Posted 18 November 2001 to rec.games.int-fiction
This has been written after the competition results have been posted and reviews have begun to flood r*if, so what follows is colored by the author's examination of both. You have been warned.
First some general notes: this was the first competition that I participated in, like most first-time ventures it has been a learning experience and I expect to adjust my judging style for future competitions accordingly. I kept a timer to ensure fairness and before starting it would do the following prep-work where possible for each game before beginning: open game, start script, restart game, save a blank guemap in the game folder (I guemapped each game as I played them to maximize time), open walkthrough and minimize it, open readme and supplementals. Doing this 'busywork' before-hand off-the-clock meant that I could maximize the available gametime in the two hour time period. My belief was that it was incumbent on me as a judge to the best of my ability to maximize the full two hours for each game, given that each author had worked long and hard to produce it for me to play. I note that this perception is in stark contrast to others participating in the judging process, and I may revise this for future years. Thus, I played every entry that I judged for a full two hours unless I completed the game (at which point I might optionally restart), or was unable to proceed due to the game's state or a bug. This of course meant that the time commitment involved with judging the entries was substantial, and truth be told - I thought everyone was proceeding with a similar judging paradigm and it is only now after the competition is over that I realize that is not the case. A word about walkthroughs, I only used them as needed and played the first 90 minutes of each game as 'purely' as possible using the last 30 minutes to quickly move through the game to see things I might not otherwise have seen. In every case where a walk-through was available I was appreciative for its inclusion.
Because this was the first comp I had participated in I didn't even realize there was a tradition of writing up your reviews post-comp, thus my creation of this document (which means of course that this document is contaminated by the results and other reviews, but I will attempt to remain unswayed and use those source only for comparative purposes). I decided to write this up because in many cases my opinions contrasted strikingly both with those of other reviewers and the comp results themselves.
I judged 23 out of 51 entries; why 51? The entry Timeout which comp01.z5 assigned me to judge appeared to be a clear violation of rule 1 for authors, so I abstained from playing or judging it. I contacted both the author and Stephen [Granade] regarding this issue but never received word regarding resolution.
Please be advised that the reviews may contain mild spoilers.
Solid and well written, although perhaps a bit unimaginative at times. Nicely rendered descriptions of the house and surrounding forest. Best description of the game was of a snail on the bonsai tree, I still smile when I think of it. Interesting story, but fractured, almost as if this was the first draft of what could have become a very compelling game. I found some of the puzzles counter-intuitive and out of place in the context of the narrative.
This game has only a few things going for it, and many disadvantages. The largest of which is its primitive IF system and parser. An example of unnatural commands is 'unlock the metal box with the acid' - sorry if it wasn't for the inclusion of a walkthrough I never would have guessed that all of the objects were manipulated via 'unlock x with y' regardless if the objects overtly appear to be keys and locks. There is a rather annoying 'guess which way to go' puzzle where all directions but one result in instant death requiring repeated restores. Further, I was unable to finish the game, after revealing the presence of the raft, I was unable to convince the parser to allow me to enter it! To counterpoint its disadvantages, SURREAL does contain some vivid and imaginative descriptions; the prose while inconsistent is its redeeming quality.
An island adventure, well written although rather unimaginative. The graphical elements that are used in this game really bring a sense of atmosphere to the gameplay. My biggest complaint was that objects were too well hidden, perhaps in a smaller gameworld this would have been acceptable because then it would have been possible to examine everything in an attempt find stuff, but in a gameworld of the size found in _Stranded_ this type of exercise would have been exceedingly difficult. My other gripe is the inclusion of 'death rooms', requiring a player to restore or undo.
I really enjoyed this game, even though it is completely linear, the prose more than made up for it. I enjoyed the soundtrack and thought that it added to my playing experience and helped enhance mimeses. I was startled when mid-game I began to inhabit male characters, I had become quite used to inhabiting female characters and was thrown entirely out of my suspension of disbelief when I realized that without any type of transition I had unexpectedly become male. In each scene I wish the PC had more 'wiggle-room'I didn't mind the ultra-linear nature of this piece, but felt it was rather one-dimensional. I found the end coda to be a huge disappointment.
I see from other reviews that this game was meant as a parody of a previous work, having not played the previous work this game left me cold. Uninteresting, illogically structured, and mildly offensive.
Moments Out of Time
A technically impressive game, although leaving me a little cold. Well written and nicely executed although with some bugs. My largest complaint about this game is that the players experience will be largely affected by the choices that he makes regarding his equipment. This type of paradigm is unfortunate because it requires the player to make choices that will affect the games overall playability when the player has the least amount of information available to him. As it was, my equipment choice was less than optimal (according to the walkthrough) and this affected the rest of my playing session. Despite this drawback I did enjoy the game although it presents itself as if there is a series of dives, and so I was a bit surprised that there was only one. The readme suggests replaying the game with different equipment selection, but I doubt that would make the game truly satisfying upon replay.
I dislike elements immensely; I found it a counter-intuitive puzzle fest. I was unable to solve a single puzzle without the usage of the walkthrough. Even with the walkthrough in hand, after the solution is revealed, the solution appeared non-obvious to me. This game may be technically interesting, but was not an enjoyable playing experience.
Submitted Rating: 8
Revised Rating: 5
Not really IF, but I was impressed by the implementation of a two-move look ahead chess heuristic in Inform. Contains some bugs, but overall very nice. I gave my review base upon the assumption that the work was entirely original. The author has disclosed post-comp that his work is in fact based upon a previous C program. If this information had been available with the release I would have rated this entry differently.
Journey from an Islet
I enjoyed this game, although I found the main pipe puzzle to be counter-intuitive. I loved the sheep and was immensely disappointed that I was unable to 'pet sheep' The use of hand-drawn graphics added a nice touch.
I found this entry interesting: although short, non-interactive, and completely linear the explosive quality of select pieces of the prose gained this entry high marks in my book.
an apple from nowhere
Interesting in places, stream of consciousness nonsense in others. Overtly offensive at times, the ending to this piece was the tombstone that drew this game such a low rating.
Ummmm, you're not even going to tell me why I'm playing? I fiddled with this game for twenty minutes, saw things floating around, watched cats walk through the sides of boxes and was still left wondering why I cared. Whatever the author was trying to do - I didn't get it. Also, the author included cats, but didn't implement the verb 'pet'
The Cave of Morpheus
First half of the game is rather unspectacular and filled with minor bugs. Second half of the game gets its marks with its believable implementation of Crowther.
The Beetmonger's Journal
I was enchanted with this game. I found the use of graphics in the meta-game nicely done as well as the differently rendered tenses and colors to distinguish narrative placement. I was disappointed by the puzzles the beetmonger is required to complete as they appear to be arbitrary and have little to do with the narrative.
Best of Three
This is an amazingly well done conversation game. Technically impressive, however I had difficulty relating to either of the characters and was left wondering why I should care about either of them. Unfortunately their conversation appeared to be as boring as the characters themselves. Thus despite impressive implementation, the lack of compelling content earns this game a lower mark than it would otherwise receive.
Pretty standard fare island adventure. My largest complaint is about the way objects behave when dropped at the boat site, rather than being placed in the boat, they are placed next to the boat. It wasn't until the endgame and the PC is faced with a time limit for escape that I realized that everything was not *in* the boat, but rather *beside* it.
This game was difficult to progress in without usage of the walkthrough. The story was mildly interesting, however there is nothing in the game that struck me as being particularly enjoyable.
A well written but confusing piece that ultimately didn't move me. Several of the puzzles in this game were overly complex and required the use of the walkthrough to complete. Narrative and characterization was disjointed and difficult to follow. Although interesting in its experimental story construction, player confusion earns this game its relatively low marks.
The Evil Sorcerer
Competently written piece that is a standard treasure hunt (although the treasures are not precious). Story is a bit odd and fragmented, but does not get in the way of the unfolding of the game.
I played the game through as a thief and began a new game as royalty before I ran out of time. From what I saw I was relatively unimpressed. Some of the puzzles in the thief game required the use of the walkthrough to complete. It is interesting to see the same story presented from more than one viewpoint which is what earns this game as high of marks as I gave it.
A very cute romp with punctuation. I was taken with this game and found it to be my favorite for the competition. Although flawed in parts, its usage of characterization of punctuation was hard to resist.
A Night Guest
Presentation is this game's greatest asset with the inclusion of the author's drawings. Although this game is nearly impossible to play without using the hints, I still found it highly enjoyable.
A poorly implemented, uninteresting, mildly offensive entry that I struggled to finish.
This article copyright © 2001, JT Thomas