Here it is, the end of comp 05 and I'm just posting these reviews from
last year's comp. Yes, I am terribly slack, and in fact I did not even
finish all of the games. Or (at the time of this posting) finish the
reviews of all the games I did play! Still, here they are!
(Sort listing by: author | comp placement | name | score)
(View only results summary)
Murder at the Aero Club|
Author: Penny Wyatt
My first thought, upon reading the intro, was that murder mysteries
are notoriously difficult to pull off. The author has to pay very close
attention to detail or else the illusion is shattered. In the case of
this game, there are some nice ideas, but the overall effect does not
Though tone of the intro is slightly more informal and chummy than I
prefer, the rest of the game is written in a rather standard voice. The
story, on the other hand, may be one of the biggest problems. Maybe my
perspective is skewed culturally, but is it really normal for a police
officer in Australia to journey deep into the outback -- alone and 8
hours from the nearest town -- to investigate a homicide with absolutely
no information, including who the victim is, who found the body, or who
even reported the crime to begin with? Sorry, this seems rather
far-fetched. And then once I arrive, I come across an NPC who "seems so
busy, it'd be a shame to bother him." Are homicide detectives in
Australia really that polite? None of the NPCs seem to care at all that
there's a dead body lying on the lawn in front of their club. Even
after you discover that none of the would mourn his death, their lack of
interest still feels out of place.
The game introduces a notebook in which clues are automatically
recorded as you come across them. I actually have an almost identical
object planned for one of my works-in-progress. Does it work? The
truth is, I never even looked at it. The clues are so basic and linear
that after collecting most of them, the inevitable conclusion was quite
IF mysteries are hard to do well. This one started out well, with a
good amount of information being revealed inside the office. However,
the first NPC interactions (Haagen and Cecil) felt like a slap in the
face. This is a murder investigation, but I don't want to interrupt
some guy doing paperwork in a lounge? Most minor room decorations
weren't implemented, and yet I got stuck because I didn't examine and
search one that was (the bushes).
The office search revealed so much potentially useful info: the sim
card, the poster that revealed that light aircraft fuel is pale blue,
Brad's role as fire safety officer.
The only evidence I had pointed to Cecil (the only failing logbook
entry matched his plane and he refused to bribe). And yet I couldn't
accuse or even talk to him about it. At this point I was also stuck
without an idea as to what to do next. (I resorted to the walkthrough
and discovered a scenery object I'd failed to search.)
The Great Xavio|
Author: Reese Warner
The dialog is strange and quirky, which is not so bad. The game
itself has a ludicrous premise, made worse by the twist in the middle.
It's not until you try to leave that Todd decides he must confront
Xavio, which means yet another trip into his suite. How, exactly, am I
to know to ask the concierge for a paperclip in order to unlock the
bathroom door? Why does (presumably) Mercouri the Magnificent call me
on my cell phone? The second half of the game really falls down when it
comes to figuring out what to do next and how to do it.
There are several issues with missing spaces between sentences. There
are big problems when Todd gets into the cart and still managing to be
everywhere you go. In the start room, his comment appears to be built
into the room description (and thus it repeats any time you do a LOOK).
All problems seem to be cosmetic though.
The game started off questionable, peaked soon afterwards with the
search of the hotel, but dropped off as more and more read-mind puzzles
were encountered. Though Todds is obviously meant to be a quirky,
eccentric character, his behavior and dialog quickly become stale.
Getting Todd to hide inside the cart. Sure, it's a movie cliche.
Still nice that it worked.
Probably the need to ask Max for a paperclip in order to get into the
bathroom. It's not unreasonable to think that a player would decide a
paperclip (or something similar, like a very small screwdriver, which is
what I used to use). However, knowing that I should ask Max for it
seems a bit of a stretch.
Author: Kevin Venzke
A lot of the writing is kind of humorous. Much of it falls just short
of that. A good portion of it is just bizarre. The dream scene is
irritatingly minimalist for no good reason that I could see.
No real bugs that I could see. There was a guess-the-verb issue with
the window in the dream realm.
It started off with such a great opening and very slowly became more
and more frustrating. Overall motivation was decent enough, it was the
small-scale steps that ran into difficulty. The dream realm had an
effect that was nonsensical, and included a maze, barely described
rooms, and limited interaction. The hints got me along until they asked
for an object (rope) that I had no recollection of seeing in the game
until I reviewed the transcript and realized that it was back at school
and I probably wouldn't be able to get it.
The very beginning of the game, where my mission was revealed.
The dream realm, but especially the stairway "maze". Without reading
the hints, I have no idea what's going on in there, all I know is that
there's a bathroom and a stairwell that I didn't do anything with if I
jump out the window. And I can't go back there without restoring from a
previous savegame. If I do go back and get out of the building, there's
still no real point to it.
Author: Deane Saunders (Rexx Magnus)
Original score: 9
Revised score: 8
The PC in this brief eastern adventure is searching for the mystical
roots of Tai Chi, so that the he might better meld the physical and the
spiritual into a unifying whole. This is a good story with some solid
writing and puzzles.
The initial room suffers from a bit of adjective excess, but otherwise
I felt that the prose in the game was decent. It offers some fine
visuals, even if it is somewhat halting in places. The puzzles were
fair and fit the setting, except that I had to resort to the walkthrough
on how to open the box.
The only quibble I have with the game is that some prominent scenery
items were not implemented (namely the tracks in the start room and the
characters on the shrine). Everything else functioned as expected and I
didn't run into any bugs that I can remember.
I have to admit, I was really getting into this game. After playing
three other comp entries that I did not find terribly impressive,
Mingsheng really helped lift my spirits. After playing, I scored it a
9, though in retrospect, I think a high 8 would be more appropriate.
Though I consider it a pretty solid game, it's a little small and
doesn't really break any new ground.
Solving the first Qilin puzzle. It was well-cued and, while not
terribly difficult, was satisfying to finish.
Having the box and vine tied, knowing they belong together, but not
being sure what to do with them after that.
While visiting your grandparents lakeside cottage, you can't help
resist exploring the surrounding area. That's assuming that you don't
die from lack of food.
The quality of prose ranges from tolerable to poor. Grammar,
capitalization, and punctuation are thoroughly trampled underfoot, while
surprisingly, spelling errors seemed to be restrained only to "batterys"
and "human brian". At least from the portions of the game I saw. The
tone of the game fluctuated in an almost schizophrenic fashion,
sometimes being helpful by giving hints and then other times return text
like the following:
What puzzles I saw felt haphazardly thrown together. Worst of all was
the glue stick, and item that if taken would cover your hands with glue
and prevent you from getting anything else. At least, until you stick
your hands in the fire to burn it off. Hey, if my hands were covered
with glue, wouldn't that make it easier to take things? As for
story, there may have been one that I didn't see before I quit playing.
This game would benefit greatly from some dedicated playtesters. It
simply has a lot of bugs. Like the beaver, whose background antics
multiply as the game goes on, leading to:
Uninteresting stuff in the sink. That fact that it was superficially
described as 'uninteresting' was supposed to have been a hint to you
that it was not useful to examine it further. I hope this explanation
is not going to further fuel your pig-headed insistence on ignoring
the little hints we try to give you?
The robot beaver grabs a stick and sharpens it in an mouth like an
electric pencil sharpener.
All of that was from a single turn.
The beaver discusses the weather with itself.
The beaver lies on its back.
The beaver examines a small tree.
There are far too many unimplemented objects mentioned in room
descriptions. The initial room goes out of its way to describe a hole
where the wall meets the floor, yet it's not implemented. Worst of all
was Liffie's cottage. You can't examine the cottage because it's not
implemented. You can't enter it for the same reason. If you try to go
"in", the game's response is, "The door is locked." The door, of
course, is also not implemented.
Some exits, especially around the lakeside, are non-reciprocal. If
there was a reason, it was never stated.
The game also includes a hunger puzzle for no obvious reason. This is
bad enough in a comp entry, but then for some reason, your level of
hunger is displayed as a series of Japanese Yen symbols after the room
description. As you play, the bar of Yen decreases to indicate your
need for food. I can only assume it was attached to the room name in
order to get it to show up in the status bar. The problem, of course,
is that it also appears in the main session window whenever entering or
examining a room. The reason for the stream of Yen isn't even explained
anywhere. It wasn't until a post-comp discussion that someone revealed
Despite the game's weak implementation, it's clear that someone put a
lot of thought and work into this game, so I did not just dismiss it out
of hand. I explored what areas of the world I could find and, as comp
fatigue was settling in, I decided that what I had seen so far was
probably representative of the game as a whole.
None that I can recall.
Inventory management leading to me getting glue all over my hands once
again. Which meant I had to go back to my cottage and burn it off in
For some reason, you are kidnapped and placed in a tiny prison cell.
Who are you? Do you have amnesia? Who are your captors? Why have they
done this? All very good questions. The pity is, none of those
questions get answered. In the meantime, you play through a tolerable
-- though unimpressive -- adventure.
The prose could really use some work. In general, I found it
generally poor with a few bright spots. There's no real flow or
evocation of the imagination. Everything is described very briefly in a
matter-of-fact manner. The story is effectively paper thin. Like I
wrote in my summary, nothing gets resolved in the end and no questions
get answered. You find out the names of the people who captured you,
but no other details. Nor do you ever find out who made it possible for
you to escape. The end notes suggest that there will be a sequel. "02"
Right off the bat there's an issue that any beta-tester would have
reported. In the initial room, the game informs you that you can hear a
conversation from the corridor on the other side of the cell door.
However, if you simply LISTEN, the game tells you that "You hear nothing
unusual." Clearly that's not true, but the command you have to issue is
LISTEN TO CONVERSATION. The game does not proceed until you do so.
Once you manage to escape the prison cell, you encounter a lot of
unimplemented nouns (like the shell casings, which feature prominently
in two room descriptions) and far far too many colored doors, most of
which are closed for no reason. Attempting to unlock one door earned me
the message "There is a padlock on the door and you don't have a key",
even though I had a couple of keys (just not the right one). In one
room, I was even somehow able to see a "bloody mangled corpse" behind a
closed door. Maybe my secret identity is that I'm super man?
"01" isn't all that difficult. On the other hand, it's not all that
fun, either. Maybe there's a story here; it's certainly not made clear
in this game. What is here is pretty odd at times. For example, the PC
becomes violently ill upon seeing a headless corpse. Right afterwards,
however, he has no problem wearing a helmet filled with what's left of
the fellow's head. No cleaning or nuthin'. Yech. Later on, I
encounter one of my captors. Even though he attacked me the moment I
saw him, the game admonished my self-defense act with "I hope you feel
suitably guilty." For the record, I didn't.
The description of the fish was definitely worth a chuckle.
The game suggesting I should feel guilty for killing someone who
kidnapped me and then tried to bash my skull in with a pipe.
Author: John Pitchers
Like "01", you wake up with no memory of exactly how you got to your
current location. However, this game does have a plot and a story.
Your amnesia is only short-term and alcohol-induced. In no time, you
are off, in search of your missing companion and entangling yourself in
all kinds of unpleasantness.
Just a recommendation: don't start your intro with
"***BBBBRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAWWWRRrrrrr***". Or with
giant ascii letters. Or a giant ascii eye. (The font size and colors
I'll cover in the Technical section.) The intro is written in a very
informal, conversational style. In fact, some of it is supposed to be
the player's own thoughts, but isn't set apart from the rest of the text
by quotes or italics or any other convention, leading to some initial
confusion. (I played on a Unix TADS terp that doesn't do italics, but I
went back and verified on a Windows HTML TADS terp.) The rest of the
game is in a fairly standard tone with mostly dry descriptions simply
listing room features and exits each in a separate sentence. The story
itself isn't bad. You find yourself framed for a crime you didn't
commit and must find a way to clear your name. The problem is
implementation. At the beginning, you have to commit a pretty
bone-headed action in order to proceed. Otherwise you're forced to
wander around the small map until you starve (yes, the game has a hunger
timer). Later in the game, as you start discovering clues, the ending
becomes glaringly obviously fairly quickly. Even so, the PC seems
shocked when it's all made clear.
Like I said above, I initally played in a plain text interpreter.
When I ran Redeye in a HTML TADS terp, I was able to appreciate the
horror of giant fonts and bright green text. Really, there's nothing
wrong with the defaults. As for technical issues with the game itself,
I found plenty. There are a lot of prominent room features that weren't
implemented. For one that was... well, if you're going to have the line
"I wouldn't touch them if I were you" in the object's description, at
least have a special response to TOUCH OBJECT. There were especially
irritating disambiguation problems in both of the bathrooms in the
beginning area (and neither seemed to serve a purpose). At one point
near the end, a police officer addresses me by my companion's name. By
far, the worst bug was inside the taxi. You can't LEAVE. You can't go
OUT or O. Directions don't work. You can't OPEN THE DOOR. You can't
EXIT. The only recognized syntax is "GET OUT (OF TAXI)" and I literally
died of starvation (in game, of course) before I was able leave the cab.
This is one of those problems that would have been caught right away by
a beta-tester, but manages to sneak into release because developers have
natural blind spots when it comes to trying alternatives to what we know
What really affected my score for this game was that I just wasn't
having fun playing it. I ran into too many issues that sapped my
enjoyment: the missing scenery, obvious disambiguation, railroading for
the sake of the story, important NPC conversation topics not
implemented, and of course the problem with the taxi. I just wasn't
getting into the game, I didn't care about the character, and the ending
was not the surprise that it should have been.
Finding that shotgun in Arthur's pants. Sounds almost dirty.
Starving to death in a taxi. Best of both worlds: hunger timer and
Author: Jonathan Berman (Xorax)
Original score: 3
Revised score: 2
If I knew what this game was about, I'd tell you.
The first thing a player sees is the intro. I've said this about
introductions before: they have to grab the player and make him/her WANT
to play this game. So an author should really pay attention to that
intro and focus some energy on making sure it's right. Needless to say,
PTBAD3 has a bad one. Actually, it's the starting room, as there's no
seperate introduction when you begin the game. Doesn't change my point
though. The room desc has two obvious spelling errors and, besides
that, makes little sense. Oh, and there's a "tophat" on the ground. A
glowing tophat. I was in the process of looking up "tophat" in the
dictionary when I realized that the author meant it was a top
hat. Once I recovered from the initial dismay, I started to roam
around the gamespace. This involved drawing a somewhat convoluted map
with several one-way exits as I stumbled through the labyrinth of
PTBAD3. Here's an example of one of the rooms I encountered:
After doing little more than wander around, I gave up and quit. There
were no hints, no walkthrough, no readme file.
I can't tell what's a bug and what's on purpose. Few scenery items
were implemented and one that was (a table) I was able to pick up and
walk around with.
Not. Everything in this game screams "weird not because it follows
an underlying connection but just for the sake of being weird."
As much as I hate to say it, I didn't find a high point with this
Right off the bat, there was no author listed, no credits, no intro,
just a start room with bad spelling. No hints, no walkthrough. No way.
~What is the difference between a duck?~ You are in the lift. You can go
Chronicle Play Torn|
Author: Penczer Attila (Algol)
The intro reads like a classic Lovecraft beginning: an elderly
relative, reclusive and eccentric, has spent the last few years delving
into Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Now that he's disappeared, it's
up to find out what happened to him. And while it's not an original
premise, even in IF, the important thing is how it is implemented. In
this case, I wasn't impressed and I wasn't able to finish because of the
two hour limit.
The decent story and good sense of imagery are somewhat spoiled by
halting flow, spelling errors, problems with punctuation, grammar
issues, and some strange word choices. Some actions produced responses
that felt surprisingly superficial (such as reading the herb book and
then later when you find the herbs). And the title simply makes no
sense to me. I chalk most of this up to the author being a non-native
English speaker. So that's the reason and we understand why much of it
happened, but the problem is still there. It also doesn't explain the
disappointing default self-description ("As good-looking as ever").
Still, for all of its faults, I found the writing to be acceptable.
In an accompanying text file, Chronicle Play Torn's author admits that
he didn't have "the time to do proper beta-testing". And though I hate
to say it, you can tell. Not only would testers have helped clean up
the broken prose, they also would have found many of the obvious
technical issues. For example, the terp-crashing stack overflow bug
that I encountered when I entered the pool with a lit lamp. Or the fact
that I was told that the lamp was getting dim even when it was in a
completely different plane of existence than I was. Later in the game,
there is an exit barred by a grating. Though the description mentions
hinges, you cannot examine them separately from the grating itself. The
game recognizes "hinge" and "hinges" as synonyms for the grating.
Unfortunately, the solution to this puzzle requires the player to divine
that there is an "upper" hinge and a "lower hinge"... even though these
are not mentioned in the room description or the description of the
grating. What's worse is that Inform's default response to hitting the
upper hinge ("Violence isn't the answer to this one") is extraordinarily
misleading. Violence is the answer to this one; I was just
attacking the wrong hinge.
I was enjoying the game at the start, even though it's a pretty common
theme. The first chapter flowed pretty well, despite some of the
technical issues. The second chapter felt barren and short, since most
of the rooms you encounter have no purpose except possibly for
atmosphere. Perhaps the air of emptiness was a deliberate effort of the
author. It's hard to say. Even so, if there's a dog in a game, the
player should be able to pet it! Chapter three was good for
exploration, but I found the whole realm rather confusing and it was
here that I started to bump up against the game's inventory limit. This
is also the area where the player encounters buildings that cannot be
entered with compass directions; they are accessible through the "in"
verb. I guess this is a stylistic choice. It's just not one I agree
with. One problem I found was that I was able to enter a house that
"has no door" and it was not clear exactly how I gained entry. The
third chapter is larger than the previous two chapters and I never was
able to explore it all. After roaming the city, watching statues
carried here and there by the wind, I floundered in my lack of
motivation. Supposedly my uncle was there, in that alien landscape, but
only because I guess there was really no where else he could have gone.
I found no clues or evidence that he had actually been in any of the
places I explored. When the time limit hit, I didn't really balk at
closing the game. I hope to go back to this game sometime in the near
future and see if I can make any more progress.
Though the transparent sheet puzzle was fairly obvious, I thought it
was particularly clever and original for an IF game.
When a stack overflow error crashed the interpreter. I can understand
an author not having enough time for a game to be beta-tested before the
competition. However, that doesn't mean it's a good idea to go ahead
and enter it anyway. Even though you might get a lot of useful bug
reports, your game will still be remembered as buggy by the competition
judges and anyone who reads the post-comp reviews. Like someone said in
SPAG #35, "the three most important words in IF creation are Testing,
The Big Scoop|
Author: Johan Berntsson
In this whodunnit, you must try and get to the bottom of a conspiracy
which has framed an innocent person for murder.
First, I thought that the story was done well. No, it's not an
original story. Still, I liked the implementation, especially the way
that the setup of the story is acted out as the player, instead of a big
info dump. Motivation remains strong throughout the game and I was
never left wandering and wondering what I was supposed to do next. The
downside? The writing itself needs a whole lot of work. The author of
The Big Scoop, like the author of Chronicle Play Torn, is not a native
English speaker and it shows. The very opening of the game reads:
Loud signals wake you from a deep stupor. You open your eyes and try
to sit up, but a thumping headache forces you back. The signals
Is using "signals" instead of "ringing" a matter of regional dialect?
If so, I've never heard it used that way before. In any event, it
certainly disrupted my reading of the text, if only for a moment. The
rest of the game suffers more from awkward sentence structure, mistakes
in grammar, and worst of all, bland summaries of actions that should
have been made more alive. One example is in the intro, where a mistake
can quickly end the game: "The police enter the apartment and arrest
you." That's it? How about a little more oomph there? The room
where I work has the plain appellation of "Newspaper Office". I
shouldn't have to have left the building in order to discover that my
newspaper actually has a name. Finally, the dialog really needs some
work. Not only is it flat and lacking any real feeling, it has a
tendency to switch between quoting and lifeless paraphrasing.
>ask linda about murder
Dialog is a real opportunity to bring the characters to life and let the
players get to know them. As it is, they exist as very shallow cliches:
the journalist, the innocent woman trying to clear her name, etc.
From a technical standpoint, I found the game fairly well constructed.
I did encounter a few bugs, though nothing that affected gameplay. One
particularly noticeable bug occurred within the introductory sequence
and I'm rather surprised that it got through even the most cursory
play-testing: the phone rings twice after the game starts and answering
it got me the same conversation both times. I appreciated the driving
system, as it closely mirrored something I'd been considering for one of
my works-in-progres. You can drive to locations only after you discover
them or discover a reason for going there. As for the conversation
system, it is a fairly standard ASK/TELL arrangement, plus the added
benefit of a TOPICS verb. Unfortunately, the topics list includes
subjects that could only be known through telepathy. They were never
mentioned and there's no reason that my character should have known to
ask about them. Topics should become available as I learn about them
through discussion; I shouldn't know to ask about all of Linda's
co-workers by name until she's referred to them herself.
Despite the writing issues I detailed about, I did enjoy myself
playing this game. As I've said, motivation is never an issue because
of the guidance I received from an NPC. The few puzzles there were had
(in my opinion) reasonable solutions. The game as a whole felt like an
unfinished skeleton. It's a foundation and structure, but there's no
detail. The characters and writing need to be refined and have some
life breathed into them. Then we'd have a really solid game on our
There's one point in there where the PC is trapped in a cellar with an
NPC. When my first idea proved fruitless, I tried telling the NPC to do
something rather unorthodox and it worked! (I was a little disappointed
that trying that action myself produced a nonsensical response.)
Answering the phone multiple times and getting the same message. An
obvious bug so early in the game should have been caught very quickly in
"Who killed Brian?", you ask. Linda says she doesn't know yet.
Goose, Egg, Badger|
Author: Brian Rapp
Original score: 3
Revised score: 4
This is a difficult game to summarize. Its gameplay is built around a
central, hidden premise and if you don't manage to realize it on your
own (or consult the SECRETS command), chances are that this game will
fail to impress you. Much as it failed to impress me when I first
played it. It wasn't until I read some of the post-comp discussion that
I discovered its little secret. In my opinion, it's clever enough, but
badly clued, and it doesn't make up for the game's shortcomings.
Constrained as the game is by its obfuscated premise, the writing is
decidedly uneven. Even though none of the room descriptions are very
long -- at most, 3 or 4 lines -- there are a couple of rooms with text
consisting or 4 or 5 words. Even knowing the in-joke
here, I find this completely unacceptable. On my first run-through this
strongly contributed to my sense that this game was a hurriedly rendered
surrealist fantasy which didn't have an internal consistency, that it
was just weird for the sake of being weird. Well, even now, I can't
imagine why my character turned from a girl into a robot when I waited
Another game with an inventory limit which seems to exist only to
frustrate the player. Later, as I progressed in the game, I found that
the game's habit of listing every item in a room on a separate line
started to get out of control. In the sewing room, the room description
was only 2 lines of text, followed by six different objects, each on its
own line. This seems to be the result of avoiding the standard "You see
... here" format, but the end effect is visually jarring. There's also
an NPC that follows you without providing a message to that effect.
When you enter a room, that NPC is not present. On your next action,
however, you may see an action performed by that NPC and be surprised to
look and find it listed in the room contents.
At first I found the game a cautiously enjoyable experience. I say
"cautiously" because early on there were some aspects which seemed to
portend trouble. As I progressed, I encountered the two minimally
described rooms ("All is strangely quiet") and a tedious set of puzzles
involving an electrical wire. Stuck at one point, I consulted the
hints, which did get me through some situations, but never helped me
uncover the game's secret foundation. I still consider it poorly clued.
Some may spot it right away. My guess is that most will not, unless
they review the full walkthrough or consult the SECRETS command.
Following several hints, I appeared to end up in a situation where I did
some events out of order. The hint was telling me to use an object I no
longer had access to. Frustrated and annoyed, I quit. Having gone back
and played, knowing the game's secret, I can admit that the premise is
clever. It's just too bad that it doesn't improve the gameplay any.
All I can seem to get from it is extra points.
Threatening the badger with the vacuum cleaner.
Reading the room descriptions of the animal pens.
Author: Tommy Herbert
Original score: 4
Revised score: 5
This game had one of the more clever and interesting twists of games
in this year's competition: the parser makes use of first-, second-, AND
third-person voice. Because in this instance, the parser acts as an
intermediary between you, some type of diety, and Bellclap, one of your
followers. The role of the parser seems to be played by a type of angel
or other celestial minion. As you give instructions, your angel relays
them to Bellclap, who may or may not act upon them.
I found the text of the game to be skillfully written. The
1st/2nd/3rd person voice appears to have worked flawlessly in the
sessions I played. The game's major failing is its puzzles. I simply
could not find any clues presented that would have suggested the course
of action required to reach the game's conclusion. The diety that you
play could almost be considered an accretive PC: certainly I would
expect even a minor god to have more knowledge about the workings of the
world than myself. The problem with Bellclap is that this knowledge is
in no way ever conveyed to me, the player and interactor. So I had to
rely on the walkthrough and even after reading it, I couldn't fathom how
I was supposed to guess the required actions.
As I said above, the use of all three perspectives worked without
error in my plays of the game. I couldn't find any technical issues
I have to admit, this game held great appeal to me early on. I ran
quickly into its unfathomable puzzle and when I followed the walkthrough
and realized the entirety of the solution, the game lost its charm. The
game is actually fairly brief, consisting of one aggregate puzzle
comprised of a few smaller steps. So with that puzzle done, the game
was ended. The good news is that I think that the game can be fixed.
It just needs to give the player some clue as to why Bellclap needs to
do the things required to win. As it is, I feel like there's a whole
fleshed-out mythos here that's kept deliberately hidden from me even
though I need to be familiar with it in order to finish the game.
I thought the beginning was marvelously written. The interplay
between the player, the angel, and Bellclap was priceless.
Reading the walkthrough and not thinking to myself, "Oh, that makes
sense." In fact, it was the opposite.
Author: Peter Seebach & Kevin Lynn
Original score: 5
Revised score: 6
What we have here is another game containing one large puzzle made up
of several related sub-puzzles. (To be fair, nearly all games could be
considered to be one large puzzle made up of smaller puzzles. But life
is not fair. And besides, these puzzles are all tightly related.) The
situation presented is also the familiar "you are a tester" scenario, so
there is no real backstory and a ready explanation for why you are
trying to solve the main puzzle. Finally, there's the gimmick: the
"Psychic Typo Error Correction System" which supposedly reads the
player's mind in order to correct any unrecognized terms in commands.
You're a test subject, running the PTECS through its paces as you
tackle a machine of unknown purpose. That's pretty much the story right
there, except for a brief extra bit at the end. In fact in my initial
attempts at the game, its emphasis on the typo-correcting system seemed
bizarre. The system is after all simply a plug-in library for Inform.
It's not until the end that you find out the reason. While the
conclusion doesn't entirely make up for the blandness of the rest of the
game, it certainly does help to perk it up and add some much appreciated
There are some aspects of the game where it's hard to tell whether
certain results were intentionally implemented by the authors or if they
are simply bugs. The hoses are the most glaring example. When you
connect them, the hose objects vanish and can no longer be referenced.
You can't examine them or disconnect them because they are no longer
present. Is this a bug? There's an action that can be performed that
partially "resets" the machine, making the hoses accessible again. It
also resets the wire, which is a little odd since no other parts of the
machine are affected. I also had a problem with one of the subsystems
missing from the in-game manual. The game's primary emphasis, the
typo-correction system, works reasonably well, especially on the
occasions when your typing is especially lazy. The only problems I had
with it arose from the game's basic verb set; non-standard verbs were
deciphered in some truly bizarre ways. At least it was more amusing
than your generic "I don't know that word" response.
Once you take control, the game starts a little weakly. To get the
game started, you have to perform an action which doesn't seem like it
would do anything important, even though I think nearly every player
will eventually try it. Once that's past, it's now time to interface
with the machine. Only I ran into two serious roadblocks: first, I had
trouble getting the doors open; second, I didn't think to close them
after I had finished with them, and so I couldn't win. For the first
issue, I turned to the denizens of ifMUD for help. After I got past
that, I found myself completely stuck with absolutely no idea of what to
do next. I thought I had everything completed and set up according to
the manual. Except that the machine did not work and I could not finish
the game by the end of the two hour judging period. So I had to end up
scoring the game based on my frustration and my disappointment in the
hint system. There really should have been more hint topics available,
such as one for each color/subsystem (if you're not going to give us a
After the comp, I went back and played again, determined to finish it.
Finally it occurred to me to close the doors, and I was done. The
ending helps redeem the game, but only by 1 point. While it's funny and
helps explain some things, the flat fiddle-with-machine portion is the
bulk of the game and isn't enough to carry it.
Originally, the high point had been finding all 5 possible ways to
snuff out the player character. Having finally finished it, I'd have to
say the end sequence.
Being stuck for so long without the hints giving me a clue as to why.
When the doors are open, this for some reason affects two subsystems,
even though they are only involved in one of them. And if closing the
doors is so important, why doesn't examining the doors or compartments
even mention that they are open?
Author: Chris Klimas
A wild, surreal ride through reflection, regret, and redemption.
Comparisons to Plotkin's So Far are probably inevitable. While that
game has the player travelling to realms that feel quite alien, Blue
Chairs manages to feel even more surreal by freely mixing the peculiar
with the mundane, producing an atmosphere all the more bizarre due to
its contrasts. The end result has a sort of Twin Peaks vibe to it. I
for one loved the writing in Blue Chairs. And it fits the story
perfectly. Thankfully, I felt motivated at nearly every step of the
way, so the game never really left me floundering for what to do next.
There were only a couple of technical issues that I encountered.
First, there ended up being two blue keys in my inventory, one of them
being ornate. Disambiguation was a problem, as there was no distinct
way to reference the non-ornate key when the game asked me which I
meant. The other issue involved the bank vault door, which can
apparently be put into an unopenable state if you turn the dial to a
wrong number. (I think the author said that there was a way to reset
the dial, but I haven't been able to locate that newsgroup post.)
I had great fun with this game. The action did slow down a bit in the
Mini-Mart, as I found myself turning to the hints a bit more. This was
related to the problem I encountered with the vault door, as described
above. Still, that whole section reminded me of the narcotized
sequences in Max Payne, where you run through a series of drug-warped
rooms depicting events from your memories. Some complained that this
section was a maze, which is just silly to me. There are a lot of
rooms, but the exits are plainly visible and the rooms are all
different. It's confusing, yes, just not at all difficult to map.
Finally, there are multiple endings and the one I prefer I found to be
immensely satisfying. The only letdown afterwards was the lack of
author's notes afterwards.
I would have to say the "run through the snow" ending. It still gets
to me when I go back and re-read the transcript.
Aww, no author's notes?
Author: Dave Bernazzani
Your ship has crashed upon a remote planet and now it's up to you to
get yourself resuced. Oh, and you also have amnesia. Yes, they're two
of the most cliched plot points used in IF, but they wouldn't be so
overused if they weren't so loved, right?
The text is generally fair, with a few trouble spots. The main
paragraph of the room description inside the spacecraft weighs in at 15
lines on an 80 character-width display, followed by a separate 1 line
paragraph for the supply closet. This is far, far too long for almost
any room, especially one with such limited interactivity as this.
Compared to how much there is too see, there's surprisingly little to
do in this room. It should be broken out into at least two
separate rooms to avoid overwhelming the player with text. Beyond this
room, my complaints on prose mainly concern inconsistent capitalization
(a room named "spacecraft Engine" and the game text "The yak bucks and
does not allow you to take the Splinter out"). There were also a
considerable number of scenery objects outside of the ship (and even a
few portable objects) that get by on Inform's default description.
Identity's puzzles range from fairly basic (the shovel, the guard) to
clever (the yak, the radio). The last one, particularly, requires some
close attention to details and a spirit of experimentation. Which is
why I had to use the hints.
The story is certainly the weakest aspect of this game. The PC's
amnesia, besides being a much overused plot device, inevitably
contributes nothing at all to the experience. Identity's only goal,
after all, is to escape this pleasantly backwater planet, not to regain
your lost memory (in fact, even in the end the game is vague on whether
or not all of your amnesia is dispelled). So why then is title drawn
from this minor, unimportant facet of the plot? My advice to the author
is to either drop it entirely or work on integrating it more fully into
the story and the puzzles.
Instead of a score, Identity implements a "percentage complete"
status, which is a clever and interesting concept that is unfortunately
somewhat wasted on such a short game. (Are there other games that use a
percentage-type scoring system? I'm not immediately aware of any.) As
far as technical issues go, there were a few that jumped out at me. The
specimen jar description shows an empty space for its contents. While
not a bug, the interface system for the "COMPUCOM" and the radio felt
unnatural to me. Am I giving verbal orders to a radio and my watch?
This is my first of the three "just awoke from cryo-sleep" games in
this comp. Even after all this time I'm a sucker for a
sci-fi-crash-landing-survival game in the vein of Planetfall or
inevitable. But this game wasn't quite what I expected based on its
intro. While there is some interaction with machines at the beginning
and end, there's no encounters with advanced alien technology. Okay, so
my initial impressions were wrong. Still, the game completely lacks any
sense of urgency. There's no sense of danger and no feeling of
deadline. In fact, this planet is fairly pleasant, if a little
backwards. The yaks are friendly and the natives (apparently human?)
are social and quite helpful. Overall, the puzzles are good, but the
game as a whole doesn't quite hang together.
Finding myself in the cryotube brought back memories of one of my
really old unfinished WIPs.
Dying because I'd left the hatch in the pod open. You'd think in the
future an escape pod would have a proper failsafe mechanism. At least
the game had an auto-save feature.
Sting of the Wasp|
Author: Jason Devlin
Who's the most conniving bitch at Pine Meadows Country Club? You are,
if you play your cards right. Sting of the Wasp takes IF about as far
as you can get from the stereotypical underground treasure-laden dungeon
environment we've all grown accustomed to.
The one thing that I most admired about this game was how the tone of
the writing and dialog so elegantly dovetailed with the subject matter.
It's a game about petty and vindictive people and you're unlikely to
forget that. The story is not likely to leave you feeling heroic;
you're effectively just as bad as the people you struggle against. I
found this a nice change of pace, and in the grand scheme of things, the
PC can really only be considered diet evil at most. The puzzles were
very well integrated into the story and setting. Some of the less
physical restrictions (such as gaining access to the kitchen) may chafe
against players, but I believe that they help reinforce the character.
This is a fully realized PC that strains to maintain both her secrets
and her status.
I found only one major issue to report: despite the outside dining
area being broken into two distinct sections, both rooms had the same
description. This effectively made finding the Pro Shop a guessing game
(the room name lets you know it's around there somewhere). I had a
minor quibble with the game's replacement of "You can't go that way" as
a default response to moving in inaccessible directions. Would a PC so
concerned about her social standing that she would refuse to enter a
kitchen without a valid reason really walk carelessly into walls in the
presence of her greatest rivals? This was mainly a problem because of
the room description bug I already mentioned, so the proper exits were
I have to say, I had a lot of fun playing this game. Even though I
did end up relying on the hints quite a few times in order to make it
through the entire story before the judging time was up, it was a great
experience with well thought out puzzles and characters.
Upon entering the garden, I was greeted with, "Oh, Julia. I'm
surprised to see you here. I thought you preferred to do your hoeing in
In a rush, I skimmed the description of the Pro Shop and completely
missed the exit to the north. Thus, even the hints couldn't help me as
I stumbled around the map in search of a very important NPC.
Author: Michael Sheldon
A squire can't become a knight without first completing a "randomly"
assigned task. Unfortunately, I found the actions needed to complete
the task to be the random ones.
Terse room descriptions can work, if done well. Here, too many of
them are short and generally flavorless. The majority of the rooms are
described as, "Here are the objects, here are the exits." They could
really use some variety and a little bit of color, even if they're not
the foundation of major puzzles. The start room and monastery have a
bit of flavor and it's a shame that more of the rooms weren't like them.
The story is nothing original, but I don't hold this against the game.
Its puzzles, on the other hand, are its major weakness. One is
imaginative, with two possible solutions. The others are boil down to
stale give-item-to-person puzzles, with one of them standing out as both
disgusting and completely unclued. Without reading the walkthrough or
the author's mind, only the most stubborn of flailing will allow you to
finish this game.
The comings and goings of NPCs used basic library functions when they
really ought to have been spruced up a bit for effect. The same applies
to some of the denial messages. For instance, when I tried to pick up
the cat, the response was, "You can't have Picklebird." Well, why not?
I also found some of the major scenery items mentioned in room
descriptions to be unimplemented. Never underestimate the value of
minor implementation details.
The armourer puzzle set a level of expectation that the rest of the
game failed to live up to. Then I encountered the unclued puzzle
mentioned above and became even more disappointed. Additionally, the
game lacks polish and attention to detail. Too many things are stock
responses, though I appreciated the more fleshed-out implementation of
Brother Lee, with his randomized response to generic topics.
Solving the armourer situation with the appropriate object. A decent
puzzle that fits in the framework of the game. The bugle, its location,
and its alternate use are all appropriate. Also finding out that there
is a clever, alternative solution to the armourer puzzle.
Reading the walkthrough and discovering what I had to do to "reveal"
the secret of the Chi'monk. Really, his "secret" was obvious. The
solution was anything but.
Author: John Evans
In a nice twist, you are the summonee, not the summoner.
Unfortunately, this game is crippled by the poor implementation of an
overambitious design idea and a major oversight in one room description
that makes it effectively unwinnable.
The quality of prose I found to be generally good. The text of
various rooms did a fairly decent job at evoking an otherworldly
atmosphere. The story is a clever variation on the typical fantasy
game. You're not the wizard summoning a powerful spirit to do your
bidding. Instead, you are the powerful spirit summoned to the bidding
of another. The introduction had me fearing puzzles for the sake of
puzzles, but I found this not to be the case once I easily escaped the
starting room. After completing the intermediate steps (with
unavoidable help from the hint system... see below), I arrived at the
endgame with no idea what exactly was transpiring or who the involved
characters were supposed to be (even though I somehow knew their names).
It wasn't long after the start room that I began to discover the
limitation of the open-ended "create" verb. The idea of the game is
that the player can create objects out of thin air by using nothing more
than a thought. The problem is, of course, that only objects predefined
by the author can be actualized. And since this game doesn't seem to
have been playtested by anyone except the author, your ideas for
solutions are likely not implemented, leaving you to grasp for either
synonyms or other alternatives. This, by itself, is bearable. The big
hole in The Order is that one vital piece of scenery was left out of a
room description. It's implemented and the hints refer to it; you just
have no idea it even exists or where. This overshadows the minor
problems of not being able to use "pile" as a synonym for "pile of
belongings" or the default Inform self-description being completely out
of place for a summoned spirit.
There was a lot of initial appeal that was quickly dampened by the
frustration of guess-the-noun problems associated with the "create"
verb. The mystery steeple was what really sapped the fun from this
game. John Evans also released the game Domicile in last year's comp,
another game that needed to be playtested before being released. The
shame of it is, I think he has some real talent and it can't be
appreciated because he doesn't others to verify his games are ready
before they're released.
The deceptive ease with which I completed the initial "test". I was
expecting a much more elaborate series of puzzles. (In fact, at first I
thought that the setup might simply be an elaborate excuse for a
straight puzzle game, in the spirit of The Recruit from Comp03.)
Reading the hints for the air elemental and then trying to figure out
exactly where to find the items it was describing.
Author: Ian Waddell
A rather unsubtle anti-war piece with rigidly linear gameplay.
This is a heavy-handed game written to convince you why war is bad.
If I didn't know the author was 15 year-old, I would probably be much
more harsh in this review. See, I think all right-minded people
recognize that war is evil. But they also recognize that it is
sometimes a necessary evil. So when someone fabricates an event during
World War II as a way to sermonize the wrongness of war, that's when I
start questioning the source. Because if you don't recgonize WWII as
one of history's most important struggles against tyranny and
oppression, then there's probably not much we can see eye-to-eye on.
And then I get to the part of the game where my PC, a WWII infantry
soldier, is carrying around a "M1A1 Abrams, currently loaded with 8
bullets", and I realize that the author probably just doesn't know any
I didn't encounter any serious technical issues. I did wonder why, in
the conversation trees, some options would vanish after chosen, while
others would remain, letting me ask them again with the same response.
It's hard to get more transparently linear than Blink, a quality that
makes any game hard to enjoy. The dialog menus give you choices with no
appreciable difference most of the time. Even when they are
significantly distinct, your selection has no impact on the story
anyway. After a bit of railroading and a single puzzle, the game ends
with what I suppose was intended to be a contemplative air. I guess
some people will agree with the message of this game in light of the
ongoing war in Iraq. I, on the other hand, found it simplistic and
Examining my rifle during the World War II flashback.
Author: Paul J. Furio
The second in the cryosleep games, this one is more in line with my
expectations. Your ship has crashed, time is running out, and only you
can save the hundreds of helpless passengers facing certain doom.
The story should be familiar to anyone who's been around the IF block
a few times. Something has gone horribly wrong and if you can't get a
number of the ship's systems up and running, you will find yourself
quickly bereft of life. And so it's up to you, generic nobody, to
wander the ship and fix the broken and dying systems before you and your
traveling companions snuff it. The appeal of a story like this is that
it's a great setup for interesting mechanical interaction for puzzles.
There's even an amusing in-game explanation of your current predicament.
(Also included with the game is an accompanying pdf file which provides
a bit of backstory and even some hints as to how to reach the game's
finale.) Soon into the story you will encounter a Floyd-clone
maintenance robot. And just in case you might make the mistake of
not thinking that this is a deliberate reference to Planetfall,
the robot even discusses Floyd by name. Rather than capture Floyd's
charm and humor, however, Splashdown's robot side-kick quickly becomes
tiresome as he repeats the same Floyd-ish lines again and again.
The puzzles are generally what you'd expect: mechanically oriented and
focused on repairing damaged systems. The process of directly
controlling the maintenance robot was a nice touch. Unfortunately, I
take issue with the very strict time limit imposed by the rapidly
draining ship batteries. It's bad enough that the power shutdown ends
the game, it also interferes with your ability to move around (by
disabling the elevator) and leaves you without any clear indication of
what to do about it (the power generator is inaccessible without solving
prerequisite puzzles and you don't even know where it is until you get
there). A better indication of where the generator is would have helped
me realize what my main priority. The other issue I ran into involved
solving two puzzles out of order; both used the same object in their
solution, but one of the puzzles "consumed" the object, leaving me
unable to complete the other. Whoops. So while the puzzles aren't
necessarily difficult individually, the game as a whole can be tricky.
The power shortage and its timer seem to be design decisions, so I
don't consider them to be technical problems, however much I disagree
with their harsh limits. I did find that the computer interaction could
be improved ("voice recognition error" was the response when perhaps a
"command not recognized" would have been preferable). There were a
couple of instances of conspicuous items mentioned in a room not
actually being implemented (the "hazy red light" and the "bolts and
metal scraps" that were made to seem important but didn't seem to have a
purpose). Oh, and I'm hoping that future editions will make "tube" a
synonym for "cryotube".
Out of the three cryosleep games in this year's comp, this was my
favorite. I did find myself relying heavily on the hints thanks to the
rather severe time constraints. This meant that while I did finish the
game within the 2 hour limit, I don't think I enjoyed it as much as I
should have. One of the great joys of Planetfall was being able to
wander around and tinker with the various components of the complex.
Here, you have no such luxury because that timer is always hovering over
you like an executioner's axe. My wish is for a post-comp release that
loosens the time restriction.
Having spider fix the wall plate in the gangway. I love it when I go
out on a limb and it's the correct solution.
Running out of power repeatedly, but not having a clue how to start
the generator or even where it was. Countdown timer + lack of direction
= sad me.
Author: Timofei Shatrov
If I had gotten very far in this game, I'd be able to provide a
summary. But since I quit very early on, the most I can say is that you
are kidnapped from your home and find yourself a prisoner. As in most
games that begin in a jail cell, your goal is to escape. And that's
where the problems begin.
The language in Stack Overflow presents as substandard right away.
The intro contains the phrase "you're really getting late to the work",
which suggests that English is not author's native language. This is
reinforced by some later changes in verb tense during a cut-scene and
other game response ("There is no point to attack the round table at the
moment"). As for story, I can't really say, because the puzzles quickly
drove me from the game. The first was not a complete deal-breaker, even
though I found it poorly clued (and the help system responded with the
infuriating response: "You don't need any hints... yet!"). The
second puzzle, however, sent me running from this game. At this point,
I was following the walkthrough, since the hint system had proved such a
disappointment. The walkthrough skips the intermediate step of finding
the clue to help solve the second puzzle. It simply has the player use
a verb from Spellbreaker without ever explaining how the player would
know to do that without having played the Infocom game first. (I only
discovered later that there is an in-game clue to use this unique verb
and the hint system helps you find it.) I was considerably irked at
this point by a puzzle I considered grossly unfair, so I quit and rated
the game based on what I'd seen so far.
As I stated above, the hint system needs to be fixed. In the middle
of a puzzle, the player should never be told that he or she does not
"need" any help. Using the verb "out" in a jail cell should give a more
appropriate response than, "But you aren't in anything at the moment."
I had negative fun with this game. It was like a perfect storm of
tiny things that ended with me annoyed and frustrated with this game.
The shallow and meaningless story combined with poor writing blended
with the broken hint system mixed with the incomplete walkthrough
integrated with the poorly thought-out first two puzzles all served to
make this probably the worst experience I had of the whole competition.
Even Ninja didn't actively irritate me this much, though I consider it
to be a worse game.
Finding the hammer.
Pretty much everything else.
Who Created That Monster?|
Author: N. B. Horvath
A failed work of political satire that builds up to a climax it cannot
possibly provide and then completely short-circuits itself with the
Upon starting the game, you are immediately engulfed by a futuristic
Iraqi setting that's an uneven mix of shallow right-wing ideals and the
predictions of left-wing doomsayers. So while Iraq is free, almost
7,000 coalition soldiers supposedly died in the process. Areas and
roads are named after Bush and officials from his administration, but
they are filled with the surveillance cameras of an apparent police
state. And though terrorists still roam the streets, they are no more
three-dimensional than Advent's roaming dwarf and disappear in a puff of
smoke when killed. And amidst this strangeness is the PC, a gun-toting
journalist, trying to figure out "which Western nation helped bring
Saddam Hussein to power in the 20th century." Well, it's common
knowledge that the U.S. helped support Iraq during its war with Iran in
the 1980's, though it was only one among many nations to do so. So it
was with this in mind that I played the game. Was all of this lead up
just to tell me something I already knew? Would the game distort
history to satisfy some personal cause? In the end, neither of these
happened. Instead, a completely unrelated country was chosen (randomly
selected each time you play, according to the author) as the scapegoat.
So in the end, I think this piece of satire fails mainly because it
lacks cohesion of message. Which is a shame because even though I
likely don't entirely share the author's view on the Iraq war, he has
created a game with a few pretty clever bits in it.
On first glance, the embassy basements appear to be a bugged. As it
turns out, it's not. Is this a message I just can't quite grok or
simply a bizarre design decision for a particular puzzle? There was a
slight slip in the response to using the ASK verb: "If you want to talk
to yourself, use TALK TO (character) or just T (character)." I can talk
to myself just fine on my own, thanks!
Looming over me throughout the game was the shadow of how it would
end. And the "Iraq History" bubbles that popped regularly during the
beginning of the game contributed little to the game itself. Still, I
found the conspiracy and investigation aspect of it to be fairly well
done, if a bit odd (the dancing ambassador). It's a shame the rest of
the game didn't work so well.
There wasn't really one.
The ending was just so cheesy and I don't think it had the desired
Author: Tomasz Pudlo
Is this a game with some real brilliance in its execution or the
middle finger given to the IF community by a notorious usenet troll? A
little of both, so it seems.
I found the writing from Gamlet to be quite impressive. Some players
will likely consider it overwritten. I didn't... for the most part.
Its language was evocative, replete with imagery, and avoided the
flavorless recitations that plague far too many games. Still,
describing a crevice as a "narrow cunt-like crevice in-between two slabs
of stone" is sure to send up red flags, and the same goes for the
bizarre and disturbing Oksana scene. I have to wonder if this was a
deliberate attempt by the author to offend the sensibilities of the
players, especially the ones with which he has a rather contentious
The story for most of the game was familiar, though with a twist.
Puzzles, on the other hand, were a mixed bag. Starting out, they meshed
well into the overall scope of the story. Later puzzles, however, began
to feel somewhat less clued, such as the feasting, the final resting
place of poor Yorick, and the obfuscated cabinet, which is not mentioned
in your first visit to the landing and can be easily overlooked in later
passings. In the end, what sabotaged Gamlet most was its unexpected
climax. I suppose the clues were there: the response to inventory at
the beginning and the increasingly bizarre situations that the character
encountered. Still, it wasn't just the explanation for the game's
events that made the ending so disappointing. It was also the author's
"last laugh" in the final text dump. "Bless you, for we have both been
duped" followed immediately "The end and Bang! Who's played it is a
Wang!" The clear indication is that the player is also nothing but a
puppet, and I can only infer from the text that the author considers
himself to be the one pulling the strings.
I found the hint system to be somewhat lacking. It was nice when it
worked, but that only covered half the times I was looking for what to
do next. There was one instance where my command "put poker in prints"
resulted in no response from the game at all, not even a default
To start, I had high hopes for the game. I couldn't initially figure
out if this was a R*IF inside joke, with Jacek Pudlo as the butt, or
something else. The spectral scenes at the beginning had me laughing,
in stark contrast the somber (and often disturbing) spirit of the
remainder of the game. Then, of course, there's the infamous ending.
Seems like a lot of trouble to go through just to spit in the eye of the
The hilarious text "The dismembered corpse of a tree lies neatly piled
by the fireplace."
Has to be the ending.
The Orion Agenda|
Author: Ryan Weisenberger
In a somewhat familiar science fiction universe, you, Captain Jon
Stark, must somehow avert civil war. And save the galaxy. And also, if
there's time, get the girl.
The first thing you may notice when playing The Orion Agenda is the
first-person perspective of the game. The intention may have been to
make the transcript read like a historical document or a kind of
debriefing report. Unfortunately, I feel that it may have acted to
restrict my immersion in the game. I never really felt a connection to
The second aspect of the game that you see is that it begins in medias
res, and the bulk of The Orion Agenda plays through the events leading
up to that beginning point. This particular literary device can be
tricky to incorporate into IF; in this case, I managed to get myself
killed twice during the "flashback" portion of the game and there was no
attempt to resolve the discrepancy.
Third, you will probably come to realize that the "number one rule of
SciCorps" sounds an awful lot like Star Trek's Federation prime
directive of first contact: no contamination of undeveloped worlds.
Some players may hold this against the game. I did not, since it's a
concept that surely has been explored outside of Trek (and possibly
before Star Trek made the idea well-known). Much of the plot and
puzzles are related, at least tangentially, to this rule.
The game incorporated its puzzles into the environment fairly well.
However, the driving force behind them was pretty transparent, making
them partially feel like puzzles for puzzles' sake. And while the
descriptions and plot were done well enough, I found a lot of the dialog
to fall somewhat flat and unreal. The conversations with the old
Orionion (I can't stress enough what a poor choice of species name that
is) were particularly jarring, especially with the stream of insults he
tossed my way. I suppose he was supposed to seem endearingly grumpy,
but writing a character like that is tricky because after a while you
start to wonder if the insults are coming from the character or the
For the most part, the game feels pretty solid. Even the switch from
2nd to 1st person was done without any hiccups that I could see. There
were a few minor issues that could be improved in later releases,
however, such as breaking up some of those very long infodumps and
recognizing spoken names with quotes around them. One bug in particular
forced me to turn to the hint system: when the medscanner wouldn't scan
the vines in the garden because they weren't "organic", I made the
mistake of thinking it would only work on NPCs.
Even though I couldn't really immerse myself into this game, I found
it a pleasant diversion. It flows fairly well, with only one major
roadblock, and the puzzles weren't hard (even for me).
The solution to the old man's "honesty" requirement. It's one of
those moment where both solution and result just feel right.
Had to resort to hints to solve the sick girl puzzle because trying to
scan the plants in the garden lead me to the conclusion that the game
did not consider non-animal life scannable. Unfortunately, this wasn't
true. Not a major bug, just one that can create confusion.
A Light's Tale|
Author: Zach Flynn (vbnz)
I wish I knew what to put here.
I get the feeling that the author was trying to convey something with
this game that just did not make it. The intro was confusing and
awkwardly written, mentioning an "unordinary" man. There are spelling
problems throughout the parts that I played ("unordinary", "flys") and
the tone is aggressive and antagonistic towards the player ("I won't let
you go that way"). The writing itself is coarse colloquial, which can
work if done well with a well-defined personality to represent the
narrator. Here, there doesn't seem to be one. If there's a story or
plot, I didn't find it before I gave up.
Besides lacking quotes around speech, the game seems to be rife with
invisible NPCs. First, Fernando's gang caught and killed me, even
though there was no mention of them entering or being in the same room
as me. One second I'm trying to take a mirror, then next I'm dead. The
same thing happened when I ran from Bob. He did not follow me around,
but he somehow managed to kill me anyway. I couldn't even interact with
him, since there was no actual NPC object in the same room as me.
The description of The Beginning felt like it could have lead to a
good surreal exploration, as in So Far or Blue Chairs.
Getting killed by an NPC who wasn't actually in the room. Twice.
Author: Hans Fugal
Wander around Santa Fe, New Mexico and take in the sights. That's
really all you'll do, however.
Blue Sky titles itself as "An Interactive Tourist Trap". It's hard to
argue with that description either, as the game doesn't go far beyond
the PC visiting various locations in a subset of Santa Fe. The "plot"
involves trying to catch up with your tour group as it moves from
landmark to landmark. And so you face a series of roadblocks; after
each, you think you will finally be able to reintegrate with your group,
and yet somehow they elude you. The downside is that in many cases,
it's not clear where you are supposed to go or what you are supposed to
do if you get there. I found the writing style to be fair, giving at
least some of the atmosphere of the location, with only a couple of
typos. The self-desc was Inform default, which was disappointing.
The technical aspect of Blue Sky was somewhat weaker. Most
frustrating was the city map. It was filled with non-reciprocating
exits without any clue as to why this would be the case. The result is
a layout that's surprisingly difficult to navigate and map despite its
low room count. There were a couple of exits mentioned in one room that
weren't implemented at all, not even with simple refusals. Finally, I
found myself seemingly stuck according to the hints I consulted, because
I had solved two puzzles out of order (one of these puzzles, in
addition, I consider rather unfair). It turns out there was another
solution, but the hints didn't mention it and no walkthrough was
included with the game.
The small scope of the game did not quite make up for the confusing
layout of the rooms. I found myself depending on a map which should not
really have been necessary for such a low room count. But worse was
that I travelled the map not in search of solutions to puzzles, but
looking for puzzles to solve.
Getting into the church, even though the start of this puzzle chain
seems wholly unrelated to the task.
Discovering the game was apparently unwinnable because I'd solved a
puzzle out of order (llama before sipa). I only found out later that
this was not true.
All Things Devours|
Author: half sick of shadows
It's hard to say anything specific about this game without spoiling
it. At its core is a brilliant game-encompassing puzzle, though I felt
the writing could have done with a bit more polish.
As far as plot and puzzles go, the game is effectively one big puzzle.
It's up to the player to get all the pieces to fit. Because of the
nature of the game, All Things Devours (an somewhat awkward title taken
from the line of a poem) violates rule 3 of the IF "Bill of Players
Rights", which says that the player should "be able to win without
experience of past lives". But in this case, an exception can be made.
This is not a traditional treasure search. Instead, it's a game of
planning and strategy, where each failed attempt makes your reevaluate
and refine your methods.
As good as the gameplay was, I found the writing to be sparse in
places. Most rooms were little more than a cursory description followed
by a vanilla listing of doors (as many as five in one room). Most of
these doors had little to differentiate them besides direction and, in
some cases, numbering (first door, second door, etc.). I think the
author should have tried for a better way of making each door a bit more
distinct (by style or color perhaps) and for aesthetics, incorporated
them a little better into the room description, rather than listing them
one after another like a roster of room contents. My poor American
hands were not happy at typing "Deutsch" over and over in order to
manipulate the Deutsch lab door.
The only technical fault I could find was that the Basement Landing
mentioned the north door twice. Other than that, everything seemed to
I really did have a blast while playing this game. Everything fit.
In fact, my only disappointment was that the author had taken an idea
for a puzzle I had, made it even better, and expanded it into a whole
game. Though I did get hung up early on, and later with the second
stage, once I figured out the secret, I had a great time experimenting
and seeing what to do next.
When I realized that this game was effectively a puzzle I had
conceived for one of my own works-not-in-progress.
Being clueless what to do next, just before I discovered what the
prototype actually did. After that, it was very engaging.
Author: William A. Tilli
A middling adventure game that focuses on the other side of the
typical treasure hunt. Instead of a dashing aventurer, you're a goblin
whose home has just been ransacked.
Like other Santoonie games, Zero suffers terribly from dismal spelling
and grammar. In some cases, it's as if a spell-checker was employed
without the benefit of a dictionary, resulting in the wrong choice of
homonyms. For instance, the goblin home is attacked by humans described
as "fowl men" (chicken people, perhaps?), one character "excepts" a gift
from another, and a makeshift anvil is covered with "a black suit ...
possibly from hot fire".
The game is apparently divided into two parts. In the first half, you
must try to straighten up the goblin lair after the terrible human
attack. The second part supposedly involves retrieving stolen items
from the chicken people, but I wouldn't know because I never finished
the initial set of tasks. The problem was that each puzzle in the first
half is a single link in a chain; once you restore one object to its
rightful location, there's a change made to one of the rooms and now you
must hunt through all of the rooms to figure out which one. Repeat
repeat repeat. In fact, here's the exact text from the HELP command:
"During the gather stage, within the goblin lair, you must find specific
items and place them in specific spots, then examine them after
placement to activate additional items. It is required to visit same
locations over and over again." At some point down the chain, I
couldn't find the next change and gave up.
I encountered various problems while playing Zero. At one point you
encounter a companion (and a rather annoying one at that) who follows
you around. However, the game doesn't indicate anywhere that he's
following you, so you may not realize this until either you look again
at the room or he interjects with one of his loud and obnoxious comments
(such as "I'm hungry as a bitch"). Some of the NPCs (the king and Armod
for example), when replying to a question about a particular topic, will
reveal some wisdom on the subject... and then immediately follow that
with their default "I don't know anything about that" text. And then
there's obligatory Santoonie sleep and hunger timers.
Not much. Between the spelling problems, the constant hunt for which
room changed, and the antics of my "companion", my willingness to play
got sapped pretty quickly. There were no actual hints for what to do
next, and no walkthrough.
The game was pretty consistent in its level of quality, so no
particular part of the game jumps out at me.
Author: Paul Panks (Dunric)
No review yet.
A Day In The Life Of A Super Hero|
Author: David Whyld
A not-so-super superhero faces a series of challenges from his
numerous enemies. Unfortunately, the game is marred by an abundance of
bugs and other problems.
The story could certainly work. A costumed superhero who seems to
have no real power besides his determination has to stop a number of
devious and talented villains. And it does indeed lend itself to a
humorous dissection of the entire superhero genre. Unfortunately, the
writing in this game didn't come across to me as quite as amusing and
witty as intended. The plot itself felt vague and confusing and at
times it was hard to tell if the bizarre happenings were part of the
actual story or simply bugs that had disrupted the game flow.
I don't know if I was just unlucky, but I ran into an inordinate
number of bugs as I played through the game. In one conversation (done
through menus... but on occasion, also done through ask/tell) I selected
a choice from the menu which turned out to be not quite available to me.
My attempt to read newspaper elicited the response "You can't read the
newspaper!" The problems with scope and disambiguation were the worst
though. For example, when I tried to talk to my pet parrot, the game
responded with: "A fusty smell pervades your apartment. It's probably a
mixture of you never getting around to cleaning it and that time the
Slug Monster was here to kill you." Okay, that's great, but I was
trying to talk to my parrot, not smell my living quarters. Likewise, my
attempts to talk to Bumble resulted in the game thinking I was
addressing the guards, who were not interested in conversation. When I
asked an NPC about the Crossing Lady, the game replied with "You can't
see the ladies of the night." I still don't know if this kind of
disambiguation problem is inherent to Adrift or if the author just
didn't realize these problems existed. Either way, this game needed a
lot more testing.
The bugs, being so constant and so pervasive, quickly sapped my will
to play. Between them and the game bouncing me around locations without
rhyme or reason, I gave up before really getting anywhere.
I couldn't think of any.
Getting Back To Sleep|
Author: Patrick Evans (IceDragon)
Rounding out the "wake up from cryo-sleep" trio, Getting Back To Sleep
is a Windows-only game that implements a new IF game engine and runs
entirely in real-time. Not surprisingly, it doesn't have a lot of
features that IF veterans have come to expect from their games.
Since this game had the unfortunate distinction of being the last of
the cryo-sleep trio in my randomly generated list of comp entrants, the
story had gotten a little stale by this point. I found the writing
adequate enough for a game of this type, but the rest of the game rather
unremarkable. I didn't care for the hydroponics forest "maze", which
really wasn't so much of a maze as a looping series of near identical
rooms that seemed somewhat out of place.
You can tell a lot of work went into this game. Having written my own
crude IF parsers in the past, I know what an endeavor something this
polished was. And in real-time. Which makes it all the more
disappointing that many of the staples of modern IF are missing.
There's no transcript (I'm reviewing entirely from memory and some
notes), no pausing of the real-time clock, no 'it' pronoun, no save and
restore, no undo, and no scrollback. And unfortunately the reason for
the custom parser, the real-time aspect, didn't really contribute
anything to the game. I didn't encounter any part that was enhanced by
having events occur in real-time. Instead here's a game that you can't
take a break from because there's no pause and no way to save, so you
can either finish in one sitting or risk running down the built-in 10
It was not too bad at the beginning. The real-time thing felt more
like a gimmick than a real feature, since I didn't see anything yet take
advantage of it. However, after a while the lack of save and no undo
lead to my death, and I didn't have any interest in starting over from
This game didn't really have one that I can recall. And I have no
trascript to review.
Dying and not having an undo or restore command to reverse it.
Author: Paul O'Brian
The Earth and Sky trilogy comes to an end in this final installment.
In this game, you can actually assume the identity of both siblings, and
switch back and forth between them.
One nice thing about Luminous Horizons is how well the puzzles mesh
into the story. You never feel like the puzzles are there just because
the author had a great idea for a puzzle. Additionally, the game's hint
system is delivered in-game, by discussing the situation with whichever
sibling you're not currently playing. Because of these two particular
aspects, and the fact that brute force allows you to bypass the majority
of obstacles, the game to me almost felt "puzzleless" for the most part,
though it isn't. The puzzles it does have are not presented in a
typical "find another to solve while pondering this one" IF fashion.
Instead, the obstacles are presented one after another with little
exploration or back-tracking needed (or even allowed). The result is a
very tight and streamlined comp entry that, perhaps, feels a little
[i]too[/i] tight and streamlined. Still, it keeps the player focused
and I can't say that's a bad thing.
As for the text itself, I found it well-written and greatly
appreciated the way Paul implemented distinctly different voices in the
room descriptions based on whether you were playing Emily or Austin.
It's the attention to details like that which separate a good game from
a merely adequate game. On the other hand, I found the between-chapter
"cut-scenes" somewhat jarring for their switch to past-tense from the
standard IF present-tense used in the rest of the game. Clearly this
was a deliberate aesthetic choice on the part of the author; just not
one I can agree with.
I can't say I recall encountering a single bug or hiccup while I
played. The PC-switching system worked quite well, as did the in-game
This was a well-crafted finish to the Earth and Sky series. It tends
to be very forgiving, and could even be recommended to beginners, except
perhaps for the final two "puzzles", for which I found myself turning to
Smashing things as valid puzzle solution? I'm all over that!
Being somewhat flabbergasted at the timing involved in the fight
against fire and water.
Author: Eric Eve
In a dark, dystopian future, convicted of a crime you cannot remember,
you need only solve a simple riddle to gain your freedom. Or is it
really quite as simple as that? Well, no, of course not!
Certainly the beginning appears to set up Square Circle as yet another
one-puzzle competition game. However, once you get passed the initial
quandry, the real meat of the game presents itself. And while I was
pleasantly surprised to find that it had more depth than I first
surmised, something about the game left me feeling disconnected. It
lacked a certain verisimilitude that would have let me become truly
immersed in the game.
The only minor problem I encountered was a few issues with the
context-sensitive hint system. Occasionally there were hints that
wouldn't show up and alternatively, some that didn't disappear after the
puzzle was solved.
A few of the puzzles came off a tad obscure to me, leading me to
resort to the hints and walkthrough on more than one occasion.
Something about the overall game felt a little hollow to me. I think it
was the sense of emptiness I got traveling the map, as if this would
wasn't really inhabited. The inventory limit became frustrating at the
end, making me wish that the author had implemented an automatic sack
object. However, it was an interesting story with a nice twist.
Getting to the twist. It probably won't be too hard to figure out
beforehand, but it did surprise me.
My own particular solution to the introductory puzzle, while being
visually indistinguishable from the "correct" solution, was not
Author: Sidney Merk
This review will be posted as soon as I finish it.
Author: Anton Joseph Rheaume (Scarybug)
Score: Not Rated
I haven't played the game enough yet to do a real review.
I Must Play|
Author: Geoff Fortytwo
Score: Not Rated
I haven't played the game enough yet to do a real review.