ralphmerridew (ralphmerridew) wrote,

IF Comp 07 reviews

My reviews for IF Comp 2007

General comments on scoring:
I rank games relative to each other; I give a 1 to the absolute worst and a 10 to the best, with the other games scored in between, and try to give 1-3 to games that I did not enjoy overall, that show significant flaws, or that I feel to be lightweight. (I also care more about distinguishing the high-ranking games than the low-ranking games.) In addition, I will give a "*" to any game which I think is something special, an "X" to any game with enough problems that I wonder "Why did this person think this game was worth entering?"

Game #1: Ferrous Ring (Oct 1, 7:30 PM - 8:17)

And to start off the competition, I get a weird game. On the plus side, the setup was well implemented, as was most of the game, even some odd things (like examining the fridge / oven / cupboards in whatever order, or the Photopia Mars like sequence at the park). "Ferrous Ring" at least succeeds as the tech demo. But on the negative side, the story didn't grab me from the start; most of the text was rather brief, which didn't help; the menuing made it possible to play on autopilot, so I wasn't trying to put everything together; IME, it failed as a story and as philosophy.

In short, this experiment failed, but I hope to see the author's next work.
Score: 4

Game #2: Ghost of the Fireflies (1 hour)

"help" gives a total infodump which gets rather defensive at times.
Still, I went into this game with a bit of hope; it sounded like he'd at least made an effort to fix up some of the problems from previous games. When the game first gives me a prompt, it only accepts "go west". I picked up some sake and some acid, but when I inventory, they are described as "A Large Ice Dragon, breathing fire paradoxically (dragon)". Commands not understood frequently give a "You are not in the enchanted forest (Oibara Inn)!", even if I am. When I go to the store, it lists me as have 200 gold, but I can't buy anything. There's a score, but it only goes up for LAUGH / CRY / etc, and I'd have to do that 500 times. If I start over, I have to play through that prologue again. Then if I try to restore the game, it promptly crashes. I can't wear individual objects; I must "WEAR ALL". If you look after killing Sugawara, it will repeat the "Sugawara laughs" text.

After his talk in the help text, I thought he might have put an effort into actually making a playable game.

Score: 1X

Reconciling Mother (played 14 minutes)

From the odd capitalization, to the overlarge and underimplemented geography, to the bland get-X-give-X puzzles, to the instant death room that doesn't kill the player, to the fact that the walkthrough isn't a walkthrough, I was unable to maintain interest in this game.

Score: 1X (not played to completion)

Vampire Cross: 1 hr 15 min

Yet another PAP clone adventure. You can run into an unwinnable battle at any time. I explored most of the area and saw no point. And it's horribly slow.

Score: 1 X (not played to completion)

A Fine Day For Reaping: 1 hour

On the plus side, it was enjoyably written and was mostly bug-free (except for poorly timed clearing), and having multiple solutions to the puzzles was good. Unfortunately, most of those alternate solutions required fixing the shovel or using the time machine, and many weren't written from the perspective that a player could work from the problem to solution.

Score: 6

Across the Stars: 2 hours

Another good game, with one puzzle that makes no sense (burning acid?) and an alternate light source that allows bypassing half the game.

Score: 8

Packrat: (45 min)

Lots of extra newlines. The early descriptions (rope especially) were good.
Then I got stuck and went to the walkthrough, and learned I had to float around the moat (with no reason given), and that the chest floating code was buggy. I can't see how this game could have been through basic betatesting.

Score: 2 X (not played to completion)

The Lost Dimension: (played 20 mins)

It sits in the area between IF and RPG and doesn't work really well as either. I never got a good sense of enemy strength, so combat felt exceptionally random.

Score: 2 (not played to completion)

In The Mind of the Master: (played 2 hours)

Overall construction was good (slight glitch with bartender's conversation), but, taken as a game, it didn't quite work. At one point, there's text indicating that the scenes were a flashback, but the player could get killed after that without reaching the present. Having multiple paths was greatly weakened by the low correlation between cause and effect. (If you go past an area without having read a note, you will be killed for an unrelated reason.)

The final puzzle also could use some work. Throughout the game, the player had to don the target's clothes; now the player can use an ability that doesn't require that. (Possible solution: the game ends in the Cardinal's room; perhaps the player must wear some of his clothing before the final move.)

Score: 5

The Immortal: (played 20 minutes)

Putting the list of exits in the status line was nice. Leaving it out of the room description was not nice without notice was not nice. I noticed a handful of grammar errors, but then I ran into some bugs. The soul is described as doing things when it's not present. Taking the bag to another room then examining it gives a bad description. But the big one is that, with some fish bones, "GIVE BONES" doesn't work but "GIVE FISH" does. That's one of the things the Inform parser is supposed to get right by default, and it was a severe enough problem that I lost faith.

Score: 2 X (not played to completion)

Press [Escape] To Save: (played 20 minutes)

First I looked for the about text (which was absent), specifically for mention of beta testers. Then there was the phrasing / scoping requirements. Then I noticed the "your"/"you're" errors. Then I noticed the nuisance doors. (Anybody programming a game with doors, look into the automatic door libraries.) Those weren't even always handled correctly. Pretty soon I was following the walkthrough on autopilot. Then there was the spot where I was killed without warning when I tried to enter the square room. I kept going until I got to the square room again, and ran into yet another timer with death at the end.

Another benefit to using betatesters: They can point out puzzles that only make sense when the player reads the author's mind.

Score: 1 X (not played to completion)

Wish: (played 15 minutes)

No mention of testers, but this game is at least playable (and quite easy). While I didn't particularly notice any errors with the writing or programming, it did seem rather bland. (Some of it could have benefitted from using some programming, like the "some of your possessions are missing" text.) Some puzzles seemed unnecessary. (I didn't need the necklace, and I haven't checked to see whether the earrings or hat were actually needed.) Still, it's too lightweight to get into the second tier.

Score: 3

Varkana: Oct 7 (played 1:30)

First, there were problems with disambiguation in conversation; I would frequently have "ASK ABOUT X / Which X do you mean, the X or the Y?"

There were a other few glitches, but the basic construction is sound. It needs work in the design, such as giving better motivations (I felt my duty was more to prevent Ardavaan from escaping, and kept trying to attack him when he was distracted; I had been specifically told to keep the book from the Order; I did not see any reason to trust him even after his infodump). Still, I think this game could become top notch with further work, and look forward to the author's next work.

Score: 6

Fox, Fowl, and Feed:

Next comes a new implementation of the classic puzzle. It has enough original work, but I'm not really interested in a new version.

Score: 4

Deadline Enchanter: Oct 7 (played 20 minutes)

When doing something incredibly strange, it's doubly important to deliver a hook quickly.

Score: 2 X

Slap That Fish:

The game was executed okay, but the humor didn't really work for me.

Score: 3

Lost Pig:

This was a big surprise. It was well-implemented, all puzzles were
logical, and was enjoyable throughout.

Score: 9*

A Matter of Importance:

Requiring random searching of scenery generally irritates me, and in
this game it was most of the point. And why do the cops read Miranda
rights in England? (Also, an option to undo at the very end would be

Score: 3

The Chinese Room:

This game attempts to present a series of philosophical questions, but
addresses them in a distant manner; solving them frequently had little
to do with the problem itself. It also subverts at least one problem;
if the IPU is capable of trampling or goring a person, I would
consider it to have met the burden of proof. It didn't work too well
as a game, either; because it placed new objects directly in the
inventory, the sack-object didn't always catch on the first try;
objects were frequently missing synonyms.

As I went on, I discovered several game-killing bugs; a certain
object, if placed in the sack, can not be removed; giving the server
the eggs and money in the wrong order won't get you a certain crucial

In short, it didn't work too well as an introduction to philosophy,
and it didn't work too well as a game. (Perhaps if it had chosen
fewer problems to discuss, and did them in more detail.)

Score: 4

The Act of Murder:

On sheer technical merits, this game was excellent. The entire game
was well constructed. The alternate possibilities were joined

But somehow, I didn't enjoy this as much as Lost Pig

Two complaints: 1) You have to wait an annoyingly long time for
Duffy to arrive if you call him. 2) Going north will exit the
interpreter; I'm used to that only happening from a quit / restart /
restore prompt.

Score: 8

Adventure XT: Played 30 minutes

Utterly typical for Panks.

Score: 1 X

Lord Bellwater's Secret: Played 1 hour

After AXT, it's good to see another well implemented game.

Score: 7

Jealousy Duel X: Played 13 minutes

I played a while, and may have solved a few puzzles, but never felt like I was getting anywhere. From the beginning I thought the protagonist was a jerk, and nothing changed my opinion. Wide open gameplay needs a good hook early on, and I didn't care what happened to the protagonist. (Also, no save / restore / restart.)

Score: 4

(not played to completion)

Beneath: Played 45 minutes

No mention of betatesters in the about segment. Perhaps if there had been some, I would have a better sense of what's going on. I wandered around for a while and got thrown in jail. When I tried to go southeast, I got killed by something out of Lovecraft. I played again, loosely going by the walkthrough, and this time I was fine. I resumed actually playing, and a some turns later got attacked by a cop. I tried leaving and was unable to for some reason. I restarted again, following the walkthru continuously, and this time got killed by the cop at some point.

To the author: Providing a good connection of cause and effect is CRUCIAL. I have no idea why I sometimes got killed by the Lovecraft thing and sometimes didn't. I have no idea why I sometimes could leave the cell and sometimes couldn't. I'm supposed to set an owl loose and leave a toy rabbit for it to find, but I have no idea why. When I don't know see such connections, I can't play it as a game.

And if the lighting's the big problem, why not just go home, sleep, and resume reading tomorrow?

Score: 2 X (not played to completion)

Gathered in Darkness:

Going into this, I had a bad feeling when the pregame text mentioned a "cheese grader", and made no mention of beta testers.

"Gathered in Darkness" prints out a short piece of text whenever you enter a room. It will print out the same text if you type "l". But it will show a longer description if you type "look". Frequently, important objects are only mentioned in the longer description.

Weird bug: READ JOURNAL, DROP (something), OUT. The object is gone! It's somehow in the journal. (Possibly exploitable if there's a puzzle where there's an area the player can't cross while carrying a particular object.)

Quest has a nice option that it will show a list of objects with which the player can interact in the sidebar. This carries the suggestion that these are the only objects with which the player can interact. This is not true, and frequently, important objects will be omitted.

An odd occurrence:
> unlock door
- Which door would you like to try and unlock?
- The Dim Hall Door

The key fits perfectly into the northwest door and unlocks it.
The door to the Dim Hall is already unlocked.

Sometimes, when the player is killed, he is offered an option of undoing the previous move. Sometimes, it's just game over. When I wandered into a room and got killed, I hadn't saved in a while and quit.

While this may be better explained in the full version, the villains went through an awful lot of trouble to allow the player to live. If they just wanted him out of the way, why not just put a quick-acting poison in the syringe, or smothering him while he's drugged? If they needed him alive for some reason, why not handcuff him, or lock him in the closet, or at least take the keys away?

Objects sometimes exist only for some actions. (For example, near the beginning, you can "GET RUBY" but not "EXAMINE RUBY".)

While I didn't notice any real game stopping bugs, I did notice spelling ("seperate") and grammatical errors.

Score: 3

Eduard the Seminarist: (Played 30 minutes)

There weren't even any credits to check for betatesters, and "X ME" gave the default. The setting is barely developed; the game could be reset to a completely different area without affecting it. It's very sparsely implemented (Wilhelm's bed is crucial and it's not mentioned in game text.) The trampoline is described as a pile of mattresses, which made it seem unlikely to be pushable. The game has few convenience functions (the only ones I noticed were automatically dropping the rope / throwing it out the window); some more would be good to avoid the repetitive actions.

Score: 1 X

My Name is Jack Mills: (played 30 minutes)

Well written and enjoyable, but too short.

Score: 7

My Mind's Mishmash:

I did some testing on this game, so it is unrated.

Score: NR

Orevore Courier:

Solidly implemented, but it really would benefit from better feedback about events.

Score: 7

Final tweaking:
Lost Pig is easily the best game this year: 10

1X: Eduard the Seminarist (zcode/moerike/moerike.z5)
1X: Ghost of the Fireflies (windows/firefly/firefly.exe)
1X: Press [Escape] to Save (zcode/pets/pets.z5)
1X: Reconciling Mother (tads3/theyknow/theyknow.t3)
2X: Beneath: a Transformation (zcode/beneath/Beneath.z5)
2X: Deadline Enchanter (zcode/deadlineenchanter/deadlineenchanter.z5)
2X: Packrat (zcode/packrat/packrat.z5)
2X: The Immortal (zcode/theimmortal/The Immortal.z8)
2: The Lost Dimension (windows/lostdimension/Setup.exe)
3: A Matter of Importance (tads2/amoi/amoi.gam)
3: Gathered In Darkness (quest/gatheredindarkness/Gatheredindarkness.cas)
3: Slap that Fish (tads2/slapthatfish/slapthatfish.gam)
3: Wish (zcode/wish/wish.z5)
4: Ferrous Ring (glulx/ferrousring/FerrousRing.ulx)
4: Fox, Fowl and Feed (zcode/fff/FFF.z5)
4: Jealousy Duel X (windows/jdx/jdx.exe)
4: The Chinese Room (glulx/chineseroom/The Chinese Room.ulx)
5: In The Mind Of The Master (adrift/mindofmaster/mindofmaster.taf)
6: A Fine Day for Reaping (adrift/afdfr/AFDFR.taf)
6: Varkana (glulx/varkana/Varkana.gblorb)
7: Lord Bellwater's Secret (zcode/bellwater/bellwater.zblorb)
7: My Name is Jack Mills (zcode/jackmills/JackMills.zblorb)
7: Orevore Courier (zcode/orevore/orevore.z8)
8: Across The Stars (zcode/across/across.z8)
8: An Act of Murder (zcode/actofmurder/ActofMurder.z8)
10*: Lost Pig (zcode/lostpig/lostpig.z8)
NR: My Mind's Mishmash (adrift/mishmash/mishmash.taf)

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