Posted 5 August 2006 to rec.games.int-fiction
Art of Deception
Play time: 7 minutes.
Not bad. Lots of things were implemented that I didn't actually expect to find working (>FLIRT WITH BARTENDER, for instance; some background questions for Charles; the odd >THINK ABOUT topic). Charles reacts to my arming the phone in his presence, too, which is a nice touch.
There are other things that could be cleaned up. NPC descriptions ("The doorman is standing here") often feel a bit generic. The pacing is also somewhat off: I would have shortened the wait for Charles to show up, and also the wait to go downstairs. It feels as though I'm twiddling my thumbs a little during these stages. ("How many moves should I allow my player in this environment before forcing him to move on?" is a tricky question. The author almost always knows of lots of commands the player could be trying during that interval—but the player doesn't, so a wait can seem more sparse than the author intended.)
I would also have preferred, after those leading remarks of Charles', to be able to get a bit more information about the previous failed operation and so on.
But overall, this shows polish. I would like to see more.
Play time: 9 minutes
The opening text is an exposition wodge of the kind that makes my eyes glaze over: there's information here, and it's clear enough, but it feels rather generic. I get a further info dump by going into the bathroom (and, apparently, automatically splashing water on my face). I am not allowed to disrobe in the bathroom, though—I suppose space soldiers do not shower?
I am somewhat put off by what feels like a generic implementation of a generic spaceship. I wandered around for a while without finding a clearly articulated goal. Eventually, I gave up.
Play time: 3 minutes.
There were typos and apostrophe errors in the opening text, which always makes me a little nervous.
The actual game-play made me more so. Almost from the first move, I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing or how to do it. Lots of things are unimplemented; movement takes me to a darkness I can't escape. I gather from the other reviews that there was more to do here, but I personally never found it. I'm going to assume that I just ran into a bug, then.
In any case, I don't know whether I'd like to play more of the game this was intended to be, but the game it was—a Darkness with nothing to do—didn't grab me.
Play time: 4 minutes
The opening reminds me of Bad Machine, a game I admire but have never managed to solve.
Once again, I don't have a clear sense of my goal; the implementation also shows some lack of polish ("You see a James Garcia here," for instance). I wasn't too encouraged by this one.
Play time: 2 minutes
Polished, goofy. I'm not sure how well I'd take to this narrative voice for the entire game, but still, it's amusing for now. The short play-time on this probably reflects how cleanly it was made and the fact that there is a clear goal; I don't spend any time thrashing around looking for something to do.
Play time: 18 minutes
Some things about this were annoying. It took me too long to find a critical item: you would think that LOOK BEHIND would be a recognized synonym for a certain LOOK UNDER, for instance.
But: points for subtle menace, for having several viable puzzles, and for supplying adequate direction along the way so that I generally knew what it was I was trying to do. There were a few times when I started to feel lost, but Southern Gothic provided nudges just often enough that I was able to identify a goal and get back on track. This is a somewhat more risky strategy than giving a clear up-front goal as in Child's Play, and I suspect there were some people for whom it didn't quite work. On the other hand, it produced a sense that I knew just enough about what was going on to be able to act on it, without actually understanding the full situation. That feeling seemed right for the genre.
Would I play more? Most likely, especially if certain technical details were cleaned up. Also, this piece played just far enough for me to have some idea of the situation I was in and the dangers I faced, and ended on a cliff-hanger.
Nothing But Mazes
...I didn't play. I actually have access to a dual-booting MacBook these days, and I was all set to boot up Windows and try this out, and then my computer lost its main logic board and spent the week in the shop, instead. So no opinion on that one, other than "What, an .exe??"
This article copyright © 2006, Emily Short