beach A cool beach where you should have washed ashore and not have been able to remember anything because you where supposed to have amnesia, which you didn't, which completly ruins the whole storyline this game was going to have, so now the auther will have to make a game up on the spot, enjoy. By the way if you want to learn about me just type about. Their is a huge rock sitting here innocently.See what I mean about not knowing where to begin? The author says he's in high school, and in fact writes, "I might I win the award for youngest IF writer, maybe that will get me a couple of points from the voters." Sorry, dude. David Glasser wrote VirtuaTech at 14, and it's miles better than this. Hell, Ian Finley wrote Babel at 17. Besides, my reaction to this game wasn't "Oh, it's pretty good for a high schooler," but rather, "Holy crap, something this subliterate came from somebody who's made it all the way to high school??"
Here are some things this game needs: Spell-check. Proofreading (to catch things like "Their is a huge rock," which spell-check will miss.) Descriptions that care enough to actually, y'know, describe, and to write out their words instead of "the center of the town with houses NE, NW. To the W is a volcano, to the N is a mountain, and to the E is a jungle." Even the game itself knows it sucks, because it mentions the fact every couple of rooms. Well, games that suck... suck. They shouldn't be released. Show a little self-respect, and a little respect for the people you're asking to spend time on your work. Damn.
Like Evans' previous game, this game has some pretty cool stuff in it -- there's an interesting magic system, some good puzzles, a nice sense of expanding possibilities. The problem is, it's not finished. I played for a while, found some of the cool stuff, and solved a few puzzles. I also found a ton of bugs (not on the "known bugs" list), which forced me into checking the hints a lot from early on -- there were a number of synonym problems, some sloppy coding, some Vile Zero Errors. Then got I totally derailed by a game-killing bug (again, not on the "known bugs" list) that spat out a Zero Error and trapped me in a dead-end. So, back to the hints. I restored, tried another method, ran smack into another game-killing bug (that's right, not on the list) that refused to acknowledge when a puzzle had been completed. So then I said, "Okay, you know what? You get a 1."
I'm in a bad stretch, here. Three out of the last four games I've played have been, in my opinion, not even close to ready. This one is maybe the most aggravating of all, because it seems like the author has this problem repeatedly, so I'm going to do something I rarely do, which is to address him directly. John, your games could be really good. Really. But man, you have got to follow through! You have got to finish what you start. Polish it, test it, get the bugs out, make the code smooth. You know: finish. Listen, I have a half-finished game on my hard drive too, and I could have slapped an ending on and released it to the comp, but I didn't, because of this idea I have about comp courtesy. I would prefer to do the right thing by the people I'm asking to spend time on my stuff, so I won't give it to them until I've done all I can to make sure they'll actually enjoy it. If you get too bored with something to finish it, or the deadline comes before you're ready, DON'T RELEASE IT. Releasing half-done, bug-ridden games is indefensible, because no matter how much potential they may seem to have, until they're finished, they're CRAP. Instead of starting a new game for next year's comp, polish and fix this one, so that you can actually have something good to your name. That's just my advice, which I'm sure doesn't mean much to you. If it did, you'd have gone back and finished Hell: A Comedy Of Errors. But you won't be getting much respect as an author until you show that you can actually write a good game instead of a good half-game.
I've written out and rehearsed my objections to overlarge comp games so many times that they almost feel self-evident to me now. But I realize that my experience doesn't match with most people's, so for those just tuning in, here are a few of my problems with giant comp games. First of all, the comp is a high-pressure playing time. I really try to finish all the games in the judging period, and to write a substantial review after each game. Plus, I have a life, so that means that my IFComp time is squeezed in at the edges of my life -- lunch hours, laptop time on the bus to and from work, or late nights after my wife has gone to bed. It's frustrating to carve out this time and then realize that it's still not even close to sufficient for the game I'm playing. Secondly, there's a more insidious problem with trying to squeeze a big game into two hours. When I had only a half-hour left and huge swaths of the game left undiscovered, I turned to the hints. I did this not because I couldn't have solved the puzzles on my own. Maybe I could have. But not in half an hour, and I wanted to see more of the game. Turning to the hints, though, does a disservice to a game like this. Well-constructed puzzles ought to be experienced fully, relished, and a well-written world should be enjoyed at leisure rather than rushed through. Trying to play this game in two hours will ruin it for many players, players who could have enjoyed it to its fullest potential were it released outside the comp. Moreover, how many people are likely to come back and finish the game after the comp period is over? For all the comp games I've meant to do that with, I've almost never followed through, because after the comp is a frenzy of reviewing excitement, and then come the holidays, and busy times at work, and... whoosh. The game is well off my radar by the time I actually have time to play it. Then there's the fact that I find it difficult to give a reasonable evaluation to a game that remains mostly unseen by me -- it's like trying to review a movie after watching the trailer and the first 20 minutes. These aren't the only reasons I don't like huge comp games, but that's enough for now.
Still, with all that said, can I understand why somebody, especially a first-time author, would enter their huge game in the comp, even knowing all of the attendant problems? Of course I can. The fact that RR is a comp entry perfectly illustrates the problem with the current IF scene. The annual IF Competition is simply too important, too powerful. It's become a cynosure whose glare eclipses everything else in the IF world. I love the competition -- I think that much is clear from my ongoing participation in it -- but I have come to really hate the way it's turned into a gravity well for games. If you enter your game in the competition, it's bound to get at least a dozen reviews, be played by the majority of the community, and maybe even become a talking point in IF discussions for years to come. Widespread familiarity in the community also may give it an edge in the XYZZY voting. If you release your game outside the comp, what happens? Usually, almost nothing. Some games get released to not even a single, solitary post in the newsgroups, let alone reviews or discussion. Even humongous, excellent games like 1893, the products of hundreds of hours of work, sometimes cause hardly a ripple. So of course tons of games get into the competition that aren't finished, or are way too big. How else to reap in attention what you've sown in work? I try to remedy the situation somewhat by continuing to release SPAG and hassling people to write reviews for it, but games routinely go a year or more without a SPAG review, and some games (Bad Machine comes to mind) seem never to get reviewed at all. It's maddening to me, and I don't know what to do about it, but I have to say I'm at the point where I'm seriously considering no longer writing comp game reviews, turning my review energies instead to non-comp games so that they'll at least get attention and evaluation from somebody. For this year, though, I'm committed, which brings me to the problem of score. From what I saw of this game, I thought it was outstanding, worthy of a 9.5 or above. But I just cannot bring myself to give it that score, if for no other reason than because I don't want games that shouldn't be in the comp to do well, since all that will do is encourage more of them. On the other hand, can I really justify giving a low score to such an obviously high-quality product, especially when I've already given Scavenger, another too-big game, a high score? Well, the difference between this and Scavenger is that with Scavenger, I felt like I'd seen the majority of the game, that the major puzzles were solved or almost-solved, and that most of what remained was denouement. With RR, though, I felt like I'd eaten the appetizer but had to leave before the entree. My compromise is this. I'll make it clear in my review that this is a great game, worthy of any IF devotee's attention. Play it sometime when you can really enjoy it, linger over its many pleasures, and let the puzzles percolate in your head. Play it without a time limit. Savor it like I couldn't today. Don't let my low score fool you -- it's eminently worth playing, but I saw a third of it, and so I'm giving it a third of the score it probably would have gotten from me had it been the right size for the comp.
My introduction to computers was the Scott Adams series of adventures with the simplistic Verb/Noun parser and this game is in that vein.I know that there are these people who have lots of nostalgic feelings about Scott Adams games, but I'm not one of them. I'm an Infocom guy, and have been since the beginning of my involvement with IF. Consequently, Scott Adams games tend to feel like cave paintings when what I'm really looking for is Degas and Monet, or at least Jack Kirby. I come to IF more for the fiction than the interaction (though they're both important, of course), and my favorite games all have excellent writing in common. So, predictably, I'm not a fan of room descriptions that look something like "I'm in a Hotel Room by Door." The "simplistic Verb/Noun parser" also feels like a straitjacket to me, and it's that much worse when I don't have access to the metacommands I'm used to, like UNDO, AGAIN, and, well, SAVE.
"Homemade" competition games tend to be notorious for having underimplemented parsers, and for lacking some of the basic functionality that we take for granted in games produced by top-tier development systems; the homemade games I've encountered so far in this comp are no exception. However, this time around, new approaches have tried to turn these shortcomings into advantages. The way Sweet Dreams did it was to throw out the parser altogether, replacing it with a low-res avatar in a graphical environment. Thus was the whole parser problem avoided entirely, and this approach worked for me. The homemade interface still had its bugs and frustrations, but I found Sweet Dreams to be one of the least irritating comp games ever made outside of a mainstream IF development system. (That's not to damn it with faint praise -- I liked it well enough.) HFL avoids the problem in a different way, by setting the player's expectations from the very beginning, and enlisting the aid of nostalgia to make its simplistic parser actually seem like a feature rather than a bug. I'll bet that for people with fond memories of playing Scott Adams games, the trick works really well. For me, though, it felt like just another substandard homemade parser, albeit ameliorated a bit by the fact that its simplicity was matched by that of the environment. So, while I acknowledge it as a good try, HFL left me cold. It did inspire me to my first comp game anagram, though. ("SA flirt's core blur, eh?") That's worth a little something.
Still, the game succeeds more often than it fails, and in some ways it felt like a fun, interactive "What Sort Of IF Player Are You?" quiz. I ended up 3 parts Artisan, 1 part Warrior, which may be a reflection of having played lots of IF. When I can see that a machine has been implemented, my inclination is to play around with that machine until it does the thing that it's supposed to do, even if perhaps easier or more obvious solutions are available. I think that inclination may be the result of conditioning inflicted by dozens of Myst clones and their IF cousins. The Erudition Chamber is also reminiscent of Sean Barrett's game Heroes, from Comp01, though from a significantly different angle. Where Heroes takes the player through the landscape several times in the role of different characters (Adventurer, Thief, Mage, etc.), and only lets us see what the particular character would notice, Erudition Chamber makes all aspects of the landscape available at once, and thus lets the PC create character on its own. This game's approach has the advantage of being more open-ended and available to mixed approaches, but the downside is that it is necessarily more bland than if it had been written with a more specific character in mind. In addition, there's a frame story that doesn't make a lot of sense and really adds nothing of value to the game. EC would have been better off chucking the whole time-manipulation and alternate history business, and focusing instead on the student as a novice who now must choose a path, or set of paths.
The other problem with the game is its writing, which needs a major round of proofreading. Spelling errors, for instance, are a pet peeve of mine, and games that have such errors in their very first room description ("Chisled stone steps") annoy me even more. There are quite a few mistakes that could have been found simply by running the game's text through a spell-checker, and there's really no reason not to do this. Other problems, such as the numerous comma splices, would have been caught by the careful attention of a proofreader or editor. Troubled prose like that always weakens a game for me, and it's a pity, because this game is pretty strong in lots of other areas. I found no bugs, which always pleases me, especially in a comp game. It's certainly a quantum leap in quality over Freas' last work (Greyscale), and I feel encouraged that his next game may take the ingenuity shown by Erudition Chamber and combine it with the level of polish needed to make the gameplay experience as enjoyable as it should be.
For me, Comp03 has been Homecoming Year. First Mikko Vuorinen, then Stefan Blixt, and now, of all people, Dan Ravipinto, whose great, ambitious game Tapestry made a huge splash in 1996 by using the IF medium to explore ethical choices, allowing multiple paths through the game without attempting to privilege any one path as the "proper" one. Ravipinto then proceeded to utterly disappear from the face of IF, seemingly never to return. All is not as it seems, however, for here he is again, having enlisted the aid of a friend to produce another game of multiple paths, this time set in a steampunk universe with Lovecraftian overtones. All is not as it seems in STB either, which makes reviewing it rather difficult. As I say above, the point is to figure out what's going on (and what you'd like to do about it), and what's going on is really quite complicated, but at least part of it involves the IF interface itself. Integrating interface and story has long been an interest of mine, which played itself out somewhat in LASH's "remote robot" conceit; STB takes a rather different tack, finding a completely dissimilar and ingenious explanation within the plot for the PC's inevitable amnesiac and kleptomaniac traits, as well as the ability to jump about in time via RESTART, RESTORE, UNDO, and the like. Even stranger, you encounter tales of others in the story who have those same unusual powers.
I only figured all this out gradually, and some of it I didn't figure out at all, having turned to the hints in order to see the end of the game. Or rather, an end to the game. Like Tapestry, STB offers an array of choices while attempting not to prefer any of them over the others, and these choices lead not only to a variety of endings, but to significant differences in the entire third act of the game. Now, I suspect that most of us, having been raised with pulp narratives about saving a threatened humanity, will find ourselves striving towards a particular ending as the "right" one, but STB rather slyly requires some extremely distasteful acts to progress on that particular path, which balances things out somewhat. In the end, I felt that there really were no good choices, and the idea of doing the least harm to the least number still depended distinctly on who was doing the counting. Still, ultimately most of us are likely to be loyal to our own species, and so just as with Tapestry, even though multiple paths were available, there was still one that felt much more right to me than the others. That's the brilliance of these games, though. If The Erudition Chamber is like a "What Kind Of IF Player Are You?" quiz, then Slouching Towards Bedlam is more like a "What Kind Of Person Are You?" quiz.
I guess I've written a lot about this game, but not much yet about what I thought of it. Well, I liked it very much. The story really drew me in, and I love the way the plot flowed smoothly from puzzle to puzzle. Even though there was quite a bit of inevitable infodumping, the wonderfully intense atmosphere of the hospital and other parts of London kept my unflagging interest. In fact, there are some parts of the game -- the opening scene, the first major signs of strangeness, and the case file, for example -- that I found purely spellbinding. The writing, too, was strong, keeping a Victorian mood without descending much into caricature. There was one problem with the prose, though -- for its own reasons, the game chooses to express player action predominantly in the passive voice, avoiding the word "you" as much as it can. It transfers agency to outside objects wherever possible, but sometimes it must describe the PC doing something, and here it occasionally trips, with descriptions like this (very minor puzzle spoiler ahead):
>look under blotter Beneath the blotter is a small key, easily taken. It carries a small tag labeled '2D'."Easily taken" doesn't tell me that the PC has picked up the key, just that it would be easy for the PC to do so. Nevertheless, a subsequent inventory check reveals that the PC has indeed taken the key. From time to time, STB's passive voice emphasis afflicts it with this sort of muddiness. That quibble aside, the writing worked really well, and the coding was similarly solid -- I found no bugs at all. In fact, between the game's puzzlebox premise and its lack of flaws, I've found this review rather hard to write, so I'll just close by saying this: play Slouching Towards Bedlam. Your time will be well-spent, and you may find that it remains with you in entirely unexpected ways.
Paul O's 2003 Competition Game Reviews -- Page 3 / Paul O'Brian / obrian at colorado.edu / Revised November 2003