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[Comp04] Joao Mendes's Reviews (LONG)

by Joao Mendes

Posted 18 November 2004 to

Hey, all, :)

And here are my reviews.

A nice HTMLized version can be found at




Wake Up: Disoriented

A rather short and simple story. As the game blurb says, you start off as a simple carpet salesman, and then get yourself into all sorts of trouble, of a criminal sort, and it's up to you to clear yourself. Nothing new, but not a hideously bad take on it. For some reason, the pacing failed to impress me.

Although the info command states that there are multiple puzzles to solve, I didn't find the game very puzzley. I did hesitate at a point or two along the way, but only because I am not the type of player that grabs everything in sight and searches everywhere. Eventually, I got through it, but was not overly impressed. On the bright side, I wasn't particularly thrown off, either.

The writing seemed about average. Lots of errors of the your/you're and its/it's variety, but I've gotten used to those by now. It wasn't all bad, though. I liked the tone of the intro screen, and there were some jokes. Ok, they were bad jokes, but that was clearly intentional, and it just worked well for me.

The technical aspect is the game's poorest facet. About three-quarters of the way through, the game starts to complain that I am a bit peckish, and this then escalates to a dire need for food, lest I shall pass out. I'm thinking to myself, oh no, not a hunger puzzle, but then the game ends. As in, victory. Generally, there is a poor implementation of details throughout all of the locations, and there is poor implementation of command wording. Also, some odd points:

>bartender, hello
lost mind.

Just like that. Odd response, that... Things like these tend to be spotted when authors ask their beta testers for command transcripts, by the way. Other examples:

>get cup
You already have the plastic cup!

You are empty-handed.

Where exactly is the cup, then?

>x photo
It's a photograph taken 5 years ago of you and your wife, Jenny, during
your honeymoon at the Gold Coast.

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

Pity... This would have been a good chance.

Really, apart from the fake hunger puzzle (which is what I think threw me off the pacing of the story) and the 'lost mind' response, none of those are very serious, but taken together, they indicate a lack of care in fleshing out the details. And we all know the pain is in the details, don't we.

Lastly, one final note. The fonts and colors are cute, although they can get tiring. The black background, however, is not cute. It forced me to go and specifically change the color of the input font on my interpreter, which means I'll have to go back and reset it for other games. This did not affect my judging, but I thought I'd point it out anyway...

Story: 2 (it's ok, but been there done that)
Writing: 1 (average, all around)
Technical: 0 (pretty bad all around)
Puzzles: 1 (they're there, and they're easy enough once you get in "adventure" mode)

Final rating: 4

Blue Sky

Wake Up: Normal

Not a new concept, but always a useful one. I'm a tourist that missed the tour group. So now I have to find them. Which I do. But then I loose them. Except I know where they went. Now I have to join them. Which I do, but then I loose them again. So now I have to join them one more time. And that's all there is to it. Simple, but effective nonetheless. Plus, we get to see Santa Fe, New Mexico, so it really can't be all bad.

As for puzzles, really, if it weren't for the hints, I'd never have gotten there. I attribute that to two factors: one is my lack of knowledge of Central American / Spanish American culture; the other is my utter lack of capacity to come up with a creative solution. While the second one is my own fault, the first one, I feel, is a limitation of the game.

The writing is good. This is not a masterpiece of literature, but it really doesn't have to be. That New Mexico mood really comes across. Well, actually, I've never been there, but from what little I know of it, the descriptions really hit home to my expectations, which is rather nice.

Technically, the game works. To be fair, there isn't much there to go wrong with, but I didn't bump into any snags. The only exception is talking. Asking about stuff never seems to work, which is a pity, since it would have been a nice way to clue the player a bit about what is going on with all those sipas and llamas.

Story: 2 (the premise is ok, but it's not really a story)
Writing: 2 (not literature, but very nice and evocative nonetheless)
Technical: 1 (average, nothing fancy being tried, and needs more dialog)
Puzzles: 1 (at the very least, the game should have explained what a sipa is)

Final rating: 6

Luminous Horizon

I'm not gonna play this. It's a sequel, and I don't like to play sequels out of sequence. I know the game says it's not necessary to play the previous episodes, but I do plan to play "Earth and Sky" and "Another Earth, Another Sky" some day, so I'm leaving this one till after that.

Final rating: NR


Wake Up: Normal

A reenactment of a mystical tale about the origins of Tai Chi. Utterly charming. The whole story has a very oriental feeling to it, and is rather well supported by the impeccable writing, which creates rather vivid imagery. Also, I found no spelling or grammar errors of any kind.

The puzzles are all very accessible, well thought out and well clued. I found three different endings for the game, each with its little moral snippet, which just adds to the charm. Oddly enough, even though I only consider one of those endings an actual 'victory', there is one other ending where the game considers that I have won, which just feels wrong to me... I can't expand any further on this without being spoilery.

The lack of an 'undo last move' at endgame is inconvenient, although once you know everything, replaying it is rather fast, so I guess it's really not all that important. Also, I found a few technical flaws throughout the game. One minor disturbing detail is the game's odd choice of defaults.

Indeed, I had some difficulty with the final "puzzle" (well, it's really too obvious to call it a puzzle, but it's something you need to do in order to finish the game, so why not call it that), precisely because of a technical failure, which kind of spoiled the end game for me, actually making me go to the walkthrough. I'm not gonna quote the exact passage because, again, it would be spoilery.

Final note: The game notes that a font capable of displaying Chinese characters would be a plus-value, so I took some time trying to get this to work (which I didn't count against my two hours, by the way). Finally, I got it to work by changing the font to @Arial Unicode MS, which, I think, is the only Unicode font available to Windows Frotz 2002 on my XP box. The game was right; those characters add just the right touch to the atmosphere.

Story: 3 (rather original and well thought-out, too barebones for a full-fledged 4, though)
Writing: 2 (vivid imagery, good atmosphere, no errors)
Technical: 1 (it would have been a 2, but that technical glitch on the last puzzle was fatal)
Puzzles: 2 (well thought-out and well clued, good story support)

Final rating: 8

The Realm

Wake Up: Disoriented

Well, what can I say? You start this one in your room, where a conspicuous lone letter claims that in order for you to "attain your knighthood you must carry out the following, randomly selected, task: Bring the head of a dragon to the King." Blah. Also, you have no equipment and must procure some. Again, blah. Quite a large number of NPCs, as befits any decent quest, but most of them are rather cardboard, performing either the function of arbitrarily swapping one object for another, or that of posing a static artificial barrier (i.e. puzzle) to your questing.

The writing is not much better. Although no spelling errors crept up (that I noticed), the sentence structure was loose and incoherent and the tone was rather dry. The walkthrough file claims that there are jokes and odd little quips, but it also warns that unless we try and actually play through the game, we'll miss most of them. Well, the warning is true to the mark, I missed most of them. I did like this one, though:

>read sign
The sign doesn't have any writing on it, just a picture of an axe crossed

The guard blocks your path.
"Can't you read?" He says, pointing to the sign. "No access..."

Maybe I'm being a little bit too harsh here. After all, what little message there was to get across did get across, and the axe pun was good, so I presume that there would be other good moments hidden away in there.

As for the puzzles, again, what can I say? Most are of the variety of "give x to y, y will then give you z as a reward". I did like the puzzle of the deaf blacksmith, but my amusement with it nowhere near compensates for the blandness of the others. The worst part is, I failed to see the logic behind most of them, and the clues were, well, not there. The player very clearly knows what he has to do, but there doesn't seem to be any indication of how to go about doing it. I found myself turning to the walkthrough after about twenty minutes, despite the aforementioned warning about the jokes and odd quips.

Technically, the game doesn't really try anything, so I guess there really is nothing to break. However, the general level of detail is utterly poor, there are way too many locations with nothing in them and no purpose to their existence, and this next detail is quite unforgivable:

>x guard
There's nothing in the Forest Guard.

Also, a better care for the English language would have been an asset throughout.

Story: 1 (there is no story, just a linear sequence of highly random events, but at least it's a game)
Writing: 1 (the axe thing was good and there were no spelling errors)
Technical: 0 (the lack of implementation effort was simply too self-evident)
Puzzles: 0 (arbitrary and not well clued at all)

Final rating: 2


Wake Up: N/A

You're a technician trying to get a machine to work. This is the basic premise of what turns out to be a rather story-less puzzle fest, albeit a very short one. Well, that's not exactly true, there is a point to the whole thing, but it only shows through in the end. Actually, that's not exactly true either, it's not a "point" per se, it's rather more of a punch line. I don't have much to say about this game, and this is mainly due to the fact that it was simply too short for me to build up an opinion.

The whole thing revolves around a manual, but said manual is rather hard to interact with. I get the impression that such difficulties are central to the point of the whole thing, but I would have liked it more if there were more gadgety things and the manual were easier to read.

Also, the fact that 'slot' was made a synonym for 'machine' rather than an entity in and of itself got me a bit too confused.

High note: there seem to be a number of ways to die. The one I got cracked me up, and I suspect there are a great many others, all equally funny.

Story: 2 (there isn't much of one, but there's something; even a short joke is kind of a story anyway)
Writing: 2 (not only does it get the job done, it got a few laughs out of me)
Technical: 1 (almost everything was well-done, but there wasn't enough there to warrant a 2)
Puzzles: 1 (I wish there was more to it and I wish there was more to the manual)

Final rating: 6

Getting Back To Sleep

Wake Up: Disoriented

You wake up in a ship that is going to crash, and it's up to you to save the day. Nothing fancy, nothing new. The actual events that transpire have a rather naive feel to them. I don't know how much time the author dedicated to developing the engine rather than the game itself, but the story is quite clearly underdeveloped. The writing was acceptable enough. I didn't notice any spelling or grammar problems. I got the feeling that this author may have something in store for us in the future, just not on this particular instance.

Ok, it's a non-standard game engine. So, you want to create an adventure game engine? Sure, why not? But, use it in a comp? Well, that's another matter entirely. My first gripe was that the game doesn't accurately detect a change in window size, which means I have this huge black space on my screen that could be used for text, but it isn't. Oh, and there's no scrollback. Well, this doesn't sound so bad, especially considering that the only text that you might need to reread often is the room descriptions. But wait... there's no verbose mode! Argh. Other things that were absent: pronouns, undo, 'l' as abbreviation for look, 'i' as abbreviation for inventory, things like that. Let me be perfectly honest: for a 1.0 version of a system, this is nothing short of excellent; but since it has to be judged against TADS and Inform games.... well, frankly, it sucks. As I said before, however, I see great things in the future for this author if he sticks with it.

Lastly, a word on the puzzles: There was an inventory limit. There was a maze. Enough said.

Story: 1 (basic and underdeveloped; actually, a tad too naive)
Writing: 1 (average, no real problems)
Technical: 0 (it's very good for a 1.0, but it just doesn't measure up to current standards)
Puzzles: 0 (mazes and inventory limits are out, unless there is a strong reason to include them)

Final rating: 2

Square Circle

Wake Up: Disoriented

This is a BIG game. I have no idea how it would have been possible to actually try to solve it in under two days, let alone two hours. That said, I like the story. You begin as a prisoner faced with a bizarre task. The story then develops into a classic Who Am I / Save The World premise. Actually, it occurs to me that I have seen a bit too much Who Am I in IF, but for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, here, it works.

It was very hard for me to rate the writing on this game, basically because there was just so much of it. Most of it was impeccable. However, predictably enough, with so much of it, the odd error creeps up here and there. Thinks like 'mpre' for 'more', a comma that should have been a period, a repeated word here and there. However, I did enjoy the style, I did get sucked into the story and I did feel the mood that was being put across. I think that if the game were half its size, the few errors I did find would have been spotted and corrected easily. Oh, did I mention it was BIG?

Technically, the game is also very strong, but then again, that is to be expected with TADS3. However, even putting the library's own strengths aside and looking at the implementation itself, the game is still very strong. Detail is everywhere, dialog is very complete, and there are a great many actions implemented. In the 45 minutes that I played with the game by myself (see below), I couldn't find a single thing that I tried that didn't seem to have some sort of appropriate non-stock response. And I'll note that there are a lot of things to try.

The game's major weakness is its puzzles. The very first one is of the "why don't I try this and see what happens" variety, which got me stumped within 20 minutes of playing. (Twenty minutes for the first puzzle? Well, there's a lot of background material to read within the game...) Eventually, I turned to the hints. You know the feeling you get when you read a hint and go "Doh! Why didn't I try that?" Well, that wasn't it. All I got was "How the hell was I supposed to think of trying that?" But anyway, after the aforementioned 45 minutes of playing and solving puzzles, one of which on my own, I finally gave up and peeked at the walkthrough... and I was about 10% of the way through. So, in panic, I decided to just follow it. Guess what, even with the walkthrough, it took me over an hour to read through all the text the game threw at me. I finished within a minute of the two-hour deadline. And I assure you, there were things in that walkthrough that I would never have thought up on my own without many a sleepless night.

An additional note: I don't know if this was intentional or not, but I think I got the game into an unwinnable state. There is a path where you can be made a prisoner again, but the second time around, I failed to find a way to escape, which is exactly what led me to give up and turn to the walkthrough.

In conclusion, this game was not exactly my cup of tea. However, I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who likes a rational, well thought out puzzlefest with a strong tying theme and cool NPCs to boot.

Story: 3 (it's well thought out and well developed, but it really is nothing new)
Writing: 2 (not flawless, but strong enough to qualify nonetheless)
Technical: 2 (everything is in there)
Puzzles: 0 (this type of puzzles simply isn't my cup of tea)

Final rating: 7


Wake Up: N/A

Oh, gee. A game in the third person. This should be interesting. Or not. Yawn. But then... surprise and delight, it works thoroughly! Check this out:

>x me
He can't see you, sir. You're in light inaccessible, hid from his eyes.
Unless that instruction was intended for me, in which case you're looking
radiant, sir, radiant.

Oooh. Delightful. Or this one:

>x hammer
Bellclap stares obediently at it.

I can't get enough of this. Another example:

He has wandered obediently off, but visibility has been rendered so low by
the rain that he is unable to keep on course. I'll call him back...
<Press a key>
...Here he is.

This is, of course, not a new format. I recall, for instance, L.A.S.H., and there may well be others. However, the term Player Character takes on a whole new meaning in this game, perhaps best displayed by the following quote (emphasis mine):

The area around the temple is barren heath, with a few bedraggled sheep in it. The right sort of setting for what is one of your more spectacular dusk thunderstorms. The moor extends <...>

And just one more, last one, I promise:

> Bellclap is feeling rather disconcerted by the thunder, sir. He wants to know if you're angry with him.
He's visibly relieved.

On to an actual review of the game, then. The story is rather simple. It's about a man who is surprised by a thunderstorm and forced to hide in a temple to his deity. This man must then find a way to appease the deity in order to continue on his journey. That's all there is to it. Actually, it feels no so much as a story but rather a motivation to try a different IF format. In that light, however, it does work.

The level of writing throughout the game really does it justice as well. Powerful and evocative, with just the right level of well-placed humor. Not long into the game, I truly began to feel that I was actually trying to guide this poor soul, rather than simply playing a game. Also, I spotted no grammatical or spelling errors of any kind.

Technically, this game must have posed a curious challenge to the author, which was surpassed marvelously well. I noticed a number of different solutions as well as a number of different treatments for various actions, nicely topped off by the very error message being simply "Sir?" Above board all around.

Lastly, we have the puzzles. They seem quite interesting and rather well-clued, but there's a catch. The clues are coded into random atmosphere reports and it may be quite a while until you get them, if at all. There are no hints to speak of, which is also bad form. There is, of course, the walkthrough, so I played through it. Oddly enough, I got those atmosphere clues to the puzzles after I had already played through their solution, which was weird. I really feel like I could have solved this one on my own if those clues were more forthcoming.

Story: 2 (good format-supporting premise, but not exactly a story per se)
Writing: 2 (powerful and evocative, with no errors in sight)
Technical: 2 (very complete and well-rounded implementation)
Puzzles: 1 (would have been a 2 if the clues were better timed)

Final rating: 7

I Must Play

Wake Up: N/A

A story of a little kid who sneaks into the video arcade after hours to play some games while the mean big boys are away. Cute but a bit pointless, if you ask me. Or not! The very first video machine I try. I find myself inside a huge game of Tetris! This was a moment of realization for me, which is always nice.

Unfortunately, once the novelty wears off, this becomes just another game with puzzles in it, although in its defense, I was able to figure out all but two of the puzzles on my own, and I only failed one of them because I have been awake for more than a few hours and am getting a bit tired. Of course, I think this game was meant to be very easy, and in that respect, it succeeds. There is one problem, though, and that is that the puzzles feel contrived. It doesn't feel like they're there to support the premise, rather, it feels that the premise was attained as a good means to collate all these random puzzles together.

The writing in this game, though error-free, is rather bland. Then again, I suppose the author would have to be an absolute genius in order to manage to be powerful and evocative, given the subject matter. I mean, there's only so much you can say about Tetris. Also, technically, the game works very well. TADS3 handles itself beautifully, as expected, but the author isn't creditless either. Lots of attention to detail, and all the attempted actions seemed catered to.

Story: 2 (basic, but well-rounded)
Writing: 1 (error-free and gets the job done, but the subject matter lacks in power)
Technical: 2 (a very competent use of the power of TADS3)
Puzzles: 1 (easy and accessible, but rather contrived)

Final rating: 6

Ruined Robots

Wake Up: Normal

Let me be perfectly frank here, if this game is what I think it is, it is a truly wonderful thing! So, what do I think it is? I think it is a way for a father to spend some time with his son and do something that is fun for the both of them, namely to create an adventure game. The story of the game is simple. You take a trip to some out of the way location and find that something is amiss. You then proceed through no end of barriers and obstacles in order to fix this something and make it right again.

The style of the game is very much what you would expect if this were the early 1980s, when text adventures were just beginning to pop up. Surreal locations, impossible objects and all-around zorkian puzzles, the game makes no distinction between player and player character, and the sequence of events is nothing more than a collage of obstacles, with no noticeable tying story. These things are not bad per se, except for the fact that maybe they are a bit dated. I mean I loved Zork at the time that it came out, but I'm pretty sure that if I were to play it today, it would simply loose all its charm.

Except that the level of quality in this game is nowhere near Zork. It is glaringly obvious that most of the writing was done either by someone relatively young or someone with relatively little time to devote to it. Not only is the text liberally sprinkled with errors, the whole style of the thing seems altogether bland, if not duct-taped together at random.

Technically speaking, this game leaves a little in the air as well, with such symptoms as lack of detail, inconsistent formatting and labeling, and others. However, the problems in this area don't seem as pervasive or as crippling as the writing style limitations. I was impressed with the number of NPCs and automata I came across. My speculation is that, since these seem to be a main part of the point of the game, I guess the authors devoted extra attention to their working and that shows.

And then we come to the puzzles. I'm going to be a bit spoilery here, but seriously, eating a glowing cookie and then proceeding to throw an explosive device into a nearby fireplace in order to extract from it some sort of key simply makes no sense, and neither does destroying a broken down vacuum cleaner by means of a sledge hammer. Expectably enough, after about ten minutes of playing, I was turning to the walkthrough. And then, horror, the walkthrough was wrong. Fortunately, I had seen enough during those first few minutes to realize what the bad command was, and was able to continue, only to find that the walkthrough was wrong again. At this point, I gave up. I have no idea what happens at the end of the game, and indeed, I didn't even understand what the aforementioned "something amiss" was.

This game simply does not meet the standards of a competition. However, it has all the markings of a first attempt, so I want to wrap up by saying something positive. The game is rather large, and that means a lot of work has been put into it. To me, that means either a love for IF in general, or a devotion to this particular joint endeavor. It shows. My advice to the authors is that they keep at it. Try playing through some pieces of modern IF, maybe the winners of recent competitions, to get a better feel for what works and what doesn't. I think people who are willing to dedicate this much effort to something like this will be producing top quality work sooner or later, provided they keep persistent.

Story: 0 (this is the textbook definition of the whole point of the thing escaping me utterly)
Writing: 0 (too many errors; tip: beta testers are a Good Thing(tm) )
Technical: 1 (the one redeeming feature, too many things actually work for me to give it a 0)
Puzzles: 0 (a broken walkthrough)

Final rating: 1

Who Created That Monster

Wake Up: N/A

Ah. Political commentary. Sure, ok, why not? It happens not to be my cup of tea. You are a journalist in Baghdad, in 2026, and your job is to uncover shady international politics in Iraq's past. I have no idea if the author actually researched all of this and whether it has any grounds of truth in it, but frankly, I don't care. Oh, and the final scene made me sick to my stomach.

Well, maybe I'm being too harsh. The fact is that I'm generally allergic to political commentary of any form, whether it is pro or anti whatever it is that it talks about, and also, I have been news-free for about twenty years, now. (Incidentally, if you feel the urge to watch the news daily, I recommend you recognize your addiction and seek professional help.) Eyeing the game from an objective perspective, which can be done easily by replacing Iraq and Baghdad with any arbitrary fictional country and city respectively, there is a story there, and there is an investigative plot, and it works. Until the final scene, that is. I simply can't digest it. Substituting the whole thing with a simple, discreet paragraph would have been a wise move.

The writing is... well, the whole thing reminded me of episodes of A-Team, or maybe even McGyver. Everyone is very terse, no one ever dies (they disappear in a puff of smoke, though, which I guess is a good substitute), and all the characters tell you exactly what you want to know, no more, no less. I'm curious as to how old the author is, but if he is in his thirties, it would explain a lot... An absence of spelling or grammar errors of any kind is always a good thing, though.

Technically, the game follows an implementation style that is very congruent with its writing. There is very little detail and what little detail there is, it is very terse. Again, an absence of mistakes or bugs of any kind is a good thing. I would have wished for the game world to be a tad smaller, but that's just me.

And then, there's the puzzles. Ah, yes, the puzzles. Sigh... Ok, I only needed a hint once, meaning everything is pretty well clued in. A very nice touch, disabling SEARCH, LOOK UNDER and LOOK BEHIND, by the way. And one of those puzzles was actually a lot of fun to solve. But... what the hell was the deal with those terrorists?!? Wouldn't one of them have been enough? Don't worry, this isn't a spoiler, if you play the game, you'll find out what I mean soon enough.

Story: 2 (it would have been a 3 if either it weren't so political or it didn't have that final scene)
Writing: 1 (rather competent, but nothing fancy; feels like we're back in the 80's, though)
Technical: 1 (again, competent, without being fancy)
Puzzles: 1 (docked on account of the terrorists)

Final rating: 5


Wake Up: Disoriented

You wake up inside your crashed spaceship and you don't remember who you are. Your job is to remember who you are, then get the hell out of Dodge. For the life of me, I can't understand what the whole amnesia thing is. The story would have been exactly the same without it, and so would the puzzles. Other than that, this is just another sci-fi story that would look just as good in any episode of any sci-fi TV series. Which is good, seeing as I like TV sci-fi. Hey, the story even comes complete with locals who all speak English. Isn't that what TV sci-fi is all about?

The writing in this story does its job well. I did find a few glitches here and there, but nothing too serious. However, something is missing from it. It lacks force, in some way. For example, for a story that's supposed to be about a stranded amnesiac, there was no real feeling of strandedness, and in fact, there wasn't even a real feeling of amnesia at all.

Technically, the game is quite decent. All the objects and locations have adequate detail, and a good number of possible actions are accounted for. Again, however, there was something missing. Some obvious verbs might have been implemented. And at one point in time, I examined a jar, only to be told that it contains. That's right, it contains. This wasn't exactly a show stopper, however, as upon reviewing my inventory, the contents of said jar were conveniently listed. Still, odd thing, that.

As for the puzzles, most of them were quite competently put together, if maybe a bit unimaginative. The clueing was good as well. I only needed the hints twice. Well, actually, I only needed them once, but near the end game, there is a trial-and-error puzzle, and I really couldn't be bothered, so I just checked the hints and was done with it. Nice hint system, by the way.

Story: 2 (just your average sci-fi story; maybe worth a 3, but not with the amnesia thing)
Writing: 1 (competent, but lacking in force)
Technical: 1 (again, competent, but could have used some more testing)
Puzzles: 1 (competent but unimaginative; maybe worth a 2, but not with the trial-and-error puzzle)

Final rating: 5

Goose, Egg, Badger

Wake Up: Normal

Er... I didn't understand this game. At all. Apparently, you're a girl that wakes up in her bedroom because of an intruder. As you come out of bed, you realize that all your animals are scattered about and your house is rather dirty. Oh, and you live in what used to be a farm but is now also an exotic animal park, so when I say your animals, this includes an ape and a yak. Ok, not very exotic, but it's a farm. Now, there seems to be more to the story, but I can't get into it without being spoilery, so I won't. Just take my word for it, it was very weird.

I hesitate to rate this game since I was so lost throughout all of it, I turned to the walkthrough after about 15 minutes of trying to make heads and tails of it. However, I did play it, so I guess I should. I have a feeling, though, that the game will place better than my rating would indicate.

Story: 0 (yep, that's right, I didn't understand it)
Writing: 1 (no errors of any kind that I was able to spot, but I was lost, not moved, so...)
Technical: 2 (from what I saw via the walkthrough, definitely very strong)
Puzzles: 0 (again, this is from the walkthrough, and no, it's not for me)

Final rating: 3

Stack Overflow

Wake Up: Normal

You're late for work and trying to get there you trip, fall and loose consciousness. You then have to proceed through your dream in order to regain said consciousness. The dream takes place mostly (but not totally) in an alien space station, from which you must try to escape. If I'm starting to sound surreal and disconnected, that's because that's how the game sounded.

The writing in the game is very terse and unimaginative. I did find some errors, but nothing blatantly abusive. The level of technical detail that I got to see was likewise unimpressive either way. There were a bunch of machines and devices, though, so I guess if I had done the exploring myself, I might have been more impressed. Alas, I was working to the walkthrough most of the time, so I didn't have the opportunity.

And why was I working to the walkthrough? Well, because nothing made much sense. Plus, little objects with cute magic words may have their place, but at least there should be some point to them.

Story: 1 (surreal and disconnected; well, actually, just plain bad)
Writing: 1 (only because it wasn't bad enough to warrant 0)
Technical: 1 (I didn't get to see enough of it for any other rating)
Puzzles: 0 (this type of thing is just not for me)

Final rating: 3


Wake Up: N/A

Hmm... The author's blurb for this game doesn't anticipate anything good. Let's try it anyway. You are in someone else's mind... Hmm... Nope. After visiting 9 different locations and finding absolutely no clue of what I'm supposed to be doing, I'm about ready to give up. Let's look for hints or a walkthrough. Oh, there isn't one.

I wonder what it is that goes through people's minds when they decide to enter stuff like this in a competition. This game together with the fact that I rated a previously played game with a legitimate 1 makes me sad that the range of scores in the comp does not begin at 0.

Story: 0
Writing: 0
Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0

Final rating: 1 (adjusted for comp rules)

Zero One

Wake Up: Lost

Well, actually, when the game first begins, you're awake, but I passed out from shock and exhaustion on the very first turn, so I think it still applies.

Anyway, you begin a captive in a cell and you must escape. Simple enough. Why are you a prisoner? Who is your captor? Why are people shooting each other? What's going on here? No one knows, as none of these questions have answers in this game. The author does warn us that he built the game in just five days. I believe him.

The game is very, very short, and there isn't much writing to it. What little there is, though, is adequate enough. One little detail of note. I don't know if this was on purpose or not, but:

The carpet, walls, and ceiling give the impression of little expense being spared to give the impression that no expense had been spared.

If you think about it, it actually makes sense, in some way.

Technically, I was disappointed. I think I fault the Alan engine more than the author, though. My main problem was the lack of disambiguation and the lack of default objects for verbs. The author did try to transcend these limitations, though, by providing some responses for some weird things the player might try. A for effort.

As to the puzzles, I suppose they are easy enough, but they are of the sort where the player has to search and look behind and under everything, so eventually, near the end, I had to go to the walkthrough.

Story: 1 (it may be the beginning of something good, but it is too sketchy for more)
Writing: 1 (altogether unremarkable)
Technical: 1 (good effort by the author, but the Alan parser is just plain bad)
Puzzles: 1 (easy enough, I suppose)

Final rating: 4

Murder At The Aero Club

Wake Up: N/A

You're a police detective sent to solve a murder in an airfield. So far, so good. I had high hopes for this game, even though a murder mystery might be hard to build in order to be solvable in under two hours. I had those hopes dispelled in under ten minutes. Everything is so bloody obvious, the whole story is thrown at you. And to make matters worse, the optimal solution involves an action for which you should be thrown in jail. Oh, and there's a glaring problem: no one in the airfield seems to know the murder has taken place, so who the hell called the police?

The level of writing in this game is adequately competent. The same cannot be said for the level of technical implementation, however. Number one, the NPCs feel like cardboard bare bones props. Number two, and most important, one of the NPCs reacted to critical events way too late, in a manner that I can only consider a serious bug.

Lastly, the puzzles. Actually, with one notable exception, everything was so obvious I hesitate to call it a puzzle. The exception, however, was contrived and had an extremely far-fetched solution. So far-fetched, in fact, that I had to go to the walkthrough to get it. Which is where I found out that there were two solutions, both equally bad. For reasons beyond my understanding, the author considers one of them better than the other. You be the judge.

Story: 1 (underdeveloped and full of holes)
Writing: 1 (adequately competent but unremarkable)
Technical: 0 (cardboard NPCs, with a very serious NPC bug)
Puzzles: 1 (not quite bad enough to warrant a 0)

Final rating: 3


I'm skipping this one. The readme text boasts "a healthy dose of MUD-like combat". Since it is my opinion that there is no such thing, I'm just gonna leave it aside. I planned to come back to it after I got through with the rest of them, but as it turns out, I just didn't have time for it.

Final rating: NR

Chronicle Play Torn

Wake Up: N/A

Your uncle is a crazy occultist and he disappeared. You decide to pop in to his secluded dark mansion to see if you can find him again. The game is divided into three chapters. The first is a short quest around the house, and the other two are spent in some sort of hellish underground, ironically called Eden, by the way. There's more to this story, and though it's not much more, I'll still stop here in order not to spoil anything. I will add that the ending I got was completely anti-climatic, and although there are multiple endings, I ran out of time before I could try the others.

I found this to be a little bit on the overwritten side. There is a clear attempt at evoking a foreboding mood, but it just falls short of the mark, as in this passage:

There are small powder-filled bags here, dried herbs of various kind, pieces of wood and minerals, vials filled with goo. As you watch them a casual feeling overcomes you, but you doubt they would harm you.

Still, I have some sympathy for the author. English is not his first language, and I can't help but admire the things he did get right. He also claims to not have had enough time to beta-test adequately, which I think would have helped him tons, with the added benefit that his mastery of the language would no doubt have improved. Oh, well. A for effort.

Oh, my, oh, my! Trying to get into the pool without the correct object in your inventory yields a sequence of messages reading "You should find something to keep your possessions before entering the pool.", which is then followed by a pop-up whose contents are "Frotz Fatal Error: Stack overflow", after which Frotz shuts down. This is not a Good Thing(tm). So much for technical achievement. Also:

There are exits to all directions from this room.

You can't go that way.

Erm... Okay, then...

As for the puzzles, well, the first chapter was actually rather decent. The crash had me going to the hints and ultimately the walkthrough so that I could find what the object was that allowed me to go under. The object in question is completely non-obvious, by the way, but I'll assume it was just a bad translation for what the author actually had in mind. The second chapter was also not very difficult. However, the game is a bit big and I was running short on time, so I decided to turn to the walkthrough for the third chapter. Boy, am I glad I did. There seem to be a hundred different ways to get the game into unwinnable states, plus there are some puzzles with completely unreasonable solutions.

I think this game was a very brave attempt. I wish the author had taken the time to do heavy beta testing before releasing it in a comp. Also, the AMUSING facts at the end of the game claim that part of it was written in 2005, which I find unlikely, although it would certainly explain a lot...

Story: 2 (a difficult theme, to be sure; almost a 3, but the ending really spoiled it for me)
Writing: 1 (A for effort from a non-native English speaker)
Technical: 0 (crashing Frotz can never be a good thing...)
Puzzles: 0 (this game is the very definition of the telepathy phenomenon)

Final rating: 3


Wake Up: N/A

It's time for dinner and you need to find your grandson. As it turns out, you're a war hero and your grandson is intelligent and curious and wants to know about war. An auspicious beginning for what might be a Photopia-like take on one of mankind's greatest issues. The author is from, no less, a site containing much IF. And the prose has just the right amount of life-like quality to give very credible support to the theme. Promising.

And then I got stuck. Bam! The ABOUT text mentions several paths, so I try them. Unfortunately, they all lead to the same place. Utter stuckiness. Maybe I'm dense, maybe there was something incredibly obvious to do, but I didn't find it. I did find the glaring absence of hints or a walkthrough. I tried everything I could think of, and then some things I couldn't. I read through the scrollback very carefully, maybe I'd missed something. Nope, still stuck.

So, I gave up... AAAAARRGHHHH!!!

Story: 1 (I liked what little of it I saw, but I would have liked it better if I had seen all of it)
Writing: 2 (clear, concise and very lifelike; a shattered promise, alas)
Technical: 0 (too many actions not catered for, or maybe there was more to it that I didn't see)
Puzzles: 0 (an unfinished game deserves nothing better)

Final rating: 3

Trading Punches

Wake Up: N/A

Wow!! Oh, my! Ok, I think this is the one. You begin this story as a young boy, a member of one of your people's distinguished political families. The story then unfolds throughout various significant episodes in your life, and in those episodes, the story of your own people is built and remembered. The whole thing is just absolutely beautiful. And the ending is quite simply perfect. I don't quite know if a Hugo game has a chance in this competition, but I really hope so, and if so, it'll certainly be this one. Its one flaw is that it is one of those games that are quite too big for the competition. I went to the walkthrough within 15 minutes and it took me well over an hour and a half to get through the whole thing. But I am, oh, so glad I did!

The writing is distinguished. There's a whole detailed world in it, and if the author didn't create this especially for the game then I don't know where it is all coming from, but it is certainly very strong. I particularly liked the dialog throughout. Kudos for what is so far the best level of writing in the competition, in this judge's opinion. Oh, there were occasional errors to be sure. 'Largly' should have been 'largely' and I'm pretty sure that 'algae' is a plural word. Nonetheless, these are utterly forgivable, especially considering the sheer amount of text in the game.

Technically, I was impressed with the Hugo parser. Ok, so maybe it's not T3, but I really like the way it accepts and translates equivalent actions. I missed ASK FOR, but once I understood how the parser works, I just used GET and all was well again. So, let's talk about the author's technical accomplishments. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the much game by myself, due to the sheer size of it, but I did get to play through the whole of the prologue and I did explore a lot during the first episode, and the level of detail I found was quite exquisite. Also, while working the walkthrough, I tried some side actions, just to see what was around me, and there was a lot. I especially loved how the story seemed to evolve with me, timing itself to my actions in near perfect synchronicity.

And then, there's the puzzles. Like I said, I got through the prologue easily enough, but in the first episode, I finally turned to the walkthrough, not because I didn't know what to do, but because it became painfully apparent that the combinations were simply too many for the two-hour period. Still, studying the walkthrough and my side actions, I am convinced that this is one of those games that, although difficult, I would eventually have been able to solve on my own. Alas, given the constraints of the comp, I feel obliged to take my use of the walkthrough into account. I should note, however, that form what I saw, the puzzles support and add strength to the story in a very effective and convincing manner.

A final note: the game includes graphics and music, though they are entirely optional for the game and indeed perhaps a tad irrelevant altogether. I know that for some people, download bandwidth is a problem, but I am fortunate enough not to be one of those people. Personally, though I would have been just as happy without the soft music and the cute pictures, I think they did give their own modest contribution to the mood.

In conclusion, I think this game will earn its place among the best of IF. For me, it is to Hugo what Worlds Apart is to T2. And of the 20 games I have played so far in this comp, it is certainly the best one.

Story: 4 (what can I say, simply perfect)
Writing: 2 (best in comp, so far)
Technical: 2 (the sheer volume of cohesive detail deserves no less)
Puzzles: 1 (docked for complexity; might even have been a 0, were it not for the strong story support)

Final rating: 9


Wake Up: N/A

You're a spirit summoned by an enclave of wizards and must use your powers of creation to defeat their enemies. A decent if skeletal premise, this game is much more a puzzlefest than any attempt at a story whatsoever. Who are the wizards and where did they come from? Why are the enemies acting like that? What exactly is going on? We never know and it really doesn't matter to the game. Obviously, powerful wizards on the brink of extinction would much rather you spend your time saving their lives than listening to their stories.

The level of writing is very decent, here, although a bit terse. I spotted no mistakes, whether spelling or grammatical, but neither was I particularly moved one way or the other. The technical level, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. The game bases itself on an interesting technical gimmick, which is to allow you to actually create objects that don't yet exist in the game world. Obviously, then, the author is immediately faced with the challenge of catering to a player's unlimited imagination. This is an interesting setup, but it has a huge potential to backfire, and backfire it did. Of all the things I tried to create, only about 10% seemed to work. This is definitely a game that would have profited from copious amounts of beta testing.

Creating is, of course, the basis of the puzzles. Again, this is rather innovative but failed abysmally. I found myself stuck in telepathy land far too many times for a game this size, beginning with the very first puzzle. Here, however, I fault the overterseness of the descriptions, as well as the lack of creatable objects. On the plus side, I was impressed with the number of different solutions evidenced in the hints, so I guess it's not all bad.

Story: 2 (a storyless premise, as many before it; it supports the game well enough)
Writing: 1 (flawless, yet unimpressive)
Technical: 0 (a great challenge, to be sure, but mishandled)
Puzzles: 1 (should have been a 0, but good will was extended based on the content of the hint system)

Final rating: 4


Wake Up: N/A

Hamlet. As in Shakespeare's. I suppose one could do worse as a source of inspiration. On the other hand, Hamlet wasn't Jewish. Also, I couldn't quite figure out whether the author was being sarcastic or not when he pointed out, in the ABOUT text, that the game was based on a true story. But that's all rather beside the point. You play a man whose father died in less than conventional circumstances. Your father's ghost asks you to avenge the murder. Also, to procure some book. As a plot beginning, it was interesting enough. Unfortunately, I got stuck halfway through it, and without a walkthrough or significant hints of any kind, I have no idea where it was going.

I was very much enjoying the tone of the writing in the game. The author's unconventional uses of language were very effective in setting a mysterious tone and I was never quite sure what would pop up next. Likewise, the level of technical detail is rather impressive, and even the way the default messages were changed contributes to the overall effect,

Regarding the puzzles, I don't know what to say, frankly because I don't quite know why I got stuck. I assume there was a hidden clue somewhere, but I couldn't find it anywhere. Unless, of course, I was supposed to know what those letters represent. I mean, it's one thing to know what a yarmulke is, but I have no idea what a yadu is or even what threayhe means. Including a walkthrough would have been rather nice.

Story: 1 (I liked what I saw, but I would have liked to see more of it)
Writing: 2 (impressive usage of language)
Technical: 2 (great attention to detail, strong implementation)
Puzzles: 0 (unfinished)

Final rating: 5


Wake Up: Normal

You wake up in your cryotube and quickly realize that your ship missed its landing site. As it turns out, it landed on some body of water and it is now sinking. It's up to you to save yourself and the other passengers on board. Oh, and you don't have that much time, either. As far as IF premises go, this seems to be one of the more common ones, although the motivation for the crash in this particular game seems like something straight out of Monty Python, which is cool, I guess.

The writing here is rather plain. There are a few spelling errors, though nothing really too serious, but the main thing is, there isn't any feeling behind it, even though the game tries its hardest to establish a hurried mood, and even succeeds at it in some points. I think I would have liked it better if the main NPC were less annoyingly human.

Technically, I found very little at fault with the game. Actually, it's more than that. Every object behaved as I expected it to behave, and the level of detail was just right to provide that feeling of being inside a ship. Nothing I tried was unresponded to. One minor flaw is the game using 'You' in a section where it shouldn't have.

The puzzles were also rather acceptable. I did go to the hints a couple of times, but that's to be expected. I found most of them had just the right amount of clueing, and some of them were rather fresh. However, many of them also felt a bit contrived, and maybe even a bit nonsensical since we're talking about space-faring technology.

Story: 2 (even with the touch of humor, it really is just your average 'stranded ship' story)
Writing: 1 (almost a 2, but the NPC spoiled it just a tad too much)
Technical: 2 (very strong and solid, with just the right level of detail)
Puzzles: 1 (some fresh, some not, all in all a decent work, but not strong enough for a 2)

Final rating: 6

All Things Devours

Wake Up: N/A

Whohoa! I think we have another winner here. After playing though 24 games, and for the second time in this competition, I am duly impressed. You are a saboteur, armed with a timed explosive device, on a mission to destroy a research prototype, hopefully without killing anyone. Nothing new so far, and the story itself really doesn't go that much beyond it. However, the way events unfold as you play through this game make for a plot that is simply brilliantly delivered, if a bit on the short side. I won't go into many more details here, so as not to spoil it, but trust me, you won't be disappointed.

To be fair, shortness of plot is just about the only way this game would work. The whole thing has a time limit, and indeed, in the ABOUT text, the author claims that the game might be unfair, since there are way too may ways to make it unwinnable. However, because it is so short, there really is no problem in playing through it quite a number of times, in search of an adequate solution.

You might wonder if this might not be boring. The answer is no. It's not boring because it is so cleverly written. Yes, the style is rather terse, but it is in just the right tone to bring about a sense of hurriedness, which actually combines rather well with the game's time constraints, creating a feeling of impending doom. It's almost like you can't type fast enough to see if you've got it this time.

The technical aspect is where the game really shines. As both a player and an author, it was easy for me to see the intricate ballet that the various pieces of code have to participate in, in order to create the desired effects, and the author pulls it off impeccably. Also, there are no spelling or grammar errors of any kind, which I could spot. I should note that the supporting website mentions a known bug, but I didn't come across it in about an hour's worth of playing and possibly 30 restarts, so I'm not going to take it into account.

And finally, there are the puzzles. For the first time in this competition, I have found puzzles that are hard and yet fair. They are all rather deductive in nature. I did have to go to the hints twice, but I only because I was getting a bit tired of trying so many things in so many games. If this had been the first game I played, I would not have needed hints. Also, for the first time in a long while, this is a game where knowing the solutions is one thing, but pulling them off successfully is another. And I'm not talking about guess-the-verb, here; I'm talking about the need for careful planning and detailed execution. Again, the ABOUT text mentions unfairness, but I have to disagree. The solutions are plainly there, and no, they are not based on knowledge from previous lives, they are based on pure deductive reasoning. Kudos.

Story: 3 (a basic premise, with a bonus point for a brilliant delivery)
Writing: 2 (terse, but very well done, nonetheless; combines well with the game's puzzles)
Technical: 2 (and it would still be a 2, even with the mentioned known bug)
Puzzles: 2 (hard but fair; very imaginative)

Final rating: 9


Wake Up: N/A

You are a ninja, attached to a Shinto shrine. You have to retrieve a golden idol from another shrine, guarded by another ninja, and bring it to your own. There are four different locations, three different objects, two of which are carriable, and an NPC that does nothing but kill you. And, all this is poorly implemented to boot. The writing is terse, disconnected and grammatically incoherent, the parser simply stinks, and the puzzles are so immediately obvious I even have difficulty calling this a game.

Story: 1 (too good for a 0, seeing as how I understood all of it)
Writing: 0 (for repeated grammatical incorrectness)
Technical: 0 (not being able to examine something I can carry is not acceptable)
Puzzles: 0 (frankly, there weren't any)

Final rating: 1


Wake Up: Normal

You're a goblin and your lair has just been attacked by humans, who apparently have no regard for goblin life. An interesting turn of tables, for sure. Now, as you wake up, tattered, bruised and torn, the task of setting things right again falls on you. A decent premise, though certainly nothing new.

I was expecting worse from this piece, actually, seeing as it comes from the infamous Santoonie Corp. I'm glad I decided to keep an open mind and get at it anyway. There is a certain charm to this piece, and it didn't take me long to slip into the skin of this poor little goblin for whom humans have no regard. Unfortunately, however, I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do before I died of malnutrition. I did try to look for hints or a walkthrough, but the game clearly states that there simply isn't one, so I just gave up on it. Pity, this might have been the game that turned things around for the A.P.Hill 'party'.

The writing was certainly competent. The various errors and grammar flaws didn't prevent the game from displaying adequate mood, and the tone certainly helped me get into character, so to speak. Also, a note about the graphics wouldn't be out of place, here. Personally, I liked them, they contribute to the tone rather effectively.

As for technical achievement, the game doesn't really try anything fancy, so the TADS-2 library is certainly capable of handling things competently. A number of flaws did show through, however. Very minor things, like a 'torches' object that is singular, or a response to 'search king' of 'There is nothing in the King.' Nothing serious, certainly, but an irritating number of these little things eventually gets tedious.

Finally, the puzzles. All I got to see was a couple of objects that belonged in a couple of places, I got that far, but then died from lack of food. Starvation puzzles are fine in a game that is about starvation, but this one isn't it.

Story: 2 (a decent premise, though nothing new)
Writing: 1 (many bugs, but still effective at conveying a mood)
Technical: 1 (no serious problems, but far from flawless as well)
Puzzles: 0 (not only did I not finish it, I starved)

Final rating: 4

Sting Of The Wasp

Wake Up: N/A

You are Julia Hawthorne, socialite extraordinaire and all-around nasty person. Someone flashed a compromising photo of you and a guy that works at your health club, and it is now up to you to save the day. This is done via blackmail, breaking and entering, theft, sabotage, and other resourceful stuff, so to speak. I have no idea whether people like this actually exist, and I can't say I find it easy to believe in it. Also, I didn't really understand all that was going on. I found this a rather interesting piece of work, but it's not something I would really call a good story.

The level of writing is quite sharp, with just the right touch of dry humor. The utter nastiness of the PC is pervasive throughout, and the various NPCs come in at a very close second place. No spelling or grammar errors are apparent, and I really felt like I was at Pine Meadows. Very nice.

Technically, not only did I not find anything wrong with the game, I was impressed by the depth of implementation. Nothing I tried was unresponded to and the timed sequences work rather well. Again, all around good job.

The puzzles are your garden variety stuff. Good story support and all, but it's really not my cup of tea. I needed liberal use of the hints in order to get anywhere, mainly because I couldn't get into character quickly enough. The author does warn us that winning the game requires high levels of wrongdoing, but I underestimated the extent to which he meant this. However, I should add that the clues and the motivation seem to be done well. I guess I just didn't grasp it.

Story: 2 (a solid premise, although hardly believable)
Writing: 2 (sharp, witty and all-around nasty)
Technical: 2 (very complete and competently done)
Puzzles: 1 (garden variety, fair but hard)

Final rating: 7

The Big Scoop

Wake Up: Disoriented

Well, actually, the wake-up part applies only to the prologue, as you switch protagonists when the actual game starts. Namely, you start out as a woman being framed for murder who must escape an embarrassing situation, then switch over to a journalist who sets out to help her prove her innocence. Pretty standard stuff. Even the story behind the murder itself is a bit on the plain vanilla side, and the game even comes with its own "too-stupid-to-shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later" garden variety villain.

This is not saying that it is badly done, mind you. Even with such a bland theme, the author does a competent job of putting together a well-paced story, complete with an action sequence at the end. Throughout, the game feels like a 50-minute episode from some 80's detective TV show.

The level of writing is rather decent, although there is a distinctive feel that English is not the author's first language. No glaring errors or grammar inconsistencies that I could spot, which is nice, but the whole thing lacks in force in some way. I felt like I was watching the show, rather than being part of it.

Technically, again, not a bad job at all. I didn't hit any snags, and I enjoyed the implementation of the NPCs in the story. They all played their standard parts in the plot, rather flatly if one thinks about it, but they behaved so much exactly like I expected them to that they actually felt alive. There were a couple of points where I hit my head against parser limitations, however. That feeling of knowing exactly what you want to do but not knowing how to phrase it so the game understands it can bit a bit annoying.

As for the puzzles, they neither add to nor detract from the story. Again, much like an 80's TV show, the things the characters do are rather self-contained, dealing with one problem at a time, and relying on what I like to call "script-writer luck" to get through some situations. One particular puzzle has a solution that is just contrived enough to make sense on TV but nowhere else. I can't go into details without being spoilery, but if you play it, I'm sure you'll know what I mean. Also, I confess I had to go to the hints for quite a number of times, but given the nature of my relationship to puzzles in general, that is to be expected.

Story: 3 (basic, but bonus points for good pacing and internal consistency)
Writing: 1 (competent and solid, but lacking in force)
Technical: 1 (well-rounded and solid, but penalty for making me struggle against the parser)
Puzzles: 1 (pretty standard stuff throughout, though competently done)

Final rating: 6

A Light's Tale

Wake Up: N/A

Ok, I have no idea what this was. It starts out with a very mystical and surrealist feel to it, but very quickly looses all its coherence. It took me the better part of ten minutes to figure out that I wasn't going to go anywhere with this on my own, so I finally turned to the walkthrough. Guess what, it didn't do me any good. I still don't understand what's supposed to be going on...

The level of writing in this game seems competent, but the events themselves are so cryptic there really isn't anything useful I can say...

Technically, the game also fails abysmally. For instance, this is never a good sign:

>show mirror to george
[TADS-1014: 'abort' statement executed]

>show flashlight to george
[TADS-1014: 'abort' statement executed]

Also, there is a door that you can't unlock until you get the key, but guess what, you don't need to unlock it, you can just open it...

Lastly, the puzzles, I didn't understand them either. Plus, some clues are written literally, by the author to the player, and what can I say, that's not my cup of tea at all.

I hope the author doesn't feel that I was offended by this game, as I wasn't. I was, however, utterly unable to see the point.

Story: 0 (this is the very definition of my not understanding anything)
Writing: 1 (the author knows his way around the English language, but that's about it)
Technical: 0 (TADS error messages cannot be forgiven)
Puzzles: 0 (authors should avoid speaking to the players directly)

Final rating: 1

Escape From Auriga

This game was disqualified from the comp before I got to it in the playing order. As I am beginning to run out of judging time, I'm just gonna leave it aside. I may come back to it afterwards, if there is still time, but I doubt it.

Final rating: NR

The Orion Agenda

Wake Up: Lost

You work for a corporation that tracks alien cultures as they develop, trying hard not to contaminate them before they are ready to be accepted into the League of Sentient Worlds. The whole theme reminds me of Lloyd Biggle Jr.'s "The Still Small Voice Of Trumpets", and the plot is not that dissimilar either. Which is an achievement, since that remains one of my favorite books of all time. Some alternative endings add just the right amount of spice to make it a very good piece of work. The story even comes complete with an aggravating an insulting NPC, which I predict will grate a few players, but I found fit right in.

The writing is quite flawless throughout. Very dry and technical at some points, highly descriptive at others, not only is it error free, it supports the story rather nicely. I would have liked to see better cueing regarding the relationship between the PC and the main NPC (not the one I previously mentioned), but seeing as it's really not that central to the story, I guess that's highly excusable.

Speaking of the main NPC, the technical aspect impressed me as well, here, especially the autonomy and depth of implementation. Whereas most IF NPCs are either mindless, obedient automatons or stubborn rock-faced fools, here, the range of allowed actions and general helpfulness were very high.

And then, there's the puzzles. It's unfortunate that sometimes IF authors seem to want to bend head over heels to insert puzzles into games, solely for the purpose of avoid the 'puzzleless' label. I'm not saying that that's what the author had in mind, here, but it certainly felt that way to me. The first puzzle is the best example. Not only is it a bit unintuitive, it's so unnecessary it hurts. It's not that they were bad puzzles per se, seeing as how unintuitiveness is somewhat more my problem that the game's. But it wouldn't have hurt the game if they had simply not been there.

All in all, however, I have to say that, overall, I really enjoyed this. It was a good take on one of Sci-Fi's recurrent themes. (For another example, think Star Trek's prime directive.) Kudos to the author for attempting it, and for pulling it off rather well.

Story: 4 (a well explored rich theme, nice pacing, cool NPCs, the works)
Writing: 2 (textbook error-free effectiveness and story support)
Technical: 2 (flawless NPCs and high level of detail)
Puzzles: 0 (standard IF stuff, docked for extraneousness)

Final rating: 8

Die Vollkommene Masse

This game was withdrawn from the competition by the author, again before I got to it. And again, I may come back to it later, just for the sake of it, but I'm running out of time.

Final rating: NR

Kurusu City

Wake Up: Lost

Apparently, you are Miki Maeda, a female high-schooler on a crusade to overthrow a government ruled by robots. I say apparently because I didn't get very far with it. After what seems to be a random sequence of events, I get stuck in a math class that I don't know how to get out of. I'm sure the game's author will read this and think to himself, 'how stupid is this guy', but that's really no excuse for not providing hints for scenes like these. By the way, about the hints, I did read through them but they were rather incomplete, and since there's no walkthrough, I gave up.

The level of writing of what little I did see was competent, though on the terse side, and so was the level of technical implementation. Reading through the hints, it's easy to see that the game is quite larger than what little I saw of it. I'm sure it'll fare way better than the grade I'm giving it.

Story: 1 (I understood what I saw, but I didn't see all of it)
Writing: 1 (competent but sparse)
Technical: 1 (competent but sparse)
Puzzles: 0 (I didn't finish it)

Final rating: 3

Blue Chairs

Wake Up: N/A

Aah... I was wondering if we'd get one of these this year, and if so, how I'd react to it. A coherent, self-consistent hallucinatory trip into the surreal. Now, I know. To put it plainly, I didn't understand a word of it. But it worked, in some strange way. From what I was able to gather, you are a college senior who decides to get one last (first?) good chemical buzz before setting out into the world. From then on, the distinction between reality and trip simply disappears. Even at game end, it is not clear whether you have regained consciousness or not, or if any of the NPCs are at all real.

The level of writing is impeccable, as it would have to be in order to be able to pull this off. Throughout, I really felt like I was the one on acid, rather than the PC, and that's no easy feat. Obviously, spelling and grammar errors were entirely absent.

Technically, the game is rather strong as well. Virtually everything I tried was implemented. Of course, that might not be saying much, as predictably enough, I turned to the walkthrough after about half-an-hour of hallucinating play. But judging from what I saw both before and after that point, no complaints.

As to the puzzles, well, they're what makes this whole thing a trip. Unfortunately, seeing as I, the player, was not actually on acid, I was simply unable to keep up. Others better than me at this sort of thing, or more willing to go over the two-hour limit, may eventually fare better than me... Also, there appear to be a couple of ways to make the game unwinnable.

Story: 1 (completely ununderstandable, but a bonus point for at least the appearance of self-consistency)
Writing: 2 (a good, legal substitute for an acid trip)
Technical: 2 (extensive, complete and solid)
Puzzles: 0 (I did not understand any of it, even after the walkthrough)

Final rating: 5

The Great Xavio

Wake Up: Normal

You're a graduate student who is dragged out of bed by a professor to help with discovering how some illusionist works his act. Apparently, this professor, your thesis advisor, by the way, is convinced that people who attend these shows believe that the illusion is real. He thus wants to help them (or himself) by proving that it is not. This may be one of the very few truly original reasonings to put the PC where he is at the beginning of the game. Unfortunately, the rest of the game falls short of the promise, with a story that is utterly bland, a plot twist that falls just short of being pointless, and NPCs that are so cardboardy you can taste it, with the notable, albeit minor, exception of the police detective, who is Cool(tm).

The writing is quite acceptable, being error-free, but it does tend to be a bit mundane. In particular, the final paragraphs in the ending scene feel like they have been rushed out, as if the author was cutting just a bit too close to the comp deadline.

Technically, I can't really say whether the game works or not, as I did not play with it on my own for enough time to form an opinion. One point of note is an irritatingly slow elevator, with a fuse that consistently skipped the last step of the wait. Making the player wait for the elevator to get to the intended floor seems a bit pointless, but if you're gonna do it, at least do it right.

The puzzles are all pretty standard stuff, at least from what I am given to see from the walkthrough. I might have been able to solve this game on my own, but frankly, it's the 33rd game, and in the absence of a particularly compelling reason to go play the puzzle fest, I simply turned to the walkthrough.

Story: 2 (utterly bland with cardboard NPCs, the textbook definition of average)
Writing: 1 (error-free, yet mundane)
Technical: 1 (I didn't play enough to form an impression, either positive or negative)
Puzzles: 1 (standard IF puzzle stuff, others might like it more than me)

Final rating: 5

A Day In The Life Of A Super Hero

I ran out of energy for this one. I might have tried to trundle on, but the chances of me giving it an honest score were low, so I gave up. It is unfortunate that the last game in the random order had to have that horrible green-on-black font.

Final rating: NR

This article copyright © 2004, Joao Mendes

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