Brass Lantern
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Andrew's Reviews

by Andrew Krywaniuk

Posted 16 November 2004 to

A lot of games this year... I somehow managed to play all but one (the Windows game that wouldn't run on my PC). I have transcripts available for any authors who request them.

And now, the reviews:


First impression: Hey, is this game typing for me? Or is that an animation.... seems like an animation. Anyway, it sounds like the author has found a cool hook for a game.

This game began well, with a non-dislosure agreement and the promise of a psychic error correction system. But pretty soon I was in a padded room trying to figure out how a big, complicated machine works. This may just be a matter of taste, but I have to say that fiddling around with random machines is one of my least favorite IF puzzles. It didn't help that there are some implementation problems with the machine, including at least one way to teleport into a fake room. (I notice from the credits that the authors appear not to have employed beta-testers.) On the bright side, there is an excellent HTML hint system for when you get stuck.

The error correction system actually does not feature very prominently in the game. And while it is the game's most novel idea, it also appears to be taken from the mistype.h library (which was written by someone else). The majority of the game is fairly pedestrian. A lot of it involved consulting the manual about red/green/blue hoses/wires/switches. There were even a few decoy topics in the manual, which I felt was a bit unfair. I laughed a few times, mostly due to the pyschic error correction system's attempt to deal with the full English sentences that I typed in using the "log" command:

>* That kind of thing rarely wins any points.
[Flavorplex Psychic Typo Correction has divined that you want to "* that find of thin barrel bin an its ."].
[Comment recorded.]

>* Yes, that's exactly what I intended to say!
[Flavorplex Psychic Typo Correction has divined that you want to "* yes, taste east that i index to say"].
[Comment recorded.]

I also give the authors credit for some fun death sequences and the amusing introduction and ending.

Novelty: medium
Interest: low
Fun: medium
Polish: low
Score: 5


First impression: This author has spent a lot of effort on customizing the terp, including the use of Chinese letters. I don't have a font that supports Chinese, but pinyin should be just as good. (At least I can figure out how to pronounce it that way.)

This game looks like it has been written with care. The room descriptions are not complete to a pedantic degree, but there are no glaring omissions. And as for the mysticism... well actually I quite enjoyed the philosophical aspects of this game (for a change), and the pseudo-historical elements were also fun.

MingSheng is not a particularly difficult game. I finished it without any hints, well before the 2 hours were up. And the implementation is solid; no major complaints there. In the end, I find that I don't have a whole lot to say about this game... It amused me. It enlightened me (with some parables that I had heard before, but were perhaps never so clearly explained). And now it's over.

Novelty: medium
Interest: high
Fun: high
Polish: medium
Score: 8

The Big Scoop

First impression: Okay, this appears to be one of those games where you have to play the game multiple times and learn by trial-and-error. No player is going to solve the first puzzle without resorting to the hints.

This game is not too bad to play, but a bit low on detail. The author is a non-native English speaker so the grammar is a bit weak (but acceptable). However, the interaction with NPCs is very terse. Basically, the parser will give you a list of parsers (most of which will elicit a one-line response). If you give a list of topics, going through them all just becomes a chore.

The first puzzle didn't really make sense. Future puzzles are more logical. I only used one minor hint after that, and I might have figured it out by myself had I trusted the game to be logical.

In the end, this game was not half bad. Nothing mind-blowing, but at least it was competently implemented. My main complaint is that everything in the game is too generic... generic apartment, generic office. Even the evidence is a McGuffin.

Novelty: low
Interest: low
Fun: medium
Polish: low
Score: 5

Stack Overflow

First impression: Ahh, the good old sequence where nothing the player does will prevent capture. At least in this case the process is swift.

I have to put on some specific music in order to hit a wall with a hammer? You know, Kubrick set many of his most violent scenes to classical music...

It's taking a long time to make any rhyme or reason out of this game. The author seems inexperienced... e.g.

The elevator door is open. The elevator doors swing shut.

The author also appears to be Russian, which explains why the English grammar is a bit weak.

I was making a little bit of progress... getting to the space station and then figuring out a couple of puzzles. But I see that my score is still only 6 out of 42 and having resorted to the object-specific hints, it appears that the solutions to the puzzles may a) be fairly arbitrary, and b) require knowledge of advanced topology. And when you get to the end, there's no payoff. Nothing makes sense in retrospect. The ideal ending (according to the walkthrough) is to fall instantly in love with (and marry) the first girl you meet. Talk about shallow!

The things you have to type in to win this game are so utterly random, it's hard to believe that even one person playtested it. (The credits do list an "alpha tester".) Also, I am still not 100% sure that this game was not entered as a prank.

Even though this game is almost completely unplayable, I give it a 3 because it obviously required some programming skill to produce it.

Novelty: medium
Interest: low
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 3


First impression: I hate to go into a game expecting to hate it, but when I saw the name of the author I couldn't help it. I'm not going to spend pages upon pages criticizing the game, since I expect that will be redundant by the time this is posted.

? i
You cannot do that. You are not a master yet...
? inv
You cannot do that.
? inventory
You are carrying:

Lovely... the game can't even handle abbreviations. Or (as is hinted) it deliberately prevents me from using them "because I am not a master". No difference to me. However, I note that "e" for east still works... or does it?

The prose in the game is actually not half bad, what little of it there is. It helps that it's a Ninja theme so the author can get away with "Nice try, grasshopper" and the like. As for the gameplay, it took me about 3 minutes to learn that I couldn't enter the shrine by going east (you have to type "enter shrine", which I notice isn't in the verb list in the readme). I played for about 5 minutes, got nowhere, died 3 times, then quit. Since the author will no doubt brag that he wrote the game in under 5 minutes, that seems like a fair trade.

Novelty: medium
Interest: very low
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 2

Trading Punches

First impression: it seems competently done... graphics, music, elegant prose. But I really don't want to listen to a tape loop over and over while playing IF. <Mute>

The author uses repeated actions as a way to advance the exposition - it's not a bad technique. But I'm having a hard time visualizing the courtyard. Why can't I go in any direction? Perhaps because the game wants me to type "x man". Is this game going to be all story and no puzzles?

One major weakness of "Trading Punches" is that the gameplay is quite limited. Asking people about things doesn't work. When I try to touch the dead body of my father, it says that he won't let me. There are 4 cups; I can't "get all cups" or "sit in chair". There are some puzzles later in the game. Nothing major, really. Mostly visiting the right places in the right order.

Overall, a nice story, but the interactivity is also very low. Most actions are triggered indirectly (e.g. x person). Much of the time you are told exactly what to do in order to proceed. And the room descriptions and geography is so confusing as to become continually frustrating. Innocuous scenery objects are inconsistently implemented, yet are often important. As I said, nice story, though.

Novelty: medium
Interest: high
Fun: medium
Polish: medium
Score: 7

Zero One

First impression: It takes some effort to get used to Alan. The interpreter doesn't even support transcripts. There's a conversation going on. I "listen"... and hear nothing. I have to "listen to conversation". This is not a good sign. Also, the game was written in 5 days and the README says it is "expected to be perfect". Good luck, you will need it!

Now I need to open the other cell door:

> e
The door is closed.

> open door
I don't know which door you mean.

> open east door
You must supply a noun.

Okay, so I needed to "open metal door"... but most parsers would handle that more elegantly. Every door in this game is a different colour just to solve this problem. I have an idea... why not just use fewer doors? Everything else about the implementation is also suitably annoying (e.g. "lunchbox" doesn't work, only "lunch box").

Now I'm in a fight with some guy called Terry. I can't attack him because I don't have a weapon. And I can't run away because... well, the game doesn't really explain that. According to the README, my opponent is gay. Thus he will obviously stop attacking me if I kiss him. (Unfortunately, I still don't have a weapon, so there's still nothing I can do to avoid getting raped.)

There are some wierd bits, though:

> kick snack machine
In irritation at being denied a bite to eat, you kick the snack machine with full force. The ferocity of your kick was such that the snack machine buckles. Bits start falling off, a loud 'PING!' noise can be heard, and the snack machine disingrates before your eyes.

Huh? The author apparently thought that was amusing, as he included it in the notes in the walkthrough.

And the cheese burger (as opposed to a cheeseburger) is apparently a Big Kahuna burger. Note to author: a pop culture reference is only funny when... well, I'll know it when I see it.

Novelty: low
Interest: low
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 2

Die Vollkommene Masse (withdrawn)

First Impression: I was initially intrigued. The premise seems interesting and the author seems articulate. But then a few things began to gnaw at me... the author suggests playing the game in verbose mode (I guess the room descriptions will change?) but then doesn't set it on by default. How do you miss something like that? Also, I have imprisoned myself in my room in order to avoid talking to my captors, but from my descriptions, 3 out of 4 of them seem like nice people. Anyway, how did I form this opinion if I never talked to them?

The themes from my HTML TADS interpreter were awful and made the text unreadable. I had to turn them off. (I'm not sure if that's the fault of the game or the interpreter.)

After playing the game for a few minutes, the implementation seems more shoddy. The map is very large and dotted with scenery, much of which is unimplemented. In the basement, there is a man taking a bath, but I can't refer to him as "man" or "djoser". After a couple of minutes I figure out the reason -- he is implemented, but only in the room to the west. That's no excuse; if it's in the room description, it should be implemented.

This whole plot continues to make no sense. On one hand, when I "x djoser" I seem afraid that he's going to rape me. But if I "kiss djoser" then he declines because I'm not worthy.

Also, note this lovely exchange:

gt;read book
I don't know how to read the bookshelf.

>read books The group of book isn't important.

>search books You flip through the books, looking for something interesting and only finding boring, sappy romance novels. Then one catches your eye;, taking it off the shelf, you discover it to be a diary. Shifting your eyes to make sure nobody saw, you take it.

The English is not perfect. Not surprising, since the author is German. However, using a spell-checker is recommended. While it is difficult to solve the game using logic, a brute force "search all" and "get all" approach seems to work. Putting clothes on the doll doesn't seem to work. Is this a "guess the verb"?

The warlords have no reaction to any items other than the exact ones needed to solve the game. Usi has no reaction when I give him his teacup or diary. Nor Djoser, when I give him his sword. Some objects aren't named correctly, such as the golden candelabra.

This is hopeless... walkthrough time. Ahh, here's part of the problem: the walkthrough doesn't work. As I noticed before, I can't attach clothing to the doll. I figure maybe it's an interpreter problem, so I check for a newer version. When I go to the ifcomp site, I find out the game has been withdrawn. Figures!

Novelty: medium
Interest: medium
Fun: low
Polish: very low
Score: 1

Blue Chairs

First impression: a drug deal, wierd ascii representation of what it's like to be on drugs. Pretty nice. And I haven't seen very many games set at a party before.

Also, a hint system that adds sections only when you've reached them. That's a nice idea to avoid spoilers... (but then again it fooled me because I thought the game was almost over and it turned out it had just started)

At about the point where I have escaped the party and was riding away in a limo, I wrote in my notes "I like where this game is going." Of course I was dead wrong about where it was going, but I guess I liked where it did go. I got into the game, although it is very abstract and I don't claim to understand it in any sort of literal sense. In some ways, it reminded me of "So Far" (although without the insanely difficult puzzles).

Although not insanely difficult, I did find the game fairly difficult in some places. The hint system is elaborate, but quite often I didn't understand the hint. I found myself resorting to a poorly implemented "get all" to see a list of all the objects in scope. So the implementation wasn't perfect. In addition to the bug in ChooseObjects, the game had quite a few minor bugs and typos, the frequency increasing towards the end.

Novelty: high
Interest: high
Fun: medium
Polish: medium
Score: 8

The Great Xavio

First impression: positive... the hook is nice enough, the prose is excellent - the history of the hotel was so convincing, in fact, that I was curious enough to look up on the web to see if it was a real place (it wasn't).

The NPC is really great. I like the way that I am the "man of action" and he is the commentator. It makes for a very logical way of handling an NPC.

Not everything in the room descriptions is implemented, but so far all the important things are. However, for the 3rd game in a row, I can do a quick and dirty examination of all the miscellaneous objects in a room with "get all". I do notice a few issues that affect gameplay, but nothing I'm not willing to forgive.

Later in the game, I found some very serious bugs. For example, I don't have to push the cart into the room in order to enter it, but later on I need the cart to get out. (However, somehow the game didn't realize that I didn't have the cart and thus I escaped anyway.) There is also the vending machine that I was able to carry around.

I was constantly enthralled by the prose and the light-hearted atmosphere. The buginess of the game did begin to annoy me ask the game went on, however. And I was also expecting a bit more. When I completed the first task, it was worth only 5/100 points. Little did I know that when I had 50 points, I was only one action away from winning. (As it turns out, there were sections of the game that I hadn't solved. IMHO, making every puzzle at least singly redundant also made it possible to win without fully understand what is going on.)

Despite the shoddy implementation, I give the game a 7 for a nice story and a most excellent NPC. With a little more care in the implementation, this author has the potential to deliver a truly outstanding game.

Novelty: medium
Interest: high
Fun: high
Polish: low
Score: 7

Murder at the Aero Club

First impressions: A run of the mill detective story. Nothing wrong with that. But when the author has implemented none of "about", "credits", and "xyzzy" it is not an encouraging sign. "help" is implemented, but is very terse. "x me" is the default.

My main complaint about this game is that it is too easy. I keep writing stuff down in my notebook, and after I perform a pedestrian examinination of the entire map, the game informs me that I now have enough information to accuse the murderer. This has all taken less than 10 minutes. The rest of the game took less than 5 minutes to complete.

My other complaint is that I noticed a lot of bugs in the implementation. For example, you can hear Cecil's phone ringing in his pocket even after he has left the room. Then there are some rather inexplicable plot elements. [SPOILER] For example, there are two different ways to get some fuel (neither of which is "ask brad for fuel"). The fact that throwing a lit cigarette into a puddle of gasoline is the solution that doesn't get you fired strikes me as a bit odd.

MatAC was not a standout, but it was by no means unpleasant to play. However, at a running time of 15 minutes, I can't justify giving this game more than a 3.

Novelty: low
Interest: medium
Fun: medium
Polish: low
Score: 3

Who Created That Monster

First impression: a political game. I've been waiting for some of those. There's some interesting sci-fi stuff, but most of the room descriptions seem pretty terse.

Why does HTML TADS support "script", but not "transcript"? Also, the colour scheme is awful (as usual). Someone clue me in here... is "multimedia" a standard colour scheme, and are there any computers on which it looks good?

What about the gameplay:

>kill terrorist
(with the assault rifle)
Your shot hits.
The terrorist vanishes in a puff of smoke.

That's a little silly, isn't it?

Okay, so I'm walking around this seemingly endless map, reading the room descriptions and learning about buildings that I'm unable to enter. There's Rumsfeld Avenue, Cheney Way, etc. It's mildly amusing now, but this is going to get very old as the game drags on.

Not being able to refer to people as "him" or "man" is frustrating, especially when they have difficult to spell names like "Teicher" and "Drogoul".

Also, the fact that all the basements of the embassies are the same room is quite strange. It seems like a bug, but was apparently done on purpose, since it is critical to solving one puzzle.

Another thing that is odd:

>ask guard about vent
If you want to talk to yourself, use TALK TO (character) or just T (character).

>talk to me
I don't know how to talk to yourself.

In the end, this wasn't a political game of any note. The backdrop of Iraq was not a source of real satire or intrigue. In fact, the tone was fairly inconsistent. If anything, it seems to be pro-war, but in a farcical way; it doesn't make sense.

Novelty: medium
Interest: medium
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 4


First impression: Huh? What is the name of this game? This is wierd... None of "about", "help" and "credits" are implemented, and there is no opening title. Unless this is some kind of meta-gimmick, I'm not impressed.

I get to the second room:

You see a table here. Sitting on the table is a a biscuit.

>get all
table: Taken.

Two glaring bugs in the second room!

On one hand, it does not appear that this game was beta tested. On the other hand, this whole game is an enigma. The author uses words like "aether" and "rends" yet can't seem to spell "breathe" and "loneliness". There is also a most bizarre and annoying maze. And what does "ptbad3" mean? I can only guess that it is short for "pretty bad to the power of 3".

I rather suspect that this anonymous game was merely entered as a practical joke. As such, it gets a 1 for wasting my time. Fortunately, since this was such a short game, it only wasted about 10 minutes of my time. A more insiduous plot would be to make a game that appears good for the first 1:50 and then only reveals itself as a troll in the last 10 minutes. Someone work on that, 'kay?

Novelty: medium
Interest: low
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 1


First impression: When the first line of this story contains the expression "terrestrial leviathan of the Australian outback", I think this author may be overdoing it slightly. But when the second line contains the simile "your mouth is as dry as a nun's fanny", I think that's kind of funny. I will reserve judgement.

Another HTML TADS game with a bad font. But at least it's better than the default "multimedia" scheme in some other games. Unlike in some other games, the colour scheme does not detract from the playability of the game so I will leave it as the author intended. But there is some ASCII art in the opening credits which looks like it was intended for a fixed width font, which this is not.

From the "info" blurb, I notice that the spelling/grammar is not perfect. Forgivable, but not a good sign. Also, most of the scenery in the first room is not implemented:

Car park of the Royal Hotel
To the north is a rundown old hotel sporting a crooked sign which reads 'The Royal Hotel'.

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

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

Now, I'm really not expecting much!

There's also this gem:

>read graffiti
The graffiti isn't important.

>x graffiti
It reads "XYZZY"

I don't know the word "xyzzy".

The glimpses of Australian culture/slang are somewhat interesting, but not enough to save the game. The actions you have to take are illogical and only serve to advance the plot. As a game that is bad, but not mind-numbingly bad, Redeye gets a 3.

Novelty: low
Interest: medium
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 3

I Must Play

First impression: I get the impression that this is going to be a series of smaller games. Not sure how I feel about that. But the outer room seems to be well implemented, so I expect it will at least be competently done.

And it is competently done. This game reminds me a bit of "screen" from a few years ago. The subsections are all fairly well implemented, but the game just isn't that appealing and the puzzles are way too easy.

There are some fun bits. E.g. "On the wall is a black button of the 'what-does-this-do' variety." and this gem:

>kiss crocodile
Love at first site does tend to cloud judgement, but most people would realize personal peril when it attempted to bite them in the jugular. Luckily you are able to overcome your reptilian lust in time to prevent yourself from becoming this crocodile's next meal.

Since this game was carefully implemented, it's a bit tough to put it on a par with some other games that had some glaring errors. But I just wasn't that intrigued by the premise or the results. The final challenge had a bit more substance to it, and it rescued the game a bit, IMHO.

Novelty: medium
Interest: low
Fun: medium
Polish: medium
Score: 5

Square Circle

First impression: With a name like that, hopefully this is not going to be a wrestling game. I really don't anticipate ever seeing a wrestling game in the ifcomp. :-) Anyway, it seems like the author knows what he is doing. This is a game that appears ready to present some interesting philosophical ideas.

>consult blue about new
The principal achievement of the New Enlightenment is the insight that irrationality has been the bane of human existence throughout human history, and the realization that by taking a radical new approach, unfettered by the mistakes and fetters of the past, it is actually possible to govern all human affairs by reason.

This book sounds like the antithesis to "Manufacturing Consent".

I enjoyed the puzzles in this game. They were tough, but fair. The author provided alternate solutions to some of them, but without spoiling the fun. I also appreciated the care with which the author implemented the guard's responses

There were some bugs and typos, especially in the middle section. I guess there's always room for improvement.

The conversational system is nice, and lots of stuff was implemented. The player is given opportunities to make decisions, and those decisions matter. Plus there is extra stuff for the player to do after completing the game, if you're into that.

While the implementation is not perfect, this game is definitely one of the highlights of the comp. When a game has ideas and high ambitions, I am not going to mark it down for a few minor bugs.

Novelty: high
Interest: high
Fun: high
Polish: high
Score: 10

EAS3: Luminous Horizon

First impression: There can be no doubt that any game called EAS3 is an obvious pre-comp favorite. With that kind of leverage, I guess you don't need to do a lot of begging to get someone to illustrate your game for you. (The game comes with an illustrated comic-book recap of the first 2 games.)

Anyone who played the earlier EAS games will remember the stylized graphical KABLOOIEs that come right out of a Batman cartoon. As usual, the text of the game is crafted with care. Room descriptions change to reflect the current state of the game. It must have been difficult to code due to the superpowers (e.g. when you fog an object).

But I did find a few errors. For example, the archways in the hallway that you can pick up and carry around. There is also a distinct lack of synonyms for objects, particularly singular forms of plural objects (which is annoying). And this from a famous nitpicker (who IIRC criticized one of last year's authors for an inadequate description of rat droppings). There is also:

>jump in pit
That's not something you can jump onto.

>jump into pit
Sorry, but that's either not here or not important.

>put gizmo in pit
That can't contain things.

Some of the bugs were even implemented with a sense of humour...

"A brilliant white light flashes from the gizmo! Dad is stunned. Stunned that you haven't properly coded this case. [BUG]"

And the playability wasn't always perfect. Most of the time, individual components of an object are not described separately, so it is difficult to figure out how to manipulate things. I also sometimes found myself stuck on several of the puzzles because the solution was very similar to something I had already tried.

Making the hint system part of the game is altogether too tempting, IMHO. Getting a hint should be a meta-action, not a part of the game. And while you can choose not to use the hints by avoiding the command "talk to austin/emily", during many of the fight scenes, the simple action of switching characters reveals crucial information. In those cases, if you watch what your computer-controlled self is doing (even though it usually gets them killed), that was the action you were supposed to take. It's both a spoiler and a red herring at the same time.

In some other games (e.g. Max Blaster, Photopia), the NPC is there to deliberately steer the game by performing any actions that the PC refuses to do. The effect in EAS3 is slightly different, in that the NPC won't generally do anything to advance the plot. I ran into this situation on three different occasion, including the climactic fight. (And perhaps it was fate, but just as the bad guys exploded with a final KA-BLAMMO, my PC also BSOD'ed in sympathy.)

EAS3 is a pretty good game, but it's not a masterpiece. The suits and superpowers are cool, but rather old hat in episode 3. The comic feelie was nice, but did not factor heavily in my judging system. The conversational system is probably well done, but it's not an important part of the game (you can barely use it for fear of spoilers). But my biggest complaint by far was the lack of variety. Most of the game came down to punching things, blasting things, and running from things. EAS2 was just more fun.

Novelty: medium (considering it's the 3rd game in a series)
Interest: high
Fun: medium
Polish: medium
Score: 7


First impression: Starting in a kitchen... always invites criticism in an ifcomp. Then again, the credits claim this is a conversation-based game with multiple paths/endings. Those are always popular (and I'm surprised I haven't seen more of them in this comp).

Everything in this game is very terse. Even the conversational system frequently gives you only 1 choice of what to say. Sometimes it gives you 3 very similar choices. Throughout the game, you are often constrained geographically as well. The reasons for this aren't very logical... except, I suppose, that you are constrained to a particular story/memory.

It seemed like there were quite a few bugs in general. This game makes no attempt to handle unusual actions from the player. At the end of the game, the parser does not give you the usual choice between restart/restore/quit -- it simply exits. I didn't know that a game could force the parser to exit (on purpose), but please don't do that!

The "about" blurb implied that there were multiple "paths" through the game. I noticed that I could provoke different reactions from NPCs, but it never seemed to have an impact beyond the current scene.

I really didn't get into this game. The PC just didn't ring true to me.

Novelty: medium
Interest: medium
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 4

All Things Devours

First impression: This game starts with a lot of opening of doors. Some of them open easily, others don't. And some of them can't be disambiguated from each other because there's 5 doors in the same room! I'm not expecting to like this game.

>x me Dark hair frames a warm face. Despite the anxiety written now in your tense brow, the confidence of youth and vibrancy of intellect are clear. There is a depth in your clear green eyes.

On one hand, that's one of the more interesting responses I've seen to "x me", but on the other hand, how can I tell all that stuff? Do I have a mirror?

You are carrying:
  a bright steel key
  an ID card
  a timed explosive device

Nope. Maybe I'm looking at my reflection in the bright steel key. :-)

Anyway, I'm intrigued by the puzzles in this game, although they seem very difficult. There is a hint site that I had to consult once or twice. So far, I didn't use it to find out how to do anything, although I did need some help with what I should be trying to do. While the plot doesn't actually literally make sense, I can forgive that because I enjoyed the game. My one main complaint is that in a game that relies heavily on precise timing, the author didn't implement "wait until".

I didn't begin with high hopes for this game, but the longer I played it, the more I want to figure it out. Maybe the idea isn't completely original (it certainly owes a nod to Spider and Web or Moments out of Time, as well as several popular movies), but it was an interesting enough game to make me spend a lot of time (well beyond 2 hours) trying to get the whole thing right.

If there is a weakness to ATD, it is the spartan nature of the game. There are no extraneous objects or locations. This is understandable. ATD is unabashedly a puzzle game, and any extraneous objects could introduce unforeseen complications. Still, for readers looking for a challenge, this has the markings of the best pure puzzle game of the comp.

Novelty: high
Interest: high
Fun: high
Polish: medium
Score: 9


First impression: Huh? No title, credits, etc? The last game that began that way was pretty bad! But the concept sounds interesting. A Jewish version of Hamlet?

I have to say that this is a very lewd game. Perhaps this is a deliberate reference to the bawdy puns of Shakespeare, but I'm not really sure. For example, you can kiss just about anything that moves (or doesn't), and there are a couple of fairly graphic masturbation scenes.

One thing's for sure. I'm enjoying the room descriptions. Quite often, I find verbose object descriptions in IF games to be overdone and cloying, but not this time.

>x curtain
The flicker of uncertain light thrown by a kerosene lamp plays on the folds as the curtains sway flapping in the breeze. Now and then they bulge out in the wind and their hems brush a night table.

Even the inventory text has been spiced up:

You have
  a yarmulke perched on your head at a dashing tilt
  knotted sheets tied around your waist

I made quite a lot of progress on my own and then got stuck in the study. Postings in the newsgroup indicated that quite a few people got stuck in about the same place. The game does have a built in hint system, but it only gives the mildest of hints. I had to consult the author for more. But there were other times when unsolicited hints came in the form of voices, often leading you through the story quite explicitly.

The nature of the puzzles also requires a few contrivances of the "you can't take object X into location Y for reason Z" variety. It's annoying, but forgivable.

One particular weakness of the parser is in pushing things around. In many games, you can "push object east". In this game, you can't do that. But you can "push object1 to object2". I had to go back and read the walkthrough to figure that out (it's not 100% needed to solve the game).

In the end, I was a bit disappointed with how the game turned out (both plot and gameplay). As the action progresses, the connections to Hamlet become more tenuous, and the puzzles are of the "what can I do with this object I have" type rather than "how do I solve this obstacle". Nevertheless, the first half of this game (certainly the first 2 hours of playing time) are impressive enough to earn it a good score.

Novelty: high
Interest: high
Fun: high
Polish: medium
Score: 8

Kurusu City

First impression: Okay, a game that is gratuitously Asian? And another "robots control the world" type of thing. The premise could be good or bad, but the map seems very sparse so far, much like "Who Created that Monster". I need some guidance here.

You enter this game with such an unclear idea of what to do (and in what order). The about text warns that you can get the game into an unwinnable state, and it does not appear to be obvious when that happens. For example, truant robots randomly appear and cart you off to a school from which there is no obvious means of escape. Have you lost at this point? You have absolutely no idea. (The robots are easy enough to avoid with the "undo" command, but what kind of game requires the user to undo moves as part of the standard solution?)

After exploring all the obvious areas of the game and getting nowhere, I decided to resort to the hint file (if nothing else, to tell me in what order to attack the puzzles). With a gentle prod, I make rapid progress. It's all forgivable, except for the fact that it is very easy to get the game in an unwinnable state and you can continue to play for a long time without realizing it.

Dealing with the robots is another source of annoyance:

I don't know the word "escape".

You might be able to run, but you can't hide.

The robot comes closer, uncertain as to whether you're going to try something sneaky.

You sprint away and dive into a previously unseen bush.

The game is fairly buggy -- not in terms of actual implementation errors, but in terms of missing synonyms and clumsy grammar (e.g. "flee" is an essential verb, but "escape" is not implemented. It was particularly annoying when I found out that I had to replay half the game because I skipped a step that I had actually tried to do, but the parser hadn't accepted it.

BTW, I love inappropriate default parser responses:

>eat her
You shouldn't, you might need her later.

(That isn't as cannibalistic/lewd as it sounds, since I was a werewolf at the time.)

KC isn't a bad first effort, but I didn't enjoy the cruelty factor. As it is, I am once bitten, twice shy. Once a game demonstrates that it is not playing fair, I am quick to hit the walkthrough any time I get stuck. To the author I say: I would have given your game a 7, but you lose one point for senselessly annoying me.

Novelty: medium
Interest: high
Fun: medium-low
Polish: medium
Score: 6

Chronicle Play Torn

First impressions: From the Readme: "Now a few comments about the dark side of the game: its testing was done in a hurry, it is very likely that you will find irritating bugs in the prose, and the working of the game." So remind me again why I should bother playing your game?

The game starts, interestingly enough, in an abandoned house with some surrounding mysticism. It's familiar enough territory. Last year, we had "Domicile" (which was basically unplayable due to bugs). I'm hoping for a better experience here.

>x sheet
A sheet of paper with some mystical writing on it.

>read it
"I d n t k o , w e e h   a e   e s m l   p e r d i   h   e l r s v n d y   g
. I d n t k o , w o h   s   r w a   e i , b t I m s r   e i n t a n p i i ,
a   h   i h p s g e t d   e i   u h s a l r t a   h m ... "

The writing, apparently only part of the original message continues, but you can't decipher it without the other half.

Wanna bet? If I can solve the NYT crossword puzzle, I'm sure I can decipher that. [10 minutes later, and I've got it all except for one word that seems like a magical term.]

As puzzles go, this is not bad. However, solving it doesn't get me anywhere. The game won't continue until you find the other half of the paper and let the PC solve it. Let me suggest that a more satisfying way to implement this puzzle is to provide two alternative solutions. a) decipher the message, or b) find the other half of the paper. (Max Blaster had the neat idea of putting the coded message in the xyzzy response and having it lead to a hidden easter egg.)

Many obvious actions are not implemented, and there is some guess the verb:

Dead end
This tunnel is clearly a new addition to the cave possibly dug by the primitive dwellers of the sleeping chamber. The walls are roughly dug out, the floor is bumpy, heaps of dirt here and there.

After several minutes it ends in a dead end. Digging tools lie on the ground in a mess as if they just left for dinner and may come down in every minute to go on with the work.

(the digging tools)
Digging would achieve nothing here.

Huh? How can you miss something like that?

Also, the author explains in the Readme that "examine" and "search" are different verbs and do different things. Fair enough, but you have to be consistent about it:

>get tools
They are no use to you.

>search them
You look over the tools, and a pickaxe in decent condition catches your eyes.

So why didn't I notice that when I tried to get them?

Actually, most this game is not half bad. I'm interested enough to keep playing, but the game does have a lot of flaws... pretty much everything the author apologizes for in the Readme is true. The game feels rushed, inadequately tested, and too long. After 2 hours of playing, I have 60% of the points, but I don't feel like I'm 60% of the way through the game. Unresolved plot elements abound.

There is the makings of a good game in here, but it's not ready yet. Aside for the overall lack of polish, there are serious playability issues. The optimized command to set the dials didn't work, which is annoying. Some actions require long delays (e.g. 60 turns) to have an effect. I also experienced one crash bug.

Then there are some inconsistencies in ChooseObjects. As with Kurusu City, these kinds of inconsistencies lead to serious playability issues. One time when I typed "break <object>", the game went all the way into my closed trunk, retrieved the pickaxe, and assumed I wanted to use that. Later on, when I tried to "break <object>" I was told I couldn't. But the actual solution was to break the object with the axe.

Once I realized that the game was not consistenly implemented, I gave up on solving the puzzles myself and I played the last third of the game relying heavily on the walkthrough.

I'm going to give this game a 5. It wasn't altogether fun to play in its currently form, but it showed a lot of potential. Also, what the hell is with that title? Nowhere in the game is it explained.

Novelty: medium
Interest: high
Fun: medium
Polish: low
Score: 5

Ruined Robots

First impression: I can't help but think that the UI elements will detract from the game, but no matter. When the first room description mentions a hole in the wall that isn't implemented, I'm not encouraged. "x me" gives the default response as well.

This is a living room with a burning fire in the Hearth. There are rooms to the East and Northeast, Southeast, South and exit to the West, and a fireplace. There is also a small hole where the wall joins the floor, but you can't get in it or put anything in it.

You can't go that way.

You can't go that way.

Did this game undergo any beta testing at all?

Oh wait a minute... it's because I'm in the hearth. That's awkward. I dunno about Tads, but in Inform it's normal to say something like "You're not going anywhere until you get out of the hearth."

The game begins with a litany of silly objects, including a glue stick that gets your hands sticky:

>get all
plain cookie: You hands are too sticky to pick anything up.

I don't get it... I can see how my hands would be too slippery to pick something up, but too sticky?! And then came the kiss of death:

"You're feeling a bit peckish. Perhaps it would be a good time to find something to eat."

A hunger daemon... Is this a frigging Santoonie game? Was the author "inspired" by a Santoonie game? (I saw that exact same phrase in Delvyn last year, so unless Tads2 comes with boilerplate for a hunger daemon, I'm going to fear the worst...)

The following has to be one of the most ridiculous sequences I have ever seen in IF:

rental cottage
A large empty cottage with a sign saying 'FOR RENT' in the window. The cottage seems securely locked up, You can exit via the South.
It seems like it's been lost.
If you asked, it might follow you (say ' Liffie, follow me')

You can't go that way.

>x cottage
The Locked rental cottage is open. There's nothing in the Locked rental cottage.

>enter cottage
The Locked rental cottage isn't important.

>unlock cottage
It's not locked!

And that occured while I was attempting to follow the walkthrough (at least the first part...)

That's about as far as I got. I was actually kind of interested in finding out the secret of the eccentric milionaire, but not interested enough to continue playing. The game is buggy, cloying, and the walkthrough doesn't work, but I give it some (minimal) credit for trying.

Novelty: undetermined
Interest: medium
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 2

A Light's Tale

First impression: An anonymous game. It was programmed by vbnz ( And no, that doesn't mean anything in rot13. It does seem like an enigmatic game, though. I'm interested in seeing where it is going. The English is not perfect, but it's good enough.

This game represents a variation on a familiar motif. You play through various scenarios on the same map, but each time something is different. It's not a bad technique.

The game also has an odd narrative style. The author keeps interjecting things and steering you in particular directions. If I wanted to be pretentious, I might complain that it breaks mimesis. But I don't... I'll just say that it doesn't always work. The effect is sort of like that of Amnesia from last year's comp (although this game is far superior to Amnesia in every way).

This game really leads you along at every turn. It makes for an easier game and a more predictable storyline, but perhaps less compelling. In the early part of the game, the author simplified the implementation by not giving the player much of a choice about what to do. Later on, when he does give the player a choice (mostly due to bugs), the gameplay breaks down.

There were a lot of problems with the bar sequence in particular, such as the over-zealous Bruno who kicks me out of the bar right after I do a favour for the owner. Then there is the quixotic door in the flower shop that "it looks like I can unlock" even before I have the key. (I had to resort to the walkthrough 3 times in order to finish the game. I think only one of those times was because I gave up too quickly. The others were due to serious bugs in the gameplay.)

Another thing: the author does not give any of the NPCs a masculine/feminine attribute. It's very frustrating when I can't refer to George as "him". I found this bug in quite a few different games this year, mostly Tads games for some reason.

I enjoyed the game enough to play it until the end, but I wasn't exactly enthralled by it.

Novelty: medium
Interest: high
Fun: medium
Polish: low
Score: 5

The Realm

First impression: Okay, we start in a bedroom. That's sure to raise the ire of the anti-bedroom nazis. "Search all" is not disabled. The characters are all androgenous. I am led to believe that the author is not very experienced.

The game is implemented with a subtle tongue-in-cheek attitude. I like the fact that the task I have to carry out is "randomly selected".

Most of the puzzles in the game are quite silly. They don't necessary make literal sense, but you can figure them out by following the hints in the text and then combining the objects and NPCs you find in logical ways. But there is one particular "guess the topic of conversation" puzzle late in the game that had me resorting to to the walkthrough.

Aside from this one impossible puzzle, The Realm is a very easy game. I don't think it took longer than 15 minutes to complete. It was definitely anti-climactic when I met the dragon and a mere two turns later I had won the game. I wondered if there were any alternate endings so I checked the walkthrough, but there weren't. BTW, this is the second game that automatically quits after you win it. Please don't do that!

Novelty: low
Interest: medium
Fun: medium
Polish: medium
Score: 4


First impression: A MUD-like game... entering it in the ifcomp is just inviting flames. I'm not really expecting to enjoy this since I have no patience for melee combat (I use the undo key a lot).

This is actually a pretty well done game. Considering all the cool spells and objects, it could even make a decent non-combat game. But as it is, it's a combat game, and I just don't have the patience to learn the correct weapon to use against each creature. So I resort to the hints file for some advice, then win the game by using cheap tactics in combat (including the use of undo whenever I get hit).

With the combat out of the way, what's left is the atmosphere, and what's there is pretty good. The NPCs are well implemented and they will even chat with you briefly if they think you're not a threat. There are also some interesting plot points revealed as the game goes on. But overall, the ifcomp just isn't the right place to enter this game.

Novelty: medium
Interest: medium
Fun: medium
Polish: high
Score: 6

A Day in the Life of a Superhero

First impression: The second superhero game of the comp. I like the premise, and based on the introduction, I'm prepared to be impressed.

I like the idea of starting the game with a menu. It gives you the option to read the introduction, credits, etc, and by implication it also tells you that they exist. It seems to me that this should satisfy the needs of the anally retentive crowd who occasionally complain about the line "first time players should type about" appearing at the top of the screen.

So everything is going great. I enjoyed the first scene; now I'm back in my apartment looking for clues. But something wierd happens:

> talk to parrot
A fusty smell pervades your apartment. It's probably a mixture of you never getting around to cleaning it and that time the Slug Monster was here to kill you.

You see, my room is a bit smelly and the parrot is also called smelly, and apparently the terp is somehow interpreting "talk to parrot" as "x smell" or something like that. That's the risk you take when you choose one of the lesser-known authoring systems. Last year's Sophie's Big Adventure had similarly mind-boggling bugs that appeared to derive from the interpreter (e.g. "save" being interpreted as "south", restored game files being corrupt, etc), and this author appears to have learned nothing from the experience. FWIW, I gave the game a chance. I even downloaded the latest adrift runner, but the bug was still there.

ADitLoaS comes with a built-in walkthrough (you just type "gimme the walkthrough"), and you will definitely need it. But it's an odd walkthrough. Not only does it contain a few commands that give errors, but it also contains a fair number of "undo" operations. That's just bizarre! (I suppose they could be there to give you some context, but they really don't.

Unfortunately, this game is so buggy that it is basically unplayable. (So was Sophie's Big Adventure, but in that case the most serious bugs only became apparent after I had been playing for more than 2 hours.) I played through the game with the walkthrough and I concluded that even without the parser problems, I still wouldn't give the story and gameplay more than a 5-6. Still, the "guess the odd syntax" puzzles and inexplicable connections between events are one thing, but how could even a minimal amount of testing fail to reveal the obvious problems with the parser?

Novelty: medium
Interest: high
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 3

Blue Sky

First impression: Quite a mundane setting. That doesn't bug me. It's what you do with it that counts. Let's see... mostly default parser responses, no about text or credits. Plus I'm holding a pamphlet, but it doesn't seem to tell me anything useful when I read it. So what's the point? I'm not particularly hopeful about this game.

Two things strike me about BS. Firstly, it appears that the author really wanted to educate people about the history of Santa Fe. This game is almost like a virtual tour. In fact, I rather expect that the text from the plaques was literally transcribed from the real thing. Secondly, I get the impression that the author was inspired in some way by "Bureaucracy" (and no, it's not just because of the llama).

The geography of this game is confusing. I've never seen so many "guess the exits" puzzles in one game. (There are a lot of compass directions mentioned in the room descriptions, but very often you can't go that way.) Talking to people is also frustrating. When you ask them about an unknown topic there is no reply. Thus, you don't know which people might have something useful to say.

On top of it, there are some very odd verb implementations:

You are carrying:
  a pamphlet
  a peruvian blanket (being worn)
  a sipa

>give sipa to indians
The Indians selling jewelry don't seem interested.

>give blanket to them
The Indians selling jewelry don't seem interested.

>give pamplet to them
You aren't holding the Indians selling jewelry.

Ahh.. I seem to have misspelled "pamphlet". But still, this indicates that the author has overriden the give verb to include "give <topic/special> to <held>". What's with that?

Since this game has no gameplay to speak of, its only appeal would derive from whether you are interested in learning about the history of Santa Fe from a text adventure. I am not. I prefer to visit places by actually going there.

Novelty: low
Interest: low
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 2

Escape from Auriga (disqualified)

First impression: This seems rather like the movie "Alien". Oh wait... wasn't this the game that was disqualified for violating copyright?

I don't have too much patience for games with random elements, so I played it with the walkthrough. Actually, it's not a half bad game, though not particularly original/memorable. Most of the puzzles are resource conservation based (ammo, specifically).

Novelty: low
Interest: low
Fun: medium
Polish: medium
Score: 5


First impression: This game purports to be "an interactive short story" rather than a game. Not sure how I feel about that. The author says it is his first game, but it appears to be competently implemented. (He had the good sense to get beta testers.)

I'm not finding any significant bugs in the gameplay. But then again, the author takes a rather pusillanimous approach to unanticipated actions:

>search grass
You don't need to perform that action with the grass.

Well, I don't like that. Blah, blah, blah, mimesis, blah.

You come equipped with a scanner. I expected to see quite a few of those after the success of last year's triage (but they are difficult/tedious to implement). This one is implemented in about the same way as everything else. Only objects of special significance will yield a non-default response. So less work for the author, less fun for the player.

Identity is almost completely bug free, although rather brief and terse. The puzzles were of medium difficulty... just hard enough to be interesting, but never unfair (although I admit that I cheated on one of them out of laziness). And despite being titled "an interactive short story", it seemed like more of a game than a story to me.

Novelty: low
Interest: medium
Fun: medium
Polish: medium
Score: 6


First impression: What an interesting concept for a game. Instead of playing a magician who conjures spirits (as in Magocracy), you play the spirit. And the game is accompanied by an abstract picture of something or other. Intriguing.

However, I have to say that games involving magic and protecting villages are getting pretty old. One of the wizards is named Sevryd. Now where have I heard that before? Sounds a lot like "Slitheryn". This already the third game to use elements and elementals, so no originality points for that.

This game also takes a very big risk by implementing (and relying heavily on) an unconstrained "create" verb. Having implemented a similar thing in my one and only comp entry, I know how difficult that is. My first beta tester tried a whole bunch of objects that I hadn't thought of. My next beta tester tried a completely different set of unanticipated objects. I think I pulled it off pretty well, but I still discovered a few obvious omissions when I checked the comp transcripts. Overall it's a nice effect... when it works. It is definitely more satisfying to solve a "create" puzzle by using one's imagination rather than by trying every available option from a list.

"Order" is a game where 70% of the objects in the room descriptions aren't implemented and there is no evidence of beta testers. What hope do we have of guessing the correct noun? Pretty good actually. The items you can create fall into 4 basic categories: the obvious ones, the ones that are obvious once you guess the theme, the ones that require some imagination, and the ones that you would never ever guess unless you read the walkthrough. Fortunately, there are multiple solutions to each of the creation puzzles, and one of the obvious objects always works. The real problem is the puzzle where you assume that the solution is to create an object, but actually it isn't. You could be stuck for half an hour on that one.

As for the gameplay, well frankly I was completely lost most of the time. When you come across a monster, normally you can figure out how to defeat it. But getting to some of the locations is quite difficult. In particular (and this is a bit of a spoiler), there is a window that you need to access which does not appear anywhere in the room description (meanwhile, all of the windows that do appear in the room descriptions are not even implemented). So all in all, while the concept and the creation puzzles are nice, there is a lot of work needed to make this game playable. Some beta-testing would be a good start.

Novelty: high
Interest: high
Fun: medium
Polish: low
Score: 4

The Orion Agenda

First impressions: The first person narrative is quite disconcerting. Plus I'm jumping around it time. The author seems to know what he's doing, though. The prose is literate, but I'd like to know how to pronounce "Orionion".

I like where this game is going. There has been a lot of exposition so far, but without one giant infodump. There is an infonet computer I can consult, a manual, plus the NPCs are surprisingly sophisticated. Following a well-worn (but successful) motif, the game starts with an interesting vignette from the beginning of the story, flashes back to the beginning, and then continues on to the end. That's a tried and true way to pique a player's interest.

Not everything about this game is original. A lot of it seems derived from Star Trek, especially the concept of the prime directive. But the whole package just works. The puzzles are intriguing, although not especially difficult (I think I needed 1 hint, but didn't use all of it). Except for some disambiguation problems with the uniforms, the game was also remarkably bug free. It didn't stretch any boundaries about the limits of IF, but I still see it as one of the best games of the year.

Novelty: medium
Interest: high
Fun: high
Polish: high
Score: 9


First impression: It comes with a PDF manual, including some nicely tongue-in-cheek travel brochures that foreshadow the game. Very slick. But then the game starts and very little of the scenery is implemented. Now I'm less confident about the quality.

Sometimes the synchronicity of the comp is amazing. I remember last year seeing a comment about "yet another mistaken teleport" game. Well, this game is the second one to begin in a cryotube and the second to feature a robot maintenance spider. How's that for synchronicity!

But the spider from "The Orion Agenda" had the good sense to keep quiet when you weren't talking to it. This spider is more like that cloying spirit guide from last year's Amnesia. Plus the tone is all wrong. Here you are in a ship that's about to blow up and the spider is singing songs from HMS Pinafore.

So what do we have here... well basically, Splashdown is a complicated mechanical troubleshooting problem. You are unfamiliar with the workings of the ship, but from trial and error (and fooling with the computer interface, knobs, hoses, etc), you figure out what you are supposed to do. So although I was lost most of the time (I was never good at these mechanical puzzles), I did figure it out mostly by myself. (That being said, the game's punative time limit makes it almost impossible to solve the game on the first try. Thus, in real life the colonists would all be dead.)

Splashdown is a pretty good game, but I can't help but think that with a little more polish, it could have been a really solid one. The implementation of the computer and all the various subsystems of the ship must have been very tricky to do, but that work is unseated by the fact that the author didn't bother to implement most of the scenery. Still, aside from that, the game is mostly bug free. The best thing about "Splashdown" is actually the discovery of why the spaceship crashed in the first place (which is revealed during your investigation of the computer interface).

Novelty: medium
Interest: medium
Fun: high
Polish: medium
Score: 7

Sting of the Wasp

First impression: Now there's a cool way to start a game. Plus, many of the obvious actions (given my situation) give tongue in cheek responses. Nice. I like to occasionally play a villain, and I also like to sometimes play a competent non-fantasy, non-sci-fi game.

But here's a fairly major bug from the first 5 minutes of play:

>get bleach
Nah, let the cleaning staff handle that.

>search shelf
A filthy metal shelf hangs on the far wall, sagging from the weight of the cleaning supplies it struggles to support. Although most of them are foreign to you, you do recognize one bottle as bleach.

[Your score has just gone up by one point.]

>get bleach
(the bleach)

Huh? How can you miss that! Admittedly at this point I'm just using my magpie instincts, but clearly nothing changed during that interval to make me suddenly see a use for the bleach.

There are also problems with disambiguation. One of the rooms has a hidden handbag that takes priority over the bag I am carrying. The effect is very puzzling. Plus there's the fact that once you take the tickets out of the bag, you can't put them back (a serious problem in a game with an inventory limit).

That being said, the acrid one-liners had me rolling in the aisles...

>ask her about bra
"Oh dear, Beverly," you say, glancing at her chest, "you're not going to let your surgeon get away with that, are you?"

And instead of a mundane "you can't go that way", you get:

"That's the downside to drinking in the day," Beverly says as you clang into the fence, wine in hand. "That, and you can't drink as much in the evening."

In terms of gameplay, while I am enjoying the style, it didn't take me long to get stuck. Basically, there are a variety of things I might want to do (not really knowing why), but I can't do them while people are watching (which they always are). So I often found myself doing things to advance the plot. While it turned out I was missing some hints in the room descriptions, I have to say that they were very subtle.

But I was so enthralled with this game that I persevered. I made a point of winning this game without any hints. It took several hours, but it was very satisfying. Although... I was a bit disappointed to find an instance of the classic "transfer" bug in the endgame. That verb is far more trouble than it's worth (except in the betacomp, where it allowed me to win an otherwise unwinnable game). I also noticed that the two puzzles with alternate solutions were also the ones I had trouble with. Good judgement on the part of the author.

All-in-all, SotW was not entirely bug free, but it was fairly close. There are mitigating factors that allow me to give it a top score, in spite of a few nagging issues. It wins accolades from me both for its sharp wit and for tackling an area that is not often covered in IF.

Novelty: high
Interest: high
Fun: high
Polish: medium
Score: 10

Exige / Getting to Sleep / Getting Back to Sleep

I tried to play this game on two different computers, but it didn't work on either of them. I don't imagine I'm missing much. Home-grown parsers aren't really my thing. Also, I found it odd that this game doesn't seem to have one consistent name everywhere.


Besides to the above, there were the two comp entries that I beta tested. I won't attempt to score them because a) I couldn't possibly be objective, and b) I didn't replay the games using the official comp entry. However, I do have some comments to make about them.

Goose, Egg, Badger: An Eccentric Girl's Birthday

First impression (of the beta): As a Hofstadter fan, I immediately recognized the title as a tribute to "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" (or perhaps to "Giraffes, Elephants, Baboons: an Equatorial Grasslands Bestiary "). I wonder what percentage of judges will recognize this. (I'm guessing about 50%. GEB has a pretty widespread appeal.)

That being said, the game does not appear to have any literal connection to that book. It is, rather, the type of game that Hofstadter would have approved of. For those who are unaware, Hofstatder is the guy who took over Martin Gardner's Scientific American column ("Mathematical Games") and renamed it to "Metamagical Themas" (an anagram). An IF game involving wordplay and duality of meaning would definitely be up his alley.

Without trying to sound self-congratulatory, I must say that it is also an extremely well tested game. When I first played the game, it was already on beta release 9 or so (and in much better shape than the final version of most comp games). After another 20 betas or so, I thought the author was crazy. I struggled to find even obscure bugs (e.g. bizarre object interactions that in no way affected gameplay), and the author still fixed them.

I found GEB to be a fun, witty, and exceptionally intricate game. There are still new details to uncover on a third or fourth playing. It's also a very easy game. I had no trouble completing it (with a good score) in under 2 hours, even on my first attempt (before all the bugs were fixed). Furthermore, this is not a plot driven game. It is more of a vignette, and a study of the richness of the English language. So while GEB is both fun and witty, there is no real payoff at the end. The entertainment is in the exploration.

BTW, the author insisted on revealing the "secret" of the game in the about menu. Personally, I think it's better to figure it out yourself, but that's one disadvantage of the comp. You can't attempt anything too subtle, for fear that some judges won't get it. I hope this spoiler will be removed from the post-comp release.

Novelty: high
Interest: high
Fun: high
Polish: high


First impression (of the beta): I think this is the first game I have ever seen which uses a narrative voice that is ambiguously first person, second person, and third person. This perspective is unique for an IF game, AFAIK.

Bellclap is a very short game (much too short for a comp entry, IMHO). It is nonetheless well implemented, with a thorough attention to detail. Bellclap contains a create puzzle, but unlike "Order", it is a constrained create puzzle (basically, you can create almost anything that is mentioned elsewhere in the game.) The author seems to have implemented this via brute force, which I find amazing.

The theme is also fairly unique for IF. This is a short, earnest character study of a simple and pious man. (Or perhaps it is a character study of the player himself.) Bellclap is well worth playing for the experience, although it is unlikely to take more than 15-30 minutes to complete. Had I been scoring this game, I would mark it down quite severely for that.

Novelty: high
Interest: high
Fun: medium
Polish: high


So that was it. I had reviewed all the games and submitted my scores when I noticed a funny thing -- I gave "Zero" and "Zero One" the same score (2). Did I really play both of them? Hmm... apparently not. Not that I really expect to have to change that score, but in the name of fairness I should at least play the game.


First Impression: Memories of Delvyn are flooding into my head... the opening room with no description, the hunger daemon that kicked in 2 turns after I ate a stack of pancakes, the bottomless pit that caused at least 50% of players to type "quit".

This game is showing no signs of being any different. Isn't that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. So let's take this gem from the opening of the game:

"That's when the unthinkable happened, HUMANS! Fowl men with swords and lanterns"

And it's not just a single instance. Humans are refered to as fowl throughout the game. I'm having fun visualising that. Let's say they carry the lanterns in their beaks, but where does the sword go?

And when the inevitable hunger daemon kicks in and I still can't leave the castle, I'm thinking why can't I go out and hunt some fowl?

The next funniest line is this one:

>x rock
A fairly large granite rock that is flat on top. A black suit covers the top possibly from hot fire.

I didn't clue in until about the 10th time I read this that it was probably meant to be "a black soot". Still funny.

Here's another one:

"A portrait of the King hangs above the headboard painted by the Goblin artist Ratfac."

I think I remember that exact sentence from my grade 5 textbook about misplaced modifiers.

I made some progress in this game, but I didn't have the patience to continue to explore the same areas over and over (as the help text advises) with a hunger daemon nipping at my heels. Had this game come with a walkthrough, I might have given it a 3 or 4, but since it doesn't, I'm going to stick with my original score.

Novelty: low
Interest: low
Fun: low
Polish: low
Score: 2


With my reviews, I have given a score on a scale of 1-10 and a grading on the basis of 4 factors (novelty, interest, fun, polish). Although these 4 ratings have an influence on the final score, I prefer not to use any kind of rigid formula. Basically, if I like the game then it gets a good score. If I don't like it, it gets a bad score. (So if there's one category that counts more than the others, it's "fun".) Any game that I enjoyed playing is likely to get at least a 5.

Was there a game that I enjoyed more than last year's winner, Slouching Towards Bedlam? In my mind, yes. Was there a game that I would pick over last year's runner up, Risorgimento Represso? Perhaps not.

Regarding the novelty score, I have to admit a certain bias. Sci-fi and fantasy games abound in IF, and they win the comp year after year. I don't give a game a high novelty score just because it is set on a different planet or in a different dimension, simply because it has been done so many times before. I also tend to reserve the highest novelty scores for non-fantasy games that tackle areas not covered by other IF. I someone ever writes a compelling sports game, I may consider that novel. Or maybe a Seinfeld-style game about nothing.

Andrew's IF Comp 2004 Awards

Best Game: Square Circle
Runner Up: Sting of the Wasp

Most Potential: The Great Xavio
Runner Up: Gamlet

Best Puzzles: Square Circle
Runner Up: All Things Devours

Most Novel: Goose, Egg, Badger: An Eccentric Girl's Birthday
Runner Up: Gamlet

Best Story: Sting of the Wasp
Runner Up: Trading Punches

Best Prose: Gamlet
Runner Up: The Great Xavio

Most Polished: Goose, Egg, Badger: An Eccentric Girl's Birthday
Runner Up: The Orion Agenda

Most Intriguing PC: Bellclap
Runner Up: Gamlet

Best NPCs: The Great Xavio
Runner Up: The Orion Agenda

And finally...

Most Surprising: All Things Devours
Runner Up: Splashdown

(These were the entries where my first impression was negative, but the game turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise.)

I found myself playing the games mostly in order of interest (by title), although I did try to bounce around between the various interpreters. Actually, you really can't judge a game by its name, since many of the better games came near the end.

And did I mention that annotated transcripts are available for any author who wants them? Just e-mail me with your request (and mind the spam filter).

As for the languages... as usual, most of the better games are written in Z-Code. The Tads3 games were also of generally good quality. The authors who chose Adrift, Alan, or home-grown parsers were duly punished. (Why do you inflict such pain on yourselves and me?) Then there was the phenomenon of the Tads games. The Tads interpreter that comes with the comp package (HTML Tads) has the most godawful default colour scheme. Most of the games are completely unplayable unless you change it. I don't know exactly how much control a Tads author has over the colour scheme of his game, but I do wonder who chose that scheme in the first place.

And one final comment... what is with the IF community's obsession with elementals? At least four games in the comp made use of the earth/water/air/fire elements.

Summary of ratings:

Highly recommended

10: Square Circle
10: Sting of the Wasp
9: The Orion Agenda
9: All Things Devours
8: Gamlet
8: MingSheng
8: Blue Chairs

Also recommended

x: Goose, Egg, Badger: An Eccentric Girl's Birthday
x: Bellclap

Worth a try

7: Splashdown
7: Trading Punches
7: The Great Xavio
7: EAS3: Luminous Horizon
6: Magocracy
6: Identity
6: Kurusu City
5: I Must Play
5: The Big Scoop
5: Typo!
5: Chronicle Play Torn
5: A Light's Tale
5: Escape from Auriga (disqualified)

Not recommended

4: Blink
4: The Realm
4: Order
4: Who Created That Monster
3: Murder at the Aero Club
3: Redeye
3: A Day in the Life of a Superhero
3: Stack Overflow
2: Ninja
2: Blue Sky
2: Zero One (01)
2: Zero
2: Ruined Robots
1: Die Vollkommene Masse (withdrawn)
1: ptbad3.gam

This article copyright © 2004, Andrew Krywaniuk

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