Ratings for the Interactive Fiction Competiton 2000


The Games

1-2-3 Ad Verbum Aftermath
Castle Amnos Ascendent And the Waves…
At Wit’s End Being Andrew Plotkin The Best Man
Big Mama The Clock Cracking The Code
Comp00tr Game Desert Heat Dinner With Andre
The Djinni Chronicles The End Means Escape Enlisted
Futz Mutz Got Id? Guess The Verb
Happy Ever After Infil-Traitor Jarod’s Journey
Kaged Stupid Kittens Letters From Home
Masquerade Masque of the Last Faeries Metamorphoses
My Angel Nevermore Planet of the…
The Pickpocket Prodly The Puffin Punk Points
Rameses Return To Zork Shade
Transfer The Trip Threading The Labyrinth
Unnkulia X: Escape… VOID: Corporation What If?
Withdrawal Symptoms YAGWAD

Suggested game interpreters for MacOS and MS Windows are available here. Support for other operating systems is available; read this document to find out how to get the appropriate interpreters.


The Reviews

THE END MEANS ESCAPE

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 7
Story: 2

Opening scene— flowery prose (sunken door, brittle table, folding scissors) It gets worse...

Bug— fold note

Nice trick with word pushing.

Staples problem was confusing. Have to use hands, not fingernails.

Did I win? Hard to tell. I’m not sure if I finished the game or accidentally destroyed myself. The lack of a scoring system makes progress difficult to measure. I think I ended it successfully, because my guess matched what the hints suggested. (When I went back to play it, I noticed that an extra option had been added to the endgame question.) If there was any more of the game to “play,” it was hidden well-enough for me not to care.

In general, I dislike “metaphor” games. The recent surge in popularity is probably the result of For a Change, which was clever because it was original. It also had a distinct goal (abstract as it was) which The End Means Escape did not.


FUTZ MUTZ

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 7
Story: 3

Cute opening, but background music quickly becomes annoying. Like music on web pages, it rarely enhances the experience; rather, one gets the impression that the author is screaming “Look how cool I am!” in such a way to generate the opposite opinion.

Pizza Palace— just seemed out of place with respect to the rest of the story. Up until now, it was possible to believe in a mutt escaping from a pet store and changing his appearance into a poodle so as to be adopted.

There was too many “just wait” scenes. The story dragged at this point.

The ending was disappointing. The kid turns into a dog, mom finally buys dog, boy remains dog. Why turn a boy into a dog in the first place? There was nothing magical about either Ralph or A Day for Soft Food. The goal— getting bought by “Mom”— was cute, but the transformation would have been unnecessary. If the other purchasers had been nasty and the woman really nice, it would have been obvious with whom you wanted to be, and the side story would have been unnecessary.

I was eager to get the game moving, so I cheated a lot. Some of the tricks were obvious (trash can, groomers), some were just so surreal as to be impossible (fleas, blue coupon). Usually when I resort to a walkthru, I feel guilty— not this time.


PLANET OF THE INFINITE MINDS

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 9
Story: 4

(I lost my notes on this one, somehow. So this is from memory.)

This story started out as a semi-humorous science fiction/fantasy game, but quickly degenerated near the end. The author even apologizes for the adolescent tone of one of the puzzles. It was the ending, however, that completely ruined it. The game had been light up to that point, but the ending verged on Pythonesque.

Change the ending, drop the tasteless puzzle, and firm up the continuity. Then you’ll have something.


THE TRIP

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 4
Story: 4

A simple concept take a trip to see a friend. Of course, about five minutes into the game you realize that the “trip” is something completely different.

Opening gambit— important? Not really; it could have been summarized as part of the intro and have the game start off in the park. I could be wrong; maybe I missed something in the dingy hotel room that could be important later.

Technically, the game proper starts after the pot party. Up until that point, the plot was linear.

One can search the park, but you quickly get the feeling that the majority of it is filler.

Thinking I had missed something about 40 minutes into the game, I checked the walkthru. Ah, there’s a mat. Completely absent from a room description, and only visible if one examined a specific object using a specific name. Not happy...

The garden riddle was cute, but too easy. It was the only puzzle that showed diagonal thinking, unfortunately.

Basically, the game broke down into a lot of search-for-item puzzles, which I personally abhor. This, combined with the general theme of the story which alternated between existential stoner and new-age treacle resulted in my disappointment. Others may enjoy it; I found it tiresome.


CRACKING THE CODE

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 1
Story: 1

Somebody’s being cute here, and doing so stupidly. For one thing, the code displayed was full of eight-bit characters in the wrong places, which makes me believe that someone didn’t escape characters correctly.

What’s the motivation? What’s the reasoning? Stupid little games like this are annoying. I gave it about ten minutes of effort— 9 more minutes than it deserved— then rejected it.

Someday someone will explain this to me, but even then I doubt I’ll get the joke.


DINNER WITH ANDRE

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 7
Story: 10

After five seconds of playing, I realized exactly who I thought my player was: Aimee Dexter. Getting excited about funky purple shoes that are on sale is definitely her. So, with a Aimee-like mind-set, I paced through the game.

The puzzle with the ex was hunt-the-verb. HIDE couldn’t be used, but GO could. Which is curious, because the hints gave HIDE as the verb to use. I had to cheat to solve this, and even then it simply told me what I tried to do.

The ending sequence was disappointing, almost as if the author ran out of time and had to switch over to the yes/no model of interaction.


THE BEST MAN

(The link above will take you to the competition release.)

Score: n/a (but, eh, give it a 5)

I really can’t rate this game, or even give critical comments about it— it’s mine.

The original game centered around what is unquestionably the hardest part of the game: the acid-base puzzle. The game was titled A Day in the Lab and really was more of an interactive chemistry lesson.

The problem was motivation. Why would the player want to learn how to titrate acids and bases? A good grade was too easy; there had to be an element of intensity involved. So the modification was that the player was chained to the lab bench by a mad professor, and a bomb was hooked up to the titrating apparatus. A quick throw-away game.

I didn’t like it: too silly. Also the solve-a-problem-and-you-win structure of the game disturbed me. So I replaced the simple titrating apparatus with a more complex bomb. Each of the triggers in it is chemical— the tube of gas is a mixture of hydrogen and chlorine, which react violently when exposed to short wavelength visible light. The white powder is phosphorous, which ignites on exposure to oxygen.

Still, school settings were getting a bit prosaic in competition games of late. (This year, even more so.) After much agonizing over the rapidly approaching deadline, I changed the setting to a fast-moving train, added a few terrorists, a mad bomber, a rather graphic opening gambit, a thrilling endgame. Voila! instant competition game, ready for my eager beta testing team. Or so I thought.

I had to rewrite portions of the game multiple times because of negative feedback from my beta testers: I extended the amount of time given, and eliminated the goofy “cool-down” ending. That was a chore and a half, on top of which was a sudden lack of time because of an oncoming AI conference. (Ironically, in the AI conference the most interesting talk was on statistical natural language parsing and interaction, the obviously weakest part of the game.)

September came around, and I lost three-quarters of my beta testing team to school. (Who set up the comp to overlap the beginning of the school year anyway?) With only two testers, the number of incoming bug reports slowed down, giving me more time to enhance (uh-oh!) other puzzles. Creeping elegance took over. I spent much too much time on the fixed-point calculations for the chemistry problem and implementing the white/black box problem.

The game itself had a rather interesting design philosophy. Rather than hard-code solutions, the objects were implemented as self-contained models, interacting with their environment as a whole. This allowed a wide variety of solutions in a Machiavellian sense: I didn’t care how you got there, as long as you moved the game closer to the winning state. Two prime examples are the acid-base problem and neutralizing the terrorists, both which had alternate solutions found by my testers. Of course, Weyuker would have her way, and anticomposition reared its ugly head... the game is much more buggy than I like, but the competition did force me to actually finish and release it.


KAGED

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 7
Story: 8

Good opening; explains the structure of the game succinctly. Mysterious cases of madness plague a bureaucratic Orwellian government. The player is a little cog in the great soulless machine, or as the picture describes, a pawn in a larger game.

The amount of text is amazing. I don’t think in my best day I could write a story this large, and this is only after a half-hour of playing.

The puzzle with the access code was annoying. There’s a recent trend to have information just appear without logical reasoning. The code on the matchbook is a prime example.

Somehow, the lower-case room names in the prison added to the atmosphere. I don’t know if it was intentional, but if it were, kudos to the author.

The ending, of course, is also Orwellian, and quite reminiscent of the penultimate scenario from A Mind Forever Voyaging. It was unlikely that a happy, or even reasonable, ending could be expected from a game like this. There were multiple endings depending on the action taken, none of which were satisfying. Thus I docked a few points from the story score.

Just because.


NEVERMORE

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 9
Story: 9

Nice concept— a game based (loosely) on an Edgar Allen Poe classic.

It has a nice feature, WINNABLE, which tells if you’ve painted yourself into a corner. This is a great idea, and I think I’ll steal— er, innovate something like it.

The coca powder is annoying at first; I hoped to find something that will permanently remove my weariness. All in all, there are a lot of historical drug use references; this seems to be a theme running through this competition (cf. The Trip). If one of the games is based upon The Seven Percent Solution, this theme will be complete.

The detail of scenery objects is excellent, and the movement of the raven from room to room fluid.

Within the pit room, the story shifts tone; concepts of distorted geometry and complex wards bring forth images of Lovecraft rather than Poe. Not that the two style should be considered incompatible; it was simply the shift of genre which was disturbing. I had to pop off a point for that, unfortunately.

The scope of the game is very limited; it would be easy in a game like this to fluff the map with the addition of Gothic stone passageways. Thankfully the author did not do this.

Unlike many of the comp games (including my own, unfortunately), the ending of the game was as well thought-out as the rest.


GOT ID?

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 6
Story: 2

Great. Another high school story. Like I need to go back to those halcyon days... The story revolves around underage drinking. C’mon, teen drug comedies went out in the ’80s.

It was too easy to get into an unwinnable state.

Way too many red herrings. There are a couple of bizzare glitches, like the ability to put your pants in the box (which I accidentally did) even though other times you are told you cannot remove them.

The puzzles make sense and are well-structured, even if the back-story is puerile.


MASQUERADE

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 6
Story: 10

It’s a historical story, possibly a historical romance. (Not that this is a bad thing; Plundered Hearts was a splendid adventure.) In the first five minutes, the character has pretended to be a man and has met an aristocratic gentleman. Harlequin, here we come...

The game is a bit linear. Every action simply jumps from one scene to another. In the first fifty turns, only one minor puzzle was presented, and the solution was painfully obvious. The rest of the game is similar. The author suggests that the game can be replayed for different endings; when I have time I may do just that.

The descriptions are superb and the setting exact. Unfortunately, this is marred by the occasional grammatical error; at one point (the river), a character is referred to as “an Ethan.” A minor bug, but one that should have been caught in beta testing. Another “bug” is the fireplace in the game room, which is empty yet has a fire.

I thought I got the game in an unwinnable situation, or the game has a serious bug. It turned out to be a case of guess-the-verb. The author distinguished DANCE from DANCE WITH someone which caused some confusion. The simple DANCE command should have been dropped.


AD VERBUM

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 8
Story: 6

One kind of puzzle I despise is guess-the-verb; it’s quite annoying when you know what action you wish to take but cannot convey that wish to the game. So how can I give a high score to a game like Ad Verbum?

Easily. The puzzles were *intentional*. Armed with a handy thesaurus (a type of dinosaur) I ventured forth.

The game is quite reminiscent of Nord and Bert, so much so that the concept could not be considered original.

The game was fun, but repetitious. There were only three or four unique puzzles within the game; the rest were variations on a theme. Curiously enough, when I came to the one “traditional” puzzle in the game, my mind-set was so stuck on play-on-words solutions that the obvious answer didn’t come to me (I ran to the walkthru).

The author warns that the traditional ‘meta’ verbs (save, restore, &c) wouldn’t work in many locations. I didn’t have a problem with this (I am quite willing to hit the hints should the need arise), but others might. Perhaps the game should allow those words to work since they are game directives, not player directives? I don’t know if this is possible in his parser framework.


RETURN TO ZORK

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 4
Story: 3

There is a certain inherent difficulty, I think, in writing pieces in the “Zork” universe. Considering the affection so many have for the series, the author of such a work runs against the double demons of high expectations of storyline and low tolerance for deviation.

The layout of text was rather poor. And you can’t blame the interpreter; I used the competition special release.

The parser needed to be told to ignore certain items that were primarily scenery. There are library extensions to do this, or one could spin one’s own.

There are some grammatical and typographical errors that were unfortunately quite distracting.

I liked the vulture puzzle, and after I finished I looked at the hints to see that the author was kind enough to provide not two but three alternate ways to the second part of the game.

The writing is a bit, well, childish. It definitely needs to be cleaned up. Superfluous adjectives abound in what Graham Nelson so eloquently described as “mediocre room descriptions.”

All in all, it was a nice attempt. But one of the features of the old Zork series (although not necessarily the Enchanter series) was the lack of people around. There were too many NPCs in this game for it to feel like a Zork game, and the interactions with each were too brief. It would have been better if fewer characters were included but they were much more developed.

(However, I’ve never played Return to Zork or its kin so I could be missing out on a ton of in-jokes. If so, I don’t think I’ll be getting those game anytime soon.)


WHAT IF?

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 1
Story: 1

This, like Cracking the Code, really doesn’t fall under the category of Interactive Fiction; if it were, then one could easily claim all works that a person voluntarily reads is interactive.

The historical detail is interesting, but not really fascinating; any good book on world history can be used to fuel speculative discussions. This was not the proper forum for this type of work.


THE CLOCK

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 3
Story: 6

OK, mysterious girl living in a clock tower. Magic and mystery abound...

This is a first-timer game, so I shouldn’t be cruel (I’m one too). But after wandering about for a while (after feeding the cat twice) I realized I was stuck. A quick check of the walkthru revealed a door THAT WAS NOT IN THE ROOM DESCRIPTION. This bode ill for the rest of the game...

In fact, I resorted to the walkthru about a half-hour into it just to run through the game. There were lots of odd idiosyncrasies that just became troublesome. One example is the bin. I looked in it, nothing. But after checking the walkthru, I realized that I had to SEARCH RUBBISH.

Some TADS errors started popping up about halfway through. I must have done some things in the wrong order as they got progressively worse.

After an hour into the game, I gave up. The logic behind the puzzles wasn’t clicking; it may have been the hour (late at night), but I suspect it was the obvious lack of beta testing that turned me off. The story is a nice concept (if a bit overused), but more work on the implementation is needed.


TRANSFER

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 9
Story: 10

OK, we have a science fiction entry here. (With game names like Transfer and Withdrawal I was a lot of expecting a lot of banking simulations.)

This is an extended version of the body transfer device from Zork Zero, with an added twist. It’s an interesting concept.

Obviously, something not-quite-right is going on. The message the dog scratched in the sand was not unexpected. But who is responsible, the sinister security agent, the curvaceous-but-secretive doctor?

The puzzles are excellently implemented, if a bit prosaic. Hunting for codes here and there has been done before, although this time it has been done well.

The elevator/rope puzzle was non-obvious. There should have been an alternative solution (is there?).

There was only one case if the player missed an important step that he could end up in an obviously unwinnable state (the coconut). I had to go back to an old saved game. I don’t know if an alternate solution exists. (On retrospect, I could have transferred with the chimp again.) Even the bat, if you botch it, returns to where it originally was found.


VOID: CORPORATION

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 2
Story: 3

We have a two-year-old game here, which really doesn’t mean anything except for the author’s warning that it was invented when he was “a kid” and a request to “be kind.” Oh dear...

Man. The hardboiled faux film noir opener, doubtlessly designed to bring to mind Blade Runner and its ilk, brought to mind another thriller: Matt Barringer’s Detective. I fear for the author’s sanity should the MiSTers get his hands on this...

I didn’t even bother trying to play. Sorry, but the opener clued me into the tone of the remainder of the game, so I immediately opened the walkthru, lest I be delayed in finishing.

I’m not familiar enough with AGT internals to know of its strengths/limitations, but I wondered why the fan had to be automatic.

Enough. After 10 minutes of playing, I had made my opinion.


WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 8
Story: 5

Or “Withdraval Symptoms,” as the banner suggests. Doesn’t anyone else use a spell-checker on their games? (Of course, one may also argue that the author, being from Finland, is exempt from this requirement. But I knocked off a point because this is a sore spot with me.)

The machine was too easy, in the sense that I thought it was more of a “Master Mind” puzzle.

Finding the money was unnecessarily difficult, as it basically boiled down to guess-the-verb. Hint time.

OK, wasn’t paying attention to score, so I rushed it. I probably could have sat down and figured out the number pattern on the safe (or just kept sweeping) but I was tired. I wanted to open the box and get on with the game... not realizing that that would end the game.

This submission feels like a prologue to a bigger and better game. I think the author should run with this, or have the safe close, or something. The story needs to be filled out.


ENLISTED

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 8
Story: 8

Space Foreign Legion. Planetfall, anyone?

Introductions should be short and sweet. Nobody likes to read a page full of text before they get to type anything. The intro could have been distilled down to one paragraph:

Bankruptcy. Divorce. Your life in tatters. There’s no reason to stay planetside anymore. After a heavy night of drinking to steel your resolve, you enter the recruitment office of the Space Force to begin a new life...

The gender-selection-by-door trick (Leather Goddesses Of Phobos) is used here; in LGOP it was much more subtle (or maybe I’m just jaded.) Sex really didn’t play a big part in this game; this could be dropped easily.

The form is also reminiscent of the form included in the Planetfall game package (“Will you subject to artificial elongation techniques to meet requirements?”). According to the author, the choices made here modify the game slightly. Cloning might be an interesting reason behind reincarnation effects in games.

As time went on, Planetfall slipped away to be replaced by the Heinlein classic Space Cadet.

The bridge had a nonexistent exit mentioned in the description, and there was an unintentional one-way door from hallway Q to the central spoke.

The EVA suit was absolutely fun! We need more puzzles like this, where the compass we take for granted is eliminated. It was tedious because there was no way to see how the thrust would affect coordinates. I ended up scribbling down vector equations for the various commands. An internal gyroscope would be helpful here. If the heads-up display only were, it would be incredibly cool.


INFIL-TRAITOR

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 4
Story: 3

BASIC?!? Hoo boy...

I’m curious to know why the author (who wasn’t really the author) decided to submit this for the competition. While the coordinator may have allowed it, technically it (a) is not an orignal work, and (b) was released commercially. C’est la guerre.

Nostalgia is fine, but I was quickly nostalgic for a good parser. Even classic Eamon supported concepts like ‘all.’

I gave up after ten minutes. Pressed for time (I was about three games and two homework assignments behind schedule), not comfortable with the implementation, I gave it a low technical rating. If the author was serious about his submission, he should have re-implemented it in a ‘modern’ language. Of course, battling agents of the Soviet Union seems so dated today...


JAROD’S JOURNEY

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 7
Story: 5

I looked upon playing this game with dread. A friend’s family was devoutly religious and only supplied Christian-themed games for their children (think “Ned Flanders” from “The Simpsons”). Not being religious at all, I was definitely uncomfortable when I was expected to play those games, as if I were showing disrespect for their beliefs.

The game uses HyperTADS tricks; unlike Futz Mutz, the multimedia wasn’t intrusive. The clickable commands would be very helpful for young children that have never played adventure games; however, the opening sequence has the angel just standing there, with a (non-clickable) map.

The shop had a clickable location for the shop (a minor bug). Most of the characters of interest are non-interacting; that is, they are busy and therefore cannot be interrupted. Looking at the CREDITS caused the game to malfunction severely under HyperTADS for the Macintosh.

I’m giving this game a low rating on the story; not exceptionally low, but low. Why? Basically, the game conflicts with my own personal philosophy. Like the argument about killing the Wumpus in Hunter, In Darkness, the player must feel comfortable in his character’s role. Contrariwise, I gave a higher rating than I normally would for puzzles of this quality; they were perfectly suited to the target audience of children. The clickable interface is an excellent primer for beginning adventurers, but needs more actions explicitly described.


PUNK POINTS

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 8
Story: 9

What is with high school that attracts IF authors? Considering that most authors have technical rather than social backgrounds, the memories of high school should be unpleasant at best. (I have yet to meet a techie— or anybody, actually— who enjoyed high school.)

This one wasn’t from the true loser’s perspective— punks, after all, have their own society. Still, it had “the Man” to defeat.

The only technical flaw I found was with the hydroxide bottle— liquids are a difficult problem for any programmer (I speak from experience).

All in all, the author took a difficult subject and turned it into an excellent game. Surprisingly refreshing.


MASQUE OF THE LAST FAERIES

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 4
Story: 8

There is a minor technical detail where the top two lines of text after a screen is cleared ends up chopped off in my interpreter (Zip Infinity). Switching to MaxZip solved this, but I don’t care for two-window interpreters. It’s a good thing I didn’t use JZIP to play this game. The irregular use of whitespace is annoying as well.

Answering the riddle was a chore and a half. Yet another case of guess-the-verb. I had to cheat.

There’s a serious bug involving the costume. If you pick it up directly, the lockpick is found; but if you ‘get all from table’ it is not.

Lots of little bugs here and there, mostly from incorrectly overriding default messages.

I couldn’t reach the endgame, even with the hints. This is a pity, since the concept is clever.


COMP00TR GAME

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 1
Story: 1

We have enough script kiddies in the world, no need to emulate one... I didn’t really bother with the game, even though the author put in some effort to look like he didn’t put in any effort.


GUESS THE VERB

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 8
Story: 9

AAAAAAAH! In abject horror, I opened the game...

Well, it’s not too bad. Each of the puzzles places you in a situation where the command is not what you expect. And I have to give credit to anyone who quotes Frederick Brooks Jr.

There’s a humorous bit involving the sack of infinite capacity that I was not expecting. Bravo!

Silly games usually do very poorly in my eye, but this one had technical structure, an engaging plot, and non-puerile humor. Well done!


DESERT HEAT

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 1
Story: 4

Hm... a warning about adult content. Yay!

Hm... a choose-your-own-adventure style game. Boo!

The game isn’t very fun. Given, the tone and setting is patriarchal, but ending up made into a sex slave on the first try was disappointing at best.

At first I thought we had another religious game going here, with a character named Onan. But it just turned out to be a coincidence.

Choose-your-own-adventure games get boring quickly. I hope this doesn’t become a trend.


METAMORPHOSES

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 9
Story: 10

The genre of this story is “other realm,” where the normal rules do not apply.

The button on the furnace does nothing (i.e., default response) unless there is something inside. This is a flawed design. (Probably one of the few flaws in the game.)

Some of the quotes are so long that the room descriptions are obscured.

The cube puzzle was interesting. One could argue that it was guess-the-noun.

I solved one puzzle in a completely different way than suggested in the walkthru. Alternate solutions are good.


PRODLY THE PUFFIN

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 4
Story: 2

Oh dear, a game that quotes Pokey The Penguin, and uses UPPER CASE FAR TOO MUCH.

That’s about all you can say for this game. Next entry, please.


THREADING THE LABYRINTH

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 1
Story: 2

The story needed more prompting between cut scenes. There was no indication that it was waiting for a keystroke.

It was an interesting work of experimental fiction. Instead of interacting, useful commands were presented as a phrase. The order of the words entered “moved” players from one state to another.

Still, it lacks lasting entertainment value; such is the danger of experimental art. I doubt it will alter the way future works of IF are authored.


LETTERS FROM HOME

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 10
Story: 7

This is a puzzle game, no mistake about it. The goal becomes obvious quickly— find 26 letters of the alphabet. Some are easy, some are hard. Finding the “P” is easy, but getting it isn’t.

I didn’t play with this for long; I had a feeling that if I started I’d be playing it for a while. After the first half-hour I had a pretty good idea of the complexity of the game. Rather than resort to the walkthru I rated it and continued on, saving it for a later day...


AND THE WAVES CHOKE THE WIND

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 3
Story: 9

This entry is just full of horrors: Lovecraftian Monsters! Extended Cut Scenes! Brutal Pirate Treachery! Interracial Homosexuality! Incomplete Ending!

The status bar has a “Sanity” rating, reminiscent of the old “Call of Cthulhu” RPG. It went up and down, but didn’t seem to have much impact on the game.

There seems to be an obsession with exposed genitalia this comp (cf. End Means Escape). Just an odd coincidence?

The cut scenes are an interesting concept, but should the POV change for the player? The second movie told me that someone was searching for me; while this may be intrinsic to the game, it’s not something a castaway would normally know...

This is a large game (Z8 should have clued me to that). The descriptions are long, but there are very few scenery objects (which means fewer red herrings, good). I don’t know why the author configured it as Z8, since the game itself is only partially implemented.

There’s an annoying bang-you’re-dead portion of the game, and the warning is only barely on the reasonable side. (You can UNDO, of course.)

No hints provided. None were necessary.

The game has potential, if the puzzles are made harder and the remainder of the game completed.


STUPID KITTENS

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 2
Story: 2

Oh dear, “South Park” meets IF.


ASCENDENT

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 2
Story: 2

“Sourdoh Fahrenheit and Kelvin Flatbred.” Spare me...


1-2-3

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 1
Story: 6

Spectacular opening that initially seems to be completely disconnected with the rest of the story.

Interaction with characters is painful at best. For a game like this, more effort should have been put in for synonyms. If the author wanted, a menu-style conversation could have been used.

The room descriptions lacked directions, and the ‘can’t go’ responses were un-informative. I had to scroll back several pages to find the exits.

If the interaction was more sophisticated, and the cut scenes removed (they gave away too many answers), the game might be playable. The author hints at the murderer’s motivation, but doesn’t delve into it.


AT WIT’S END

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 9
Story: 7

Hm. A baseball story. Well, not really... it’s a kidnaping story.

I think there’s an unspoken rule that adventurers— while occasionally needing food and drink— never require the toilet. (This was violated in Planet of the Infinite Minds, too.)

The game was fun, but mediocre. I didn’t get far after my first two hours, so I shelved it for later.


BEING ANDREW PLOTKIN

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 7
Story: 10

I was ready for a short throwaway game, but was rather intrigued by the plot presented. Of course, not having seen the movie (but now I *want* to), I’m sure to be missing some of the jokes.

Menu-oriented conversation seems to be the big rage right now (cf. ATWCTW). It’s certainly easier to implement. And in this game, it certainly added to the humor.

Half the fun of this game was UNDOing to see the different possible responses to conversations.

The only puzzle I had trouble with was at the end. Given the limited number of items with which to work simplified it greatly.


THE PICKPOCKET

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 5

First off, let me suggest not naming the country in which the story takes place after yourself. It just brings to mind a mammoth ego.

I didn’t like taking the wallet, but it seemed to be the only way to proceed. To catch a thief one must become a thief? It just gets better. Had to do a little B&E (twice!) to continue. Yet when I try to rob the cash register, I get “You’re trying to catch a thief, not embark on a life of crime.”

A couple of minor grammatical errors (“the cracks is empty”) were distracting.


MY ANGEL

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 7

Right off the bat we are presented with a menu asking us to select the mode: NOVEL or NORMAL. The difference seems to be in which window the command prompt is placed: status or story. The author seems to have limited testing to Microsoft Windows platforms, as xzip under UNIX handled NOVEL mode poorly. I played the game in the more familiar NORMAL mode.

Normal commands don’t act normally. I suspect the author either heavily modified the library or used a replacement.

The game seemed to ignore the player’s actions, in the sense that certain scenes followed predetermined courses, limiting my commands to one or two.

After ten minutes of playing, I still was unaware of the goal, of the plot. The characters were on the run from an angry mob, but why? It took some time to figure out what the background of the story was.


BIG MAMA

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 1
Story: 7

“Big Mama” here refers to the Pacific Ocean. This story is set in a coastal town; the subject has just recovered from a nasty breakup.

This game is kinda short. Again we have the menu-based interaction (was there a fire sale on phototalk.h that I missed?) that helps decide the course of the game. There are at least 30 endings to the game; this implies there’s more than just Emily/Ginger involved. I was only able to see two.

It’s an interesting concept, limiting the player to just a handful of locations, with only the conversation directing the plot. Unfortunately, one started to get the feeling that it was simply an elaborate choose-your-own-adventure with the author leading the player by the hand through a maze. The story itself was complete, but the actual plot was too mundane to save its technical banality.


SHADE

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 6
Story: 10

The story: You’re waiting to go to a desert retreat, but there are a few last minute things that need to be done...

When the sand started showing up, I had pretty much figured out the “twist” in this story; the news report only confirmed my suspicions. Just trying to get to the end was a pain though...

The author was dead on when he replaced confusion with understanding and finally maniacal elation in the descriptions. The character’s mood matched mine exactly.


HAPPY EVER AFTER

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 5
Story: 4

This was the “infamous” game the one where the wrong binary was submitted— so after a brief recompilation...

Boy, I’m glad I didn’t start a relationship before doing my competition entry! If the games are any hint, many authors are lonely bitter people. (What’s worse than a hopeless romantic? A hopeful one...)

The opening puzzle is reminiscent of Hollywood Hijinx. So is the Merlin puzzle.

It’s a museum, it’s a hotel, it’s a museum... the author should not have tried to combine the two. The game comes off as a weak copy of Muldoon.

The game has potential, but it needs to be seriously tested. Thus, a poor technical rating.


AFTERMATH

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 6
Story: 7

A grisly opener, with the character in a pile of bodies. There’s an annoying guess-the-verb puzzle required to proceed.

The surreal aspect of the battlefield; the scavengers, the state of the player... I didn’t buy it. It’s probably accurate, or a reasonable guess, but it failed to inspire any emotion.

Motivation was the hardest part of the game. It was late in the competition, but also: if I survived a war, I’d return home. I wouldn’t walk around building monuments: that’s for politicians to do to ease their troubled souls. The psychology of the game was just wrong.

DIG IN GROUND caused problems when two things were named “ground.”


THE DJINNI CHRONICLES

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 6
Story: 9

The game is played from the perspective of three djinn. The story is divided into scenarios, in which the player must grant wishes then reenter his container to survive to the next scenario.

The time/turn limit on the scenarios made frequent saving mandatory. I found it distracting; however, it seemed to be integral to the plot.

The last scenario was the most difficult, as it was a case of guess-the-verb, but not an unreasonable guess-the-verb. My own arrogance prevented me from seeing what the verb was, and requiring me to read the walkthru. The other puzzles made sense.

The ending was disappointing.


CASTLE AMNOS

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 8
Story: 8

This looks like a large one, in terms of rooms. There are five floors to the castle, each one with at least a dozen rooms. Some of the rooms are filler, but many seem to have purpose.

The movement system is non-Euclidean, in that moving north and south does not necessarily return you to the same location. I’m not sure if this was intentional or the result of an implementation error. I suspect it was intentional. I find non-regular maps annoying.


YAGWAD

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 7

Right off, we are warned that the game may not work on certain platforms, and that it requires 1.0 compliance. I risked it on the UNIX box at school....

The opening animation was cute, but was it necessary? Obviously, it was the reason for the technical prerequisites, but it added little to the game itself.

The peasants continued going to the castle even after the proclamation was over. I was, unfortunately, not able to reproduce this bug.

(Footnote: I finally finished this game! Pity first impressions were so weak; it deserved a lot better STORY rating than I gave it.)


UNNKULIA X: ESCAPE OF THE SACRIFICED

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 4

The sleep-to-find-passage puzzle was cute, but too obscure. There were not enough indications that that was what the player should do.

The author should never, never put himself in the game without good reason (the classic throwaway from Enchanter was just good enough).

I’m not familiar enough with Unnkulia to say if the story followed the theme of the originals; thus, many of the inside jokes may have gone over my head. Still, the whole monastery/amusement park thing just seemed too much of a misfit. (As much as a misfit as the carnival in Sorcerer.)


RAMESES

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 1
Story: 6

College. Almost as attractive to IF authors as high school...

This isn’t interactive fiction; it’s being tied to a chair so that the author can shout a story at you. This especially becomes apparent in the scene with Wayne and Paddy.