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SmoochieComp 2001 Reviews

by Kathleen Fischer

A few preliminary comments:

1. While we were not required (supposed?) to rank the games, for kicks I did give a "Smoochie" value.


A low Smoochie value does NOT mean I didn't like the game, a high value doesn't mean I did. It's merely an indication of how "romantic" I felt the game was, for my own definition of romance. Your mileage will most undoubtedly vary.

2. The reviews are listed in no particular order, and neither are these comments.

3. This is a mini-comp, and I tried to keep that in mind while writing these reviews. That said, the amount of effort that went into these games, and some of the novel things people did in such a short amount of development time floored me.

Title: Second Honeymoon
Author: Roger Ostrander
File: second.gam
System: TADS
This could be my life -- a spouse, a kid and a honey-do list in desperate need of attention before a much-anticipated second honeymoon can begin. This is essentially a domestic treasure hunt game. The objects themselves are fairly straightforward to locate -- once I nailed down exactly where the kitchen was -- with the interest lying more in the details of the past and the contemplation's of the future than in the actual recovery of the items.

I don't know if there were more endings than the one I found -- which, though apparently successful, wasn't quite... smoochie enough for me. I think the addition of a "kiss" verb would have helped things out considerably. Your spouse, Jessica, just seems so kissably sweet that I was somewhat disappointed I couldn't actually KISS her. (Hint: Implementing some sort of response to the verb KISS in a SMOOCHIE Comp is probably a good idea.)

Technically, I found a few bugs -- the previously mentioned kitchen not quite where it should be, a computer room not there at all, but once sorted out they didn't detract from the game. The writing had a nice, easy flow to it. I was most impressed by the honey-do list itself, particularly the way it kept track of which tasks I had already accomplished. This was a way cool feature that I would like to see on all such lists.

Smoochies: 2 (no KISS?! <sigh>)

Title: 1981
Author: ???
File: 1981.z5
System: Inform
My first instinct was to simply not write a review on this one, as I found the game so disturbing that at first I didn't finish it. However, in for a penny, in for a pound... so I tried it again, finished, and here we go:

This game delves into the darker side of "romance" (to use that term extremely loosely). After starting with seemingly good intent, it quickly becomes apparent that there will be no happy endings here. The game itself seemed to me to be completely on rails -- and once I figured out what's happening, I could find no way to alter its course.

I have extremely mixed feelings here. On the one side, it did produce the greatest emotional response in me of any of the games. Unfortunately, that response was revulsion. And I suppose I should be clear that I don't mean about something sexually explicit, it's not that sort of game. There finally came a time when I simply couldn't bring myself to do the action that seemed to be required -- which is where I quit the first time. I was surprised by my reaction, as I've probably done worse in games and not thought a thing about it. In this case, I felt I (the player) was being dragged kicking and screaming (by the PC) in a direction I simply didn't want to go.

I should also mention, in fairness, that this game touches on a personal chord, mirroring, as much as such a game can, an actual experience of my own. To describe it might be beneficial at explaining why this game failed for me, but it would also spoil the game completely. Perhaps I'll post later if there is any interest. Suffice it to say that I was reminded of a review about Muse where someone pointed out that the PC was old, and the author was not. I wonder how much familiarity the author has with his/her subject matter here. From my own (albeit limited) experience, the game didn't work for me... but there are many facets of what is being portrayed and perhaps I'm simply dragging in too much of my own (rather unusal) background into it.

So, in summary, 1981 does portray a real facet of romance -- but I guess it's just not the sort I personally want to see in a game, or play. Technically, I found the game reasonably sound with only a few minor bugs. On the bright side, I thought the telephone conversation was nicely done.

Smoochies: 0 (sorry... I just can't)

Title: Dead Of Winter
Author: Christina Pagniacci
File: dark.z5
System: Inform
(Note: I played this game using MaxZip on my Mac in the B&W/unenhanced mode - I'm quite curious to hear what I missed.)

This game seems to suffer from a split personality. On the surface, it is a mini-comp sized Quest game, a tad thin on the implementation for my tastes - though not bad for a mini-comp. On reaching what I'm guessing is the best ending (though not a happy ending in the traditional sense, so I could be wrong here), I realized that things weren't at all what they seemed. I liked that. In fact, all three endings that I found were surprises -- a good thing.

My problem with the game, being an incurable romantic optimist, is that I didn't seem able to use my newfound knowledge to improve things. And on replaying the game, the Quest seemed almost like busy work, standing between the endings and me.

Technically, as mentioned before, I found the game rather thin, and the PC's feelings underdeveloped until the end. I had the feeling of being on the set of play -- where a few objects are supposed to stand in for many. I was stuck once, but that was a due to a flaw in my logic, not one in the games. I would like to see it fluffed out just a smidgen, with some kind of Easter egg provided for those who are replaying.

Smoochies: 6 (for the ending)

Title: Pytho's Mask
Author: Emily Short
File: pytho.z8
System: Inform
Once again, this author turns out a textual delight. More interactive than Galatea, less fiddly than Metamorphoses, I like the way this game kept more to the middle ground between plot and puzzle.

The general idea is that you are a female PC, sent to a ball on an important mission, with a side mission of your own -- for what would a ball be without a masked man. There are several fully implemented NPCs which will interact with you via either a TOPIC command or a menu system, and when queried, they will produce gobs of text -- in fact, there is more background here than actual story, as far as I can tell. There were several places where I never did do anything "interesting", yet I still seemed to have reached what I would call a successful ending. When given time, I'm looking forward to spending more time in those places to see what I missed. As it was, I believe I saw at least four endings reachable from the last move or two -- all of which were quite satisfying for the path I had selected.

Technically, the game is extremely well done. The author went with Yet Another Conversation System, this one combining menus and the status bar. I haven't seen it done that way before and am still fence sitting as to if I like it. In the hands of a less talented writer, I can see how this would be quite beneficial to the game. In the wake of Galatea, it was somewhat disappointing and distancing. I suppose it is rather unfair to be criticizing a feature because the writer is TOO good for it, isn't it? Oh well, such is life.

Smoochies: 8 (a ball, a masked man... need I say more)

Title: Sparrow's Song
Author: J.D. Berry
File: sparrow.z5
System: Inform
Have you ever been happily going along, thinking you know what a game is about, when suddenly it does a complete about face on you -- slapping you with a tidbit of information that for a moment simply doesn't compute. So you end up staring blankly at the words while your brain does a quick reshuffling of the deck to make sense of it. I love that feeling. I liked to be surprised, and this game certainly surprised me near the beginning. After the reshuffling, everything still makes sense, of course (also a nice feature), and I happily went on.

This is essentially a Quest game, where the love bug bites you but you still have some business to attend to. There are several well developed NPC's to chat with, and a rather nifty conversation system supplied to do the talking, where you simply provide a single word with a magic character (which I believe is now '!' as '?' didn't work for MaxZip) and the PC is off and chatting. No need to decide if it's ASK or TELL, no need to indicate who to talk to... I like this feature a lot. I also liked the TOPICS command that gives you a variety of conversation starters, though I think they are in need of some fine-tuning in certain places.

Technically things went along smoothly with no major flaws. The writing flowed nicely and the NPC's kept you from getting too lost or confused. I encountered one Guess-the-Verb: ZAP. ZAP?! And one place where you had to do something four times to make progress. Yes, after emailing the author and discovering that was the solution and replaying and reading the text more carefully... yes, it did make sense. But still... four? All in all, minor issues in a quite enjoyable game.

Smoochies: 7+ (a sentence or two short of an 8. Hint: smoochie endings are NOT the place for brevity)

Title: Even Bantams Get The Blues
Author: Eric Mayer
System: Alan
What do you get when you cross Chicken Comp and Arcade Comp on Valentine's Day? Play this game and you'll find out! As I have yet to get to the Aracade Games, I can't say how this compares, but I know I sat at this one for far too long -- pecking and clucking to try to win.

I played this on my Mac, and though I found the ASCII graphics a bit difficult to follow, the game did run just fine (in answer to an authorial question in the NOTES at the end). On top of that, it was completely bug free (a good rooster will do that for a game, I suppose) -- though it could have used a few more verbs.

I enjoyed the LITERARY mode... especially for one of my grisly ends, and don't forget to X SELF.

Smoochies: 3 (Ok, laugh if you must. I felt for the poor bird)

Title: Voices
Author: Aris Katsaris
File: Voices.z5
System: Inform
(A late entry... but just barely)

I didn't get it the first time through. In fact, the FIRST time I played, I exited about half way through, disliking the attitude and the rather excessive use of Italics and bold face. Of course, one can't write a review without playing the game, so I tried again. This time I used the in-game walkthru (nice touch!). This time, at about half way through, I finally figured out what was going on. My opinion of the game went way up... though with a few remaining caveats.

One is that I think the author relied too much on gimmicks, Italics, bold, pausing, even supplying characters other that what I type at one point (a pet peeve of mine) -- especially the Italics. The other was the confusion (at least for me) as to who the PC actually was. Try typing X ME at the start to see what I mean. On reaching the end of the game, I can sort of see why the author implemented it that way, but when something only works in retrospect, I'm not sure the technique can be called a success.

As to the story line itself, it's so far outside the bounds of what I'd ever considered as to still leave me thinking. I like that in game -- though whether that says good things about it, or bad things about my previous level of thinking will remain for other players to decide. At the end of the game, I believe it's in the about/credits somewhere, the author refers to attempting to answer a question with the game. Without giving it away, I will say that I think the author has at least satisfied ME that such a game is not only possible, but can be quite entertaining.

I did dislike all the gimmicks, I repeat that because I think it flawed an otherwise well implemented piece. I felt the purpose of the game at the start needed to be clearer. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to interact with the first NPC, then finally moved on feeling empty and confused.

Those Italics have to go. I'll repeat it yet again. Those Italics have to go... and take the boldface with them. The first time through, I found the... interjections... to be extremely annoying. Once I was on the same wavelength as the author, they made sense.... again, I have no idea how to solve that problem either -- or even if there is a problem. Perhaps I was just dense.

In summary: the premise of the story is sound, and certainly unique, and quite thought provoking, and in the end, that was enough for me. Be aware that there are several endings, and that my smoochie rating is based on what I consider the best of them.

Smoochies: 6

Title: The Tale of the Kissing Bandit
Author: Cary Valentine (AKA J. Robinson Wheeler)
File: Bandit.z5
System: Inform
Another late entry, dumped on us just a few days before these reviews were due. I almost didn't play it because it was late, I was grumpy, and I didn't like the thought of having to write yet another review. All that evaporated after the opening lines. This is a definite must play. Quick, witty, with an ending... well, I shan't be the one to spoil it. Suffice it to say I'm still grinning.

I was very impressed with the way the author's text convinced me to type in some improbable verbs, and how those verbs actually worked. Something about the writing made me believe that those verbs, no matter how odd, would actually be understood, and low and behold, they were! Do to the lateness of the entry, and my procrastinatorial nature, I haven't had time to go back and see how far one can stray from the story line, or what happens if you do. I will say that, along with the improbable verbs, the events themselves are very well cued. This is one of the few games in this comp where I never once felt at a loss for what to do. The pacing was marvelous, the action constant... have I lavished it with enough praise yet?

Great Job!

Smoochies: 9+

Title: August
Author: Matt Fendahleen
File: august.z5
System: Inform
The author's ABOUT states he spent a week on August (in January) and didn't know Inform when he started. Wow. I can't wait to see what he writes once he figures out it. August is a bit rough. A week is a week. But the basics are all there for quite a complex tale -- a compelling story, an interesting PC, and a "purpose" that is pretty much clear from the beginning (even if an obvious means to that end is at times lacking).

You are a war hero, attending a ball in hopes of seeing your long lost love, only things don't go as you'd planned. I'd rather not spoil it by saying more. I loved the atmosphere, the mystery, and I think the author did an excellent job of setting the scene and making me want to find out more. Though most of the NPC's were rather wooden, the central NPC was definitely not. Complex, compelling, the sort of NPC you (or at least I) really wanted to find out more about.

The first time through I ended up with a less than happy ending, and with more questions than answers (i.e., I sat there reading it wondering what the heck just happened). A quick email, and an even quicker walkthru later, I was back at it. There are actually several endings, of quite differing natures. One of them brought me to tears (sucker than I am for such things). All the other endings were quite satisfying as well.

Technically, I haven't a clue how someone without the walkthru would manage to reach one of the more telling endings. I found the conversation system to be somewhat... inadequate, though I enjoyed the resulting dialogue and was moved by what I read. The author went with a combination of TALK TO and ASK/TELL... leaving me to wonder which I should be using. True, it responded to no matter what I said, but is one preferable over the other? I couldn't tell. There were also cases where you had to ask the same thing over and over again to progress, while at other times, when I did that, I got nothing but disdain from the NPC -- and I never did seem to get the hang of when I was supposed to do which.

I dearly hope that the author takes the time to flesh it out, polish it up, do SOMETHING to make it more obvious what conversation topics are important, and how many times one must talk about something, and re-release it. It has so much potential as a piece of TRUE genre romance.

Smoochies: 10 (ok... so I'm a sucker for this sort of game!)

This article copyright © 2001, Kathleen Fischer

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