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Buzzard Comp Reviews

by Sean T Barrett

Posted 16 November 2001 to

Things that generally annoyed me this year:

Not Scored:
  Begegnung am Fluss (didn't speak the language)
  Heores (authored)

1: You Were Doomed From The Start
2: The Last Just Cause
Invasion of the Angora-fetish Extremely Long Names
The Test
The Newcomer
Shattered Memory
3: Silicon Castles
Bane of the Builders
Mystery Manor
Schroedinger's Cat
The Cave of Morpheus
4: Timeout
Volcano Isle
an apple from nowhere
To Otherwhere and Back
Stick it to the man
The Evil Sorcerer
The Chasing
The Coast House
The Cruise
5: You Are Here
Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country
The Gostak
Moments Out of Time
The Isolato Incident
6: Crusade
The Beetmonger's Journal
Earth And Sky
Film at Eleven
Journey from an Islet
Fine Tuned
No Time To Squeal
7: Carma
Prized Possession
A Night Guest
8: Best of Three
Vicious Cycles
All Roads

All the games which have no reviews below generally had no redeeming features and suffered from one or more of the following problems:

The following is in the order I played them.

You Were Doomed from the Start
score: 1, time: 0:05, status: completed

Mystery Manor
score: 3, time: 0:15, status: abandoned

Night Guest
score: 7, time: 0:15, status: completed

This game was pretty enjoyable, even though it was basically a one-note game and it was super-super linear. It had a good sense of style. However, since 95% of the fun comes from the silly verse, I had to penalize it for some poetry sloppiness (e.g. demon/lemon). (This game is of course 'superlinear' as described above, so maybe the max it could have ever gotten from me would be an 8.)

The Beetmonger's Journal
score: 6, time: 0:30, status: abandoned

This games started strong--I loved the third-person past tense with a first-person narrator--and the beginning of the main game was decent, but in the middle the game just turned to mulch for me. A lot of the puzzles just seemed designed in a rote fashion, as if there were a few puzzle templates and the designer filled in the blanks; the puzzles may have vaguely fit the universe, but they didn't seem to cohere. Additionally, some of the puzzles were underclued, and there was a little too much linear sequentiality--get V to frob W to get X to talk to Y to get Z--which is problematic when the depenencies aren't apparent to the player.

score: 6, time: 0:35, status: abandoned

score: 3, time: 0:10, status: abandoned

score: 3, time: 0:17, status: abandoned

No scenery--almost nothing mentioned in the room desc is examinable--but then, without any warning, something crucial to solving the game is.

From notes: "i am entirely without goal. i have run out of inventory and I have no idea what I need or don't need".

Looked at the walkthrough and didn't seem like I'd have ever figured out any of it.

Bane of the Builders
score: 3, time: 0:16, status: abandoned

Vaguely interesting premise, but some problematic grammar, and then I got stuck, and when I check the walkthrough, I notice that, hmm, there's an object in the first location that I missed (I could still get back there at least, but it would have been a long time before I'd have thought to).

Moreover, there's a maze which I hadn't been able to navigate (I couldn't seem to go back the way I came), and solving the maze completely requires the object I missed.

score: 4, time: 0:25, status: crashed

I wanted to like this game; or rather, I wanted this to be a good game. The second adventure game I wrote (or rather, started writing) was set in the Paranoia universe, and even though I didn't finish it, it launched me on the road of implementing compilers and interpreters, so Paranoia adventures are dear to my heart. But enough about me. Sadly, this game takes an open-ended interactive RPG and adapts it into a linear "interactive" fiction, with some seriously nonexistent room descriptions (including lack of direction information), and major bugs.

Journey from an Islet
score: 6, time: 0:24, status: completed

No motivation (in hindsight, can infer one from the title), and the final puzzle was too uncued for me. There were some nice touches that I liked. The writing, which I guess was supposd to be the focus of the game, suffered a bit from trying to hard, e.g. the infamous too many adjectives.

Prized Poessession
score: 7, time 0:30, status: abandoned

This game opens with a time-pressure scenario which makes me, playing in character, tend not to examine things closely nor search for non-obvious stuff. So having to examine the trough to discover the water was an unintended (I think) obstacle.

I found it frustrating that I wasn't allowed to control the character; I'm strapped to a cart, someone I can't see demands someone else relinquish the cart, why can't I scream instead of just 'z'ing?

Excessive linearity. At one point, I have the option of managing to get out of the cart, at which point somebody spots that I've fallen out and puts me back in it; moments later, the scripted storyline demands me fall out of the cart again. Similarly, lots of actions suggested in the walkthrough make no difference at all.

I needed a hint for the 'sleep' puzzle because it's rather implausible. ( Not the action itself, but the effect it has on the NPCs is not predictable.)

I suspect this game is going to end up in the romance genre, but as far as a I played it, it was basically an action adventure in which the protagonist was entirely passive. Perhaps that's a convention of the romance genre, but it's generally considered bad dramatic storytelling, and I think it works even worse in IF. (The beginning was better.)

I abandoned it for the superlinearity, but it's well-written and a pretty solid implementation so it still scored pretty well.

No Time To Squeal
score: 6, time: 1:30, status: abandoned

At first I thought it couldn't possibly be intentional, but this game rips off Adam Cadre in a surprising number of ways:
- Textfire Golf in the first scene
- Photopia-like linearity and vague plot-connection
- Shrapnel's restart trick

The "restart" trick should be a lesson in not what to do with your game design. Or else remove the 'restore' option, or something. Sharpnel's "restart" was brilliant-- no matter what you typed, you got 'restart', but your restart wasn't REALLY a restart.

In NTTS, your restart isn't really a restart, but you have no way of knowing that when you get to the prompt-- therefore you have NO REASON to type restart over, say, restore. Especially if you had, say, saved the game. Especially when restore worked fine.

This was enough to make me quit the game right then, when I checked the walkthrough and discovered why I was stuck.

Eventually, I went back to it and kept playing. I got stuck very near the end, and got this lovely experience: I did something which caused an NPC to kill me. I get the normal lose-message and the 'restore/restart' prompt. Just as I had the other several times I had gotten this message and prompt, I typed 'restart'... but hey, this time it restarted instead of continuing. (It only restarted the current section, at least--but there was no way I could tell that I should 'restore' that time.)

It turned out I was missing an object, and I thought it might have been from a section I couldn't get back to, so I went ahead and replayed it from the restart, but it wasn't there, and then as I continued through I forgot to get one of the objects I had grabbed the previous time, so I died again in the same place and just gave up on it.

I'll break down the scoring for this one:
10 points
-1 for lamely clued puzzles
-4 for the 'restart' nonsense
+1 for Wagner James Au reference

The Gostak
score: 5, time: 0:03, status: abandoned

Lies somewhere between Lighan ses Lion and For a Change, but it lies more on the Lighan side, a kind of game which I'm not personally interested in. (I didn't try to decipher Lighan, either.)

score: 3, time: 0:10, status: abandoned

Best of Three
score: 8, time: around 1:00, status: completed

Well, this was sort of like having a conversation. It seemed kind of a goofy conversation that I wasn't totally thrilled to be participating in--a certain degree of intellectual snobbishness. This was no doubt intentional, but it distanced me a bit from the player character-not so much because of an immediate disconnect with her thoughts, but rather because I didn't like the NPC very much but had to play along with the PC's feelings. (It would be a radically different game if it let you play your own feelings--perhaps a more interesting game on one level, but clearly it would be vastly more work, so I'm happy to let this stand.)

A few glitches here and there, but it still felt like I was doing something new and different (having a conversation, really, no fooling, with my input making a difference--the conversation in Galatea was more of an interview than a conversaion, although I think there are still vestigages of that here--it's still much easier to quiz the NPC than, say, vice versa) and there was enough of a mystery to explore that I stuck with it.

score: 3, time: 0:20, status: abandoned

I complained about the object-in-the-first-room in Bane of the Builders above, but at least in that game you could go back and get it.

All Roads
score: 8, time: around 0:35, status: completed

Neat story, minimal interactivity. I'll reward the story with my non-voted score, and penalize the lack of interactivity by not offering any more detailed feedback.

To Otherwhere and Back
score: 4, time: unknown but brief, status: abandoned

I had wondered whether somebody would try to sneak in a walkthrough comp game in this comp; by "sneak in" I mean write a game that you might naturally be able to solve without appealing to the walkthrough, and would, as much as possible, try to not be obvious that things were the way they were because the walkthrough called for it.

This game wasn't that.

I drew the sword too soon (I was doing the walkthrough from memory), couldn't figure out how to put it back, and then tried dropping it, lost, and wasn't allowed to undo from the restart prompt.

Moments Out of Time
score: 5, time: unknown but short, status: abandoned

Lack of paragraph formatting (neither indents nor blank lines) is annoying. An object which says "(which is empty)", which actually contains an object despite my understanding of that sort of object being one that would not imply any non-visible contents at all. And a timing puzzle a la Zork III. Plus the whole thing is a relatively motivationless exploration, which is just not my cup of tea. I'd score it higher as a not-my-cup-of-tea if it weren't for those odd game-design choices mentioned above.

Silicon Castles
score: 3, time: 0:15, status: resigned

There are all sorts of other things IF-y that could be done with this scenario.

Obviously the developer is a competent programmer (despite the bugs with column b and castling), and I suppose to a lot of people in the IF community this might be an impressive achievement, but to me it's like programming chess in any language: thoroughly researched and documented, merely requiring programming skills. Inform is one of the worst possible target languages for the challenge, since chess is very computationally intensive.

Is it a game? Yes. Is it a fun game? No, especially since I suck at chess enough that a game with two moves of lookahead can trounce me. Is it IF? No.

an apple from nowhere
score: 4, time 0:13, status: finished?

totally linear, not an engaging story

Stick it to the man
score: 4, time 0:10, status: crashed

I hate color syntax hilighting.

Now that I've played Emily Short's games, conversations like this just call out how fake the characters are: there's a dead body, and I get a list of conversation choices. I pick "Look, a dead body!" and get back a response along the lines of "Holy cow, a dead body!". And then... I get all the remaining conversation choices, and conversation continues as if there were no dead body.

The Coast House
score: 4, time 0:10, status: abandoned

Great, the player character is curious about the mystery...but I'm not.

Grammar problems in the first room description.

Rooms with unlisted exits.

You find !

Fine Tuned
score: 6, time about 0:45, status: chapter three crash

Jaunty fun for a while. Some really nice touches (get hat and give it to MacDougal). I'm not sure I like the combination of a small number of rooms and every-few-turn teleporting for the driving sequence.

Insanely buggy. "BLOW HORN" works, "HONK" errors. Random "[** Object number 62 has no property mel_enters to read ]" due to a daemon I suspect. And our favorite, fatal stack overflow, from "ASK PROF ABOUT SALOMONDER".

I crashed without a save game, so I quit.

score: 2, time 0:10, status: abandoned

Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country
score: 5, timeabout 0:30, status: abandoned

Just not my cup of tea I suppose; I even dug up the MST3k'd SM as suggested, and didn't get that much entertainment from it either. In the case of SM:TUC, though, I get the feeling that what's being parodied is a whole X-Trek genre that I don't know anything about, so I'm in no position to judge it. Then again, I doubt Chris Crawford fits in with that genre in the first place, so who knows.

The Cruise
score: 4, time: unknown, status: abandoned

Too many rooms.

The most beautiful moment of any game in this comp:

[long, eight-paragraph monologue from another character, assigning you a quest]
Your score just went up 5 points!
Okay, you're now sitting on the barstool.

Of course, the good wizard just claims he's the good wizard, and you go off on his mission when for all you know he could be the evil wizard and your quest will release the minions of hell. But hey, what's an adventurer to do?

Then you're required to go to the dining room at a certain time. If you don't go, you lose, but the game doesn't tell you why; it just says "you lose because you didn't do what I told you to do", roughly. And if you go, at least in the first two turns, nothing interesting happens. That is sufficiently horrible game design that I punted.

Vicious Cycles
score: 8, time 0:50, status: completed

A neat concept: a justified violation of the "don't learn from dying" rule. (Of course, dying doesn't require restart/undo, so you're not violating the real rule, "can't be required to lose the game to learn crucial info".)

Unfortunately, there's a bit too much 'stand around doing nothing while the backstory is explained to me' in the other half of the game.

And some problematic game design with the tight time constraints, which made it so that some of the slightly "guess-the-verb" puzzles, if I guessed wrong, I ran out of time for solving the puzzle.

But, hey, it wasn't superlinear. This game probably leverages the medium of interactivity better than any of the others in the comp. So I'll let the problems slide.

Schroedinger's Cat
score: 3, time 0:08, status: played

From my notes: "Wow, I totally don't get this one."

After I played it, I joined some discussion about it on IFmud, and discovered that if I let other people do all the busy work of collecting the data, it was mildly diverting to form a model of the underlying mechanism. However, with no actual explanation for the eventual model--no analogy to the real world or even weird physics--and with no game there, just a toy, it's hard to feel any more excited about it than I did originally, and my score remains unchanged.

Earth and Sky
score: 6, time: 0:30, status: finished

Nice setting, nice writing, and a solid implementation. Some annoying game design: making the player wait (z'ing through long lectures); the "chop down tree" model of combat, requiring seven-to-ten shots to knock down the enemy, when even three is at the limit of boring.

Low marks for being super-linear; and super-brief means its baseline isn't very high. I felt like I had spent more time reading the instructions on how all the conversation interfaces worked than actually conversing.

The Last Just Cause
score: 2, time: 0:05, status: abandoned

"That was no dream, here take this lantern!"

Shattered Memory
score: 2, time: 0:15, status: abandoned

score: 4, time 0:20, status: abandoned

Sigh, another game that mentions some of the room exits, but not all of them. Of course they're in the status line, but I never look there since it's so far from the normal reading point.

There seemed to be a lot of locations with no real point. Things like the two-turn-death-by-snake-bite suck since (I assume) they're not solveable in the intervening turn (unless you have the correct object), so you're just teased with the seeming possibility of a puzzle you can solve, that really isn't. Or maybe it is. There is no way to know.

Motivationlessness made me disinterested.

The Isolato Incident
score: 5, time 0:30, status: finished

A nice mood and style. The weird semi-coherence reminds me again of For a Change, although the author is going for something rather different.

I think I'd give it a 6 or 7 if it were more solidly implemented--very lacking in scenery objects and there are a lot of messages which don't change when the state of the object involved has changed.

The Chasing
score: 4, time: 0:15 (over eight hours), status: abandoned

This is one of those games that gives you a top-level motivation, but no direction as you begin. As a result, I spent 75 moves accomplishing nothing at all.

Weird experience with entering the magician's house and having sudden reference to "the spirits testing you" as if this were something I already knew about.

Generally it was inoffensive, but it didn't hold my attention--clearly there was stuff to do but I just wasn't interested in doing it.

The Evil Sorcerer
score: 4, time: 1:00, status: abandoned (score=33, moves=486)

If I'm going to be teleported clear across the map, it needs to be more explicit than an after-the-fact aside in the seeming middle of a conversation:

"See? Not so hard, is it?" Julia asks, after having led you onto a ledge in a different cliff.

From notes: no clue what the hermit wants
yay, it was a random message that I happened not to get

This is REALLY BAD DESIGN (tm). It's really annoying when there's a book that you know has the right answer but you have to keep reading and hoping the answer will show up at random (previous comp game Nevermore), but in this case you don't even know that sitting around will reveal an answer.

Ten billion items lying around but a relatively small (default?) inventory limit so pointless map wandering ensues.

If you don't want your perfectly tolerable game to receive a score of 4, please include a walkthrough, otherwise players may decide to quit after experiences like this:

You tie the hair to the magnet.
I only understood you as far as wanting to get the coin.
The critter looks too dangerous.
I didn't understand that sentence.
That's no a verb I recognize.
There is no more room in the hole.
I didn't understand that sentence.
There's nothing sensible to swing here.
I only understood you as far as wanting to touch the magnet on a hair.
You already have that

I was probably just barking up the wrong tree, but with no hints or walkthrough to tell me that...

The Test:
score: 2, time: 0:10, status: abandoned

The Newcomer:
score: 2, time: 0:07, status: abandoned

You Are Here
score: 5, time: 0:15, status: abandoned

From my play notes: "well, it's an amusing re-creation of a mud in IF form, but it's just not very fun, is it?" (I co-administrated an LPmud for three or four years.)

score: 3, time: 0:09, status: abandoned

score: 3, time: 0:05?, status: finished

score: 4, time: 0:20, status: abandoned

From my notes:
Well, obviously a lot of work was put into the pictures, but there's just too many locations and too many instant death traps--worse yet, not-quite-instant-death-traps that take another turn before you die, but don't seem to be solveable despite giving you that intervening turn.

score: 4, time: 1:00, status: abandoned

In general, this game has LOTS of missing adjectives and synonyms.

First the long cold thing. Has to be twisted.
I don't see any cold here.
Turning the long cold thing doesn't have any effect.
The process is heavy and laborious and tiring, but ...

It's also superlinear, the epitome of the series-of-one-room-games. In fact, it does this horrible hand-holding technique, like the pool resuscitation scene in Photopia (which integrated it into the story, and only did it that one time), prompting you with what to do. At one point, I saved the game to go do something else, and when I came back, in the middle of the section quoted above, it was impossible to continue, because there was no way to get back the prompt telling me what to do next. (See also Night Guest, which might have had the same problem but fortunately I never restored.)

Similarly superlinear is the false choice: accept or challenge--selecting challenge says 'nah, you really want to accept'.

score: 2, time: 0:20, status: abandoned

The Cave of Morpheus
score: 3, time: 0:20, status: abandoned

Ok, I will give this game this: the introductory sequence, where things are kind of askew in strange ways and you're forced to do things you wouldn't ever do in real life works really nicely.

Unfortunately, this game hits on a game-design no-no that continues to piss me off every time I encounter it: a dream sequence wherein if you die, the game ends, despite there being no reason this should stop the live (non-dream) protagonist's life and story. (In this case, in fact, the dream is a recurring dream.)

Rooms often have unlisted exits along with their listed ones, and there's an at-a-computer-sequence where the commands you type are literally ignored; those two things plus that above drove the score through the floor.

score: 7, time: 0:45, status: abandoned

I think this is the first reasonably successful multimedia IF work I've played--the previous comp game Six Stories was a decent (and polished) attempt but it had some flaws.

Carma is nearly the quintessential superlinear game in this competition, but unlike say Fusillade it gives the player the occasional choice (which won't make much difference in the long run, though). Still, it's basically limited in its interactivity. But it makes up for it with cute cartoon characters and a story for the grammar nazi in all of us. Well, in me, anyway.

Invasion of the Angora-fetish Long Names
score: 2, time: 0:15, status: abandoned

Another mud! This one with real time combat!

score: 3, time: 0:08, status: abandoned

Film at Eleven
score: 6, time: 0:28, status: finished

Yay! I have motivation! An explicit goal, at least. I liked this game because it had a somewhat novel idea for the overall game setting, even if its execution wasn't particularly perfect.

It seemed to me that some of the puzzles weren't very fair, but that may have been my own fault for not examining the world very thoroughly--something about the game just failed to engage me and I was pretty sloppy as I played it. I had to go to the walkthrough several times, although I did find an "easter egg" alternate solution to one puzzle.

Volcano Isle
score: 4, time: 0:12, status: abandoned

No introduction, no goal given--the implication seems to be that it's just "collect all the treasures". I didn't play for long enough to pass an authoratative judgement on the game, but it looked like it had some incredibly unclued puzzles. So: no motivation, puzzlefest, and impossible puzzles.

You start in a room with a bunch of objects in a boat. "TAKE ALL" will not take the objects from the boat. TADS doesn't seem to understand "TAKE ALL FROM BOAT". You can't get in the boat so that you can then type "TAKE ALL" from there. *sigh*

And that was all they wrote.

This article copyright © 2001, Sean Barrett

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