Reviews: IF Competition 2000

My usual introduction is the one that goes "It is not my job to be encouraging or polite. If you want to hear pleasant lies about your game, please read somebody else's post." And I also mention that these are neither reviews, nor explanations of my scores.

Well, this is still true. On the other hand, with 42 games played, my comments this year are shorter than ever. So I'm not even claiming to have complete notes. It's just whatever I thought to write down, after I finished each game.

On games I didn't play:

With 53 entries, I deliberately took any excuse not to play games. DOS or Windows games? Forget it. I could have booted up VPC, but no: if the interpreter wasn't available on the game-playing machine, I didn't bother. Same goes for the Adrift games, which are Windows-only. Basic -- ha. I could have dug up the Mac AGT terp I hacked together, but that was too much work. So that left the Inform, TADS, and Hugo games.

Of course, I didn't play Being Andrew Plotkin (because I beta-tested it, albeit not very much) or Shade (because I wrote it. There. Surprised?)

And then there were the recent-version tests. And the Waves Choke the Wind and Futz Mutz required very recent interpreters. Not, in either case, because the game code actually required those versions! In both cases (to the best of my knowledge) the games would have run correctly on the interpreters I had. The only reason they didn't was that the authors decided to add a requirement.

I spent a lot of time considering how to deal with these two games. On the one hand, I was really annoyed at the authors! I thought (and still think) that they made serious errors of judgement. More than that, they behaved selfishly; they decided to put a greater burden of effort on me (both as a player and as an interpreter supporter) in order to give themselves easy reassurance about portability. And for no true benefit to either of us. This "get a better program or fuck off" attitude annoys me on web pages; it annoys me in IF games; and when a game annoys me I give it a lower score.

On the other hand, Gunther Schmidl (author of ATWCTW) posted a few days after the competition, and it was clear that he hadn't done this deliberately. He didn't realize that so many Z-machine interpreters didn't label themselves as having a recent Z-machine version. (Even interpreters that actually supported the relevant Z-machine features.)

And I did have an interpreter that would play Futz Mutz, and after a couple weeks I released one that would play ATWCTW.

So my choices, basically, were (1) play the games and forget about the issue; (2) play the games, and give a lower score than I would have if this issue hadn't arisen; (3) don't play the games, and give them low scores; (4) don't play the games and don't vote on them.

I think these are all justifiable choices. I certainly have no argument with anyone who did any of those. However, after considering the problem (and the 53 games!) I decided on (4).

So that's that issue.

(Amazingly late in this process, it occurred to me that my vote doesn't count anyway. So this is a purely rhetorical issue. I'm stupid, yes.)

The other issue is games -- or "games" -- that just weren't trying. There have always been buggy games, games that weren't ready for release, and just plain bad games. However, I think this is the first IFComp where some entries flat-out didn't belong in the competition. my opinion! I absolutely do not think that IFComp needs a rule to prevent such games from being entered. It would be impossible to write such a rule, much less enforce it. (Who would decide? Me? You?)

Anyway, lacking a way to remotely dope-slap the authors, I gave such games a score of 1. This is perfectly adequate "punishment". I'll be really surprised if a majority of IFComp voters rank them much higher, so they'll do badly in the competition. And that's that issue.

Let's see; what other trends can I comment on?

Hmm. Well, really, the only other trend this year was good games. Yay! A lot of bad games, okay, but a lot of good games. Several really good games. (I'm cheating, actually, I've still got five games to play as I write this intro. But I already know it's a good year.)

Okay, I'm done now.

Behold! Scores!

Since I'm not voting, I felt free to divide up the scale more finely than the official ten-level system. Roughly, the categories are

And, of course, a 10 for my favorite game of the competition. Which was...

Not rated due to...

And now, the comments, in the order in which I played the games.

What IF?

David Ledgard

Er, no. This is not interactive even in a superficial sense; it is a seven-chapter essay on possible alternate histories. I don't know history particularly well, but I didn't see anything startlingly interesting in here. In any case, it doesn't go in IFComp.

Plus, the spelling and grammar are bad.

Some points for effort, but mostly none for relevance.

Stupid Kittens

Pollyanna Huffington

My God, it's just like Rybread Celsius, except he's learned to spell.

Okay, it's very early in my Comp00 travails. I still have much patience. Somehow, I find this combination of vulgarity, adorability, and totally nonsense amusing.

Yeah, yeah, I'll still give it a low score, because it makes no sense and it isn't a story. But I was amused. This is worth something.

Cracking the Code

"Anonymous" (Gunther Schmidl)

Politically, I applaud. Excellent!

As an IFComp entry, nope.

The Djinni Chronicles

J. D. Berry

Nifty little game. (Okay, very little.) I like the very alien take on familiar story tropes. Good, and well-sustained through the game.

Past-tense IF still isn't my thing -- it reads awkward. I never get used to it.

Heavy use of time limits. Tolerable with equally heavy use of undo/save/restore, but still not comfortable. On the other hand, the mechanism is an integral part of the story idea, and I like that enough that I can't really suggest taking the time limit out. Perhaps make the limits more elastic: your Purpose doesn't keep draining away as you do wrong things, it just gets lower, and then recovers when you back off. (Some of this already exists, but not enough.)

I had trouble in a couple of places, but in retrospect, I shouldn't have. Random experimentation would have worked. It's too early in the Comp to give up easily. :)

I'm not quite sure about the story. It isn't quite well-enough integrated with your actions; the last few major events are "hit a key to continue" alternating with pages of static text. Some interactivity at the end, even a token, would have felt better. Again, I like the underlying ideas enough to forgive the flaws.

The Clock

Cleo Kozlowski

Just too primitive -- sorry. (Frequent food/sleep timers; "search rubbish bin" and "search rubbish" are different; "unlock" is never implemented, even though you find several locked things and several keys; inelegant commands like "ask cat about X" when you generally want the cat to deal with X.)

I got stuck almost immediately, and played directly from the walkthrough from then on. When a critical exit isn't mentioned in the room description, I lose confidence fast.

The story is a generic sort of magical-thing romp -- not necessarily bad, but it would need a lot more of either narrative coherency or charm to work.

Guess The Verb!

Leonard Richardson

Again, the genre parody. But it gets a lot of genres, and the writing is consistently clever enough to keep me going. Plenty of detail -- my patience for poking through detail gave out before the detail did, in fact, which is a bit frustrating but better than the other way around.

Bonus points for "Lalrry". Major bonus points for my all-time favorite piece of fantasy-gaming poetry. (Okay, maybe not all-time, but I still like it.)

The End Means Escape

"D.O." (Stephen Kodat)

Right from the beginning, I feel like the game is trying to pull the For A Change gimmick of using language strangely. Only it doesn't work -- it's just awkward. Being lyrical and alien is not the same as picking the wrong word all the time.

Beyond that -- the game is a collection of little scenarios, each trying to outdo the weirdness of the last. As experiments, they're actually pretty interesting: surreal scenes that exploit the IF interface in different (sometimes really different) ways.

So I like the way the author thinks. However, nothing is quite clear enough; I wound up using the built-in help for nearly every scenario. The parser rejected a lot of attempts that should have gotten some sort of response, so it rapidly boiled down to "What is the way the author thinks?"

The scenarios don't connect at all. No attempt at overall cohesion.

(A quick compliment for the help system: you get more clues for experimenting. Trying even totally wrong things will therefore help you progress. This avoids the usual clue trap, where you get a bunch of clues that mean nothing to you, followed by one which gives too much away. In this system, a clue which doesn't say much will still lead you to try more things, which gets you more clues. Absolutely the right way to do dynamic help.)


Tod Levi

Aha. Good solid game. (Albeit in the well-known "research facility" genre. :-)

Seriously, this game does fall into a well-known format: a single miraculous gimmick, which you have to exploit every way you can imagine. And this is done very well. Reasonably complex plotline. Tight map, all of which is relevant throughout the story, and not always the same way. A bunch of characters.

However, although all of this adds up to a good game, it doesn't quite make a great one. I have two problems.

First, the characters are basically as interesting as rocks. Each one does about two things, and does them constantly through the entire game. They react when you advance the plot (and, okay, they then advance the plot too), but they don't react to you at all otherwise: they seem entirely passive. (Or worse, they watch blithely as you get up to all sorts of antics.) This doesn't fit in with their various positions in the evolving story. There's no particular reason for your character to be the Sole Dynamic Hero in an Apathetic World, and that's the impression I was left with.

Second, the writing didn't seem to pace right. Nothing wrong with it on the sentence level, but (particularly early in the game) I didn't feel any difference between events that were routine (for the protagonist) and events that were interesting, dramatic, or terrifying. Nothing felt new, and considering the experiences the protagonist goes through, that ain't right. Maybe the author let his own familiarity with the plot color his writing; I'm not sure.

But I have made much of the flaws; don't let that give you the wrong impression. I enjoyed the game. (Used the hints a few times, but not excessively, and after each instance I was willing to go back to playing on my own. As opposed to losing faith and playing from the walkthrough, I mean.)

The Masque of the Last Faeries

Ian Ball

Interesting idea, not executed well enough. Which is a pity, actually. It felt like it wasn't beta-tested, but according to the credits it was (and I therefore just insulted some folks -- sorry).

I guess it needs beta-testers who care about the details that bother me. To wit: "it's"/"its" errors (frequent!); extra or missing newlines; completely wrong capitalization in some places. Also just plain bugs, such as the "The only exit to this room is the door to east" message, which haunted me throughout the game. And a great many objects were mentioned twice per "look" (once in the room description, once farther down in the "You can see" section). These things need to be dealt with, in every game, always. Really.

And you can't go northwest from the Forest Room.

Okay, beyond that. The plan is intended to be a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a masquerade, but they don't exactly come together at the end. Or at all, at least when I played. The built-in hint system jammed at Act 2, and I never got more than 60 points (out of 100). I got to the end of the story, though.

A lot of characters, none of whom have much to say.

Now, little bits came through of what this game wanted to be. The fun of being at a scripted masquerade ball; the personalities of the other attendees; the fact that some of them blew their lines. Heh.

However, I wanted to spend the evening trading poisonously sweet barbs with a bunch of opinionated, self-willed schemers, keeping up the pretense of a social occasion while sneaking around and doing dirty work. Instead, I was pretty much shepherded through a social occasion while barely touching on someone's scheme. Unsatisfying.


Nate Cull

Yay! A top-rank game. (Of course I'll have to go through later and rank the top rank, since I only give out one 10 per year. :) But that's not for another five weeks.)

I'll brush over what's good here, because that's easy: the writing, the mood, the fitting of original words (and original back-story) into Poe's writing and words. Also the NPC -- not the bird, but Lenore, who shows up clearly in the very spare glimpses we have of her.

And I've wanted a game on this topic for a long time. Christminster sort of did it, but not the way I wanted it. This game did.

Also the drugs. You may think me shallow, but really nothing sets the stage for nineteenth-century Romantic gloom like dissolute, drug-tormented intellectuals. Byron, Shelley, the lot. This is literal history, not a recommendation for modern life.

(And it's always nice to have a literal, historical justification to shout "Awright! More drugs!" Heh.)

So, the problems. I got most of the way through with no hints at all. (That's good.) However, I bogged down at the end, and it was basically because of lack of feedback. You have a very great amount of information to assimilate, and you're feeling your way through it, and I got several things right several times without ever realizing that they were right. In fact, more than once I got something right and then went too far, until I got a sign of change -- any change -- which I took as a hint that I was on the right track.

If the major milestones had been marked with definite signs of something happening, I probably would have solved the entire game on my own.

(And it would not have opened the game up to brute-force experimentation. Trust me. When the hints are as oblique as this, experimentation should be part of the solving process. And you can always have major red herrings in addition to the major milestones.)

I must also quibble with the way the books are presented; that is, totally randomly. I read each book until I was certain no more information was available. Guess what: one chapter was missing. Random sequences are not evenly distributed in the short term! A simple "choose randomly from N" reading process isn't good enough; you can't avoid the chance that only N-1 will appear before the player gets bored.

How to fix this? A fixed order is easy, of course, but doesn't give the right feel of a disorganized text.

Perhaps this: keep track of the choices which have been seen, and choose randomly among the ones that haven't. After they've all appeared, wipe the slate.

Alternatively: every time you read, there's a 2/3 chance of a purely random choice, and a 1/3 chance of the least recently seen choice. That starts out randomly, but after you've seen N-1, you're very likely to see the last choice within the next four or five tries.

Return to Zork: Another story

Stefano Canali

Long and unexceptional.

The writing comes tantalizingly close to being so bad it's amusing. And yet, it never quites reaches that magical "Eye of Argon" level. It's just... bad.

(I'm sorry, but: "It's here where the desert region starts." This wins a very special place in my heart as The Wrong Way To Write Descriptions. The first three words, you notice, are noise. You could delete them entirely and convey the same information. Do that.)

I can tell the scenery in the author's head is pretty good. Once I forced my way through the words, it felt like a place. But not a very distinctive one overall (although there were nice bits). Not distinctively Zork, either. Somewhere in the environs of Zork, and Adventure, and Adventureland, and all the other early games... mushy.

I never played Return to Zork. I suppose this game might be more true to RTZ than to Zork as I know it. On the other hand, for heavens' sake, that would make this a re-interpretation of Activision's re-interpretation of Infocom's Zork universe. And that's just too much. Third-hand-me-downs is enough and time, time to go, time to get on with your life. Spiritwrak was recognizable; this isn't.

The game design was also pretty bad. Instant-death rooms. Almost no puzzles, in the usual sense -- the standard game mechanic is to outright tell you to do something, and then you go and do it. Repeat until game over.

However, the few puzzles there did generally have several solutions -- genuinely different solutions. The top-level plot had two main variations, in fact. I hesitate to call it a branching plot, since one variation is a subset of the other -- the game just ends earlier. (According to the walkthrough. I didn't try it.) Nonetheless, points for effort.

Inconsistent coding. (The lamp seemed to work even when turned off, except for when it didn't and the grues came.)

And the author seems to have gone to great lengths to replace all the standard library messages, which (considering the prose) may not have been lengths well gone-to. And changing parser errors is tricky, regardless of how gracefully you do it. The standard Inform "You can't see any such thing." was changed to "Where did you see it ?" [sic, the space before the question mark] and that's outright confusing. (Hint: by using the word "it", the game is referring to an object that by definition doesn't exist in the game. All sorts of wrong.)

Right, right, end on a positive note... actually, the game did. The conceit of the final scene ("ending #2", I mean) is pretty nifty. As I said, there is something trying to come out of the author's head. Practice, practice, practice.

Unnkulia X: Escape of the Sacrificed

Valentine Kopteltsev

Too big, too messy, too random.

As I write this, I've been playing for an hour. I have 65 points out of 300, I've visited about thirty wildly different and unrelated rooms, and I've given up. I tried to start playing from the walkthrough, and I quickly got stuck in a small area because I left an important item in another room. (There is, by the way, an inventory limit.)

Why have I given up? The "thirty wildly different and unrelated rooms" is a hint. So are the half-dozen characters in each room, who perform a half-dozen random meaningless actions every turn, making it almost impossible to find the results of your commands on the screen.

On top of all of that, lots of Acmi Dam Stoopid Spelling.

I weary of it. Too much information, none of it interesting. I have no reason to keep playing.

(Footnote: I guess I should compare this with the previous game I played -- it's interesting that this IFComp has fanfic of both the original Z-machine series and the original TADS series. So, um...

...well, in this game the writing is merely unexciting, rather than bad. Sigh.)

Withdraval Symptoms

Niclas Carlsson

(First: "Discreetly".)

Nice idea for a small scenario, but frustrating to play.

I really didn't get the idea of most of the puzzles, not until I read the solutions. It's not that any of them were really logically outre. I just didn't play with them much -- I didn't see them as playable-with.

Some sort of observation about context, buried in this. If I encounter a safe with five buttons, and pushing the buttons makes different noises, I'll try to crack it. If I encounter the same buttons on a bank machine, I'll look around for instructions. Really. Having out-of-context or badly-integrated puzzles isn't just an aesthetic goof -- it messes up your players' expectations, and that affects how much effort they put into continuing play.

Similarly, when I found numbers arranged unconventionally, I thought it was a bug at first. Because there was no reason for the numbers to be arranged like that.

If the context had been a Toontown bank, arranged for maximum customer frustration and comic antics -- that would have been different. Expectations.

Also: don't put generic error messages on good ideas. I tried a command early in the game, and got the response "Why would you want to do that?" Okay, I thought, that's not a useful command. A bit later, it turned out, that command was necessary. I didn't think to try it again.

(Even worse, the command doesn't become usable at the moment it becomes useful! I started over, got to the point where I needed to do it, and found it didn't work. I had to go and gather evidence that it was useful. That allowed me to do it. This is the famous "knowledge puzzle", and it's very irritating to anyone who uses a "restore" or "restart" command. Sure, this is a short game -- but it got me. And lo, I was irritated.)

Threading the Labyrinth

Kevin F. Doughty

Interesting little bit of free verse, or word-tone-poem, or whatever they're calling it these days.

Very short, though. The game only has a few states, and it's quite easy to extract all the text. The interactivity, though certainly a real element, feels therefore shallow.

The text itself doesn't do a lot for me. It doesn't strike me as false or glib -- the author is saying what he means -- but it doesn't enlighten me either. The individual observations build on each other a bit, but not orders of magnitude beyond where they started.

Yes, Another Game With A Dragon!

"Digby McWiggle" (John Kean)

But not only a dragon. This game has a forest, a climbable tree, magical items in primary colors, darkness, a cute NPC pet, a riddle, a Last Lousy Point...

It is, in fact, a veritable imbroglio of ancient IF tropes. I liked it.

Because it's clever and well-written, that's why.

The design is very tight -- a few important things in each area, and you're rarely in any doubt what they are. That doesn't cover everything I mean by "tight", really. It's a quality of, of, of nothing sticking out too far and no gaps around the edges of the backdrop. Nearly all the room descriptions are four lines or less, but they all give enough light to see by.

Oh, never mind.


"Sourdoh Farenheit" and "Kelvin Flatbred"

I guess the point was to write an imitation of a Rybread game. Whatever. Rybread writes better than this.

Ad Verbum

Nick Montfort

"The inability to act on basic commands like RESTORE and QUIT is part of a resounding interactive fiction tradition, by the way..." Hey! Don't get defensive. If it works, you don't need to apologize, and if it doesn't work, nothing will help. (I type this before playing any of the game, so I don't yet know if it works.)

(The business of showing directions as single letters, by the way, does not work. The text looks bad that way. I expect you already know this, and are just being a jerk about it.)

That detail aside, I think the conceit of the game is perfectly good. No apologies are necessary. This definitely goes on the shelf with Nord & Bert and other games that Get Away With This Crazy Shit Successfully. (Are there any others? I haven't played T-Zero, the other example the author cites. Undo counts, as far as I'm concerned, but it's very small.)

My only concern is that the thing is way over two hours, for non-cheating players. I started looking in the hints before I felt stuck -- I could have gone on trying words and flipping through dictionaries for hours, and it would have been fun, but it would have been hours.

Some things (like the pig) I wouldn't have gotten at all. This sort of word/idea-play either comes to you or it doesn't. (And if it does, it may not be for hours or days.) You don't have the presumed world-logic, and the almost-right command responses, that normal games use to provide context and tiny hints.

Playing with a friend helps, of course. But at 10:30 PM on a Thursday, it's a bit hard to find someone willing to show up within your two-hour competition time limit.

(What this adds up to is, the length is fine, now that the competition is over. But in the competition context, I did have to rush to play it, which reduced the fun level.)


Ian Finley

Very nice all around. I'm not quite sure I like the story, of itself; it feels a bit pat; it doesn't go quite far enough in any direction (the surreal, the horrifying, the convoluted). (Although those elements are certainly all present). This is a small reservation. The game is very good.

The setting is a familiar one -- the opening text recalls Brazil, and of course there are many other examples in the literature. But I haven't seen it done in IF, at least not this well, and the complicity really does make a difference. Watching Brazil, you're constantly dreading what you'll see: how much worse can the world get?

But in IF, you (the protagonist) already knows how bad the world is. The question becomes, how much worse am I (my situation, the system which I passively support, myself) going to get? Very funky use of the protagonist/player tension.

Writing, excellent. I was particularly impressed by long sequences of similar rooms, each of which was nonetheless described vividly and distinctly. Yes.

The plotline is very focussed and well-hinted. Quite a large game, and I never looked at hints once; nor do your actions feel unduly forced. An exception is the conversation system, where your only choice is usually to talk or not to talk -- and important conversations proceed (over several turns) whether or not you use the "talk" command. However, this actually didn't bother me. I certainly prefer this system to long cut scenes (non-interactive), or to conversation menus (which give you choices, but in an awkward, immersion-shattering way).

(The other time your actions feel forced, I should mention, is if you restore and try to take a different path. There are options, but they rapidly converge back to the main plotline.)


Chris Mudd

Umf. On the narrowly numbered scale between daring and broken, I believe this comes out broken.

I have read well-written stories from the point of view of a psychopath (and decided not to read others because I expected them to be well-written). The difference between those and this game is that they made me believe in a person; this game showed a caricature and told me I was him. I don't believe it. When I typed those commands, it didn't mean anything.

Also: failing to mention exits is bad.

Castle Amnos

John Evans

I've been playing for less than an hour now. I've explored a really tremendous number of rooms. I've found a whole lot of objects, most of which I can't take, because of the (annoying) (pointless, as far as I know) inventory limit. I have not found any motivation to do anything.

I have therefore read through all the hints.

It appears there are an incredible number of things to do, some mutually exclusive. None of them have happened to me. I certainly don't have the energy to run through all of them, following the hints.

Therefore, I give up.

(This quite aside from the apparent bug in the elevator code, which may make the game unsolvable.)

Before I forget: Not nearly enough objects or synonyms. Also, curving hallways are very annoying if the game doesn't mention the curvature. (Preferably as you walk along.)

The Planet of the Infinite Minds

Alfredo Garcia

Ah, this year's "too much Hofstadter, geometry, and LSD" entry. But the author pulls it off, mostly by a a fanatical devotion to silly detail. (It's a rare game where the "amusing things to do" at the end really are laugh-out-loud amusing. I refer you to the triple command at the end of the walkthrough, which exists solely for people following the walkthrough (either manually or automatically).)

I used the hints a fair bit, but it didn't spoil the experience much. Even when the puzzles were too whacked-out to solve (and some certainly were, although which will vary from player to player), the solutions made sense when I read them. Not sense -- not "I should have thought of that" sense, necessarily -- but looking-glass sense. I approved of what the author was thinking, even when I couldn't have guessed it.

(Which I could, often enough. I solved a lot of the game on my own.)

A good time was had by all.

(However, the bit of juvenalia in the last scene didn't work for me. Vulgarity didn't fit with the mood -- sorry.)


Kathleen M. Fischer

Basically all in the right place, but still vaguely unsatisfying. I had trouble getting into the story; I felt like I missed all the introductions. In fact, I think I did miss most of the introductions, by not using "examine" on enough the characters in my first run-through. This left me flailing around, trying to guess the relationship between any given pair of people (including the protagonist). (Also including some pairs of people who turned out to be the same person. The masquerade didn't help.)

After I finished, I ran through the game again. I was able to follow the story that time, but it still felt much too compressed to be a plausible romance.

In fact, although it's an unfortunate comparison, I felt this game had the same basic problem as 1-2-3: I saw characters relating to each other, but I never felt they were behaving like real people. Well, that's not totally true. The minor character relationships made sense -- just not, you know, the main one.

I liked the wide and subtle range of variant endings (although I certainly never saw them all).

Prodly the Puffin

"Wilber Nooseworthy" and "Incontinent Pineapple Van Buren" (Craig Timpany and Jim Crawford)

Okaaaaaayy... I'm not quite sure what the point was. The game has a satisfactorily lunatic vision in places, but mostly it's just random.

The idea of an unfunny parody of an incomprehensible cartoon is pretty funny, but actually doing it is, um, I just lost track.

Fortunately, short.

Comp00ter Game

"Austin Thorvald" (Brendan Barnwell)

Um, er, okay. I read Feersum Endjinn, I can read this.

However, I find no reason to. I originally assumed that there was some clever joke behind the idiocy, but I'm stuck at a buggy door. And there's no clever joke behind the bug, either. (See, I consider these possibilities.)

The Pickpocket

Alex Weldon

Hard to tell. There's no walkthrough or hint system, and I barely got anywhere. In fact, even using the debugging verbs to dump the object tree, I could only get 25 points out of 100. I give up.

One object was hidden in a place that, as far as I could tell, was never mentioned in any description or message.

The market square had a lot of repetitive descriptive text.

The Trip

Cameron Wilkin

Nice little fable. The writing is somewhat awkward and doesn't always support the story, but the idea gets across.

The author says there are several optional puzzles, but I seem to have missed most of them. I went back after winning and managed to increase my score once more, but I don't really know how to proceed and I'm not very motivated to experiment. There should perhaps be some way to encourage the player to try these things before he hits the big finish -- at least, it would work better for me that way.

You know, in this sort of game, there should be a command like "diagnose" or "how do I feel?" Room descriptions do the job later in the game, but not in the opening scene. Opening scenes need to be the most descriptive.

Unnecessary and annoying inventory limit.

As long as I'm picking technical nits, compare these two parser messages -- one bad, one good:

>get phone
Just type 'answer phone'.
(Why don't you pretend I did, okay?)

(On the other hand,)

>light weed with lighter
For sake of simplicity, simply type "smoke weed".
(...this is useful; it lets you know not to bother with a protracted sequence of longer commands.)

Happy Ever After

Robert M. Camisa

I like the plot, but the execution is buggy. (After the official announcement that the wrong z-code file was released, I looked at the source code, but I didn't bother recompiling it.)

Distractingly bad spelling.

Inconsistent descriptions: "east" and "west" confused, and "iron" and "lead".

Why is the game set in the year 2250? Shouldn't the world be a heck of a lot more visibly different?

Random notes from early in the game, before I stopped writing down random notes: Why does "turn dial" work but not "set dial"? And later: "turn on generator" should produce a helpful message.

In short, it needs a lot more work. A nifty story lurks underneath.


Emily Short

An excellent thing. A bit abstract for my taste; background isn't exactly story. Okay, that's not true. It is a story by the end. But a somewhat distant story.

However, playing with the toys makes up for that and more. Oh, the toys. I can hardly blame the objects for that bit of abstraction, considering the way things work.

I got stuck in exactly one place, and that from a parser bug. (Describe the second key as "sturdy" so I can refer to it! Better yet, jigger ChooseObjects() so that it asks for disambiguation.) I found two endings, and I'm really curious what the rest are.

My Angel

Jon Ingold

Hrm. I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand, this is really good -- good writing, good use of background, good story well-knitted into IF conventions.

On the other hand, the first-person thing still doesn't work for me. No matter how many times I try it. I can, after playing halfway through the game, get used to first-person prose enough to ignore it; but it's never anything but an obstacle.

The extremely narrational descriptions are striking, but again, I have real trouble with them. Without a stable description, the locations refuse to come clear in my head; I don't have the reminders of what's present that I normally rely on. (In fact, half the time, typing "look" causes me to go elsewhere. When that happens, I lose the interactivity entirely; I'm just turning pages.)

Even the lack of the normal status line confuses things. Of course I understand the desire to get rid of it, along with all the other 1980's-IF paraphernalia that this game drops, but the status line serves one practical purpose: it tells you when you've moved. In this game, flailing for context of where I was and what was going on, I really missed that.


Graham Somerville

Well, the author manages to pull off a few lyrical paragraphs, but mostly the effect is grotesque. Sorry. So is most of what you have to do in the game.

The walkthrough is practically a necessity.


Greg Berry

I got to the maze and gave up. Checked the walkthrough. Nope, there's no fast solution. And you have to do it several times. The hell with it.

Up until that point, I was pretty pleased with the idea of a big station to wander around on and fix things. Very much the Suspended atmosphere. Only the place is very sparse, so there's not that much to wander and see.


Stephen Bond

Oh, I am made happy. Happiness is occurring to me. Do you want to know why? Because after reading the opening text and looking around the initial room, the first substantive command I typed was "Gordon, fuck off". And you know what the game responded? It said "In this story, to talk to somebody, use 'talk to'."

No, that's not what makes me happy. What makes me happy is that I then typed "talk to Gordon", and it gave me a list of six choices, and in the middle of the list of choices I read "(3) 'Gordon, fuck off.'"

This, oh my children, is what it's like for characters to come alive.

The author says (in the "about" text) that this is "not really a straight story". In this regard, the author is smoking crack. Nor is it non-interactive fiction, although I'm sure some people will think that. The conversation system is used for one effect, and that effect is not the same as having no conversation system at all.

This is tough to talk about without spoilers. Well, I guess I don't need to talk about it any more. This is the first Comp00 game I've played that made me totally happy, and I've only got, hmm, less than a dozen left. It bodes well.

The Best Man

Rob Menke

I wanted to like this, but the accumulation of annoyances eventually did me in. I liked the gizmos and the gizmo puzzles, but...

Annoying inventory limit, and the sack object also has an inventory limit, which is even more annoying. In a time-limited game, you spend half your time picking up and dropping things. Or going back and forth fetching them.

Too many conflicting synonyms -- more commands require disambiguation than ought to. (Having a "plastic tube" but also two others objects that respond to "tube", for example.) (There are far too many "box"s in another location, for another example. And one changes arbitrarily from glass to plexiglas. Sorting out what's what in that room was just a fog of wrongly-interpreted nouns -- bleah.)

In one location, as far as I could tell, you have to refer to an object that has not yet been mentioned in the game. Without the hints, I couldn't have solved this.

In the endgame, you have an absurdly strict time limit, and the critical objects aren't in scope until you examine their container. After tenth time I died, restored, and had to type "examine", I gave up and looked at the hints. But there are no hints. So I just gave up.

Desert Heat


Reasonably good writing, but the CYOA format just isn't responsive enough to let me identify much with the protagonist. Most of her actions are the author's choice, not mine.

I was able to search through (I think) nearly all of the game -- beginning to end, and then (via repeated "undo") back to the beginning, checking all the possibilities. There weren't that many branches, and anyway a game is at its least interactive when you can see it all spread out like that.

The erotica didn't do much for me.

The plot was brief, but nicely put together.

Can't think of much else.

Punk Points

Jim Munroe

A tidy and well-told tale. (And the erotic content seemed a lot more realistic than in the previous game. Heh.)

Actually, not completely tidy -- I exploited a bug to solve one puzzle. (Hint for Inform programmers: when you want to block an object being taken from a container, use the container's LetGo action, not the object's Take action! Otherwise you're vulnerable to the little-known Remove and Empty actions.)

But aside from that, which I detail only as a general Inform principle and not to harsh on a minor bug, I liked this. Character and place shine through. I had to push pretty hard to get through without hints, but I did solve it in under two hours (modulo one bug), and I feel good about that. This author wins the no-walkthrough gamble.

One other quibble:

>x me
As good-looking as ever.
...over the course of this game, a lot more could be done than this default response. :)

A Crimson Spring

Robb Sherwin

Godiva Chocolate-Covered Hero Assortment in foreground, Sleazy City Chex in background, long and repetitive fight sequences. Also, inconsistent programming. Also, prone to guess-the-command disease. I quickly switched over to following the walkthrough.

Long static scenes separated by arbitrary actions.

However, the roll of disposable pagers is brilliant.

Got ID?

Marc Valhara

I wish to register a comment about the average weight of manhole covers as compared to the average lifting power of high school students.

I also wish to register a comment about games with a wilful air of hopelessness and snide decay. It just doesn't inspire me to put in the effort, okay? When (for example) I got completely stuck due to an enter-and-can't-win-anymore trap, I nearly gave up entirely.

Later, under the influence of a light source that runs out and a (minor) maze, I did give up.

But I do appreciate the line about stale animal crackers. Really. And the whole underground area, that's got potential. In a weird way, which is the best way.

At Wit's End

Michael J. Sousa

The "winnable" command is nice, but its value is somewhat reduced by the off-hand note that it's sometimes wrong!

Clean implementation; no loose ends (as it were). Easy to tell what's important.

>search bin
It would just be easier to look in the bin.
(It would be even easier to just tell me what's in the freakin' bin. Sigh.)

The "hint" command, from quite early in the game, defaults to "There are no more hints, but the end is near!" when there's no immediate puzzle to be solved. This ruined my sense of pacing; I was repeatedly annoyed when yet more of the game kept turning up.

The final puzzle is strictly timed, and the zero-time "review" command doesn't actually help much. I spent many more turns examining things, and fussing with the easily-confused seatbelts, than I did looking around. Since I was already annoyed, I played this from the walkthrough.

However, overall it was a good solid story. I solved most of it myself; aside from the final puzzle, the barn was the only area that might have been too complicated. (The solution in the walkthrough was, but there's actually a slightly easier way.)

The Big Mama

Brendan Barnwell

Okay, it's short and goodnatured, and the writing is fine, but it's rather too optimistic for me to take seriously. I saw a few endings. Then I stopped.

(Note: the TXD-blocking war is a waste of your effort.)

Letters from Home

Roger Firth

Thoroughly entertaining letter romp. I doubt anybody solved every puzzle -- a few are obscure, or convoluted, or UK-specific. (It's a "number 2 pencil" over here.) But so what.

The idea of automatically dropping (or vanishing) objects when you're done with them is very good; it prevents what would otherwise be an absurd inventory.

Not to give away anything, but I thought that giant statue was female?

Jarod's Journey

Tim Emmerich

Oh, blah, a third-person-prose game.

Oh, even better, an inconsistently third-person game. ("Jarod is in a dream, ... You see a map here." In fact, what does "here" mean in third-person prose?)

However, all of this is beside the point. The point is, this is a pile of laughable sentimentality. The author manages to ignore good prose, good game design, good characterization, (even good spelling,) in a single-minded quest to toe his own religious party line. Naturally, the result is lousy prose, lousy characters, a lousy game, and -- of course -- a lousy representation of his religion.

(First and last example: Outside the temple, a Pharisee is praying loudly. "Even in the short time that Jarod pauses to listen, it is obvious that the man is repeating himself." Guess what's inside the temple? A priest reading Isaiah, loudly and repetitively. And you have to "pray" repetitively, or you get tired and depressed.)

As a statement of belief, maximally unconvincing. As a game... who cares? The author doesn't.

Dinner with Andre

Liza Daly

This is the last game I played, and my review-writing energy is gone. (Sorry, Liza. To make up for it, I'll send some bug reports by email.)

Well-told; funny; prone to make the player say "Oh, no" -- out loud -- with feeling. All good traits in a game.

I liked the main puzzle (the big one) too. What the heck, I liked the whole thing.

Being Andrew Plotkin

"Celie Paradis" (J. Robinson Wheeler)

Ah, well, what can I say? It's not easy being a living legend.

When the author contacted me, I supplied some factual detail. (The color of the cloak, for example. And the fact that I drink out of salsa jars.) But the vision of my head (inside and out) is entirely his.

Another detail: My line "It's in California?" is, in fact, what I said (out loud!) upon looking up the location of Death Valley. (See Shade.) For some reason I had thought New Mexico.

Of course, it was the author's decision how much trivia to use. The building doesn't resemble the actual Red Hat office I work at. (Only one floor!) I'm told that that detail comes from the movie -- Being John Malkovitch, I mean -- which I have not seen, by the way.

Yes, I intend to.

I think this game is pretty funny, and clever too. (Note the way the room descriptions shift when you're me. I make no comment about how accurate it is, naturally. :)

But I didn't give it a normal competition chance. I played through the walkthrough very quickly -- remember, I was working on my own game at the same time. I was looking for factual errors and potential spoilers for my games, not trying to judge quality.

So I don't have a numerical score here.

But I hope it does well.

But not as well as Shade. :)


"Ampe R. Sand" (Andrew Plotkin)

I don't know that I have a lot to add about this. (I'm much more interested in what you have to say, of course.)

It was very much a last-minute attempt. I really did start coding on September 2. (Three hours after Being Andrew Plotkin was begun -- entirely a coincidence! I didn't even find out about BAP until a week or so later.)

So a month of coding, preceded by a couple of weeks of sluggish thought and repetitive tumbling of ideas in the grit-polisher that is my brain.

Meatball Fulton is the writer and director of the "Jack Flanders" series of radio plays -- a thoroughly bizarre set of ramblings, somewhere between an old-time action-adventure serial and a lesson plan in New Age occultism. Flat on my back, listening to Jack Flanders: Moon Over Morocco, I was struck by a sudden necessity to Write This Thing.

(Of course, all the ideas that derived from Moon Over Morocco fell out during story design. On the other hand, I picked up a few from the unwritten "Four Endings and a Funeral" idea that I mentioned in the XYZZY award ceremony of, um, 1997?)

The unnamed beta-tester was Michael "Still Inevitable After All These Years" Kinyon.

Last updated November 15, 2000.

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