My scoring system is very simple: I ask myself "How much did I enjoy playing this game?" There is no question of whether a game deserves to win, or whether my scoring is biased. If I enjoyed it, points. If I didn't enjoy it, no points. Any particular aspects of the game (writing, puzzles, characters) are included in the overall score only to the extent that they affected my enjoyment.
The scores are normalized, so that I give a 10 to the game I enjoyed the most and a 1 to the game I enjoyed the least (of the entries that I played.)
Also, I played all the games as they were uploaded at the contest beginning. I ignored later releases of games and walkthroughs and hints. Sorry; there is a deadline, and meeting it is part of the contest conditions as I see them. (Exceptions: Whizzard uploaded a changed release of "Spring" almost immediately, and there was an early re-release of "Bear" which the author said he had gotten Whizzard's approval for.)
I did not play every TADS or Inform game. This was due to my lack of attention span, not lack of time. (Every game that I did play, I played during October.) I did glance at all the games, and the ones I skipped were the ones that seemed least interesting; I think that I would have given them scores of 3 or less. But of course I'm not certain of that.
I was a beta-tester for two games. In the interests of fairness, I did not vote on those two. I did pick the score I would have given them if I had voted on them; they're included below.
Consistency wasn't a big factor either. Do I contradict myself? Hot damn, then I contradict myself.
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.
The following comments are given in the order that I played the games. (Note that I never got around to writing comments for "A Bear's Night Out", even though I did finish it. Attention span again.)
Oh, one other thing. A lot of the Inform games were released with debugging mode still turned on. It's hard to feel challenged by a game when "purloin" works. Pay some attention, folks.
The plot is presented extremely well; you discover things along with the protagonist. I'm not sure the story quite measures up. It's not bad, mind you; the writing is fine, the pacing is good, the scenes are vivid and they have a point. I'm just not completely moved by the story itself. The ending didn't quite seem to go anywhere interesting.
Maybe I'm expecting too much. It's more a mood piece than a story, and so it doesn't need to go anywhere. Well, that's not right either, because it does (although the story ends open-endedly, it does end.)
Heck, I don't know.
Puzzles aside: the scenario was cute, but it's been done before. Somehow the "Build my college / office / house" approach never fails to turn me off. (Except of course in "Kissing the Buddha's Feet," which only goes to prove that I'm open-minded.)
The gameplay had some irritating holes: I tried several ways to call people on the telephone (dial 123-4567, push 1, dial phone, call 123-4567) before I checked the hints and tried "call fred". Not that "call fred" is an unreasonable way to handle things -- it's actually a good solution; but none of the others told me that "call fred" was sufficient.
The time limit, though very long, was still something of an irritation. I never actually hit it, but the warnings made me feel like I shouldn't experiment, which drove me to the hints faster.
Unfortunately, I could not find a way to put the cornflakes in the bowl. The command in the walkthrough doesn't work. I must assume the game is unsolvable.
The dialogue and characters are, again, brief but clear. You can't dislike the cow. (Almost said you can't argue with the cow. Heh.)
I suspect there is some sort of Metaphor going on, but I can't imagine what it is.
(Bonus point for the wackiest title screen in the competition.) (That's a moral bonus point, not a competition vote bonus point.)
The "commands" are somewhat arbitrary; "examine letter" seems to be the same as "open box". Maybe this is deliberate. It's hard to tell.
Funny idea, not carried through into much more than a one-liner.
I don't think there's anything more to be said about it. Play it yourself.
At the end the plot turns into "computer program tries to leave computer and take over the world", which, I hate to say, I am thoroughly sick of.
Nonetheless there are things I liked. The scene with unimplemented ducks in an unfinished room works great. (Everyone's been in a game where the author forgot to implement some object. This is what it feels like.)
Peculiar time limits. (In one place there's a ticking bomb, which turns out not to be a time limit, and then there's an unexpected time limit anyway.) Many one-way "doors", and it's possible to leave vital objects behind.
Be sure to watch the "exits" list in the status line, since many exits are not mentioned otherwise. I don't like this.
There's a huge number of things to play with; just plain old beach stuff. You can dig holes and build castles and jump on the castles. You can tie things to other things. (This is the most complete set of ropes-and-straps code that I've ever seen in a game. Most of it is just for fun.)
The writing is detailed and embellished -- some will probably say overembellished, but you can live with it. It does tell you things a little more than it should, as opposed to showing them; this is mostly in the "score" messages. But that's mostly to clue the player about which way the game should go.
Simple, affecting storyline.
Also, may I note that this game brings new meaning to the way of easter eggs. Try "xyzzy" on the end of the pier, or "say 'hello sailor'" (and then ask the old man about the girl, several times.) Rich stuff.
Too bad I'm not voting on this game, because this is the most positive review I've written thus far. Heh.
This game doesn't strain the boundaries of IF literature, but it's well-filled-out. There is a whole range of gradations of "An End", including more than one which might be considered fully ideal.
The writing is funny, albeit in a generic-silly-fantasy sort of way. Several minor NPCs that run and hide in uniform, unashamed cowardice. (Worth a chuckle.)
It's possible to get stuck, and there are also various ways you can lock yourself into satisfactory-but-not-perfect endings. There are some fairly restrictive time limits, particularly in the ending. (A temptation often succumbed to, one admits.)
The title conceit is worth mentioning -- your master's Almanac contains a huge array of useful game information, useless information, background, poetry, and bad jokes. Also the game's credits, instructions, and hints. It's a good plot device, or maybe I should say scenery device.
I think the word that comes to mind is "integration". Everything in this game fits together. The station is plausibly designed as a research facility, but also forms the structure of the puzzles and the plot. Your imprint-reading ability and its effects are the keystone of the plot, but they also are the mechanism through which the background and storyline are revealed to the player. The devices and tools you find are the equivalent of magic spells in a fantasy game, but they make perfect sense in a lab. The atmosphere is both frightening -- creeping through darkened halls -- and realistic -- an underground facility low on power.
(Speaking of darkness, this game demonstrates the use of darkness without resorting to a flat "It is pitch black." There are many dim areas, which conceal secrets until you can find light, but which are still navigable. And you are scared of the dark.)
There are several characters, seen only in flashback -- an old but effective technique; the imprint-reading episodes are "cut scenes", uninteractive but full of dialogue, the best way to define character. The added gimmick in this game is that one of the characters must be you, but you have no memory of which it is.
There is no way to lose or get stuck or run out of time, but again, Babel demonstrates that you can have the emotional effect without using classic IF limits. The power is slowly failing throughout the game, with periodic warnings; but it does not actually fail during play. I felt hurried by the warnings, and afraid I would run out of time, but it did not prevent me from winning.
The puzzles were mostly very good -- well integrated, as I said. A couple may have been too obscure. (The cabinet and the exit combination in particular.) But these are minor problems.
You run around a college campus trying to deliver a letter. The descriptions are sort of funny, but not in a very interesting way. All the professors are weirdos. This can be done well (I've been re-reading Daniel Pinkwater novels) but it can also be done badly. Sigh.
There is an annoying inventory limit, an annoying food limit ("If you do not eat soon, you will pass out," we're supposed to be past this by now) and a large swath of missing synonyms. (Up a tree, you can't go "down", you must "climb down tree". This occurs in several places.) And missing alternate solutions: you have a hammer and a screwdriver, but some things can only be pried with one of them. The author needs to pay some more attention to state: some descriptions don't change when they ought to (e.g., the torch); and there's a glaring plot hole in the ending if you don't take an optional action in the beginning. (Hitting the panel.)
Ok, I'm complaining a lot. Many of these problems can be fixed. Good points: there's a lot going on around campus, and much of it has nothing to do with your quest. I still don't know what's up with the janitor. This kind of side detail is nifty. And, hey, you can hit a lot of things with your hammer.
Footnote: I hate to whine, but it's spelled "fluorescent".
The game is, on the whole, badly constructed. I think the combination of strictly timed sequences and inventory limits is about the most annoying design mistake you can make. So after a few minutes of getting killed by the gravedigger, I switched to the walkthrough and didn't look back. Unfortunately, this didn't help, since the dragon seems to want to fry me before I can follow the commands in the walkthrough. I must consider this game unsolvable.
I can comment on the part of it I saw, though, and my main comment is "Don't do that." Puzzles based on puns are not a good idea. Let's talk about "mimesis" here for a minute. Better yet, let's not.
I couldn't figure out what the hell to do. Even reading the beginning of the original play. I got as far as when the King's party jumped overboard, and then I was stuck. So I split. I split, I split, I split.
I didn't actually finish the last few commands of this game; a critical item refused to come loose. I think this is because I left a magical book behind somewhere. I was not motivated to go back looking for it.
The game area is very large and tolerably well described; the writing works pretty well. I did, indeed, feel like I was wandering around a gloomy -- er -- dungeon.
There's just a numbing sameness about it all. A piece of scenery will be mentioned only if there's something hidden in it. There is a long string of locked doors and locked chests. And most of the things you find don't do much (although some do); you generally find things in order to have them.
As with Gary Roggin's other game ("Aardvarkbarf"), there is some weak parsing, notably "climb down" instead of "down" or "d". And there are -- again -- food requirements and an inventory limit, neither for any good reason.
Erden is huge; I spent half of the allotted time just mapping the place and trying to examine everything. It does a very good job of the "Beyond Zork" scale -- outdoor locations, ranging from forest to swamp to mountains, with lots of detail. And it doesn't fall into the "Zork Zero" extreme of having a whole forest be a single room. This is very solid background.
The down side is, there's too damn much stuff. I think, in a game this large, you have to be very careful not to ask the player to examine every single scenery object. There are too many of them. Most of them are very well described, which makes matters worse, since then you have to examine all the sub-objects. If there are a few rooms in a game, this is reasonable; here, it is not.
I wound up with a headache, and I missed several critical objects -- the walkthrough doesn't say how to get them, so I guess they're "obvious". Not all that obvious. I was unable to finish because of this. (Couldn't find any spyglass or silver coins.)
The author has gone to effort to make multiple solutions available to many problems. This is good. However, many of the puzzles are somewhat undermined by bad programming. (The behavior of the raft is rather arbitrary and crashed the game at one point. The ladder can be leaned against all sorts of things, without much clue as to what is really happening. Out of four magic words, one is critical, but the other three generate "That's not a verb I recognise.")
Fixable problems, yes. But overall I think I would have solved the game on the walkthrough rather than by play. (Even if I'd found the damn spyglass, I mean, wherever it was.) Too much stuff, too little guidance about what you're supposed to pay attention to.
A goofy idea, as I said; and like all goofy ideas, it stands or fails in the writing. This one succeeds brilliantly. Between your hillbilly mother, the dimwit Sidekick Maurice (you find him mourning his dead adventurer comrade, but he'll be happy to follow you instead), and of course Chippy the Chipmunk, the game whizzes past with a manic grin and the occasional whack on the back of your head.
I dunno if I can say anything else. There's comic style and there isn't. This is.
I didn't have much trouble playing. I missed one puzzle because I didn't know it was something I was supposed to do (getting to where I could take the scroll.) Probably this was because I never examined Benny after he retrieved his stuff. The ending was also a little confusing, but this was more because the hints were badly written than any problem in the game itself.
The up side: the single puzzle is fairly well conceived, although it's not well enough described to really understand what's going on. That is, when I did understand it (after reading the walkthrough), the mechanics of it made sense. I would add a little more information (probably having lights go on/off when you flip the light switch.) But the idea is fine.
I would say one thing about the writing... don't use the word "hehehehe" in a game. Just don't.
Ok, I should. This is a superhero parody romp; credit is given to "The Tick", if I recognize the name aright. It is unusual in that you are the leader of a superhero team, the Frenetic Five.
The fun here is managing your team and their powers. And their personalities. There's a lot of detail here; they make smart comments, react to your actions (or lack thereof), and they each have their own annoying habits. This is all very good. And I loved the lobster.
Unfortunately, the parsing is weak ("adapt fork" produces "You don't see any adapt here," when your super-power is supposed to me adapting anything into a tool.) The syntax for commanding NPCs is also shaky, and usually works only for the few commands which are relevant to the plot. This is obviously a problem in a team game.
And the ending seems to fall apart completely. The problem of untying yourself is solved by a rather contrived sequence which, at the least, needs more synonyms. And when you face Sturm and (I mean "und") Drang, I really don't know what the hell is going on. You're separated from them by a skylight, but this doesn't seem to prevent you from touching them or their evil device. The commands in the walkthrough don't seem to do anything, and following the walkthrough doesn't actually end the game.
I feel like the author didn't finish writing the game. When it is finished, I'll highly recommend it.
(Footnote: I tried it again, and I saw what I was doing wrong. I managed to finish now. I still hold to my judgement; there needs to be a lot more detail text in there. I was confused because the wrong character was holding the bedsheet, and nothing at all happened instead of the wrong thing happening. As I said, needs more work.)
I apologize if I'm taking this wrong, but somehow I get the impression that the author has spent a lot of time being bored in this house. I mean -- I wandered around, I turned on the tv and the video game machine, I turned them back off, I poured myself a soda. Then I went back upstairs. Yeah, I've spent a lot of time at relatives' houses that way. I suppose that means it gets realism points...
Technically, it's fine; everything pretty much works right. Although the tv in the master bedroom can be heard all over the house, which seems pretty loud. Heh. There do need to be a lot more synonyms. ("book" "shelf" as well as "bookshelf", that kind of thing.) And the implementation of a room with two hot water taps and two cold water taps, while functional, can probably be approached more realistically. :)
"My blood pumper is wronged!"I just lost it. It's a very "Eye of Argon" sort of line.
But I don't want to focus on that line. Let me back up.
This is a horror short-short. The writing is quite good; the prose is quite bad. Or vice versa. What I mean is... the idea for the story, and the events, do work. It's a creepy situation.
The actual text is, well, not very skilled work. Lousy spelling, grammar, general clumsiness. Not much I can add about that. Read more good books, practice more. (I wish I could believe that the title was misspelled deliberately. Sigh.)
Technically, also pretty bad. ("in" works to get in the canopy bed, but "get in bed" screws up dramatically. And the business of the lamp needs more detail text; it's not obvious that you can only reach it from inside the bed.) The central puzzle is, again, a good idea; but it's implemented weirdly. (Your clothing, which is critical, seems to appear only after several turns. And "stab me" should work the same as "stab chest".)
But, on the other hand, I thought the hidden text (in "amusing") was pretty nifty. "...communism, silver and various isotopes of uranium." Good!
I actually managed to play some of the arcade game under MaxZip. (I have an advantage here. I'm the interpreter author, so I was able to jigger MaxZip to ignore certain Z-code errors. Most people would just see crashes.)
I wasn't able to get very far. The text adaptation of a platform scroller was a cute idea, but it didn't really give enough information. When a monster appeared, I had no idea what to do in order to attack it; the basic positional information was lacking. (Is the monster in front of me or behind, is it tall or short, etc.) I was able to get halfway through the level by jumping madly, but then I jumped into a bottomless pit. Again, in an actual video game, I could see the pit coming and at least try to jump over it. Didn't work here. I felt like I was playing blindfolded.
This approach can work, but it would require much, much more descriptive text. Of course then the player is forced to absorb that much information once per second.
There is a frame game which is in the usual Adventure mold; it's also pretty buggy. (What was up with the New Age rock melody with the backbeat? And Margot gave me the cold shoulder for buying tokens with my money. And I don't think the keys are mentioned anywhere in the game, except the walkthrough.) The three NPCs are well-developed, however.
I can't evaluate the plot, since I only saw the beginning of it.
This is very clever work, with a number of nice touches. (At the beginning, you see the Others, your Enemies, and Rock. Later Rock turns into Useful Rock. Everything is personal. I like that.) The Edifice of the title is history reified, a tower with a stairway up the inside. It also provides hints, another clever touch -- murals on each level record what you've done and show what you might do next.
The scenarios themselves are concise and well-written. I solved the first with no trouble (well, almost no trouble -- see below.) The second ran me out of patience just a little early, and I went to the walkthrough to get the language straight. (I like the puzzle, I just feel like I'm in a hurry with 35 competition entries. Yes, it's a problem.) The third was harder; I didn't have much idea how to control what was going on, or what range of actions were possible.
(This is a general problem in this game; looking at the walkthrough, I saw commands far outside the range of what is "expected" in IF. "hide from enemies" and "look for food" are early examples. Those particular commands are provided entirely for color; it's not necessary to use them. So that's no problem. In the third scenario, however, you have to do some things which are pretty odd. I don't know if I would have gotten them without the walkthrough. On the other hand, I solved the puzzle using the walkthrough commands as examples; I didn't have to follow it step-by-step.)
There are multiple endings, or rather multiple denouments (which I think I prefer.) It's suitably open-ended and allegorical. Heh.
There were a lot of bugs, which I spent some time working around. In particular, the first scenario refused to register "solved" when I solved it; I had to go back and follow the walkthrough. I think this is a by-product of the detailed hint system; I did some early step in an unexpected way, and the hint system didn't track me the rest of the way through. In any case, this is fixable.
So, this is where everyone says, "Whoa, the author sure put in lots of accurate detail from his own experience." Which is true. You wander around a wilderness, full of, well, everything. With a guidebook (nice touch.) More detail than you can shake a stick at, once you get the stick. This is great to play but very brief to review, so I'll talk about something else.
There is an NPC, Bob, who is -- well, more detail than you can shake a stick at. Goes through this whole routine, drops golden nuggets of wisdom, reminisces about everything, talks to you, listens to you, offers you lunch. To be completely honest I wanted to throw a brick at his head. But that's just me. He's a very well-done NPC.
There are a few puzzles, which rated fairly high on the obscure-ometer for me. (I didn't understand the egg thing at all.) Again, the detail problem; there's so very much around that it's hard to examine the right things. For example, there are very specific "You can't go that way because..." messages; most of them are scenery, but some are solvable problems. There's no good way to tell which is which.
I relied heavily on the dynamic hint system, anyway.
(Footnote: I did in fact throw a brick at Bob. He said something patient and sad and forgiving. Grrrn.)
(Footnote 2: "stalagtites"? Those are the ones that stick out from the wall? :-)
You have to go to the bathroom. You can't hold it in any longer and you go on the floor. *** You have died ***I'm supposed to be all encouraging here, so, please, try again.
The setting, a futuristic university dominated by a megacorporation, isn't much either. It's impossible to avoid being reminded of The Legend Lives. Except in Legend it was more than a setting; it worked into the plot.
It feels like the game is actually too short, in fact. If there were more plot, the gizmos would be useful background instead of a brief "use the thing" foreground.
A game with this few rooms also has to watch out for repetitive description. The main room, your apartment, is a good introductory description, but the text reappears every time you type "look". It's worth putting in some effort to be dynamic -- have it get briefer after the first time. Or briefer when you "re-enter" it from a virtual zone, with the full description repeated -- but without as much emotional setting -- when you "look". That kind of thing. There are several possibilities.
Similarly, the virtual space of your computer shows an "anomaly" even after you've fixed the bug. And, not so similarly, the game should automatically put the scanner on the desk instead of printing a "You can't do that until the scanner is on the desk" message.
I don't mean to imply I disliked the game. I like gizmo puzzles, and these are well-done. It's a very easy piece, but gizmo puzzles don't have to be hard to be entertaining. They just have to make sense, and in this game they do.
Competition reviews: 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2004 2006
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