Competition Game Reviews
AAYELA -- by Magnus Olsson
This review was written more as a series of notes than an actual review.
It wasn't until later in the process of playing the competition entries
that I arrived at the style of reviewing each game in detail. My apologies
to Magnus for providing such an incomplete evaluation. My main memory of
Aayela was that crawling in dark is an interesting device which could
make for an intense episode in a longer game (and, in fact, already
has in the case of So Far.) As the bulk of this game, it made for an
OVERALL -- a 7.5
- often good, sometimes a bit over the top. Crawling in the dark hearing
ethereal chords is unfortunately a bit reminiscent of So Far. Especially unfortunate if the design
of Aayela preceded So Far.
- quite easy actually. An enjoyable vignette.
- enjoyed being able to feel and smell. Most commands were anticipated quite
well. One or two TADS error instances
- One or two rather glaring mistakes ("an insisten breeze"). On the whole quite proficient.
- very simple, but serves its purpose
- again quite simple, but vividly rendered.
Really provocative premise. LOVED the Twilight Zone feel of things, and
finding out more about character's (and character's father's) past worked
quite effectively. On the downside, some fairly significant omissions
(including an axe but not implementing "chop" or "cut", making a puzzle
where a significant portion keeps responding "that's not important" [this
is the spring arm on the contraption & the axe], having the laughable
response "It's not effective to attack with the axe.")
OVERALL -- a 7.8
- generally effective, and sometimes quite chilling. A bit of awkwardness shows
through at times, but never enough to jar.
- Except for one major "guess the verb" puzzle (the springarm), this was
pretty straightforward. The most difficult part for me (aside from the springarm) was figuring out
to get a "real" axe first.
- Some errors including no response to putting things in cylinder, TADS errors
on taking shapes. Much was anticipated, but some significant things were not. Could use another
round of beta testing.
- Virtually no spelling or grammar errors jumped out. Well-proofed work.
- Outstanding. With the exception of a somewhat disappointing ending (though
justifiable -- I just crave closure), AA gave a hint of how truly chilling suspense-oriented IF can
be. The premise, the way information was slowly released, the drama & emotional intensity were
really all quite strong. This was definitely the most enjoyable aspect of the game.
- One or two quite clever (the duck), most well-oriented to moving the plot
along. The "aliens testing your mental capacity" was an excellent pretense for puzzles. Hints were
generally quite well-done, and with the exception of the springarm thing, puzzles were overall
Very simple game -- the first I've ever played in ALAN, so I'm not sure
how much technical stuff to attribute to the language and how much to the
author. Consequently, I'll attribute all of it to the author. Starting in
"your house" with "your computer" on the table strongly reminiscent of
Bureaucracy, but not as interesting. Some really grievous parser
omissions (I don't know the word "get"?) Circular structure a fun gimmick,
but only for a few minutes. No real puzzles to speak of, nor much of an
atmosphere. In fact, there's really not too much to do besides wrestle
with the parser.
OVERALL -- a 4.8
- Serviceable, but nothing more. There was so little of it, it's really hard to
judge. Very little description, very few objects. A pretty sparse world. The prose that was there
did its job, but nothing more.
- Apart from parser struggles, extremely easy. The only thing
resembling a "puzzle" would be incredibly easy if it wasn't for
trying to figure out the correct syntax.
- as mentioned, the parser was quite weak. Some
extremely standard IF words not implemented. I just about quit
when I realized it didn't know the word "get."
- What little prose there was showed no significant
grammar or spelling errors.
- This was probably the most interesting feature of the game, and
it wasn't really all that interesting. It involves an Escherian
reflection -- the object of the game is to play the game, and you
can apparently play the "game-within-a-game" until you get really
tired of it. This will probably happen pretty quickly.
- None to speak of. With a quality parser, this game would probably
have taken a good 10 minutes to solve.
DELUSIONS -- by C.E. Forman as Anonymous
Incredible game. Basically excellent in every respect -- brilliant idea,
(almost) flawlessly executed, great plot, well-thought-out puzzles. Just
a gem in every respect. The only drawback (and I admit this is a quibble)
is that the author's notes tend to get a little irritating. The overall
level of quality is stunningly high (though a bit depressing -- after
playing Delusions, I became certain that my entry was not going to
win the competition.) The game was so good that it almost made me wonder
if the anonymous author was a former Infocom implementor in disguise. I'm
looking forward with great eagerness to completing the game (which I wasn't
able to get through in two hours)!
OVERALL -- A 9.8
- Infocom-level prose -- not at classic literature level but
more than sufficient to get one's heart racing and chills mounting.
The descriptions of virtual reality entrances and exits skirted the
edge of histrionics but always came down on the right side. And the
level of detail was a terrific kick -- I especially loved the futuristic
game of Jeopardy!.
- I didn't find the game terribly difficult, but found myself
checking the hints quite a bit simply because I wanted to see as much
of the game as I could in the two hours allotted. The excitement of
seeing the second act unravel left me with little patience for
struggling with puzzles. If I had not been in a time limit situation,
I'm sure this would not have been true.
- One of the best coding jobs I've ever seen. The
shifting responses to "examine" and the number of objects and possible
combinations of those objects gave the world a stunningly rich level
- Basically flawless. I didn't find one single
grammar or spelling error.
- First-rate. Extremely clever ideas masterfully revealed. The
idea of Satan as a virus, the world as a VR construct, and God as a
blind, black, bitter woman may be a little skewed theologically, but
it made for totally engrossing IF. I look forward to the endgame with
- I found Delusions to have exactly the right kind of puzzles
for my taste in IF. Nothing arbitrary, nothing typical, and absolutely
consistent with the described world and the advancing plot. The game
proves that story-oriented IF does not have to be a cakewalk.
FEAR -- by Chuan-Tze Teo
Another very strong Inform game. The concept here gave a new spin to the
"locked-door" genre of puzzles, and it was a delicious irony that the
purpose of the game was to get through metaphorical "locked doors" of
emotion and reach a final climax of unlocking a physical door to get out
of a house rather than into one. However, this key feature of the endgame
also provided one of the game's logical flaws -- how many houses lock from
the outside? The game didn't seem to take into account the notion that
someone inside a house should be able to unlock the front door without a
key. SPOILERY NOTE -- in the two hours allotted I did not reach the endgame. However,
I had figured out from the first time the sirens approached that the key
to dealing with the police was to unlock the door before they broke it
OVERALL -- An 8.8
- quite good. Describing different kinds of fear is not an easy
task, and the author acquitted himself well. The opening was gripping,
and the descriptions of the objects of terror (especially the spider)
were very evocative.
- I found the game quite difficult, and rather jarring in its
swings from totally plot-based puzzles (overcoming fears to pass
obstacles) to extremely mechanical puzzles (the Egyptian statues, the
duck.) Again the time limit and my immersion in the plot led me to the
hints much more often than I would have used them in a non-competition
situation. However, I can't say I wouldn't have used them anyway,
especially with the statue puzzle.
- fairly smoothly coded work. Can't recall ever running
into any coding jams, and many situations were well-anticipated. However,
several were not. I mentioned my strong beef against the locked front
door, which should have been coded beyond a standard response. Another
example is the jammed drawer, which could not be pried with the plate
but did respond to a kick (this illogic creates a bit of a "guess-the-
verb" puzzle) and falls to the ground still described as "closed."
- Errors were few and far between. In fact, the only
error that stands out in my mind is a reference to a light hooked to
"the mains power supply", and even that may be attributable to my
ignorance of electrical terminology.
- The plot of Fear was basically a clever way of stringing together
a number of mechanical puzzles, but it worked charmingly. Again, this
review is written without knowledge of the endgame, but I anticipate a
clearing of the amnesia, an alleviation of the oppressive emotional
weight, and a general tying together of loose ends.
- The puzzles were quite good, though quite difficult for me.
Then again, I'm not a great puzzle solver. For me the primary appeal
of interactive fiction is the emotional pleasure of experiencing a world
and moving through a gripping plot rather than the more cerebral aspect
of puzzle-solving. For my taste, Fear came down just a bit too heavy
on the puzzles, making it a little too hard for me to move through the
Let's see: boring, juvenile, bad coding, irritating descriptions, dumb
goals. That pretty much covers it. Basically everything about the game
was at a pre-adolescent level, from the obsession with Barney the
dinosaur to the fact that urinating was the game's primary objective. It's
games like this that give AGT such a rotten reputation.
OVERALL -- A 1.6
- The author wisely didn't write very much, so there isn't that
much to slam. The middle-school level of diction ("piss", "eyeballs
oozing gore," etc.) was extremely annoying.
- Thankfully little. The less time spent in this game the
- How about a turkey sandwich you can't call "turkey"?
How about a wooden door you can't call "wooden"? How about a snide
rejection to "get all"?
- Remarkably, I noticed no errors. Perhaps when this
writer has something to say he'll be able to do a creditable job of it.
- I can't see any such thing.
- The main puzzle is "Why did he enter this in the competition?"
That one is pretty hard to solve. The rest were complete clichés (feed
a hungry monster. unlock a door. overcome the time limit with which
the game started.) I can't decide which is worse.
Potential for an interesting game totally ruined by buggy coding. The game
was put together in 3 weeks, and I'm afraid it shows. The author wisely
admits that the game is highly derivative of So Far -- this would be fine
if not for the fact that So Far actually worked, and Of Forms Unknown does
not. I quit after wrestling extensively with the illogic built into the
game's coding structure and finally going to the hints, following the
explicit instructions for solving a puzzle (the frame, rope, and light bar),
and finding that even after following the instructions, the puzzle remained
OVERALL -- A 1.5
- Struggling to reach Plotkin level. The pieces of prose which are
the most successful are the ones most imitative of Plotkin. The rest is
utilitarian, with the exception of the prose which makes no sense at
- Impossible. The game's buggy coding made progress impossible
for me well before I got to the bug the author discussed on rec.arts.
int-fiction. Of course, this means that the point at which I quit
actually was a passable point, but to my mind if the walkthrough
doesn't get you where you need to be, the game is impossible.
- Extremely poor. From small points like the lack of
a new_line after some inventory calls to rather glaring problems such
as the broken frame puzzle (try tying a rope to the frame, then tying
something to the rope, then walking away holding the tied object -- works
mighty easily!) and the fact that dropped objects all seem to become
- No errors that leaped out at me. However, to be
fair, I didn't see the whole game.
- In So Far, the lack of a coherent plot was a bit frustrating to me,
but I could hold my frustration in abeyance because of the game's many
fine features. This game offers no such redemption, and suffers greatly
from being an imitation springing from a cliché (the college dorm room
as starting point).
- ranging from highly illogical to basically logical but impossible
to complete. For example, lighting a dark room (whose description reads
"You can't see a thing") by saying "turn on light" not only goes against
the logic of the description (isn't the light switch one of the things
you can't see?), but also against one of the most standard conventions
of interactive fiction, which suggests that even a light switch in a
dark room is inaccessible without a faint light by which to discern it.
Delusions had the answer to this -- Forms does not. Another
example is the dials in the shaft -- what is the logic behind setting
them all to 0? Only the arbitrary logic of the game, such as the
decision that for some reason bringing a light source into a cave
through the door extinguishes that source for no good reason.
Hmmm. The first character I've been totally unable to identify with -- the
author shows us an interesting world with friendship, intellectual interest,
potential for love, and incredible technological comfort, and wants us to
believe that the foremost desire one could have in this world is for
suicide. I just can't buy into the idea of convenience creating a lethal
level of ennui, if indeed this is the reason for the main character's
suicidal urges. I'm reaching, because no good reason is given. In fact,
nobody in the story even seems particularly (or at least specifically)
unhappy, and several characters (the shopkeeper and bartender come to mind)
seem genuinely to enjoy their lives and feel fulfilled. So what is this
character's problem? I suggest that his problem is the story's problem --
an overdeveloped sense of the dramatic without any of the logic or backstory
that give real drama its tension and emotional weight.
OVERALL -- A 7.4
- Often rough, but often rather touching. The world whose picture
the author paints has some very charming aspects, and the prose brings
this across nicely. Unfortunately, the skill with which this is
accomplished serves only to further undercut the notion that your goal
in this world should be to leave it.
- Well, a goal-oriented word like "difficulty" is a bit of a
mismatch for a game like this which has no way to win. How difficult
is it to finish the story? Why, not at all. One only has to wait 7
turns, step outside, and type "kill me" and that's all, folks. The
concept of "difficulty" doesn't really seem to apply to this story
though -- what's really difficult is figuring out why the goal is what
- This is where In the End really shines. Its
interface (with its lack of compass directions) worked quite
spectacularly (for me, anyway), giving the world a wonderful real-life
feel. I never realized how much compass directions undercut the
simulation aspect of IF until they were removed -- after all, who goes
around thinking about which direction they're bearing? (Except, perhaps,
for spelunkers :)) I was also impressed with many of the responses that
had been anticipated for NPCs (WOMAN, TELL ME YOUR NAME was especially
appreciated), though some could still have used some polishing
(SHOPKEEPER, TELL ME ABOUT HOPSON elicited no response, but SHOPKEEPER,
TELL ME ABOUT MR brought about the correct reaction). And I apologize for
continuing to harp on this point, but when the interface is exciting and
the world seems to offer so many possibilities, the dead last (no
pun intended) thing I wanted to do was commit suicide.
- The initial box quote jarred me, because I'm used to
seeing "whimper" spelled with an "h". However, I'm not near my copy of
Eliot right now to see if it's simply a transcription of one of the
poet's intentional alterations, so I'll call that one neutral. Other than
that, the writing seemed quite technically proficient.
- A frustrating one, and although it's true that such a device is new
to interactive fiction, it felt gimmicky and hollow, so its absence up
until now is quite justified, to my way of thinking. And beyond the final
goal of the game, there really is no plot. I even checked the walkthrough
just to make sure I wasn't actually doing something stupid and overlooking
or short-circuiting a plot that was waiting to be discovered. No such
luck. I just keep thinking, what a pity.
- Well, this was "puzzle-less IF" alright. But then again, it also
had no plot. So its lack of puzzles was logical, but did nothing to
improve the work.
When I first started this game I had that familiar "Oh no, not another one
of these" feeling. But the more I played Buddha, the better I liked it.
Nine times out of ten, college humor comes off as sophomoric in-jokes
liberally mixed with gross-outs -- this time was the tenth. Several moments
in the game almost made me laugh out loud, and I related very well (perhaps
a bit too well) to the game's main character. This game also makes
hilarious use of TADS' capability for dynamic object creation, as the
cellophane, snack food wrappers, and crumpled up notepapers continue to
pile around the hero's ears. The characters were stereotypes, but they
were written so well that they evoked the reality behind the generalization
rather than the typical flatness of a stock type. Finally, a good word for
the puzzles -- not only were they clever, interlaced, and often the type
to give one the "aha!" feeling as the pieces suddenly fall perfectly into
place, they were also very well integrated into the story, and cleverly
supported by the premise. The genre of KISSING THE BUDDHA'S FEET may be
cliched, but it's the kind of game that reminds one why people attempt the
college genre in the first place.
OVERALL -- a 9.4
- Only once in a while did the use of ridiculous levels of
exaggeration slip into the annoying; much more often it was pitched just
at that level where one can enjoy the joke without endangering the
suspension of disbelief. The writing is lively and its level of detail
greatly increases the game's immersiveness.
- The game's difficulty was just right for me -- I never felt
so stuck that the pleasure of working on the puzzles ceased to become
fun -- but it was always a little work to figure those puzzles out.
I also enjoyed the feeling of never quite knowing when a puzzle would
be solved, and the fact that as soon as you took care of one problem
another one, gopherlike, would pop up somewhere else.
- Some really masterful strokes, such as all the
wrappers and papers that pile up around the house. Most commands well
anticipated, and in fact I look forward to returning to the game after
the competition has ended and trying all of the "amusing" pieces. Only
once in a great while was a logical action not anticipated in the
coding (examples are putting the towel back on its rack and trying to
unplug the TV while wearing the catcher's mitt.)
- Grammar and spelling were both well in hand. The
anonymous author is obviously a skilled writer, and I look forward
eagerly to his or her next game.
- Well, there wasn't really much of a story to go through, but I never
felt the lack of it. In short, the premise was clever and substantial
enough to make me feel as though I really was living through a hilarious
night of hell, even though I was really just solving puzzles one after
- Though it's hard to pick a favorite, I think this was the best
aspect of BUDDHA. As I mentioned earlier, the puzzles were clever,
pitched at just the right level of difficulty, and very well integrated
into the overall plot. Some favorites are how to put Bob out of commission
and then neutralize his snoring, as well as the problem of Alice and her
Well, this is without question the worst writing I've ever seen in a piece
of interactive fiction. The only thing I can think is that the author is
1) not a native English speaker and 2) incapable of or unwilling to find
a fluent speaker to proof his work. The result is a piece of work which
is only barely understandable. The piece also had a number of other
weaknesses including incomprehensible in-jokes, a confusing magic system
which drives the game's sole puzzle, and the fact that the majority of the
world's features are unexplained except in the solution file.
OVERALL -- A 1.7
- The mangled grammar and spelling in the writing are so severe in
this game that they are nearly inseparable from the content. The author's
inability to write clearly in English obscures whatever good ideas he
may have. This is a work that could only have been published on the
Internet -- any medium in which editors keep the gate for published
work would have sent this prose back for major revision -- even a
spell-check would have done a world of good.
- The most difficult thing was discerning meaning from the
tortured writing. After that, the greatest difficulty arose from
deciphering the logic behind the game's baffling magic system and
world rules. I went for the hint file right away, but I confess I
didn't try very hard on the puzzle before doing so; at that point I
felt quite sure that the writing was bad enough that it would block
my ability to figure things out on my own.
- The game was small enough that not much coding
would have been required. There were very few objects to interact with
each other. In the portions I played, the coding was creditable. (one
exception was the fact that the game referred to footnotes without
providing them -- there should have been a response to the verb
"footnote" or "note" which explains that the notes are to be found in
the solution file.)
- As I said earlier, the only word is atrocious.
Unbelievably poor spelling and grammar -- so bad that it made the
work almost totally incomprehensible. Apparently the author either
didn't have a spell checker or an English dictionary available, or
had them available but didn't care to use them.
- From what I could make out, the plot was fairly minimal. However,
there may have been more than I could figure out from the writing.
- The only real puzzle didn't make any sense to me, but then
again that could also have been the writing. The solution requires a
knowledge of the "glow" power of the hero (which apparently generates
not only light but heat as well) which may have been conveyed by the
text in a part I skipped over as unreadable.
Well, Andrew Plotkin is nothing if not inventive. The implementor of
Z-Machine Tetris brings us another novelty -- a programming language
and interpreter set up entirely within the z-machine run-time. Andrew's
Scheme implementation is interesting and even, to a point, fun. I
definitely look forward to sitting down with it for a longer period of
time and working at learning what it has to teach. (I never thought a
text adventure could help me build my resume!) However, after a certain
point the problems stopped being fun and started being work -- I'm already
working at learning two languages; learning a third is definitely
worthwhile, but not my idea of leisure time. And thus I discover a criteria
I didn't even know I had for the competition entries -- I want them to be
an escape from work, rather than (pun intended) "Return to Work"
OVERALL: An 8.0
- Very little of it, but of course it conforms to the high Plotkin
standard of quality.
- I found LISTS to be quite difficult going, but then I'm
just working on learning C++ and Inform now, so Scheme was a bit of a
leap in abstraction for me. The feeling was reminiscent of just beginning
to learn UNIX after years of working on DOS (and, to a lesser extent,
Macs and Windows).
- Andrew is the god of Inform coding. All hail Andrew.
- Well, of course the main place this came up was in
the online manual for the language, which naturally had no errors in
spelling or grammar, and in fact was written in a fun jocular style.
- No. No, not really at all.
- Well the problems were definitely puzzling, and certainly not
your standard Interactive Fiction type of puzzle, either. LISTS certainly
gives a mental workout, but then again so does Calculus I.
Well, this is a case of what could have been. What could have made for a
fun, enjoyable game was brought down by a few fatal flaws: buggy coding,
poor writing, and some cliched settings and puzzles. I gave up on the
game after about an hour, looked for the walkthrough and couldn't find it.
(I'm assuming there was one and I'm just too blind to figure out where it
was. However, I didn't appreciate the fact that the help info said to
type "HELP" and then the topic I needed help with, but didn't ever seem
to respond to that command structure) Looking at the source code, I see
there was a councillor who gives me the details of my mission --
unfortunately, this councillor never showed up when I ran the game.
Also, while I commend the author for writing an engine that comes as close
as it does to emulating Infocom, it was missing some key features, such as
"verbose". Fix up the code, proof the writing, and you could have yourself
a playable game. Unfortunately, the version that was entered in the
competition is no such animal.
OVERALL -- A 2.2
- Once in a while the prose would reach a level where I enjoyed
reading it. All too often, though, it was simply one trite cliché after
another (A dragon regards you sleepily, the men are gathered around the
roaring fire, etc.) The other problem with the prose was its uneven
level of detail -- some things in room descriptions were described at
length -- some other obvious features (a twelve foot pit, for example)
were not described at all. Also, some simple errors (a room description
which tells of an exit leading east when the exit really leads west)
lead me to believe that the game was not well beta-tested.
- Well, considering that from the outset something I needed to
complete the game was hidden by buggy coding, I'd rate the difficulty
right at "impossible."
- As I've said, quite spotty. Not to take away from the
author's accomplishment of creating a free-standing text adventure
engine -- this is obviously quite respectable. However, it's not all that
respectable if it doesn't work. Example bugs are (of course) the
councillor, the "help" command that doesn't help, and the fact that
basic commands like "verbose" and "again" are unavailable.
- Unfortunately, the writing was littered with quite
a few errors, especially spelling errors and simple grammar errors.
For example, lots of it's/its errors, which is a pet peeve of mine.
Clearly this work was not proofread (at least, I hope it wasn't
- I found it too difficult to get past the bugs to find the
development of anything I could reasonably call a plot.
- Once again, the real puzzle was figuring out where the bugs are
in the game's code. From looking at the source code, the puzzles I
looked at were fairly well-worn (picking a lock with a wire, making
an animal sneeze). However, to be fair I didn't come across all that
many puzzles on my own, so there may be some better ones that I missed.
Gee, a walkthrough or hints would have helped!
This is a game that has a great deal going for it, but unfortunately has
a few downfalls as well. First, the positives: the accompanying text file
does an excellent job of setting the scene, and the prose is atmospheric
and shadowy enough to produce some genuine chills from the experience of
exploring the haunted manor. I enjoyed piecing the story together from the
text fragments found in various places in the manse, and felt a genuine
interest in how the story was going to turn out. Unfortunately, I wasn't
able to find out in the two hours allotted, and therein lie some of the
problems. Some of the puzzles are quite unfair, the most grievous offender
being a room which delivers the equivalent of instant death -- destruction
without warning of the player's light source, and no mechanism provided
for stumbling about in the dark. That same light source must be used with
painstaking care, or it sputters out frustratingly early, and the author
provides no alternative (or at least, none that I could find.) This was
especially maddening so soon after seeing how well Aayela manipulated the
same trope. Maiden is both exciting and irritating -- it promises drama and
intrigue, but many of the obstacles to be overcome along the way are simply
brute force barriers, with none of the subtlety of the best interactive
OVERALL -- An 8.3
- The author's prose does a very nice job of conveying the desolate,
decrepit mansion. Descriptions of rooms, objects, and the moonlight
peeking into various locations were all quite literate and strong. Also,
the Baron's notes gave his voice a credible Victorian timbre -- of course,
the Baron was supposed to have lived in the 17th century, so maybe
that isn't such a good thing.
- Well, some parts of the work were quite easy to get through,
and the pace flowed through them quite smoothly. However, they were
stopped dead by the light source puzzles, which made a first-run
solution of the game basically impossible.
- Everything was quite smoothly coded. I can't think
of any problems I encountered.
- I'm writing this review a few days after last
having played the game, so my memory may be faulty on this count, but
I don't recall any faulty grammar or spelling.
- As I mentioned above, I found Maiden's unraveling plot quite
engrossing, which made it all the more frustrating to have to be
continually restarting the game after my lamp sputtered out. Still, I'm
looking forward to returning to the game after the judging period ends
in order to find out how I can break the Baron's curse over his daughter
and her paramour.
- Addressed in "difficulty"; some were very straightforward, and
others were quite impossible. One which I found particularly thorny was
the problem of the spikes atop the iron fence. The way I had envisioned
the fence was with tall, sharp spikes, while the solution to the puzzle
was more suited to something along the lines of barbed wire. Perhaps
a more vivid description here would alleviate the problem.
PHLEGM -- by Jason Dyer as Adjacent Drooler
A thoroughly whacked-out romp through realms of surrealism only barely
touched on by Nord and Bert, Phlegm is pretty low on logic, but quite
high on goofy gags. Perhaps its funniest moment comes in its opening screen,
where it bills itself as "An Interactive Interactive"; it's the kind of
joke that's only funny the first time, but since it is the first time,
it worked for me. Also, in spite of the author's assurance that
it is impossible to make a mistake that renders the game unwinnable, I
managed to do it, and I wasn't even trying! (For the record, it's because
I put the toy elephant in the cart and then torched it with the
flame-thrower.) Phlegm wasn't really hilarious, but it provided a number of
smiles, and even its puzzles were logical in an illogical kind of way. In
many ways, the game is like its opening joke -- lots of fun at the moment,
but not anything you'd ever want to repeat.
OVERALL -- 8.5
- Lots of cleverly funny little touches, from Leo the lemming
whispering "Rosebud..." to the "Lil' Terrorist brand Flame-thrower."
The prose was generally lots of fun to read, even if at times the
silliness became a wee bit more irritating than amusing.
- Well, I found myself looking at the hints quite a lot, but I'm
not sure whether that's because the puzzles were simply difficult, or
difficult to take seriously. For some reason, I found myself unwilling
to agonize about how to handle the guitar-playing lunatic, and wanted
to look at the hints in order to see more of the jokes, since a game
like Phlegm suffers quite drastically from a reduction in pace. So I
suppose you could say it was a difficult game, but then again I'm glad
I approached it the way I did -- a plotless work like this one begs
to be finished rather than battered.
- The coding was on the whole quite strong. I only
found one weak spot, which was the fact that I discovered that I could
carry the powder as long as I was holding the grail -- it didn't need
to actually be inside the grail. Somehow I don't think this is what the
- The writing was pleasantly error-free, which made
the humor much more accessible and easy to digest.
- Well, I couldn't really say there was much of a plot, but on the
plus side I don't think much of an attempt was made at one either. So
the game was plotless (aside from the very most basic "get-the-treasure"
motivation), but it didn't suffer all that much from being so.
- Some of the puzzles were quite funny, and extremely reminiscent
of Nord and Bert, especially those involving the needle. Then again,
some others (the flame-thrower, for example), failed to be a lot of fun
in their irrationality. In general, though, I'd call the puzzles
successful in what I deduce to be their aim -- parodying typical IF
problem (the references to Balances were especially funny) and
providing nutty goals in an off-kilter universe.
Picket is a gently whimsical fantasy without much of a plot, whose main
interesting feature is its interface. I haven't played much DOS executable
IF before (Inform, TADS, and Infocom games seem to monopolize my time), and
it was an interesting experience to play a piece of IF in different colors
from my normal white letters on blue background. The different colors of
background and text lent a distinctive mood to the piece, and the
effectiveness of this technique makes me realize some of the special effects
we sacrifice in the name of platform independence. A small sacrifice,
perhaps, but a pity nonetheless. As to the content of the game, it was
basically average -- nothing too irritating or pointless, but nothing
astounding or groundbreaking either. It provided a pleasant hour's
entertainment, with a few jarring moments where the prose deviated from
standard English. All in all, an enjoyable if unspectacular game.
OVERALL -- A 6.7
- There were a few moments in the prose where it was clear that
the writer did not speak English as a first language, but the fact that
those moments were noticeable as exceptions to the general trend means
that overall the writer did a fine job of writing in an unfamiliar
language. The descriptions were sometimes a little thin, especially
with the game's two NPCs, but in general the fairytale fantasy mood was
well-evoked by the writing.
- I found this game's difficulty to be pitched a bit below
average. I never needed to look at the hints, and felt that I progressed
through the narrative at a satisfactory pace. I finished the game in
a little under an hour, which may mean that it was a little too easy
if a two-hour playing time was intended (I'm certainly not the quickest
IF player, as earlier reviews may indicate). However, I never felt
disappointed with anything being "too easy" -- easier than usual, perhaps,
but never to an annoying degree.
- There were a few coding problems, and in fact one
fatal bug which first made some of my possessions disappear after a
restore and then kicked me out of the game altogether. Also, some fairly
common verbs ("throw", and the "character, command" mode of interaction)
were not implemented, which was a little disappointing. Aside from
these problems, the coding was smooth and relatively bug-free.
- As I mentioned above, there were a few instances
of awkward grammar which indicated that the writer was not quite
comfortable enough with English to sound like a native writer. The
problems were relatively infrequent, and had less to do with spelling
or grammar errors than with awkward or unusual constructions.
- Well, the only plot here was a basic "find the object" quest, though
cast in much less epic/heroic terms than usual, which was refreshing.
There wasn't much of a sense of unfolding narrative, and many objects
were either totally unexplained (the key to the gnome's treasure room
tied around a swan's neck with a red ribbon? How did that happen?) or
so convenient as to be ridiculous (how handy that the scientist just
happens to have a powerful fungicide that can kill the problematic
mushrooms!), causing the game to feel less like a plotted story than
an excuse for stringing puzzles together.
- The puzzles were rather average pieces, some quite derivative
(the "key tied around an inaccessible animal's neck" is of course a
direct crib from Zork II.) The ordinariness of the puzzles contributed
to the game's low level of difficulty -- they weren't too difficult to
solve, because they seemed quite familiar, and those that weren't
derivative were of the "just-happen-to-have-the-perfect-item" type.
This story seemed to struggle to find its voice, vacillating between the
chilling (the voice in the boxes), the satirical (the copyright man), and
the bubblegum epic (participating in the adventures of Jeff Steele, Galactic
Hero, and battling the Chromium Knight). The writing never seemed to settle
into one style, and as a result the entire work felt disjointed, as it was not
the result of a unified vision, but rather a collection of "wouldn't this
be neat?" concepts, halfheartedly strung together. The other lasting
impression left by the game is one of frustration, since a bug prevents
players from winning. Consequently, although Piece has some interesting
moments, it fails as a whole.
OVERALL -- A 5.4
- Lots of the writing was really quite winning, and provided several
nice moments of humor (the improvised songs) and drama (the opening
sequence). I just wish the story could decide what it wanted to be,
because the amalgam lacked an overarching purpose. One final note
about the prose: I found several of the puzzles quite difficult because
the room description seemed to belie the character's willingness to
do the action necessary to solve the puzzle. Examples are smashing the
television and touching the computer screen. I think that room
descriptions play a very complicated role in defining the character's
traits, and while the contradicting room descriptions were an
interesting experiment, they didn't work for me in this case. Perhaps
if I'd gotten more sense of desperation, or if the character-defining
traits ("I've managed to avoid smashing it so far.") were described in
less of an offhand way, I'd be more inclined to lead the character to do
things that it is described as wanting to resist.
- Due to the phenomenon described above, I found myself
consulting the walkthrough quite often. Of course, then there's the
separate issue of the game's unsolvability. Frustratingly, this bug
sets the difficulty at "impossible."
- Having a game-killing bug prevents Piece from getting
a high score on coding. Apart from the fact that the game is unwinnable,
I found the coding to be pretty smooth, although I think Inform is
capable of handling things more smoothly. For example, when walking
into the copyright office without clothes, the game should prevent the
player from entering rather than allowing entrance only to revoke it.
- The writing was relatively free of typos (though I
think I noticed one in one of the box quotations, unless the author is
playing subtly on the meaning of the = sign.) and grammatically
- Well, I'm not sure I ever really understood the plot, since I never
got to see the endgame. The concept of a character who is aware it is
being controlled is an interesting one, and I think one with great
potential. Unfortunately, that potential is not realized here, due to
the game's schizophrenic approach.
- As mentioned above, the structure of the room descriptions made
some of the puzzles quite difficult. Others, though, had their share
of wit and pizzazz. I especially enjoyed the copyright man.
RALPH -- by Miron Schmidt/Calyx Software
The concept of Ralph is great fun -- the idea of nosing around as a dog
gives the author the ability to take advantage of some of the most fun
aspects of the text-based interface, putting the player into the canine
mindset with dog's-eye-view room and object descriptions and action
responses. Consequently, Ralph gives a hilarious rendition of the canine
experience, and the little moments this provides (for example, the
reactions to "examine me", "bite blamant", and "dig hole") are the
best parts of the game. On the negative side, however, the game's puzzles
are fairly illogical (perhaps I would understand them better if I were
a dog, but I don't think so), and one particular problem was poorly coded
enough to give it a real "guess-the-verb" feeling. Ralph was fun for the
first hour I played it, but I was frustrated with having to turn to the
walkthrough and find that I had already thought of the solution to the
problem that was stumping me, but hadn't phrased it in exactly the way the
OVERALL -- An 8.4
- The prose in Ralph is unquestionably its best feature. Lots of
really clever, funny touches make the game a real joy to read, and I
found myself trying all kinds of things because I knew that I would
more often than not get a chuckle out of the answer. Of particular
note are the reactions to "dog-specific" verbs like "scratch", "bark",
and "wag", which give great context-specific responses.
- Unfortunately, I found it impossible to progress beyond 0
points without the help of the walkthrough. Even more unfortunately,
this was because I had chosen the syntax "put sheet in hole" rather than
"block hole with sheet" -- this is the type of difficulty I don't enjoy.
- Apart from the above-mentioned problem, I found the
coding quite competent. Especially noteworthy was the simulated dynamic
creation of objects (when holes are dug). The author smoothly created
the impression of being able to dig an infinite number of holes by
a combination of smart coding and a cleverly worded cap on the
number of holes dug.
- The prose was technically very strong. I found
no errors in grammar or spelling.
- While the plot was quite simple, I didn't find this to be a problem,
since the viewpoint character was a very simple creature himself. The
experience of commanding a dog to do random things provided a very
funny perspective on animal behavior.
- This was the weakest part of Ralph. I found the puzzles quite
baffling, especially the "guess-the-verb" one but the others as well.
For example, why would a human scrabbling in the ground for ten
seconds be able to find a bone which had already eluded a more efficient
This game was strong on good intentions, but rather weak on execution. The
plot of the pizza delivery boy who foils the giant conspiracy was clever
and lots of fun to play through, but the enjoyment was dampened by several
technical problems in the game's interface. Witty remarks abounded, and
some unlikely actions were anticipated quite hilariously, but the positive
effect of these features was counterbalanced by some logical errors in the
game's construction. It was a fun game, and with some polishing could be
a real gem of IF, but in the state it was in for the competition, its
great ideas were bogged down by flawed coding and language.
OVERALL -- A 7.9
- In some areas the prose was outstanding -- economical descriptions
which brought off the flavor of an object or area without getting mired
in detail. In other areas the prose failed to note rather important
aspects of a scene (the most grievous offense occurring at the very first
room of the game.) Finding the clever responses was the greatest pleasure
in the game, though sometimes the "SoCal" references felt quite
self-conscious; overall the game's prose was like the game itself: strong
ideas weakened by problems in key areas.
- I never found myself resorting to the hints, but I was
occasionally forced to solve problems in the game by exploiting the
logical errors in its structure. For example, the beginning sequence
gives no indication that a pizza needs to be delivered -- I didn't find
out until I tried to leave town and the game told me "You aren't leaving
town until you deliver that pizza." What pizza? Why, the one never
mentioned in the initial room description! Consequently, the game was
somewhat difficult, but for the wrong reasons.
- The game suffered from several coding problems,
including not only the one mentioned above, but a disappearing door
(to the mayor's office), a store manager who only notices stealing
when it conflicts with the plot, a pizza box and note which drift from
room to room, and several rooms which do not contain text for items
mentioned in their description. On the other hand, there are some
shining moments in the coding as well, such as tailored responses to
YES and NO.
- The writing's occasional proofing errors provide a
bit of unintentional humor, such as when the game describes the
district attorney as being "only... uh, ten years old than you!"
- The plot of the game was great! The fun and zaniness of foiling
the conspiracy made the game's technical errors much more
forgivable. Several moments in the plot were even quite inspired, and
felt intuitively right in the unfolding story. Examples include
kicking the window while hanging on the ledge and throwing the bomb
in the sewer.
- Some of the puzzles (such as getting past the security guard and
getting rid of the bomb) were quite good and managed to achieve the
subtle balance between the problem logically blocking the narrative
and the solution advancing it. The puzzles that presented real problems
were based on coding flaws rather than conceptual ones, such as the
initial pizza problem and the final rope problem, which defeats so many
attempted verbs that one feels like jumping off the building.
Having already played the author's other competition entry, I sincerely
dreaded playing this one. Probably my low expectations contributed to my
feeling that this game was actually slightly better than PUNKIRITA QUEST.
Sure, the writing is still riddled with errors, and sure, the plot and
premise still make absolutely no sense, and yes, the coding is very poor and
the design even more so, but at least this time I had some faint grasp of
what was supposed to be happening. Perhaps this derives from the fact that
FLESH takes a more realistic setting and thus less needs to be explained
by the author's inadequate verbal skills. Of course, that doesn't mean I
liked it -- just that it was less painful than the other game. Progress?
Perhaps -- I'll just try to judge the game on an objective basis rather than
on its dubious achievement of being a better piece of work than PUNKIRITA.
OVERALL -- A 2.0
- The descriptions were weak, and the overall feel of the game
evoked walking through the brain of a mental patient -- a series
of non sequiturs, loosely tied together by an irrational framework.
The writing suffered under so many errors that they seriously occluded
the author's ability to communicate, and this problem was compounded
by the fact that many (most, actually) of the objects and rooms in the
game seemed to have no real purpose or function.
- I found it possible to move through the game without much
trouble, which is a good sign; at least the language problems didn't
render the game so opaque that it was simply impossible to complete
without a walkthrough. Mainly the point of the game simply seemed to
be finding one's way through a maze of rooms -- the one real puzzle
(the wardrobes) had its effect spoiled by the fact that one didn't
really gain much of anything by solving it.
- Coding problems abounded. Nothing fatal, but
certainly plenty of the nonsensical and downright baffling. For example,
how about those lights that get turned on so brightly that they blind
the character, yet in the next turn the room is still dark?
- Really quite terrible. My only hypothesis is that
the author is a student (rather than a speaker) of English, and a rather
poor one at that. A dictionary and a spell-checker would improve things
immensely -- then the proofreading can begin.
- No, there wasn't one. A bunch of random events tied together by
a whacked-out ending does not a plot make.
- I mentioned the game's only real puzzle above. Other than that,
the game's "puzzle" was just walking through the exit in each room
until finally arriving at the "win game" room. Nothing much made sense,
and so the whole experience ended up being unsatisfying. The real
brain-twister is why the author chose to enter this piece into the
competition in the first place.
I was very impressed with Sherbet, a highly inventive adventure which
puts yet another imaginative spin on the Zork mythos. The game's prose is
at a very high level of quality, its world is very well-designed, and
several aspects of the documentation (the context-sensitive hints and the
diplomatic "briefing") were very well done indeed. I didn't get through
the entire game in the two hours allotted, and I found myself resorting to
the hints quite a lot. Often, this was because a logical puzzle had me
stumped, but the first two times were due to puzzles which didn't offer
enough alternative syntax. Unfortunately, these two situations inured me
to looking at the hints, thinking perhaps that my other obstacles were
due to syntax problems as well. Apart from this one flaw, Sherbet was
a truly excellent piece of work -- well-plotted with clever puzzles,
a strong sense of unfolding narrative, and rife with the pleasures of
revisiting an old friend in a new context.
OVERALL -- A 9.3
- The game's writing consistently maintains an exceptional level of
quality. The vacuous' Amilia's ramblings serve exquisitely to define
her character, and the "briefings" concisely draw the player's
diplomatic situation while quietly evoking Zorkian echoes. I found myself
just a little confused by some of the cave descriptions, but this was
mainly due to the sense of scope which the author unerringly conveys.
- As I mentioned, the game was too difficult (and large) for me
to complete in the two hours allotted for judging time, and part of this
difficulty arose from problems with the first two puzzles. After finally
summoning the bird of paradise, I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to
pour, put, rub, insert, or otherwise attach the sherbet to the elephant
before finally resorting to the hints only to discover that the game
demanded I "throw" the sherbet glass. However, in other spots the
difficulty of the game was quite legitimate and logical, as in the
instance of the ladder problem, which was another solution I found in the
hints rather than finding it myself.
- On the whole, the game was very well coded, and I
never found the kind of irrational flaws which can snap the suspension
of disbelief in interactive fiction. There were a few spots where the
game suffered from a lack of synonyms, especially the elephant (as
described above) and the hook (one must again "throw rope over hook" but
cannot stand on the table or hamper, lasso the hook, simply "throw rope"
, "put rope on hook", or even "throw rope onto hook".) When these
problems are eliminated , the game will be very strong indeed.
- Sherbet is a well-written and well-proofed piece
of work in which I don't recall noticing any technical mistakes.
- It was a great pleasure to get embroiled in the plot, and the premise
of the main character as a diplomat rather than an adventurer provided
a break from cliché married with a plausible reason for the snooping
called for by the game's structure. I'm looking forward to the endgame,
which I hope will offer a tie between the game's diplomatic beginnings
and its Zorklike middle.
- Mostly discussed above in "Technical -- coding" and "Difficulty."
Many of the puzzles were real pleasures (panning and the ladder come to
mind) and the twist on treasure collecting (giving all the treasures to
the Zork adventurer) was brilliant. Once the puzzles are better coded
the game will be really first-rate.
I really enjoyed this game a great deal, and it definitely gets points for
originality. The literalized version of the game's title made for a
charming premise, and because the premise was so heavily based on setting,
the brand of fantasy which resulted was perfect for interactive fiction.
Wandering through the miniaturized world was really a treat, although
sometimes I found it difficult to retain my suspension of disbelief,
especially since some of the obstacles to my progress seemed just a little
too arbitrary. For example, the inventory management problem caused by
the lack of gravity in the majority of the game's locations was a major
pain in the neck. I didn't feel that I was doing anything clever or
solving an intellectual challenge when I had to trudge back to Dawn anytime
I wanted to get something from the backpack. Puzzles like this, which
tended toward the arbitrary, were the game's weakness. From the weak
gravity problem to the "loose ring" to the capricious magic rod, the game
took advantage of its whimsical setting to create puzzles which were
irrational and divorced from reality, and failed to provide enough hints
and description to make them reasonably solvable. On the other hand,
some puzzles (such as the satellite/snow puzzle and the lagoon) did a
very nice job of exploiting the game's scenario to witty ends.
On the whole, Small World was a delightfully well-written game which has
a few flaws, but is nevertheless lots of fun.
OVERALL -- An 8.8
- The prose which describes the world is very well done indeed, and
much of the time I really felt a part of the situation because of how
well the worlds Lilliputian proportions were described. The game
obviously draws heavily on Gulliver's Travels, especially in its
description of the player staked to the ground by tiny people, and though
it shares none of Swift's social commentary, it does convey a distinct
sense of his imaginative milieu. The main weakness in the prose related
to the puzzles. In puzzles such as the loose ring and the rod, I didn't
feel that enough description was provided to allow me to reasonably
predict the outcomes of my actions, and consequently I ended up solving
some puzzles by force. (e.g. how would I know that something made of
silver would buoy me?)
- I found the game rather difficult, and ended up referring to
the "cheat" hints a number of times (13, or so I'm told by the game).
Unfortunately, much of this reliance was due to the lack of
information described above or, in one case, to a lack of synonyms.
When these features are improved, the game's difficulty will be well
- There's little to complain about in the coding of
Small World, so I hope my quibble doesn't receive undue focus. On the
whole the game was very smoothly implemented, and I never found myself
searching for the right word, except for once. Of particular note were
the game's warnings before moving to an unsolvable state, and its
ingenious hinting system. The one area in which I had trouble was in
receiving the "that verb isn't implemented" response to "CLEAN SOCKS."
When that verb wasn't available, I presumed I was on the wrong track
altogether, not that I simply needed to "WASH" the socks instead. It
took a "cheat" to get me out of that one.
- The game's writing was technically proficient.
Mr. Pontious does a nice job of eliminating errors in grammar and
- The plot of the game was really quite sweetly designed, creating
a childhood fantasyland which was evocative not only of Jonathan Swift,
but also C.S. Lewis' Narnia works, Lewis Carroll, and Bill Watterson.
The battles between Heaven and Hell were a very nice touch, and
I smiled at the gentle ending, which packs the character off to the
hiking trip with a refreshed perspective.
- This is my main difficulty with the game. As I mentioned above,
some of the puzzles were really delightful and smart, while others
felt a bit lazy. I think, though, that with the addition of richer
descriptions for crucial objects such as the ring and the pipe (whose
mechanism is mysterious to me even now), and with a closer attention
to synonyms, these wrinkles will be well-ironed.
A promising beginning turns into an excruciating series of coding and
design errors and irritating writing. It's hard to know where to
begin with the criticisms. The tone of many of the responses was a kind of
smarmy, smart-alecky wit which undercut any dramatic buildup or fear
created by the tense premise. The underlying idea is good, but its
execution was rife with logic errors. I can think of at least a dozen
plausible solutions that were not implemented. For example, if I squirt
the killer with Drano then try to go to the porch for help, I'm told "You
can't go that way." (Oh no, he's so dangerous he can make my door
disappear!). Another example: I can wander through my entire house without
meeting the killer, so why don't I just call the police? Well, not one single
room in the house has a phone. Add to this some fundamental coding errors,
unconvincing writing, and "read the author's mind" puzzles, and the result
is a distinctly unenjoyable game.
OVERALL -- A 2.5
- The opening sequence of the game got me quite interested, but
most of the other prose served to undo tension rather than create it.
For example, the author tries to create emotional depth to the
character by describing a recent divorce. After about a paragraph of
this, the game says "Now that you've had a good cry, maybe you'd like
to try preserving your life some, hmm?" The condescension and flippancy
in this narrative tone completely destroy any gradually building sense
of empathy or emotional urgency. Also, object descriptions give no
thought to the interactivity of the game. For example, every time you
look at the TV, an announcer breaks into a show and says the exact same
thing. The hair dryer is described as having its cord hanging off the
sink... no matter where you take it. This is lazy writing, and it
obliterates suspension of disbelief.
- I used the hints to get through the entire game once I
realized that there was only one way to solve it and that was by
doing exactly what the author had in mind, since no reasonable
alternatives are provided. This kind of difficulty tests one's
patience, not one's intelligence.
- Coding errors were everywhere. For example:
The player must remove a scarf from a doll, but this can only be done
in the room where the doll is originally located. Trying "YANK SCARF"
anywhere else gets a response of "You can't see any such thing."
Another example: "PUSH CHAIR" gets the response "You push the chair
over to the bookcase." "PUSH CHAIR TO BOOKCASE" gets the response
"You can't see any such thing." The only other character in the
program, the killer, wasn't even implemented as animate. ("SHOW
PICTURE TO KILLER." gets "You can only do that to something animate.")
Like the writing, the coding was lazy and ineffective.
- There were very few technical errors in the writing.
It's frustrating -- a good idea with technically sufficient writing
ought to have been a much better game.
- The premise had the promise of being extremely gripping and
intense. The idea that danger lurks around every corner of a familiar
setting has the potential to be great interactive fiction. However, by
the end of the game, the idea of plot degenerated into a series of
arbitrary but extremely specific actions performed on the killer's
- The puzzles were very difficult because of their arbitrary
nature. One has to do a very specific and exact sequence of actions
to the killer's body before the game won't respond to "KILL STALKER"
with "Violence isn't the answer to this one."
Stargazer worked quite well as a prologue, but I'm not sure I cared for it
much as a stand-alone game. Just about the time I thought the action was
about to start, the entire game ended. This made for a rather anticlimactic
experience, especially since I worked through the game in well under the
two hours allotted. Also, the game's brevity worked at cross purposes to
its genre; confusing references and unfamiliar objects can usually be let
slide in fantasy since they are sure to be explained later. Not so in
Stargazer. Aside from these problems, however, the piece was fairly
enjoyable. There were a few technical problems, but nothing too great, and
the author created a world I wanted to learn more about, which is certainly
a step in the right direction. Stargazer worked well as a prologue -- I
look forward to the game.
OVERALL -- A 6.6
- Aside from the sometimes awkward or convoluted sentence structure
("One reason for this is that this is also...", "...any other senses you
may have."), the prose worked fairly well. I got a nice sense of the
turbulence of the river, and I thought the dialogue worked fairly
well. Nothing was wonderfully well-crafted, but most was certainly
- I found the game quite easy -- I finished it in about 40
minutes. Unfortunately, this ease aided the sense of anticlimax
triggered by the game's abrupt ending.
- Overall the coding was strong, though there were
a few weak points. These points included: two separate moss/lichen
objects which shared names, so that in one location "X MOSS" yielded
"Which do you mean, the moss or the lichen?" over and over again;
an object which is on a rock across a rushing river, yet which can
still be touched or moved, a god who demands a sacrifice when the verb
"sacrifice" isn't in the game's vocabulary, and a dusty lens which
responded to "X DUST" with "You can't see any such thing."
- The writing was sometimes rather awkward, but
it was generally correct in spelling and grammar.
- Well, Stargazer didn't contain much plot, though it did have
the beginnings of one, and probably contained a lot of foreshadowing
(though it's difficult to tell without seeing the story ahead).
What was there was an intriguing beginning, but not much more.
- While quite easy, the puzzles moved the story along well, and
were very well integrated with the storyline. I'll be interested to
see what challenges the author has in store in the actual game.
TAPESTRY -- by Daniel Ravipinto
I thought this was really an impressive piece of work. Yes, it was a bit
heavy-handed at times, and probably a little too derivative of Neil
Gaiman's visions of Fate and Evil in his Sandman cycle. But nonetheless, I
found the situations compelling, the dilemmas convincing, and if a work
is going to be derivative of someone, you could do a hell of a lot worse
than Gaiman. I sometimes resented having my emotions so blatantly
manipulated (somewhat akin to my feelings in a few Spielberg films) by
the Dickensian drama of the mother and wife with wasting illnesses, the
struggling family business on the edge of ruin, and the innocent "victims
of inexorable fate" in the form of an onrushing car. Still, the fact is that
the work succeeded in pushing my emotional buttons, and I was moved by the
story. Tapestry is an ambitious piece, and both its successes and its
failures are due to its exploration of the possibilities of interactive
fiction. For example, the feeling of not being able to control the car
despite what you order the character to do is an extremely chilling one, and
it is an effect that would not pack the same potency were it attempted in
static fiction. By the same token, though, exchanges with the wraith seemed
a bit forced due to the limits of the medium -- often complex points were
reduced to the level of trying different versions of "tell wraith about x".
I have to admit, even though I'm educated enough to recognize "Morningstar"
as Lucifer (the author even whispered in my ear to tell me so), I still
chose his path my first try through the game. At the endgame, I was forced
to think about my choices, and to recognize that I had been (and therefore
could be) manipulated into making a choice that was wrong for the character,
even if it wasn't morally wrong, even if it is the choice I myself would
have made under the circumstances. It wasn't a nice feeling.
OVERALL -- A 9.4
- The prose tended toward the histrionic at times, and unfortunately
this actually occasionally diluted the emotional impact of the
situations. However, my experience of those moments was that they stuck
out from the general trend of the writing, which was quite craftily done,
and in fact sported some moments of real intensity and poignancy despite
the occasional cliché.
- I didn't find the game too difficult to get through, but then
again it wasn't particularly puzzle-oriented. In fact, the path of
Morningstar required a great deal more puzzle-solving than the path of
Clotho (which is the other one I tried). Is there a message here?
- On the whole the coding was quite proficient. I
was a little unhappy with what I perceived as some shortcuts (for example,
a medicine bottle not implemented as a container), and the author's
realistic setting caused a few problems with Inform's standard responses.
(Examples: entering "DIAL 911" and being told "You don't know that
phone number.", and being told that I really should clean the soot that's
collected on my carpet, yet "CLEAN SOOT" receives a reply of "You
achieve nothing by this.") Apart from these details, the coding was
accomplished quite handily.
- Grammatical and/or spelling problems and typos were
not entirely absent, (I remember noticing an "a" used in place of an "at"
or some such) but they were very few and far between.
- I found the plot quite compelling. The prologue worked quite well
for me, (though I did appreciate the "begin" command after my first time
through) and the mutually exclusive endings were well planned.
Ultimately, the game's plot boils down to the idea that moral dilemmas
can be extremely powerful in the medium of interactive fiction. I think
this is a very, very good idea indeed.
- As mentioned above, this work wasn't really very puzzle-oriented.
The puzzles that were included were integrated well with the game --
no gratuitous grafted-on "crossword" elements -- and this was both a
strength and a weakness. The strength: nothing interrupted the
suspension of disbelief created by the game's dramatic scenarios. The
weakness: character-driven puzzles (which most of these were) all too
often boiled down to how to fill in the blanks on "tell ____ about ____."
1996 IF competition reviews / Paul O'Brian / obrian at colorado.edu / Revised February 2006
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