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Zero hour comp reviews

by Jake Wildstrom

Posted 16 November 2001 to

Well, I got through 21 of them. That's more than usual.

1: Prized Possession
Rating: 7

One-line: Eccentric and ultralinear, but well researched.

Notes: The reaction to "GET ALL" is cute but would get tiresome in a more object-heavy game. Strong sense of history -- perhaps too strong; there are a lot of fairly uncommon words in this one, and I'm not sure even how to pronounce them all, combined with a bizarre lack of synonyms -- why is every horse a destrier and every woman's garment a kirtle? Timed puzzle after timed one-move puzzle kind of sapped my patience, although I liked the first and second scenes, and a couple of the others, a lot. The knight slips into the informal in the escape scene -- was that intentional? "X HAND" in the stable caused a crash, and "UNDO" after a conversation generates the wrong prompt. It never was clear who Ranulf was, or who his father is. The Baron's reference to him as a bastard seems to indicate general knowledge, and his ability to produce royal missives on demand suggests he's the queen's son. Yes, I do apparently need everything spelled out for me, because I have the feeling I missed some major plot development in this one.

2: The Coast House
Rating: 6

One-line: It is what it is, and does it pretty well.

Notes: First impression is another old family-house treasure hunt a la "Hollywood Hijinx". Wierd bug in "LOOK UNDER BED". Exits should really be listed, please. Oh, and "its" is possessive. "it's" is a contraction for "it is". I'd like to see this NOT be an issue some year. Occasional grammar and spelling errors suggest sloppy proofreading. Final impression more or less confirms first impression. There's so much more that could be done emotionwise with this scenario -- I really couldn't feel the bleakness of the dying town, and really should have. The sailor, on the other hand, was pretty good -- although he didn't respond to queryies about a lot of things I'd think he would; in particular stuff about himself and about boating.

3: Earth And Sky
Rating: 7

One-line: Goofy but solid, but could be so much more.

Notes: I like. Maybe I'm a sucker for comic-book gimmicks and adolescent fantasies, but it's fun being Sky. Taking down the monster was kind of repetitive though; more superpowers might allow for more strategy. Short and fairly sweet. I like easy, and although this one had some nonstandard verbs, they were easy to figure. I don't like menu-based conversation, but that one's a lost cause I think. Needs to be longer.

4: Triune
Rating: 8

One-line: Great idea, good writing, broken detail.

Interesting beginning. Domestic violence is a theme perhaps not visited nearly enough by IF, and rarely treated with the delicacy it needs (the last game I can think of that even tried was "Bliss", which, with due respect to the author, did not really have much subtlety). I'm a little disappointed that a fair number of unimportant but picture-drawing nouns are unimplemented. A couple buggy disambiguation-from-hell problems. Not enough synonyms for most nouns. An admirable attempt with rich themes, heavily marred by technical failures.

5: Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country
Rating: 2

One-line: I installed Glulx for THIS?

*sigh* My first Glulx game and it's Stiffy Makane. It's a less-than-auspicious start to experiencing the format. Of course, Adam Thornton's been threatening to write SMTUC for years, but it's still kind of freaky in the flesh.

OK, less whining, just play the damn game. OK. The writing, plot, and puzzles are all better than the original. That much I'll give it. It's not in noticably better or worse taste though. It's incredibly stupid though.

6: All Roads
Rating: 9

One-line: It's Photopia! But with only one character.

OK, the help points out that the game was written in less than 48 hours, presumably including meals and bathroom breaks. I am in awe of Jon Ingold's single-mindedness. OK, at the second prompt, most commands do nothing at all, which is kind of wierd, but presumably intentional.

OK, on to the plot, which means it's time for my annual rant against Photopia (which has been getting less bitter every year, actually). In fact, this year I'll be downright nice: it took me a long time to get to a game with a really linear, mostly puzzleless design, and it's a well-crafted one. I'm not sure I completely understood who I was at each time or what was going on, but I think I got the overall picture. Very nice, strong design. I liked a lot.

Oops, I forgot the rant. Sorry about that. I'll do it on another game.

7: Goofy
Rating: 3

One-line: Working parsercraft, but not much to recommend it.

Notes: Basically a dungeon crawl, complete with magpielike protagonist. The game is written in Java for unknowable reasons, and doesn't have a walkthrough. Parser is adequate but nothing great -- this is why we use the languages designed for the purpose, folks. Also, it crashed partway through. My advice to the author: foremost, learn a first-tier IF language; then design a full world model before you start in on your game; it'll feel a lot more consistent that way.

8: Colours
Rating: 2

One-line: Surreal, but too way kludgy for Zarf and not Rybread's style.

A bunch of connected, seemingly unrelated rooms, each of which features color-related topics (yes, I spell colors that way, even if the author of this game is one of those wierd Englishpeople). My faith in this attempt was somewhat marred by a lot of small, stupid errors. Lots of NPCs, all completely unresponsive. Oh, and another bitch: please, short synonyms. "man" and "woman" should work for male and female NPCs respectively. "receptacle" really needs a short form. Puzzles were completely unobvious: "SWISSMADEWATCH"? I eventually locked myself out of victory and couldn't bring myself to care.

9: Jump
Rating: 5

One-line: Bleak and ultralinear. A Moment of Hope with better coding.

Now, I think, is the time for the Photopia rant. To go through it in brief: I have no particular beef with Photopia in itself. But Photopia has spawned a whole line of games which offer varying levels of faux interactivity and throw plot at us until we scream. To name names: A Moment of Hope. 1-2-3. Rameses (although Rameses walked the line reasonably successfully). What Photopia did right was to let the player make decisions, and make a point by having those decisions not effect far-reaching changes. Similarly with Rameses. AMOH, Jump, and 1-2-3 made it all too clear, a lot of the time, that it didn't make a damn bit of difference what you did, and didn't give good reasons why. Photopia is good. Its children are not.

Thank you. I'm done now.

10: The Chasing
Rating: 4

One-line: Grammar cop's head esplodes. Style cop whimpers.

I don't know why, but from the first line this game's writing struck me as just plain bad. It's like the author's allergic to complete sentences or something. The punctuation is twonky too. Comma splices make my head hurt. Oh, and maybe it's residual adjective poisoning from "Congratulations!", but I feel an urge to smash in my screen every time anything in IF is described as "pleasant". All the tasks I have to perform seem unrelated to my ostensible goals. Just to be pointlessly sadistic: I can walk anywhere with the kite string, and nobody cares if I wander around naked (just like real life!).

11: Film at Eleven
Rating: 7

One-line: Short, solid, fairly intuitive. A snack.

OK, I like games I can get through without running to the walkthrough, and this one counts. Also, fairly solidly written. Not tremendously engaging, but nice light fare. This is the high praise, and now I go on to minor quibbles, which are largely stylistic: first, almost all the puzzles involved getting something from someone and giving it to someone else, which is OK, but more variation is nice. Second, the secret tunnel was inadequately integrated into the plot, and made for a deathtrap of sorts when I got stuck between Jack and the mayor.

All in all, a nice effort and good filler. I liked it. I didn't love it, but I don't love most games.

12: The Last Just Cause
Rating: 1

The readme failed to inspire confidence. Bad grammar, dubious phrasing, and imaginative use of punctuation. Eep. Also, I love the line:


OK, we have a one-word parser. It's better than the Caverns of Chaos, but not by much. I have a general rant, but it can wait. Plot is nonexistent, characterization is nonexistent, player is unmotivated, and whatever Double Js are, they keep popping up. I was given what appeared to be a plot at the beginning, but was then followed by fairly pointless goings-on. What are Double Js, and why do they pop up at random intervals? If I'm just some guy, why do I have magic? Why do I lose matches whenever I fall down? Is it possible to end a sentence with punctuation other than ellipses?

Right, OK, that was the rant about the game's plot or lack thereof. Now for the more general rant about technical issues. Why do you people insist on homebrewing parsers? There are a lot of good systems out there and even more mediocre ones, most homebrews don't even rise to a level of minimal competance. While I can appreciate the time, effort, and energy put into writing your own system, IF is all about the art, not the materials you use to create it, and ultimately, in terms of actually writing something good, something people want to play, you're better off spending your time improving content instead of reinventing the wheel. (Most) jewelers don't smelt ores. (Most) writers don't mix ink. (Most) carpenters don't build their own saws. And of those that do, I doubt they make very good examples of their tools. Take a lesson, and use tools provided.

13: Schroedinger's Cat
Rating: 2

One-line: I don't get it. Kind of cool, but I really don't get it.

The descriptions of the cats need punctuation. I wandered around a lot, and picked up on how stuff changed, but couldn't put anything I wanted to put in boxes in the boxes. Put lots of things on boxes though, and saw them float. I couldn't figure it, at all. Neat parser tricks, but not really IF in my opinion.

14: The Evil Sorcerer
Rating: 4

One-line: Yet another scavanger hunt.

Ah, another game whose opening gimmick is "you got really trashed and now you're somewhere unfamiliar". It was old in Slacker X, folks (OK, TES is better than Slacker X; TLJC isn't). In places the writing's just klunky enough that it could have benefited from some intensive testing. Oh, and et's all say it together: Inventory limits SUCK!

OK, to the plot. Basically going around collecting stuff. I got stuck fairly early on: I got the amulet, talon, and berry, but couldn't seem to find any keys or whatnot. Also, gameworld consistency suffered some from the pointless inclusion of the Necronomicon. This isn't Lovecraftian horror --- or if it is, it should make it a lot clearer.

15: The Newcomer
Rating: 1

One-line: Can't see the mosquito-cloud for the bugs.

OK. Rooms with minimal or nonexistent descriptions, programming errors, and a timed puzzle which doesn't seem to have a real solution -- not without a lot more background than we're given. It might not suck if it showed any signs of being even remotely completed by the time of the competition.

Seriously, folks: if you've got a game for the comp, enter it, great, fine. If you've got half a game for the comp, DON'T ENTER IT. There's an off-season for when it's completed, and always next year too. Don't waste our time with something that isn't even finished.

16: Best of Three
Rating: 6

One-line: Eeeagh! Conversation-menus.

OK, I think we're all starting to see that Emily Short's real forte is conversational systems -- this, Galatea, Pytho's Mask. Which is great and all, but I had a LOT of trouble getting into this one. It seemed like we were just going round and round and never really talking about anything consequential. Which wins realism points, I guess, but isn't really much fun. I got a feeling of more -- in lack of a better word -- urgency from Galatea.

17: Crusade
Rating: 5

One-line: It's funnier than Jarrod was, but not by much.

OK, it's reasonably good at points. And funnier than Jarrod's Journey (and actually, more educational, when all's said and done). Unremarkable, but a good try.

Wierdnesses: Can't fill the goblet at the oasis. Even in the Xth century AD the shape of the earth was known to learned people, and certainly not considered "heretical".

Somewhere along the line I turned into Jesus. Sure.... I can actually die twice here. I didn't actually finish (why does nobody include walkthroughs anymore?), but I think I saw enough.

18: Lovesong
Rating: 3

One-line: "Please forgive me, but me English are not fluent enough." I'll say.

OK, I've decided I don't like Quest. Or at least not this Quest game. Is it too much to ask that L be implemented as a command, or that pronouns be recognized? OK, now on to the game. The writing is simply wretched, and the author acknowledges such -- I have to wonder why he didn't get a native betatester/proofreader. Playwise, this game is clunky, amateurish, and reminds me unpleasantly of a dream-fantasy flipside to A Moment of Hope's dreary pitymongering.

OK, I'm harsh tonight. Sorry about that. But I'm sure my own fantasies are as uninteresting to other people as theirs are to me.

Also, don't put your walkthrough in MS Word format. Just don't.

19: Fine Tuned
Rating: 6

Whoops. Left Debug Mode on :-). Also, occasionally wierd V0EFH, and I can't use the newspaper clippings to stoke the fire (and I'm not given a good reason why not). It's overall well-written and enjoyable, but it's just too buggy. I got a stack overflow trying to talk to Salomonder.

20: Timeout
Rating: 4

One-line: Bad Machine it's not.

OK, I played the original Paranoia -- this game giveds me an awful lot less motivation. I feel like I'm wandering around aimlessly in a poorly implemented bastard son of Paranoia and Bad Machine.

OK, that was harsh. It's all-in-all reasonably bug-free, or what I saw of it is, and parts of it are a little funny. But nothing spectacular or even really above average.

21: 2112
Rating: 5

One-line: Impressive homebrew parser burdened with a kludgy program.

I'm duly impressed by the parser job, which if a homebrew is one of the better jobs I've seen (if not, credit should really be given) The gameplay and writing aren't quite as impressive though -- the writing's slightly substandard, and I didn't feel like I had any real goal here.

This article copyright © 2001, D. Jacob Wildstrom

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