Posted 16 November 2001 to rec.games.int-fiction
This was my first year of actively rating games for the comp, and I didn't get as many done as I'd like. My free time disappeared for half of the judging period. I thought I'd go ahead and post a few brief comments on the ones I got to, before I read the other reviews and get my opinions swayed. :)
When playing, I sorted games into simple Excellent/Average/Below Average categories, and assigned points later. I'll just give the categories here.
Games are in the order I played them.
Best of Three [Excellent]
Off to a good start :) I enjoyed this piece quite a bit. The characters were interesting, the backstory and situation were intriguing, and the writing style was solid. I haven't played the previous "conversation" game mentioned in the initial instructions, so I found this approach to be fresh and fun. The approach worked incredibly well in conjunction with the standard parser and the "T" command that put the topics of discussion somewhat in the player's control.
Mild complaint: The conversation got a bit stale toward the end. I would've liked to have a few more options available once the topics got around to 3Nigma, since this backstory was the most interesting element of the game for me.
All Roads [Average]
This game had an interesting concept, but was ultimately flawed. Personally, I found the backward-story conceit a bit too.gimmicky? I was drawn in at first, but once I figured out what was happening, the game lost a lot of its appeal. It went from seeming intriguing to seeming deliberately convoluted and confusing. I finished the game by taking the obvious "next step" at each turning point, but I didn't have any clear idea of what exactly was accomplished.
The Coast House [Below Average]
There's little of note to this game. It is a simple "Pick up everything that isn't nailed down, then use each item exactly once to solve exactly one puzzle." game. The game-world felt very stagnant and oddly claustrophobic. I don't know whether this was intended (in which case, bravo :) ) or not, but it didn't pull me in, either way.
Vicious Cycles [Excellent]
Neat game. Unlike All Roads the gimmick in this game didn't feel gimmicky. It provided a means to the end and fit seamlessly into the futuristic world presented. I was given enough information to figure out what was going on early enough that I didn't get frustrated, and the solution to the bomb when I achieved it the first time through really felt like an accomplishment because the world was painted with enough color to feel real and suspend my disbelief.
A hearty bravo for the concept. It was a fun exploration of multiple viewpoints. The puzzles themselves are pretty much standard fare, but the necessity to tackle them different ways really worked. Kudos for creating a world that felt like it had real people in it. It would be exceedingly cool to do a larger game like this, except have the characters working within the same timeline.a party atmosphere where the player can grab control of whichever character suits the situation at hand. There was a sense of disappointment each time I switched to a new character and the world had reset itself.
Volcano Isle [Average]
This is a boring old-school IF with no real motivation for the player to succeed beyond the need to play enough to give an honest score. The explore-and-collect-stuff motif just doesn't work when you don't have the wonder of exploring the Underground Empire to help things along. And the problem is even more hampered by the (yippee) uninhabited island setting. I ranked it as average because there wasn't anything terribly wrong and it had more meat to it than some, but overall, I was bored.
Kallisti [Below Average]
Ummmm.I don't get it. Well, ok, the first part I get. I don't *like* it much, but I get it. It felt like just a hunt-and-peck to find words that the game/npc understood. I'm still not quite sure what I did to get to the next "base". Not enough feedback for the player, imo. But for the game overall, the author seemed to be aiming for something deeper than just a simple psycho-stalker seduction sequence, and whatever deeper meaning there was went right over my head.
Journey from an Islet [Excellent]
Another "desert island" game that is helped big-time by the writing style (and illustrations :) ) used by the author. Unlike similar games where the settings feel like a barrage of randomly generated place names with vague, sparsely described surroundings, this deserted island felt truly alive. Not just because of the charming NPC's (I want a sweet little sheep in all my IF from now on!), but the descriptions and attention to detail. The collapse of the hut door that does nothing (that I noticed) except introduce a sense of movement and sound (and surprise) to the scene, the "oops" moment when the gold band I just picked up turns out to be a snake, etc. Overall, the game loses points for simply being a bit too small, with nothing terribly noteworthy as far as gameplay goes, but it's definitely a charming gem that will stay with me for a while.
Mystery Manor [Below Average]
This game might've ranked a closer to average except for a few technical irritations that significantly affected my enjoyment and ability to play the game. I'm not sure how much of these items are due to quirks in the Adrift engine, but ultimately, the game suffered for them. The biggest problem I had was the game of "Guess the Noun" I found myself playing. Example:
>x laundry soap
The box is blue and red.
I suppose the auto-complete feature should have clued me in that the first two options weren't valid, but I found in other spots that that feature wasn't always reliable. (And, just for the record, I absolutely hate the "Nothing Special" response. If the game doesn't understand a word, it should tell me it doesn't understand. Otherwise I'm left to give up on a particular tack because, after all, there's "nothing special" where I'm looking.)
Another bug that stopped me for a good long while:
Blah Blah Blah.something interesting happens.blah blah blah
Decidedly unfair when the "x" verb works in most other instances. (And, it's worth saying again, the "Nothing Special" response sucks!)
Prized Possesion [Average]
I liked the premise of this game a lot. The "talk" format was cool, and the multiple potential endings that weren't just "You have died." made for a nice sense of realism. My main gripe is that I felt a little too railroaded. I'd love to see this story implemented into a larger game that left room for more depth and multiple paths to a happy ending. As it was, I came out feeling like I was playing a CYOA-style game.each choice was either successful, or led to instant "death" (or a fate worse than death, anyway, for Alys. :))
The Beetmonger's Journal [Average]
A nicely realized setting and story, with some nice puzzles and fairly immersive environment. The score on this one is coming from simple gut instinct. I can't cite any particular flaws, but it didn't pack any sort of wollop that made me want to place it higher.
Surreal [Below Average]
Overly simple with just random wandering through a series of rooms and a couple very obvious puzzles. I'm not psychoanalyzing my reaction to this one. The game may have achieved it's goal of being surreal (in a "I have no idea what the point of all this is." kind of way), but that's not necessarily a good thing.
Goofy [Below Average]
I did not get past the plastic maze puzzle. I wasn't getting enough feedback on my attempts to solve it, and was getting "just another random series of puzzles" vibe from the game, so gave up after an hour. WAS there any way to anticipate the mouse's moves?
Film at Eleven [Average]
This was an enjoyable game with traditional game play and some shining moments. I liked the emphasis on people-stuff, and that the game allowed the user to try things that usually would get poo-poo'd before attempting. (Specifically, trying to seduce Jack or the Mayor as a means to the story. )
You Were Doomed from the Start [Below-Below Average]
I'm really curious what the author was looking to accomplish by entering this in the comp. There's no game here, and even if you figure that the mindset was something like: "Look at how cool I am for making my own IF from scratch." it still fails to achieve its goal.
This article copyright © 2001, Jen Skripac