Posted 16 November 2005 to rec.games.int-fiction
Well, I ended up playing 13 of the comp games this year, and managed to actually write something about each of them after I played 'em. So, here they are! Also, perhaps of more interest to authors than players, I also have transcripts up at:
Within you'll find the comments I made as I was playing, within 's.
And so, in the order I played them: Beyond, Sword of Malice, Jesus of Nazareth, Chancellor, On Optimism, FutureGame, Vespers, Phantom, Hello Sword, Dreary Lands, History Repeating, Escape to New York, and A New Life.
Ah, a good start to the competition. Despite the fact that English is not the native tongue of the authors, it was well-written and had interesting ideas. It was also very nicely illustrated, and felt to me like illustrations in a good book. Competently coded, interesting characters, interesting premise. Absolutely worth playing.
It was not perfect, but the imperfections it had were because it aimed higher, and didn't quite get there. I can respect that. I would have preferred more interactivity, for example—as it was, there was only one thing to do pretty much ever. During the investigation part of the story that was fine, but there were other bits where I would have preferred to have a modicum of influence over what was happening. We've talked about 'complicity' before, and it can be used to good effect at times, but many times it simply doesn't work for me. And the scene as Anna in this game was one of those times. (On the other hand, the majority of 'Shade' is also in the same camp for me, so it's in good company.)
I have one lingering question. Could 'SHE' be Lilith? Wouldn't that be wild if she was? I'm fairly sure the authors didn't think so. But it's kind of cool that I can speculate about it.
The Sword of Malice (4)
This was kind of goofy. The grammar wasn't that great, the plot was hackneyed and off, there was a faint bit of originality in a fair amount of cliche, but, uh, I didn't really like the bit that was original. Oh, well.
Jesus of Nazareth (1)
Wow. Just... wow. I didn't know it was possible to fit so much heresy and banality in one tiny package. I laughed at the heresy, but found the banality too much to take.
This was competently coded, highly ridiculous, and ultimately frustrating. It's really two games in one, with a beginning that's, hmm, not really generic fantasy, but at least low-interest fantasy. Then it jumps to a generic modern-day dorm room setting. The description of the various people that lived on the floor had me laughing not quite in a good way, and then an amazingly annoying hunger timer kicked in. And I couldn't find any food, so I quit.
On Optimism (4)
You know how some writing has problems that can be fixed? A good enough editor, enough re-thinking of the ideas, that sort of thing? The writing here is beyond salvageable. It should be taken out back and shot. Howlingly funny.
The coding was competent, I suppose. And there were some ideas that could have been vaguely OK if they hadn't been expressed so inelegantly. For the author's next attempt at writing anything, I suggest that they not try so hard. Write like you actually talk, instead of how you think impressive prose sounds.
FutureGame (tm) (2)
Not bad, not bad at all. Part mystery, part morality play, part horror: it all added up to a nicely coherent whole. Particularly nice were the multiple solutions to many puzzles. They almost functioned like 'Wishbringer', in that for many of them, there was a 'magic' solution as well as a 'mundane' solution. As it turned out, there were even multiple 'magic' solutions to some, with what turned out to be different moral weight between them. Interestingly, the final revelation of Cecilia's nature inspired me to go back and re-play, looking for the alternate solutions, and there was a nice pay-off at the end as a result. Overall, a satisfying experience.
Phantom: caverns of the killer (4)
There was a little spark of creativity hiding somewhere in this game, but while I caught glimpses, I never really found it. Instead I found lots and lots and lots of misspellings, grammar errors, and mazes. And a walkthrough that didn't walk through. Oh, one hint: if your 'hardest puzzle in the game' can be solved by performing one of four obvious actions, three of which lead to instant death, it is not the hardest puzzle in the game.
Hello sword (3)
I do not speak Italian, and so cannot play the Italian version of this game. I do speak English, but the author does not, quite. If the author had chosen to only release an Italian version of the game, I would have simply not judged it, but there's this English version here. Which I can judge, but not play, because the English is too tortured. It would not have taken a huge amount of effort to get an English- speaking beta-tester to go through the source and clean up the English. It would have been tedious, but it could have been done. But it wasn't. For that, I must rate this game low.
Dreary Lands (5)
This was a pretty goofy game, with a fair number of bugs, but fortunately no show-stoppers. Misspellings all over the place, too, but, enh, it wasn't too bad. The basic premise started off more hackneyed than it ended up being (You have amnesia! You don't know where you are!), but it was still pretty hackneyed. The redeeming feature of the game was the fact that there were a couple puzzles I kinda liked.
History Repeating (6)
This was a decently put-together game, with few errors I noticed except for some capitalization stuff. If the puzzles hadn't come in one of two flavors (simplistic and read-the-authors-mind), it could have been a decent game. Or if the things you had to tell people to solve the puzzles had been on the 'talk to X' list, that might have helped. But the premise took a potentially interesting concept and made it utterly pedestrian, so it didn't have much else going for it. Nice that there weren't many bugs, I guess.
Escape to New York (7)
OK, I'm finally back to a reasonable game. A fun premise, with a revelation partway through that really made the game, for me. Interestingly, if the revelation had been part of the premise, I might have disliked the game, since it's been done as a premise a lot in IF. But I don't recall it being used as a revelation before, and it worked well.
I had one major, major problem with the game, and it was ADRIFT's fault: if you try to go a direction and there's a door in the way, it doesn't tell you 'the door is closed', it tells you 'you can't go that way'. Likewise, if you try to unlock a door that's not locked, it tells you something like, 'that doesn't work' instead of 'that door isn't locked'. Likewise, the maps (while nice) do not show passageways with closed doors at all, which is very annoying. I missed several areas because of closed and (presumably) locked doors that turned out to be simply openable.
A New Life (8)
This game had a lot of promise that was lost to me. Hints of things I might be able to do if only I had the motivation to go do it. But I never found the motivation anywhere, and while I made some initial progress (which part of the game I really liked), I eventually got bogged down, whereupon I turned to the walkthrough. Oddly, the walkthrough didn't really help. I finally quit in frustration and never came back to the comp at all. A pity, with Amissville II only five games away.
I chalk this game up to the 'noble experiment' form of game design, where the idea was that the player would have lots of freedom to take the game in different directions, but what actually happened (to me, at least) was that I had no motivation to actually do anything. There were things in the walkthrough which completely surprised me, and, honestly, I have no idea how anyone would ever find them. Which was too bad, because the stuff I did find I liked. I just couldn't get it to move forward enough.
This article copyright © 2005, Lucian Smith