2002 Interactive Fiction Competition

These are my reviews of the games I played in the 2002 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

Another Earth, Another Sky (Paul O'Brian) Glulx:
I feel strongly that more problems in IF games should be resolvable by smashing things. Having played Another Earth, Another Sky, I also feel that this smashing should be accompanied by a big "KER-POW" or "BLAMMO" to let me know that the smashing was successful. I gave the game that this is a sequel to (Earth And Sky, of course) a mild thumbs-down, saying that it was kind of weak and you should wait for the rest of the game that this was a demo for. Well, the bad news is that Another Earth, Another Sky continues the episodic format, and that we're probably going to have to wait til 2003 to see the exciting conclusion. The good news is in the meantime, we get to play this game and smash things. Hooray! O'Brian has taken everything that was so-so in Earth And Sky and tightened it up for Another Earth, Another Sky, and in the process turned an okay game into a great one. The puzzles here are both more sophisticated and better-clued, the comedy is more amusing, and the ability to smash things has risen to new heights. The one weak point in Another Earth, Another Sky is something that, unfortunately, didn't really improve from Earth And Sky. Specifically, whenever your sibling is around, she just hangs out. If I say something to her she responds with a wisecrack and then falls silent again. I dunno, I mean, I realize NPCs are hard, but I'd like to see a little more initiative here from someone who's nominally my crime-fightin' partner. But that's not that big a deal in this game, and there is smashing, so it rules.



Janitor (Seebs [Peter Seebach] and Seebs [Kevin Lynn]) Z-Machine:
This game would have scored slightly higher if it was shorter, since there is a clever bit at the end that I didn't get to within two hours. That said, there are a fair amount of clever bits that I did get to. Janitor is fundamentally a gimmick game; the puzzles and jokes take a sideline to playing around with the gimmick. This is good as long as you get the gimmick, and some people who shall remain nameless (blush) wander around for a bit before finding the object necessary to trigger the gimmick. But that was fine, because that wandering prepared me for the rest of the game, which also consisted of a fair amount of wandering around trying to figure out what to do next. The authors are not big on the whole 'guide the player' thing (at least, not in-game. There are hints, which are reasonably helpful, but I'd still prefer to get gentle guidance from the game itself). All that said, this is a fun game with a clever not-often-seen-before gimmick and some nice plot twists towards the end when things would otherwise be slowing down.



The Moonlit Tower (Yoon Ha Lee) Z-Machine:
Promising author. Watch this spot. Lee says that this is her first IF game but she's had static fiction published before, which explains the relatively simple code but polished writing. Almost too polished; I started off thinking it was overwritten but was eventually won over. This game comes off mostly as an advertisement for future games by the author; I liked the imagery and the objects (part of the pleasure of IF, at least for me, is fancy objects to play with that I can't have in real life; like So Far's box, a number of the objects here are elegant and make me wish for feelies), and am looking forward to a game with some plot.



Scary House Amulet! (Shimpenstein) Z-Machine:
If you don't think the title is funny, this may not be the game for you. Normally these kind of games fall flat, but a couple, like Death To My Enemies and this one, manage to more-or-less carry it off. There's not really anything to say about the puzzles or setting or whatever; they're all firmly secondary to the tone.



Recommended Games

Augustine (Terrence V. Koch) TADS 2:
I haven't seen Highlander, but I don't think the author has to really worry about being accused of ripping it off — or at least, Highlander had better take a number along with Amber, The Three Musketeers, The Princess Bride, and every other story about swordfighting and revenge. And this is perfectly fine by me. Revenge is a classic basis for the story, and if it's a wacky Revenge Across Time With Magic Swords that's even better in my book. That said, Koch doesn't quite have the skills to carry this one off: the idea is so large that the individual bits of the story end up being fairly sparsely implemented. And this is especially unfortunate because Koch came up with what (I think) is a unique and clever twist on the basic idea: the city of St Augustine acts as both a backdrop and a third character for much of the game, and what better gets across the idea of time passing than watching a city evolve? Sadly, most of the potential is squandered. There aren't really any times in Augustine when you get to see a location in the city and then come back later to see how it's changed, so most of the information about the changes just gets told to you rather than shown. Similarly, there's character development but it feels pretty weak; there are girls you fall in love with and angry conversations with your nemesis and nothing is quite believable. I really like swashbuckling and I wanted to like this more. If there had been a way to cut the plot in half and double the details inserted it would have been a better game. As it is you can play Augustine but not without thinking of how it could be improved, and that's quite a distraction.



BOFH (Howard Sherman) Z-Machine:
The premise of BOFH is that you are the (a) Bastard Operator From Hell, Sysadmin Extraordinare. If this premise does not intrigue you, you may want to give this game a miss, because it's not much more than that. BOFH is fairly faithfully adapted from the series by Simon Travaglia, which chronicles a sysadmin's sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated attempts to make the lives of those around him hellish. And hey, who doesn't like doing that? Unfortunately, BOFH reads better as a transcript (thoughtfully included as the walkthrough) than as an actual game — there's too much guess-the-plot-point and the puzzles aren't that satisfying to solve (with the exception of the fire alarm).



coffee quest II (Dog Solitude) TADS 2:
This is one of those low-budget games where the author couldn't afford to spend much on special effects, so they set it in their office, and they couldn't really get any props or special effects, so the puzzles mostly involve office supplies and there's only one or two flashy scenes. Given all this, it has to be a comedy that mostly relies on the writing and dialogue, but luckily the author is british so more or less anything they write is funny. Not real funny — Dog Solitude is no Kevin Smith — but funny enough to play if you like that kind of thing.



Color and Number (Steven Kollmansberger) TADS 2:
If I'd been playing with a one-hour time limit instead of a two-hour time limit I would have given this game a higher score. The first part is really quite good — yes, it's purely a puzzle game, and yes, it's got a goofy "you are in a puzzle game for no good reason" setup, but that's fine, I like those things. I especially like the kind of puzzles this starts out with, which are intuitive and rely on figuring out the rules, rather than mechanical, about manipulating known rules. Then sadly the second half is basically all either tedious rule-manipulation (There are N thinguses, and then a set of buttons, each of which changes the state of some of the thinguses. Turn all the thinguses to the off state. Yawn.) or incomprehensible intuition puzzles (if anyone figured out the robes, let me know). But oh well, the first part was cool, as long as you find the necessary notes to get you started. Search carefully.



Eric's Gift (Joao Mendes) TADS 3:
This is the first TADS 3 game entered in the annual comp (and the third TADS 3 game released, I think, after Forever Always and Mission:Summer). It's a pity that this game doesn't seem to make use of any of the new TADS 3 features; as far as I could tell it could have been written in TADS 2 or Inform with no real loss. Or, in fact, it could have been written as a short story with no real loss. Come to think of it, it was: the author says it was based on a short story which was in turn based on a dream, and indeed it has the vaguely dream-like quality of only focusing on certain aspects of the story and glossing over explanations and side details. In some situations that can lead to an effective and focused story, but here it's mostly annoying: like it or not you are going along with the storyline as written and if you don't want to, fine, the game will just wait there until you're willing. The real pity is I liked the details in this game: I want to know what a jet-painter is and what it feels like to live in the future and everything else. As it is the details get shunted to the back and I'm left being forced to go along with a story I don't really care about.



Evacuate (Jeff Rissman) TADS 2:
I haven't played Starship Titanic but I assume this was inspired by that; the premise is you're the last one on a big luxury liner which has, sadly, been attacked by aliens. There is a desk clerk robot who is not very bright and a central computer who is not much brighter, which I guess is why it is up to you to save the ship. So much for the general plot. The details here are better; there is sufficient climbing around and messing with stuff to make me feel like I was indeed exploring an abandoned ship, although frankly if I were really in that situation I would skip all the trying-to-save-the-ship stuff and go straight to the getting-the-heck-out-of-there part. Sadly, there were some bad puzzle choices in the early/midgame that ruined most of the thrill for me: a maze that sucked up a lot of time and a hunger puzzle (a hunger puzzle — hello, this is 2002, people) that sent me to the walkthrough from that point on (after I restarted, since I'd starved because of the maze). I think if you're into puzzle-solving and willing to put in some time (and excuse the author a certain amount of bad design) this would be a fairly rewarding game; in the confines of the comp it doesn't quite work.



Fort Aegea (Francesco Bova) Z-Machine:
This is something of a sequel to The Jewel of Knowledge from a few years back. The main character isn't the same but previous events are referred to, and it's in the same pseudo-d&d fantasy world. A number of poor game-design choices from The Jewel of Knowledge were cleared up in this one: there's no maze, for instance, and the action moves along much more surely in most places. The puzzles still stumble a touch, and there could definitely be more clues for almost-right solutions. But the real reason it feels like a sequel is, well, the feel. Bova has a particular slant on characterization and tone which rides the border between dramatic and overwrought, and sometimes falls over entirely. This is never more apparent than in the ending, which is as melodramatic as The Jewel of Knowledge, though not in the same way. In fact, the ending here harkens back to The Jewel of Knowledge from a plot perspective as well, and vaguely suggests a third game which might make the previous overdone tragedies worthwhile. Or maybe not.
(Disclaimer: I was a beta-tester for this game)



The Granite Book (James Mitchelhill) TADS 2:
Mitchelhill is of course infamous for last year's Kallisti (and hey, how often does one get a chance to describe an IF person other than CE Forman as "infamous"?), so I should start off the review by reassuring people that The Granite Book is not the same thing at all. That said, it's not unreasonable that they were both written by the same person; the same writing that drenched Kallisti is in evidence here, just laid on with a lighter touch, and the somewhat confused imagery and plot from the end of Kallisti is the meat of The Granite Book. That said, this isn't a bad game. There are some nice bits of writing and scenes here, like the stone table or trying to jump in the starting room. It's just a pity that, while the individual scenes are interesting, I haven't found anyone who can put them together into some kind of coherent plot.



Hell: A Comedy of Errors (John Evans) Z-Machine:
SimDemon, anyone? Unfortunately, it feels like time ran out just before the author got to any of the good bits, so while all the basic details of designing your demonic form, sketching out your own personal hell, and buying torture implements are there, you can't really do much except drop a soul and have it tell you "Ok, I'm torturing it now. Yup, pretty tortured alrighty." Which is fine for a start, but c'mon, where are the screams of agony and dismay? More to the point, what else is there to do besides torture a few souls and then run out of additional rooms to build? (The documentation claims that the game has a win state and that you can tell from the souls how best to torture them, but neither seems to be true.)



Identity Thief (Rob Shaw-Fuller) Z-Machine:
Like Hell: A Comedy of Errors, Identity Thief has the painful "not really ready to have been entered in the comp" feel to it. It starts out with a solid if somewhat dated premise (you're a cyberpunk in j random future city, on a mission to retrieve a datachip), has some thrills and spills, and just as you're saying "great, now I'm into it and ready for the main game to start" the game's over and it hastily wraps up. Also, I'm afraid it's got some reasonably glaring bugs and spots where it doesn't understand obvious syntax. It was nice to see the wrapup with a walkthrough, and it's short enough to not overstay its welcome despite the bugs, but enh, I'd rather have had Shaw-Fuller withhold it from this comp and spend the extra time to make it a more complete game.



Jane (Joseph Grzesiak) Z-Machine:
Jane is about the serious subject of domestic abuse. I'm kind of surprised how easily this fit in to the IF format; I don't think this is because Grzesiak was trivializing the subject but rather because IF really is wide enough to contain both this and Colossal Cave. Given that it's here, then, the next question is how good is it? There are a couple inherent issues with trying to present this kind of thing as IF. First, there's the generic-PC thing: if you want to do a game about domestic violence, do you do it about generic people or do you do it about one specific person and risk having the issue as a whole get lost in the details? Jane takes the former track, and it's tough to second-guess these things, but I think it was a mistake. The result of having the PC and her husband be "Jane" and "John" and their friends be "Josh" and "Mary", besides having too many J-names, is that the issue gets lost because of the lack of details. With nothing to connect with it's hard to really relate to what's going on beyond what you come in with. The other issue of trying to IF-ize this kind of message piece is about the twin points of the conversation system and the free will issue. As a player, am I allowed to say and do what I want here, or do I get forced into doing what the game requires? Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country had the ultimate take on this issue, where at one point you get asked "Did you enjoy that?" and you get four answers in your conversation menu, all "Yes!". Given that it has a enforced plot, Jane does a reasonable job of giving the player freedom within it. But the real question is if it's possible to do an IF game about something this serious and real without making it a message piece, and having the player do what they want and still have the game stay on-topic. Jane isn't that game, but I don't know if that kind of game on this subject is even possible.



Not Much Time (Tyson Ibele) TADS 2:
Ibele writes that this is his first TADS game and that he wrote and debugged it in four days. By that standard it's pretty good. But — actually, I don't really feel like going through the whole standard my-first-game rant. Not Much Time is good-hearted and has a few decent (if simple) puzzles: it's playable, but only just. If you play it, you probably won't need the walkthrough but it's worth keeping handy.



Out Of The Study (Anssi Raisanen) Alan:
Out Of The Study is a pretty good argument for not using Alan, I think. What starts as a reasonable decent premise and fun setup turns into a parser nightmare as we get stuff like >LOOK IN telling you the thing is empty while >EXAMINE provides a full description complete with contents, or doing the very standard >X ADJECTIVE syntax says "You must supply a noun." and so on. And, sure, the author could provide support for all this somehow, but in practice they usually don't, sometimes because it's hard and sometimes because they don't even think to do so. All that said, though, I thought this game was worth struggling through. It's a one-room game and I don't know about other people, but I like one-room games a lot. There's something about the way the game has to balance limited resources that usually leads to nice and detailed play (the last is especially true of this game: some objects in Out Of The Study have close to a half-dozen levels of detail).



A Party to Murder (David Good) ADRIFT:
This is not an infocom-style mystery, which is fine by me. Those seem to revolve around guess-the-topic >ASK/>TELL conversations and situations that require exact timing, whereas this one revolves around wandering around somebody's house during a party stealing their stuff because, hey, it's just sitting there and I'm the PC, so I'm entitled. There was also some kind of mystery going on which I was collecting clues for, but I couldn't seem to stop the game from ending before I got very far, and anyway the map didn't seem to be working and so I kept getting lost, and so what it came down to was I just decided to borrow all their office supplies.



Photograph (Steve Evans) Z-Machine:
Hmm. This one didn't really work for me, but I appreciated the construction of the middle bits, anyway. It starts off in a somewhat odd state but eventually turns into one of those flashbacks-on-life games, with a special twist since this is life in Australia (this twist is presumably less special if you're Australian). I liked that the protagonist feels old. There are a lot of reminiscence games where the protagonist could be twenty or thirty, and hey, that's how old I am but I like the feeling of playing someone with a lot more memories to look back on. Photograph eventually touches on a fairly serious subject but doesn't seem to come to any conclusions or even really know how to handle it, but it's not a central enough point of the game for it to ruin the thing. Then, finally, we have an ending which seems to be a lose-lose. I don't know what the moral of it all is, but this could probably have benefited from one or two more passes to get the thematic stuff cleaned up.



The PK Girl (Robert Goodwin) ADRIFT:
I am not the target audience for this game. As far as I can tell, this is a text version of those japanese relationship simulator games, and those make my brain twitch. It copies them to the extent of having female NPCs with big eyes and enormous amounts of strangely-colored hair, and preteen crushes from nominally 18-year-old women. Also it seems to have one of those plots where everything could get sorted out if the characters just sat down and talked about it for a moment, but the game requires them to all run around at top speed being confused so that is what they do. But on the other hand, it's pretty well-done and well-programmed for what it is (and it has a scoreboard to let you can see how well you're doing with each of the women, which is more than you get in real life), so if you like that sort of thing, hey, go for it.



Rent-A-Spy (John Eriksson) Z-Machine:
This game is a good concept but has some problems in the implementation that appear to stem from insufficient beta-testing. The setup, that you're a spy who needs to sneak into this building and not leave any traces as you gather your information, is good. It's a bit like the setup of Thief, where you have to consider the future consequences of your actions as well as getting by the immediate threat. Unfortunately, the only note that you have to do this is in the intro, and I missed it the first time, so I went around happily forgetting to fix stuff up after me. If I hadn't shifted to using the walkthrough by this point and dutifully went back and cleaned up things I would have got a lame ending. And, unfortunately, I was using the walkthrough by this point because none of the puzzles felt quite tested enough that I thought I could solve them on my own if I just worked at it. The other issue that people have brought up about this is that this is a spy game where you have no gadgets. I don't consider gadgets to be an absolute necessity for a spy game, but I do expect some reasoning as to why you don't bring basic equipment on a job like this, especially when you then have to improvise the equipment later on in wacky ways.



Sun and Moon (David Brain) HTML/Javascript/Java Applet:
I am giving this game a 1 because I don't think it's IF, and hence shouldn't have been entered. It seems to be more or less the web-equivalent of books like The Eleventh Hour or, come to think of it, like the on-the-web Planetarium. Anyway, the difference between all these aforementioned things and IF is that IF has a world model. But from what I did play of this it seems like a pretty good set of puzzles, and I'll probably go back and check it out post-comp.



The Temple (Johan Berntsson) Z-Machine:
I'm not sure what it is about Lovecraft that lends itself to writing IF games. I guess the thing is that if you start with a good idea of the atmosphere the rest of the game will often flow out naturally, or at least more naturally than if you got nothing. And Lovecraft, of course, is all about the atmosphere. Anyway, as Lovecraft games go this one is fairly decent. It has some problematic puzzles at the beginning, unfortunately, and the hints aren't as clear as they should be in terms of nudging you on the right track. But once you do get there, it's cool, and you get to work stuff out. The ending seems a bit out of place for the genre, but I guess typical Lovecraftian endings are one place where it's not, in fact, appropriate for IF.



Till Death Makes a Monk-Fish Out of Me! (Mike Sousa and Jon Ingold) TADS 2:
Biggest disappointment in the competition, bar none. What it should have been was a wacky farce of some kind, probably with fish jokes. What it ended up being was a sort of weak science-fiction setting for a pseudo-comedy: you could see where jokes were intended to be, but generally they weren't actually funny, so the set-pieces just laid there sadly. This was coupled with a very confusing room and object layout; even now I'm not exactly sure where all the locations were in relation to each other, or how some of the mechanism puzzles worked. Not all the jokes fell flat. There are enough funny bits to go through this with a walkthrough, I think, but enh, it could have been so much crisper and better-done that to just get this is a pity.



TOOKiE'S SONG (Jessica Knoch) Z-Machine:
I don't know why I like this game. I generally shun any piece of fiction in which the about the author mentions the author's cats, and the first room of TOOKiE'S SONG has something in it which appears to be lifted straight from the monster manual (or perhaps the fiend folio). Nevertheless, it is extremely good-spirited and — perhaps more importantly — not annoying. For most of the games when I bring up "good-spirited" or "well-meaning" it's followed with "which sort of makes up for not being very well done," but here I mean just that, that Knoch infuses the game with a feeling of good humor and lifted spirits that carries me right on past the fact that the puzzles and plot bits are all fairly shopworn. There's a solve-the-math problem one (which can be solved by hand or another way, but the syntax for solving by hand is extremely picky), a riddle, and lots of "ok, I'm going to block this door until you solve this arbitrary puzzle, and no, I won't tell you why." Also, a few bonus points for the twist ending. There are a few rough spots (the keys should have done the right thing instead of picking randomly; some random parsing problems and so on) but overall, very nice.



Unraveling God (Todd Watson) ADRIFT:
I got into a discussion with a friend over whether or not this constitutes IF. It didn't really establish anything definite, but I still think that if this is IF, it is so by the narrowest of margins. There are a total of two choice points in this entire game, and one is at the very end of the game. So it's the other one that makes this IF, and, curiously, if you choose the wrong option, it denies your choice, like Rameses writ small. Anyway, ignoring the interactivity question for a moment, this is a reasonably standard science-fiction story with a new slant on an idea and, alas, the side character who says "But wait, don't you think we are dabbling in Things Man Was Not Meant To Know?" For some reason, these characters infest science fiction stories, usually ones written by people who are not by nature science fiction authors. This would not be so bad, except that the authors never choose to show them objecting to scientific advances that we all now take for granted. There's never a character saying "But wait — surely by sending electicity through the filament to produce this 'light-bulb' of yours, we risk setting ourselves up as equal to the very lightning bolts of heaven?" No, even though these characters are clearly stick-in-the-muds by nature and would object to anything more complicated than a can-opener, the authors choose to bias the thing by showing them objecting to a weird invention and then they bias the outcome so, surprise surprise, the doubters are right. Isn't that weird? It's as if they had some premonition that something was going to go wrong. Ooeeeooo.



Not Recommended Games

Blade Sentinel (Mihalis Georgostathis) Quest:
I have to admire Georgostathis's persistence. He is using an authoring system that virtually no one else uses in a language which does not appear to be his native one to write a game that he is passionate about. I just wish, you know, that the game was better. Unfortunately, the best thing about this superhero story is the unintentional wacky phrasings: "Better talk to her in kicks," we are informed when trying to address one villainess. The rest of the game suffers from the three strikes of poor game design, bugs, and the limitations of the quest system. Some points for effort, more for sticktoitiveness, but only a few for achievement.



The Case of Samuel Gregor (Stephen Hilderbrand) Z-Machine:
I am sure this game makes sense to somebody, but not to me. Specifically, there is a POV shift midway through that as far as I can tell is just not explained, even though it seems vitally important to the plot. Aside from this the game is relatively standard: you play a psychiatrist (well, ok, that's not standard, except maybe in that one introcomp game) searching for a missing person for a somewhat unclear reason. I think it is possible that the whole thing is meant to be one of those allegories where it turns out that the PC is actually The Soul and the banana-hurling monkey you met in the starting room was Doubt and by befriending him you agreed that Doubt is the One True Friend of the Inquiring Soul or whatever. But if that's the case, it wasn't done well. And if that wasn't the case, it's just confusing.



Concrete Paradise (Tyson Ibele) TADS 2:
This is the other game that Ibele entered in the comp. I think it's slightly worse than Not Much Time, which is odd, since the help for that game claimed that it was his first TADS game, and so I guess this was his second, unless there were some in-between ones that didn't make it into the comp (this is not entirely impossible, since Not Much Time was apparently written in four days, so hey, seven games a month). Anyway, like I said, it's slightly worse. Concrete Paradise is about being in (and escaping from) jail. The world it portrays is so bizarre that you keep expecting to see "And you wake up and it was ALL A DREAM" or words to that effect: in the process of playing you get sent to jail for a trivial offense, kill a person for no apparent reason via an implausible scheme, dig through a brick wall with a spoon, and so on. I don't exactly demand a plausible world but I do expect a self-consistent one; Concrete Paradise seems mostly constructed of a series of random events.



Constraints (Martin Bays) Z-Machine:
At one point in this game, somebody says to the PC "You think the game so far was tedious? I'll show you tedious!" and then does so. This is the problem with Constraints. I assume it was intended as an Art Show entry, for which it would have been perfectly appropriate, but then got moved to the comp for some reason, where it is not appropriate because, like, it has no plot and nothing really to do. The endgame is funny, though.



Four Mile Island (Anonymous) BASIC:
I have been told this is the same guy as did Infil-traitor in 2000, which just goes to show that the guy really likes basic games, I guess. I'm not sure exactly what happened, since I rather liked Infil-traitor but Four Mile Island just comes off as lame. Possibly I just liked the spy sub-genre in Infil-traitor (sneaking around a house) better than the one in Four Mile Island (sneaking around a nuclear reactor). But it seemed like Infil-traitor had better puzzles, or something, and then I hit a death room in Four Mile Island right after wandering through a maze, and enh, there's no undo in these pseudo-80s games and it wasn't really worth replaying.



Koan (Anonymous) Z-Machine:
This is one of those In the Spotlight-esque one-joke games. That is all.



Moonbase (QA Dude) TADS 2:
It's not clear if this game exists just to advertise the on-line game it mentions, or if the author had some other reason for writing it. Certainly the reason couldn't have been the standard one of trying to, you know, write a good game, unless the author's idea of a good game really does involve puzzles like "There is a powered exoskeleton here which requires a battery. There is also a battery here. WHAT DO YOU DO NOW?"



MythTale (Temari Seikaiha) Z-Machine:
I feel bad disliking this game, since it feels like the first work from an eager-to-please author, but what it really comes down to is, I don't like cats as much as Seikaiha does. Moreover, MythTale is set in your house (sigh) where you are just working on your IF game (double sigh) when you discover that your notes have disappeared due to forces unknown and never-explained (triple sigh) in order to provide the setup for a number of fairly out-of-place puzzles (at this point we're into the XXL sighs). The main bright spots in this game are the interludes of greek myth. Unfortunately even these lack the detail that make a really compelling story, and since they're about entirely unrelated stories there's no real sense of coherency. The beginning and ending scenes were the most interesting part — why wasn't the game about that?



Ramon and Jonathan (Daniele A. Gewurz) Z-Machine:
Arr. Okay, look, I know programming and writing IF are both difficult and require a lot of work, but just having an idea in your head is not sufficient. If you want us to know what the idea is you have to actually write it down and let us see it. The premise is interesting enough that you certainly could write a good game or two about it, this just doesn't happen to be one of them.



Screen (Edward Floren) Z-Machine:
I wanted this to be a good game, but the problem was it didn't know what kind of good game it wanted to be. It started out as one of those returning-to-the-ancestral-home games and had a few flashbacks, and I was all prepared to do more of that, but instead it slipped into doing puzzles based on old tv shows. And, annoyingly, not very well beta-tested puzzles. Then at the end it returned to the remembrance thing. I dunno. I think this may have been a victim of "let's throw something together for the comp" syndrome, for which the only known cure is not entering this year.



Terrible Lizards (Alan Mead and Ian Mead) TADS 2:
Ok, I get that you're a dinosaur hunter sent back in time with a hand grenade to collect DNA samples. I further get that for reasons known only to the authors, the game is set up that you can't proceed very far without doing something obviously stupid. But what I don't get is why the authors created dozens of useless rooms to run around in, or why you can win the game without doing anything to complete the mission as laid out by the mission contract you start the game with. These are the mysteries into which we dare not delve. Well, at least I don't, not without a hand grenade.



When Help Collides (J. D. Berry) Z-Machine:
Aw, man. Like, I appreciate the effort and the wacky mindset that went into designing the first part of this game (not the very intro, but the first real part). But couldn't one small part of the effort have instead been turned to explaining what the hell was going on? Or making it not practically impossible to win? Anyway, I somehow staggered through this bit and made it to phase two, which was a totally-unrelated D&D parody. It was amusing, as might be expected from Berry, albeit somewhat confusingly connected to the previous one. But then it all became clear when I saw the third thing, unconnected to the previous two, and I realized they were all just thrown together with no apparent sense. So hey, geisha simulator. Anyway, um, I would suggest using the walkthrough to skip through to the D&D parody, since that's funny, and check out the rest and see if you want to skip those or deal with them.



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