Brass Lantern
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Reviews of the IF-Comp 2001 Games

by Valentine

Posted 16 November 2001 to

A few preliminary notes: at first, I've been trying to come up with an elaborate rating system (namely, rate the games' plot, puzzles, writing, etc. separately and then making the average their final rating). However, due to the number of the games and their wide variety I found it difficult to follow this pattern consistently. Therefore, I'd finally given it up, and switched over to a much more simple system - I just rated the games according to how well I liked them. Basically, the ratings mean the following:

1 - I couldn't find anything good to say about the game;
2 to 4 - (far) below average;
5 - average;
6 - solid work but nothing special (or, on the contrary, a badly implemented good game);
7 to 9 - an excellent game (here, the differences were rather subtle; e. g., a game I rated 7 might get a 9 if I was in a different mood when playing it); and (the one and only)
10 - my favourite

I didn't download the RESOURCES-part of the competition archive, and played the games in text form only (unless the graphics were included with the game itself).

The games are sorted according to the rank I've given them (from the lowest to the highest one). In the review headers, the following special marks are used: * means I didn't finish the game; ! means the review contains mild spoilers; !! means the review contains explicit spoilers.

A short note of the games I didn't rate/review:
Mystery Manor, Stranded, Carma, and "2112", because they were in the RESOURCES-part of the archive, which I didn't download;
Lovesong, for its author hadn't provided either an interpreter for his game or information where to get it;
and A Night Guest - since I'd written it myself.

And now, the reviews.

The Last Just Cause, Author: Noob
RANK: 46, Rating: 1, *

And this is the story:
I woke up in a not too remarkable place, with a strange voice in my head, which pretended it was telling me something useful but was just babbling for the most part. Since there was nothing else to do (the parser wouldn't let me anyway), I started randomly roaming through a confusing series of more not too remarkable rooms, fighting Double J monsters as I did so (the fights merely consisted of pressing a key several times till the monster died). To my dismay, there was no way to turn the fighting off. Eventually, the strange voice in my head would return to babble some more. Then, a monster came and ate me without warning. Since I hadn't got a backup copy of the current game session (mainly because of the complicated save/restore procedure, which required activities on the operating system level; poor "plain old DOS" users, I wonder how they were supposed to perform it!) I imagined what redoing it from the very start would mean... thought of another series of boring encounters with a vast number of Double J monsters... and let's admit it - I got the wind up, and couldn't bring myself up to play the awful thing once more. Sorry!

P. S. You know, people are egoistic by nature. Most of them (with very, VERY few exceptions) play a game to enjoy themselves, not to admire the game's "battle engine"...

You Were Doomed from the Start, Author: Noob
RANK: 45, Rating: 1

There is no reason to play this "game". Its only advantage is its shortness. The accompanying readme file said it had been meant as a programming example, yet it failed even as such. Sample code should at least include lucid and extensive comments, you know... And there is still the question, why would someone enter a programming example into a competition. Spelling mistakes didn't help, either. The entry itself was doomed from the start, it seemed.

The Test, Authors: Matt, Dark Baron
RANK: 44, Rating: 2, *!

Quotation from the blurb for the game:

"Less than 3 minutes before the most important test of your life involving english and maths together, you are thrown into somewhere else (it doesn't really matter)."

Less than 3 minutes after I had started playing this entry, I felt it wouldn't really matter to me whether I completed it, or not. A puzzle-oriented game, without any effort to make the game world more realistic. Poor implementation of synonyms; only a small set of verbs was recognized. Because of that, the auto-fill feature of Adrift became especially annoying. Spelling mistakes abound.

As to the puzzles... Well, the first one was ripped off from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The second one more or less required trying everything to solve it (while solving was quite possible due to the small number of objects implemented and actions those objects would react to, it wasn't very satisfying). The third one was OK. The fourth one I couldn't solve even using the hints. Since, against the authors' promises, there was no walkthrough available, I gave up. And I hadn't got the feeling I missed much.

Schroedinger's Cat, Author: James Willson
RANK: 43, Rating: 2, *

The game claims the player's goal is to understand how the game's world works. That's fine with me; however, I could see no reason why I'd want to find it out. Still, I've got to admit the game was rather polished and competently done.

The Newcomer, Author: Jason Love
RANK: 42, Rating: 3, *

It looks like the game wasn't finished. I mean, if you have VERBOSE room descriptions like "The link between", or "$$$", it can't possibly be a completed game, can it? Other than those amazing descriptions, the game features three other rooms with almost no objects you could manipulate, and two NPCs you barely could interact with. Since there were neither hints nor a walkthrough available, I spent about 15 minutes trying to find out what this all was about, but failed. Sorry.

Surreal, Author: Matthew Lowe
RANK: 41, Rating: 4, *

The author of this game says he's been trying to make the game world seem as realistic as possible. Maybe it is realistic; but the problem is, it's boring. I just hadn't got any motivation to go on playing. Yes, the game clued at some clever story behind it - but it failed to arouse any interest in it on my part. Now, I don't want to discourage the author - it's been his first attempt to write IF, after all. And he seems to have potential - there certainly are worse games than Surreal. But here are a couple of things I'd like to niggle about:

Volcano Isle, Author: Paul DeWitt
RANK: 40, Rating: 4

First of all, I found it tiresome to navigate in this game, because the room descriptions didn't mention all possible exits in most cases. (It was very much like the forest maze in Zork I, but with a larger number of rooms, and less vivid descriptions). Since I wasn't in the mood for mapping the area out, I quickly resorted to the walkthrough.

The game was your standard treasure hunt. At some point, it tried to persuade me that there was some clever story behind it, but unfortunately, the story didn't affect the gameplay in any way. The implementation was minimalistic, and rather sloppy at many points (e. g., action responses weren't set apart from the room descriptions, etc.) Since those mishaps occurred even in the transcript serving as the walkthrough, the author was almost certainly aware of them; thus, he either lacked the TADS knowledge needed to avoid such undesired effects, or didn't care about the quality of his work. (Sorry if I'm wrong). The only NPC was a clone of the thief from Zork I, but devoid of any witty characteristics and reactions, which made its prototype seem alive; what remained was a dummy walking around and picking up things. None of the puzzles in the game seemed original or clever, with one exception: the tape recorder puzzle had got potential, but again, was implemented too badly.

There were two features in the game I liked: the background colour changing according to the location you were in (you've got to play on HTML TADS to see this); and the possibility to just sail away at the very beginning of the game, leaving the volcano isle for good.

Fine Tuned, Author: Dionysius Porcupine
RANK: 39, Rating: 4, *

The game wasn't completely without potential, and it kind of featured a story, but... it was just too bug-ridden. I resorted to the walkthrough rather soon, but in some cases, even the walkthrough wasn't helpful - mainly because of bugs. Yes, there was quite a collection of them - occasional typos, inappropriate responses, spots where actions unexpected by the game author got you stuck, and even fatal errors, which caused the program to crush altogether. Even worse, the walkthrough itself seemed not to be complete; therefore, I couldn't make it to the optimal ending, much less find out what all the trouble was for. The puzzles... Some of them were just stupid, while others probably would be OK - if only they were implemented better. The setting was rather minimalistic, which probably was a good thing - if it wasn't, the bugs might make the game totally unplayable. The narration tone was that of false cheerfulness - another aspect that didn't particularly excite me. Nevertheless, I liked a few characters in the game - in particular, the main villain (Salomonder), and the farmer MacDougal with his stupid jokes. Still, they weren't sufficient to make me like this game.

Invasion of the Angora-fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of Jupiter, Author: Morten Rasmussen
RANK: 38, Rating: 4, *

The game was quite solidly made; I'm sorry I couldn't get the feeling for it. It seemed a bit too random - it consisted mostly of just walking around without any particular aim, and the surroundings, though acceptably carefully done, didn't exactly make up for it. The characters moving around on their own didn't excite me too much, either.

I'm not sure what purpose the sudden weather, season, and daytime changes in some parts of the landscape served; anyway, it seemed a bit... uhm... strange (you know, a lightning bolt that just stays there and is mentioned in the room description each time you type "LOOK" appears unnatural at best).

As I read the walkthrough I realized that what seemed to me like a flow of unrelated events had some plan behind it; however, it didn't motivate me to make another attempt to solve the game.

The parser was OK; I had got only two minor complaints about it - first, the ability to save only one game position is below today's standards; and second, the way items in a container were manipulated (you needed to explicitely TAKE ITEM FROM CONTAINER (just TAKE ITEM wouldn't work), and even couldn't examine the ITEM while it was inside the CONTAINER) was a bit awkward. Still, I think it's quite possible to write a good game using this engine.

To Otherwere and Back, Author: Gregory Ewing
RANK: 37, Rating: 5

From the accompanying readme file I learned the game was initially written for the Walkthrough (aka Telegram) Comp, in which the participants had got to write a game that would match a given walkthrough. The walkthrough seemed rather random (at least, to me); I had got the feeling it'd be a very hard job to write a good, consistent game based on it.

Unfortunately, I didn't play any of the original entries for the Walkthrough Comp, and can't judge how others succeeded in converting the haphazard number of actions provided in the walkthrough to a text adventure; the author of TOAB, however, did not very good.

The game consists of several different scenes, essentially unrelated to each other, which exist for the sole purpose of forcing the player through a prescribed set of actions. In many cases, progress is impossible without the underlying walkthrough. Etc., etc.

And there is another issue: look, the Walkthrough Comp ended some time in spring, I think. Since then, there was PLENTY of time to give the game (at least) some depth. Why the author didn't use the chance, is a mystery to me. The result is, among many other things: a sword you can't use to attack anybody, including the player character; lots of characters you can't ask/tell about things, give/show something to, etc.; standard responses to almost any action not required by the walkthrough... The list can be continued, but I think you got the basic idea. The only plus for this game seemed to be the fact that the descriptions were free of spelling mistakes.

To sum up: this entry represented the most straightforward approach to writing an IF-work from a walkthrough. And it hasn't been done very carefully.

The Cruise, Author: Norman Perlmutter
RANK: 36, Rating: 5, *

The game reminded me of early graphic adventures - in particular, of Leisure Suit Larry 1; a couple of areas seemed to be directly ripped off from there, though I might be wrong. It had got some enjoyable moments, and characters (while the latter weren't especially deep); unfortunately, it also had got plenty of minor bugs, inappropriate responses, and the like.

To the puzzles: while they weren't hard, some of them could be solved by trying everything (respectively, looking everywhere) only; one of them was of a guess-the-verb nature. Luckily, a hint system was available. However, at least one puzzle was good. Having to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and to go to bed every day became plenty annoying in the long run.

About getting the Last Lousy Point: I did get it - but in a way the game author clearly hadn't thought of. However, I couldn't find the "proper" way to solve it - and the hint system seemed to have a bug at that point.

The Cave of Morpheus, Author: Mark Silcox
RANK: 35, Rating: 5

The idea behind this game has got potential, but needs a much better implementation to get it working. The game had got an amateurish feel, partly because of the occasional typos (there weren't many of them, but a couple even appeared in the intros for both parts of the game, and that didn't make a good impression), partly because it was done rather poorly, and had several annoying bugs. Some of them probably can be attributed to the restrictions of the development system (although I've never programmed in Adrift, and thus don't know what its restrictions are), but others (like room descriptions unaware of game state changes) clearly are an "achievement" of the author himself. More careful design might make the plot of the game, essentially a mix of Freudism, Colossal Cave references, college life, and psychology, shine; currently, however, it appears pretentious rather than fancy. I'm sorry.

Goofy, Author: Ricardo Dague
RANK: 34, Rating: 5, *

Unfortunately, I didn't get past the maze-with-the-mouse puzzle. I had got the feeling it might be better clued on, but maybe I'm just stupid. Anyway, I think a walkthrough wouldn't harm.

All in all, it was your average puzzle-oriented game, with descriptions limited to the "bare essentials". If it was written in TADS or Inform, you wouldn't give it a second glance. However, it features its own parser; thus, a few more words have to be said.

I don't share the bias against home-brewed parsers most people seem to have. In fact, I think that asking "Why would someone write his own parser with Inform and TADS available?" is like asking "Why would someone write IF with the games by Infocom available?"

In this game, the parser was adequate. Maybe it didn't understand a lot of words, but I hadn't got any problems with those it understood. The only thing I can fault the parser for is its inability to save/restore the game, since the game can be rendered unwinnable. Since I got stuck on a relatively early stage of the game, it wasn't an issue for me to redo the game from the very start; however, if I made better progress in the game, and had to redo it, it might have bothered me a lot worse. All in all, I'd say keep working on the parser, it has potential. Who knows? Maybe in a couple of years, we'll have another IF development system...

Timeout, Author: Stephen Hilderbrand
RANK: 33, Rating: 5

The game had got a rather promising, albeit a bit generic, dystopian setting. The problem was, the author didn't seem to know what to do with the world he created. As I completed the game, I told myself, "It can't be the intended ending, it's just too stupid!" Yet, as I looked up in the walkthrough, it seemed that it actually WAS the intended ending (at least, the walkthrough hadn't got any clues about other possible endings). The optional puzzles described in the walkthrough seemed rather pointless (for they didn't seem to lead anywhere). Plus, there were several bugs (one of them caused the game to terminate). Though there were a few entertaining moments in the game, it was a disappointment.

You Are Here, Author: Roy Fisher
RANK: 32, Rating: 5, *

Essentially, this was your standard treasure hunt with RPG elements, like Zork I (but with less treasures, and more fighting). That's pretty much sums it up, with one exception: since this work is a promotion for an online multi-player game, it's packed with references to this game, as well as to multi-player games in general. Therefore, I expected the NPCs representing the actual players more alive than they were. Also, the entry kind of parodies the genre itself, which is funny at some points.

While the game was fairly well done, there were a few bugs in it. None of them was very serious; however, the following response amused me boundlessly for some reason:

>examine Ruby of Chaos
I only understood you as far as wanting to examine the Ruby of Chaos.

The puzzles (as the author of the game stated) were kept rather easy; still, I managed to get stuck. Maybe I was just stupid; it'd be nice, though, if I could perform a proof of my stupidity by consulting the walkthrough (which, as you might have guessed, was missing). (An observation: I've noticed that in most cases, I haven't got much problems completing games with hints/walkthroughs available without using the latter; on the contrary, games lacking such aids inevitably get me stuck, no matter how easy the game claims to be. Sigh.)

Shattered Memories, Author: Akbarr
RANK: 31, Rating: 5, *

I got stuck rather early in this game; otherwise, the rating would be higher. (Well, I did finish it a few days after, after I learned the author had released a hint file for it, but decided not to change the initial rating nevertheless). Though the descriptions were rather minimalistic, the author succeeded in getting me hooked: I really felt troubled in this place, and wanted to find out what was going on (though I, as a player, had got my own suspicions the PC hadn't got). It was a pity no hints were available!

There were several things to complain about (e. g., the writing and overall implementation seemed to be a bit sloppily done; the NPCs were rather limited; also, the author clearly had tampered with the parser, which resulted in strange behaviour at some points), but all in all, it was a worthy effort. It's definitely worth playing at least one time, especially now, as the hints are available!

Crusade, Author: John Gorenfeld
RANK: 30, Rating: 5, *

I liked the humour of this game; the story seemed to be OK, as well - the problem was, I didn't see most of it because I got stuck, and there were no hints/walkthrough available. The implementation was rather minimalistic, and there were a few minor bugs. The puzzles I saw were partly quite interesting and fun to solve... with the exception of the one I got stuck on. That's a pity; I'm sure that, if the author released an accompanying walkthrough for his game, I'd rate it much higher.

The Chasing, Author: Anssi Raisanen
RANK: 29, Rating: 5, !

This is your standard treasure hunt a la Colossal Cave or ZORK 1, with horses in place of the treasures and a stable in place of the trophy case. The Chasing's advantages over the classical adventures mentioned above: the player can't be killed, the game can't be put in an unwinnable state, and you don't have to manage lots of inventory. Its main disadvantage: the puzzles, which should be the focus of the game, are too easy, a lot of them boiling down to paying careful attention to objects in the room descriptions. (Normally, I don't have anything against such puzzles - as long as it isn't overdone). Not all of them are logical, too: sometimes, you'd just complete a task that didn't seem relevant to your primary objective, and would be rewarded with a horse. Due to a bug, you can complete the game by solving one of the puzzles several times. The writing was even and free of mistakes, but not very exciting. All in all (I'm sorry to say that), a completely unremarkable game.

Bane of the Builders, Author: Bogdan Baliuc
RANK: 28, Rating: 5, !!

When I read the intro for this game... well, by no means am I a know-all, but I swear that my first thought was "Hey, what a wonderfully generic SciFi opening! It could result just in anything, from a flop to an excellent work".

However, it turned out to be none of the above: it remained equally generic for the rest of the game; by the end, the player "managed to save the Professor, the Earth and help uncover part of the Builders' mystery. Not bad for a day's work." Maybe it wasn't bad, but not especially satisfying for the player, either. The plot consisted of exploring an abandoned extraterrestrial city in search for the lost Professor, and fiddling with "priceless pieces of alien technology". The descriptions were free of typos for the most part, but without any trace of emotion, as if telling the player: "Yes, this is your usual puzzle feast! Don't even expect something else from it!"

And sure, the puzzles were the strongest part of the game. I can't deny that some of them had got potential; still, there weren't a single puzzle in which this potential was fully developed. To make my point more clear, I included a more detailed overview of the major puzzles (spoilers ahead!).

The maze: I almost liked it. However, it seemed to me not to be clued on well enough; I wasn't aware of the way a rat would go through a labyrinth; thus, I wasn't able to solve it without resorting to the on-line hints.

The elevator: shame on me - I didn't hit on opening the panel. Again, I had got the feeling it might be better clued about, but thinking back of it I admit I'm probably not quite fair - after all, there WAS a button which wouldn't function on the panel, and trying fixing it by opening the panel seemed quite logical. Fiddling with the panel circuitry seemed to be OK as a puzzle (though I used the walkthrough to solve it).

The box with the lever: here, I found out the solution but wasn't able to phrase it in a way understandable to the parser. After a few tries I just looked it up in the walkthrough. See, if you allow WRAP HAND IN CLOTH, you should allow WRAP CLOTH AROUND HAND, and WRAP CLOTH AROUND LEVER, and WRAP LEVER IN CLOTH as well. Also, you should provide the hand as an object in the game (in Bane of the Builders, WRAP HAND is implemented as a single verb).

The final puzzle: here, dying two or three times seems almost unavoidable for the player to find out what he needs to solve the game; also, I thought that the modes the blaster could be set to should be listed in the description of the blaster.

..The following question bothers me most of all, however: if the place was abandoned, then how did the Professor get locked in? And why did the Bane wait so long before taking over his body? Unfortunately, those thoughts seem to never have crossed the author's mind.

Kallisti, Author: James A. Mitchelhill
RANK: 27, Rating: 5, !

The sexual content did not offend me; however, mechanical characters did. The opening part, where you had got to seduce a girl, was especially boring, with dull conversations leading nowhere, and predictable actions according to the principle, a girl is a marionette - pull a few strings, and she moves where you want her to. To top it off, you could undress BEFORE you started seducing the girl, she wouldn't mind at all. The middle part with the actual offending content wasn't very special, either. The descriptions had got some typos; they weren't many, but they couldn't be ignored. There was an interesting twist of the plot at the end of the game, but it also left me a bit confused - I couldn't get what it was about; maybe I was just stupid. And it surely didn't make up for the faults of the game.

an apple from nowhere, Author: steven carbone
RANK: 26, Rating: 5

The game clearly wasn't the gibberish it pretended to be. Somehow, it even was atmospheric. But still, it left me confused. I've never played a game by Ryebread Celsius (well... except for Asendent in last year's Comp, which was a parody of Ryebread's works), but I think that's what his games feel like. (Only that the spelling here was OK). It reminded me of a drug-caused hallucination. I agree it is something, but I can't quite follow what. Also, it wasn't very interactive.

Jump, Author: Chris Mudd
RANK: 25, Rating: 6

The story had got potential, but was a bit too... ehm... vague to my taste. (Someone else might find this very feature of the game great, though). No puzzles to speak about. The writing was good, but there were games with better descriptions in this Comp. Minimalistic implementation. Some default responses (like the response to the SCORE command) should be replaced. While a certain amount of atmosphere was present, the game's impact on me wasn't as strong as the author undoubtedly had intended.

Colours, Author: Anonymous
RANK: 24, Rating: 6, *

The game was based on interesting ideas, but those ideas were overdeveloped to absurdity. First of all, I think it wouldn't be possible for me to solve this game without the walkthrough. Then, once I understood how the game was supposed to work, I had got to run around lots of rather monotonous rooms, carrying out lots of rather monotonous actions, being careful about not putting the game into an unwinnable state (as far as I can tell, this was quite possible, though maybe I'm wrong) while doing so. At this point, my patience ended, and I gave up.

The implementation of the game seemed a bit uneven to me: on one hand, I didn't encounter any typos; the characters were animated with care (though sometimes they had a rather limited set of random messages to display); and everything seemed to work smooth. On the other hand, however, the NPCs weren't very interactive, and, though there were several female characters, they all had got to be referred to with "he"; the only "person" in the game I could address with "she" was, ironically, a donkey. Also, there were some minor bugs (at one location, the game would tell me there were an exit to the north, but I wouldn't be able to move north nevertheless).

It might sound funny, but I think I'd enjoy this game much more if it was somewhat smaller... say, a third of its actual size.

The Evil Sorcerer, Author: Gren Remoz
RANK: 23, Rating: 6, !

This entry reminded me of the classical Enchanter game by Infocom very much, so I thought it might be interesting to compare them.

In Evil Sorcerer, you'd got to solve the standard "save the world by killing the villain" problem. In this respect (and in many others), it was very similar to Enchanter, but with weaker puzzles (however, at least one of them was original and really good). The game world was more detailed than in Enchanter; unfortunately, the descriptions weren't even remotely as vivid. The plot was rather straightforward; though the romantic by-plot looked promising, its promises remained unfulfilled. The characters... Uh-oh. They were fairly limited in both games, but Enchanter was much better at working around the limitations, and managed to make the NPCs seeming more alive by animating them with a few well-chosen actions/messages, and providing them with catchy descriptions. In The Evil Sorcerer, the characters were complete dummies. One example: the PC takes it upon himself to kill the evil sorcerer because the woman who's supposed to be in love with him asks him for it ("Darlin', do me a little favour... oh, come on, it's kid's stuff for you!"). I won't discuss here whether there could be a man stupid enough to let oneself in for such an affair; but once he does, it is his right to expect his beloved to be helpful, to assist him, to do her best in aiding him in completing his mission (after all, it is in her own interest!). Instead, she just sits down, reading her novel, effectively doing nothing. She hardly is of any use even as a source of hints! To be honest, I'd never lift a finger for a person acting like this.

As for the technical aspect, the game seemed to be OK - I didn't encounter any bugs.

All in all, I can't say playing this game was a complete waste of time. Still, I think I'd prefer playing Enchanter once more instead.

Stick it to the man, Author: H. Joshua Field
RANK: 22, Rating: 6, *

A good opening; I also liked the way the room, object and character descriptions were based on the PC's emotions. Then, however, it rapidly went downhill.

The first disappointment was the menu-based conversations. Seemingly, there were a lot of characters to talk to, but the conversations weren't particularly exciting, mostly revolving about "Hi!" and "How things are going?". Neither were the dialogs very sensitive to the current state of the game: you could greet a character after you had exchanged several phrases with him, or go on talking about a particular character even if he/she came into the room during the conversation.

Then, we went to a rally... the rest of the game seemed to be just a political demonstration simulation, without anything particularly interesting to do. (Maybe I'm wrong about it, and there was something more to this game; but there wasn't neither a walkthrough nor hints available, and I couldn't find out myself). Well, there were a few more characters to meet (it'd be strange if there weren't any, considering it was a rally), but you'd have just the same stupid talk with them; a few objects to gather, but they didn't seem particularly useful. Eventually, the game would just lock up, so that I had got to restart it; I'm not sure whether it was a bug or a configuration problem on my part. Since participating in rallies isn't my favourite pastime, I found it difficult to be excited about this game; it got its rather high rating solely for the opening scene, and the approach to describing things.

The Isolato Incident, Author: Alan DeNiro
RANK: 21, Rating: 6

While the game was very tiny, it featured a fancy plot, and was stylistically consistent. The descriptions were very good, too. The problem with them was - they didn't react to changes in the game state. It looked like the author had got only one possible way to complete the game in mind, and wasn't aware of the fact the player could perform the actions in a different order. Also, the author clearly didn't consider the possibility of repeated using of the LOOK command several times in the same location. The vocabulary of the game, as well as the range of implemented scenery objects, left much to be desired. And the main complaint: I couldn't see a way to complete the game without resorting to the walkthrough - firstly, because of the fact the game objectives didn't stand out at all, especially in the early stages; and secondly, because the game required illogical actions, or didn't mention some crucial objects in the description. The rating of 6 may seem a bit too high for this game; yet, I couldn't bring myself up to rate it lower - it DOES represent a noteworthy effort, after all - and be it solely for its grotesque atmosphere of royal turgidity!

Begegnung am Fluss, Author: Florian Edlbauer
RANK: 20, Rating: 6, !

This game is in German; thus, the review will be in German, too...

Ich mochte das Spiel. Es ist vielleicht nicht sehr originell, aber solide gemacht und logisch. Vielleicht koennten die Gestalten etwas ausgepraegter sein; obwohl das Spiel behauptet, "...du seist alles andere als ein namenloser Abenteurer", fuehlte ich mich gerade als ein solcher behandelt. Gut, ich bin aus dem Gefaengnis ausgerissen - aber warum bin ich dort ueberhaupt hingeraten? Kurzum, die Gestalten hatten zu wenig Hintergrund fuer mich. (Andererseits wird hier vielleicht auch nicht soviel Hintergrund benoetigt, denn, wie es sich herausstellt, die Hauptgestalt des Spieles ist Robin Hood, von dem wohl jeder eine eigene Vorstellung hat und somit die Details selbst ausfuellen kann; trotzdem schaute das Ganze ein bisschen zu schematisch aus.) Der Parser scheint OK zu sein; in meisten Faellen versteht er, was der Spieler sagen will. An einigen Stellen fordert das Spiel weniger gaengige Wortkombinationen, doch man kann diese eigentlich aus dem Kontext ganz gut herausfinden. Das einzige, was mich etwas gestoert hat am Parser, war das Fehlen eines "AGAIN"-Befehls. Bei der Ausseinandersetzung am Fluss war es naemlich ziemlich muesam, immerwieder "SCHLAG MANN MIT STAB" oder "REDE MIT DEM MANN" eingeben zu muessen.

Einen zusaetzlichen Punkt verdient der Austausch von Beschimpfungen zwischen Little John und Robin Hood, den der Spieler ausloesen kann. Da habe ich mich koestlich amuesiert!

Eigentlich wuerde ich das Spiel mit 5,5 bewerten; da in der Competition jedoch nur Ganzzahlberwertungen zugelassen sind, habe ich noch einen halben Punkt zugelegt.

[Editor's Note: Translation of the above review, provided November 20, 2001:]

I liked the game. It probably wasn't too original, but solid work, and logical. The characters might be a bit more detailed; though the game claims, "you're everything but a nameless adventurer", but I felt myself treated just as such. OK, I escaped from a prison - but how had I gotten there, in the first place? To be short, the characters had got too little background for me. (On the other hand, there probably isn't as much background needed, since, as it turns out, the main character is Robin Hood, whom everybody has a picture of, and therefore can fill out the details him/herself; still, it looked a bit too sketchy to me.) The parser seems to be OK; in most cases, it understands what the player wants to say. At some points, the game requires weirder word combinations, but you can guess them from the context pretty well. The only thing I've got to fault the parser for is the absence of an again command. During the encounter by the river, it was a bit tedious to type "HIT MAN WITH STICK" or "TALK TO MAN" repeatedly.

The game deserves an extra point for the bickering between Little John and Robin Hood the player can trigger off. It was pretty amusing!

Generally, I'd give the game a rating of 5.5; however, since only integer ratings are allowed in the Competition, I have rounded it up to 6.

Silicon Castles, Author: Jack Maet
RANK: 19, Rating: 6, !

This was a chess game ported to Inform. Since it hardly was interactive fiction, not rating this entry at all probably would be the most proper thing to do, but considering how much work the author had invested into it, I just couldn't bring myself up to do it. The chess simulation worked quite smooth, and I liked the historical review of the chess game very much. However, there were several technical issues as well: castling didn't seem to work at all; not all the shortcuts for moves suggested in the game worked - namely, you couldn't move your pieces by giving their abbreviated name and the field you wanted to move them to (like Qd4 for Queen to field d4); the "B" vertical seemed to be magical: moves like b2b4 wouldn't work there at all; and at some occasions, the game would just act weird - forbid a move which was valid, executing a move without actually moving the piece, and at one point, it just terminated without warning. The AI of the opponent seemed to work strange, too: I played two games, one time with the genie's skill set to 1 and another time - to 4, and though it took him longer to make a move in the latter case as he clearly analysed more possibilities, I hadn't got the impression he was playing any better. Still, all in all it was a worthy effort.

Prized Possession, Author: Kathleen M. Fischer
RANK: 18, Rating: 6, !

The game was implemented very competently. It did have a few minor bugs, but I won't talk about them here, because the main problem with this game weren't the bugs.

So, let's see. Medieval setting... a glimpse of memories from the heroine's childhood, involving a fire and the death of her mother... her imprisonment-like life at her guardian's... a dangerous journey, on which the heroine is saved several times by a noble knight... prospects of wedding a man she doesn't love... and finally, the heroine marrying the noble knight who saved her (surprised?)... Haven't I seen dozens of tear-jerking movies telling exactly the same story? Aren't there hundreds upon hundreds of maudlin books presenting you the same tale, with only slight variations? Even the ubiquitous scene where the heroine looks into her rescuer's eyes deeply, and is about to, but doesn't quite, kiss him, is present! If it was a book, I'd say it was your standard, mawkish, melodramatic reading matter. Since it's a work of IF, I can't say it's standard (there aren't many text adventures like this), but other epithets still are valid.

To sum up... if you're fond of sentimental stories, this game is a must for you. If you aren't, be warned.

Elements, Author: John Evans
RANK: 17, Rating: 6, *

I couldn't complete the game within the two hours limit (and I doubt anyone could). It seemed rather fancy to me, but I also got the impression the author didn't know what to do with the story he invented himself. Starting with section two of the game, things got very obscure. From this stage on, the use of hints seemed almost inevitable for solving the game; also, hunting down a sizeable number of stones and gems became rather tedious after a while. And the worst of it was - when I had completed the game (this happened well after the two hours), the story still didn't make much sense to me!

To the game world: while the implementation wasn't quite up to the ambitions of the game (missing objects, default/inappropriate responses, rooms with mixed up exits, a not-quite-working menu conversation system), it was acceptable. You also could sort of define your player character, though it didn't affect the plot/gameplay in any notable way. All in all, I'd say it is worth a try - the first section of it, definitely!

The Beetmonger's Journal, Author: Aubrey Foil
RANK: 16, Rating: 6, !

A good plot (which is branching), solid implementation, and nifty effects characterise this game. The puzzles were adequate, though not always logical (one puzzle, for instance, required waiting around a few turns for not too obvious reasons). I played both possible paths, and enjoyed them. However, the gameplay was somehow too emotionless. The NPCs, while certainly carefully done, made no secret of their purpose in the game - namely, provision of puzzles, or hints for puzzles. Also, the development of the plot left me a bit confused: look, the player character was a member of the beetmonger order; and the ruler of the country, Prince Radiant, "has marked beetmongers as enemies of the church and state." The main subject of the game was the fight of the beetmongers against this oppression.

However, the oppressive power showed surprisingly little determination in persecuting the dissidents. In fact, it seemed to confine itself to idle talk, even after the beetmongers openly declared war to the state. (A single guard looking for trouble clearly seemed somewhat too meagre for an extensive crusade against beetmongers.) Well, the beetmongers even could go on selling their beets in the markets, and no one tried to trouble them! No rowdy gangs of drunken soldiers were straying through the market, topping over the beetmongers' carts, trampling their precious beets to dust, robbing them of their money, and knocking those trying to protect their goods down. (Uhm, well, my aggressive instincts played a joke on me here, but I think you got the idea). Truly, that's an oppression one can live with!

Besides, there were some technical bugs, like the background not being restored to its previous colour after undoing an action, misformatting, and room descriptions not aware of game changes. Also, the "path of peace" in the game seemed to be more polished than the "path of war".

The Coast House, Authors: Stephen Newton and Dan Newton
RANK: 15, Rating: 6

The game had a reasonably good plot, and a fairly rich setting. The only NPC was implemented well enough. The puzzles, while not especially challenging (hmmm... thinking back, maybe I was just lucky to make the right things on the right places), were passable. The ending was adequately climatic...

I think you've got my point by now: nothing extraordinary, but solidly made.

Journey from an Islet, Author: Mario Becroft
RANK: 14, Rating: 6, !

This entry impressed by a carefully implemented game world, lovely illustrations, and clever effects. The puzzles (as the author himself admitted in the accompanying README file) weren't very challenging, but some of them were beautiful, too. Some of the puzzles required searching items for no apparent reason. This certainly is a drawback; personally for me, however, it wasn't an issue at all, for I was lucky enough to do the right things on the right places. And yet - some people could get frustrated by this.

What the game lacked was a good plot, and a memorable player character; still, it was an enjoyable experience, and worked off every single point of its rather high rating.

Grayscale, Author: Daniel Freas
RANK: 13, Rating: 6

This game left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I liked the (very detailed) game world, parts of it just were beautiful; I always liked games where the objective wasn't obvious from the very start, and the player was encouraged to explore the game world to find it out. There was a lot of optional material in the game - another feature I liked.

The puzzles weren't very hard for the most part; if not for the two hours limit, I think I'd be able to solve the entire game without using the hints. Minor complaints: the descriptions, while really good, weren't always very exciting; to my taste, there were too many rooms that were just connections between other locations, without anything interesting to do; and there were several minor bugs - inappropriate responses for the most part.

On the other hand, I didn't like the ending. It didn't give me the feeling of everything sliding in place, all loose ends being tied up, etc. - in short, it wasn't the kind of ending I felt such a game needed; it was like a beautifully built house without a roof. I'd been thrown into a rather strange place (not even knowing why), had had to perform lots of actions to escape it - only to find out I'd been beta-testing something (this very game, as it seemed)... It was just anticlimatic. That's too bad: a better ending would gain this work a rating of at least 7.

Film at Eleven, Author: Bowen Greenwood
RANK: 12, Rating: 6, !

..It started so good - with a great player character, and a wonderfully cynical atmosphere (my only concern at this stage was, it reminded me of INTERSTATE ZERO so much I doubted it was pure coincidence). The characters probably weren't the most versatile ones, but thanks to the vivid descriptions, well-chosen and characteristic actions and responses, they seemed alive. The puzzles as such weren't very challenging or original, but they fitted into the plot so well, and were implemented so witty I enjoyed them a lot (e. g., the game featured, among others, your classical "bribe the guard to get past him" puzzle, but presented it with so much charm that, instead of feeling annoyed, I just laughed, and added another plus for the game). All in all, it really got me hooked, and I started seeing Pleasantville like a real place...

Then, at some point, it went downhill.

The characters began behaving like complete dummies. At one occasion, it was because of a puzzle you had got to solve by applying adventure game logic, rather than common sense, to it; on several other occasions, it just seemed like a lack of beta-testing. One way or another, the spell was broken, Cinderella's coach turned into a pumpkin, Plesantville - into a number of locations with not too rich settings, and its inhabitants - into plot advancing devices.

Half-heartedly, I made it to the (rather predictable) end of the story. (Admitted, I exaggerated a bit - just to make my point more clear). ..An after-thought: never mind Tracy Valencia from I-0, but why was Betty running around barefoot?

Best of Three, Author: Emily Short
RANK: 11, Rating: 6

I'm aware that I've probably rated this game lower than it deserves. Technically, it was done almost flawless, and very elaborate and elegant it was, too, and featured a player character one really could sympathize with. The writing met the highest standards. And yet... I had got to brood quite a while on why I didn't get too excited about this game, and I think I've found the answer.

The problem was, the game pretended to be what it wasn't: a conversation. Yes, there were lots of topics to choose from, and they were branching, and the reactions of the person you were talking to would be sensitive (well... at least, in most cases) to what you were saying... and yet, it felt somehow mechanical. One time, for instance, I kept being silent through the whole game, but my interlocutor didn't seem to mind - he just went on talking, never making a comment like "Have you grown mute, or what?" you'd expect from a real person. Also, sometimes I'd change the conversation topic rather abruptly, and the guy I was speaking with just switched to the new topic, never showing surprise about the sudden change. Eventually, inappropriate conversation options would show up (e. g., at one point, the PC could tell her interlocutor that she had twin brothers, although she had already told him so before). All in all, it felt more like a list of answers and reactions you had got to work through, rather than like a real conversation.

A technical complaint: I had got the impression that the THINK command shouldn't "cost" the player a turn; often, I found myself thinking about a thing that came up in the conversation - just to get some information the PC had but I hadn't got, and to make my choice in the conv menu based on this information; and when I was ready to talk about it, the conversation option this thing was relevant to would no longer be available.

Earth & Sky, Lee Kirby
RANK: 10, Rating: 6

I was very impressed by this game. Solid implementation, featuring many optional actions and responses to almost anything the player could think of, as well as a good story (well... to be more precise, good beginning of a story). Someone might say it was too much of a standard comic strip, but it didn't bother me at all.

What really bothered me, was the fact that this was just a trailer, not the full game; and of course, it ended abruptly at the point where things started becoming really interesting, in a most annoying way (but that's pretty much what trailers are for, isn't it?) If it was a Comp for trailers, I'd rate it higher; under existing circumstances, I only can rate it 6. But: I'm looking forward to playing the full game!

Moments Out of Time, L. Ross Raszewski
RANK: 9, Rating: 6, !!

First of all, I admired the quality and the level of detail of the background material, and of the equipment the PC needed for his mission - a "dive" to the past. (The rest of the setting, while adequately rich, wasn't as detailed - with several "You see nothing special about ..." descriptions, objects mentioned in the room descriptions you couldn't refer to, etc. Of course, implementing EVERYTHING as detailed would make the game AWFULLY big, considering there was rather much space to explore... thus, take the above said just as an observation, not as a complaint). The story was good, too, though the PC experienced it as a bystander, not as a direct participant. And yet, I didn't enjoy the game as much as I might have - because it reminded me of ... an exam! Yes, as it turned out, I had been sent to my mission, and had done all the exploring only to answer a few questions (some of which really seemed stupid to me, since my interrogator clearly knew the answers when she asked me) at the end. Even worse, I didn't think it was possible to pass this exam after only one "dive" - in the first place, because I didn't know what information I was expected to look for (ANY isn't a particularly useful answer, is it? And that's pretty much what my mission description suggested). However, within the two hours limit, there hardly was time to perform another "dive" (not to mention the fact it was against the game logic). Though I was excited enough to do a few more "dives" in the past-judging period (and was rewarded with an interesting story), it didn't change my attitude towards this game in general.

Here are several more complaints (including those from the post-judging period):

In short: a very interesting concept, but not without flaws.

Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country, Author: One of the Bruces
RANK: 8, Rating: 6 I haven't played the original Stiffy Makane game, nor its MSTK version, but I agree that this one was an excellently done parody, though I can't say I've been laughing all the way while playing it. To my taste, it was a bit too self-advertising, and the opening section with answering a long sequence of questions, while amusing for the first time, annoyed me slightly when I restarted the game; it'd be nice if there was a way to turn it off. Also, I'm not sure whether it really WAS necessary to write such a parody after the game had already had its MSTK treatment...

The Gostak, Author: Carl Muckenhoupt
RANK: 7, Rating: 6, !

Technically, the game was excellent. I can imagine what terrible amount of work it must have been to practically invent a new language, and to maintain consistency throughout the game. The puzzles mostly boiled down to finding the correct phrasing for an action; nevertheless, they were good. The hint system was very good, too - with some general introduction on how to play IF using the language the game author created.

However, the game depended on its main gimmick, the new language, too much. Once I got used to it, there wasn't much more to it. And I couldn't identify with the player character very well, because I still have got no idea what a gostak is. That's why I didn't rate the game higher.

Since I'm from Russia, one thing was especially entertaining: namely, the use of "BAL" and "DA" instead of yes/no; in the Russian language, "BALDA" has two meanings: 1. blockhead, and 2. a word game. I wonder whether it was pure coincidence.

..And some nitpicking: when the user saves a game state, and is about to overwrite an existing file while doing so, the game requires the traditional yes/no confirmation, rather than bal/da. I'm only pointing this out because in every other respect regarding consistence, the game (or should I say "halpock"?) seemed to be perfect.

Triune, Author: Papillon
RANK: 6, Rating: 6

This entry had got most of the stuff for an excellent game. The plot, while it had a few stretching points, and sometimes required random "exploring for the sake of exploring", was solid and consistent, non-linear and with multiple endings. Maybe it was predictable for the most part, but still, it managed to get me hooked, and I could sympathize with the player character. But most of all, I liked the writing. Gosh, I wished I'd be able to write this way myself! It was sheer pleasure just to read the descriptions; they alone made the game worth playing for me.

However, the game doesn't quite make the distance between a good game and a GREAT game. The reason? Well, look at the following descriptions, and responses:

These trees must have stood for centuries. Their trunks are so thick around that you could carve out a comfortable home inside them and not cause the whole to topple. Thick, strong roots form natural seats above the ground before vanishing into the earth. A latticework of leaves and branches filter sunlight from above, casting gently dappled patterns on the ground below. The forest is passable to the north and east, and a shining lake lies to the southwest.

>x trees
I don't see any trees here.

A Damp Cave
This area is not so much a cave as a tiny alcove in the rock face. There is enough room to stand or sit on the water-slicked stone, but it would not be comfortable for long. Falling water obscures your view to the south.

>drink water
The falling water doesn't appear appetizing.

And so on, and so on. I had the impression the author just went through the list of the objects, only filling in the (admitted, wonderful) descriptions, and the absolute minimum of actions needed to complete the game. Other responses didn't seem to be implemented at all. I can't think of a single time an object in the game reacted in a entertaining or ... ehm... "non-standard" way. The same (with only a few minor exceptions) goes for the NPCs. I don't know why the author did it this way; but I'm almost sure that's not because she wasn't good enough at programming, because the game featured a couple of effects only quite a skilled programmer could have implemented. And that's a pity, because the game as such is really just a stone's throw away from being a brilliant work, and deserves a higher rating. Too bad the author didn't make this last effort to "throw the stone".

Heroes, Author: Sean Barrett
RANK: 5, Rating: 7

Yes, I noticed the flaws of this game: the game world wasn't too detailed, NPCs weren't anything special, doing things unexpected by the game author often broke the mimesis, and due to a bug, one episode could be solved in a way the author clearly hadn't thought of. Nevertheless, it was a great game. The idea of several characters experiencing the same things and story in different ways was very appealing. The plot was adequate, too. I won't say anything else in order not to give away too much; let's just repeat - it's a wonderful game.

Fusillade, Author: Mike Duncan
RANK: 4, Rating: 7, !

This game felt much like a mosaic, since it consisted of a large number of short stories, essentially unrelated to each other. Luckily, the author found a way to more or less tie them together, which worked (at least, for me). The single episodes making up the game were very well-written and atmospheric; the whole reminded me somewhat of Jigsaw, but with a wider range of settings, including both historical and fictional ones, and without a "central place". Also, there were practically no puzzles - the player was told what to do next for the most part, so that it was more like reading a book than like playing traditional IF. This might be an advantage for some people and a drawback for others; for me, it was just a feature of the game. There were some other improvements I could think of - e. g., it might have been better to include some kind of intro for the game, rather than to throw the player directly into a bizarre set of worlds; the cutscenes the author intended to include (according to his own words) might have given the game a tighter feel; and there were several minor technical flaws. All in all, this work wasn't perfect; but it was great.

No Time to Squeal, Authors: Mike Sousa, Robb Sherwin
RANK: 3, Rating: 8

This one was just great! I liked the idea of several episodes with different PCs combined in one game, and the story itself appealed to me, too. There were some minor bugs (like being able to lie down on the ground without leaving the chair you're sitting on, etc.), but honestly, I'd be a nitpicker if I focused on them! The plot, atmosphere, and the increase of tension towards the end of the game made me play it at one draught, I found myself unable to leave the computer till I finished it. There weren't any puzzles worth speaking of (except for the last episode), but it didn't concern me in the slightest way.

Then, why didn't I rate it a ten? Well, let me explain myself. (I'm aware that I'm getting pretty subjective here, and a person with different preferences might find my argumentation ridiculous, but there we go).

Complaint 1: Mimesis
If you have a game where the player is more or less supposed to follow the plot without major deviations, there are basically two ways to make him doing so:

Complaint 2: Loose ends in the plot
The story behind the game hinted at at least two plot branches, which, however, turned out to be completely irrelevant to the main plot, and ended nowhere. Moreover, they resulted in rather extensive interludes that essentially were garbage - neither did they provide any background, nor where they especially entertaining. In particular, the large opening section could be removed easily, and it wouldn't harm the game at all. It looked like the authors either didn't have the time to implement those plot branches properly, or (which seems even more likely) implemented them as placeholders in the hope they'd have a clever idea about what to do with them some time, but this idea never came up. One way or another, to me, it didn't look good in the game.

Complaint 3: Technical issues The game just refused to start under HTML TADS. No error message, nothing; just a prompt saying "Press any key to exit", and then it was over. Thus, I'd got to play it from under the DOS window. (By the way, the status line in DOS mode kept showing Me.display instead of (presumingly) the name of the current player character in all episodes). Maybe I just had got a configuration problem on my computer (though I don't think so), but anyway, it WAS an issue.

Still, in spite of this (rather minor) complaints, NTTS (and I'm glad to say that again!) remains a really great game.

All Roads, Author: Jon Ingold
RANK: 2, Rating: 9

The game was wonderful in each and every respect. A breathtaking plot, as twisty as the alleys of Venice, which was the scene of action in this entry; a setting, which was both rich and described carefully, yet not overloaded with details - important items stood out clearly enough, so that the player wouldn't miss them; realistic NPCs - in short, it was a masterpiece. I'd reveal too much if I said more now; however, I'd like to point out another feature of the game that delighted me - it wasn't too strict about the phrasing of the commands, so that there always were many ways to formulate your request, and mimesis wasn't an issue. Really, the game didn't seem to have any faults at all!

Vicious Cycles, Author: Simon Mark
RANK: 1, Rating: 10, !

This game hadn't got the best plot in the Comp; it didn't feature the best descriptions; and the game with the best puzzles it wasn't either. Still, it was the game that won my heart in this Comp. Let me explain, why.

The plot: the coolest thing about the plot was the way it has been presented to the player: namely, little by little, as the game progressed. In other words, the further the player advanced in the game, the better he knew what was going on. This way, the game kept me excited all the time I was playing it.

The setting: at first glance, it didn't seem too rich. And yet, as I played, I found out there was a response for every object present in the descriptions, and pretty much for every action I could think of. What thrilled me even more, were the details in the descriptions: they weren't hurled at the player immediately, but once you paid attention to them, they could add quite a bit to the atmosphere in the game (for instance, I'm thinking of the logos on the hands of the children in the train...) Exactly the way I like!

The puzzles: that's been the aspect where the game was really innovative (at least, I'd never seen something like this before). It's difficult to discuss them without giving away too much; let's just say - the author managed to create a "die to find out the solution" puzzle in such a way no one would ever blame him for bad puzzle-designing style.

..And finally, a few words about the ending: there weren't any "You have won" messages, nothing; in some other game, I'd say it was anticlimatic; here, however, it only seemed to me as a proof of the author's excellent taste and sense for the game: ANY words would seem out of place there; they'd just devoid the player of thoughts and conclusions he had got to do himself.

This article copyright © 2001, Valentine Kopteltsev

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