In addition, I kept transcripts of my play through each of these games; they can be found at http://www.bioc.rice.edu/~lpsmith/IF/smoochie/
Accepting the basic premise of Sparrow is probably the most difficult part of the game. A sparrow shows up, sings you a song, and you fall in love with someone you've never met. Given the premise of this comp, and given my own experience with this thing we call love, this is a bit much to accept. But hey, it's just fiction.
The setting is nice, and nicely developed. It takes place in a fantasy world with trappings straight out of D&D, but manages to combine them together in a believable way: the elements are used for decoration, not for inspiration. All this added up to an enjoyable opening game of discovery and exploration.
The second half of the game felt rushed, design-wise, particularly in comparison to the first half. There are puzzles here, for one, one of which (the nymph) completely stymied me to where I had to ask for hints from a fellow judge. There's also an arbitrary inventory item you obtain ex nihilo that is random. This wouldn't be so odd, except that one of these items allows you to access an ending to the game that's impossible to reach otherwise. In general, this whole section felt rushed, as you career headfirst into one of the endings which leave a variety of plot threads unsolved. One could argue that the ending here leaves as much ambiguous as the ending of Spider and Web, but I greatly disliked that ending too, the first time I saw it, and only gradually came to vaguely appreciate it. There's less here to work with, and it felt abrupt.
The conversation system here is a disguised form of ask/tell, where instead of typing >ASK NPC ABOUT X you merely type >X? and it either asks or tells the npc the appropriate question. This is a convention I first saw (and liked) in She's Got A Thing For A Spring, and I liked it here, too. Another innovation is the addition of a 'topics' verb, which will randomly display a smattering of possible X? topics for you to ask about. Another aspect of the conversational system was the fact that re-asking a question either gave you new information or something along the lines of 'You already asked that.' The problem inherent with this system is that you can't ask for a recap of information if you've forgotten it. Fortunately in this game (for me, at least) this never ended up being a problem, since the information is pretty basic and easy to remember (and much of it is strictly unnecessary, but merely 'window dressing' in the first place). The two cases where it is important (asking the wizard or the cleric about getting to the mountains) is implemented properly, with the two of them recapping the important information without giving you their whole initial spiel. These tools were used to competent effect, and it was easy and fun to interact with the NPCs (at least the initial four).
I had hoped that the choice in the first half of how to get to the second would make more of an impact on the ending. As it was, there was only one difference I could find; that of how the protagonist felt about the treaty. The endings were identical, and I had wanted some difference. Part of this was probably my general disaffection with the endings--I hoped to find one I liked better, but got the same ones. Had I liked them in the first place, presumably this would have been different. (Also, my personal 'ideal' ending would have involved the random item and the changed views about the treaty, but these were mutually exclusive. Sigh.)
Oh, and I found a game-crashing bug. Eeeagh! It was due to attempting a very nice effect, though (changing room descriptions based on knowledge), so I was sympathetic. And this effect worked well in other bits of the game, too, so hey.
Overall: A fun game with a somewhat dissatisfactory ending.
Adam Cadre, is that you? If it's not, I'll eat my hat. And congratulate the real author. This is a darkly funny game in two parts. Part one is where you figure out the joke. (For me, this was when the object of your affection was first named.) Part two is where the creepiness of the situation hits you.
I'm not sure the very last scene of the game needed to be there (I note this in the transcript). It allowed for one more funny/creepy bit, but the funny outweighed the creepy so it basically just turned into farce. And as farce, I could distance myself from the game so it wasn't as visceral as I could tell it would have been had it ended a scene earlier. But others probably had different reactions, I'm guessing. At any rate, a quick game with a funny joke and a creepy message.
See, this is why marriage gets a bum rap. Judging from the three games I've played so far, when I'm in love, I get to do exciting things like teleport to distant shores and <spoiler> the <spoiler> of the <spoiler>. Once I'm married, I get to pack for a trip. With a list my wife gave me, no less.
There's a lot of stuff in here about how much I love my wife and kid, but in general I'm told this and not shown it. Truly sweet moments are rare, or somewhat clumsily handled (like getting the bear for my kid). The puzzles pretty much consist of going into a room and seeing the item I need on the floor or inside something. It was nice that there were a couple puzzles that developed over the course of the game, instead of all tasks being present on the list at the beginning.
I'm guessing that this is one of those 'My First Game' games. The author is probably the protagonist, the house is probably his real house, and the family is probably his real family. As such, it's competently done, and if it wasn't beta-tested (as seems likely, given a couple very obvious bugs), it was at least competently programmed-- none of the complicated bits are buggy, merely the simpler "Oops, missed that" ones. I would encourage the author to move forward with their next work, looking a bit deeper into, well, everything from the relationships portrayed to the puzzle design. An OK start.
Dead of Winter
I gotta say, I don't get the twist ending. Did it have any bearing at all on the rest of the story? On the two possible choices you had before? On... anything? The easter egg ending in Varicella was at least somewhat consistent with the rest of the game, and informed one's perspective a bit. This just seemed random. With a different ending, I'd look for metaphor and meaning in the main story. But with this one... I dunno. It was decent, simple, and nice to read. But it seemed to have a potential that was discarded at the end, instead of followed up on.
I was this close to the ending here when I had to resort to asking Emily for a walkthrough. Dagnabbit.
The 'about' text (which was horrendously self-depricating; don't ever write about your game like this, ever) reveals that this game was written in a flurry of activity in one week. Amazingly, though there are bugs and wacky puzzle design (see aforementioned need for walkthrough), everything that can be good about writing a game this quickly--the raw emotion, the stirring evocativeness--came through as well. Sure, it needed a month's beta-testing. But hey, this is a mini- comp.
The story plays out like a mystery, though it doesn't feel like it at the time. Slowly, you piece together two narratives--the one from the past, and the one from the present. This is done primarily through conversation, through the ask/tell method. In the first bit, this works just fine, since the information you're collecting is not necessary to further the plot. As such, each new bit of information is a joy to collect. In the second bit, you must successfully navigate a conversation in order to further the plot. And that's frustrating as all get-out. I actually managed to make it most of the way, but got bogged down at the end; I had to ask about something twice, and only asked about it once (sigh). In addition, if you change the subject the game comments on it, so I figured I couldn't change the subject and successfully navigate the conversation (a la Galatea (at least, that's my impression of that game)). This resulted in a lot of >ASK ABOUT X. >UNDO. Not very evocative.
But overall, this was a neat game. My only recommendation would be to either wait for the bug-fixed version to come out, or just not type 'about' until you're finished with the game.
Hee! An amusing five minutes. Nothing to it, but hey, not everything has to be deep.
The setting of this game was very evocative. It seemed to be set on a world with some futuristic aspects, but with magic and a monarchial overlay. The plot is advanced principally through conversation, and the system is unique, and fairly effective.
As you enter into conversation with someone, you get a list of possible things to say, and can select one of them. So far, so standard-graphic- adventure. What makes the difference is the addition of the 'topic' command (abbreviated 't'), through which you can bring up a general topic (sort of like 'ask about X') but you get a new menu of possible things to say. The 'about' text indicates that you can use this to change the topic of conversation from one you're not interested in to one you're more interested in. What is far more likely, however, is that you'll have no options at all, and will have to use the 'topic' command to try to find something your character wants to talk about. This, unfortunately, is where the system breaks down--the majority of the game (for me) was merely shifted from 'ask NPC about X, about Y, and about Z' to 'topic X' 'topic Y' and 'topic Z'. The advantage was that it provided a conversational thread during those times where I did find a productive topic. I also had trouble going back to pick up conversational threads I hadn't selected, but which sounded interesting. Perhaps this was the use for the command I only just now remembered, 'UNTOPIC', but I tried it early on and it didn't do anything, and 'UNTOPIC' doesn't mean anything to me. Perhaps the addition of a 'TOPIC BASIC' command would obviate the need for the extensive concept- searching that took up the majority of the game for me.
The writing was excellent, as per now-standard Short. The dialogue was perky, though I admit there were times when conversational options didn't mesh with my concept of the character, most frequently when she was being defensively aloof. Interestingly, these times were when the character most strongly reminded me of Emily's '7th Sea' character, Giovanna. My guess is that, like Zarf, Emily's own personality comes through in her characters.
The plot was interesting to piece together, though not, in the end, filled with stunning reversals or changes of fortune. The one main sub- mystery (the identity of the masked man) was somewhat confusingly presaged by the fortune-teller, though everything made a certain amount of sense in the end. In general, a great deal of fun to play, and a wonderfully imaginative setting to explore.
This article copyright © 2001, Lucian P. Smith