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Jonadab's Comp04 Playnotes

by Nathan Eady

Posted 19 November 2004 to

These will mostly be of interest to the authors, but I'm posting them here on the grounds that this is where most of the discussion about the games is taking place. These are notes that I took while playing the games; there are some opinions expressed herein that have since changed, due to playing more of the games or due to other factors. (For example, I rated Gamlet after two hours of play, being about one puzzle shy of finding the chamber, after which point the quality drops off sharply. It drops off sharply again once you find the book. If I had finished it, I would have rated it substantially lower.)

One other thing: I don't have a real newsfeed anymore; I'll check back via Google for responses over the next few days (and am specifically interested in discussing why I deviated so far from the mean score for Blue Chairs), but after that email me if you want a response, and put the phrase "Interactive Fiction" in the subject to avoid getting lost in the spam.

So take these notes cum shakero salis, but here they are, in the order in which I played the games...

Playing/Judging Notes for IFComp04,
Jonadab the Unsightly One <>
(If you contact me by mail, put IFComp04 or Interactive Fiction in the subject line. I get a lot of mail, and if it lands in my unsorted inbox I could be a long time getting around to it. If you label it with one of those things in the subject header, it will get sorted into a folder where I will see it much sooner.)

I used Comp04.z5 to order and rate the games, but I took notes also, which are below and may be of interest, especially to the authors. Yes, I'm a tough judge, but I'm tough on everybody -- to get a 10, you've got to rise to the standard of truly great comp games of the past, such as The Meteor, The Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet. Conscious of the fact that I may rate tougher than others, I made sure to rate as many of the games as possible, so as not to unbalance the results.

1. Blue Chairs

"Green like candy almost never is" sounds like something out of the Bulwer-Lytton. Then it hits me straight up with copious gratuitous profanity and obvious typos like "the the". This one better improve fast if it wants two hours out of me.

Okay, so I drink the stuff and head for the dream, which had better be an improvement on the framework story... The slovenly grammar is getting to me.

Neat trick with trying to speak... The execrable grammar is getting to me, and there had better be a plot soon.

"It's a regular old hallway with blank off-white walls. Undoubtedly you'll forget all about this one in a couple days -- isn't that sort of sad? Then again, it's just a hallway, one of thousands, one of millions of moments your brain will eventually discard as unimportant." That probably sounds deep if you've been drinking pale green liquid out of a cough syrup bottle... but at this point I'm going to bail. This game scores two points, one for managing to hold my interest for upwards of five minutes, and one for having a good parser.

2. Redeye [waiting for interpreter to download]

3. Who Created That Monster [waiting for interpreter download]

4. Orion Agenda:

Gratuitous attempt to use the first person, which seldom works well in IF. This immediately promises to be substantially more literate than Blue Chairs, however.

The first puzzle is easy enough to stumble through, but satisfying to complete, in that it wasn't entirely obvious. The prose is helping.

There is a page for me coming over the PA: "Captain Stark. Captain Jon Stark. Please report to the General's office at once. Thank you."
>report to the general's office
[That's not a verb I recognise.]

*sigh* It was worth a shot.

"reading what looks to be an Orionion bible" is awkward. I think it's the word "Orionion" that's awkward. Orionite or Orionese or even Orioner would be less awkward, IMHO.

Ah, the terminal reveals that this one definitely has plot enough to consume my two hours. The second puzzle is also satisfyingly straightforward, once I explored the station's locations and looked up the obvious suspects in the terminal. And I got to "take the case", heh.

The shuttle bay has what I think is an unintended puzzle, due to there being no mention of the shuttles' presense in the room description.

Argh. The manual says to know my partner's capabilities and use them. She's a linguist. But I can't put the translator on her, or put it in her ear, and if I give it to her, she says she'll hold it. If I tell her to wear it, she doesn't think that will help. If I ask her about language, she's perplexed. Either the terminal was full of balogna about her linguistics background, or there's some serious oversight going on here. I'm docking the game a point for this one.

It's a shame I didn't have the foresight to bring grapefruit juice from the cafeteria. I don't think the tea is going to cut it.

Well, I just about managed to get out of the village, and I'm out of time. This game could have scored eight or nine, except for a few oversights, the worst being the aforementioned translator/partner thing. Also the priest wasn't blessed by the gods with knowledge about half the objects in the temple, some of the religious topics he mentioned, or anything in the garden. And the plants in the garden aren't organic. And the final piece of the Skill puzzle suffered from a mild guess-the-verb problem (though the hints cleared it up -- with different wording, the solution I'd already tried worked). Still, a good game, seven points despite the fact I didn't finish in two hours, and giving this game seven makes me feel all stingy and miserly.

2. Redeye:

One point right off the bat for an interesting setting. "I don't know the word xxx", where xxx can be most of the objects mentioned in the scene description, however, is not an encouraging sign.

And when I find Arthur, I seem to have guess-the-verb problems communicating with him. Or else he just isn't very communicative.

Ah, disambiguation fun: "Which urinal do you mean, the toilet, or the toilet?"

Hmmm... I think the reason I couldn't talk to Arthur is, it would have screwed up the plot. I don't really care for strictly-linear plots in IF; I'd read a book if I wanted that.

"I don't know the word constable." "I don't know the word Phillips." Nothing is implemented in this game. I'm done.

One point for the setting in the initial scene, and one point for holding my interest past five minutes, and a third point for the potential I sense probably lies under the surface, if the author would just finish implementing it. Three points, and I feel very generous.

3. Who Created That Monster:

Lose one point for having floating surveillance spheres in an unrealistically soon year. The setting worries me, but I'll withhold judgement on that momentarily and see where the author goes with it.

The memo is hokey beyond all reason. This had better get better fast.


The terrorist blocks your way.
The terrorist seems to be getting angrier.

Oh, that kind of game. No thanks.
One point because the grammar was okay.

5. The Sting of the Wasp:

The blurb at the intro assures me the first scene does not set the tone for the whole game.

Oh, the plot is simple enough -- in theory. There's potential there. Mrs. Stratham seems to be well implemented; that's a good sign.

All the NPCs are decently implemented, actually -- but the focus of the game seems to center mainly around unpleasant gossip, and so I'm going to pass on the remainder of it. Three points: one for holding my interest past five minutes, one for decent prose, and one for the well-implemented (if largely unpleasant) NPCs.

6. Typo:

As I examine the parts of the machine, I catch myself remembering that I'm being watched. Not sure how the author accomplished that. One point just for that.

I found a bizarre scoping bug:

>l it up in the manual
You can't see "it" (the blue switch) at the moment.
>l up blue switch in manual
"The blue switch engages and disengages the order processing subsystem."

This doesn't impact gameplay much, really, but it's sure weird. Perhaps the worse bug is that I can't find any way to look up the order processing subsystem, even though looking up subsystem tells me there are four matching entries, listing that one and three others.

Attempts to put anything in the empty slot result in "you have to be more specific". Apparently the slot is not implemented.

Interesting death messages.

Cannot disconnect the hoses once connected. Restarting... twice...

Too frustrating. The constant need to type out lengthy commands with lots of adjectives is getting old. The bug that prevents me from using "it" when switching back and forth between looking things up in the manual and examining or manipulating them exacerbates this effect, but needing to constantly refer to the "blue switch" or "yellow light" because neither "blue" nor "light" is enough information, and similarly with any number of other pieces of the machine...

I played this one for a full hour and have solved a number of minor puzzles, but at this point I'm going to bail, due to the technical problems. It's not the game's concept at fault here, mostly just technical issues that could probably be worked out in a future version. Two points for holding my interest for a full hour, one point for the interesting concept, one point for the cool death messages, and the aforementioned point for making me feel observed, a clear and obvious case of involving the reader in the story. Five points, and with some fixing up here and there this game definitely has the potential be a six or seven, maybe better, depending on how the rest of it goes that I didn't get to.

7. Murder at the Aero Club:

I admit, the title biased me slightly against this one, and I shouldn't let the title influence me. I'll withhold judgement and play it, but it had better not be what it sounds like...

Past 40 Celsius, yeesh, I don't even like imagining that.

Unimplemented objects in the workshop, but score a point for motivating me to look something up on the internet, even though I really didn't need to know to play the game. (It took me about six searches and weeding through fifty irrelevant possibilities to find the correct ASAC, but nevermind.)

The inspection proves to be mostly undifficult. The notebook is a handy timesaver.

I can't examine his tie? That's not right. I want to know what colour of tie he was wearing. Can't turn over the corpse either, or see the wound. The author needs to pay more attention to detail. The office has neither desk nor filing cabinet. Oh, and the trivial parse_name routine needed for Haagen (so you can call him Haagen Das if you like without any ambiguity) is absent.

Oh, and speaking of flat static characters...

Had to consult walkthrough to find the stupid battery. Only significant puzzle so far, and it was a matter of which unobvious place to search.

Oh, and getting into the aircraft to talk to the occupant was less than altogether obvious; add_to_scope would have seemed appropriate here.

Okay, two points for holding my interest pass an hour, but it forfeits the extra point for completion because I had to consult the walkthrough, as there were no in-game hints, so near as I could determine. One aforementioned point for getting me to look something up, and a point for being mostly not too hard, but forfeit the atmosphere point for having too many unimplemented details, something that ought to be worked out for a rerelease. One point because the two most obvious suspects didn't do it, that makes four, which isn't as bad as it sounds, coming from a nitpicking curmudgeon such as myself, and working in a genre I don't really care for that much.

8. Zero:

I'm reading lame prose in the preface, a broken idiom in the prologue, lousy grammar, and serious punctuation issues, and we haven't even got to the introduction yet.

OTOH, the goblins aren't the bad guys, so maybe we're outside the box here.

Then again, when I start doing things, I get some incredibly lame stock responses, such as, "Okay, you're no longer in the throne". This had better improve fast.

And we're wandering around in caves and halls that somehow manage to lack any atmosphere, despite each having a distinct object (albeit, mostly ones you cannot interact with in any meaningful way). I've seen enough here.

One point for thinking outside the box, and a second point for (just barely) holding my interest past five minutes. Two.

9. PTBAD 3:

I'm seeing gratuitous tense shifting in the opening paragraph...

There are many short sentences. They are simple sentences. They have only one verb each.

There is no point to this game, but it gets one anyway because that's the minimum I'm allowed to give.

10. Ninja:

I can't x the shrine. I can't use the pronoun "it". Inside eight moves I'm getting very tired of reading "You cannot do that." Lose three points because there is no polite word I can use to describe the parser.

The prose is mostly oversimplistic, but occasional almost-literary words such as "nary" rescue it from losing a point.

The game does not bother to explain why I must reach the shrine of the Evil One. Lousy parser, mediocre prose, and no plot...

One point for "nary".

11. Stack:

The grammar in the opening paragraph is not impressing me.

The opening scene looked to be a tedious slapstick of what-else-can-go-wrong pain, but, mercifully, that ended quickly.

I can't sit or stand on the table? What gives?

Well, that was straightforward enough, and gives me some idea what the game is about. This topic has been done to death in IF by now, but I'll hang on and see if the author does anything new with it.

The second puzzle is harder, but now I have room to wander.

Trying to fill the helmet with the liquid results in "But there's no water here to carry". If I can't use it to carry the liquid, it should be for a good reason, such as because it's permanently attached to the suit at the neck.

Also, I can't do obvious things with the rubber strip, such as tie it to myself or anything else, or wrap it around the gyroscope and pull to start the thing. At this point I resorted to the hints.

There's a discontinuity in the pronoun "it" where the author used a second object for the barrel. You're supposed to update itobj in these situations so the player doesn't notice.

Had to resort to the walkthrough to get the keycard.

When I tried to show the manual to the nurse, I got a dialog box from WinFrotz (yes, I'm playing the competition games on a Windows system; no, that's not my regular system), "fatal, illegal object". Strange.

Okay, two points for holding my interest for a full hour, but forfeit the extra point for completion because I had to resort to the walkthrough, and because due to the crash I didn't actually finish (though I'm sure I was quite close). One point because the station had some interesting stuff to interact with, and one more for working in-game hints that got me through several tight spots. That's four points, which isn't as bad as it sounds coming from a nitpicking curmudgeon such as myself who started this game out thinking "this concept has been done to death".

12. The Realm:

What is it with waking up drunk or hung over? Did someone announce that as the competition theme for this year and not everyone realised they were joking?

The parser doesn't grok personal pronouns. I thought TADS could do better than that. Oh, and I have a trousers.

The writing in the room descriptions is decent (mostly), but actual objects are simple to the point of feeling like tokens and are spread very sparsely around the map. The NPCs, though numerous, do not seem very communicative; neither are they very active.

And the game is getting tiresome. It's not that it's bad, it just... isn't intriguing. I don't find myself wondering where it's going; I pretty much know where it's going, and roughly how it's going to get there, except for the minutia.

So, one point for the decent writing, one point for being the only wake-up-drunk game so far that didn't inundate me with a deluge of superfluous profanity out the wazoo in the first scene, and the point for holding my interest past five minutes, that makes three.

13. Gamlet:

Oh, I wonder where the name of the game came from</sarcasm>

Where on earth is Pudlo, and why are Hebrew names mixed into a British story? I want to know where the author is going with this.

Okay, Ewww.

The prose is good, though, and the gameplay is smooth. Eight chances out of ten this was written by a well-known RAIF regular.

The author has done a good job of capturing the mind tricks insomnia and a dark empty house can play late at night, with the little noises and things.

Fruit before the meal, after I've just gorged myself on everything in the pantry, and nibbled a bit more of most of it for good measure? That message should have been altered.

I'm... stuck. I don't know how to enter the shaft (assuming that's the correct thing to do). I pray to the name for a sign, and nothing comes.

Why is a Hebrew religious book talking about factorials in terms of houses and stones? Why is it talking about factorials at all?

Upon closer inspection, I find the carriage, but I don't know how to get a light down there.

I'm now just about certain this was written by a well-known RAIF regular, and I've got a certain one in mind (though I could well be wrong about which). I ran out of time, but I didn't get anywhere substantial in the last fourty minutes or so. I liked the way the hint system was integrated with the game, but ultimately it fell short of helping me quite enough.

Okay, this game misses the point for completion, because I just couldn't find a way to get unstuck, and it misses another because the occasional Really Extraneous Gross Silly Thing (the method of the murder and the thing with the servant (and the boy is twelve?)) detracts substantially from the mood, IMO. Eight, and I'm being miserly with the points again.

14. The Big Scoop:

There sure are a lot of murder games this year. Oh, and (big surprise) I'm waking up drunk again. No points for originality on either count.

I hate time-based puzzles. All that restoring. Bleh.

The policeman sees me by looking out the window, when I'm inside a closed, pitch-dark wardrobe. Now, if the wardrobe were one of a couple hundred objects in a very complex game, that would be an understandable oversight, but here, if you discount the objects I can't actually interact with ("leave that mess for someone else"), the wardrobe is one of maybe three objects, so you would think an obvious use for it would have occured to the author. I didn't necessarily think I would fully evade the police by hiding in the wardrobe, but I certainly expected that at minimum the police would have to open the wardrobe in order to find me there. I got impatient after this gross oversight and used the hints to get past the first puzzle. (The hints were good, albeit not subtle.)

This had better get better fast now.

Great. The same muffled voice called again, with the SAME message about the police and the swat team. The first time when I found Brian, and again when I was in the alley. I checked my transcript, and there's a contiguous path. The author isn't even keeping track of what events have already happened.

The anonymous stranger asking how I feel and driving me to the hospital is *weird*. It's like the author just didn't want to implement the part of the game where I make my way home.

Oh, and I'm a different character now, so the author didn't need that dodge at all; he could have just cut the scene when I hit the street.

Someone in the company is stealing secret information? Wow, that's not generic or anything. I'm going to call this one now, as it's clear it's not going to improve much.

One point for holding my interest past five minutes, one point for successfully switching player characters without confusing me, and one point for more-or-less descent grammar. Three, and it earned all three of them cleanly; I'm not just being generous.

15. Luminous Horizon:

Good title. Let's see if the game can live up to it.

To stay in strict compliance with comp rules, I counted the time spent reading the Comic Feelie against my time limit (if it comes to that). In exchange, this game has the one point for holding my interest past five minutes pretty much in the bag, which seems like a fair bargain.

Okay, so, the actual game...

The damaged road sign appears to be in perfect working order already.

Hmmm... certain verbs that are almost always present but normally see very little use aside from frustrated players reading stock library messages are going to play a real role in this game.

Wow, violence against inanimate objects is more satisfying in this game than in most IF. Oh, and I like the way the hint system is integrated.

I'm not sure what to make of having the story broken up into short segments. I guess it fits with the comic motif, but it's distracting.

I like the little dialogs the evil villians have every time we accomplish anything useful. They're hokey, in a comic-book sort of way, but they're not like the sort of thing we usually see in IF, and I like them.

Also, the two-character thing is working.

Oh, and the prose is not bad. Terse and informal, but not bad.

I find it an odd coincidence that this is the second game with a yarmulke.

The dodging game is tedious. Tedious, and I had to restart once. I got it on the second try, though.

You know, this game was fairly sparse with the objects, and I didn't even notice until now. It didn't feel empty. I guess the action wasn't sparse.

Okay, this one gets two points for holding my interest past an hour, plus the extra point for full completion, a point for successfully pulling off two characters, a point for doing a genre that's NOT been done to death in IF already, a point for the well-integrated hint system, a point for significant use of verbs such as "jump", and a point for the satisfaction of breaking doors and stuff. That's... eight. Does this game deserve eight points? I feel a little generous, but I enjoyed the game, so I'll let it stand at eight.

16. Goose, Egg, Badger:

Well, it's certainly not what the title makes it sound like. (That's a good thing.)

The hint system seems lacking. Maybe it's just me, but it tells me what I already know, mostly.

Umm, my score goes down, and there's no clue why. Fullscore only tells me a number, no reasons. This game is interesting, but it's not polished.

Whee, indeed, but that accomplished what, exactly?

There must be an obvious answer to the duck, surely...

I have a dream of a brighter place, but... apparently not bright enough to make any kind of difference. Apart from the oil, I don't see anything I can do different.

Well, at 63 out of 100 points, it's clear I'm not going to finish this one before time runs out, and I'm frustrated, so I'm calling it now.

Two points for holding my interest past an hour (though it was a close thing on more than one occasion), one point for not being what I expected, and one for interesting writing in places. That's four, and I'm being magnanimous.

17. Blink:

Good room descriptions. Mostly good dialog, except that the PC often doesn't have very many options.

Shame about this (apparently) being Yet Another War is Bad Vietnam Thing. Despite having never seen that in IF before, I've had a bellyful of it elsewhere. (I could also be wrong about where this is headed, but I'd have to get further into the game to find that out.)

The description of the creek (where I first find it) doesn't tell me the direction of flow; nor can I "examine current". Also, the game doesn't think there is much to be achieved by climbing a tree. Ten to one the author grew up in a metropolitan area. He should have sought help writing this scene.

There's not enough water to swim in, although a river blocks my passage; I can't ford it, swim in it, jump over it, wade, ... I can't swim in the pond either, nor the creek -- but I can stand in the pond, surrounded by cattails, drop my rifle and radio, walk away, come back, and pick them up as if nothing happened. In a scene with only one actor, ten locations, and two portable objects, you'd think the author could think of the interactions.

I've tried the radio in every location, tried every possible direction (including up and down) from all the edge points of the map, have tried the obvious things with the pipe, and can get nowhere.

>shoot me
You wouldn't want anyone to be alerted to your presence.

No, if I'm going to shoot myself, I certainly wouldn't want to alert anyone that I'm here. I'm giving up on this scene, restarting, and hoping to get a different branch of play by choosing different dialog options...

Well, despite the help info, it doesn't seem possible to avoid that scene. I've tried pretty much every dialog option, including saying as little as possible. So I'm completely stuck, then. Yes, one bad scene can ruin an otherwise decent game, if the game is linear in nature.

One point for holding my interest past five minutes, one for good room descriptions, and one for mostly convincing dialog. Three points, take it or leave it.

18. Kurusu City:

Well, that's not the usual reason for playing hookey.

I don't know what to say about this one. I fiddled with it for an hour and a half, using the ROT13ed hints for the latter half of that time, and didn't get nearly as far as one would hope. I got as far as giving my id card to Annette, but I don't have anything else to help her fix it; the hints imply that I can get something from Masako, but there doesn't appear to be anything to get. I need to ask Wesley for something, but I have no idea what to ask her for, and no idea how to find out. I almost get the impression that there's background information I don't know related to the genre, or something.

Two points for holding my interest past an hour, one point for being in a genre that's not been done much in IF, and one point for more-or-less literate prose. Four. I probably would have rated it better if I'd been able to get further.

19. I Must Play:

The older boys must be better funded, quarter-wise, than is normal in my experience. No matter.

Interesting concept. But will it work as IF?

I'm not getting the thing with the orange one. I mean, I got the five points and everything, but I'm not sure what was going on. (Eventually, when it was the only one left, I used the hints.)

The less reputable parts. I'll have to remember that one.

These don't seem much like normal video games.

Frogger? Well, at least that resembles a real video game, albeit one from the era of my childhood. (Ironically, perhaps, I still remember the music from Frogger. I only actually got to play it one time for about two minutes, but I heard the music for an entire bus ride every day for several months, because one of the kids on the bus had one of the "tabletop" units.)

Okay no points for plot. The built-in hints were good, when they were needed, so a point for those. (I particularly liked having the boy give me hints, although as a character he fell flat in other ways.) Two points for holding my interest (barely) past an hour, plus the extra point for completion. One point for the interesting concept, which as far as I am aware has not been done before in IF. I'm not sure how well it worked, but it was worth experimenting with once. That's five, which is pretty good for a game with no plot, but hey, I feel benevolent this evening.

20. Getting Back to Sleep:

The readme says characters might talk to me or leave the room while I'm typing. I'm trying to figure out how that's a selling point, and I'm coming up empty. This game had better be a whole lot better than I anticipate.

A required .DLL file, MSSCOREE.DLL, was not found. Well, I'm not going DLL hunting to play a game whose main selling point is that stuff's going to happen while I'm trying to type. I'd be within my rights to rate it one point, but I'll be forgiving and merely not rate it at all. HTH.HAND.

21. A Light's Tale:

Another game featuring a featureless white cube? And then we quote According to John and The Matrix back-to-back, followed shortly by Lewis Carrol. At least the author didn't screw up the grammar in the John quote. Oh, !?!

This doesn't look like a safe place. It looks like the kind of place where shady characters would hang out.

For the author to describe the appearance of the place, and let me draw that conclusion on my own, would smack of writing talent.

One point because at least the pointless managerie of context-free quotes borrows from some worthwhile sources.

22. Mingsheng:

The premise is lame, but the writing seems okay.

Plus a point for implementing sensible responses to the out-of-the-norm things that I tried at the door.

And the door puzzle is not too hard, but for some reason less than satisfying, maybe because once you examine the right things it's too obvious.

This game feels fairly open, even though I think in practice it is largely linear. Maybe because always there are new locations to explore. I have the key.

I cannot tie the vine to the tree, or to me. Nor can I swing it, whip it, twirl it, or even untie it. I tried dropping the box in a wide assortment of locations and ultimately had to resort to the walkthrough for the solution to this one.

After that, nothing was very hard.

Two points for holding my interest past an hour, but the extra point for completion is forfeit because I had to resort to a walkthrough to get the box open, although several things I tried should have worked or at least had better responses (rather than making me think to try a slight variation on this, such as maybe another location, the responses instead lead me to believe I was barking completely up the wrong tree). However, the game won that point back on the door puzzle by implementing good responses to everything I tried. One point for good writing, particularly in the descriptions of objects and locations. One point for using a genre I've never personally seen before in IF, and making it work. Oh, and one point for giving the feeling of delay while watching the snake and the stork, without making me hit z several times; the way that was implemented was just right, if mildly unorthodox. That make six points, which seems fair.

23. Blue Sky:

Well, I can wander around and examine a lot of buildings... I sure hope the author doesn't think that because he grew up in Santa Fe that means I want to read about its landmarks the whole game long.

It's an open game, which I like, but for some reason it lacks atmosphere. It's not that the room descriptions are bad, no, they're okay. Maybe it's the lack of any significant number of objects, or the way the NPCs are basically unimplemented, or perhaps the stock messages (e.g., "There's a llama nearby.")

I don't know what it is, but the game is boring.

The map is funky. For example, from the nw corner of the plaza, going west and then back east lands me... north of the plaza, but I can't get back to the plaza by going south from there -- even though the room description implies I should be able to do so. From the se corner of the plaza, going east then nw causes similar weirdness. If this served some purpose in the game, or if the game explained why it was that way, then I could understand that, but as it stands it just feels like bad design. I'm getting lost, and that shouldn't be; I don't get lost; I didn't get lost playing Curses, and I never drew a map for the collossal cave adventure, even. This game is confusing me about where I am without even the courtesy of a decent reason. It reminds me of the closets in Detective.

Something had better happen soon, something more substantial than a fully scripted scene wherein I eat mexican food and my eyes water.

Okay, the solution to the Cathedral puzzle is lame. If there'd been any mimesis in this game, it would have completely withered to nothingness at this point.

Also at this point I know the entire plot of the game (and I'm a little surprised I didn't pick it up earlier; if I hadn't been so busy grousing about the lack of atmosphere, I probably would have), and it's A) repetitive, B) unoriginal and C) boring, so I'm playing no more of it.

One point for pretty good room descriptions, and the point for holding my interest past five minutes. That's two. The setting could make for an interesting game, but only with some plot added and some objects or real NPCs or something. Two points it is.

24. Order:

The opening dialog is, despite the cheesy premise, well written.

The ability to create is... well, let's just say it has the potential to make for a fun game. If it's implemented well.

A lot of things are unimplemented in this game. I can't see any such thing a lot of times.

To the west is a small castle... To the west is more open ground. Right.

The puzzles are all very easy.

I can't create salt, which seams obvious for fighting a slime beast. Oh, nevermind.

Throwing either of the objects I've created for the final puzzle does nothing; it turns out I just have to have them?

I do hate time-based puzzles.

Now, with the final monster, the problem I expected finally rears its head: there are dozens of things I might create to solve this puzzle, but none of them are implemented: fans, sails, a windmill, wings, birds (or a dragon...), calm or stillness, wind, a storm, earplugs (to stop the howling and screaming), a jet, an airplane, another wizard, shutters (for the windows on the steeple), ...

Oh, I got a stack underflow (i.e., WinFrotz crashed) when I created the sandbag. Is that normal? I'll try this again...

Okay, the crash was a fluke aparently.

For the horde of creatures, what I really want to create is a BFG9000. But I can't create that. Or fleas.

I can't seem to create diseases. Or pain. Shame, that.

Wow, one hour on the nose. I'll give it the two points for holding my interest for a full hour, but that was a close thing. It also gets the extra point for completion, plus a point for letting me create stuff, and a point for decent writing. I can't give it any points for plot, though, and too many things were unimplemented to give it points for technical quality. Five, then.

25. All Things Devours:

The intro makes this sound like a time-based puzzle. I sure hope that's an inaccurate misgiving... I hate time-based puzzles...

The buttons... a normal real-world solution to the "it needs to be down when I'm not here" problem is to set something on the button. But putting things on these buttons "would achieve nothing".

Oh, that's herring anyway (at least for now). Okay.

The premise is hokey beyond the bounds of all reason, like a bad ST:TOS episode. I get the distinct impression that the prototype probably looks like it's made from cardboard and spray paint -- or would if it weren't made purely from text. OTOH, the prose is pretty okay, nothing at all like the bad dialog in ST:TOS.

There's a switch, but "flip" isn't a verb I recognize.

Okay, I did what the intro said my plan was, but the catastrophe still occurred -- with no indication about why, or what went wrong. There were no integrated hints, so I had to go to the website. The epilogue, contrary to the first hint there, does *not* give any clue what went wrong; it is exactly the same as if I don't plant the bomb at all.

Some of the other hints don't even make sense, as if I haven't gotten far enough for them to make sense. It's true that there's quite a lot of this game I haven't explored... but if I try to explore any of it, my six minutes runs out pretty much immediately. I'm tired of restarting. Just when I start to get into the game, it's over and has to be restarted, so I never really get fully immersed in the game's world. This completely ruins the game for me.

At this point I debated going for the walkthrough, but honestly, I haven't even had a chance to explore the game. The author's probably going to get talked into releasing a version with the time limit bumped up several orders of magnitude, after the competition, so I think I'll wait for that, rather than spoiling it with the walkthrough.

One point for holding my interest past five minutes, plus the point for decent prose, and a bonus point because I fully intend to play this game again later, after the author fixes up some of the worse technical problems, such as the draconian time limit. That's three, which is about how many minutes I was able to go between restarts.

26. Identity:

The whole identity crisis thing in IF was innovative, back when Delusions was done...

When I x me, nothing is said about the compucom, though of course I found it by taking inventory. The first use for it was quite obvious.

Should I explore the craft? Get out immediately? I like that the game has me thinking along these lines... (Now, to figure out how to do any of those things...)

>take extinguisher

>extinguish fire
You try to put out the fire with your hands, but the fire is too hot.

Really, the game should be smarter than that. At least the wording to get it to do what I mean is obvious.

>open tubes
The cryotubes, although cracked, are still locked and cannot be opened.

>unlock tubes
You don't need to perform that action with the cracked cryotubes.

A better response than this is in order. When you tell the player that something is locked, he's going to try to unlock it. The other obvious thing (the way I got myself out) has no noticeable result.

In the pod, it would have been nice if the description mentioned the level of gravity. I wasn't entirely certain it hadn't launched into space, and I was hesitant to open the hatch.

Second game with a yak. Must be a coincidence. The yak does not appear to be motivated by perverse stubbornness.

>x jar
A small plastic jar with an air tight lid. The specimen jar is open and contains .

The yak utters a low guttural sound.

That should be "contains blue berries". Oh, and...

The yak nibbles at a few bits of grass on the ground.

>put berries on grass
You don't need to perform that action with the grass.

Yes, in fact, I do need to do that, or something equivalent.

I can see the reset of the village.

Personal pronouns don't work entirely properly.

Regarding the wiring of the radio: I could have figured out what the hints were telling me, but I was missing the information about which jumpers were what, due to not realizing that the panel and the interface board were separate objects, and I'd only examined the board. Eventually one of the hints mentioned something being written on the panel, which clued me in, but by that point I'd read some hints I really didn't need. Also, wiring up the radio is tedious.

I got the game in an unwinnable state (I think) because I used the pitcher of water before I realized what it was really for. (I thought getting it refilled would do the trick, but if there is a solution in this case, that isn't the whole deal.) Fortunately I'd saved right after putting the radio together.

The ending felt very abrupt, and terse, as if the author rushed it after spending most of his time on the rest of the game. The description of the journal also felt rushed. I would have liked to see his own words there.

Two points for holding my interest past an hour, plus the extra point for full completion. One point for pretty good writing in most parts, and one for a good hint system that got me past the couple of places I got stuck. Five points.

27. Bellclap:

Well, the style here is a bit innovative, with the intermediary and everything. I'm not sure if I like it or not. I think not so much, but I'm not certain yet...

Hmmm... things that don't work, may work on a second try in this game. And, things that don't work on a second try may yet work after something else is unsuccessfully tried.

While the player probably should have been warned of this, it seems to fit the mood of the game.

Inventory doesn't tell me what's in the bag. That's annoying, as taking proper inventory becomes a two-step process.

The in-game "hint" command only tells me what I already figured out (about repeating actions and stuff). Apparently carrying around a sheep carcass that's still spilling blood doesn't count as a way to stay one's course in low visibility. (I was thinking making a trail; apparently the author was thinking of staying the course like a ploughman does, by looking ahead at something.)

Most actions have sensible responses implemented. I entertained myself for a while, but ultimately I had to resort to the walkthrough.

And.. the walkthrough also doesn't contain enough information; both versions of it have me going w from the roof; that only results in death when I try it.

Oh, I see. Following the walkthrough VERBATIM reveals that some very precise and unintuitive wording is required at a certain point. That's an unnaturally hard puzzle.

Oh, and that's the end of the whole game? Yeesh, a one-puzzle game, just about. Two if you count getting out of the temple as a puzzle. Oh, and the problem with the walkthrough is that it omits the second-to-last step from both solutions.

Well, one point for holding my interest past five minutes, but forfeit the extra point for completion because I had to resort to the walkthrough. One point for mostly making the nonstandard character scenerio work. One point for implementing responses to most actions, and one point for pretty good prose; that's four. With better hints it could have had more.

28. Magocracy:

The writing in the intro is pretty interesting.

Then I get into the game and find out it has a health command that reads out all kinds of numbers, which is always a bad sign.

There's a lot to explore; the game is well laid-out as far as that goes, and the descriptions are good. But as soon as I meet anything hostile, my choices devolve into flee or else attack/undo/attack/undo/attack/undo/attack/undo/attack/restore. There is nothing clever about this, neither in terms of what it requires of me, nor in terms of what it required of the author. Even the piddly little creatures in the dungeon take a veritable long time to defeat this way, and the process is very boring.

I made it just over an hour into this game before I gave up on it as a combat-fest. I kept holding out hope that I'd be able to find or learn things that would help me bypass some of the combat or solve it more cleverly, but (unless you count picking up some armor) it was not to be. The game kept dropping hints that I'd be able to create a golem or learn new spells or get the key and find out what's in that chest or whatever, but nothing of the kind ever actually happened. (I did manage to put Loge to sleep once... but there was no apparent value in doing so, and I was unable to repeat it.)

Two points for holding my interest for a full hour, plus one point for the good prose. Three. I tried to think of an excuse to give this one a fourth point, but I couldn't come up with anything else to give the point for. Really, the good prose is holding together an otherwise uninteresting work. Three points it is.

29. Chronicle Play Torn:

Well, it's riddled with comma errors, but apart from that the grammar is almost decent, except for a few things like "could made" and "amount of symbols". It feels strongly as if English is the author's second (or possibly third) language. "Rocker" doesn't work for the rocking chair, probably for the same reason.

The description of the eiderdown is nowhere near detailed enough for such an obscure item. According to it is apparently some type of duck-down quilt, but if the game requires me to know any more than that about it I'm sunk. Hopefully it's just scenery, but in that case you'd think it would be described in greater detail.

The sphere is wrapped in paper, but...

>unwrap sphere
That's not something you can open.

Why, is the paper too strong for me?

Also, why would a casual feeling overcome me? What kind of feeling is it, and how can it be merely casual if it's strong enough to overcome me?

The books (on the shelf) that the note refers to do not appear to exist. Thinking to find the book by trial and error, I tried to take the first book listed in the shelf description, but I got a "Fatal: Illegal Object" error from WinFrotz, which ended the game.

One point for an interesting setting, the one point for holding my interest past five minutes, plus an extra point because it feels like the author is really trying here, but something is just getting lost in the translation. I would have played longer (and possibly found more reasons to award points) if it hadn't crashed, and even then I might have felt more like restarting if the game had been proofread at beta-test time by someone fluent in English. There's potential here, but it needs some fixup. As it stands right now I'll give it three points.

30. Escape from Auriga:

The comp site says it's been disqualified, so I didn't bother to rate it, since the vote deadline is impending.

31. Ruined Robots:

There is also a small hole where the wall joins the floor, but you can't get in it or put anything in it.

>x hole
I don't know the word "hole".

>x wall
I don't see any wall here.

>x floor
It lies beneath you.

Well, why mention it then?

I found what I think is a bug in HTML TADS, triggered by a bug in the game. If I do a certain (obviously stupid -- but I had to see the response, which incidentally was rather lame) thing in the first room, the text color changes to give me a certain message, but when it tries to change back, it changes to black, which is quite hard to read against my #294D4A background. (That part is a bug in the game.) No problem, I'll just undo... but that doesn't fix the problem; the font is still black after undo. (That part is the bug in TADS.) I had to exit HTML Tads and start the game over from scratch. Since this was VERY early in the game, I went ahead and restarted, but this bodes ill.

>x sink
A sink. It has no interesting features.

>x oven
A old wood-fired oven. It has no apparent doors or interesting features.

I'm sensing a trend here. This game has no interesting features.

>x hands
It's your hands, the same one you have had all your life.

Right. Additionally, I was still holding the gluestick when I foolishly placed my hands in the fire, and I'm still holding the gluestick, which appears to be unchanged and still sticky, but my hands are not sticky, even though I am holding it.

I feel like the author might be going somewhere interesting with this one, but he's not getting there very well.

>ask beaver about elmark
The robo-beaver says: "I am afraid I don't know anything about that. You might try asking one of the robot elves in the forest, they were developed to answer mysterious questions."

"Nice weather we are having."
>ask beaver about weather
I don't know the word "weather".

Lots of things are not implemented.

>x hat Hmm, funny, but you suddenly know that you can pull a rabbit out of this magician's hat. Do this by typing 'pull hat'.

It would obviously be way too much trouble to implement a scope rule to allow the obvious wording, so we're reverting to two-word parser mode. I know grammar is an Inform strongpoint, but TADS surely can do better than this.

I've seen enough here. One point for holding my interest past five minutes, plus one point for what looks like it potentially could be an interesting storyline, if only it were actually implemented. That's two.

32. The Great Xavio:


Is this a Doyle knock-off? I hope it's at least a good knock-off...

The mission is an odd one.

I can't seem to ask Mercouri about Xavio's tricks. Showing him the newspaper or a dollar bill does nothing. "Magic Multiplier" apparently means the same thing to him as "Magic". It's like he doesn't know Xavio's show exists. This is odd, under the circumstances.

It feels very odd for Mercouri to just hang out by the floor 3 elevator, completely unconcerned at our comings and goings.

If I try to enter the bar without a light, he asks me if it's logical to move around rooms in the darkness -- even if he's not here with me.

After fourty minutes I have no idea where to find a room key, a credit card, anything like that, so I had to consult the walkthrough. Well, no, I didn't; the game intercepted that and told me how to get better in-game hints. Good enough.

It's interesting how Dr. Todd can sign papers when he's two rooms away.

I seem to have to use that key a LOT once I've got it. Almost every-other turn. Surely the game could have automated some of this.

Waitasec, I need a key just to use the elevator, but once I'm on the floor I can just walk right on into the nicest room in the place?

Theft is illogical, but sneaking into rooms is logical? This guy is a bad cross between Spock and a spoiled child.

The chocolate bar is lost in the interior of the chest, but I can still examine it and read the label?

I can't see the thousand-dollar bill; I cannot, for example, take it to demonstrate the trick.

>search bed
There is nothing on the (MasterBedroomBed).

Left off the shortname and the HSN both, did we?

Well, at the very end I did have to use the walkthrough after all, when I seemed to have done what was required but couldn't figure out how to end the game (other than by just quitting).

Oh, I see. I'm not sure how I was supposed to know to ask the concierge for a paperclip, or Dr. Todd for a penlight.

Two points for holding my interest past a full hour, one point for having a non-flat and somewhat convincing NPC (Dr. Todd), one point for acceptable grammar and so forth throughout, one point for having most reasonable things that I tried implemented, with a couple of exceptions. That's five.

33. Square Circle:

A swivel chair, in an aggressively spartan room? Whatever happened to solid oak?

With this much reference matter to wade through, I really miss the standard abbreviation "l up", which this game does not recognize; and here I was thinking all the major IF creation systems included such standard conveniences in their standard libraries in these cough enlightened times. (Incidentally, the whole basic future justice-gone-totally-wrong theme is one I consider to be done to death in a way that transcends medium. The game could rescue it by doing it well, but the basic theme is not original or very interesting in itself.)

Why can't I stand on the blue book, that is sitting on the green book, on the red book? Oh, okay, I see, that was so obvious I missed it at first and was making it harder than it needed to be. But the marker makes no mark on the bulb. Time to use the key, then.

Outside the cell, there's no apparent pattern to what is implemented, e.g., there are poles and meridians on the globe, but no parallels. There's a prime meridian, but no international date line.

When attempting to draw the square circle, I'm getting a guess-the-syntax problem (I think). It's trivial to draw a figure on a globe that (if you squint and allow the edge resulting from the intersection of a subplane with the sphere, usually called an arc, to be called a straight line -- the game seems to allow this, since "draw line on the globe" is not regarded as an impossible action) meets the green book's definition of square (albeit with 180-degree angles, not 90, which is somewhat unconventional for a square), and of course anything drawn on the sphere meets the green book's definition of circle, given the green book's fairly inspecific (and circular) definition of centre, but I found it difficult to tell the game how to draw the thing; if you just tell it where to draw the four individual "lines", it does not treat them as a single figure, just lines.

I tried just drawing a circle and (re)defining square as necessary, but that's not a valid option. "Tell the guard that the circle is a square" gets me noplace.

Worse, the in-game hints chose now to abandon me, so I had to give up on the game at this point.

Two points for holding my interest for the full hour (albeit a significant amount of that time was spent reading the reference material). One point for involving non-Euclidean geometry. One point for the first part of the game (getting out of the cell) being straightforward, well-implemented, and satisfying, but no points for the hints, and after getting out of the cell things felt more thrown-together and less robust, as if they received less development time and testing. What's that come to? Four.

34. Die Vollkommene Masse:

The comp website says this one was withdrawn, so I didn't rate it, since the deadline was impending.

35. Splashdown:

I had a guess-the-verb problem getting with Spider and the plate, but the hints cleared it up for me.

I can't put the hose in the niche, drop it into the niche, et cetera. I'm confused as to why not.

Did I mention that I hate time-based puzzles? At least the time is sufficiently long on this one that I can save/explore/restore and actually learn enough to do something useful before starting the next save/explore/restore cycle, but still, it's tedious.

One hopes that with the generator on, I can dispense with that.

Found a very weird bug in the pumping station. After the generator was on, I'd had the hose connected to both spigots (green and red), but I couldn't get the pumps to work. The computer wouldn't do anything with them. So, I consulted the hints, which told me to do what I'd already done, although they listed the spigots in the opposite order, so I detached the hose, attached it again, and still it did nothing. After fooling around in the rest of the ship some more, I came back and detached the hose from one of the spigots, only then getting the message about the second hose being attached and the ballast tanks being pressurized. This bug cost me at least fifteen minutes of play time off the two-hour limit. (Fortunately, I'm nearly done.)

Two points for holding my interest for the full hour, plus the extra point for full completion. One point for pulling off a player transformation in an interesting and useful way. I refuse to give points for in-jokes, but some of them were amusing. No points for spider, either (other than the aforementioned player transform point), because he didn't have meaninful responses to hardly anything. (He was an interesting character, nevertheless, though.) One point for good grammar and atmosphere throughout (though I don't think it was the room descriptions that did for the atmosphere,, more everything all together), but I don't feel right giving the point for good writing, because none of the prose was really exceptional, just good enough to avoid being noticed. I can't give any points for plot, either, because frankly, it's been done. I can give one point for decent built-in hints, though. That comes to six -- and may I just say that I'm quite glad I got a six for my last game of the comp. I was afraid I'd have to end my judging experience on an anticlimactic two-hour four-pointer; if it wouldn't be grossly unfair to the other good games that landed their play order according to Comp04.z5's randomness, I'd give it the seventh point just for rounding out the comp on a good note for me, but that wouldn't be right. So, six points.

[That's it. Those are all the games that showed up in my play bin, based on the way I flipped the levers in Comp04.z5. I tried to be fairly inclusive, but there was a limit to how many interpreters I wanted to track down, and at one extra game each the law of diminishing returns kicks in with vigor.]

This article copyright © 2004, Nathan Eady

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