2010 Interactive Fiction Competition

These are my reviews of the games I played in the 2010 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

Aotearoa (Matt Wigdahl) Glulx:
This is a kid's game. I don't mean it's a bad game, it's just I'm not the target audience. The target audience for this is an ten-year-old boy who likes dinosaurs. So, like, the puzzles are pretty easy, there are lot of "hey, let's learn something semi-education about the Maori" (it's alt-history, so I'm not sure how educational it really is, but I assume a lot of the stuff in here is based on real-world things), and there is a zany animal companion. Also there is a really extensive tutorial mode. Anyway, it was cute enough for what it is; I hope it ends up in the hands of some kids who'll think it's awesome.



Gigantomania (Michelle Tirto) Glulx:
Hrm. This is the kind of game where playing it makes me want to play the game that is twice as big. Like, Gigantomania has a really interesting structural design where the different parts are connected thematically but not directly. To make this work, though, you need to play enough of the earlier parts to get a solid foundation for the later ones (or alternately you need to have a good enough grounding in history to already have the solid foundation, but assume the audience doesn't). And the parts just aren't big enough for that. I'm pretty sure the correct shape for this kind of story is more like a pyramid than a tower — the player is going to be the most lost in the first stage so it has to be the biggest, and as each stage continues they can get shorter and shorter but still give the same amount of flavor (the last stage is certainly too long). And at least for this game, I think the puzzles should start out hard and get easier as the game goes on, since so do the lives of the protagonists. But yeah, this is the kind of semi-experimental game I love to see in the comp — I don't usually give them top scores but they're my favorite part.



Oxygen (ShadowK) Glulx:
Hrm. Hrm! This game has a bunch of things I like: moral dilemmas, multiple endings, PC actions having big impacts, multiple interest groups, machinery — but somehow the whole isn't as satisfying as it could be. I think the problem is basically — ok, like, you could write "A midget with a magic ring teams up with some other midgets to fight evil", and this wouldn't give you the Hobbit (nor even a very special episode of Green Lantern). Similarly, "on a spaceship with a limited supply of air, the PC must choose how to apportion it" is a great premise, but you can't just take that and translate it into a game where the player types >ROUTE OXYGEN TO KITCHEN every turn. You have to, I dunno, sex it up a bit, throw a story around it, and give it some buildup so when the player does make a decision it feels like it has some weight. In fact, let's talk about the craft of putting a moral dilemma in your story.

First off, both sides have to have some merit to them. This seems obvious but it's easy to lose track of. One common way to build a moral dilemma is you start off with a "good" side and a "bad" side, and then you build up the "bad" side to make it more even, but you forget to also build up the "good" side, so things end up looking imbalanced in favor of the "bad" side. Like, in this game the miners are striking for "higher wages, reasonable working hours, more reliable drill suits". What nerve they have asking for reasonable working hours! And note that when I say "merit" above I generally mean "moral merit". Because, look, the PC isn't real, and so a moral dilemma like "you can have a million dollars or you can save this puppy" doesn't actually balance, since I know that the million dollars isn't real and I'm not going to get any actual benefit from it. You'd think the same applies to the puppy, since that is also imaginary, but at least for me there's still a "hey, I'm a good guy" buzz triggered in my brain, the same as if I did a good deed in real life. A million dollars isn't worthless in a game as a reward — I can appreciate the attraction for my PC intellectually — but it's worth a lot less than it would be in the real world, and authors should remember that.

Similarly, both sides have to have some fault or downside. The ideal goal is to have the player thinking "If I do A, then consequence X happens — but what about consequence Y? Maybe I should do B instead. But wait, what about consequence Z? Oh, man, and then there's consequence W? What happens if I run out of letters here??" The way to get that ping-pong effect is to have multiple reasons in support of each side, and the best way to do that is to have each side have both good points and bad points. Another benefit of giving a position both good and bad points is that it makes it seem more real, which in turn enhances the player's appreciation for its good points.

Ok, so those are the sides. Now, how does the choosing work? The first rule is no takebacks. (Also, if it's your first time, you have to take.) If the player makes a decision, that decision is made. It makes a difference. They can't wipe it out with a later decision, although they can certainly alter its effects. But, like, if the player kills a dude, that dude cannot be brought back to life. They might be able to be contacted in the afterlife or raised as a zombie or something, but the killing has made a permanent change in their life. Oxygen has sort of a weird relation to this rule, since it's more about a series of allocation decisions, which opens up the possibility of effecting negating an earlier decision with a later one. Personally, I would have changed the allocation premise so there were more than two buckets you were allocating to — instead have like eight buckets, and at each step you have two to choose between, and once you allocate (or don't) to a bucket, you don't get a chance to allocate to it again.

The next rule is there are more than two choices, and the easiest and default choice is bad for everyone. I'm not sure if this was the author's intention, but I found that the easiest decision to make was the (I felt) morally-best one, since it involved an object that starts out in your inventory, and not the other object which I couldn't find for a while. Definitely not the way to go. The player should have to work to get anywhere, and that'll make them appreciate the good choices more when they're finally in a position to make them.

The final rule is you don't choose principles, you choose people. Oxygen makes a good start at this — you talk to some people over the radio and optionally one person in, uh, person. But they don't advocate for their positions like they should. They say "hey, don't do that!" when they should be saying "don't do that, because the cost to me is ..." If you're really getting fancy (and have more space than a comp game probably allows), you can even have multiple people advocating for the same decision, each with their own reason for why you should make it, some more likeable than others. But yeah, you need to make the player choose between people, both because the people can react to the player's decisions and comment on it and try to make them change their mind before it's committed; and because if people are involved, then you get the aforementioned moral buzz in your brain when you help them or don't.

Anyway, the fact that I wrote all this demonstrates that Oxygen got me interested, at least. Like I said, I don't think it really fulfilled its promise, but I do think it's a good start, and I'm pretty interested to see what the author's next piece will look like.



The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game (Taylor Vaughan) Z-Machine:
Pretty charming and fun. None of the puzzles are too exciting but they're pretty solid. Objects being useful in multiple puzzles is the rule rather than the exception, which is cool; less cool is that almost all the puzzles are winnable by only one or two commands, which makes them inherently pretty shallow. Also on the upside, the game has a builtin "skip this puzzle" thing. There are multiple solutions to puzzles in some cases, too. Anyway, the main thing you'd be playing this for, as you can guess from the title, is the flavor. Which is flavorful! Long live the revolution!



Rogue of the Multiverse (C.E.J. Pacian) TADS 3:
Rogues! Everybody loves rogues! But what really qualifies one to be considered a rogue? Wordnet helpfully suggests "a deceitful and unreliable scoundrel", which just gets us into the issue of what "scoundrel" means, but anyway, I submit to you that the protagonist of this game is not in fact a rogue of the multiverse, but more of a rascal or scallywag. If you ask me, the protagonist of this game is rather too shepherded around by the machinations of others, and while the PC does engage in a certain amount of deceit and sabotage none of it is anything I got to come up with on my own. It's enough to make me think the PC may be a mere henchman or, I hardly dare say it, a minion.

Linguistic objections aside, however, — actually, I'm going to gripe about game design a bit first. See, I think this game's problem is it's only half-designed as a text adventure. If you eyeball it from a distance, it's basically an intro and an outro, plus a middle bit that is a series of action sequences interspersed with jokes. The issue is, the jokes are all written to work best in a text-based game like this, but the action sequences really don't. It's like the author envisioned some action sequences from, say, a platformer or a racer, and ported them over, but didn't realize that when you take away the reflex challenge from those there isn't much meat left. If you're going to do dynamic puzzle creation in IF, you want something like Symon (whereas if you want dynamic exploration, then you're onto something like Hunter, in Darkness or An Act of Murder and your environments have to be a lot fancier).

Now, having said all that, I liked Rogue of the Multiverse a bunch! Partly it's because it's got some good jokes, as alluded to above, but the main reason is the setting is great. The author does a good job of telling some things and only hinting at others, and produces a world that feels original but still totally understandable — I'd love to see some other things set here.



Recommended Games

The 12:54 to Asgard (J. Robinson Wheeler) Z-Machine:
I was originally going to just link to my Gris et Jaune review and make a crack about both the games I betatested this year getting the same review. But actually this game is a totally different deal: The 12:54 to Asgard has all the structure it needs, what it needs is more content. The thing is, putting in the amount of content it needs might push it over the comp-size limit. What we've got here is something seriously epic in potential scope, and it's clear this is what the author was envisioning — you can catch glimpses of stuff about life and death and redemption and hard work and comedy and tragedy and destiny and the beginning and end of time and wisdom and enlightenment and all the right ingredients. But, frustratingly, nothing is developed. The first part of the game is detailed to a normal level (normal for Rob, since he tends to go a little overboard), but then the whole rest of the game is essentially an outline — zany gameshow goes here, winter sequence goes here, heaven goes here. And I can admire the outline, and say I'm looking forward to seeing it fleshed out, which is all true — but I can't play it.
(Disclaimer: I was a beta-tester for this game)



The Bible Retold: The Lost Sheep (Ben Pennington) Z-Machine:
The Lost Sheep: This is one of those games where the author has put as much time into the amusing bits as the core of the game. While this can result in a game that rewards exploration and experimentation, it can also result in a game where my main experience just isn't that fun. And, yeah, then I win and see a list of fun stuff I might have tried, but, well, I didn't (and then I'm disinclined to go back and try more because the original experience wasn't that fun). So for me the takeaway here is to put the majority of your time and attention on the core part of the game, because that's what the majority of players are going to see. It's great to then fill out the edges, but it shouldn't be your top priority.

To expand on that a tiny bit, I think the core of the game suffers from too much busywork: there's a puzzle where you search (ie, a totally trivial puzzle), and then another puzzle where you'll spend some more time searching in a nearly-identical situation (albeit not the solution, but the player is probably going to spend some time doing it anyway). The whole end sequence is unnecessarily long, three or four rooms when it should have been one. None of these are really huge on their own, but in a small game like this they loom larger, and in concert basically the whole game becomes "the sheep hides somewhere and then you chase it", which is kind of lame (and hard to do well in IF, given that there is no reflex component to the chasing). I mean, look, the parable this is nominally based on is about trying to gather sinners back into the fold, so it seems like rather than just running away, the lost sheep should be getting into trouble — gnawing through things it shouldn't gnaw through, pushing things off ledges, and hanging out with motorcycle gangs. This immediately presents more ideas for puzzles than just searching things for the sheep, and at least in theory it gives you a better thematic core. I'm not sure you necessarily want to turn this game into Gourmet, but moving more in that direction is probably beneficial (and note that this lets you put in amusing stuff more into the core sequence of the game rather than just the outskirts). Conceivably you might want to diverge from the parable's premise a bit and have all the sheep be lost at the beginning, not just the one (alternatively: start out with ninety-nine sheep found and one lost, and then a turn or two in, the bad sheep lets the other sheep out of their pen and they scatter). I'm thinking the player would easily collect the other sheep as they go along solving the other puzzles trying to catch the lost sheep, but the ease with which the well-behaved sheep are collected would go back to the point of the parable again — it's more satisfying to bring a difficult sheep back into the fold.

But back to the game that is. And, well, it's fine, it's pretty short, it has some funny bits and I even came across some of them without using >AMUSING. (Also, I assume numerous people are going to point out the parable of the lost sheep is Luke 15:3, not Mark.)



Death Off the Cuff (Simon Christiansen) Z-Machine:
It's pretty tricky to write a Sherlock Holmes style deduction game, since you risk the player failing to deduce something and stalling the investigation. The solution this game uses is to essentially provide a >DEDUCE verb which tells you anything you can figure out about an object at the moment. The result of this is to turn Death Off the Cuff into a loop of "find new object by examining existing objects; deduce from it". Which isn't a bad idea — IF is good at exploration and the concealment of objects within the descriptions of other objects, so this harnesses that affinity to power the detective game. Still, I can't help feeling the result feels a little flat and railroady; it's great that I (the player and the PC) found the clue, but then what happens as a result of finding it is totally out of my (the player's, not the PC's) hands. I think what would have really made this game is some kind of player interaction with the deductions — maybe deducing produces objects which you could then interact with on further deductions, or maybe your deductions produce multiple possibilities and you have to select one. I dunno. Anyway, overall I thought this was a cool experiment in bringing Agatha Christie-style mystery to IF, and even if it wasn't totally successful it's by no means a failure either.



Divis Mortis (Lynnea Dally) Glulx:
I think the part I like best about this game is the author basically says that it's based on plans she makes in real life. I think it could have stood to be a little longer, and the twist at the end was pretty obvious from the beginning, but aside from that, good times. (Also, man, speaking of dudes shambling out of the past, Russell Glasser!)



East Grove Hills (XYZ) Z-Machine:
This game is pretty railroady, but unlike many other railroady games, it's almost entirely conversation-menu focused. Given that, I can't help but wonder what the game would have been like as a CYOA — it might have been a little smoother since it was so menu-based anyway. The other thing that I wonder about with the game is the author's intent; the game touches on a lot of issues but doesn't seem interested in looking at any of them very deeply (or maybe it is interested but the author ran out of time or something; unfortunately it comes out the same in pratice). I sort of suspect it's this year's Freedom, but hopefully the author will talk about it a bit more post-comp.



Flight of the Hummingbird (Michael Martin) Z-Machine:
I want to start by saying I am pleased to see a superhero game that is not a "look how goofy superheroes are" parody. It's not completely serious, but it takes its subject matter seriously, which is nice to see. Anyway, hmm, about the game itself. I think the best way to describe it is that it feels like an experienced author decided to do a comp game, and was determined not to make it too sprawling. The result is a game which comes off as polished and bug-free*, but maybe a little cramped or underdeveloped in the idea department. Like, there are essentially four different movement schemes in this game (abezny zbirzrag, sylvat (naq jbeelvat nobhg urvtug naq qhengvba), ebpxrg znarhirevat (naq jbeelvat nobhg irybpvgl*), naq zbirzrag ba gur fgngvba), and that seems a little excessive for a short game. Similarly, you have the "I'm number three, but I try much harder" backstory, but there isn't really enough attention given to it. So, yeah, I did enjoy this quite a bit, but it feels like a place where the comp community's rabid focus on short and complete produces a worse game. *That said, the beginning seemed weirdly unclued to me. Maybe I was just having trouble visualizing things, but I thought I'd started on the island, so I spent a while wondering why the force fields were keeping me from exploring it. Then there wasn't really much guidance for getting the initial flying going. Once I got to the island it was smooth sailing, though. *You might instead count this as a puzzle, but I felt it was trivial enough that the difficulty was really getting used to the controls, not solving a puzzle as such.



Gris et Jaune (Steve van Gaal) Glulx:
This is one of the few games this comp where I felt like it had too much stuff in it rather than too little. Or maybe it didn't have too much stuff and it was purely the organization issues, but regardless, the game starts out pretty tight and focused, and then suddenly flops open spilling gameplay everywhere. And there's a lot here, and a lot that is cool, but I suspect you're not going to see the end of the game without a walkthrough (maybe even with the walkthrough; I ran into some weird bugs that seemed to make things stall out entirely, but at that point I was purely following the walkthrough without really knowing why, so maybe there was a way to make it work I didn't know).
(Disclaimer: I was a beta-tester for this game)



Heated (Timothy Peers) Z-Machine:
I get the feel I am going to like this better than the average judge does, because, ok, yes, it's basically a game set in your slobby apartment. But the thing that I think is brilliant is that it's a game about being angry about that. Grr! Stupid "You can't go that way" message! Irritating "You'll have to get off the bed first" response. Hateful "What do you want to unlock your car with?" query! STAB STAB STAB. Anyway, aside from the premise the overall game is a reasonably fun optimization puzzle, not too complicated. I had to hit the walkthrough to get full points, but it was a pretty satisfying experience.



Leadlight (Wade Clarke) Applesoft BASIC:
Eamon! Man. Anyway, this game is basically a straight-up CRPG with a few puzzles. Since the combat is all random and there is no undo* you will find yourself restoring a lot. I guess it's this year's The Lost Dimension, but (unsurprisingly, given that it's an Apple II game), it's much simpler. It's not as strategic: there's basically never any reason to fight monster X before monster Y, or wait on a fight til you get a particular item (with the exception of figuring out when to use the healing items). Nor it is as tactical — as far as I can tell, all the weapons in the game are identical and since you're restoring after combat weapon breakage will never be an issue. There is one fight you'll probably want to use >FLEE during, but other than that the only real trick to the fight is knowing you can hit return instead of typing >ATTACK OPPONENT (or, as the game's parser would put it, >ATT OPP) over and over again.

This all makes it sound like I liked it less than I did, though. I like doofy little combat games and Leadlight had a reasonable plotline to go along with the combat — I should have forseen the twist and didn't, so there you go.

* Actually, that's not quite true: there are also deathtraps, mostly of the DIAS kind, which let you undo after hitting them. But presumably to make the undo not the obvious choice, you get a deduction from your score for each deathtrap you hit and undo from. Which means that if you're anything like me, you'll be restoring from a save anyway.



Mite (Sara Dee) Z-Machine:
Supercute! Feels pretty small, though. I liked the environment and wanted to poke around more, but any time I tried I felt like I ran into a wall. Similarly, the story is just starting to pick up when thud, game over. I don't know if this-all was intended from the beginning, or if the deadline was approaching and the author had to cut things short, but it's a pity. Still, what there was I had a good time playing, so thumbs up.



Ninja's Fate (Hannes Schueller) Z-Machine:
I applaud the idea of a Paul Allen Panks tribute game. I'm not sure this is how I would have chosen to do it myself (I am thinking something more like Acid Whiplash), but part of the appeal of playing a tribute game like this is seeing what the other person thought was important enough to mention and what could be left out (personally, I would have put in more smurfs). Anyway, as a game it's not really that fun but I don't think that was exactly the point, and there are lots of things to poke at and so on, so I think on the whole it's a win.



One Eye Open (Colin Sandel and Carolyn VanEseltine) Glulx:
Most of the games this year have been pretty short, so it was nice to have a long one. That said, if you're going to write a long game and don't want to me give it a bad score, then you had better make sure either it's short enough that I will definitely get to an ending before time runs out, or else include a walkthrough and — this is the tricky bit — have that walkthrough get to a satisfying ending. I know this is a complicated tradeoff for an author: you don't want to give away all the game's secrets in the walkthrough or where's the incentive for the player to explore on their own? But, realistically, in the comp you have two hours to give me your best sales pitch for the game. If it's a short game that can be played a couple times in the two hours, then it's probably ok to require people to play it a couple times to get the whole experience. But if it's pushing two hours just to complete it once, that's all you're going to get, and that's what people are going to judge this on. Ok, so all the griping about length and ending aside, this game had some pretty good bits. It was high gore and high creepy, but the horror had two nice aspects: it was thematically unified, and it wasn't in the least bit Lovecraftian. The puzzles were pretty straightforward, but that's fine, it's primarily an exploration game. I'm not sure it explained the backstory in a sufficiently clear way — it took me a long time to sort out even the basics of what was going on, and I'm still not sure why some of the things happened — but in an exploration-heavy game a confusing backstory is just incentive to explore more. I wish the ending I got had been better (I got to something marginally better after the two-hour limit expired, but I'm pretty sure there is something better yet) but I had a good time.



R (therealeasterbunny) Scott Adams:
I guess what I am obliged to say in these cases is I can appreciate the nostalgia intellectually but I don't actually like using a two-word parser with no undo and objects not having descriptions and so on. Still, R was short and non-difficult enough that I had a good time and naturally pirates are always cute, though it did overdo it a bit on the dialect (I am sure that other people would strike out "a bit" but I have a soft spot for talk like a pirate day). Also, I admit seeing a light source with a limited lifespan make me pleasantly nostalgic, the moreso since the time limit was more than generous.



Under, In Erebus (Brian Rapp) Glulx:
I was in a recent discussion about whether to penalize a comp game when you get stuck on it but it feels like your fault for not getting something. I think the consensus was, yeah, penalize it anyway — on the whole it'll come out in the wash if you're an outlier, and if you're not then the game deserves to be penalized. I mention this because I think I like Under, In Erebus better in theory than in practice. Even moreso than Goose, Egg, Badger, it's a wordplay game, to the point where it's really mostly a wordplay game and only slightly an IF game, and the IF parts aren't the good parts. It doesn't really tell you that, though, so I had a pretty rough transition at the start of the game where the hints were telling me what to do and I wasn't figuring out the big picture at all. Eventually I got a pointer and went "oh!" and things were good again, but it seems like it could be a lot smoother than it was. Similarly, once you get into serious wordplay work, the IF pieces are mostly an irritation — sometimes they hide interesting twists, but mostly they're just extra commands to type to get to the wordplay. This sounds like I liked the game less than I did, I think; in practice I had a fun time in the midsection playing around making words. It was just the beginning/end where I was confused and not feeling like I had any real alternative other than to ask for the next hint and do what it said.



The Warbler's Nest (Jason McIntosh) Z-Machine:
This isn't the first game this comp I've played where it starts off rich and atmospheric and quickly turns into a wrestling match where I try to convince it to tell me what the hell to do next and it adamantly refuses. This also isn't the first game I've played this comp that feels much smaller than the idea it hints at, and yet I'm not sure where you'd go from here. I think overall it feels like the author got this idea that was great and compelling but also wispy and insubstantial, and maybe wrote the game in the hopes that it would solidify and go somewhere and it didn't really. But it's a short enough game that a thin idea can still sustain my interest for the duration of play, so overall, it's a win. (Also, I am informed there are two endings I didn't see, so maybe there is a whole chunk of gameplay I missed. But if so, I missed it.)



Not Recommended Games

The Bible Retold: Following a Star (Justin Morgan) Glulx:
I am pretty sure this game was designed specifically to annoy me. Ok, well, that isn't very likely, but it sure felt like that while playing. Which is interesting to me, since I'd like to know what tweaked my bad-game-experience triggers. I think it was a combination of a couple things: too much stuff, too little direction, the game being too helpful about unwinnability, and a certain amount of bad luck in hitting rough spots.

The main thing was the first two, too much stuff and too little direction. The author has a crazy lot of things he wants to put into the game. Like, it's in a setting not everyone's familiar with (and presumably education is part of the point of writing the game), plus the author did some research and wants to make sure we know it. So the result is there are infodumps about who you are, where you're from, what's going on politically, what the conversion rate of various monetary systems are, how latin grammar (sort of) works, etc. Furthermore, there are about three genres going on here at once — there's a mystery play thing about the three wise kings and Jesus, there's a exploration/mystery (the usual sense of mystery) thing about looking a town and finding all its quests and secrets, and then there's a zany madcap comedy thing. And on top of all this, the author has obviously got some technical chops, and has worked up (or used modules providing, I dunno) various systems for randomly-generated wandering NPCs, basic math, fancy containment, special pseudolatin input syntax, etc.

The result for me is that I get overwhelmed and don't want to deal with any of it (this is exacerbated by the fact that you get all these things pretty early in the game, not doled out). I found it hard to decide which things were important to concentrate on and which I could skim or worry about later. There's a very good hint system but it didn't help at all with this — because it's the kind where you do >HINT (ITEM), so there was no way to ask "ok, what's the big picture here? what should I be working on first?" (Another minor note on the hint system: you have to be in the same room as the object to use the hint verb on it, which sometimes meant walking back and forth across the map if the puzzle involved two objects on opposite ends, or an object that had to be used across the city.)

Similarly to the hint system issue, having the game not be able to be made unwinnable actually made the play experience worse for me in some ways. Like, I spent some time and effort collecting some cards earlier in the game. Later, when I needed to use the cards, one of the NPCs was like "hey, you missed one, here it is!" So clearly all the work I'd put into finding the cards was pointless — the NPC would have just given me whatever ones I didn't bother to get. A related thing to this is I skipped an initial section because the game seemed to be hurrying me past it, and I knew it had said it couldn't be made unwinnable — but what I didn't realize was skipping this made the midsection have a lot more hassle (and I think closed off some optional sections). I'd rather have lost sooner than unknowingly get extra hassle!

Then I guess the last thing was just, ok, I had some bad luck and rough spots with the puzzles. Most of the things I had a problem with were optional puzzles, but I didn't realize that at the time (see previous note about being overwhelmed and not sure what to work on), so even though they seemed like a lot of work, I went ahead and wrestled with them anyway. I'm thinking here in particular of the pomegranates (sell thirty? really?) and the well (I ran into various parser issues with the rope, then again with trying to hand over my calculations).

I suspect that experiences are going to vary pretty widely on this game and a lot of people are going to have a lot of fun with it. Personally, I would have liked less stuff more polished in the game, but YMMV.



The Blind House (Maude Overton) Glulx:
I'm not sure exactly what to say about this game since it's one of those where it's inherently a spoiler to talk about it, but I think I can say that while I am totally in favor of unreliable narrators, there comes a point where the narrator is so unreliable it starts to feel like the author is just leading me around*. Similarly, I hear there are multiple endings, but from discussion with other people it appears that to get full choice between the multiple endings, you have to make certain decisions/actions earlier — but at the time you're making them, it's not obvious that that is what you are deciding for. There were hints of an interesting story here, but it felt like too much work to get out, and when I did get it out I was frustrated with what I got. Also, in the I am so very old department: "A calendar and old-fashioned cordless phone hang on the wall near the door leading east." * Given that making a choice requires both the knowledge of what to do and the power to do it, is it any less railroading if the author feeds you the knowledge in precisely predetermined increments rather than the power?



The Chronicler (John Evans) Z-Machine:
I bet this is going to get a lot of flak from people for being unfinished. But if the author had just taken what they had and removed the bit that said "this door is unimplemented" and added a few more scenery descriptions, they would have ended up with a pretty standard, if small, comp submission. I'm not sure what the moral here is. I'm also not really sure what there is to say about the game. It's one of those generic-sf-abandoned-base-exploration games that we get every year and that's fine, but this isn't really large enough to be all that interesting.



Pen and Paint (Owen Parish) Z-Machine:
Not quite beta-tested enough. Never a good way to start out a review, but, yeah. And it's not even just the small stuff, like a room description being wrong, or an object not being listed in a room description, necessitating using the walkthrough to complete the game. I mean more the general concept of what the hell is going on. I spent a lot of time wandering around trying to figure out how to get anything going, and by the time I worked that out I had sort of inadvertently collected all the things I needed for the actual puzzles, which seems like the wrong order to do things in. I did like the setting here — the game does a good mix of explaining things and not explaining them — but the actual gameplay has a lot of rough edges.



A quiet evening at home (anonymous) Z-Machine:
I have attempted to write a couple pitches for this game, all of them ending with ", only less interesting." But I don't think I want to put much time into this review if the author couldn't even bother to capitalize everything.



Sons of the Cherry (Alex Livingston) Javascript:
It's a cool idea to do a piece that is part of a group of multimedia (literally!) projects about a particular setting. But I'm not sure a single selection from those pieces works all that well as a comp entry, or at least this one doesn't. Specifically, Sons of the Cherry feels really introduce-y, like the first ten minutes of a tv premiere, and then suddenly it's over. Worse yet, most of the interesting actions in the story are performed by other people. In short, I can imagine where the story might go from here, and frankly I'd rather play that game. Similarly, like new world with magic settings, but I don't think the game gives enough insight into the way magic interacts with the world to make it really feel original (other pieces in the group might do this, or might enhance the story of this one, but this was the only comp entry, so).

I guess I should comment on the medium a bit, also. This is built on the the Choice of Games engine, so basically it's CYOA with stats (and maybe hidden flags, I'm not sure). If you're doing a CYOA instead of a "normal" text adventure, what you're effectively doing is dropping a lot of player choices — they can't type in whatever they feel like, they can only pick from the selections you offer at the moment. This in turn puts the onus on the author to make those choices meaningful; in a regular IF game every move doesn't have to count because you get a zillion of them, but in this game you make, what, 30 decisions? Maybe less? Anyway, this is all leading up to me griping about this game being railroady. There are some choices you can make that change things — I did a "agreeable" playthrough and a "recalcitrant" one, and it was pretty clear that I was cutting off some sections — but the vast majority of choices turn out to be the "if you do A, that's great; if you do B, the game says you try and fail and decide to do A anyway" kind. Which is lame. Furthermore, I rarely had enough information to make meaningful choices, which means they tended to devolve into commercial CRPG-type choices: do you want to be a nice guy, or do you want to be a dick for no reason?

Anyway, the game was short and the setting hinted at some interesting bits, but on the whole I was disappointed.



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