Posted 16 November 2004 to rec.games.int-fictionFrom: "Lord Craxton"
People will probably be saying that this was a mediocre year for the comp. If memory serves, people have been saying that for the past three or four years. I'm in no position to venture an opinion on that, having been away from IF for the past two comps, but overall, I found a lot to be encouraged about this year. While it's true that there was very little in the way of innovative, boundary-pushing IF this year, I don't think that this is a big deal. Indeed, it occurred to me back when people started trying to make zero-room games that we may have reached the limitation of what can be done in IF that is new and different. This does not mean that there aren't a lot of great works still waiting to be written, but it does mean that from now on games are going to win or lose the comp on more traditional merits- strong writing, involving gameplay, solid design. And in these catagories, Comp04 was at least above average. I gave away no tens this year (Trading Punches and Blue Chairs came close), but I did give away large numbers of sevens and eights, and comparatively fewer numbers of ones and twos. There was a noted dropoff in half-assed productions, glorified coding exercises, and postmodern drivel, and a corresponding increase in well-designed, well-implemented games. That's not to say all the good games were perfect, there are always flaws. But the authors seemed to be trying hard this year, and I had a good time with most of the games I played. I am hopeful that the trend will continue next year.
In short, I'm sure people will find things to complain about, but I had fun. And to me, that's most important.
The last time I submitted Comp reviews, I'm afraid I embarrassed myself somewhat, with overlong, overwritten reviews that trod the same ground repeatedly, exposed exactly how little I really knew about IF, and made me look like a pompous ass. This year I decided that brevity is the better part of wisdom, and thus will be keeping these short. I'll try and compensate by being more active in the post-Comp discussions, but no guarentees- between school and a full-time job, my schedule is kind of cramped nowadays. Nevertheless, I know authors are feedback junkies and will do my best to satisfy their cravings.
So, without further ado, here are the games and ratings, in the order I played them:
_2_: Ninja v1.30 (ninja/ninja.exe)
Competant parser, which surprised me in a homebrew game. Unfortunately, the game itself is little more then a tech demo.
_4_: The Big Scoop (scoop/scoop.z5)
Forgettable. I'd like to be able to say more but... I... uh... forgot how I felt about this game. ^_^;;;;;
_5_: The Realm (realm/realm.gam)
Nothing much happened in this game. Just kinda wandered around and got peed on by a hamster.
_9_: Trading Punches (trading/trading.hex)
I started off liking this a lot. But the drinking puzzle was unnecessarily convoluted (The answer is easy, but the solution is tedious.) Then I get dropped into a bare landscape, wandered around for a while, and ran out of time. Disappointing, but the music was good and the writing was really good, so I'll give this the benefit of the doubt. I expect it to do well; good writing and puzzles that are a bit too hard for me personally seem to be what IFComp likes.
_8_: Square Circle (squarecircle/squarecircle.t3)
I had trouble getting into this, but it grew on me after a while. Didn't manage to finish it. The hints need work- unless they give away the answer, they're too vague to be of much use.
_4_: Zero One (01/01.acd)
_7_: All Things Devours (devours/devours.z5)
A clever little puzzle. The implementation is well done, which must have been difficult considering all the stuff to keep track of. I managaed to get the best ending after a few tries.
_1_: PTBAD 3 (ptbad3/ptbad3.gam)
I just do not get this game at all. That, or there's nothing really to get about it.
_4_: Redeye (redeye/redeye.gam)
No points for making the command line text the same color as the background. Other then that, a respectable effort, darkly humorous in places, but extremely railed and not especially remarkable.
_7_: Luminous Horizon (eas3/eas3.blb)
A good game, but this series has never really been my cup of tea. Nice drawing on the feelies, though. The ending is a little anticlimactic.
_5_: Kurusu City (kurusu/kurusu.gam)
This wasn't a bad game by any means, but my attention kept wandering. Possibly this was do to the generally empty feeling of the game. The world is mostly terse descriptions and the goal is vague. More fleshing-out might help.
_4_: Die Vollkommene Masse (diemasse/diemasse.gam)
Lot of empty space here, too. It was competantly written, but didn't really grab me. I couldn't figure out what I was suppossed to be doing. Then I went to the walkthrough for the solution to the doll puzzle and it didn't work. After that I gave up. Sorry. This was later withdrawn from the competition, which was a shame. It wasn't great, but it wasn't the worst game of the comp by far. Oh, and two sets of stairs are superfluous.
_8_: Gamlet (gamlet/gamlet.z5)
My first reaction to this was a roll of the eyes. A yiddish Hamlet? Lowbrow humor in the opening was also discouraging. In the end, though, this showed some potential. Good writing and a detailed world. Nearly everything you try returns a helpful response. Unfortunately, the puzzles were a bit too tough for me and I never mangaed to get out of the study. Still, it kept me occupied for the entire two hours, certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
_5_: Mingsheng (mingsheng/mingsheng.z5)
Not bad, but nothing special.
_N/A_: Getting Back To Sleep (exige/exige.exe)
Couldn't get this to work.
_4_: The Orion Agenda (orion/orion.z5)
This is another one where my attention kept wandering. I didn't get a good idea of what the alien culture was suppossed to be like, or how advanced it was. Rebecca didn't have a lot of depth as an npc. IS fiber deficiancy potentially deadly? The plot just doesn't make any sense.
_4_: Zero (zero/zero.gam)
Not a half-bad idea, but frankly I've had enough hunger time limits to last me a lifetime. Objects not mentioned in the room descriptions don't help either.
_4_: Murder at the Aero Club (aeroclub/aeroclub.z5)
Meh. The accusation is made on rather circumstantial evidence, and the climax is weak.
_3_: Stack Overflow (stack/stack.z5)
This was okay to start, but I started losing patience with it after an unimplemented exit left me stranded. I'm no expert, being that I suck at puzzles generally, but the puzzles here seemed badly clued. I resorted to the walkthrough several times, each time thinking "How was I suppossed to figure THAT out?" The plot is random and makes no sense.
_4_: Who Created That Monster? (whocreated/whocreated.gam)
Meh. What is this suppossed to be, an interactive political cartoon or somesuch? Whatever... I finished it, but it was pretty unremarkable.
_6_: A Day In The Life Of A Super Hero (hero/hero.taf)
This was funny. I laughed a few times. The clues need work, though... they need to be better organized and go farther then they do. But maybe that's just me, I suck at puzzles. Some bugs and ADRIFT quirks also hold this back. I didn't get through the end.
_7_: Typo (typo/typo.z5)
Another tech demo, I presume, but at least this one includes a game. The game isn't half bad either, for what it is. Short and simple.
_9_: Splashdown (splashdown/splashdown.z5)
I liked this a lot. Challenging without being frustrating, and the hints are comprehensive. The messages in the computer were priceless.
_3_: Bellclap (bellclap/bellclap.z5)
An interesting idea, executed from an interesting perspective. Unfortunately, the required actions and phrasings are far from obvious, and sometimes don't even work. I wound up playing this from the walkthrough.
_5_: Magocracy (magocracy/magocracy.gam)
More like an RPG then IF, really. It's obvious that someone put a great deal of effort into this, but I really can't say I liked it. There's no substance to it beyond simple hack-n-slash action, and skillful use of UNDO trivializes even that. I beat everyone, then couldn't find the treasury. Points for effort, though.
Around this point comp fatigue started to set in, and I found myself growing impatient and easily frustrated. As a result, the reviews that follow are a bit harsher then I would have liked, and the games below may have fared better if I had played them earlier. What can I say? I feel what I feel.
_4_: Identity (identity/identity.z5)
Competent written, with no bugs, but unremarkable. Nothing especially interesting happens in this game either. How in the heck am I suppossed to solve the radio puzzle without knowing which jumper is which?
_6_: Sting of the Wasp (wasp/wasp.z5)
Hmm... Now I'm playing a rich bitch. Authorial laziness seems to have screwed up the description of Outside Dining (by the pro shop). It's just a xerox of Outside Dining (by the kitchen), and not accurate for the new location. Tsk, tsk, tsk. That, plus a few inscrutable puzzles and very unclear goals, put me off this. Also, things change without warning, such as items appearing in your inventory or the pilates class in the spa. A good idea, and pretty well written, but minor difficulties screw it up. I dunno... I feel like, somehow, I'm not giving this game a fair shake, but it really didn't appeal to me. Maybe I just wasn't meant to be a rich bitch...
_9_: Blue Chairs (bluechairs/bluechairs.z5)
Some excellent visual effects in the introduction. First the good: I started on this about a half-hour before Farscape, and wound up playing it through the commercials and on to late at night. That says a lot, I think. Very trippy, with a surreal kind of logic to it, getting weirder as it goes and yet staying consistant. Now the bad: My patience started wearing very thin at the darkened passages. I hate wandering through empty areas, moreso when I have to wander around them repeatedly. At one point I got miffed and quit without saving. When I came back I couldn't get past the dance floor- apparently that puzzle has a strong random element, meaning even if you know the answer you may have to restore a few times to make it work, an authorial faux pas. So, high marks for writing and atmosphere, but points docked for design slipups. Still one of the best games of the comp.
_3_: Order (order00/order00.z5)
The game's central gimmick mostly degrades into guess-the-noun. The game also feels hollow- lots of unimplemented objects and superfluous rooms. I gave up after the hints pointed me to a steeple that, judging from the room descriptions, doesn't exist.
_3_: A Light's Tale (lighttale/lighttale.gam)
This game rubbed me the wrong way from the get-go. The narrator (and possibly the author) has an attitude problem, and the plot is essentially a mostly linear sequence of random, disconnected events. I gave up when I couldn't stop the bouncer from killing me.
_2_: Blink (blink/blink.z5)
An attempted tearjerker that just doesn't work. I hate to be mean, but I really can't think of anything that this game does right. The writing is terse and holds no emotion, the story is essentially completely static, and the subject matter is overly familiar. Better writing and/or more involvement on the player's end would have been needed to pull this off.
_2_: Goose, Egg, Badger (geb/geb.z5)
This game also rubbed me the wrong way. The room descriptions repeatedly leave out important bits of information. Inventory limits are out of style. After half an hour playing, I have only the vaguest idea what to do, and the hints are little help. Even the walkthrough doesn't help make sense of anything, and it doesn't work either. I gave up on this fairly early.
_3_: Ruined Robots (ruinedrobots/ruinedrobots.gam)
This one put me off considerably, with a hunger timer and some rather slipshod implementation. Doors will be locked, but not block your progress. Exits will be unmentioned. I tried playing by the walkthrough, but I didn't understand what was going on. I have a feeling this will be Comp04's official beta-testing whipping boy.
_6_: Blue Sky (bluesky/bluesky.z5)
Short and simple game with a plot that's really just an excuse to recreate a piece of the city of Santa Fe in IF form. I wouldn't be surprised if it was funded by the Santa Fe chamber of commerce. As a recreation, it's only so-so- not a lot of detail in the descriptions. As a game it works, largely because it doesn't overstay it's welcome.
_4_: Chronicle Play Torn (torn/torn.z5)
This game, however, did overstay it's welcome. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't very involving, I got bored with it quick. It also tried to pack a lot of plot into comparatively little space. It should have been bigger and more fleshed-out, maybe a full-length game or a trilogy of comp games. Hmm, did I just criticize this game as being both too long and too short? So I did. Erm... moving on...
_4_: Escape from Auriga (escape/escape.z5)
This game was DQed, but I decided to take a crack at it anyway. I can see why it was DQed- it plaigerizes the Alien movies pretty shamelessly. Several bugs and typos in this one, I didn't hit anything serious but it was annoying. Overall, nothing really impressive here.
_5_: I Must Play (imustplay/imustplay.t3)
Maybe it's the comp fatigue talking, but this game wasn't very funny. Put together well enough, if a bit simplistically, but, meh...
_3_: The Great Xavio (greatxavio/greatxavio.z5)
Again, if you're going to build a game around interactions with an NPC, make sure that NPC has a reasonable amount of stuff to say. I didn't find the hints until I asked for the walkthrough. It didn't occur to me to ask about HELP, and THINK isn't a standard verb either. Plus, neither of the options seems to return anything remotely usable. I wound up playing from the walkthrough. How the hell am I suppossed to know to ask the concierge for a paperclip? Or to search the fog?
This article copyright © 2004, Lord Craxton