogue and atmosphere, and built the tension just right for entry into the game proper.
Plot: The plot was a good combination of the spooky and the silly, with the emphasis on the silly. I found it reminiscent of some of the early LucasArts games, especially the moments with Ed the Head. The kitschy charm of the mad scientist, his lumbering assistant, the haunted mansion, the unholy army of the dead, etc. was great. The main disappointment I had with the plot was the ending. It felt tacked on, as if there were more story to tell but because the game is a competition entry the author didn't have time to explore it. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Also, as I mentioned above, the emphasis placed on Valerie was rather odd considering that she never again showed up in the game. Finally, I know this is just a personal preference, but I felt a little annoyed that in the end of the game, I couldn't foil Dr. Maxim's nefarious scheme. I understand there's a long tradition of apocalyptic endings in this kind of story, but this ending didn't manage the triumphant feeling of destroying evil or the spooky feeling of inevitable defeat.
Puzzles: I actually liked the puzzles in Zombie! quite a bit. Some of them were a little tacked on (the measuring cups), and the overall puzzle framework (collect the elements of a recipe) is quite shopworn by now. However, all the puzzles, cliched as they may have been, fit very well into the overall story, and that seamless fit makes a lot of things pretty forgivable. If the game hadn't been plagued by bugs, its puzzles would have come very close to achieving the goal of aiding the narrative rather than obstructing it.
writing -- There were a significant number of mechanical errors in Zombie!'s writing.
coding -- The game also had quite a number of bugs. It needs at least one round of intense playtesting before it's really ready for the world at large.
OVERALL: A 7.5
Even in the broken version, there's a lot I liked about this game. The bug simply stops forward progress about 2/3 of the way through the game, so I did see a majority of it before being forced to quit. Basically, the premise of AGB is based around a simple, long time limit. You've just awoken, famished, after a long night of drunken revelry. You must comb through your demolished house and put together, as the game's title suggests, a good breakfast. Eventually, if you don't eat, you die. Now, a great deal of logic gets sacrificed along the way to this goal. Elements occur in the plot which are highly contrived and very obviously only there to drive the narrative. However, the situation is delivered with a great deal of panache, and some interesting side roads to explore on the way to finding that sought-after bowl of cereal. In addition, there are a couple of good puzzles to be found in the game.
Interestingly, aside from the serious, game-killing bug, the code wasn't all that buggy. There was a television that wasn't implemented properly, but there was also a much more complicated computer and robot which were bug-free (as far as I could tell, anyway). The author seems to have some proficiency in Inform, so I'm betting that the game didn't go through much beta testing. Once it does, it will be an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
Prose: The prose is one of the better features of this game. It's generally judiciously chosen, and often quite funny. AGB memorably captures the feeling of waking up in one's house after a wild party has occurred there, from the TV set festooned with silly string to the strange inability to find one's clothes. Suzy the robot is sufficiently endearing, and the computer exaggerated to the right point for laughs. The game's prose has a distinctly British flavor (more so than many other games submitted by UK residents) which also adds to its charm.
Plot: AGB uses the typical, simple adventure plot of constructing a desired object from various widely scattered parts. The post-party setting provides just barely enough plausibility for this scattering, and adds a touch of absurdity that makes questions of plausibility seem less important anyway. Of course, I didn't reach the end of the game, so I can't report on the plot in its entirety, but from what I saw, the plot (like those of many competition games) was very simple and served its purpose more than adequately.
Puzzles: On the whole, the game does a very nice job of blending its puzzles with the main narrative flow, allowing them to naturally arise from the setting and situation. Examples of this are the dirty bowl and the high shelf. Other puzzles, like Suzy's game of "onny-offy", are more arbitrary, but still quite forgivable. Then there are puzzles which seem quite gratuitous, adding a layer of pure contrivance to the plot, and which probably would have been better left out or redesigned (I'm thinking here of the milk puzzle). On balance, the majority of the game's puzzles are well-designed and competently implemented.
writing -- I found no technical errors in the writing.
coding -- As I mentioned above, the game's major downfall is that it has a bug so serious that it prevents players from being able to progress past about 2/3 of the way through the game. The author has obviously already caught this bug, and so it shouldn't be a problem in future versions of AGB. Beyond that, there are definitely some bugs in the game, but in proportion to the game's size they are few in number.
OVERALL: A 5.3
Paul O's 97 Competition Game Reviews -- Page 5 / Paul O'Brian / obrian at colorado.edu / Revised November 2002