Child's Play (Stephen Granade)
I am, generally speaking, fond of games that have an unusual writing style. I am also fond of games with interesting narrators, and games by Stephen Granade. So it's not surprising that I found Child's Play awfully charming. I am disinclined to spoil anything about this game, but I can say I was pleased by the sassy narration, the game size (enough to show what the game was going to be like, to fit in a couple puzzles and give the player a genuine accomplishment, and not any longer than necessary), and all the implemented bits of scenery and unnecessary-but-fun verbs. I'm definitely looking forward to the full version of this one.
(Disclaimer: I was a beta-tester for this game)
The Art of Deception (she's long gone)
If a game is called The Art of Deception, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect it to have some deception in the intro. I see a little mistaking, a little concealment, and a little espionage, but I really don't see any deception. Maybe there is more deception in part two — my other main gripe about this game is it doesn't quite feel long enough to establish anything. The PC is supposed to be your basic awesome secret agent, it seems like, but doesn't really get a chance to do anything awesome — there is a very small amount of sneaking before a screwup occurs, and the awesomeness factor there is really not as high as it could be (although the game does get points for having a spy gadget).
There's not really enough build-up of the bad guy either. A large part of the appeal of James Bond (or Conan, for that matter) is that he has awesome opponents who get a lot of screen time to show off how sinister and powerful and weird they are before Bond offs them; this guy gets two sentences about how he's a pistol-smuggling philanthropist. I mean, pistols? C'mon, that is totally the lamest possible illegal thing to be smuggling, short of cut-rate Viagra.
But, ok, I like spy games and I'll probably give the full version a chance. I wish the intro did a better job of selling it but I guess that's the way it goes.
Mechs (Allan Crain) Z-Machine:
This is one of those intros that I find interesting more for what they suggest than for what they actually contain. The game seems to be one of those ones about an unexpectedly free-willed robot that can detach its body parts, with some interesting sub-things about rogue AIs and switching between VR view and real-world view. Unfortunately, the actual game isn't long enough to give a good flavor — it's mostly an introduction to the commands and then some legalistic quibbling as you escape; I hope the full game has a more complete exploration of the interesting elements, with puzzles that rely on the PC's unique capabilities.
Nothing But Mazes (Greg Boettcher) TADS
Well, this is, er, unusual. I thought at first it was a straight sf thing, and then I thought it was a parody, and then it was a sort of computer hacking thing, and then — well, I'm not quite sure. On the plus side, the computer hacking thing was interesting; the interface could have been smoother but it was certainly original, and I didn't have to use it for so long that it got completely irritating. I hope it gets more use in the full game; it seems like there were some capabilities that could have been explored more. On the minus side, there was an awful lot of exposition. Part of the deal with introcomp games (or other short games) is that the player doesn't want to spend a lot of time reading backstory or getting into the zone, because they know it's going to be over soon. It probably would have been better to present the backstory here in some shorter way, and if it's important to get it all out in the full game, include it in expanded form there. But, ok, Nothing But Mazes intrigued me enough to make me interested in the rest of the game, and I guess that's the goal.
Sabotage! (Felix Plesoianu)
As sf games where you're a passenger on the ship of an advanced-tech alien race with mysterious powers go, Sabotage! is pretty palatable. I don't think gameplay is really that intuitive — there are various locked things and they're all controlled in different ways (or not openable at all), there are some non-working machines that you can get working and others you can't, there's a computer that can do a bunch of stuff but it's hard to figure out the syntax, and so on. Then to top it all off, you spend a lot of time wandering around poking at things for the lack of anything more specific to do. But all that said, Sabotage! is respectable enough as your basic sf game. I do kinda like walking around poking at strange machines, and I figure I've got a better feel for how the author's puzzles work now, so I expect I'd enjoy the full game.
Southern Gothic (Mordechai Shinefield)
I think the coolest bit about Southern Gothic is that it opens with a scene that seems kind of artificial and weird and you poke at it for a while and then realize that there is a perfectly good reason for it. The least cool bit is that once you figure this out you end up wandering around aimlessly for a while, trying to figure out what to do. Personally, I am a big fan of games that are vigorous about directing the player at the start of the game; give them some task to accomplish and it's way easier to get oriented. Anyway, I am not so interested in character-centric modern drama, which Southern Gothic seems to be verging on, but maybe there'll be some bloodshed at the end or a car chase or something. I can but hope.
Unyielding Fury (Michael Pruitt)
I feel bad about not giving this game a totally fair shake, but it's a little hard to take a game seriously that is named Unyielding Fury and opens at a birthday party. Unfortunately the first room isn't particular endearing either: I don't think a single noun mentioned in the room description is implemented. Anyway, it goes along for a bit and eventually you end up lying in a bloody mess on the front lawn, a dead body next to you and police sirens in the distance. Now that is how to get my attention — why couldn't the intro have started there?
This article copyright © 2006, Dan Shiovitz