Posted 16 November 2004 to rec.games.int-fiction
My reviews for the IFComp 2004. I didn't get round to playing all the games but I got a fair few of them done.
"Luminous Horizon" by Paul O'Brian 
"Sting Of The Wasp" by Jason Devlin 
"Blue Chairs" by Chris Klimas 
"Gamlet" by Tomasz Pudlo 
"Square Circle" by Eric Eve 
"Magocracy" by A. Joseph Rheaume 
"Trading Punches" by Sidney Merk 
"Order" by John Evans 
"Redeye" by John Pitchers 
"The Big Scoop" by Johan Berntsson 
"I Must Play" by Geoff FortyTwo 
"Who Created The Monster?" by N. B. Horvath 
"Splashdown" by Paul J. Furio 
"Kurusu City" by Kevin Venzke 
"Identity" by Dave Bernazzani 
"Murder At The Aero Club" by Penny Wyatt 
"Typo" by Peter Seebach, Kevin Lynn, and Flavorplex 
"The Realm" by Michael Sheldon 
"Goose, Egg, Badger" by Brian Rapp 
"Zero" by The Santoonie Corporation 
"Bellclap" by Tommy Herbert 
"PTBad3" by Xorox 
"Ruined Robots" by nanag_d 
"Ninja" by Paul Allen Panks 
"Getting Back To Sleep" by Patrick Evans [not rated]
Author: Paul O'Brian
At last! A classic! The IFComp generally produces a mixed bunch of games each year—some good, some bad, most in between. But it always produces at least a few that can genuinely be considered classics and Luminous Horizon is certainly one such game.
The storyline follows directly on from the previous two games—Earth And Sky and Another Earth, Another Sky (the latter title actually won the IFComp in 2002 as indeed this game might well do this year)—with superheroes Austin (Earth) and Emily (Sky) awakening seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I say seemingly because once Emily starts using one of her super powers - the ability to create fog—the outlines of a fortress become visible. After that it's just a simple case to get inside and on with the rest of the game.
Part of Luminous Horizon's charm comes from the interaction between the two main characters who are constantly amusing and never cross the line into annoying. Emily pulls off the 'stressed teenager' act with great aplomb! The super powers—Emily can fly, blast enemies with lightning and create fog whereas Austin is superhumanly strong and pretty much impossible to hurt - add another intriguing aspect to the game. But the best part comes from the ability to switch back and forth between the characters. This isn't just a clever gimmick either. Certain puzzles can only be solved by Austin and certain others only by Emily. In a lesser game this could have been very frustrating as you might be playing one character at a time when the other is required and, as a result, the puzzle you're struggling with is impossible. But Luminous Horizon's puzzles are, for the most part, intuitive enough so that you should soon become aware if you're using the wrong character at the wrong time. Switching between the two is a simple keystroke away.
There is no walkthrough included for the game (which I thought was a requirement for the Comp but maybe I misread the rules) but it uses an inspired hints system which you can access by talking to the other main character. They will respond and give you clues which should steer you towards the best way around whichever problem you happen to be stuck on. The clues get steadily more blatant each time you initiate conversation in this way so talking too much can spoil some of the puzzles. Mostly I'd try and solve the puzzle with the ol' grey matter first and then reload from a previous save just to see the conversations in full. Most are amusing to read and some are very comical. You'll probably need a couple of runs through the game to fully appreciate all the hard work that has gone into creating them.
There are only a few negative points I could find about the game:
a) The part with mom and dad is especially difficult and I doubt I would have figured it out at all without resorting to every last hint. In the end, I think I stumbled upon the solution more through persistence than any actual figuring it out on my part.
b) When you enter Esrrua's lab (Esrrua being the main villain of the game), you only have a single turn to make the right move or the game ends and you die. After the careful programming that had preceded this, it felt a bit of a letdown to finally reach the villain and be killed by making just one wrong move (and the correct move isn't, unfortunately, the first one you're likely to try. I only stumbled upon it on my seventh attempt.)
c) It's a little too short. Okay, it took me over two hours to finish and I resorted to the hints even then but short games often offer little replay value and much as I enjoyed this, I doubt I'll be playing it many more times.
d) I didn't write it. Yep, I've always felt it is the mark of a truly great game that I wish afterwards I'd had the idea of writing it myself.
Unfortunately, Luminous Horizon is the final game in this trilogy so we might well not be seeing anything more of Emily and Austin again which is a major shame.
9 out of 10
Sting Of The Wasp
Author: Jason Devlin
Not that many games in this year's IFComp impressed me much. They were either poorly written, ridden with bugs and guess the verb or just plain bad. What a refreshing change then to play Sting Of The Wasp and find one that that actually impressed me.
I wasn't sure what to make of it to begin with. It starts with a sex scene - not the kind that you tend to see in adult IF but more the stylish kind that you'd probably prefer to see in adult IF—and as the introduction winds to a close you find yourself photographed. The aim of the game, apparently, is to get the film from whoever has it and keep your dignity intact.
My first thought upon starting this game was that I was playing a prostitute and the sex scene at the start was me and a 'customer', but once I'd been playing the game for a while longer it soon became apparent that that wasn't the case at all. I'm not sure who the other person is (your boyfriend or mystery lover I'm guessing) but I suspect it's some liaison that you'd just as soon keep quiet and not have everyone gossiping about. Unfortunately this isn't highlighted very clearly at all and it wasn't until I'd tried to leave the premises—the game takes place at a club—and was informed that I couldn't until I'd recovered the film that I even began to realise what the aim of the game was. The introduction, while well written, doesn't really tell you enough about what's going on.
But that's just a minor disappointment in an otherwise excellent game. There are quite a few NPCs around the club who can be questioned about a wide variety of subjects, although this is done via the "ask [name] about [subject]" format rather than the easier "talk to [name]" and so half the responses you get will likely be the default response you wind up with whenever you ask someone a question the writer didn't think to cover. It's probably an oversight but "talk to [name]" just returns an error message. Then again, the NPCs are all interesting characters with their own personalities and this was one of the few games where I didn't mind having to struggle with the unhelpful conversation system. But, yes, it is still a struggle.
All the NPCs are upper class and all seem to look down on the poor player as some kind of lower class intruder into their high society world. A couple of them are frightfully self-important and after speaking to them I was half-minded to try and strangle them (an option not, alas, covered). I suppose it says something for the believability of characters in a game when you can come to loathe them so much in such a short time.
It's not a perfect game. There are quite a few anomalies with exits and the like. Going south from location A to location B and then south again often leads you back to A. There's also a strange bug (or maybe it's simply a strangeness on the part of the writer) in that you're not able to enter the spa until after you've been to the garden. Why this should be so I can't imagine as nothing happens in the garden that might open up the spa to you.
A very interesting game is discovered up as you wander about the club, hunting for clues and asking the NPCs about one another. They all seem to have a genuine dislike of each other and it's fascinating hearing them bitch about things. I didn't make a massive amount of progress before the two hour deadline rolled around but what parts of the game I saw I enjoyed.
All in all: excellent game. A crying shame so few others in the Comp were as good as this.
7 out of 10
Author: Chris Klimas
A decidedly strange game, Blue Chairs is one of those unusual efforts that I'm never entirely sure what to make of. It starts off with you about to purchase drugs from some shady guy in an attic. Very dodgy opening. A few bizarre moments follow with the screen becoming a bit messed up to reflect your drugged up state and then the game starts proper.
At heart, it seems a fairly basic game. You have to find someone to give you a lift home because you're not in a fit state to drive yourself. Probably happened to all of us at some point or other, but I bet it's never been quite the same as in this game.
The first part of Blue Chairs—I'm not entirely sure what the title refers to—takes place at a party. You wander around from one location to the next and try to piece together what you need to do to get home. It's not simply a case of finding your car and driving off as you've been boxed in by other cars. (There's also the fact that you're high on drugs at the time and so it's probably just as well that you can't drive off.) The location descriptions are littered with swear words but nicely written all the same and somehow don't seem anywhere near as offensive as they otherwise would. On the downside, they also often lack proper descriptive text for the locations you find yourself in but due to the way the game plays out, this is a fault you can easily forgive. At times it's like reading the diary entries of someone with a seriously disturbed mind.
There is a lot of strangeness on offer here, some of it quite inspired. I found the conversation with the person who wasn't there in the bathroom chilling. Was I really talking to myself? Or was there someone there who disappeared when I opened the door? Or, more likely, were the drugs just playing with my mind? The telephone call with Beatrice (my girlfriend or wife I'm guessing) in which my only response is "uuuuuu" to reflect my current state is another nice touch. Elsewhere in the game, after considerable effort, I managed to discover that what had originally appeared to be a pole was in fact some guy in a kind of daze. A helpful guy, fortunately, who I even managed to persuade to drive me home despite the fact that I'd only just met him.
Weird? Yes. Good? Hell yes.
I can well imagine the strangness of the game turning people off and I have to admit that the idea to simply quit crossed my mind a couple of times not longer after I'd started playing. But no matter how downright weird the game gets (and it does get downright weird quite a few times) it's always a very interesting game to play with surprises around the corner just waiting for you to stumble across them. Although not all of the surprises are welcome ones. The switch from the drugged up guy at the party to the President threw me and then the subsequent puzzle of finding the signs and putting them in the right holes just struck me as a notoriously tedious puzzle. A writer trying too hard to get a little extra bizarreness into his game? Perhaps.
I played Blue Chairs towards the end of the games in this year's IFComp and to find a well written and thoughtful game (albeit stranger than most) was a refreshing change after the bug ridden messes I had recently trawled my way through. It's not a perfect game but I'll certainly say it kept me interested for as long as was required to finish it.
7 out of 10
Author: Tomasz Pudlo
I came very close to quitting this game the moment I started playing it. The introduction seemed to imply that Gamlet was some kind of joke game and as a couple of names mentioned (Pudlo and Jacek) were well known trolls from the RAIF/RGIF message boards*, I was halfway towards deleting it before I decided that I might as well play the game for a bit. That way, at least, I would be able to write a really scathing review of it that might, hopefully anyway, convince the writer to come up with something more worthwhile next time. But then a strange thing happened. I actually started enjoying the game
* I didn't actually know who was credited as writer at the time as it doesn't say in the game itself and I hadn't checked the IFComp website.
The introduction that so put me off? Well, you wake in the middle of the night to find your dead father standing over you (as you do) wearing a shirt and precious little else. It seems he was taking a pee when the Grim Reaper came for him and so this is the way he will remain for all eternity. Which I guess makes a certain sense because it's unlikely the dead would dress themselves when they go a-haunting and the game even informs you that as people who were killed by having their heads chopped off regularly return as corpses with their heads tucked under your arms, that the same kind of thing has happened to your dear old dad. Your father informs you that he needs you to find him a book. He doesn't explain why (yep, it's one of those "get this, do that" games without a hint of an explanation as to why you're getting this or doing that), just that you need to fetch him the book. So off to find the book you go.
While there was nothing especially bad about the introduction—if anything, it was quite well written and had the kind of wry humour that I've always been fond of—I still experienced a sense of disappointment when I read it. I think I'd played either five or six games in a row before this one and they were all so dire that I had pretty much played them for as long as it took to write a review and then got rid of them. Gamlet looked like it was going to be the sixth or seventh turkey in a row. Now I know it's hardly fair to judge the pros or cons of a game based on the pros or cons of the games that you played immediately before it but it probably happens quite a bit.
But it's not bad at all. It's good. Surprisingly good considering that by this stage of the IFComp, I was genuinely beginning to believe that 90% of the games were real stinkers and were best consigned to the depths of the recycle bin instead of occupying valuable space on my hard drive. For one thing, it's very well written and for another it actually has proper amount of depth. Moving about the house is a creepy experience, heightened considerably by the style of writing which is brilliant in places. There's an actual storyline here which is one thing that, disappointingly, quite a few other games in the Comp didn't seem to think was necessary. How ironic that a game written by someone widely regarded as a troll turned out to be better than the majority of games written by the serious people! It's akin to the shrinks letting the lunatics run the asylum for a day and finding out that the shrinks did a better job.
Which isn't to say it's a perfect game. It's not. I encountered a few annoying bugs, mostly in relation to any kind of interaction with a stack of wood or the fireplace next to it. Trying to get the wood responds with the puzzling "wishes alone don't light candles". Er... what? No, it didn't make any sense to me either. Frustratingly, trying to put the wood on the fire tells me that I need to be holding the wood to do that, a physical impossibility seeing as I don't seem to be able to do that. As to whether lighting the fire is required to finish the game or not I couldn't say so maybe this is a bug that doesn't really affect anything.
But things like that are just minor quibbles in what is an otherwise excellent game. If the writer of this game is the same person who trolls the RAIG/RGIF message boards with his often puerile and never funny humour, he ought to give it a rest and write a few more games instead. He's clearly capable of holding better titles than "troll".
7 out of 10
Author: Eric Eve
The fifth game I played and the first that I could say I liked.
The opening was nothing particularly fancy and I have to admit I even groaned at one point. Why? Well, it's a prison cell so I was left with the sinking feeling that this game was going to be one of those "escape from a prison cell" puzzlefests that generally get me reaching for the delete button as soon as I realise what I'm playing. Once you've seen one escape-from-a-prison-cell game, you've seem 'em all. Fortunately it's more than just that.
Exploring the cell reveals several books, one of which can be read for a fascinating insight into the strange world the game is set in. This is a game set in the near future where the judicial system has been condensed from a lengthy trial complete with judge, jury, witnesses and evidence right down to a judge and a single question: "are you innocent?" However you answer that question, you get sent to prison as the very fact that you're being asked it in the first place indicates that you're guilty. Otherwise you wouldn't have been asked it. Highly implausible though this sounds, it nevertheless has that kind of scariness about it which is all the more worrying because it could actually happen.
The first problem I encountered was, perhaps understandably, getting out of the cell. The few things I tried all met with failure. Opening the door informed me it was locked (I guess I should have seen that one coming). Trying to unlock it asked me what I wanted to unlock it with. Obviously I didn't have anything to unlock it with, hence my problem. So I gave the cell a thorough examination. And found... well, not much really. A box under the bed which was also locked and nothing else. At this point I weakened and looked at the walkthrough (okay, I am weak but I was enjoying the game so far and wanted to see if I could get through it in two hours if given a much needed push in the right direction) and the walkthrough strangely told me I needed to read the red book. Strange because I had already read it. However, upon reading it a second time I found a key inside! Either my character is so short-sighted that he never noticed the key before despite the fact that it was right in front of him, or this game is one of those annoying ones that moves items around for no apparent reason. I'm guessing the latter. I've never been a big fan of games like that. You might need to examine something ten times to find what you need to find and the first nine times it won't be there.
I had other hassles after that. Drawing a square circle really baffled me and without the walkthrough I wouldn't have had a clue how I was supposed to achieve this seeming impossibility. There are hints to point you in the right direction but either they're especially vague hints or I'm getting worse at these things because I never twigged on to what I needed to do. Unfortunately, once I'd looked at the walkthrough the temptation to go back to it as soon as I got stuck was too great and I found myself pretty much cheating my way right through to the end.
There were a number of problems throughout the game which were quite jarring. A locked drawer at the start couldn't be smashed or broken, even though that the logical thing to do when you don't have a means of opening it. Specific mention is made of the desk legs and one of them being askew but I wasn't sure why as examining them just gives you pretty much the same description as the desk. The most annoying problem came when trying to stand on a box and being asked which box. One of the options for box included the red book.
I ended up leaving the game in an unfinishable state on my first run through it as I saw a way out and took it. One option after this led to me being shot so, a few undo presses later, I tried the other option and wound up back in my prison cell. Only this time I didn't have the key required to get out. Had the key once again been moved to another location or was it simply gone for good? The hints inform me that I don't need the key any longer but as the cell door is locked again I'd beg to differ.
But overall I liked this game. It had its fair share of faults and the puzzle involving drawing a square circle isn't the sort of thing you're likely to figure out without resorting to the hints/walkthrough or spending a lot longer than 2 hours on it. On the plus side it's very well written and the portrait of the legal system it paints in the future is a chilling one that just might come to pass.
6 out of 10
Author: A. Joseph Rheaume
I have to admit that I didn't think I was going to like this game at all. Right from the start, the game identifies itself as a kind of MUD and MUDs are one thing I've never been very fond of due to their poor design, lack of decent ideas and all round errors. But not wanting to dismiss the game out of hand, I decided I'd play it anyway. And I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked it.
The storyline is straight from the pages of generic fantasy: the old king is dying and has decided to appoint a new king for when he is gone. A contest has been organised in which the greatest mages in all the land will battle with each other for the rulership of the kingdom. The winner becomes king; the losers die.
I read the introduction and groaned a bit. While I've always had a soft spot for generic fantasy with sword fighting and spell casting, I've never really felt it worked that well in a text adventure, at least not without expending a considerable amount of effort on developing a decent combat system. And when you do that sort of thing, the text adventure side of the game tends to be forgotten in the midst of hit points, attack rolls and the like. In a way, some of these fears were well founded for Magocracy has very poor item descriptions. Examining a bed doesn't actually give you a description of the bed in question but just tells you that there is nothing on the bed. Yes, maybe, but what does it look like? The same thing happens with quite a lot of the other items in the game which is never a good thing, although at least here I guess it's kind of understandable. This isn't a game about exploring your immediate environment, or puzzle solving, or even interacting with other characters (unless in the sense of trying to kill them); it's a game about murdering a lot of other people. And at that sort of thing, it's pretty good.
I died quite often to begin with as my initially feeble attempts to kill my enemies were thwarted time and again. I think I stumbled with some guess the verb issues in that I assumed that to cast a spell I would need to type "cast [name of spell]" whereas in fact just the name of the spell was required. Strangely, considering that the intention of the game is to kill my rivals and thus demonstrate my magical might, I don't have any actual killing spells. I have ones that send my enemies to sleep and summon allies but nothing that can outright be used to damage someone. Weird. But once I figured out the casting of spells and found myself a weapon, I engaged on a merry little killing spree.
As far as massacring the other characters is concerned, the game is enjoyable, mindless, bloodthirsty fun. There were a lot of things that could have done with improving upon: the poor item descriptions for a start, and it would also have been nice to have some killing spells. There was also an annoying flaw when I had managed to render one of my enemies unconscious and yet was unable to attack him because I didn't have a weapon and wasn't skilled in hand to hand combat! Surely even an unarmed man not very skilled in hand to hand combat wouldn't have too much trouble getting the better of some poor chap lying unconscious on the floor!
A nice hints file accompanies the game and I referred to it from time to time, although Magocracy isn't a hard game to make progress with. Most of my enemies didn't take much killing and despite the fact that the introduction hints that they were far more powerful than I am, only Loge the Sorcerer gave me any problems. A few I was able to cast a sleeping spell upon then bash them with my cleaver until they succumbed. (Of course, this is a generic fantasy setting and hitting an unconscious person with a cleaver doesn't necessarily kill them outright, but merely wounds them.) It might not have been the most heroic way of winning a fight but it certainly got the job done.
So initial impressions aside, this was a fairly decent game. The writing was certainly above standard for the genre and it made a welcome change to the previous half a dozen games I played in that I actually enjoyed it.
6 out of 10
Author: Sidney Merk
To begin with I was quite impressed with Trading Punches. The opening graphic gave it a very professional look that is rare in text adventures these days and it seemed like I might be onto a real winner here. It was also one of the first games I played in this year's Comp which was also a positive thing: finding a game of professional quality so early. Then the game started and I became less and less impressed with it the more I played.
Which isn't to say this is a poorly written game. It isn't. The location descriptions are lengthy and nice for the most part, even if a little overly excessive in their use of the language. This piece from the first location was a classic example of excessive: "Colorful peacrows relinquish their places in the few nearby elmpine trees, flying then across the open expanse, beyond the cabin, over the hills and away to regions unknown. Others arrive from the west, stopping for a moment to rest in the same few elmpines before continuing on a similar migratory route across the estate." While interesting to read, it was too flowery for my tastes and I found myself wishing for a shorter and to the point description. But that's probably just me.
The storyline itself seems like a well thought out one for the most part. A race known as the Sheeears seem to have taken over the world and the human race are living uneasily alongside them. Your father is some kind of ambassador of the humans with their dealings with the aliens and this is a role you seem to assume later in the game. It's hardly a new or original idea but it was nicely done and could have made for a very interesting game, instead of a very frustrating one.
What quickly rid me of my initial feeling of being impressed with the game is the way it practically forces you along the path it wants you to take. Take, for example, the prologue to the game. You and your brother Thyras are on a river bank. Thyras is throwing stones across the river. On the bridge are your father and uncle deep in discussion about some topic or other. The whole point of the prologue is to reach the stage where a creature known as a dactyl attacks your father but the way this is reached is so poorly done you'll probably be aching to attack your father just to hurry matters on a little. You have to find some rocks and skip them across the river with Thyras. Several times. Simply waiting around doesn't do the trick and neither are you able to talk to any of the characters (or not in a way that I discovered anyway). You just have to follow a series of set actions which doesn't make for a very interesting game. Strangely enough, throwing the stones across the river doesn't do the trick; you have to skip them. Apparently your father and uncle don't want to start speaking in front of someone who throws stones instead
This being forced along a set path seemed to bog down the rest of the game (or as far as I reached in the two hour time limit anyway) and while Trading Punches had started off looking as though it might be a modern classic, the feeling I had when I stopped playing was that the writer, unfortunately, had become more concerned with the minor details than the big picture. The second part of the game involves wandering around a lot of very similar locations and filling several different glasses from several different punch bowls then giving the drinks to several different people. As far as puzzles go, this was a desperately dull one and without the walkthrough to help me I'd have just quit at that stage. I quit before too much longer anyway as my initial favourable impression of the game had become somewhat lost and I was seriously struggling to keep my enthusiasm. Sometimes, even an interesting storyline and a compelling writing style just can't compete with mind-numbingly tedious puzzles.
Despite my misgivings, I think I'll probably return to Trading Punches again at some point in the future as there's an interesting game here. But it's one I suspect will require a considerable amount of patience to get through.
5 out of 10
Author: John Evans
This is the first game I've played by John Evans although according to Baf's Guide it's the fifth game he's written, all of them entries into previous IFComps—and none of which seem to have done very well. Will Order do any better? I'm guessing not.
You play... a spirit, I think. Or maybe some kind of genie. That sort of thing anyway. You're summoned to the material plane by some spell casters to help them defeat a group of monsters currently besieging their castle. You, it seems, have the power to create pretty much what you want and this is a power you can use to devastating effect. In theory anyway
I liked this quite a lot to begin with. The idea of actually creating the things I wanted struck me as a great idea and so much less tedious than hunting around for them. For example: the first location is a room I'm locked inside. What do I need to escape? Simple: a key. One "create key" command later and I'm out of the room. Hey presto!
Okay, it's not quite that simple. A bit of guess the verb bogs down the initial location. The door has to be unlocked before it can be opened and simply typing "unlock door" won't work as you need to put "with key" on the end of it. Annoying.
Once you're out of your cell, you can pretty much wander the land and use your powers to kill the creatures currently laying siege to the castle. "Create water" destroys a couple of the monsters; "create fire" takes care of another. Everything seems to be progressing swimmingly well until, without warning, you die. Yep. Dead as a doornail and without the slightest hint it was going to happen. Annoyingly, I hadn't even bothered saving at that stage and simply bashing UNDO a few times doesn't help matters much as you still end up dying a few moves later anyway. Miffed over this, but enjoying the game, I decided to give it another go. And—lo and behold!—I died again. Now I didn't bother counting the amount of turns it took to die each time but I'm guessing they're probably the same so what we have here seems to be one of those hideous things that I thought had died out years ago: the time-based puzzle. These generally consist of a certain number of tasks which have to be completed in a certain amount of turns or you certainly die. Often you're given some warning that this is going to happen—i.e. you're locked in a room filling with water and you'll drown in six moves if you can't escape—but in Order you're given no warning. You just die.
I went to the hints after that. Text adventures which kill the player off in such a way are fair game for cheating at as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately I didn't find anything in there to tell me why I was suddenly dying without warning. Is it a bug then? Or, on the other hand, is it just that the player is expected to complete the entire game in a very short number of turns? Considering how much of the game there was remaining—a good portion of it judging from how many hints there were left—I'm guessing there must be some kind of way to delay the inevitable death, or avoid it altogether. But as the hints don't tell me, and I can't figure it out myself, it looks like I won't be playing this game much further. Pity. I was enjoying myself for a while there.
On a basic level, the game has a style of writing which was quite retro to me. Little descriptive flair with the locations and just the basics. A few things are described in locations and can't be examined—the windows in the house (and nor can they be opened)—and there are also a few oddities. I'm not able to take the belongings I come across as "that's fixed in place". Fixed in what way? Nailed to the floor? Glued? Please explain. I wasn't able to talk to the one NPC I found, a chap called Sevryn.
The "create" idea is a genuinely good one and if the ability to "create a way of avoiding getting killed without warning" was an option, this game would have been a lot better for it.
5 out of 10
Author: John Pitchers
This was a fairly likeable game for the most part, let down by some atrocious spelling and even worse guess the verb but bolstered by an accomplished writing style and general sense of story progression.
Redeye begins with the player, a carpet salesman called Stanley (hardly an heroic figure as you might have guessed), awakening outside a bar in the middle of the Australian outback with a pounding headache. You've been asked to show a friend of your wife's a good time and this you did by getting completely smashed. Now Arthur, the friend, is inside the bar telling jokes to the resident bikers and looking like he's about an inch away from getting shot. Sounds like trouble? You could be right. A few moves later, Arthur is shot dead and you, being the doofus who picks up the smoking gun, are arrested for his murder.
Redeye is a linear game. Very much so. While at first I found the introduction sequence (awaking outside the bar and Arthur's subsequent murder) quite appealing, it was a little frustrating to find that no matter what I did I couldn't seem to influence events in any way. Trying to talk Arthur out of his joke telling doesn't work and nor is it possible to force him to stop. Inevitably he gets shot and, equally inevitably, you get arrested for his murder.
The rest of the game suffers from this kind of linearness. In some places it's not as noticeable and the illusion of free choice is strong; even though the choices you make are not free at all but carefully scripted, they're done in such a way as to make you think you're being given a choice. However, at other times it feels like you're being forced along a very set path with no possibility of deviating away from it if you choose. Most locations list only the exits which the writer wants you to take and gives no explanation (aside from at the very start of the game) for why it's not possible to travel in a different direction. Clearly this is an interactive fiction game in which the interactive side has been taken out of the player's reach.
It also suffers from some decidedly non-obvious puzzles. In the prison cell, I was at a complete loss as to how I was supposed to escape. I'd tried everything without success and so resorted to the walkthrough and discovered that I was supposed to fill a cup with water, pour it on the floor and then talk to my cell mate until she attacked me, at which point someone would come into our cell to break up the right, slip in the spilled water and knock himself unconscious. And I'd escape. Quite how the writer expected the poor player to figure this series of convoluted tasks out I can't imagine. A few other times I ran into non-obvious puzzles and was again forced back to the walkthrough. A cab driver could only be directed to my destination by showing him a note with the address printed on it; speaking to him doesn't do the trick. At the destination, a house, I need to gain access yet despite the fact that I'm carrying a shotgun, I'm unable to shoot the doors down and instead I'm forced to break a window with it.
The conclusion was an unsatisfying one. It turns out that Arthur isn't dead after all, but instead he, in cahoots with your wife, faked the whole thing and had you framed for his murder to allow them to smuggle drugs into the country. That make any sense to you? Nope. Me neither. Surely the police would have checked whether Arthur was dead or not when they arrived at the scene of the (supposed) murder and while standards for the police force are perhaps lower now than they were in the past, it's a bit doubtful they'd have mistaken a living man for a corpse. I'm also not entirely sure where framing the player for Arthur's murder comes into it. I'm guessing they were planning to pin the drugs on you if they ever got caught but as you're expected to spend the rest of your life in prison for Arthur's murder, I can't really see this working. And why fake Arthur's death anyway? What was the purpose of it? If they wanted the player out of the way, it would have been a lot easier to just kill him off.
I suppose special note should be made of the female prisoner in your cell at the police station. On the one hand, I'm kind of doubtful that a man arrested for murder would be thrown in a cell with a female prisoner but as I've never been arrested for murder or thrown in a cell I guess I could be wrong. I also would have thought that there would have been more than a single officer on duty in the station. But the prisoner deserves special mention for her amusing use of the language, quite a bit of which is colourful to say the least but also amusing to read. If the rest of the game was as good as her dialogue, I'd be recommending Redeye to anyone and everyone who would listen. Unfortunately, while a decent enough game in its own right, the female prisoner is its only outstanding moment.
5 out of 10
The Big Scoop
Author: Johan Berntsson
I have to admit that I didn't warm to this game at first and I actually came very close to quitting within the first few minutes. But after a while I seemed to quite get hooked into the storyline, minimal though it isz.
It started, not very impressively, with the player waking up in an apartment which lacks descriptions for a whole load of items and for those that do have descriptions, they're often nothing to shout about. I wandered about the apartment, trying to pick things up, examine things and generally getting a feel for the game. At the time I didn't like it much. It seemed pretty uninspired stuff and the writing, while adequate, was never anything special. Then the police beat down the door and in a line or two of text I was told I had been arrested and sent to prison for a crime I didn't commit.
I almost gave up then but, as I'd only been playing a couple of minutes at the time, I decided I'd persevere and give it another go. This time I found a few more things I hadn't the first time and even thought I might succeed in getting out of the apartment before the police showed up as I discovered a window I could open and a tree outside that I thought I should be able to jump to. But no such luck. The police broke into the apartment, saw me in the tree and promptly arrested me again and threw me in prison for a crime I didn't commit.
The third time I hit pay dirt. I won't tell you how because that would pretty much spoil the puzzle for any potential players and it's a fairly decent puzzle.
Once I was out of the apartment, the game opened up properly. There was a switch from the starting character to another one, a reporter, which unfortunately wasn't very well done. Reading a letter sent to her by the starting character led the two to a meeting. Conversation with the starting character was poorly done in that I wasn't actually able to converse with her at all, but instead I had to sit there meekly and just type "wait" a few times until she told me what she wanted.
Was the game any good? I'm in two minds. It wasn't very well written and the characters had so little depth that they might as well have been made of cardboard, but there was a nice balance as far as the difficulty factor was concerned. Aside from the opening sequence where it seems you die far too quickly and far too often for my liking, the rest of the game had the difficulty set just right. A number of times I came up against problems that I couldn't for the life of me figure a way of bypassing but after spending some time thinking about it, it was obvious what needed doing. This isn't a game weighed down by unnecessary objects and if you happen to find a hose in one location and a chair in another, it's a sure bet that you're going to need both of them before too much longer.
On the down side, there are a considerable number of locations that seem to have been added for the sake of it. They tend to be a line or two long description-wise and contain nothing to do. A smaller, more compact area might have been a better idea.
My main quibble would be with the hints system. Now I generally try and shy away from using the hints until I get really stuck with a game or, in the case of a game I'm trying to finish in two hours to meet the Comp requirements, until I feel that I definitely need to look at the hints to get me past a point that otherwise I might still be struggling with at the two hour stage. The only problem here is that some of the information you need to actually progress through the game—namely driving about and questioning people about various topics—can only be accessed through the hints system. A much better idea might have been to have the information in a separate README file or neatly displayed at the start of the game. Of course, it could be argued that this is information you could figure out for yourself but I still think it would have been better to give the player this information right from the start and not accessible via the hints menu.
In conclusion this was a game which fell somewhere between good and bad. The descriptions were too sparse and the writing lacked depth, but set against that was the nice difficulty balance I commented on before and the fact that the game moves along at a decent pace once you get past the overly hard opening sequence. With more serious polish applied, this might be a fairly decent game.
5 out of 10
I Must Play
Author: Geoff FortyTwo
This game put me off initially. The intro—you're a kid who hasn't been able to play any arcade games all day because the big kids have hogged the machines and not given you the chance—just made me groan. It seemed... I don't know... corny? But I decided to give it a go and hope I was wrong.
Fortunately the game improves considerably after the poor start. I wandered round the arcade, didn't manage to play much, tried to leave, discovered I couldn't and returned. At this point I was a bit disheartened so I cheated and peeked at the walkthrough. (Hey, it was either that or just quit. I think I'd played something like half a dozen games in a row before this one and they'd all been awful so while looking at the walkthrough this early was hardly sporting, at least it saved me from quitting.) I discovered a few things to do and even managed to start playing a game.
And that's where I Must Play starts properly for each of the games you play are a mini game within the game itself. Nice idea. Not as well implemented as it could have been, however, as the first game I played seemed to consist of typing out pretty much identical commands again and again until something more interesting happened. As puzzles go, this was well thought out but as far as thrilling game play was concerned, it was a bit of a wash. Not to worry. Onto the second game. This was a little better but seemed very short and precious little happened. Onto the third one
And so on.
I struggled to find enthusiasm for the game most of the time. All the games you get to play are short and not terribly inspired and I felt this, more than anything, was a big disappointment. The basic idea behind the game is a good one and it could have resulted in a game that was something quite remarkable but the way it has been put together is poor. The variety of the games themselves is good yet the games themselves just aren't interesting enough in their own right to keep your attention for long enough.
The writing is good, the coding is good and there are precious few bugs. I hit a potential flaw with my first conversation piece with a kid called Eric after I asked him about games in general and he responded as if I'd asked him about a specific game but this was a minor point. In fact, Eric was a particularly poor conversation piece. Most of his responses to questions about specific games was that they were linked to other games. Hmmm
Nice idea. Poor implementation. A second version of this game might be a good idea with some of the mini-games reworked to make them a little more appealing. All in all, there was the makings of a good game here but I just felt bored as I played it disappointed that something better couldn't have been made of it.
5 out of 10
Who Created The Monster?
Author: N. B. Horvath
Ever play a game that starts and doesn't give you a clue as to what it's about? Well, Who Created The Monster? is one such game. The title made me think it was some kind of fantasy game or perhaps something along the Frankenstein line with the player off to discover who made the big guy with the bolt through his neck, but in fact you play a journalist in the future trying to discover... well, I'm not sure really. Something to do with the past and Saddam Hussein and which Western nation brought him to power. Even after I'd played through half of the game, I was still wondering just what it was about or why my character was so interested in this story.
It's a nice enough game though. The first location—referred to as the "McDonald's of Baghdad"—convinced me I was playing a comedy game but the rest is perfectly serious. There are a fair few locations, all reasonably well described without being overly detailed. There's a kind of charm to some of the locations which adds considerably to the game's playability. Although there are strange things as well that don't do the playability factor, or any kind of realism, any favours. A terrorist appears randomly in one location and makes several not very successful attempts to kill me. Despite being shot by him on one occasion, I was still able to shoot him back whereupon he disappeared in a puff of smoke. Does this sort of thing happen in real life? I can't say as I've ever noticed it but then I've never actually shot at, and been shot by, a terrorist so I guess I could be mistaken. Stranger still, the terrorist, or maybe just an identical version, pops up in the same location later on and attacks me once more. And the last strange thing about the terrorist? Well, there's a guard standing right by the terrorist as he's busy trying to shoot me but he seems pretty unconcerned by this brutal turn of events and doesn't try to help me out at all. Definitely strange. And don't even get me started on the question of just why this terrorist is trying to shoot me, or why the police don't show up and arrest him (or me for shooting him) or how I can wander around with a bullet hole in me and yet be strangely unaffected
Making progress is fairly easy once you've got your bearings. Talk to a few people, try a few commands which you figure should work, and you're away. I got quite a way before I resorted to the walkthrough and even then I was convinced (maybe wrongly as it happens) that I could have got quite a bit further if I'd tried harder.
Parts of the game smack of laziness. There are several embassies you can visit, all of which seem pretty much identical in appearance: there's the main entrance, a room above where the ambassador sits, and a room below with a locker where a guard is watching TV. Definite laziness occurs with the room below as if you open the locker in one location, it's open in the others as well. It's also a little jarring seeing the same location displayed in the basement of each embassy and I felt that some variation would have worked wonders.
Overall Who Created The Monster? is a nice enough game which doesn't really explain things and just leaves the player to pretty much figure it out for himself. Several things in the game—the terrorist being the main one - make no sense and I was also curious as to why my journalist starts the game not armed with any kind of journalist tools but instead a rifle, and one with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bullets to boot. On top of that, there were messages that flash up on screen from time to time with snippets of world history in them. The first time I saw one of these, it was tagged onto the end of a location description and I assumed it referred to the location in question. Not so. It was an interesting means of conveying information about the game but I was never really sure if it meant anything or was just designed as filler.
5 out of 10
Author: Paul J. Furio
This was fairly decent although as with a lot of the games in the IFComp, it also had a number of problems with it that I felt let it down somewhat.
Splashdown is set aboard a spaceship on which you, along with 499 others, are a colonist on your way to a bigger, better, brighter world. In theory anyway. In practice, the spaceship has just started to run into a few problems and you, as it would happen, are the only one of the 500 colonists who has awakened. So the job of saving everyone falls squarely on your shoulders.
This isn't an original idea—and indeed I seem to think I might have played something similar to it a few years back—but it's not a bad idea all told. Admittedly, it's a bit of a stretch that only the player has awakened out of a potential 500 possible awakeners but I guess it just wouldn't be the same if there was a couple hundred of you running around. There'd also be a lot less to do.
Making progress to begin with is an easy enough process. You struggle your way out of your cryotube—a favourite toy of science fiction novels for decades—and make your first cursory steps around the damaged spaceship. Two of the first items I stumbled across—some bolts and metal scraps - couldn't be examined which didn't fill me with a whole lot of enthusiasm for the rest of the game, but as pretty much everything else seems to have been covered past that point, I'm guessing they were an anomaly and easily forgiven. Further on your travels you come across a helpful robot called Spider who happily accompanies you along and can be used to repair things that are a bit beyond your own capabilities.
The first problem I encountered was in relation to a computer. Despite a sheet of paper giving instructions on how to get it to work, I still struggled with the guess the verb specifics. A list of options is displayed after you type "computer, display help screen" but after that it becomes rather more confusing. Picking a few of the things from the help screen and putting computer and a comma before them didn't produce any meaningful response and it wasn't long before I was weakening to the temptation to look at the walkthrough. Yes, a walkthrough, something so many games in this Comp have required but which so few seem to have included. There seemed to be quite a bit of exact verb usage with the commands as far as the computer was concerned which was a hassle to say the least. In the end, rather than trying to figure out which commands needed typing in, I just typed them word for word from the walkthrough. Problem solved. It's kind of disappointing that I had to resort to the walkthrough there as I was enjoying the game up to that point but either the puzzle with the computer was too hard for me (very probable considering how often I find myself getting stuck in modern IF games) or I'm just not the patient sort who wants to sit there for an eternity trying to figure them out. In any case, if I'd struggled with the computer for as long as it took to figure out what I needed to type to get any further (assuming I ever did hit upon the right solution), I imagine I'd still have been stuck there when the two hour deadline rolled round. So cheating here, as far as I'm concerned, was justified.
All in all, not a bad game. I didn't play to the end but it'll certainly be one game I'll be coming back to in the future to see if I can finish it off.
5 out of 10
Author: Kevn Venzke
I have to confess to not being very impressed with this game. While there's nothing terrible with it, at the same time there's nothing very good about it either. It's just a fairly average and uninspired game that seems to fall somewhere between good and bad.
The storyline didn't say much to me to begin with. You, Miki Maeda, a schoolgirl, have decided to overthrow the robots who rule over Kurusu City. How you're going to go about this isn't stated and as you start the game without a single weapon to hand it's unlikely brute force is going to achieve much. Handled better, this might have been an amusing intro to the game as a single schoolgirl strives valiantly to overthrow a robot dictatorship but here it was handled poorly and the feeling I got afterwards was that the idea was perhaps hit upon on the spur of the moment.
Your apartment is a sparsely described place. The bathroom description is a couple of lines long and none of the normal things you might expect to find in a bathroom—bath, sink, shower, cabinets, etc—can be interacted with meaningfully, although examining the bath does for some reason tell me that there's nothing special about the shower.
Move from the apartment and you find yourself in Kurusu City proper. Unfortunately it's not a very interesting place. All the streets are labelled as "city street" and the descriptions of them are nothing to write home about. The same lack of decent descriptions bugs most of the locations in the game. You're often told what you can see with no flair applied to the descriptions which does not make for a very riveting read.
The score is a strange one. It starts at a lowly 0 and can go as high as 7 (although I didn't have the patience to get beyond a 2 myself despite over an hour spent on the game) and seems to be awarded for things like skipping out of school (+1 point) but not for destroying a robot in the showers. As the whole aim of the game is to free Kurusu City from the robots, I'd have thought destroying one of them would have counted for quite a bit more than playing truant.
Conversation is poorly handled. It's not possible (at least as far as I discovered) to ask questions of the NPCs you meet and instead you just type "talk to [name]" and the game takes over and says something for you. This isn't a satisfying way of handling conversation at all and isn't helped much by the fact that quite often you end up saying pretty silly things (talking to the nurse produces the response from the player of "you're curvy!" As the main character is female this is a kind of strange thing to say.) Conversations are also repeated so it's possible to speak to people multiple times and get the exact same response each time. I'm not going to harp on about mimesis breaking here but this sort of thing doesn't speak well for the realism of the NPCs.
Hints for the game come supplied in a README file but as these are all in code (albeit an easy one) I didn't bother with them. Personally I've never seen the point of putting the hints in code, especially if they're in a separate file. If you've opened up the file knowing it to be a hints file then surely it stands to reason that you want to see the hints? Coding them is just likely to annoy people. It did me anyway.
Realism clearly wasn't applied to this game and the way it plays often gave me the impression the writer was trying for a comedy game, although if so he didn't succeed very well because there's nothing comical going on here. There are several instances of trying to walk in a certain direction outside the Authority Tower and being zapped by a robot, knocked unconscious, awaking, and then being able to do the same thing again and again. On a couple of occasions, I found myself moved from the Authority Tower to my school; the second of these dumped me into a maths class whereby I was unable to leave or answer a simple question and instead had to sit there and wait a countless amount of times before more robots turned up and, for some reason that wasn't explained at the time, promptly threw me in jail. Several moves later I died.
At that stage I was just about ready to quit anyway so after being blasted by the robot passing by my jail cell, I decided to blast this game out and try something else.
4 out of 10
Author: Dave Bernazzani
Games starting in cryotubes seem to be a fave amongst IF writers for this year's Comp as this is the second one in a row I've played. I wonder what the fascination is? Hey, if you see one called The Cryotube Game in next year's IFComp, you'll know I've succumbed to the urge.
Identity has you, the player, awakening in his cryotube as, yes you guessed it, an emergency has begun and the spaceship is on the verge of being destroyed. Kind of makes you wonder why anyone in their right mind would ever set foot inside a cryotube... Your aim is, basically, to survive.
So out of the cryotube you go. Or not as the case may be. Getting out of the cryotube highlights one of this game's annoying flaws: tedious puzzles. No simple "open cryotube" or "unlock cryotube" here. Examining the cryotube informs me that it's still latched but not even "unlatch cryotube" will work. Now if there's one thing I've never been especially fond of in IF games, it's ones that start you in a locked first location and you have to really struggle to escape. It just seems so... oh, I dunno... boring. Give the player something nice and easy to begin with, to make them play your game and perhaps even enjoy it. Don't hit them with a boring puzzle from the word go and expect them to thank you for it.
I almost quit. Almost. But in the end I had a look at the hints and just typed in the commands from there to get me out of the cryotube. Cheating? Yes. But then this review wouldn't have been very complimentary if all I'd had to base it on was the first location. Does that justify cheating? I'll let someone else decide.
Once out of the cryotube, I expected the game to open up a bit more. Unfortunately I was disappointed. I'm in another locked location (or two locked locations this time actually) and faced with another struggle to get any further. Back to the hints. In all fairness, getting out of this set of locations and to the escape pod (another locked location!) isn't that hard and even for someone who's never been much good at puzzles I doubt it would have presented too many problems. But—and here's the real kicker—I just couldn't find the willpower to explore all the options that would have led me to the escape pod. I've never liked games that you have to literally claw your way out of one location only to find yourself in another location that's equally as hard to get out of. It's just not the sort of thing I've ever been fond of.
So while I can appreciate that this game is reasonably well written and has a couple of good puzzles to its name—the one with the goat is a nice one to say the least—I just couldn't find any kind of enthusiasm for it. I play these sort of games for enjoyment value and, to me anyway, a struggle to simply leave the start location is too much like hard work for my tastes.
4 out of 10
Murder At The Aero Club
Author: Penny Wyatt
I have to admit that when I saw the title of this game, the first thing that went through my mind was that it was a game about somebody being murdered at a club for chocolate bars. I'm not quite sure why I thought that but it made me chuckle for a bit. Unfortunately the rest of the game just made me groan.
It's a detective game alright. Some poor unfortunate has got himself offed at the local Aero Club—which isn't, as I originally thought, anything to do with chocolate bars but instead a club where a lot of people who fly aeroplanes like to hang out. You have to discover why the poor unfortunate was murdered and bring his killer to justice. Piece o' cake.
It starts off promising. Nice introduction, decent style of writing and even a reasonable amount of depth. But as soon as the intro has finished and you start the game proper, the flaws begin to show through. Virtually no items have descriptions which is never the hallmark of a good game. Standing in a garden outside the Aero Club, I'm unable to examine the walls, front door, the club itself, the path I'm standing on or any of the aircraft nearby. This same lack of care bogs down the rest of the game and most locations contain at least a few items that can't be examined despite the fact that you can see them clearly. In a detective game—which is supposed to be about carefully studying your environment for potential clues—this is especially bad.
One nice touch is a notebook you carry with you in which you make notes about the murder as you move around the game. Well, I say nice touch but it doesn't really work. Notes get added about very strange things indeed. I examined a few planes and found notes in my notebook, despite the fact that at the time I examined them I had no way of knowing what relevance, if any, they had to the murder. Yet later on I found a torque with some bloodstains on it which for some reason wasn't considered important enough to warrant a place in my notebook. At about the same time I questioned some fellow and got a very suspicious response when I asked him a question about an inspector who had come visiting the Aero Club, but that, too, didn't warrant an entry in my notebook.
Conversation is handled in the unhelpful "ask [someone] about [something]" format which has never been a favourite of mine. Here it's not quite as bad as I was able to get a response to several different subjects—always a nice thing—but little care has been made to make the NPCs seem like real believable people as opposed to cardboard cutouts with a few programmed responses. They repeat the same phrases over and over again and seem to show little annoyance about being questioned on the same subject a dozen times or more. It's also not helped much by the fact that asking certain people questions about different subjects gives the same response.
In the Club itself (free of chocolate bars alas), I came across more annoyances. One NPC is busy doing some flight planning and despite the fact that I'm a detective here to investigate a murder, I'm told when trying to question him that he's busy so I probably shouldn't disturb him. Er... what? By rights, the whole place should be cordoned off and the residents questioned one by one until the murderer is brought to justice but here we have someone who I can't even question because he's busy? No wonder so many killers go free if all they have to do to escape justice is pretend to be busy
If all that sounds bad, wait till you step into the office and encounter some truly appalling game writing. Examine the bin and you'll be told there's some junk inside. Examine the junk and—guess what—"you can't see any such thing". Trying to empty the bin results in a wonderful message "the rubbish bin can't contain things" even though there's some non-examinable rubbish inside it! And what about the noticeboard which contains notices and announcements which you can't even read!
I gave up then. I'd like to think I was fair with this game and gave it a decent chance to impress me but there were so many things wrong with it that it really should never have been entered into the IFComp in the first place. I'll grudgingly admit that the writing was better than I'd normally expect to see in a game where everything else is so bad but that's the only positive thing I'm saying. It's also the only reason why I'm giving this game a 3 and not a 1 which is what it would otherwise have received.
3 out of 10
Author: Peter Seebach, Kevin Lynn, and Flavorplex
Sometimes you play a game which just turns you right off from the word go. Unfortunately this was one of them.
I'm not entirely sure what the game is about as the introduction doesn't really say, but the gist of it seems to be that you're some kind of test subject for a new project which can fix typos. If that is what the game is about then it's surely got to rate as one of the worst settings I've ever come across for a game. If not, well... a nice introduction which actually stated a few things would have been much appreciated. I've never been a big fan of games that I start playing without a clue as to what I'm even doing.
So the game begins. I'm in a room with nothing much to see or do. I wander along to the south and the first thing I try to examine—a cabinet—isn't even there. Ouch! Not a good way to start the game. After a bit more wandering I was told the test had started properly and a machine appeared before me in the middle of the chamber. A machine with lots of things attached to it and things to examine and interact with and... and there I felt my interest just waning. It isn't that I don't like puzzles—I do (most of the time anyway). It's just that the ones here are presented in such an uninteresting manner that it's hard to sustain any kind of interest. Games are supposed to be fun. This is anything but. There are a couple of hoses which need to be connected to various parts of the machine; there's a thin wire which also needs putting somewhere; there's a manual which might potentially have made this part of the game a little more interesting but it's so poorly implemented that it doesn't. The idea behind the manual is that you look up topics in it relating to the machine and it gives you a helping hand. In theory anyway. In practice, it took me several attempts to find anything potentially useful. It's further complicated by the fact that you have to type "look up white hose in manual" to get it to work instead of "look up white hose" which might be a minor point to raise, but it's one that annoyed me no end and resulted in a lot more typing than was really necessary.
One thing about the game that struck me as a good idea, though one that doesn't really work that well, is the correction facility. You type in a command that's wrong and the facility jumps in and corrects it to what it believes you typed. Now if this worked perfectly it would be an ingenious little tool but as it often corrects words that were right in the first place it's a bit of a wasted effort. Nice idea but nothing more.
All in all, I'd have liked to have made a better go at this game to see what happens when the machine is up and running but as it comes without a walkthrough (and the hints file is especially poor) I just gave up. Performing a multitude of tedious actions designed to get a strange machine to work might have seemed like a good idea on paper but in an actual game it's slightly less interesting than the science classes I was forced to attend as a schoolboy. It's certainly not the sort of thing I'd ever want to see in a text adventure.
3 out of 10
Author: Michael Sheldon
Right from the start, this seemed a game that the author had rushed through in order to get finished as quickly as possible. The intro was poorly done and while it had the makings of something quite comical, it was written in such a haphazard manner—punctuation clearly not being an issue here—that any value was quickly lost.
The idea behind the game at least seemed like an interesting one. You are a squire training to be a knight and have been assigned one last test to prove to your superiors that you are indeed worthy of becoming a knight. The task, you are informed, is random. Properly handled this could have been a very good way to start the game and would have offered tremendous replay value, yet any initial enthusiasm I might have felt was extinguished the moment I left the first location.
The first location in itself isn't anything particularly outstanding but at least it fulfils its purposes and every item in there can be examined which shows that some effort was expended at the very start of the game. Unfortunately things go rapidly downhill thereafter. Venture from the room and you find yourself in a whole horde of locations whose descriptions are brief in the extreme. Most are a few lines long, a few are even shorter. No attempt at fleshing out the game has been made and this becomes even more apparent when you stumble into the mess hall and find yourself faced with several items that can't be examined or interacted with in any way, shape or form. Surely it wouldn't have been too much trouble to give the tables and benches a description?
Descriptions for some of the items that are in the game are nothing very special. The sword is described as "a very shiny looking sword" while the armour is "some sturdy leather armour". The bugle has the description "a long brass bugle" attached to it.
I didn't get very far into the game. Part of this I attributed to the fact that after trying to examine countless items and being told I couldn't see them, on top of attempting to question every NPC I came across and invariably being left with an error message, just left me feeling that this game was a bit of a waste. I tried "help" and "hint" but neither had been covered. Fortunately the game came with a walkthrough file attached which was perhaps the one positive thing I could find to say about it. On the down side, several of the tasks involved in actually progressing the game anywhere seemed to be the sort of things that it was highly unlikely anyone would ever think to type. Why would I want to give a book to a cat? Or question an NPC about strangely unrelated subjects? For a guess, this game wouldn't know a beta-tester if it fell over one.
My patience didn't last very long after that. I might have played more than a few text adventures back in the 80's that had short room descriptions and missed out descriptions for most items but they often had nice pictures to compensate, or I could accept them because given the technology of the day it was impossible to expect more. But these days, more is possible and it's disappointing that a little extra effort couldn't have been expended on this game. As the author obviously couldn't be bothered to try harder, I couldn't myself and promptly quit.
3 out of 10
Goose, Egg, Badger
Author: Brian Rapp
Okay, I'll confess that I didn't play this game for long. I tried to but I just couldn't summon the willpower.
So what was so bad about it? It doesn't start that badly: you're awakened in the middle of the night by a crash from somewhere in your house. A burglar? Well, most likely. Only when you get to the kitchen (the location where the crash emanated from) you don't find any sign of a burglar. Just a duck and a bit of a mess.
Wandering around the rest of the game—it takes place on a farm—reveals that several other animals seem to have escaped from their pens and are busy doing... well, not a lot really. The duck pecks at a few invisible crumbs but the others just tend to stand around doing nothing. And "nothing" pretty much describes all that I achieved during the time I was playing Goose Egg Badger. In fact, the only thing I discovered to do was feed the duck. That was something I just tried on the off chance that it might herald a response. It did. I got a score point! Thinking I was onto something with this inspired course of action, I went and tried feeding every other animal I could find and while they readily accepted the food, as animals are wont to do, they didn't seem grateful enough to warrant any further score boosts. So with a score of 1 out of a possible 100, I had done just about everything I could think of to do. I couldn't seem to catch any of the animals—who evaded me with remarkable ease—and nor could I find the burglar, assuming the house had been burgled at all and the mess wasn't down to the animals themselves.
Yep. I was stuck. Well and truly stuck. I glanced at the walkthrough but my enthusiasm for this game had already been dented quite a bit by this stage and it wasn't much longer into things that I quit. It's a poorly written game on the whole. Locations descriptions are minimal at best and awful at worst. It also isn't helped much by a large proportion of bugs. Most noticeably if you try to feed the duck while you're in the duck's pen you'll be hit with a message telling you that you don't know how to feed the duck pen! Similarly, examining several of the animals if you're in the same pen as bears their name generally returns a description of the pen and not the animal. Ouch!
3 out of 10
Author: The Santoonie Corporation
Zero was the first game I had played by the much-maligned Santoonie Corporation and I began playing wondering if their poor reputation stemmed from how bad their games were or peoples' general dislike for them for their childish antics on the RAIF and RGIF message boards. After five minutes of playing Zero, I can safely conclude it was the former.
This is a game about a goblin called Zero. The caverns where he and his fellow goblins live have been raided by "fowl" humans and lots of goblins killed. Zero has to put everything back in order. This actually struck me as quite an amusing idea for the first couple of minutes I was playing. Handled properly, it could even have been a great idea. But unfortunately it failed miserably due to sloppy implementation and a generally dreadful style of writing.
The first thing that hits you about the game is the spelling. It's bad. Very bad. In fact, I'd be tempted to say it was "fowl" but as the Santoonie Corporation clearly don't know the difference between "fowl" and "foul" they'd probably miss the point. The second thing is the grammar. Also bad. At times it's like playing a game written by a small child who doesn't have a good grasp of the English language and is just typing words purely at random and hoping they make sense. Quite often they don't. Past tense and present tense clash in horrible ways, leaving the player (or this one anyway) with the idea that this game is a bit of a joke. Commas seem to have been thrown into the text in a haphazard fashion although a couple of them landed in the right place. Probably just pure dumb luck.
Item descriptions in the game are bad for the most part. Often there will be made specific mention of something that subsequently can't be examined which is never a good idea. Items you can take with you are generally described in a few words and none of the descriptions are better than amateurish—the pixie spy is described as "a female Pixie!"
Another annoying thing I noticed is that sometimes you will enter a location and there will be a lengthy piece of text drawing your attention to something in that room. Return to the room later on and there is no mention of it so if you don't examine it straightaway you'll never see it. Betatesters clearly don't number amongst the staff of the Corporation.
All in all, I found this a frustrating game to play. It's incredibly poorly written, littered with so many spelling mistakes that I actually found myself wincing every time a piece of text flashed by me on the screen and contains a lot of swearing which is neither as funny or amusing as the Corporation believes it to be. A half decent writer might have made a half decent game here but unfortunately the SC lack amongst their ranks anyone who could be termed "half decent", making this an amazingly poor game indeed. Added to that is the fact that the Santoonie Corporation don't believe in supplying walkthroughs for their games so if you get stuck, you get stuck. Then again, I don't believe in playing poorly written pieces of drivel so at this point I fired the game off to the recycle bin. And not a moment too soon.
2 out of 10
Author: Tommy Herbert
Some games are just plain weird. Bellclap—as you might well have gathered from the title (it actually refers to your servant and not a bell clapping)—is one such game.
It's about... I'm not entirely sure. You are told that Bellclap (who I gather must be some kind of servant of yours, or kinsman) is lost in one of the temples in the mountains with insufficient food. It's up to you to go and find him.
At least I think that's what it's about but Bellclap is written in such a confusing way that I could well be wrong. The narrative flow is decidedly uneasy as it seems to be written from the viewpoint of someone who relates your commands and their responses. If that sounds a little strange, this is the first location: "The temple consists of a stone room with an altar and a statue of you, sir. He entered it through an archway to the south." and this is what you get when you try to go south: "He is refusing, sir. Citing the dangers of the rain and lightning." I don't know about anyone else playing this game but I read that and wondered if the writer was a bit mad. This all makes for a remarkably strange gaming experience and, unfortunately, not one I found myself warming to at all. I suppose that the idea itself might not be a bad one in itself and with a better introduction—the one here, plain and simply, awful—it could even prove to be an interesting game, but throwing weirdness and confusion and outright bafflement at the player as soon as the game starts really isn't a good idea at all and is likely to lead to them quitting as soon as possible.
I didn't quit for at least... oh, another five minutes. That five minutes was spent struggling to make any kind of progress. I examined a statue which responded with "He stares defiantly at your likeness, starting with the feet and letting his eyes follow a path up past your chest, to your face and I must say I'm impressed. And so is Bellclap. That was the single most intense experience of his life. Well done, sir. I think he may be more docile now." Er... what? I examined a few items and their descriptions just left me wincing:
Large and fairly wet.
The bag, at least, gave me a proper description when I examined it but by that stage my enthusiasm for this game had sunk so desperately low that I doubt if it had turned around and suddenly become an utterly amazing game, I'd have still found myself wishing I'd never bothered starting to play it. Was it written for a joke or something? I'm damned if I know. It sure didn't succeed in making me laugh.
One final point: the walkthrough. The first command listed in the game is "cut finger". It baffles me why anybody would think to type that as there's no reason to cut your finger and nor do you even have anything to cut it with. Does the writer assume his players are psychic? In a way, I wish I was psychic. That way I could have avoided this sorry effort altogether and played a proper game instead.
1 out of 10
Is this a joke entry? That was my first impression when I read the description of the opening location. I sure hope so because I'd hate to think that some poor sod fellow thought it was a proper game. Unfortunately I'd expect a joke entry to either be funny or, at the very least, not be entered in the IFComp in the first place. As it was neither funny and it was entered in the IFComp, I think a thorough slagging off is definitely called for.
What's it about? I wish I knew. The first location is described as "corridor", minus any kind of capitalisation you might care to name. It informs you, in very poor English, that you are in someone else's mind and that being here make you feel all "foriegn". The walls are organic and "stoneline" (whatever that means) at the same time. To say this gives a bad first impression of the game would be an understatement. It's the sort of first impression that makes the delete key and the recycle bin look like a really good idea. If the mind in question is the writer's, I'd rush him off to the nearest shrink's office and book him an appointment asap.
Does it get better later on? Judge for yourself. This is the second room description I came across:
This is a room which is too small for you to fit in. There is a single door in the wall. Anouther wall has a painting on it.
Examine the door and you're told it has "been painted with a greenish, redish, aquaish, plaid" and that the lock has got paint in it. Examining the lock gives an unsatisfying "I don't understand that sentence" which pretty much puts the final nail in the coffin that is this game. Even if the lock doesn't play a part in the game it should at least have a description.
I didn't get much further than that. My willpower just wasn't strong enough. I tried examining a few things and discovered that most of what was included in the very poor room descriptions wasn't implemented. Walls cannot be examined, returning back to where you were a moment before is often impossible because exits mysteriously vanish when you're not looking, and the 'help' and 'hint' commands don't work. As there isn't a walkthrough included with the game, and as my enjoyment with this game so far has been a big fat zilch, I decided to quit while I retained my last few vestiges of sanity.
How the writer ever felt this game was suitable for the IFComp—or, indeed, any comp for that matter—is a mystery. It's pretty damn awful. And that's just being polite. I'm guessing the fact that it's been entered under a username—"Xorox"—is a pretty good indication that even the writer thought it was pants and wanted to make sure no one ever knew who really wrote it.
1 out of 10
Some games you just know are going to be bad and Ruined Robots was bad through and through.
I'm not entirely sure what the game is about but the intro gives some vague clue that it might be just a case of wandering around and waiting for something to happen to you. Yep. Riveting.
The first location couldn't have impressed me less if it had tried. It reads "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." Ugh! Special note is made of the hole in the floor yet trying to examine it results in the kind of message you always seem to encounter in really bad games: "I don't know the word 'hole'". Nor can you examine the wall. Despite the room apparently having walls (I know it has them because it says so in the room description) the game doesn't understand them. But hey, the floor has a description! Admittedly it's only "it lies beneath you" but it was nice to know the writer had taken the time to include such a wonderful description. Really adds to the flavour of the game, y'know. What else can I examine in this first and oh-so-important starting location? The fireplace? But "which fireplace do you mean, the Hearth, or the merry fire?" Obviously the hearth because "merry fire" is another unrecognised command. Groan.
Some of the locations come with little pictures. And I mean "little". For all the good they are, it's a wonder why the writer bothered with them. Considering this game weighs in at 2.5 MB, I really would have thought the pictures would have been a bit better than this. In fact, for 2.5 MB I'd have expected something pretty damn great.
What else is bad about it? Well, several room descriptions list exits that aren't recognised. "Downwards" and "outside" don't work. The rental cottage has this strange piece tagged onto the end: "It seems like it's been lost.
If you asked, it might follow you (say ' Liffie, follow me')." Now, if there was someone called Liffie actually in the room it might have made more sense, but as it was seeing this finally told me that I'd be better off deleting this sorry mess and playing something else instead. Which I did.
If I wanted I could probably fill several pages listing all the bad points of this game but I'm not really minded to do that. Anyone playing the game will see them straight off anyway as they're the kind of things that jump out at you and even visually challenged people would be hard pressed not to notice them. I'd like to list the good points but as the game impressed me so little that within five minutes of starting it I was ready to delete it, I'm afraid I really couldn't say what they are.
1 out of 10
Author: Paul Allen Panks
Well, my list of games to play started off with Paul Panks' entry so clearly I was off to a bad start. But, in the interests of trying to judge everything fairly, I decided to give it a go.
Big problems hit right from the start. Standards commands like 'x' or 'exam' aren't implemented so if you want to look at something you have to type 'examine' in full. Now, while this kind of thing was something I was quite happy to put up with back in the 80's, it's pretty unforgivable in a modern game. Worse was to come. 'L' doesn't work so if you want to know where you are you have to type 'look' in full. And, as you might have guessed, it's 'inventory' if you want to know what you're carrying. Bad, bad, bad.
The first location left a lot to be desired and if I wasn't intending to review all the games for the Comp, I'd have shot this one off to the recycle bin right off and looked for something better. The first location? It's a classic: "It is dark. You see a Shinto shrine. The mountains of Tokyo hover behind you. The city rises to the east." Okay, a couple of points here. First of all, hover? How can a mountain hover? And if it's dark how can I see the shrine or the mountains or the city? It gets even worse when you try to move from the start location. Even though an exit is clearly labelled in the room description (to the east), attempting to go that way hits you with the strange message: "You are by the Shinto shrine to the east". Yes, I know that. How do I leave? Despite being by the shrine, I'm not able to use the 'in' command to enter it (neither 'in' or 'out' are covered) but instead have to type 'enter shrine'. Clearly this is a game written by someone who wouldn't touch a beta-tester with a ten foot pole let alone set them to work on his game.
I'd like to say things get better after the disappointing start. But they don't. They just get more disappointing. Examine the shrine and you're told it's a heavenly structure pointing upwards to the heavens above. Birds apparently fly above "scattering the sky with a distant breeze". Now if I was an English teacher and one of my students wrote that, I might wonder if they were on drugs. In a work of IF, it's just bad. Painfully bad.
The game ends with the ninja of the title jumping out and killing you without even the opportunity to fight back. Fortunately by the time this happened I was eager to quit anyway and if I hadn't just died, I'd have probably slit my wrists a moment later.
The game understands a minimal set of commands, of which several of the listed ones don't even produce a proper response. Typing 'quit' (my first reaction upon seeing how bad the game was) hit me with a message saying that I hadn't completed the game yet. 'Score' returns "only the kami know!" 'Climb' is apparently implemented but as I was able to climb neither the mountains nor the shrine I'm not sure what it was implemented for. Perhaps later on you might come across something climbable but it's highly doubtful anyone will still be playing by that stage.
Ninja has all the hallmarks of a game written by a complete newcomer to the field, one who really doesn't have a clue what an IF game should be about and any idea how to go about writing one. That it comes from something who has written over twenty games in the past is even more surprising. How can someone write so many games and not have learnt anything from past mistakes?
1 out of 10
Getting Back To Sleep
Author: Patrick Evans
This game was accompanied by a README file which almost stopped me playing it. A part of it:
"This game is unique in that not only did I write the game module, but also an entire game system. Needless to say this was a big undertaking, but it allowed me the flexibility and freedom to accomplish what no other interactive fiction system can do: the game lives in real time, literally. Unlike other systems such as TADS, things can happen while you're typing; characters might talk with you, or even leave the room and go elsewhere in the game. 'Getting Back To Sleep' should be a totally new experience to many people, and I hope you enjoy it."
Now an introduction like that is always the sort of thing that puts me right off a game. Phrases like "no other interactive fiction system can do" and "a totally new experience" just make me cringe. 'If the system is so amazing,' I remember thinking upon reading that, 'why do you need to plug it so? Shouldn't the system be judged on its own merits?'
And then imagine my surprise when, upon opening the game, it didn't even work! Yep, the README advises that I need to be using Windows 98, 2000 or XP (which I am) and that I need to have installed NET Framework v1.1 (which I have). Nevertheless, the game didn't work. I got a few lines of meaningless text and a cursor which wouldn't even accept half the letters I tried to type in. After several attempts at getting the game to run, including posting a message on RGIF asking for help, I decided that this was one I should probably just consign to the recycle bin and move on. Which I did. As someone else advised me that the game doesn't even understand the most basic IF commands ("I" for inventory and "L" for look) I suspect I didn't miss out much.
I have to admit that this game gave me the best chuckle I've had for a long time. Here we have someone capable of creating a system that does what no other interactive fiction system in the world can do and yet he's not capable of creating a game which actually runs on my computer. From what I read on RGIF, I wasn't the only one to experience problems in this respect.
So off to the recycle bin with you Getting Back To Sleep and maybe next year the writer will consider making his game with a system that I might actually be able to use.
This article copyright © 2004, David Whyld