Posted 24 November 2001 to rec.games.int-fiction
Hey! I'm finally getting around to posting my reviews!
Before I get to the reviews, I have to ask an unrelated question that's been bothering me about Lucian Smith's IF Beta testing site. For some reason, after I posted my game to the site for beta testing, I got 0 response, even though the game moved close to the bottom of the list, indicating that it had been downloaded at least a little. I would've dismissed this as a fluke, except the exact same thing happened to me last year. Do a lot of beta testers offer no reply to authors after they download a game, am I just stupid, or is something else I don't know about going on?
Anyway, just thought I'd ask as long as I'm posting. Regardless of what's going on, you run a great site, Lucian. Many thanks.
Now then, on with the reviews!
The Beetmonger's Journal
Score - 7
One nifty aspect of this game is that the player gets to change perspectives as it progresses. You begin the game as Aubrey Foil, the companion to the famous architect Monsieur Lapot, who is being followed by merciless reporters. You stumble into a cave that turns out to be the tomb of Avielle the great beetmonger. You discover her journal and begin to translate it, at which point you become Avielle and essentially write the journal on the fly. As Avielle you attempt to thwart the plans of Prince Radiant, who is turning the populace against beetmongerism.
There's definitely a lot going for this game. It's well written, and its dead-serious treatment of a conflict between the general populace and the secret order of beetmongers made for an amusing atmosphere. The treatment of perspective in the game is interesting as well. You start the game as Aubrey, but all your commands influence what Lapot does, and the game responds with Aubrey's interpretation of what happens. Avielle's section is in the past tense, so it seems that what you do is simply what is recorded in the journal Lapot is translating. Those are very nice touches.
The game does have a branching story line as well. You can attempt to make a peaceful or a violent solution with the Prince, and that leads to entirely different sections of the game, with different puzzles. I only played through the violent section, so I can't comment on the other, but the fact that the plot branches is a big plus.
There are a few drawbacks as well. The author made some odd design choices. At the beginning there is an "instant death" room. Although the game warns you against going there, it just seems unnecessary. It would've been better if it were just an empty room. Also, the map layout was confusing. If you go north from the west concourse, you'll reach the main square. If you go south from the main square, you'll reach the war memorial. I really hated this part. It seems illogical and made me get lost quite frequently. I was never able to build a good picture of my surroundings because of this. There were a couple of bugs too, (you can't show colleen the flags), and there was a lot of scenery you can't refer to (such as the war games). None of this is game breaking, but it's certainly annoying.
Also, a lot of the game failed to instill me with a sense of purpose. After hearing the prince's speech and talking to colleen, I had no idea what to do. I had to run to the walkthrough just to find out what the game wanted me to do.
Despite these flaws, I enjoyed playing through this game. It has a fun story line. The puzzles (once you figure out what they are) are, for the most part, rather simplistic, but I like them that way. Nothing exceptional, but still quite fun.
The Coast House
Score - 6
After visiting your grandfather, he told you to return to Dalton someday and check out the old house, because your grandmother supposedly had something that she wanted you to have. So, you return to Dalton one day on an unrelated errand and decide to have a little look see, whereupon you begin solving puzzles.
Not that this is a bad thing. The puzzles fit well with the setting, but they seemed to do very little to further the plot. You keep solving until you have the item you need, then you go retrieve the final object and win. Upon winning, you have a life changing revelation that left me feeling quite indifferent. There was really nothing in the story to hint at the ending, nor was there anything to really make me care about the ending. In the end, it seemed like the plot was just an excuse for a couple of puzzles. Again, I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, but then, there's nothing too terribly great about it either. I was really hoping that your grandmother left you something way cooler than what she did, something that would take you to another dimension a la Uncle Zebulon's Will, or at least something less mundane than what you ended up with.
To complicate matters, there were a couple of bugs. When I looked under the bed, the game replied "Under the bed you find a !" and proceeded to add nothing to my inventory. I was afraid a bug prevented me from getting an important item. This wasn't the case, but it was disconcerting nonetheless. Additionally, in my first game the final action didn't work. I re-started and followed the walkthrough exactly and it worked fine. I don't know if this was stupidity on my part or a bug, but it definitely sucked. Also, the last puzzle was badly hinted at; the others were fine though.
The writing was good and evoked the atmosphere nicely, although the attempts at humor usually fell flat (I laughed at the bloated manatee joke, though). Except for the last puzzle, the puzzles were well done; not too hard, but still requiring some thought. Unfortunately, the story just fell flat. The game still holds together, though. If you'd enjoy a nicely written puzzle-romp, it's certainly worth the download time.
You Are Here
Score - 7
You Are Here is a one-player version of a MUD, which, if you aren't familiar with the term, is basically an on-line multiplayer role-playing game. I dabbled with MUDs a bit when I first got on the internet, but I didn't really enjoy them that much. In addition to that, You Are Here is essentially a MUD with all the fun parts removed, such as no multiplayer, no leveling up, and no real exploration (only one area is available).
That being said, You Are Here is a fairly faithful translation of a beginning MUD experience. There are a number of other characters in the game that are fairly independent of you, there are monsters in the forest you can fight, weapons and armor you can equip, and a quest that you can complete with a companion. There is even an emote command, so typing in something like "emote dances" will result in "the guest dances" just like a real MUD. This is completely superfluous to the game, but it definitely helps make you feel like you're playing a MUD.
Unfortunately, and even the readme file admits this, You Are Here is an accurate simulation of a first quest on a MUD, which means the puzzles are easy and the story behind the quest is rather silly. The game is beefed up a little by a sub plot between some of the other MUD "players" that you can find out about by following them around, but that plot isn't very interesting or important. Additionally, aside from the sub-plot, none of the characters have very much personality. This is even true of the character that you adventure with, who, short of a few appropriate wry remarks, is basically cardboard. I would've loved to see a game where all the characters have a little background and some nice banter programmed into them.
From a technical standpoint, the game is very strong. I only found one minor bug and didn't notice any typos. The writing is fine too. Unfortunately, there really isn't too much to this game in the end. It is an accurate simulation of a MUD, and therefore it was pretty cute, but not much else. Still, it's worth a look, if for nothing besides that. As a side note, this was written as some kind of promotion for a play about a MUD, and it got me interested in that. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this review I have no access to the internet, but I plan to check it out next time I get online, so I suppose by that logic the game was a success.
Score - 2
All the positive things about homebrewed games have been said, so I'll refrain from saying them again, except to say that I'm impressed when someone does it. Unfortunately, this does not play into consideration when it comes to rating a game, and therefore Goofy falls hopelessly short.
The parser is extremely limited and most actions are met with generic replies. The story itself is pretty stupid, and the puzzles are generic. I couldn't get past the mouse and maze puzzle, so I just quit, seeing as how the game failed to interest me in the slightest. In other words: blah.
On the plus side, the game is listed as a 'sample game'. Could that mean that it's a prototype game for a language that compiles into Java? I know many people have tried to create post TADS/Inform IF creating languages, and they have mostly met with failure because they bring nothing new to the table. A creation language that compiles into JAVA would bring something more to the table, however. It would be great if people new to the IF world could jump in and play with just their browser, as opposed to having to download all the neccesary utilities. If this is the case, I can't wait to see the finished product.
Unfortunately, this optimism has little to do with the actual game which, in the end, was pretty crappy.
Score - 3
You are an employee for "the Institute." You start the game on a plane, thinking you are going on vacation, but then you are handed a letter that shows that this isn't true. You are actually on a secret mission to find an object for the institute. Then the plane fails and you have to jump. When you regain consciousness (even though you jumped with a parachute?) you find yourself alone on an island.
Ugh. The first thing I noticed about the game was that the introduction had no paragraph breaks when a different person started speaking. That, combined with a few minor grammar errors (comma after a quotation mark instead of before) and some badly written passages (your plane is going down and you have to jump, so you feel confused and disappointed?), had me rather worried when I began to play. What can I say? I should trust my instincts.
After stumbling out of a maze and into a room of instant death, I realized there must be something seriously wrong. Upon closer inspection I noticed that the game was copyright 1981-2001, so it must be a TADS port of an old game, which could explain the maze and instant death rooms. Nonetheless, this is no excuse. This game seemed to embody all the negative points of old school. Besides the aforementioned mazes and instant death rooms, here's a list of things that drove me crazy I made on Notepad as I was playing...
The game says, "In the immediate area, you find your pack...empty," but when you open it, the game says, "Opening the backpack reveals a folded letter. "
In the "Hollow trees room" vines are mentioned in the room description, but you can't do anything with them until you "find" them by searching the trees.
In the barren area where you need to grab the vine to pull yourself out of the quicksand, you have to type "grab vine." "Take vine" is not acceptable.
After this type of thing, I quickly retreated to the walkthrough. When I reached the point in the walkthrough where it told me to find the misty swamp in a swamp area that consisted of approximately 70 billion rooms, I just gave up.
Interestingly enough, a lot of the swamp area had what appeared to be a lot of areas with stuff to do. Of course, it had a lot of empty rooms too, just like the rest of the game. Bottom line, this game is just too big for the competition.
Additionally, a lot of the puzzles seemed to consist of searching for things in random places, which is doubly annoying because of the sheer size of the game, and triply annoying because of the huge amount of completely empty rooms. All in all, the game is badly designed.
On the plus side, there are lots of pretty pictures in the game, but that certainly isn't enough reason to give it a shot.
A Night Guest
Score - 9
This game is actually an interactive poem about a demon that attempts to drag Lord Barkley away in the night while he is quite drunk. The player then attempts to make the poem progress by typing in the proper response to the devil
The game actually consists of the player talking to Lord Barkley, so any command that doesn't work results in a barrage of insults from Lord Barkley, which is clever and amusing. Although the game states that there are multiple ways to solve each of the 'puzzles', I never found them. Fortunately, there is an in-game hint system that keeps you from getting stuck.
That's pretty much all I can say about the game; it's extremely short. I spent about 15 minutes on it before I completed it. That being said, I did like it. The poetry is fun and the responses Lord Barkley gives to your idiot comments are great. I'd suggest playing this with HTML-enabled TADS, because the games loaded with a bunch of cute pictures that really helped the game. I felt like I was reading from a kid's book. I'm also not sure if the "poetry-type" text formatting would work on a non-HTML TADS interpreter. In other words, kudos on the HTML extras.
To sum up, a fun and interesting work that's definitely worth the download time. It'll take you fifteen minutes to finish, so download it on your lunch-break or while you're brushing your teeth. Regardless of where you download it, make sure you download it.
Score - 4
You play Gustav, a creepy man who spends his time trying to bang his innocent co-worker, Katie. This game works almost entirely through conversation, and doesn't use typical IF conventions for speaking. Instead, you enter conversation mode and type in words you want to talk about. Interesting in theory, it unfortunately sucks in practice.
When Katie came in, our conversation basically consisting of me typing in random words until the game gave me a response. This makes for a strange and unrealistic conversation at best. When I finally got the right words, Katie let me take her home for wild sex. This is quite unrealistic, since a short and fairly random conversation convinced Katie, who the game described as a virgin who shunned the company of men, to do something so against her character. To make matters worse, the replies Katie makes are stilted and I got the impression that the author was not a native English speaker.
Anyway, when you finally get Katie back to her place, you get to do her in a very graphic manner. The descriptions are not always sex-oriented so I was trying to figure out if this section was trying to be more than porn, but my hopes were dashed when the game told me in no uncertain terms that I couldn't use the word vagina, I had to say cunt. Perhaps it was trying to emphasize that Gustav's pursuits were the lowest of the low, but I really don't need to be beaten over the head with it like that.
I won't say how it ends, but I will say that it didn't make much sense to me. I was left wondering what all the random imagery thrown at me meant, or how it even fit in to the story. After wading through the tedious conversation with Katie for about an hour before I found the right combination of words to make the game progress, this was less than satisfying.
It's clear that this game was trying to say something. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I definitely have no idea what that something is. The gratuitous pornography didn't really help the story either (granted, sex was an integral part of this story, but some of the descriptions were downright obscene). I'm not trying to be prudish, but the author seemed to go out of the way to include sex stuff that had little to do with the story and that just detracted from the end result.
In the end, whatever Kallisti was trying to do, it failed. The original puzzle (get Katie into bed) was just a huge "guess what to say" puzzle with virtually no clues. The rest of the game was an indecipherable metaphor. You might want to brave this game if your literary interpretation power is high, but otherwise I'd avoid it.
Score - 10
I can't really give away much of the plot without spoiling the game. In fact, I can't really say much about it at all without revealing a few spoilers. What I will say is that the game had a great atmosphere, great writing, and a few fun puzzles. So, in the very least, you know it's worth a play to see what I'm talking about, right?
There were, at first glance, some problems. The end result of everything was more confusing than mind-blowing, but, after careful consideration, I realized it worked. After playing the game through again, things made much more sense, and I decided that I should elevate the game's state from interesting to awesome.
Would that I could say more about this. It's great fun and a great story. To tell you anymore would be to ruin the game. Play it, then type 'restart' and play it again. To not do so would be cheating yourself.
Score - 2
Bleah. A puzzleless game about a bunch of depressed teenagers. It begins with a suicide and then continues with horribly depressing conversations with friends followed by domestic violence and abuse. I won't tell you how it ends in case you actually want to play it, but I'd say it'd be better to leave this one alone. What is apparently an attempt to say something meaningful turns out to be pointlessly dreary.
What's worse, this game has precious little interactivity. It would've been nice if the author made up for the lack of puzzles with lots of interactive stuff, but this game scores below most standard puzzle games in terms of things you can do. Major parts of room descriptions (such as the mourners) are apparently not there when the player tries to examine them, and the entire school was reduced to a gym, a lounge, a girl's bathroom (no boy's bathroom) and a really long hall with nothing in it.
I think it would've worked well if the game had included other rooms that the author could've used to flesh out the story a little (as it is the story isn't fleshed out at all). The player could've walked into a room which triggered a memory, or something to that effect. Currently, all character development is reduced to a single descriptive line and four or five lines of conversation.
Basically, Jump is an underdeveloped story that says virtually nothing. I don't understand why the author bothered to write all of this when "Life sucks and then you die. The End," would've achieved basically the same effect. Still, the writing is good and the basic personalities for all the characters are fine as well. The conversations didn't sound too forced either. The author could've done so much more with this, but in it's current incarnation it's just a hollow story that could've been.
Score - 3
This was pretty weird. The entire game is written in a hybrid of English and some foreign language. None of the standard verbs work, the player has to type in the other language equivalent. Even the hints and instructions were in the weird hybrid language.
This is an interesting concept in theory but I can't really comment on how it worked in the game seeing as how I didn't play it for very long. Basically, I hated it. The idea of tediously going through descriptions and trying out what looked like verbs on things that may or may not be nouns just to see what happens doesn't strike me as fun at all. A walkthrough would've been nice so I could've just fed in the proper commands and see if the game offers some kind of explanation, but alas there was none. All that was included was the hint system that I really didn't want to bother deciphering.
I'm pretty torn when it comes to rating this game because it looks like it might be fun for people who enjoy translating things or completing those cryptoquips that newspapers always have. The simple fact of the matter, however, is that I didn't enjoy it at all. What more can I say?
Score - 2
The game tells me that it isn't about winning, it's about understanding. If you reach understanding, then you've won. Therefore, I can deduct that I failed miserably. I fiddled around for a while only to discover that the camera wouldn't take a picture of the white cat, and the device never seemed to work. Also, fiddling with the device was frustrating. It said there was a lever in the device description, but I couldn't press it. The game also said that the lever would be depressed when you closed the box, but closing the box gave me no indication that anything had happened.
I finally resorted to the hints, which told me I should try to put things on the box and walk around to see what changed, but when I typed 'put white cat on box' the game responded, 'you don't see any such thing.' Thoroughly frustrated with the game's minimal implementation, I gave up.
Score - 5
Argh! This is the second game I've played that has a maze! Worse yet, the maze is random, so I can't even blast through with the walkthrough. What twisted mind came up with this?
Anyway, other than the terrible maze, this game is basically a treasure hunt. This isn't a bad thing, and, although none of the puzzles are too inventive, none (other than the maze) are bad either. In that respect, this game can be fun, but it offers basically nothing new. You are just a guy who wants treasure to make money. You do meet up with a shady fellow carrying a stiletto (blatant Zork reference) who provides the plot with a twist. In the end, however, the plot twist isn't all that interesting and really has little to do with the game of collecting treasures.
It's kind of refreshing to see such a blatantly old school game amidst all the experimental types of game the comp is usually loaded with (I don't count Stranded because it was written in 81), but seriously, was a maze necessary. In the end, I enjoyed the game for it's simplicity, but I have to take points of for the maze.
This article copyright © 2001, Cameron