2001 Interactive Fiction Competition

These are my reviews of the games I played in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition. I play/review as many games as possible depending on my current platform (windows or linux); this means tads, inform, hugo and usually also alan, adrift, quest, and windows/msdos executables. When I'm on a windows machine I use multimedia interpreters where appropriate.

I've sorted games into three categories, "highly recommended" (the best of the competition), "recommended" (worth the time spent playing), and "not recommended" (not worth playing); and then sorted the games alphabetically within those categories. I've put an asterisk (*) by some games that were difficult to categorize or when the categorization feels extremely subjective; you may want to read the review before deciding whether to play them.

Some of these reviews may contain minor spoilers. Unfortunately, for some games, even knowing that there is a spoiler in the review may itself be a spoiler. I don't know what to do about this short of the Magic Amnesia Stick. If you have the time and inclination, I recommend playing the games first, but if not, go ahead and read the reviews. Nothing major is spoiled.

If a game was entered by proxy or under a pseudonym, the actual author is listed afterwards in square brackets.

Highly Recommended Games

All Roads (Jon Ingold) Z-Machine:
This is probably going to get pointed out as one of the brighter spots of the competition, and that's fairly legitimate. This game has a lot of nice aspects: the plot is convoluted but unrolls well with discussion, the characterization is sparse but reasonable, and some of the visual imagery (the broken glass, the birds, the sunlight) is nothing short of stunning. But, hrm. Somehow it's always tempting to spend reviews of good games talking about their flaws. There's this thing for a certain kind of game where the point is to figure out what's going on: ideally, it should be satisfying both in conclusion and then after you sit down and think about it for a while. All Roads is pretty good in the latter, although not all the questions are answered completely, but it falls down in the former area. When I finished this game, I was left with, well, mostly confusion. I talked it over with some people and came to a better understanding, but when I finish one of these games I want an immediately satisfying a-ha, and it didn't come here. Beyond that, my gripes are mostly about the game's linearity. As usual it's not so apparent on a first playthrough, and it's somewhat excused by the story, but it's still frustrating. All that said, this is quite a good game and well worth your time playing, so, like, go play it.



Best of Three (Emily Short [Emily Short]) Glulx:
The really amazing thing about Short is not so much that she writes these games but that nobody else is doing anything like it. Like, this game's conversation system is a really impressive achievement compared to Pytho's Mask, which in turn is impressive compared to Galatea, which in turn is still better than any other conversation system anyone else has come up with even today. That said about the technological part, the game part needs some work. It is of course not an error with the writing, which is up to Short's usual high standards. But somehow it all comes off feeling not particularly consequential. I think part of it is the NPC is overeager. The game itself just consists of a conversation, and unlike most games, the PC is in control of the conversation only about half the time. So, hmm, I guess this is not enough for me, and I end up feeling swept along a lot of the time. Added to that is sort of an uncomfortable feeling about the characters. They're all there is to the game so it pretty much stands or falls based on them, and they're both obnoxious, the PC too meek and NPC too slick. This isn't an indictment of the game as a whole — the writing's too good and the conversation engine's admirable — but it does keep it from being as completely satisfying as Short's earlier works.



Heroes (Sean Barrett) Z-Machine:
If you don't like fantasy games, this is not going to appeal to you. This is not to say that it's not a good game, but it calls itself a most traditional CRPG experience and this is in fact what it is. There's more to it than just the CRPG aspect, but mostly it's "You chose to be a thief, so you can pick locks and climb walls. You must steal the jewel!" The fun of the game is using your particular abilities (there is, eg, a good implementation of an Enchanter-style spellcaster) to solve the same general problems, while piecing together The Big Picture out of all the separate parts. And it's here that the game doesn't quite work, because that big picture never gels fully. You get lots of cool little details and hints at a greater plot but not quite enough information to make out the whole story, so you're left wondering what exactly happened, even after having played through all the different games.



The Isolato Incident (Alan DeNiro) Alan:
I was really quite pleased with this one. It is pretty easy to do a surreal game since, like, you just have to slap a bunch of things together; it's harder to write a surreal game where the pieces actually work together. The writing here is also very good, witty and bizarre at the same time. Some people found the ending too unconnected and unsatisfying, but I don't agree — it's not led up to much (the game is too short to do that, anyway) but I thought it capped things off nicely. A fun play.



Journey from an Islet (Mario Becroft) TADS 2:
I liked this one a lot and I can't quite explain why. In retrospect it reminds me a lot of the The Little Prince and presumably this is obvious and intentional since it's got a snake and a sheep and so on. But the resemblance goes deeper than that; Becroft has done a fine job of creating a world that feels, hmm, pleasant and pastel and dreamlike, and it's nice to wander around there and look at stuff. The graphics add a nice touch, as does the changing background color: if you have a chance to play this in a HTML-TADS-supporting interpreter you should do so. There are a few puzzles but they don't really feel urgent, just a thing or two you need to do when you get around to it and feel ready to move on. In the meantime the island has other things to play with and places to explore, and this is enough.



Recommended Games

2112 (George K. George [George K. Algire]) Windows Exe:
It is in fact possible for a home-grown system to have a parser comparable to TADS/Inform/Hugo, as this game demonstrates. It's even possible to have one that does that and, as a native-code executable, takes advantage of various windows (or whatever) special features to present spiffier graphics and so on. So this has slow-scrolling text with typewriter noises and plays sounds and plays around with text coloring and stuff. The question, I guess, is what does this all buy you? It seems like it's sort of a pity when you go to all the trouble of hand-rolling a parser and all the other basic blocks of IF, and then you write a game that's basically a pretty standard work of IF with puzzles and not-really-responsive NPCs and sort of a thin storyline. Like, you should take advantage of the strengths of your chosen platform, and if those aren't portability and standardization, you shouldn't try and compete with games written on those grounds. I'd like people doing executables for windows and dos and so on do games that do things you can't do elsewhere, wacky things with displays or user interface or graphics. But oh well. Anyway, 2112 is a pretty standard science-fiction adventure. You're this kid going on a field trip to Mars, and you stumble on this conspiracy, and the world is in danger, and you're the only one who can save it, and there's this side bit about consumerism and stuff. I dunno. The writing here is entirely adequate but not really more than that and the same goes for the story.



an apple from nowhere (steven carbone [Brendan Barnwell]) Glulx:
This is one of those games that would be objectionable if it was much larger but at its current length sticks to being amusing. It's not actually, like, interactive or anything, and the story will happily roll over any commands you type. But the story is amusing if meaningless and kept me occupied for the short time it took to play through the game.



The Beetmonger's Journal (Aubrey Foil [Scott Starkey]) TADS 2:
I felt kind of like a Jehovah's Witness or something playing this game; I kept going up to NPCs and doing >TELL NPC ABOUT BEETMONGERISM. That aside, this was a pretty good game. You play a novice beetmonger (who actually sells beets; I'm not sure what the author thinks members of the Rotary club do) who decides she must respond to the prince's rather unclearly-motivated denounciations of beetmongerism. There are a couple puzzles which are pretty good although in need of a few more in-game hints. This whole thing is wrapped up in a story about a famous explorer and his sidekick which is in some ways more interesting than the core story, although the outer story has a pretty weak ending. Overall a pretty generic fantasy game, but hey, it's competently done and the writing's not bad.



Carma (The Wanna-be Writer [Marnie Parker]) Glulx:
There's that complaint about some IF games being ones where the author ties you to a chair and shouts the plot at you. This is one where the author ties you to a chair and shouts a musical at you. There's basically no significant player input here; you can do stuff but only to make the plot step along, and you're jerked around from scene to scene. But in consolation you get to see lots of funny pictures and hear music and stuff, and there's one truly technically impressive use of glk stuff. If you don't have a multimedia interpreter, you can give this a miss, but if you do it is a fun and unobjectionable ride.



The Cave of Morpheus (Mark Silcox) ADRIFT:
Look, it's an ADRIFT game on the recommended list. Crazy, eh? The Cave of Morpheus is a surprisingly charming game about a hapless adolescent rescued by one of the guiding lights of IF. The game is also interesting as a demonstration of ADRIFT's abilities and limitations: Silcox includes timed delays and an advent snippet, but has to split this into two games in order to have the narrative shift from first-person to second. The Cave of Morpheus is short and doesn't overstay its welcome, and the writing is snappy enough to keep the tone up.



The Chasing (Anssi Raisanen) Alan:
Raisanen's game is a pleasant surprise: it's a very nice and well-mannered game, with just the right amount of easy not but not quite trivial puzzles. It's set in Generic Fantasyland (the kind with magicians and lawnmowers) and you spend the game walking around looking for your lost horses and oh-so-coincidentally solving puzzles along the way. It's quite good-natured and has a walkthrough if you get stuck, so go play it.



The Coast House (Stephen Newton and Dan Newton) TADS 2:
I like these kind of games. This one's set in a small town in Texas and, like On The Farm or A Day for Soft Food, is mostly about hanging around, checking out the scenery, and feeling the atmosphere. And also like those two, The Coast House has kind of a uneven plot that doesn't really captivate. But that's fine, since I was busy wandering around and talking to people and stuff. I would have liked to see this game be bigger; more things to look at, more stuff to play around with (ie, puzzles), more people to talk to. As it is it's a pleasant little romp (with a very strange ending) that could have been more.



The Cruise (Norman Perlmutter) TADS 2:
Let me start off with this:
That was fun! But hanging out in the bathroom and flushing the toilet just to see what happens is not exactly your idea of a dream vacation.
Norman Perlmutter, you are SO WRONG. Anyway, this game has a flushable toilet, so props for that. It also has "If you don't hurry up and go to the dining room you'll be late for lunch!" which amuses me more than it has any right to. It also has a gandalf-ripoff sitting at the cruise ship's bar who tells you that you have to find the three magic whatsits to stop the evil guy from taking over the world or something, and you only have 275 turns to do it. Why 275, you are wondering, and I cannot tell you. Basically the whole story is pretty dull and unoriginal and the puzzles are mostly not so hot. One puzzle in particular violates the primary rule of puzzle design ("If I'm doing the right thing, tell me I'm doing the right thing"). On the plus side, though, the setting is quite well-laid-and and the game has a number of very well implemented things, like water, clothing, and a slot machine. Perlmutter shows he has the coding skillz in this game, but still has a ways to go in the plot department.



Earth And Sky (Lee Kirby [Paul O'Brian]) Z-Machine:
Hmm, another demo. This one puts you in the role of a comic-book heroine, your brother in the role of a comic-book hero, and your missing parents in the role of a comic-book running plot device. Since it's a demo, the game spends part of its time introducing the setup, part of the time introducing the characters and their powers and stuff, and part of the time annoying you by ending early before anything has really happened. I am also somewhat torn about the writing; on the one hand the jokes your character makes are actually funny, but on the other hand nothing you say actually makes any difference to the plot, and the other characters always take the jokes you make completely literally, which seems to defeat the purpose. There's only one puzzle in this game and it's kind of lame; this is understandable for a demo but still not really as fun as it could/should be. Even though I'm recommending this I think I'd advise holding off and seeing if the whole game really does come out (best bet: it won't, since a demo has been released), and playing this only if you can't get a bigger version.



Film at Eleven (Bowen Greenwood) Z-Machine:
It's weird how this doesn't work as well as it ought to work. It's a pretty solidly implemented detective story with decent writing. It claims to be a journalist story, but it's really a detective story. You're wandering around a small town looking for evidence of a particular set of breaking news, and perhaps that's the real problem with the game. The news doesn't break. Or, rather, it remains constant in its half-broken state until you come around and prod each piece into action. If this was a real town, there'd be people wandering around, things would happen as time passed, and it would, like, matter if you typed >Z a bunch. But as far as I can tell the clues just sort of hang out until you're ready to take a look at them, so I never feel any particular urgency or connection.



Fine Tuned (Dionysius Porcupine [Dennis Jerz]) Z-Machine:
Man, such a disappointment. This game is funny (it even has actual jokes that made me laugh), it's well-written, it's got a great setting; too bad it's buggy and unimplemented enough to be only barely playable and not, as far as I can tell, winnable. You're a happy-go-lucky adventurer in the dawning age of the automobile; there are nefarious villains to thwart and beautiful damsels to rescue and stuff. You have a sidekick, which is pretty much all I should have to say. And this is all good, but the game also crashes randomly, gets into guess-the-verb holes, and I know only one person who's gotten past the cellar scene and she can't explain how she did it. So don't play this version, but if the author cleans it up and releases a real version post-comp, definitely play that.



The Gostak (Carl Muckenhoupt) Z-Machine:
The obvious comparison here is Lighan ses Lion, of course. This is another game written in a foreign language (although here the language is a strange mix of English and Gostakian or whatever, so you get some translated right from the start — the how-to-play-this-game menus suddenly take on a new level of helpfulness), and most of the game is figuring out what it says. Unlike Lighan ses Lion, there's much too much text to translate the whole thing (whereas there the problem was not enough text to translate), but more to the point, Zarf's transcript was about a world much like our (or the Zork adventurer's) own. Muckenhoupt's piece, on the other hand, is about someplace different, someplace we don't and can't fully understand. It's alien and inexplicable, and this is cool, but I found it also ultimately unsatisfying for that same reason.



Moments Out of Time (L. Ross Raszewski) Z-Machine:
This is an extremely ambitious game that doesn't quite have the writing or plotting to meet all its goals. The coding, on the other hand, is quite impressive, but this is only to be expected, as Raszewski is well known for his various Inform library releases. The premise is relatively simple: you're a time traveller sent back to poke around a house and find out as much about the occupants as you can. There are no real twists or turns; the whole plot really is just poking around the house with a variety of fancy devices to trace out the people's lives. I like nothing better than an excuse to snoop around somewhere, and it's a pretty interesting story that comes out. The problem is that there's no final coherence, even if you manage to track down all the details (no easy task). In a way this makes sense: real research isn't a neatly-plotted plot arc but the careful accumulation of details. But, still, this isn't satisfying for the player, and it's almost certainly going to be especially unsatisfying on the first few playthroughs; the game is difficult enough that you're unlikely to find anywhere close to the whole story on the first runs unless you resort to the walkthrough. This is compounded by only being able to pick a few of the initials devices to take with you: this adds to replay value but lowers the value of any given playthrough. Whether this is a worthwhile tradeoff is a hard call to make. Anyway, I'm generally in favor of this game but it's more about the journey than the destination, as it were.
(Disclaimer: I was a beta-tester for this game)



A Night Guest (Dr. Inkalot [Valentine Kopteltsev]) TADS 2:
A game where every (correct) turn corresponds to a stanza of a poem is a cool idea, especially with scattered random illustrations. I am perfectly willing to forgive the poetry being not very good, but it's more annoying that you can't seem to progress without doing the exact right thing each turn. This game also does that big game design no-no, berating the player each turn you fail to solve a puzzle. This is almost always a bad move by the author, the moreso since generally the reason the player is stuck is because the author designed a bad puzzle. Anyway, uh, I had to use the hints most every turn but that's ok, the game went fast anyway and it was amusing enough. So there you go.



No Time To Squeal (Mike Sousa and Robb Sherwin) TADS 2:
It's weird how this really does feel like a game written by Sousa and Sherwin. Sherwin's credited as doing the writing, but presumably Sousa did a certain amount of it also, as the text generally lacks the reckless energy (and profanity) that characterized, say, Chicks Dig Jerks. Plot-wise, the game is divided into a number of real-world sections, followed by a somewhat longer fantasy section. The real-world sections are considerably stronger in terms of character and setting (which shouldn't be too surprising; Sherwin's demonstrated a mastery of roughly sketching out interesting characters, and Sousa's At Wit's End, whatever its other faults, had a broad and quite well-executed setting). The fantasy-world section is pretty blah; it's a riff on Alice pretty similar (I imagine) to American McGee's Alice but it doesn't really make that much sense and it doesn't feel particularly fresh or innovative. That's especially disappointing considering that Chicks Dig Jerks and A Crimson Spring had a bunch of cool fantasy stuff. Maybe Sherwin writes best when it's real-world-gone-odd, not straight fantasy? It's hard to say. In the end I'm inclined to call this collaboration a mixed success: a lot of the energy and creativity found in Sherwin's writing seems to have vanished, and, although Sousa's influence (I assume) has led to relatively quite polished writing and coding, the end product comes out kind of blah. Also, and I don't know whose fault this was, not one but two plotlines are left completely dangling at the end. What's up with that?



Prized Possession (Kathleen M. Fischer) Z-Machine:
My, this is grim. I am not exactly sure if this is a romance novel as such: is there a subgenre of romance novels where the heroine is always at risk of getting raped or killed or sent into a nunnery? I guess there's always the risk of it, but in this game it actually happens. Repeatedly. Because if you don't do just the right sequence of moves you generally end up in a Bad Ending within a few turns. Granted, this game is set in the middle ages (the real-true middles ages, not a generic fantasy riff), and you're female, so presumably it is somewhat realistic to have life pretty much suck with badness around ever corner, but it's not clear this is actually fun to play. Anyway, the writing's good, the setting's not bad at giving a real medieval feel, but the linearity and frequent ways to suddenly end the game unpleasantly make this game sort of a mixed bag.



Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country (One of the Bruces [Adam Thornton]) Glulx:
Good lord. When this game says it's offensive, it is so not kidding. It is also hilarious and more or less the sort of thing you would expect if the author of Sins Against Mimesis got really drunk and read a bunch of Space Moose comics, which is more or less what I assume happened. But primarily it's offensive, and if you happen to be playing with an interpreter that can handle the multimedia, it turns into something really extraordinarily offensive. This is not to say it doesn't rock, just that, like, I wouldn't play it around my grandmother.



To Otherwhere and Back (Gregory Ewing) Alan:
This is a walkthrough comp entry, not finished in time to enter, so Ewing went ahead and submitted it here. It feels kind of weak as an entry in the main comp, but it's still pretty solidly written and coded and good for the same fifteen minutes of amusement you get from the other walkthrough comp games.



Triune (Papillon) TADS 2:
Probably I should start off by saying this is not much like Papillon's previous game, Desert Heat, even though it has a certain amount of violence and a certain amount of, well, sex-like things. But this game is mostly about hitting adolescence and the sex and violence are the adolescent kind, raging and raw and not particularly real. And it's specifically about female adolescence: the plot-paths the game takes are related, rather heavy-handedly, to, er, female life-paths. So that's all fine. The setting is not fine. The game is in large part a fantasy game that comments on fantasy games, a la Bliss. The problem is, like in Bliss, the fantasy world that it presents is annoying and weak, and the fact that it is there as commentary does not change that. It's not a bad game but it doesn't have much originality to it. The ending starts to go somewhere interesting but it's not really long enough or well-enough thought out to count for much.



Not Recommended Games

Bane of the Builders (Bogdan Baliuc) Z-Machine:
Enh. It's sort of a generic sf adventure with a maze. There are some aliens and a weird pseudo-time-travel thing that's never explained and an elevator and a general feeling that the setting doesn't really make sense and people couldn't have actually lived here. It's not really a bad game as such but it's not all that entertaining. I do like that it has an atomic flashlight, though.



Colours (Anonymous [J. Robinson Wheeler]) Z-Machine:
Hmm. It's hard to tell if this game is a good idea that didn't get fleshed out fully, or a not-very-good idea that did. I'm kind of inclined to the former idea since there are good bits and there are noticeable bugs that presumably would have been straightened out given more time. On the other hand the idea feels somewhat complete as it is, and I don't really know where it would have gone. I think the problem is the author had this one puzzle idea and built a game around it and was going to fill it out with other puzzles but ran out of time. Or something. I dunno. Props for the puzzle but it would have been just as good as one of those cryptic crosswords or something.



Crusade (John Gorenfeld) Z-Machine:
Parody is easy, comedy is hard. Or something. This isn't exactly a parody; it's got one part with you as a crusader wandering through the desert looking for a heathen city, and one part with you as Jesus. In both cases the intent is to combine a very loose interpretation of the text with modern sensibilities to produce humor, and it's mostly, hmm, not especially successful. Part of the problem is there aren't that many actual jokes, and at least for the me, the situations are not original enough to be inherently funny. Like, there have been a zillion skits about Jesus-as-modern in one form or the another, so seeing it again isn't all that humorous. Jesus as dentist, now that's comedy, but a bit based on "hey, why didn't Jesus beat those guards up? can't the son of god kick ass?" isn't all that funny, and that's almost the only joke of the scene. This game isn't completely without humor but it doesn't have enough of it given that that's more or less all it has to offer.



Elements (John Evans) Z-Machine:
This is almost recommended. There are some neat items, some cool events, fairly interesting places, and it doesn't quite add up to anything. Part of the problem is the weak implementation; most rooms have exactly one useful item in them, and virtually nothing else will be coded, not even to the extent of "That's not important". The plot/setting has some neat parallelisms but it's never fully exploited, I think because each layer is not particularly detailed and so there's not enough to compare. A side issue is that the setting comes off as pretty generic fantasy, but that could probably be fixed also if the game had more details. I think if Evans had shrunk the number of rooms and put the resulting effort into descriptions and extra objects and stuff, that would have helped immensely. There's also one blatant programming error in one of the early rooms that should have been caught by beta-testing; I don't know if this game had no beta-testing or if this was just a late change. Oh, and one last gripe: the game makes a big deal of offering to give you tattooes of various designs in various places, and then does nothing whatsoever with this information. Bah on that.



The Evil Sorcerer (Gren Remoz) Z-Machine:
This is one of those games where the author had a whole bunch of ideas. Some of them were good, some of them were bad, and some of them were just unoriginal. The difference between a skilled IF author and a novice is, the novice author puts all the kinds of ideas in the game. The skilled author has all three kinds of ideas, but throws away the lame ones. This game has, for instance, a wallet that has a driver's license, a visa card, and an alien id card with a picture of a weird lizard thing; an evil sorceror that has to be killed because otherwise he'll summon a demon or something; a good wizard to help you out but who otherwise does nothing; and the Necronomicon. Not all of these ideas should have made it in. The game has too many puzzles which involve finding keys in unlikely locations (the more unlikely since somebody supposedly lives in the house and needs access to the locations regularly), has only so-so writing, and as mentioned, the ideas are a mixed bag. Remoz has some potential but needs practice; I'd be more interested in the game he writes two or three games from now.



Fusillade (Mike Duncan) TADS 2:
Fusillade is a extended series of short, extremely linear snippets which are generally all more interesting than the game as a whole. The problem seems to be that Duncan had too many ideas and didn't have the nerve to cut it down to a few that could be developed, or possibly the issue was that he never really worked out a compelling overarching story so all the individual bits just dangle. They're cool in themselves but extremely linear; your commands never make a difference, either because the plot advances anyway or because they're the only way to make it advance. This would have been far better if he'd taken any of the snippets, particularly some of the more exotic ones, and expanded them to the point where they could stand on their own. Instead we see each one for a few turns and care about none, with the result that the game as a whole has no impact whatsoever.



Goofy (Ricardo Dague) Java Applet:
Enh, I dunno. This is basically a demonstration of the fact that if you spend your time working on the parser and object model and stuff, you don't have time to work on the game, and the result is not people saying "wow, this is really a good parser considering it was written from scratch", it's people saying "this parser isn't as good as the standard TADS/Inform/Hugo one, and the game is pretty lame besides".



Grayscale (Daniel Freas) TADS 2:
This game is much bigger than it should be. The setting is mostly composed of unnecessary rooms and pithy quotations which mean nothing. There's the fairly well-known guideline in IF writing that the game doesn't have to implement every place in the setting, it just has to implement enough to suggest the setting. And the problem is, even if you trimmed this down to a dozen rooms or so, there's still not that much content. It's mostly wandering around in a setting that doesn't really have any internal structure, and the puzzles aren't really compelling enough to make it worth sticking around long enough to try and figure out what's going on. This is made especially difficult by all the extra rooms, since most of the stuff you encounter really is irrelevant, but there's, eg, one quotation out of the dozen that matters. The implementation here is solid, but I ended up feeling like the rest of the game was casually slapped together.



Invasion of the Angora-fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of Jupiter (Morten Rasmussen) Windows Exe:
Man, with a title like this, how could a game be bad? Except this is. Or maybe it isn't, and I just didn't find out because I felt no motivation to keep playing. The game starting off with you at a train station is good. The game then continuing by you having to find your way through a large city to your house, find your way across the city to a record store, then find your way elsewhere in the city to a record studio or something, thatsa no good. I gave up at this point, without even seeing a single killer transvestite. (Speaking of killers, I notice that this game is real-time and built on kind of a single-player-mud engine so everyone has hitpoints and you can wander around killing the NPCs.)



Jump (Chris Mudd) Z-Machine:
Ok, my new theory is that Mudd is a Rybread-Celsius-esque self-parody who is now unable to write any other kind of game. And I'm making this theory after Mudd's only written two games. But his earlier one was 1-2-3..., and this is like that, only moreso. More or less all the gameplay's been removed and it retains only the offensiveness.



Kallisti (James A. Mitchelhill) TADS 2:
I honestly can't tell if we're intended to totally dislike the protagonist and the main NPC and the world and everything else about this game, or if there is just some horrific misunderstanding going on. Anyway, um, you're this guy, you work in a printer's firm, there's this chyk (a virgin, the first sentence of the game explains), you want to make it with her, and you do so by engaging in long postmodern discussions. If I were female, that'd certainly be the way to get in my pants. So the game is mostly you talking to her, then having sex with her, and then the Surprising And Symbolic Conclusion. The writing through the whole thing is just incredibly awful. Not so much badly spelled or ungrammatical or anything, just awful. Like, to pick one random bit, here's the last few lines of the PC's description:
The truth was that he was a true European, tied to no one state, except by accident of birth. He was foreign everywhere, the traces of an accent lingering on every word he spoke. His thoughts were impenetrable, guarded by the fortress of his face. Whenever he played poker, he won; but he won every game he played.
And the whole game is like this, including the sex scenes. Now, I am all for pornography, but I don't want it to involve Michel Foucault. Anyway, possibly the game is some kind of elaborate parody or something and I'm just missing the point, but even then I can't really recommend it, and if it's actually serious, man.



The Last Just Cause (Noob [Jeremy Carey-Dressler]) DOS Exe:
This is the more advanced game written by Noob (who also did You Were Doomed From The Start). It is better in the sense that it uses other commands besides 'pickup' but that is about it. Most of the game that I found involves randomly walking around fighting wandering monsters every three turns (and it's always the same wandering monster, and they're never hard to kill, and you always have to spend about four turns fighting them, and when it misses you the message is always "The Double J missed! ;-)" and so on). Basically, look, ok, presumably the author is a teenager and has coded his own IF system and his first real game and this is all very impressive that he was able to do it, but the end product still sucks, and is one more testimonial why people should spend their time working on the game, because that's what the user cares about, and not the parser and stuff, which the user doesn't notice unless it doesn't work.



Lovesong (Mihalis "DarkAng3l" Georgostathis) Quest:
I don't remember Pintown from the '97 comp all that well, but I think this is pretty similar, being one of those boy-and-his-guitar-and-his-girl games. It's written in Quest and isn't really much of an argument for the authoring system, frankly; the verbs are all pretty basic and most of the puzzles are just use-thing-on-other-thing. It's sort of cute and feels sincere enough, but it's not really all that good, frankly.



Mystery Manor (Mystery [Mystery]) ADRIFT:
Hee hee. Stepping through the upstairs, I see one description that tells me the flashes of lightning show a second shadow in the room even though I'm all alone, and then the next room over mentions a mysterious cold draft, and then the next room has a ghost with spikes in his head, and then a headless woman walks into the room and so on and so on. Presumably the author was under the impression that if one ghost is scary, twenty ghosts is twenty times as scary, and a ghost every turn is as scary as possible. In fact, It Does Not Work Like That.



The Newcomer (Jason Love) Z-Machine:
Grr. I think if an author is going to enter a game in the comp, it is the least they can do to finish all the room descriptions. Is that asking so much? This game has an interesting premise and setting but is nowhere close to being a completed game. It is "winnable", but good luck finding either of the solutions without txd. Bah, I say, bah.



Schroedinger's Cat (James Willson) Z-Machine:
Like In the Spotlight, this game is basically just a single puzzle with no accouterments. Unlike that game, Schroedinger's Cat doesn't even have a way to win, it's just a thing you play around with and ultimately give up on because Willson has given you no reason to care, not even the pretense of a story. It's sort of a cool puzzle — more interesting than it appears at first (check out the hints and try some of the things it suggests, particularly the third thing). But on its own, a puzzle is meaningless, and this game is nothing but a puzzle, so enh.



Shattered Memory (Akbarr) Z-Machine:
Man, it really feels like Akbarr was trying hard here. He had an interesting story going on, something about standing around with no memory (ok, that's not the interesting part) in a big line, trying to figure out what the hell's going on. Unfortunately, doing so is almost impossible without the hints (which were not provided until after the comp started), and when you do, the story isn't really clear and doesn't quite make sense. Why is the line necessary? Why are people's memory removed? Why was a mistake made, especially one so easily corrected? These are just a couple questions the game raises only to answer unsatisfactorily or not at all.



Silicon Castles (Jack Maet [David Given]) Z-Machine:
If you recall Lists and Lists, this is that, only now the genie plays chess. Furthermore, there's no exercises or attempt to teach you chess strategy with mini-puzzles or anything; if you don't want to play with a chess-playing genie, this game has nothing to offer you.



Stick it to the man (H. Joshua Field [Brendan Barnwell]) Glulx:
You're an anarchist attempting along with a couple of your friends to put the title into action. You are also possibly disillusioned with the Movement and not really sure What It All Means anymore, and then you go to a rally and look around and and see some propaganda that the author of the game wrote and then the game crashes, and you say "man, didn't he play through this game before submitting it?"



Stranded (Rich Cummings) TADS 2:
If you don't have HTML-TADS I would probably give this a miss, as most of the attraction for me was wandering around looking at the pictures of wildlife and scenery, some of which kept trying to kill me or suck me under or whatever. And it has ample opportunity, because I spent a heck of a long time wandering around looking for food and being lost in the swamp and stuff, which is a great simulation of what it's like to be stranded on an island but not in fact a lot of fun to play. This is compounded by having lots of sudden-death rooms filled with quicksand or something (plus other rooms that look like those but in fact are vital to go into), read-the-author's-mind puzzles, and a plot that is developed in the prologue and in the epilogue but not anywhere in between. All that said, the pictures were nice, and the random messages actually worked pretty well in setting the scene. I think the game should have been shrunk considerably room-wise and more effort put into the storyline and the individual rooms, even if this meant not using some of the photographs.



SURREAL (Matthew Lowe) GAGS:
This game is in GAGS. GAGS, the adventure system designed in 1985 and supplanted entirely by AGT in 1987. And yet it lives today! Well, if you call this living. I think all the puzzles can be solved using >UNLOCK X WITH Y. In fact, they have to be, since this game doesn't have what you might call a large vocabulary (or even what a college football player might call a large vocabulary). There are a few possibly-good ideas in here crying to get out, but they're buried pretty deep beneath the authoring system.



The Test (Matt, Dark Baron [Matt, Dark Baron]) ADRIFT:
This is the game you would expect someone signing themselves "Matt, Dark Baron" to write, only much, much worse. Nevertheless, I have a certain affection for it, if only for the fact that it starts out with you sitting bored in maths (not math class — this is british) class only to discover: your maths professor is actually a time lord!! Just as you always suspected!! Then it goes pretty much directly into a series of thinly-linked puzzles that are stolen from other games, require you to solve a math problem (no doubt one just learned in maths class only minutes before!!), and/or are annoying. The prize for Most Annoying Puzzle Ever In The Entire World Including Anything You Can Name From a Phoenix Game goes to this game, for a puzzle that requires you to listen to a badly-recorded MIDI file of beepings in morse code and translate those (using the helpfully-provided chart) into letters. This is so unimaginably painful, all I can say is, it's a good thing the author didn't password-protect the game so you could pull it up in the editor and see what the command is. Anyway, um, Peter Berman is probably stunned by the brilliance and artistry of this game, but everyone else should probably give it a miss.



Timeout (Stephen Hilderbrand) Z-Machine:
This is a science fiction game, teetering on the brink of copyright infringement of Paranoia but apparently not quite falling over the edge. I haven't played Paranoia before but I realize it involves a maniacal computer and random death (but you have clones, so it's ok). And this part of the game is in fact fine and good and stuff. But there's not sufficient direction in the game after the first ten turns or so, so I do a lot of wandering, and the coding is only so-so (I find closed things that don't understand 'open', and hit one or two things that made frotz bomb out entirely). So, plusses for the setting, which unfortunately is not by Hilderbrand, minuses for the actual plot and coding, which unfortunately are.



Vicious Cycles (Simon Mark) Z-Machine:
It's noticeable how many not-very-good games have a decent setup laid on top of some really lame, cliched backstory. I don't know why this is — maybe people think up something cool and then run out of imagination when it comes time to explain the cool thing. So this game has a nifty event-repeating thing going on, backed by what appears to be a completely unoriginal story about people inventing a time machine and meddling with things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Then it has a game-stopping bug midway along and there doesn't appear to be any way to work around it. Oh well. (Later, I was informed that there is a way around it, so it's merely a badly-coded puzzle rather than a game-stopping bug. My apologies. But then the ending thus revealed is a pretty unpleasant science-is-bad-hulk-smash sort of conclusion which I found both offensive and unconvincing, so.)



Volcano Isle (Paul DeWitt) TADS 2:
I've only played a handful of Scott Adams games but this is what I imagine they're like. Or, rather, this is what someone who wanted to make a Scott-Adams-esque game in TADS would make. Anyway, you arrive on an island, there's treasure you have to collect, there's a mysterious stranger wandering around on a preset path, there's even (I wince to say) a maze. I think this is a reasonably faithful attempt at a style of game which is not very popular nowadays. But, like, I think it's not very popular for a reason, so.



You Are Here (Roy Fisher) Z-Machine:
This is sort of almost interesting but not quite. Fisher's blurb makes it clear that this is a game based on a mud, submitted as a promo for a play about virtual-and-then-real relationships that take place on that mud. What the game does not make clear (at least I was surprised) was that this is a hack-and-slash lpMUD type, not a hang-out-and-chat tinyMUD (or ifMUD) type. Now, lord knows I am all for mud-related smoochies, but I gotta say, hack-and-slash is fairly uninteresting when you're actually doing it on a mud, let alone when you're pretending to do it on a mud. The brief glimpse of tinysex is amusing but feels kind of out of place, although maybe it's more usual on the muds the play is based on. The puzzles are pretty typical for mud quests, which is to say, not really up to IF-standard. If you're a die-hard lpMUDder you may dig this; I'm not and didn't.



You Were Doomed From The Start (Noob [Jeremy Carey-Dressler]) DOS Exe:
This is a demo game written by somebody for his homegrown IF system. It is unclear why he thought it was worth entering in the IF competition. A notable feature of the game is it supports only about a dozen verbs, two of which are >QUIT. Make of this what you will.



And that's all. For other IF-related things, including many more reviews, you can go to my main IF page.