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Craxton's Comp Critiques 2001

(or, The Incredibly Good Ideas That Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Comp Games)

by Craxton

Posted 16 November 2001 to rec.games.int-fiction

Another year, another IFComp. Among the things this year's competition will likely be remembered for is the liberal bending of the no-discussion rule. As of this writing, no opinions on specific games have been offered, but there has been not insignificant discussion about the quality of the games in general, with several people, including prominent IF author Adam Cadre, calling it a step down from previous years.

I would have liked to start this summation by saying Cadre is a grumpy old fart. Unfortunately, the facts say he may indeed have been on to something. My personal median/mean for this year was 4, and although the statistical distribution was more or less normal, it was skewed two points lower then what it should have been, and had an ugly spike on the low end, with 11 games being rated a two.

But that, too, is somewhat misleading. Under further scrutiny, it seems the main cause of this low ebb was failed experiments. Ideas that weren't quite what they could have been, innovations that didn't quite make it, ambitious concepts that needed a bit more work. And I see this as something hopeful, since in former years it's been games with little effort put into them that have caused such low ebbs. An experimental concept takes some thought to conceive and execute, and thus is more praiseworthy then just imitating what has been successful in years past, and more importantly, it speaks of an individual who is not willing to just settle for a can of Ass-Kicking Peanuts.

So, despite the tone of disappointment this year, the future is looking up.

In other news, the search for a review format that accurately expresses my opinions continues. Last year's Comments/Bugs/Suggestions fromat I thought good at the time, but in retrospect it was an abject failure, accentuating the negative to such an extent that I was positively nasty in my criticisms. I was so nasty that Stephen Grande initially "forgot" to include me amongst the archived reviews on his About.com site, and frankly, I don't blame him. I reread them the other day and thought to myself, "*I* wrote this? What the hell kind of bug got up my ass? 0_o;;;;;" I'd like to extend a too-belated apology to anyone who's ego I bruised last year.

This year, I opted for a format oriented towards more constructive criticism: First a brief summary of the game's concept or storyline, then an analysis of both the positive and negative points, and finally a summary. This worked much better in terms of keeping things in perspective, unfortunately, it was also an extremely labor-intensive path to take, and I soon found my critical neurons severely fatigued. This resulted in a shift to abbreviated, one-paragraph reviews. I think the latter suited me better, so that's probably what I'll be doing next year.

Without further ado, then, let's get to the nitty-gritty. Following is a brief summary of my scores, and thereafter the actual critiques, in the order the games were played.

Games rated a 10:
  Moments Out of Time

Games rated a 9:
  No Time To Squeal

Games rated a 8:
  The Cave of Morpheus
  All Roads
  Grayscale

Games rated a 7:
  Kallisti
  The Evil Sorcerer
  Vicious Cycles
  Fusillade
  Triune

Games rated a 6:
  A Night Guest
  The Chasing
  The Beetmonger's Journal
  You Are Here
  Carma

Games rated a 5:
   Silicon Castles
  Journey from an Islet
  Bane of the Builders
  Volcano Isle
  Schroedinger's Cat
  Elements
  Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country

Games rated a 4:
  The Isolato Incident
  Best of Three
  Fine Tuned
  The Cruise
  Earth And Sky
  Film at Eleven
  The Coast House

Games rated a 3:
  Stick it to the man
  Colours
  Heroes
  To Otherwhere and Back
  The Gostak
  The Newcomer

Games rated a 2:
  an apple from nowhere
  Crusade
  Prized Possession
  2112
  Lovesong
  Stranded
  Shattered Memory
  The Last Just Cause
  Invasion of the Angora-fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of Jupiter
  Mystery Manor
  Jump

Games rated a 1:
  Timeout
  Goofy
  SURREAL
  The Test
  You Were Doomed From The Start

Games not rated:
  Begegnung am Fluss

Elements (elements.z5)
Rating: 6

The Story
While swimming at the beach, you get dragged underwater. Awakening in a strange cavern, you wander around collecting notes that clue you in to what's go on and seeking to master the elements.

The Good
COME TOGETHER, RIGHT NOW: At first glance, the quest to master the elemental forces seems fairly cliche. (Metamorpheses comes to mind.) But there's a bit more at work here: You're not just collecting powers for personal enlightenment, your bringing the elements to each other- bringing fire to the earth, air to the water, earth to the air, and so on. Weaving parts into each other until you have a whole. Good concept for a surrealist game.

The Bad
MAGICAL, MYSTICAL, BLAND: Is this setting suppossed to be surreal and dreamlike? Because it's not working. A mystic realm should be impressive, it should have a sense of wonder to it. It should leave the player inclined to explore the mysteries therin, and stare curiously at things otherwise mundane. Here, everything is described in one line. Most of the scenery (which HELP asks you to examine) is unimplemented. One location is described in a single line. Others seem to be simply holding grounds for pages. The Nymph will give some information, but other then that responds to only a kiss, and that doesn't do anything. I mean, for god's sake, if you're going to make a mushroom shaped like a phallus, at least implement some wiseass response to EAT MUSHROOM.

"USE THE ALARM CLOCK ON THE TENT!": I walkthroughed the second half of this game because I was completely clueless. I just could not figure out what to do with any of what I was given. Possibly this points to how horribly I suck at solving puzzles, but it's also possible that the actions required were just too obscure. Unlisted exits didn't help matters.

"ERR... OOPS.": Ugh, ugh, ugh... people... for the love of God... if you're going to submit something to the comp, please at least make sure the SOLUTION WORKS! A bug making your game unwinnible automatically consigns you to the low end of the ranking tables. Game over, man, Game over.

The Verdict
Some interesting ideas, but underdeveloped. Game world seems insubstantial, dull. Maybe useful as a time-killer. Walkthrough misleading due to a bug. Recieves 5 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Correcting bugs would make it a 7, to score higher requires developing the atmosphere and gameworld more as well. Better hint system would also help.

Stick it to the man(sittm.ulx)
Rating: 3

The Story
Female anarchist starting to doubt the cause goes to a rally with her friends, something goes awry... then bugs eat the game inside out.

The Good
>insert witty title here<: The way the game introduces you to Iris' friends, and for that matter Iris herself, is certainly interesting. You get a sense of their character and lifestyles through just interacting with them. As a result, the exposition doesn't seem clunky or overwrought. Unfortunately, once the plot proper starts up and you get to the actual rally...

The Bad
SCREW THE PLACARDS, WE NEED RAID!(tm): The game is hopelessly infested with bugs, it may even be unwinnable. Some lines of conversation crash the interpreter. Others cause dialogue blocks to repeat themselves. sometimes the game returns internal errors. And there's always a delay between the moment I hit return to enter a command and the moment the game responds, as if something were slowing down the interpreter.

YOU WANT ME TO DO *WHAT?*: I only got as far as jail before time ran out, but from what I've seen, you can't do anything the author doesn't want you to do. Not in terms of advancing the plot, anyway. You can't leave the rally peacefully (unless a bug blocks such an exit), and I can't for the life of me figure out how to get the cuffs off- everything I think of returns "Not while I have these handcuffs on." In another bug, typing LOOK after the cop leaves the cell mentions "the cell I used to be in", implying that I'm outside now. In which case, how did I get there?

The Verdict
Might be interesting, but too damn buggy to get a good picture of it. Receives 3 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Better beta-testing would have helped.

Kallisti (kallisti.gam)
Rating: 7

The Story
In an unnamed European city (Paris?) Gustav, a handsome but sleazy fellow, attempts to seduce the virginal Katie. A game in three acts (before, during, after the fateful deed), with the last taking a bizarre twist.

The Good
TRIPPINGLY ON THE TONGUE: The game's florid, poetic writing sets and maintains the mood well. I often bitch about one-line descriptions, but maybe I should instead be bitching that they're the wrong lines. Take this, for example:

Though Katie's scarf was mostly white, Gustav could see golden fibres woven into the fabric. It was some gauzy material, light and transparent as gossamer.

Two sentences, painting a picture far clearer then five times as many could by listing every detail, nuance and facet. Though things aren't described in depth, they don't really have to be. You can, such as here, describe how they feel to the psyche, and let the player extrapolate the specifics.

IS IT HOT IN HERE?: I consider myself something of an expert on the subject, so let me assure you: This is good sex here. Well-paced, with an intuitive progression, and not a little bit of talent on the writer's part. Kudos!

The Bad
WTF?: After the fairly straightforward nature of the first two acts, the bizzarre and surreal third act is jarring. Just what is this suppossed to signify? That our antihero is mad? That the tables have been turned on him? That his victory was pyrric? Maybe I'm just missing some symbolism, but...it left me confused, and as a result is something of a letdown.

"UHHH... HOW ABOUT THOSE METS?": This game is perhaps the greatest argument in favor of conversational menus I have ever seen. ASK/TELL is okay for most purposes, but an in-depth conversation like the first act often comes off as an interrogation. Complicating the matter is the fact that there's only one response to each command, some rather obvious synonyms are missing ("memory" for "memories") and you can't pursue lines of conversation for more then about 3 turns. And the lines on both sides are dry, to say the least. I lost interest after flailing at random topics for about forty minutes, and had to close down the game and come back later. (Once I did, of course, the path to the next act was blindingly obvious...)

The Verdict
A stuttering first act, leading to a steamy climax, then on to a confusing denoumant. Uneven, but the good outranks the bad by a decent amount. Nicely evocative writing. Recieves 7 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. A more even beginning and less opaque end would have improved the score.

The Isolato Incident (isolato.acd)
Rating: 4

The Story
A bizarrely surreal short about isolation and a search for self. You're the monarch of a decidedly odd kingdom (for example, ghosts are killed and processed into bees, which produce 'history', which you read by smearing it on your skin), but someone's disrupting it, and you set out to make things right.

The Good
"DUDE, THIS IS SOME GOOD SHIT.": The writing is... trippy. There's no other word for it. It's the kind of thing you imagine someone with a vague idea of what the world is like, but some crucial problems in how it's put together, would come up with. "We need the planetsword to open the apple! Alas, the planetsword has been lost in the shrouds of myth for some months now." and so on, producing a distinctly offsetting environment. Unfortunately...

The Bad
"I DON'T KNOW WHETHER TO LAUGH OR SCREAM": ... the writing never finds a resonent tone. It teeters on the border between silly and disturbing, attaining neither. With no clear tone, and a wildly interpretive plot, Isolato soon becomes simply weird, and fails to have any affect on the player.

BLINK AND YOU MISS IT: The game is too short by half. It says what it has to say, yes, but it doesn't go into nearly the depth necessary. As soon as things start getting interesting, things are over.

The Verdict
Bizarre and not completely satisfying. What it really needs is more fleshing out, tone is non-existant, and the story is over too quickly. Recieves 4 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Moments Out of Time (moments.z6)
Rating: 10

The Story
You're a StreamDiver, a time traveller who visits the past to conduct historical research. The game starts in the prep room, where you must choose six of the fourteen available pieces of equipment for your latest mission. Then you dive to a residential house 12 hours before it's incinerated by a nuclear blast. You mission is to collect as much historical information as you can using the devices at your disposal. Of course, there's a complication or two...

The Good
PH33R MY L33T N3KKID SK1LLZ!!!: GodDAMN, you can't NOT respect coding like this. We have: dynamic verb lists, a customizable command menu, automatic fixes for compatability problems, sound effects, extensive documentation, all implemented with few bugs or oversights that I could find. Mr. Raszewski obviously put a *lot* of work into this game.

LOOKING BACK: The tone of the writing is exactly what you'd expect from someone visiting a doomed past. A little sadness, a little admiration, a little bafflement, and an overwhelming sense of discovery. Each scene and room is described from an historian's viewpoint, with talk of how the architecture or decoration reflects the times. EVERYTHING is analyzed in a historical context, even with the occassional arrogant "how did they ever survive without..." comment. This is also a really big house- not just in terms of size, but in terms of detail. It's all incredibly alluring, and it's a delight to get lost in the exploration of this tiny microcosm.

PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM: Anyone here played Megaman X4? That game was a textbook example of turning one game into two. You could play as either X or Zero. Both characters went through the same levels and challenges, but their abilities differed wildly. While X could use projectile weapons captured from the enemies, Zero had only his beam sabre and a few short-range techniques. This meant, while they both had to overcome the same challenges, they had to overcome them in different ways, because X couldn't do what Zero could, and vice-versa. Result: one puzzle becomes two, a single challenge becomes a pair. Raszewski uses a similiar technique in Moments to give it the quality that is ever out of reach of the IF genre: replayabiliy. Even though the house is the same, you want to go back to it to find out how you can use the visualizer, what good the library chip would do, just how you might be able to decode those letters. Just one little problem...

The Bad
THIS OR THAT: ... hemming the player in based on his earliest actions has long been considered a cardinal sin in IF, and not for no reason. If, for example, he decides midway through that he may have been better off with the autokey rather then the visualizer, then he must start over to get it. Either way, the only way he learns what he can using the autokey is by retracing old steps. This can be annoying if the game isn't good enough to reward such. Moments is, for the most part, good enough. But it's a close call sometimes.

OUT OF MEMORY ERROR: As I said, this is a very large and detailed house. So large, in fact, that it can at times be overpowering. There's so much to investigate, and so much text to read through, that the experience eventually becomes a tedious sequence of X's, SEARCH's and miscellaneous console commands. It's quite easy to overwhelm the player with the sheer amount of things that HAVE to be done to get the full story, and I did feel overwhelmed once or twice. A less patient player may give up entirely.

The Verdict
Innovative, ambitious, and incredibly appealing, despite minor shortcomings. High marks for technical merit. Decently replayable. Recieves a deserved 10 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Good job! ^_^

Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country (smtuc.blb)
Rating: 6

The Plot
Stiffy Makane, recently appointed captain of a federation starship, boffs his sole crewmate, lives out holodeck fantasies, disposes of pretentious intellectual blowhards, and finally settles on exploring the mysteries of homosexuality.

In-depth analysis would probably show more care for this game then is healthy, so I'll keep it short:
The Good
-Humorous in places. (Chris Crawford's easter egg, especially.)
-Good use of Glux multimedia capabilities.
-Sailor Jupiter hentai. ^_^

The Bad
-Offensive, juvenile humor.
-Minimal implementation aside from multimedia.
-Sailor Jupiter miscast. (Jupiter is the strong, sensitive, maternal one. Venus is the giggly, charmingly, airheaded one.)
-An insult to everything I stand for as a connesuire of interactive erotica.

The Verdict Lord Craxton rolls a ten-sided die, subtracts 1 just for the hell of it, and gives this game a 5 out of 10.

Timeout (Timeout.z5)
Rating: 1

The Plot
Based on the RPG Paranoia. A mission to deliver pizza to an obscure corner of Alpha Complex is an excuse to wander around doing completely irrelevent stuff. Or so the walkthrough says, anyway...

The Good
"THE COMPUTER IS YOUR FRIEND": The author seems to have done his research. At least, what he knows of the Paranoia universe matches my admittedly cursory knowledge. The downside, however, is that those who don't know about it will have no clue what's going on.

The Bad
"ZZZZZZZZZ...": Dear God, this game is dull. There is absolutely no encouragement to do anything. At best, you get a suppossedly humorous cutscene which involves someone dying in an allegedly funny way. At worst, nothing at all happens. Practically every joke thrown out falls flat on it's face. There's not even any effort given to making the complex, or your teammates, look vaguely interest. Paranoia was a popular game, it could not POSSIBLY have been this mind-bendingly boring. Not even the walkthrough provides anything remotely humorous or interesting.

The Verdict
A yawn from start to finish. Skip it. Receives 1 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Triune (triune.gam)
Rating: 7

The Story
The slow and painful deteriaration of a young woman's childhood dreams, told as a parable about a magic forest. Multiple endings, all of which are somewhat depressing.

The Good
";_;": The game is definately, shall we say, impactful. "Heart-wrenching" would be a good term. It takes a lot of effort to depress me, so I think success indicates that you did a good job of writing. Good enough, in fact, to balence out most (but not quite all) of the problems I'm about to list...

The Bad
THIN AS GLASS: Triune doesn't properly establish it's environments or characters. What does get a response gets a useful one, but there are nagging problems... spaces where *something* should be. The prince responds to your questions of everything, even the things in his castle, with a canned response, for example. Penda has nothing to say about her child, for another. Neither the bloody patch in the forest, nor the remains of the bird, can be examined. And forests where you type "x trees" and get "You can see no trees here" make me twitch.

WHO'S SIDE ARE YOU ON, ANYWAY?: Triune is a story about the conflict between fantastic dreams and ugly reality, with reality naturally winning out in the end. So probably the biggest problem is that the author seems to be on the side of fantasy. The fantastic world of the forest is a blossoming one, one written of with joy and happiness. The realistic world it later becomes is a barren one, wretched and destitute. To an extent, this is acceptable because... well, life ain't pretty. But the author doesn't show any shred of hope or potential in the destroyed world, and thus neither the protagonist or the player can reach any kind of understanding or enlightenment. The result is a story that is torturous, sad, depressing... and nothing more. When, on the final move (as listed in the walkthrough) there finally is some attempt at attaining real closure, it doesn't work. It's too forced, it feels like a bad joke, and it's a poor way to end a piece such as this. A depressing work should also be... cathartic, I guess. Triune doesn't reach that, in the end there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no purpose for the suffering that has been endured, and thus the story is just depressing.

The Verdict
Poignant, but never reaches an epiphany. Thin implementation in places. Receives 7 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Fleshing out the scenery would bring it up to an 8, but without some cathartic moment, it's still a muted experience.

an apple from nowhere (aafn.ulx)
Rating: 2

Well, now we know who burglarized Rybread's stash... Rated twice what most games of this type would be because it's amusingly written, and at times even approaches some kind of coherancy.

Best of Three (Bestof3.blb)
Rating: 4

The Story
Two intellectuals who knew each other in high school meet unexpectedly at a coffee shop and tie up loose ends, after beating around the bush for a while.

The Good
WINDOW DRESSING: The story projects a strong, but not invasive sense of "thereness". The waitress peters about, shoppers on the street come and go, your companion toys with his drink- all described in the sense of how much it applies to you, which is usually one line. You and Grant are the focus, everthing else exists outside the metaphorical shell surrounding your table. The result is you get a remarkable sense of time and place without ever typing "look"

TALK TO ME: The game strongly mirrors a real-life conversation- instead of the expositionary monologues and snappy back-and-forth common to discussions in literature, we have a slow, meandering, step-by-step walk through topics mundane and deep, with no real destination other then the journey itself. However, I'm afraid more the anything it shows why this isn't done more often in storytelling...

The Bad
"BLAH BLAH BLAH, BLAHBLAHBLAH BLAH BLAH...": ...doing this in real life is interesting. Watching it from behind a monitor is unbelievably DULL. An absurd amount of time is spent beating around the bush. I didn't identify with these people, or their conversation. Something... some profound connection between the player and player character, is just not there. I spent the entire two hours leaning on my hand, typing numbers, and wishing to God we could GET somewhere, already. Which brings up problem numbers two and three...

ON THE RAILS, GOING ROUND AND ROUND ETERNALLY: Despite the amount of branching in the conversation, the game feels incredibly linear. Your really have only one topic you want to talk about. Subjects come up, are batted around for a while, and then dropped, leaving you back where you started. It's realistic, yes, but it makes me yawn. I want to get to the point, already. The small talk should not take an hour and a half of real world time.

The Verdict It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but put into code it's uninteresting in the extreme. Lord Craxton applauds new concepts, but rewards it in the only way an honorable critic can- with his honest and forthright opinion, which is a 4 out of 10. And, unfortunately, I can't see it improving without fundamentally changing. Sorry

A Night Guest (ng.gam)
Rating: 6

The Story
Rich englishman has an encounter with the devil. Told in verse, with the player recommending courses of action to the PC.

The Good and The Bad
KOMEDY!: With the last few games having taken a toll on my Comp enthusiasm, this dose of silly humor was much appreciated. Is it deep, philosophical, elegant, ironic, heartwarming? Hell, no. But it's fun, it's not too torturous once you get the general idea of it, it's innovative in it's own small way, and it's quite content with what it is. That deserves... well, a golf clap, at least. *golf clap*

The Verdict
Pointless but harmless fifteen-minute diversion. Receives a 6 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Silicon Castles (castles.z5)
Rating: 5

Another abuse of the z-machine- a chess simulator, which also contains, as an bonus, essays on the rules and history of chess and it's many cousins. Well-implemented, but, well... it's chess. Chess is chess. Receives a 5 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Fine Tuned (finetune.z8)
Rating: 4

The one phrase that comes to mind when thinking of this game is "U $t00p!D N00b!!!11!".

A very promising start, which establishes a fast pace, sets the stage quickly, and sketches out characters cliche yet familiar. The game then continues along, it's straightforward linearity neatly disguised by the delightfully campy writing. But then the bugs take over, and oh dear... The game scores your actions despite the fact that you can easily go over the maximum score, and fullscore elicits a bafflingly buggy response. Also, "score" is disabled in the second chapter, incongruous. More damning is the way I was somehow able to get the game into an unwinnable state, and the walkthrough that has UNDO commands in it is just funny. A lot of promise, but too many bugs to be enjoyable. Still, the writing is enjoyable, and the predictability of the plot keeps it's otherwise harsh puzzles down. Receives a 4 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Keep trying.

Journey from an Islet (journey.gam)
Rating: 5

The Story
Brief atmospheric piece, with some benign puzzles, in which you explore a small island with an unrealistically but whimsically diverse ecology. Alludes to The Little Prince.

The Good PAINTING A PICTURE WITH WORDS: As the author himself said, the main point of this game is to show off the scenery. Which, I must say, isn't half-bad. The picture painted with words isn't especially detailed, but it's pleasing to the eye. Sort of like a slightly blurry watercolor- more relaxing to look at then anything else. Additionally, the scenery is very well implemented-virtually everything mentioned in the room descriptions is examinable.

The Bad
WHAT'S MY MOTIVATION?: The goal to the game is extremely vague, and deduced more by running out of ideas then anything else. (Or, more accurately, by looking at the hints). And the solution is something of a stretch-requiring a rather unlikely suspension of disbelief (unless the snake is suppossed to be a hint, in which case, it's too vague).

The Verdict Thoroughly implemented and relaxing, if rather forgettable on the whole. Recieves 5 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Begegnung am Fluss (amfluss.tag)
Rating: n/a

I can't read German, so this goes unrated. Sorry.

Crusade (crusade.z5)
Rating: 2 As the leader of a band of Crusaders, you guide your men through the desert to an infidel city, (by means of goose worship), and then convert the pagan king with the story of Jesus Christ, Action Hero. Vaguely amusing in a "South Park" kind of way, but very sparsely implemented, and rather dumb as well. Likely to offend some people.

The Chasing (chasing.acd)
Rating: 6

In a bucolic setting, you retrieve seven horses representing human virtues by demonstrating those same virtues. Short but satisfying.

The Cruise (cruise.gam)
Rating: 4

A cruise ship is the setting for a silly plot which has you first searching for magic crystals, then gambling to earn money for diving gear so you can eat a herring. It's nowhere near as interesting as I'm making it sound, and even the author (who inserts himself as an NPC) doesn't seem to care much about it. I'd wager he designed the cruise ship first, and then realised that he didn't have an actual game to go with it. In any event, this is a well-coded first effort, but I find it to have little entertainment value.

Prized Possession (possess/Alys.z5)
Rating: 2

The Story
Alys, he orphaned daughter of a minor nobleman, searches for a happy life in 12th century England.

The Good
POWERLESS: If there's one good thing about this game, it does make you see Alys' sense of powerlessness. She is hardly ever able to do anything active about her fate, and thus neither are you. Oh, sure, you can avoid bad guys, you can say yes or no at crucial points, but when it comes right down to it, your fate is entirely in the hands of the men you associate with, and you're really just along for the ride. The player is boxed in because the character is, which brings Alys' central problems into sharp focus. But this doesn't count as much as it might. First, this has been done before, in last year's Rameses. Second, and more fatally, it was done *better*. So Prized is, at best, a good idea that's too late.

The Bad
SHE WHO HESITATES IS SCREWED: This game has the most draconian time limits I've ever seen. You have absolutely no time to do anything, even get a feel for the scenery, before you have to make a life-or-death decision. Even taking a casual EXAMINE around the room, you have to step-UNDO-step-UNDO just to avoid running into the next chapter break. You're flung from decision to decision, often having to survive on very little information. Needless to say, this is both annoying and jarring.

"IF I WANT TO READ A BOOK...": Prized Possession feels very much like a static story with an interactive component grafted on. There's only one path start to finish, and the player's involvement is solely in making the right choice at the right time. You have to do *exactly* what the author wants, or you're dead. Honestly, it feels that this story could have worked better if it was merely written.

The Verdict
Thin implementation, utterly static plotline, and draconian time limits shoot it down. Recieves 2 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Allowing the player to get a good feel for his surroundings would have helped immensely.

Colours (colours.z5)
Rating: 3

Abstract game about an acrostic note, NPCs in search of words, and colored objects that must be returned to their proper rooms. After you figure the above out, it's pretty easy, and rather entertaining to follow through on. Unfortunately figuring it out required the walkthrough, in my case. Even more unfortunately, a critical design oversight makes the game unwinnable. Still, there's potential here, and the NPCs are amusing caricatures. Receives a 3 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

The Cave of Morpheus (tcom.taf)
Rating: 8

The Story
A cute little college story that's kind of hard to explain. Suffice to say, it incorperates dream analysis and Adventure-550 into a story of college angst... or something like that. Railed and brief, but still interesting.

The Good
"SHEESH, YOU NEED ME TO TELL YOU EVERYTHING?": Morpheus treats the player with intelligence. There's a consistant air of tongue-in-cheek humor. The game doesn't explain things fully, and knows it doesn't need to. It presents as much as it can without the text becoming incongruous or out-of-place, and relies on the player to make the logical leaps. In other words, it makes your brain work to get the meaning from the piece. Not work HARD, mind you. But work enough that there's a small sense of accomplishment from getting through it.

The Bad
BUT IS IT ART?: The question will be raised: is this truly interactive fiction? A lot of the longer sections are railed, the clearest example being when Steven is playing Adventure on his PC (dramatic irony, perhaps...). Does incorporating a classical text adventure into the plotline *justify* it's being called interactive? I don't care personally, because I had fun with Morpheus, and felt it was time well spent. But others may pick nits.

The Verdict
Amusing and intelligent game with enough tongue-in-cheek humor to carry a somewhat railed plotline. Recieves an 8 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Good job! ^_^

2112 (2112.exe)
Rating: 2

The Story
Arriving on Mars for a class trip, you steal your classmate's stuff and follow a string of clues to a destiny involving the aforementioned classmate's father, a man-made goddess, and saving the planet from destruction. If you can befriend a cockroach and elude a host of somewhat different bugs.

The Good
JUST LIKE OLD TIMES: Ah, yes, the wonders of the old puzzlefest text adventure. Wandering around, seeing the sights, having to puzzle things out, and the neat little way everything comes together at the end.

THEMATIC UNITY: The world is well-designed. Virtually everything has a meaning, usually one not readily apparent. The coloration of the "monuments", for example, are replecated in the floors of the hotel. The memos about the bathroom key, likewise, prove to have meaning later on. Everything is woven very tightly, nothing is there without a purpose.

"I WAS JUST TRYING TO CALL FOR SOME TAKE-OUT...": Ooma deserves special mention as one of the... well, cutest NPCs I've seen in a while, and very well-realized, as well. You can ask her about a wealth of topics (a complete list is in the walkthrough, check it out.)

The Bad
TOO MUCH LIKE OLD TIMES: Inventory limits. Actions without motivation. Exhaustable resources. The ability to lock yourself out of victory early and easily. Ugh, ugh, ugh. There's a REASON people don't make games like this anymore. Annoying the player is not the way to go. Jeeze...

WHO ARE YOU, NELSON?: Ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh, UGH! I have nothing against homebrew parsers per se. But they have a tendancy towards compatability problems and bad bugs. The bugs, in fact, are the reason this game gets only 1. Now, there's not really a LOT of bugs, but you don't NEED a lot to shoot you down. In this case, two suffice. 1) Frequent and seemingly random crashes. 2) Restore does not work properly.

A moment of silence while we reflect on THAT...

The Verdict
Has much potential, including good writing and an appealing NPC, but outmoded design ideas and serious implementation problems shoot it down. Recieves a 2 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Fix up the bugs (or port it to a more established language, maybe HTML-TADS,) and it's up to a 7. Five points for two bugs? Harsh? Maybe. But I have no sympathy for an author who makes me restart because he can't figure out how to save/restore properly.

Heroes (heroes.z5)
Rating: 3

The Story
In an idea reminiscent of Quest for Glory, undertake a quest to retrieve a magic gem as five different characters. While all five must face similiar challenges in the course of doing so, they overcome these challenges in different ways- the Adventurer with charisma and cleverness, the Enchanter with magic, the Thief with sneakiness, the Royal with authority, and the Dragon with a carefully-controlled Godzilla impersonation. Has a frame plot which went right over my head.

The Good
MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE: Each character sees the same scenes in a different light. The thief, for example, sees things in terms of stealth and profit. The temple is good because it contains lots of hiding places, the streets bad because there are few alleys or climbable roofs to allow stealthy passage. A glass ball's value is insignificant, a magic staff's much moreso. To the enchanter, the garden has been carefully arranged, the temple carefully constructed. But to the adventurer, it's all just pretty. To the dragon this is all greek- he sees houses as constructs of rock and dead trees, where humans see a great temple he sees only an irritating enclosed cave. Each character brings a different perspective to the town, and all these are reflected.

The Bad
*YAWWWWWWWWN*: Despite the cute gimmick, the game itself is neither particularly involved nor particularly interesting. Absconde from an evil nobleman's lair with a magic McGuffin? Puh-lease. Seen it. The game attrits interest further with uninspired writing and some extremely dodgy puzzles (MELT CANDLE?). On top of that, the author clearly expects you to play as the adventurer first, and have a good sense of the city's layout once you're done. Otherwise all of the other characters will be facing severe handicaps in the form of unmentioned exits. Honestly, this game is amatuerish, and I think it could have stood to have some more spit & polish put into it.

The Verdict
Frustrating without the walkthrough, and only marginally interesting. Not really worth the player's time. Recieves a 3 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. If the game was more fleshed-out, it could be a 7 or even and 8.

Lovesong (lovesong.asl)
Rating: 2

Well, the writer doesn't seem to have a good grasp of English, and the parser is crap. But at least he recognises this, and has the sensibility to keep thing quick and painless. Receives a 2 out of 10 from Lord Craxton, since it's more or less glitchless, and that has to count for something.

Goofy (goofy.htm)
Rating: 1

Err, okay, this game sucks. The plot is about the stupidest I've ever seen, the design is minimalist in the extreme, the puzzles obscure, and it suffers from a very slow Javascript implementation. JAVASCRIPT? Why? Receives a 1 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Stranded (stranded.gam)
Rating: 2

Escape from a deserted island while attempting to secure an ancient relic. This involves, among other things, hunger puzzles, rooms of instant death, and mazes. Not to be overly harsh, but someone needs to read up on modern text-adventure design philosophy, as in how not to annoy the player into playing something else. But the pictures are pretty, as well as consistant. One can easily believe they all came from the same general area. Receives 2 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

To Otherwhere and Back (toab.acd)
Rating: 3

This is a Walkthrough Comp game. And thus somewhat out of place without the rest of them. Recieves a 3 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Shattered Memory (shatmem.z5)
Rating: 2

You wake up in a long line with no memory, and have to figure out who you are and what's going on. A decent premise with utterly horrid execution. Every move in the game has to be guessed. Even if you hit the walkthrough, you're still guessing at the syntax. Plus, the reality of the situation, which you're suppossed to be clueless about until it's revealed, is obvious pretty much from the get-go. Disappointing. Recieves a 2 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Bane of the Builders (bb.z5)
Rating: 5

In a sci-fi story, a professor has vanished on a planetside dig and it's your job to find him. Not bad, but not especially good either. Receives a 5 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

The Evil Sorcerer (evil.z5)
Rating: 7

Another old-school puzzlefest game. The plot is a mess of cliches: Waking up with amnesia, you set out to first recover your memory, then find out what happened to the woman who brought you here, and finally take out the evil sorcerer. Decent game with very thorough implementation of scenery and seeming irrelevancies (which earns points from me, read back through reviews past and present and see how many games I've blasted for not being atmospheric or evocative enough), but highly forgettable. Dialogue is mediocre, and the primary way to move the plot forward is to reach the appropriate place, which makes the game more or less a excercise in exploration, with occassional scavenger-hunt aspects. Suffers from an abundance of useless items and an inventory limit. Receives a 7 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Not bad for a first effort. ^_^

The Gostak (gostak.z5)
Rating: 3

Guess-the-verb taken to a new, more annoying level. Okay, *maybe* earlier in the Comp I would have had the patience for this, but no thanks. It's one thing to read Jabberwock and be pleasently mystified, but to try and play through it using the original words is an exercise in frustration. You can be surreal at this level without resorting to arcane command syntax. Look at For A Change. Receives 3 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

The Last Just Cause (TLJC.exe)
Rating: 2

This game has a lot going against it- first of all, it's a homebrew parser, and an extremely limited one- only a very few verbs are supported. This effectively reduces the game to running around in search of cutscenes. Second, it attempts to blend RPG elements with traditional puzzling, but it's no good- you wind up in a random encounter at seemingly every turn, and they quickly become very, very tedious. Third, the writing is not great. It seems the author does not speak english as a first language. Recieves a 2 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Too limited technically, and very irritating design-wise.

Earth And Sky (eas.z5)
Rating: 4

The Story
Comic-book story where you play the female half of a brother-sister superhero team. In this episode, the origin of Earth and Sky, and then their first battle, against a giant monster. More episodes are promised.

The Good
THOSE DUSTY X-MEN BOOKS IN MY ATTIC: As an attempt to create a game in comic-book style, Earth and Sky hits the Bull's-Eye. Heavy dialogue scattered across scenes that move forward in starts, (in fact, the similiarity between turns in this game and panels of a comic book is astonishing) complete with overblown dialogue, angsty characters, and slightly silly "SCIENCE!" fiction make this entertaining to read, at least while it lasts.

The Bad
OH, LIKE YOU NEED MY HELP: This game is interactive to an extent, with some interesting if straightforward puzzles and decent if irrelevant plot branching, but it gains nothing by being so. It could have been written as static fiction and be almost exactly the same. The conversation interface tries way too hard, becoming a mish-mosh of different approaches, and just the same has little effect on either the plot or focus of the story. (Though the list of "We can't be superheros!" options was amusing.) The player seems rather auxilliary. He basically sits behind the keyboard, twiddles his thumbs, and does the obvious thing at the obvious moment.

The Verdict
Not quite interactive enough to be considered IF, and not especially interesting, unless you want an example of how to render a comic book as a text adventure. Receives a 3 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Could be good, but needs a lot of work.

Vicious Cycles (cycles.z5)
Rating: 7

In a science-fiction world dominated by corporations, you find yourself in a time-loop reminiscent of Delusions. The reason for this isn't quite clear at first, but is revealed in bits and pieces over the course of the game, with two large chunks of exposition near the middle and end. Not particularly groundbreaking, but well put-together, at least the first half. The second half of the game is passable, but could have used some work. One scene is just looking around a room while the plot happens around you, and the subsequent climactic sequence consists of you talking to an NPC for a set number of turns, and nothing more. The ending is kind of sudden, too, and anticlimactic. Still, these are only minor flaws, and the first half, which requires you resolve a delicate situation using information gained over multiple play-throughs, makes up for the problems later on. Recieves a 7 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. A little work with the pacing would help.

SURREAL (surreal/SURREAL.BAT)
Rating: 1

Homebrew game that has you exploring a myst-like island. Well-intentioned, but held back by a severely limited parser (requires syntax such as UNLOCK MACHINE WITH ACID) and a number of bugs and design shortcomings, including a gate that doesn't even try to block your path, plot events in the room descriptions, item descriptions that don't change after the items themselves change (for example, a machine that looks unopenable even after you've dissolved it open), a room where seven of eight exits lead to death, death being treated as a room by the parser, and very little of the promised surreality. Receives a 1 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Volcano Isle (volcano.gam)
Rating: 5

Treasure hunt on an island. Contains a few homages to ZORK. Receives a 5 out of 10 from Lord Craxton

All Roads (AllRoads.z5)
Rating: 8

The Story
An interesting but bizarre tale of political intrigue in Rennaisance Italy. Confusing plot centers around your character- a hired assassin with an unusual supernatural ability.

The Good
THINK FAST!: Like Fine Tuned above, this game makes sure to keep you moving. The opening sequence, where you look around for a method of escaping death, and then finally find one unexpectedly, sets the pace for the game to follow. It's been said that one way to make good interactive fiction is to distract the player from the linearity of your game. All Roads pulls it off. (Well, "linear" is probably a bit inaccurate: the path I took is slightly different from the walkthrough, so there is some varience...)

The Bad
WHERE AM I? WHO AM I?: The main problem with All Roads is that it plays fast and loose with the player/character relationship. In some place, protagonist knows a good deal more then you, but you don't know it until he tells someone else. In others, he seems to not know things that he logically should. This occurs repeatedly, and it's disconcerting. The player is so busy getting thrown from one setup to the next that he can't start piecing things together until very late in the game. And even then...

WHAT? WHO? WHEN? WHERE? WHY? HOW?: The plot only *probably* makes sense. It's difficult to tell what exactly is happening, since the game's central conceit- the protagonist's bizarre ability- isn't well-explained. In My Angel Ingold didn't need to explain things a lot- it's telepathy, everyone knows about telepathy- but here the ability in question is quite a bit odder, and near the end seems to be a combination of two things. There's a point in the middle where it ALMOST makes sense, but after the second scene in the palace, things go nutsy-cuckoo. The final result is just plain confusing.

The Verdict
Well-coded, tightly paced, and appealing, but in the end it doesn't make sense, eliciting nothing so much as a "huh?" from the player. Receives 7 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. The concept needs to be better realized.

The Test (thetest.taf)
Rating: 1

Stuck in a math test, you get mysteriously zapped into a strange world where you must, among other things, take 500 turns to unlock a door. Ugh. Receives a 1 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Invasion of the Angora-fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of Jupiter (angora.exe)
Rating: 2

(Thank you for wrecking my formatting. _;;;;;;)

I tried to like this. Really I did. But it just ain't working. NPCs moving in real time is a bad idea, you just have to run around chasing them because you can't type in commands fast enough. Plus, the map is too big, too complicated, and too featureless, the text formatting is whacked, the grammer is occassionally laughable, and the goals of the game are unclear. I wander around a lot and get killed by a serial killer in the end. I am suppossed to avoid this how? Receives a 2 out of 10 from Lord Craxton

The Beetmonger's Journal (Beet.gam)
Rating: 6

The assistant to an aged archeologist tells (in the third-person past tense) the story of his final expedition, which brought him a journal from whence he recites (in the first-person past tense) the tale of it's owner, a legendary beetmonger who brought either war or peace to a troubled land. The tongue-in-cheek humor of the beetmonger's tale is a minor plus, as are the cute monkeyings with narrative voice. On the other hand, we have some problems conversing with NPCs and a few points where the player has little direction. Very average overall. Receives a 6 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

The Newcomer (newcomer.z5)
Rating: 3 "A most interesting game... the only winning move is... not to play." Conceptually at least, it's intriguing... give up and win, try to do something and die. But though this is a cute gimmick, I don't see much point... plus the idea isn't very well realized, I can think of a number of better ways to do this concept, the foremost in my mind being Cattus Attrox with the endgame cut out. Plus, the fact that several rooms are already implemented creates the impression that the author started to code a more conventional game, then after a few rooms said "screw it" and did this instead. Points for originality, but needed some more consideration. Recieves a 3 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Grayscale (gryscale.gam)
Rating: 8

Mysteriously transported to a castle, you must uncover the secrets within with the help of a knowledgable but strangely immobile woman. Very thorough implementation. Everything can be examined, and many things may be interacted with, even those that need not be. Simple puzzles that occassionally seem tacked-on, but ultimately tie together. Odd twist ending. Receives a 8 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Nicely done. ^_^

You Were Doomed From The Start (doomed/DOOMED.EXE)
Rating: 1

I knew if I was patient enough, I'd find a game to which I could award the Craxtonian Middle Finger Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Half-Assed Game Design. The big joke here is that this game is intended to be "a[sic] 'Example work' to teach programmers how to program a Text-based game". I can't help but laugh at that. Recieves a 1 out of 10 from Lord Craxton

Film at Eleven (eleven.z5)
Rating: 4 Uncover corruption in a small town. Small and very forgettable game that centers around using bribery, burglery, and trickery to get a story. Receives a 4 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Mystery Manor (mystman.taf)
Rating: 2

A haunted house game which completely fails to generate any sense of fear, because the annoying music, fussy parser, and questionable coding keep yanking you out of any immersion the writing manages to generate. Receives a 2 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Carma (carma.blb)
Rating: 6 An angry comma leads a mob of punctuation marks in a mission of revenge against a bad writer (you) who has misused, underused, overused, abused, and spliced him one too many times. Cute and humorous, but ultimately static fiction with some cool multimedia bells & whistles. The constant playing of "We shal overcome" during the punctuation protest irritates me, I just wanted to call in the riot cops.... Receives a 6 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

You Are Here (URHere.z5)
Rating: 6

An advertisement for an up-and-coming "multimedia theatre production"... cleverly disguised as a cliche-ridden text adventure! Some mildly humorous bits, including referances to MUDding and an amusing sidekick, lift this a cut above the average, earning it a 6 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. But watch that debug mode...

Fusillade (fusillad.gam)
Rating: 7

High-concept piece which has you jumping from jumping repeatedly from one off-the-wall scenerio to the next. Although there is a point to this, it's only revealed in bits and pieces, and the rest is suppossed to be divined from examination of recurring elements. Unfortunately, although the seperate scenerios are well-realized and the MIDI adds tremendously to the feel, the constant jumping around leaves the player unable to get a grip on what's going on, leaving the game instead confusing. The idea also gets rather old quickly, there are just too many scenerios to work through, and it becomes tiring. Good idea, not great execution. Still worth playing, because the overall atmosphere comes through splendidly. Recieves an 7 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

The Coast House (coast.gam)
Rating: 4 You return to your grandfather's old home to find some legacy from your dead grandmother. Short, simple game that incongruously ends with you desecrating your grandma's grave for mostly selfish reasons. Notable for creating the atmosphere of a dying fisherman's town, but not much else of significance. Receives a 4 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

No Time To Squeal (ntts.gam)
Rating: 9 I don't normally take note of the authors of Comp game, but this time they caught my eye- Mike Sousa and Robb Sherwin. Now *there's* an interesting pair. Sousa is reasonably well-known as the author of last Comp's At Wit's End, and Sherwin is known for his... err... unique narrative style. What these two have produced is... odd, to say the least. During the first half of the game, you're jumping back and forth between several scenerios. While I criticised this in both Fusillade and All Roads, here it's done right. The first scene introduces you to all the characters you'll meet in the subsequent ones, and it soon becomes apparent that they're all centered around one crucial event. Thus, it's easy for the player to keep the story in focus. The second half has you marching through a bizarre and gory reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, which ties into the first half eventually. Considering the widely differing natures of the subject matter, and a whole sequence near the end that is more or less superfluous, Squeal holds up remarkably well, and the atmosphere is broken only by the puzzles in the second half, which require some measure of UNDOing. The abuse of metacommands in the first half is also a no-no. Still, it's enthralling as a story, and especially effective is a climactic chase scene that slowly elevates the tension in a way few works of IF are able to pull off. Recieves a 9 out of 10 from Lord Craxton. Good job! ^_^

Jump (jump.z5)
Rating: 2

Short piece about teen suicide. Tragic in a way, but not tear-jerking. Also extremely limited, and sparse with details. Given the subject matter, it's surprising how little is done with it. Recieves a 2 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

Schroedinger's Cat (schroed.z5)
Rating: 5

Appears to be a simulation of scientific deduction and theorizing. Given an infinite space full of various unexplained phenomenom, your objective is to figure it all out. The trick is, there's no bells and whistles when you do, in fact there's no way of knowing if you have, except that you'll be able to predict the consequences of your actions. Bizarre and too abstract for me, but others might find it interesting. Recieves a 5 out of 10 from Lord Craxton.

This article copyright © 2001, Craxton

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