Posted 16 November 2001 to rec.games.int-fiction
Hey there, folks... Scott Starkey here. This is the first time I've published reviews in an open forum. Please bear with me.
When I started writing reviews, I had the noble intention of playing all of the games for 10 minutes, and then writing my list of "10-Minute Reviews". After all, there is much that can be told about a game by the first 10 minutes of it.
Unfortunately, I was not able to complete all of the games, but I tried, I really did. I admire those who had the fortitude to get through them all, and play them for up to two hours each.
That being said, there may be games in here that have a great first 10 minutes, but later fell completely apart. Likewise, some sleepers with great development later might have been missed by the system. By no means is my way scientific.
One thing I noticed about myself: I hate giving a bad review. Perhaps it's my empathy as a game-writer coming through, but writing bad reviews pained me. If you get a bad review from me, please do not take it personally. I know where you're coming from, I really do. Keep on working, and you'll get better. It's not like these values are really worth much, since I entered the comp this year with The Beetmonger's Journal, and could not vote.
There have been some people that have said that this year's crop of games is of somewhat lower quality than in past years. Let's just say that this reviewer didn't think so. Contrarily, I think there are some real gems here, and generally I liked things better than I had in past years. Of course, I only played the first 10 minutes of each. Perhaps if I devoted two hours to each one, I'd be cynical, too. But I hope not.
Anyway, here is my numerical list, from top to bottom:10+ Earth and Sky
10 Moments out of Time
10- No Time to Squeal
9+ The Coast House
9 Film at Eleven
9- All Roads
8 Best of Three
7 Vicious Cycles
7 Prized Possession
7- Fine Tuned
6+ Stick it to the Man
6 You Are Here
6 Bane of the Builders
6 Night Guest
6- To Otherwhere and Back
5+ The Chasing
5 Love Song
5 The Isolato Incident
5- Stiffy Makane: TUC
5- Silicon Castles
4 The Evil Sorceror
4 The Cave of Morpheus
4 Shattered Memory
3+ Shroedinger's Cat
3 Volcano Isle
2- Invasion of the Angora...
1 The Last Just Cause
1 You Were Doomed...
So without further ado, here are the games in the order that I played them...
Shattered Memory: by Akbarr
Shattered memory starts out in a dreamlike state with no memory of the protagonist's life (hey, how convenient!) with the goal of stitching his memories back together.
So, from what I can tell, we've got a surreal romp through dreamland. Unfortunately, I was not able to get out of the first room, nor figure out the purpose of the first room. I did stitch back a couple of memories, but became frustrated by the unhelpfulness of the first PC that I encountered, and the starkness of the scene.
It seemed like there was a verb there in that first room I was supposed to guess.
This could be a promising game, I'm not sure. It seemed like the memory- weaving idea had some potential. However, the interactions with NPCs seemed like it could be cumbersome. NPC's understand menu-type commands, but ASK/TELL... ABOUT... is also implemented. I would suggest: Choose one or the other and do it well. There is no reason to separate it - to do otherwise is confusing for the player.
Carma by The Wanna-be Writer
Well, this one I'll want to go back an play some more, to be sure. You play the role of a wanna-be writer, on the sore side of a disgruntled anthropomorphic comma. Damn, it's weird, but fun. Having never played a Glulx game before, I was impressed with what it could do.
I had some problems getting out of the first room, and here's why. The author kindly put the words to ask about in Boldface type. Unfortunately, not being the sharpest crayon in the pack, I didn't notice this as "something to ask about" but rather just thrown in for emphasis. The first time I ran this, I asked about a myriad of things, and wound up getting frustrated. I had asked the snarly punctuation point about a particular word, when he was actually looking for the plural of that word to advance the story. A synonym would have been nice, there.
To exasperate the problem, once you ask a character about something, they remember, just like real life. I found myself running into brick walls of "I've already told you about that." What's good for realism is sometimes bad for playability.
Perhaps it might have been more appropriate for the character to belittle the protagonist, but also give the info needed.
I ran out of time right after getting past the first disgruntled comma, but definitely this will be one that I want to go back and check out. It's got that kind of loony fantastic charm that I like.
Prized Possession by Kathleen M. Fischer
This one has several great things going for it: a complex story-line, a rich environment, and a polished command for language. I have a feeling that this might be one of the fore-runners this year. The game seethes in the pathos of twelfth century Europe, with evil knights burning villages, and grim, dirty mayhem.
I did find the game somewhat disorienting, trying to find my raison d'etre. Who was I, and what was my place in the world? While I played, I always had someplace to go, but I never really understood why I was doing it. Perhaps that would have been answered later in the story. However, I wanted to know more, and I wish the game would have told me more readily. Because I couldn't ground myself to the character more fully, I rated it a bit lower than what I might have otherwise.
There seemed to be a couple of stringent time-based puzzles early on in the game, and those ended the game prematurely for me. I craved more information about this world, but that curiosity was penalized. In addition, I would have liked an alternate solution for the first puzzle. Something I did early-on seemed like it should be valid solution but was not recognized. Admitedly, I had to use the walkthrough to get nudged past the first couple of puzzles. Obviously, the author and I don't think the same way!
Stranded by Rich Cummings
The premise of this game is you play a special agent whose plane goes down over the ocean.
Fortunately, you are washed up on a small swampy island filled with danger and INSTANT DEATH. If you play this one, be prepared to hug close to the alkthrough or lean on your good pals SAVE, RESTORE, and UNDO.
At first, I was rather impressed with the area descriptions of the island. However, I got to the point where they seemed to be a little bit repetative. Also, the author chose to put actions in the room descriptions, so every time one LOOKs around, a "couple of water moccasins dart across your path," or some-such.
In addition to the few minor typos hither and yon, I was rather annoyed by the "instant death" locations scattered about the island. I would have rather thought that the "number-one agent" would have been better able to handle the dangers of the swamp, or a simple undertow, but I guess not. In my struggles to escape the quicksand (of which I found several spots) I could never escape it. Me, the player knows how, but how does that translate to the game? You can't swim out. You can fiddle around for a long time, but if you leave the area, you die. Amusingly, you can LIE DOWN ON and SIT ON the quicksand, but darned if I found a way out other than UNDO. Frustratingly, there's no signs or mention of "quicksand ahead" or anything. You find it by stumbling upon it, and dying.
I also found a rope, which any IF author must know is a scary thought. Unfortunately, it never quite did what I wanted it to. I couldn't attach it to something, and then pull the rope, for example. If I ever grabbed it, I untied it from whatever it was previously attached to.
Surreal by Matthew Lowe
Although I didn't find the game all-too surreal, this did seem to be an old-school type adventure, reminiscent of Scott Adams games. Puzzle components and lost glowing treasures were found just lying around.
The home-grown parser had a few holes and quirks, which was to be expected by a do-it-all-yourself text adventure system. For example, an inanimate river "...cleverly resists your touch." That's one clever river! TADS and Inform have years of playtesting under their belts. This is why authors making their own parser are swimming up-river.
Yet, the game had charm. The readme files states that the game was written by a 14-year-old. Dang, I wish I had half that talent when I was 14.
Bane of the Builders by Bogden Baliuc
Bane of the Builders by Bogden Baliuc, aside from being a clever tongue-twister, turns out to be a pretty good game, judging by the first ten minutes. It's a generic Star Trek-like space romp, where you play the role of an ensign who must find the Professor (not just *any* professor) in a creepy alien compound. Fortunately, the aliens ignored me as if I did not exist, but I assumed this was a design decision.
Aside from a couple of synonym errors, or items described in a room description but never formally created, I found no obvious, glaring errors. The game allows the player to put their own name into the story, which I found amusing.
At times, the game (even inside the compound supposedly sprawling with aliens) seemed a little stark.. Aliens didn't seem to do much. The writing is certainly adequate, and without errors, but it lacked a little pizzazz. Many descriptions are prefaced with the common "You see a", a phrase which is past its prime. This does lend an "old-school" feel to it. Will I come back to the game? Maybe. There might be something great just beyond.
Goofy by Ricardo Dague
What do you get when you combine sophomoric humor with a home-grown Java parser without SAVE/RESTORE and other niceties? You get Goofy, which never elevates itself beyond its title. Most of the objects and rooms have very terse descriptions. Room "desciptions" are like "Exits are west and north." On the good side, I was not able to find any bugs or spelling mistakes, per se. Of course, there was not a lot to misspell.
My advice to Ricardo: Put a little more heart into it. This is interactive FICTION. I want a story, not directions to travel.
Kallisti by James A. Mitchlehill
How does one rate a game which is well-executed rendering of a protagonist character which I dispised? Kalliisti puts you in the third-person omniscient perspective of a stalker, preying upon a female fellow office-worker after hours. I'll have to admit, the first few minutes of the game disturbed me somewhat. I didn't want to be this guy, nor get into his mindset. It bothers me a little in ordinary fiction, but IF even moreso, with the player's necessary strong attachment to the character.
Much of the opening of the game seemed to be a maze of ASK/TELL.. ABOUT.. which I wish was a little more interconnected. I spent most of my time guessing topics that the female would be interested in talking about, getting only a small percentage of hits. Maybe I don't have the proper "stalker" mindset. Without a walkthrough, I was never able to get past the first scene.
I would have to say the game had good characterization, spelling, and a cohesive style. But unfortunately, that didn't make up for my being uncomfortable with the situation, so I will mark it down accordingly.
Moments out of time by L. Ross Laszewski
Hoo-boy. I knew a good one would come along and blow me away. I'll definately say this is one I'll go back to. You play an agent going back in time to record information about the past. In this way, it rather reminds me of A Mind Forever Voyaging.
The writing and ambiance seems top-notch. My only negative aspect I can come up with (and this is stretching it) is the overwhelming amount of stuff that you have to deal with at the beginning of the game. The game basically gives you 15 gadgets to take with you on your mission, which you must whittle down to about 6. I assume that choosing different items will allow you different skills later in the story. But how is a player to choose starting equipment without any other information to go on? It was somewhat overwhelming, and a lot of reading to "get to the good part."
This is not the sort of game that one should expect to play in ten minutes or less. Far from it. Heck, the game comes with a 17-page on-line manual, and most of the gadgets come with directions, too. Despite the overwhelming feeling of brain overload, games like this make me excited about the contest.
The Chasing by Anssi Raisanen
The Chasing puts you in the role of an upper class gentleman who awakens one morning to find he has lost seven of his favorite horses. He sets out about town and country looking for the naughty beasts. The style seems written in a high-society style that I could never quite identify with.
I would have preferred if the landscape was a little more condensed. Locations seemed to be a little bit stark and empty. Why bother coding a location unless you will use it to pull the character into the story? I never really felt that pull. The NPCs seemed to be a little bit obtuse. The underpinnings of the system seemed to be a little bit flawed as well; when you put on clothes, for instance, it says you wear them, but it removes them from your inventory. That's rather bewildering. I found a couple more errors of similar magnitude. I encountered at least one guess-the-verb problem.
Schroedinger's Cat by James Wilson
Hoo-boy. Here we take the Schroedinger's Cat dilemma to somewhat of an IF form. Which was, if you put a cat into a box with a device that has a chance of killing it every moment, and cannot see the cat, is it dead or alive? From what I understand, logically, it is both dead and alive, until you open the box and< verify one way or the other.
So, this work presents itself as a minimalist "play with the widgets" exercise. Granted, it's interactive, but there's not much fiction here. You get a couple of living cats, a few boxes for killing aforementioned felines, a few boxes for bringing them back to life, and a camera for recording this for posterity. The minimalism left me wanting more. Other than the joy of killing cats, where is the fun? :-)
I did find something that seemed like it may be a bug. When I put a cat in a box, a cat reappeared in the starting room. This confused me, because it seemed to be the same cat I put in the box. Of course, it could have been part of the logical world, and I hadn't just figured it out yet.
Another thing that irritated me, unfortunately. When one opens a box, the game doesn't tell you what's in the box. Also, the contents of a box are not revealed by an >EXAMINE BOX. Only >LOOK IN BOX will tell you what's in the blasted thing. If I examine a box or open it, should the game tell you what's inside, for the sake of those poor folks out here with repetative stress disorder? Hey, I think so.
The Gostak by Carl Muckenhoupt
For a word- and language-lover like myself, games like this are a real treat. Do you remember that old Twilight Zone episode where a man woke up, and every word in the language meant something else, and he had to relearn language? Well, you can experience some of that joy yourself with this game.
Gostak is presented entirely in an alternative language to English. Part of the "game" is figuring out the verbs and nouns to play the game. GET, INVENTORY, and every other word for that matter is replaced by an alternative nonsense word.
Take notes on every action the NPCs do, and eventually, you'll find that the nonsense starts to make a bit of sense, which is when things became fun for me.
I assisted with the playtesting of this game, and suggested the HELP file, totally in the language of the game. Heh, heh. :-) Since I playtested, I will not rate this one.
Fine-Tuned by "Dionysius Porcupine"
Fine Tuned features a Victorian Era daredevil and his automobile. The tone seemed light, and caused me to laugh a couple of times.
I did not find any bugs, however, I did take a couple of issues. Getting in and driving your car, though a bit humorous, is also tedious and pedantic. I also played a little game of guess-the-verb trying to assist a man that was hurt.
I was just wondering: Is this game so big as to justify being a .z8?!
Silicon Castles by Jack Maet
Okay, I've got two things to admit. Number 1, I'm a chess nut. Number 2, I played this game beyond the ten minutes that I said I would. Once you get into this game, it is essentially a chess simulation developed in Z-machine. It seems to have a pretty good chess engine behind it. It seemed to handle my oddball style as well as most do, which is pretty well.
Unfortunately, due to the all-text interface, it is a little bit clunky. Also, unfortunately, there isn't much fiction here. How in the heck do I castle? So, although I hate to mark it down, I feel I must.
A Night Guest by Dr. Inkalot
Chuckle... an IF game told in baudy verse, reminding me of somewhat of a bad Oscar Wilde poem. Most of it is indeed in ABAB rhyming form (if you stretch a word or two) which is really quite fun and impressive. The poetry itself isn't all that good, but it's fun and good for a laugh or two.
The commands one needs to win the game are somewhat obtuse at best. I could rarely figure out what to do when, but fortunately the online help is very handy. It was a short work, and I was able to complete it in the 10-minute alotment. I think that any more would drive a reader a bit bonkers, however.
Invasion of the Angora... by Morten Rasmussen
Well, as typical with the home-grown parsers, this one leaves a lot to be desired. Simple commands that I'm used to seem to not be present (like ASK..ABOUT..).
The game is reminiscient of a mud, with basically non-intelligent NPCs wandering around doing random stuff. If you turn on "social mode" they'll even repeatedly pick their nose and stand around doing nothing. All of this happens in "real time," so by the time you type a character's name to interact with them, it's likely they will be gone. Also, I would not recommend "social mode," because all of the nose-picking and staring off into space in real time really drove me nuts.
Also, like a mud, you can get involved in life-or-death struggles for seemingly no reason. Bored, I attacked a mime and was forced to kill him. Fortunately, on-lookers ignored the combat, and more importantly, the corpse. I lost a handful of hit-points in the struggle, but I felt it was worth it.
No Time to Squeal by Michael J. Sousa and Robb Sherwin
What a good and emotionally moving story. The player acts the role of different characters in a story of a sport's agent, his pregnant wife, and the psychotic superstar which the agent represents.
The story moves along briskly but well. The game is interesting that it uses many unusual commands getting through the story, but everything seemed to make sense, and the game took everything I threw at it in good stride. There might have been only one case that I was confused about what to do next, which was resolved in short order.
There are some minor grotesque issues with this game, especially the opening, but that is forgiven because of the fun gameplay and interesting storyline that follows.
2112 by George K. George
For being a homegrown parser, this is the best one that I've had so far. The environment, though not perfect, is by far the best I've had so far, making it almost unintrusive to the rest of the story. Yet, there seem to be some disambiguation issues, and simple commands (like Z for WAIT) are missing.
That aside, the game seemed to work pretty well. I found a couple of minor bugs, but nothing to write home about. The plot seemed to move along somewhat slowly at first, but once it got started it seemed okay. It's a sci-fi story, where a student goes on a field trip to Mars, but gets caught up in a mystery of a friend's missing father. Good stuff there.
Timeout by Stephen Hilderbrand
Timeout steals its setting from WestEndGames' Paranoia RPG. An insane computer enlists Troubleshooters (read: disposable people) to do its insane machinations. Little imbroglios are all considered treason, and the penalty for treason is death. Fortunately, you get 6 clones to finish the game.
The background is fun, but borrowed. I always love a good game of Paranoia, however. Unfortunately, I found myself confused about what to do or where to go. Perhaps that is a little like the way a Paranoia game should be. I found myself unsure of where to go, even though I was ordered to go someplace. Deathtraps are around every corner... but hey, that's the point.
So it was wacky, very tongue in cheek, but probably a whole lot more fun
for the designer than the player (as I've found Paranoia to be.) I found myself somewhat frustrated with this one.
Fusillade by Mike Duncan
This seems to be a collection of (as-yet) unrelated vignettes, leaping from scene to scene through history. Some events are of famous people, like Dolly Madison or Jimi Hendrix, yet some I didn't recognize. I did not find how the scenes were interrelated.
The scenes cut a little abruptly for my taste. When that happened, I had a hard time identifying with my new character. I had no idea if I was male, female, or what *role* I was supposed to play. I didn't feel like I had a good sense of direction when I was thrust into a scene. I know that's difficult, but it's essential when working with multiple characters. "No Time to Squeal" did an excellent job during character transitional states, and gave me the name of the character in the corner to boot.
The game uses a stripped-down verb-set. In fact, direction is abandoned altogether, but not without a minor problem. Trying to go >OUT of an area will give you a rather nasty TADS error. Otherwise, the work was error-free, as far as I could tell.
Triune by Papillon
A girl avoids pursuit of her murderous father and finds herself in a fantasy allegorical world of unicorns, gypsies, and castles. The avoiding- the-father part at the beginning is truly terrifying, but the puzzle to escape is not too hard.
The fantasy world afterwards seemed to be a bit of a sprawl, but was arranged logically. The story never really grabbed me, however, after the initial scare. Objects and scenery seemed a little bit bland. There were some NPCs that I could not seem to interact with, much. The hypertext compass-directions were a nice touch, however.
The Isolato Incident by Alan deNiro
I admit being bewildered by this story told in the "royal We" perspective. Usually I'm one to champion new points-of-view into the tired old, 2nd- person POV, but this didn't seem to work as well as I would have liked. There is something about "we" that doesn't seem to work very well when doing mundane things like "sit on throne".
The landscape is sparse and dreamlike, as the narrator carries us through the surreal story. The narrator frequently interrupts the story and makes asides, but this distracted me from comprehending an already dizzying plot.
But, the author states that this is his first work of Interactive Fiction, and promises more to come. I look forward to it!
Colours by [no name listed]
A tortuous romp through a wild collection of surreal rooms, each occupied by a different archetypal NPC. It seems to be a puzzle romp, devoid of plot. In fact, you are dropped into the first room without an introduction as to why you are here. Unfortunately, there are directions described in rooms which don't exist, making it even tougher than necessary. In my short time playing I was annoyed by a bevy of other little bugs.
The Coast House by Stephen Newton and Dan Newton
What a refreshing entry! This story concerns a mystery concerning the protagonist's grandparents at their old abandoned house and the surrounding lands. I found myself sucked into the story, wanting to go on beyond 10 minutes. I'll definately play this one in the future.
Probably the best thing about this game is its setting seemed very real. The authors did an excellent job of describing the scenes, causing me to remember fondly my own grandparents' houses. Excellent effort here, and well-crafted.
Volcano Isle by Paul DeWitt
Volcano Isle is another Zork-like throwback, reminding me of those "classic" Adventureland-like days on my old Apple ][. It features limits on both items and weight, but fortunately allows one to store much everything in a bottle found on the beach, getting around the item limit. Entering the island's jungle switches the background of the screen to dark green, however the black-on-dark green color scheme is nigh unreadable. Most of the descriptions of places and things are pretty sparse.
Often during the game, my protaganist was taken over by vivid visions, repeated over and over again, presumably premonitions of my future adventure. They happened often enough, and repeated themselves several times, that I started to find them pretty annoying. (Okay, one hallucination is okay; when they start happening every turn I start to lose my train of thought!)
Heroes by Sean Barrett
Heroes outdoes my entry by 150%. That is, to say, instead of 2 parallel plot lines, there are 5. Somehow, the author wove 5 plotlines together into one story. Indeed, it's impossible to "win" (according to the author) unless you've played through all five plotlines. At the beginning of the story you are invited to choose between 5 archetypes to start the story, but may switch between them at any time.
I played through as the thief, and was quite entertained. It was reminiscent of the Looking-Glass Studios game Thief in text adventure form, and seemed to work very well. I'll be interested in playing the other archetypes later, for sure.
So, there seem to be enough bells and whistles here for 5 games. It boggles my mind how the author kept track of it all, and thus, high marks.
Jump by Chris Mudd
Teen angst, suicide, and kids with guns, and some naughty language make the "Adult Content" warning appropriate, here. Unfortunately, those issues are not really my cup of tea. The writing was not particularly bad by any means. I found a few programming snafu's: objects referred to in descriptions not being found, or a locker that UNLOCK LOCKER would not redirect automagically to the key.
Communication is done by TALK TO CHARACTER repeatedly until you've milked them for all of their information. I'm not sure why the author chose to drag it out through several steps, when all of the information could have been given in one.
The thought of kids with guns is an issue that scares me a little. I hope this game has a socially responsible ending, but by the tone that was set early on, I fear the worst.
The Evil Sorceror by Gren Remoz
Unfortunately, when I played this game, my machine was under some sort of bad mojo. My zip interpreter totally locked up my machine. At the time, I blamed the game. (Perhaps because it was the only IF game I'd ever played with a disclaimer against computer damage.) In any case, now I'm not totally sure it was the fault of the game, but couldn't get over the fact that my computer crashed twice while playing it. Sorry.
However, I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt. It might have been an honest mistake and not malicious intent. That being said, I didn't play very much of this game. Had I gotten farther, I might have been annoyed by the many objects and the small inventory limit. What I played seemed to be an inventory management nightmare. The prose wasn't Rybread-bad, but didn't want to make me risk crashing my machine a third time. I'm sorry for not having played more.
The Cave of Morpheus by Mark Silcox
Surreal and mired in bathroom humor, tCoM was not exactly what I was expecting. The dreamlike switching gears of plot only confused me and put me ill at ease. Perhaps that was its point. I wanted direction, and it didn't give that to me. It seemed like there was a severe time-limitation in the first story, that I didn't manage to escape.
I don't think all of these problems were the total fault of the author. I don't think the ADRIFT system is quite as robust as TADS or Inform. Common commands seemed to be beyond the capacity for the parser to understand. Ah, well...
You Were Doomed from the Start! by Noob
I knew I was saving that 1 for something! Doomed was probably a good programming exercise for the author, but does not work as an adventure.
First, throw your standard verb set out the window, and don't use direct objects. Instead of the intuitive TAKE or GET to pick something up, the parser forces you to use the "word" PICKUP KEY.
Oh, yeah, there are KEYS to PICKUP all right. Every room (numbered for your mapping convenience) that I found had a key in it. If the game had a transcript command in it (which it does not) the commands would have looked like this:
I'm sorry if this review and rating come across as harsh, but I think the author would have better luck using TADS or Inform, and not reinventing the wheel, and then consider story over inventory.
You Are Here by Roy Fisher
You Are Here is a simulation of a Multi-User Dungeon (a MUD) and seems to do a pretty good job of capturing the feel of MUDs. Other characters (though not very smart) invite you on quests with them, and it's pretty easy get started hacking and slashing your way into the game.
Unfortunately, I found a few bugs. My companion died early on from the trauma of a Hydra, but his voice lingered around, giving me advice. Also, even though I chose a female personna for the game, the game still treated me as though I was male.
Not a bad effort, and interesting, if you're into the MUD scene.
To Otherwhere and Back by Gregory Ewing
The author of To Otherwhere and Back suggests that playing without the walkthrough would be nigh-implossible, and after a few moves, I believed him. After playing with the help of the walkthrough, I still had problems (mainly because of the unusual format the walkthrough came in.) Also, certain words of vocabulary only seem to be present at certain times of the story. No going out of order, here!
The adventure allows you to play the part of a lonely programmer. However, every move seems to be a "Guess what to do next". There's not a lot to do here, and only one obscure thing will move the story along.
There was good stuff, though. Playing the part of a programmer, I came across a bug, which I'd like to nominate for the "Most Amusing Bug Award". I think it's unintential, but I ask the author to leave it in!
"test"? I don't know that word.
Tee-hee-heee... It still cracks me up! This won a point or two right here!
Love Song by Mihalis Georgostathis
A young man must write a song for his sweetie or be shunned. Thus is the stuff of young teen angst. It might have been a passable game except for the errors that Quest seems to impose.
Again, I kept running into mimesis-breaks with verb problems. I'll forgive the author somewhat, because English is not his native language, but around every corner there was a misspelling or a grammatical error that started to bug me. There were other weird things, too: When you carry a tune, you physically have it in your inventory. Huh?
Crusade by John Gorenfeld
Crusade is a religious and political parody, taking place during the (duh!) Crusades. A careful reader might be concerned that this topic might be in poor taste, when considering current political events, and you'd be right. However, Crusade danced in the gray area between offensive and inoffensive, and made me laugh out loud.
I did get stuck in the game, early on. Though I'm not usually dense with IF, darned if I could go on past the puzzles of the second room. Perhaps I missed something. Without the benefit of a walkthrough, I was stuck. Perhaps after a walkthrough is published, this could be worth revisiting.
Vicious Cycles by Simon Mark
Vicious Cycles seems to be another surreal tapestry of dreams, but this seems to be of higher quality than some I've played. It seemed like, despite the fractured nature of the story, the plot was actually going someplace, and a mystery was being revealed.
However, sometimes, it seemed like I was being carried along for the ride, and had little to do with the story other than to be a passive observer. The very first few hints provided didn't mentioned things I hadn't seen yet.
The problem with these kind of stories is, the author has to give a sense of place and characterization in a short amount of time. This story didn't quite pull it off as well as Moments out of Time, and I was often left with "Okay, who am I now?" questions. I need to know who I am before I can establish goals. If I can't establish goals, I feel no sense of direction, and I'm lost. Don't get me wrong-- there's good stuff here, and I'm anxious to see what else the author will put out in the future.
Elements by John Evans
Elements starts out with a strange barrage of questions, and then drops the protaganist in a surreal otherworld based on the four elements. The story and setting are odd and surreal, and don't seem to mesh together totally well for my tastes. Rooms seem pretty bland and Zork-like: Earth Room, Fire Room, etc.
I found a few bugs, like an item that can be worn when it's in another object. Also, I found several items called "scrap of paper", but the parser was unable to distinguish between them all.
Stick It to the Man by H. Joshua Field
This story revolves around a bunch of anarchists going to a anarchist rally, and relies heavily on intricate conversation menus between the protagonists roommates and other people she meets. It is evident the amount of work that went into this piece. NPC's seem to move with a mind of their own, and you can strike up fairly realistic conversations with them, which was nice.
I did find a few bugs in the conversation tree, however. In one instance, a PC kept repeating the introductory hellos as if I met them for the first time.
I have to admit, I did finish the game in the 10 minute period, and it seemed as if it was rather abrupt. I don't believe I achieved the "optimal ending," but who knows. With the amount of branching and NPC behavior that had to be accounted for, I'm not surprised that the story seemed to end early, but it left me feeling like something was missing.
Film at Eleven by Bowen Greenwood
NPC interaction is where this story really shines! Film at Eleven is about a television news personality in a podunk American town, trying to get the big news story of the year, the mayor's extra-marital affair with an intern.
The story is a little hokey, the characters are a bit stereotyped, but it's certainly well-written. The prose seems very polished, and the environment has many details, lending me to believe this is a real place. Some of the scripts (especially Rachel's) seems to not have a lot of variety, however.
The story (at least the first few minutes) reminds me of Infocom quality game, as far as humor level, a-ha value, and difficulty of the puzzles. Excellent effort!
Best Of Three by Emily Short
Best of Three is another work based almost entirely on conversation menus, and carried off really well.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a good grasp of who I was early in the work, but perhaps after playing more that would be cleared up. It was just starting to make more sense as the time expired.
After a few entries coming in using convo-menus, I have to wonder if I like this style. I'll have to say that the jury is still out. Conversation menus allow for *very* rich conversation, but I get lazy and just click and click. I feel like sometimes, my possibilities are too limited. I know this game allowed me to do other things besides the conversations (well done!) but if there's something to click on--then by golly--I've gotta click it!
Earth and Sky by Lee Kirby
There's nothing like a good superhero story to tickle my funny bone and get me excited. Earth and Sky does honor to the super hero genre, while somehow avoiding being hokey or hackneyed. (That's a herculean feat of itself!)
Here is another game that uses conversation menus to a certain extent, and I didn't mind at all. I was like a kid in a candy factory, testing out my powers. The bottom line here is: playing Sky is fun. I love it. Well done. If you like comic books as I do, you'll love it.
The Last Just Cause by Noob
The same quality that we saw in You Were Doomed from the Start is back in The Last Just Cause. Here we have another Noob- created parser, which only accepts commands one word at a time. The author asks for extra bonus points for doing it all himself. I'm sorry to say, it's almost unplayable, and probably worse than his other work. Sorry, bud.
Grayscale by Daniel Freas
Okay, I'm wandering around in this house without any sense of identity or reason why I'm here. Maybe 10 minutes is not enough to "get to the good part" of Grayscale. However, I found the house lightly populated with stuff, and nothing indicated where to go or do next. Perhaps part of the puzzle is in the discovery.
Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country by one of the Bruces
Well, I'm embarrassed for even trying this. You play the game, you takes your chances, right? What can I say? It's better than what I expected: really offensive, and somewhat funny at the same time. I can't say much more without bursting out into tears.
All Roads by John Ingold
All Roads is a well-written piece, reminiscent of Nelson's or Plotkin's work, certainly. The puzzles are also of a caliber of Plotkin and Nelson. Indeed, this is a hard game, and occasionally I found myself testing several seemingly plausable solutions without coming up with the right answer. Fortunately, the author provided a walkthrough.
The story was interesting and well-written, but wasn't quite as enjoyable to me as some of the other works this year.
This article copyright © 2001, Scott Starkey