Ratings & Reviews of the 2006 Interactive Fiction Competition

The Ratings

Game Technical Puzzles Story Overall
Game T P S
Unauthorized Termination 8 9 10 9
The Traveling Swordsman 9 9 7 8
The Primrose Path 7 9 8 8
Moon-Shaped 7 7 8 7
Möbius 8 8 6 7
The Sisters 7 5 10 7
Fight or Flight 5 8 9 7
Floatpoint 10 3 8 7
A Broken Man 7 4 9 7
The Elysium Enigma 8 6 5 6
Star City 8 6 4 6
Aunts and Butlers 3 6 8 6
Strange Geometries 2 6 9 6
Madam Spider’s Web 7 7 3 6
The Bible Retold 7 6 3 5
Xen: The Hunt 5 7 4 5
Requiem 6 3 7 5
Delightful Wallpaper 8 6 2 5
Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game 7 4 5 5
Pathfinder 6 5 5 5
Labyrinth 7 6 2 5
Legion 5 4 6 5
Carmen Devine: Supernatural Troubleshooter 3 5 6 5
Game Producer! 6 2 5 4
Hedge 5 7 1 4
Wumpus Run 5 4 3 4
MANALIVE, A Mystery of Madness - I 5 4 2 4
Polendina 3 5 2 3
The Tower of the Elephant 6 2 2 3
MANALIVE, A Mystery of Madness - II 5 4 1 3
Enter the Dark 2 3 3 3
Tentellian Island 3 3 1 2
Ballymun Adventure 2 3 2 2
Sisyphus 3 1 2 2
Lawn of Love 2 2 1 2
PTGOOD 8*10^23 2 1 1 1
The Apolcalypse Clock 1 1 2 1
Yasmina’s Quest        
Beam        

MANALIVE, A Mystery of Madness - I

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 4
Story: 2

There are two types of games that annoy me to no end: the first is the never-to-be-completed “preview” game (e.g., Waves Choke The Wind), and the second is the two-parter. A two parter is annoying on so many levels. For example, what if the randomizer put the second part before the first? What if it’s really good and I never reach the second half? Or worse, what if the first part sucks so much I look forward to the second with the dread usually reserved for a root canal?

Not to mention that the two-parter is completely unfair to the other competitors. You get two two-hour periods while everyone else gets but one. In short, one-part good, two-parts bad. So you’re starting this off with a negative bias, bucko. Don’t do it again.

And the Longest Feelies Award goes to…

So you based your game on a novel with an expired copyright. Nice to include a Gutenberg-esque transcript in the package. Am I expected to read the novel before starting? If so, it would leave little time to actually examine the game. Ignoring the “feelies,” I press on…

Nice purple prose for an introduction. Pity it wasn’t original, lifted almost verbatim from the novel.

You glimpse your hat rise again and fall.

Examine hat.

You can’t see any such thing.

(While technically the hat is out of scope, the response should have been more descriptive than the standard library boilerplate.)

The conversation matches the novella; the problem is that the conversation is not sane. Therefore, every wrong choice ends up with the game entering a no-win state. Once again I must quote The Master:

Being locked up in a long sequence of prisons, with only brief escapes between them, is not all that entertaining. After a while the player begins to feel that the designer has tied him to a chair in order to shout the plot at him. This is particularly dangerous for adventure game adaptations of books. [emphasis mine — rm]

The Craft of Adventure, Graham Nelson

It appears that the novella itself is the “hint” book.

“Landlady” is not a proper name for a character, at least not without the proper definitive.

Like the novella, the game is divided into chapters. Solving a trivial puzzle and navigating the conversation maze rewards the player with the next chapter.

Ah, yes. The inevitable “hunt-the-verb” puzzle as I try to figure out how to have a picnic on the roof (the action itself suggested by the story). In this case, the noun is also the verb: not an unfamiliar usage, but an uncommon one.

Go west.

That’s not your room, I believe. And the door is closed.

Open door.

You can’t see any such thing.

It’s all very nice and well to play a lunatic in a loony world; but it’s an entirely different effort to play a lunatic in a logical world, especially when the plot is so involved and predestined. There are no true puzzles in this game; I found myself reading the story (not entirely an unpleasant task) then copying the actions of the protagonist. The game is less interactive fiction than transcriptive fiction.

Ultimately, I had to drop the story score down to the barely passable; not to say that the Chesterton novel was bad, but the fact that the adaptation itself showed no original thought.

I am looking forward to Part II, if for nothing else than seeing how well it would stand on its own…


Lawn of Love

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 2
Story: 1

From Chesterton to Santoonie… it appears that the randomizer has a bizarre sense of humor. Santoonie games have appeared at the end of my reviews by historical coincidence; I’ve always appreciated that, as if the universe was muttering, “Well, if you didn’t think it was possible for them to get worse, here ya go!”

I have waxed philosophical about the Santoonie group before, so I’ll spare the usual anguished histrionics and sit in slack-jawed wonder at the opening refrain:

You’ve known us, you’ve loved us, now let us love you. Santoonie Corporation presents their first interactive story of romance. Dim the lights, break out the Cognac, and ready the cheese board.

I have a feeling that the cheese board will be cut to splinters by the end if this chilling little tale. Never, ever say that I didn’t suffer for you.

…barely enough room for it’s stool. Aaarrgh! Stabbity-stab-stab-stab!

Ah, yes. The first Santoonieism: Levi Strauss InvisiJeans™. There but never seen. For the modest exhibitionist. This, plus the early mention of pubic hair, suggests this literary accomplishment will be less Plundered Hearts and more Stiffy Makane.

No labeled exits or obvious directions. Exits that go nowhere but fail to print out any message whatsoever. You know, one day Scooby and the gang will tear the mask off of Santoonie and it’ll turn out to be Emily Short.

Um, yeah. So I take the sack into the kitchen for grandma, and she takes it. Then I return to Grandpa and he chews me out for not taking the sack to Grandma. Joy.

Yet another Santoonieism: the location that inexplicitly becomes a prison. There’s an exit southeast from the spa, but it was never coded.

Turning on the TV after Grandma feeds you has Grandma calling out, “Have you eaten?” (State? We don’t need no stinkin’ state!)

That’s new: a quantum scarecrow. Look at it, and it disappears.

The fridge is full of food. Since this is a Santoonie game I better stock up since the odds of spontaneously dying from hunger are rather high.

Oh yes, here we go. Parents are sending their child marijuana via international mail. Santoonie, you just couldn’t stay away from fantasy, could you?

So, I guess for Santoonie Corporation the traditional love story formula is: Boy finds girl. Boy rolls joint. Boy and girl get wasted. Boy and girl get it on. (I’m just guessing. Maybe they’ll surprise me. And maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt.)

This accidental point-of-no-return is really, really annoying me now. This is one Santoonie epic that I want to finish, if nothing else to verify my belief that the end game will read like something dredged from the bowels of alt.sex.stories at the beginning of the Eternal September.

They can’t code Grandma, but they can do an inventory check for a flagpole just to do a lame pun. (Priorities? Yeah, we’ve heard of those.)

“Boy, Grandma’s eggs really stick to the ribs, don’t they?” “Shut up, Crow!”

Right. Got the girl in the most anticlimactic way possible. Didn’t get high; didn’t get laid. Cheesy “and we grew old together” epilogue. This was so bad it wasn’t even good.

And the Adding Insult to Injury Award goes to…

Your time is valuable to you, thank you for spending some of it with us. ~§antooníe.

Santoonie Corporation, I hate you. See you next year.


The Bible Retold

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 6
Story: 3

The randomizer shoves another mediocre entry to the top of the list. “Celestianpower,” indeed. It’s been six years since Jarod’s Journey, and I have just recovered.

It’s not that I have anything against Judeo-Christianity, but I do have strong feelings about inappropriate evangelicalism, whether it be religious, political, or technological. Again, the game has a strong bias against it before I even start.

Hm. The tone is a bit silly, but not irreverent. The timer attached to the input (injecting random witticisms) is amusing but I expect it will become rapidly annoying.

He has a simple, earthly ailment. Such ailments warrant earthly cures. What is a miracle but a thousand trivialities?

I should make a snarky comment here about Jesus being obsessed with how handsome the young man is, but I’ll refrain: others shall do that for me.

Must dash - the wife’s waiting in the bedroom. Ciao! xxx God — that’s just wrong on so many levels.

The puzzle with the deaf man was what I feared: a requirement to have a copy of the Bible nearby to look up tasks. I might be willing to let this one go if the author included the relevant texts in the game package. (And how would a deaf man know that I was knocking on his door in the first place?)

The puzzle with the street numbers was clever; reminiscent of the mine maze in Beyond Zork.

Death by Paradox! Yessssss…

It appears that if you don’t do the exact moves required by the chariot puzzle, it’s possible to put yourself in a “no-win” state. Also, somewhere in my random flailing the sheep disappeared, which changes the entire dynamics of the chariot puzzle.

According to Lore Sjöberg, one of the miracles involved money in a fish, but these fish are destitute. Must be a different series of miracles.

The chariot puzzle was a good one, but the rest of the game paled in comparison. I’m not sure how well this game will do in the competition (it is another adaptation) but it wasn’t as preachy as I feared. Curiously enough, I found the silliness somewhat distracting and the jokes about people getting knocked unconscious repetitive.


The Primrose Path

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 9
Story: 8

Ah, joy. Another game where I have to discover how complex and brooding the protagonist is through the use of an über-verb, contemplate.

First person, not good; but that’s a personal bugaboo.

I do like the alert keyword, however; especially for a competition entry. Saves having to go back to square one.

While I’m talking to Leo, the command Talk to Leo is dismissed as irrelevant.

OK, not an exercise in emotification, but rather a science fantasy epic. Looks like a big one too…

First bug: cannot go into the bathroom from my hall. Any attempt to do so says that the player is unlocking the door (specifically, the my bathroom door), but no other message is printed.

“Tree” should be an acceptable synonym for oak.

This game is very reminiscent of Curses, in which the player has to gain access to various mini-maps to proceed.

The problem is, I know the answers to the questions Leo asks, but the game won’t let me say them. The ask/tell commands are completely useless.

There’s a lot of problems with the parser having issues differentiating nouns: engagement ring versus key ring, and so on.

Revolver is a perfectly reasonable synonym for gun, dammit.

Nice ending, but I’m not too happy with the won’t-tell-you-what-you-see puzzles; here’s hoping it won’t become a trend. Vaguely reminiscent of the engine room in Hitchhiker’s, and equally annoying.

Good story, challenging puzzles, only marred by the occasional technical glitch. Might have been more powerful if Leo were gender-neutral and my character nameless; but those are personal preferences and not reflected in the score.


Yasmina’s Quest

Technical: -
Puzzles: -
Story: -

Previously released and withdrawn from the competition.

Even if it had not, I wouldn’t have been able to run it: written in PHP, documented in a language that I cannot read. It would have been a short review.


Aunts and Butlers

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 6
Story: 8

The title of this game has promise, but the implementation scares me. One of the grand promises of the Z-Machine was that it would function identically independent of the underlying operating system, and for the most part it has kept that promise; JavaScript, on the other hand, barely is consistent even between browser versions. I’ve been burned by JavaScript before; let’s hope this experience is different.

Excellent: the opening fulfilled my belief in the title. It’s taking on a distinctly British air.

First bug: under Safari 1.3.2, the text rolls over the type-in box and becomes illegible. Punting on Safari and restarting in Firefox…

Good, the text overflow problem appears to be isolated to my ancient version of Safari. Granted, my version of Safari most likely contributes to less than one percent of the traffic on the web, but the goal of OS-independent rich web platforms is still a pipe dream.

The formatting of the page is poor under Firefox; either that, or the typing box at the bottom of the screen was purposely made invisible, and the baseline misalignment a consequence of running a beta version of the browser.

The say command appears to ignore any quotes surrounding the statement to be said; this implies that the parser is really just a verb-noun system. Granted, I wasn’t expecting a full-fledged context-dependent grammar, but in the light of more modern IF frameworks this is the same as being forced to rub two sticks together in a match factory.

Cedilla, Ampersand, Virgule — I wonder if anyone else will notice?

This is a classic (and somewhat tired) take on the “keeping-up-appearances” genre of writing, in that we have a protagonist (Ampersand) who is vile, uncaring, and without any attractive qualities whatsoever. fforbes-Hamilton he is not.

It’s a very small map, that’s a good thing. But the implications are that the house is rather large.

It’s official: I hate homemade parsers. Get all does not work; nor do chains of commands.

The pigeon deserves more than a boilerplate description of Nothing special.

Up until now, even the Deus ex Machina of the butler has been tolerable, but the introduction of the maze is such a crime against mimesis it offends even me.

When I heard “organs in jars,” I immediately thought of the haggis. The author missed a perfect opportunity for a trap.

Blowing up the starship leaves the exit, but the description of the room is simply undefined.

Amusing little story, and quite inspired at times; however, the inapposite puzzles prevented me from fully enjoying the game: the brick maze (most likely inspired by the severed-hand solution to the mud maze in Lurking Horror) was the most egregious example. It’s a pity that the author chose JavaScript as the implementation language, otherwise the score would have been much higher.

As suggested by the walkthrough:

Eat corpse.

You disgusting savage! You don’t have the right kind of wine!


Xen: The Hunt

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 7
Story: 4

(I shoved this down the queue a bit; I was just not in the mood for another sequel.)

I played the original last year. If I remember correctly, it was an overambitious attempt at capturing bad Saturday afternoon sci-fi. We’ll see how the sequel holds out.

Ow, ow, ow! Flashback gives an undigestable Crichtonesque infodump. But it did remind me of some of the details of the previous game (details I had desperately tried to forget). In summary, when the PC was a child, a doctor implanted a bit of alien technology in his brain to save his life, technology that the two sides of an inter-dimensional war desperately want for themselves.

If I remember correctly, the story was a bit bland and linear. So this should be an easy romp.

I’m a “mundane,” eh? Nice way to commit genericide on your sci-fi epic, pal: using fanboi terms like that.

Man, the solution to the train puzzle seems vaguely familiar, almost as if I implemented something similar. The only difference is a bug in the implementation: even after I swap identities, if the policeman catches me before I reach the bathroom, I’m arrested for having no ID.

Kill cop.

*** BUG: I don’t know what to do in dinerCop.ArrestPlayer() ***

And another guess-the-verb puzzle:

“I don’t know how to use it. Every time I do something, it’s by accident.”

“Well, the way Lia’s uncle taught me — No, that won’t work. You’ve been brought up by people who still think tachyon waves are futuristic. Hmm… Well, maybe if you had something to focus it.” He snaps his fingers, and something appears on the white couch. “If you can’t figure it out, just think about what you want and use that. It’ll happen.”

Think about exit.

The word “think” is not necessary in this story.

All of the cut-scenes damaged this story in the same way that they damaged the prequel: game-play felt linear, constrained to a predestined set of choices. The story was cheesier than the original, or maybe I’ve gained a few levels of cynicism since we last met. All in all, a reasonable distraction but not anything that I’d ever run through again.


Polendina

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 5
Story: 2

Interesting title, gives no hint about the genre of the game. The opening moves suggest a slice-of-life, or perhaps fantasy game.

Who in their right mind would have a kitchen abut a bedroom?

Hm. I can’t leave the house without my ID because there’s a mysterious force field blocking the exit? Oh, come now! We could come up with a better reason than that to force the player to find his ID.

Lots of unnecessary swearing:

Wait.

Just what the fuck are you waiting for?

OK, what is my goal here? I’ve been wandering around for a half-hour and there’s no indication of what my character wants to do.

The kite has a period in its name (i.e., “kite.”).

Polendina… Pinocchio… Got it.

Talk about puzzles in search of a plot! There’s no story here, just a random set of obstacles to overcome and a cliché ending that would make the most oblivious Hollywood hack cringe. How, exactly, would a dying man be able to write such a long and detailed letter? Why kill the dog except for some cheap tears?

I guess somebody saw “A.I.” and thought it would be a prime foundation for a game. It wasn’t.


Enter the Dark

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 3
Story: 3

Finally, our requisite Gothic horror novella, complete with grandiloquent vapid prose. I was wondering when it would arrive.

And the Annoys Only Pedants Award goes to:

Its only you and the darkness…

(It’s, it’s, it’s, dammit! Where’s Spinn when we need him?)

And the Matt Barringer Award for Redundant Redundancy goes to:

…tightly packed into a confined L-shaped layout…

OK, it’s not that bad. Poe had his off-days too.

For a short moment I thought perhaps my client was inadvertently dropping apostrophes, and my previous grammar rant was unwarranted. Nope, the author was just lazy about punctuation.

Oh my, I’m trapped in a cemetery and have no memory of how I got here. I wonder what the plot twist will be?

I’m surprised the crow didn’t say, “Nevermore!”

Talk to ghost.

You talk to ghost

Ah, yes, the ever-present flexibility of the Alan parser. Always the choice of champions.

Hm. I’m following the walkthrough verbatim, and I still cannot get past the first third of the game. It may be a platform-specific bug, or the walkthrough itself may be in error. In either case, this is as far as I can go. To be honest, unless there were a spectacular climax to the game my opinion was fixed after the first five minutes of play.


Unauthorized Termination

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 9
Story: 10

Richard Otter… Richard Otter… a familiar name. Oh right, he submitted the semi-biographical game last year. This time he’s gone in the opposite direction and has written a sci-fi story.

As usual, Richard provides a map as part of his game package. Good boy, have a cookie.

It’s not explicit, but from the introduction it looks like I’m playing a robot on a planet of robots, descended from the robots that accompanied the first settler.

Whoops:

ls.

This isn’t Unix you know!

Point for you, Richard.

Aw, and we were doing so well… first guess-the-verb obstruction: talking to Mu-Nu about the lance.

Hm, this might be a bug: my assignment card was converted into a tracer after being placed on the interrogator. Seeing that the game made no mention of this transformation, I suspect it’s a program error. (Later events make me believe it was intentional, but it still should have been noted by the narrative.)

Hovering passed you is a Phi.

Grammatically, there is no proper way to phrase that sentence. “Hovering by you,” maybe?

Hm, the mysterious attacker is hominid in shape. Interesting… Totalitarianism, Draconian law, four-legs, two-legs… I wonder if Animal Farm had any small inspiration in the story line?

Damn, I seem to have lost my evidence card… restore.

The first grand game of the competition! It’s really amazing how this game turned out compared with his rather pedestrian entry last year. Aside from a few typographical goofs (mostly inapposite periods and newlines — the author warns of these), the implementation was sound, the puzzles reasonable, and the story gripping. Well done!

Ironically, the map was almost unnecessary because of the menu-driven movement. Still, I appreciate its inclusion.


Labyrinth

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 6
Story: 2

Person wakes up in a bizarre environment after a car wreck. Not the most inspired plot device, but we’ll see how things go.

“There is” leads all but one of the extended descriptions in the first room, and the descriptions are flat and unimaginative. This looks like a puzzle-fest; not necessarily a bad thing, but then why bother with the prologue?

Ah, the game of Nim. A classic for computer programmers.

Put foo in baz should be the equivalent operation of put baz on foo.

Interesting, a maze with a “hyper” direction. Makes mapping a bit of a pain, though.

Gah, I better not be in some giant Rubik’s Cube. I could never solve those things…

OK, this is definitely a puzzle-fest. The problem is that it’s a one-trick pony: the same puzzle (how to rotate the room) repeated in different guises. This kind of approach rapidly becomes monotonous. I ran out of steam before I ran out of time.


Moon-Shaped

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 8

Ah, a retelling of a classic fairy tale… always a good approach for a neophyte author. I’m not sure if this is an amalgam of different tales (“Hansel and Gretel,” maybe?) or just an embellished variant of “Little Red Riding Hood.” We shall see.

And the Longest Cut Scene in Interactive Fiction Award goes to…

Pewter, not silver? Constant references to the full moon? This may not be the innocent fairy tale it pretended to be.

Cameo appearance by the infamous Designer’s Manual mushroom.

Hm, I can take pebbles out of the jacket but can’t put them back in. Minor design flaw.

Ah, it is an amalgam. Seamless fusion, too.

Bug: no message printed if you try to eat the honey when the jar is closed.

I’m allergic to silver… hehehe. I am seriously enjoying this far too much.

Not a bad adaptation, although it only consisted of a fusion of two stories. I’ll have to explore more to see if there is more detail to the back-story. All in all, the plot was logically consistent, the discriptions were excellent, and the puzzles challenging. The cumbersome extended cut-scene and the few glitches (no showstoppers, thankfully) marred an otherwise fantastic debut.


Requiem

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 3
Story: 7

David Whyld — another veteran. Last year’s Mortality was a sci-fi story with a branched plotline. According to the “about” blurb, this one is a noir told in flashbacks. Sounds like Spider and Web meets The Witness.

Ah, yes. Good ol’ Scare and the inability to map character sets properly. Cugel might do better…

I don’t like the way the screen clears every time I type look. Cut-scenes, yes; actions, no. Turning off the screen clearing option.

Open desk.

All that’s inside my desk are a few old files, a notepad, a pen, a newspaper and some smokes. None of which I need right now.

Read files.

That’s not something I can read.

Read newspaper.

That’s not something I can read.

Close desk.

I can’t close the desk.

Ah, yes. We fall back into familiar territory: the mystery cum supernatural thriller. Not far from last year’s submission after all.

Normally I’d bitch about writing in the first person, but I can’t see any way these descriptions or the internal narrative could be brought off otherwise.

Microwave? Damn, and I was hoping for a period piece: ratstabbers, pin-stripes, and fedoras.

Damn you, Adrift. If I misspell a word, tell me!

And when the game switches from command-mode to interaction-mode, a change of prompt would be welcome (may I suggest Inform’s ever-classic “>>”?).

Yet again, I find the most boring, prosaic ending possible, because I’m a boring person. Restart.

Ah, finally: the supernatural plotline. Not as predictable as Mortality, but definitely cut from the same cloth.

This is one style of interactive fiction I dislike intellectually: the conversation maze. (The other annoying genres I despise on a more visceral level.) The authors of these tales take a simple (if Byzantine) storyline, then decorate it with very short side branches and call it “interactive.” The movement, the “puzzles” (if you can call them that) all feel forced, extruded through a tiny hole of narrative. One wrong step off the trail and all is lost; and somehow the author makes you feel bad for not following his script. Not fun at all.


The Elysium Enigma

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 6
Story: 5

Another game with a “last lousy point”; or in this case, seventeen last lousy points. LLPs tick me off because I tend to use the score as an indication of how much time I will need to spend on a game. In this case, since my score will range anywhere from thirteen to thirty, there’s no possible way I can estimate time remaining. Joy.

“Automatic Typo Correction.” Hm. That could go either way; the dangers of automatic correction were parodied in Typo some time back.

More science fiction, or more appropriately, space opera. It feels like a Samuel L. Goldwyn epic from the 1980s.

Hm, all the topic hints make this feel like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” game: that’s the risk of conversation-driven plots. If you want to ask the Elder about the Empire, turn to page 94…

You know, if the automatic typo correction system actually worked, I’d be happy; but this is the fifth time I’ve typed “dirk” and it hasn’t caught that once.

“Harcourt.” Funny.

Examine structure.

It’s hard to make out exactly what it is, since it’s covered by a dark green tarpaulin.

Look under tarpaulin.

You see nothing unusual under the tarpaulin.

“Soolin’s razor, sir: strange women should not be multiplied beyond necessity.”

Looks like I’ve placed myself in an unwinnable state: I’m on the wrong side of the river, and there’s no obvious way to tell the shuttle pilot to return.

The password puzzle is just too obscure.

Eh, 27 out of 30 on the second try; but at least this one had a nicer ending. Generalized space opera, the kind found half-finished on the PowerBook of an out-of-work Star Trek writer, complete with a Luddish diatribe on the dangers of technology. Puzzles that were either overly hinted or absolutely impossible to figure out without peeking at the hints. A reasonable distraction, but in need of some playability adjustments to make it enjoyable.


Beam

Technical: -
Puzzles: -
Story: -

Not playable on my platform. Abandoned.


Möbius

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 8
Story: 6

“An Interactive Twist”? Son, people have died for lesser puns.

Yet another Heinleinian space opera. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Yet another time traveling science-fiction story in the guise of a Heinleinian space opera. Surprise, surprise, surprise. (My sarcasm gland is a bit drained right now, sorry.)

Lots o’ acronyms on the ol’ status line, but no indication on what they mean.

Port, et al. are legitimate commands: good.

Another game of causality tricks? Didn’t we go through this last year?

This one was relatively short, but an interesting concept; sort of a fusion between the Star Trek: TNG episodes “We’ll Always Have Paris” and “Cause and Effect.” Without really spoiling the story, it involves a single puzzle with multiple avenues of solution, but to solve the puzzle all of the avenues had to be explored and information had to be brought forward from previous iterations. A nice size for the competition, especially considering that such a plot device does not scale very well. (It could easily fit into a larger work; the obvious example is the mine puzzle in Sorcerer.)


Delightful Wallpaper

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 6
Story: 2

Ah, a mystery. Been waiting for one of these.

Odd, stilted writing style, a bit difficult to wrap my head around; but obviously intentional:

You look around...

...the Foyer,

...which is filled with sheeted furniture and gloom. The air is faintly damp, silent, scented with mold and furniture polish. Well. Not very cheery at the moment.

Interesting tweak to the game’s normal Look command. Again, a bit disconcerting, but I’m sure I will get used to it.

Looks like another Frobozz Magic Notepad; good. It’s a nice feature that doesn’t distract from the game, and very useful when information falls out of the scrollback buffer.

Ah, it appears that my character is some sort of paranormal researcher.

Or maybe a paranormal entity myself?

If only it would build a map as well…

This has all the earmarks of a knights’ move puzzle.

Gah, this is a mapping nightmare. Like the earlier game Labyrinth, it lacks a proper balance between puzzles and story. There’s an attempt at a story here, but it’s buried under a complex (and somewhat repetitive) puzzle: go through this door an odd number of times; go through that door only in a easterly direction.

I give up; I’m consulting the walkthrough. It appears that the game is in two parts: in the first, you attempt to learn how the house rules work. In the second, you actually do something. Let’s get the first part out of the way.

Actually, let’s get the whole damn thing out of the way. I understand in a general sense what my goals are: arrange (by distributing murderous intent) the deaths of all the guests at a party. “Why?” is the big question. Did I miss something along the way? Is this an adaptation of some Edward Gorey tale that I somehow missed? Last year, I bitched excessively about the lack of standard plot structure in storylines; this year, that seems to have been flushed down the toilet in favor of complicated puzzles with only the most tenuous background. Balance, people, balance.

My advice to future Competition entrants is:

  • if you are considering adding a maze to your game, don’t;
  • if you are considering basing an entire game around a maze, definitely don’t.

Legion

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 4
Story: 6

Argh, another symbolism-fest. <crotchity>That abstract stuff isn’t art; why, back in my day we had real games…</crotchity>

I’m sure that this is going to turn out to be something mundane, like bacteria in an infected tooth fleeing from a dentist’s drill. (Don’t get any ideas, potential authors.)

Actually, I’m beginning to understand the abstract form and symbolism. It reminds me of Poet’s language from Suspended; and in a sense I’m glad because I rarely get to cite Suspended in these competition notes.

Eh, it turns out to be a space opera after all, buried under grandiloquent phrasings and über-verbs; told from the viewpoint of an alien entity (again, at the risk of comparing everything to Star Trek: TNG, it’s a lift of the episode “Home Soil”). A reasonable entry, but the lack of existential background (always a problem in this kind of symbolic game) made it difficult for me to enjoy the story. When you’re fighting through forty-odd games, first impressions are all you get.


The Tower of the Elephant

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 2
Story: 2

Yet another adaptation of a novella. Automatically the story score drops down; if you can’t be original, you might as well sit the competition out. And, c’mon, can’t you can steal from someone better than Robert E. Howard? (I shouldn’t complain — I still play Nethack, and that owes a lot to Howard’s legacy.)

Aha! Pronoun trouble:

Tell thief about Conan.

“But come, in Bel’s name! Are we to waste the night in discussion?”

Tell thief about me.

“I am Conan, a Cimmerian,” you answer. “I came seeking a way to steal Yara’s jewel, that men call the Elephant’s Heart.”

I’d love to have a copy of the book just to see how much purple prose was lifted verbatim from Howard and how much is the programmer’s embellishments.

A severe lack of synonyms is hampering my ability to hold a conversation. Fortunately, topic helps guide my speech.

Consdering how many times Lovecraft has been pilfered for interactive fiction, it’s surprising that Howard hasn’t received the same treatment. Of course, one could easily argue that the Zork series owes its existence to Howard, if in theme alone.

More hunt-the-verb games:

Ask about life-blood.

“Take your sword, man, and cut out my heart; then squeeze it so that the blood will flow over the red stone. Then go you down these stairs and enter the ebony chamber where Yara sits wrapped in lotus-dreams of evil. Speak his name and he will awaken. Then lay this gem before him, and say, ‘Yag-kosha gives you a last gift and a last enchantment.’”

Cut idol.

You set your teeth and drive the sword deep. Blood streams over the blade and your hand, and the monster starts convulsively, then lies back quite still.

Get heart.

I don’t suppose Yag-kosha would care for that.

Again, another short one. All of the interesting puzzles were solved by Taurus; the only thing I needed to do was navigate a conversation maze and follow a recipe for vengeance. Of course, one could argue that Conan was never one for thinking through puzzles, so adapting Howard’s work for interactive fiction may have been a poor choice.

According to the walkthrough, I could also kill Taurus early in the game, and solve the puzzles myself. Not exactly canonical, but potentialy more interesting. Still, the plotlines are identical in both branches; only the actors change. Again, the risk of adapting a novel and remaining true to the plot is the creation of a very linear game.


Wumpus Run

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 4
Story: 3

Another game based on Hunt the Wumpus? Poor girl probably never heard of Hunter, in Darkness and thought she was being original. As they say, “a few hours in the library can save you weeks in the lab.” (Hell, HiD is even mentioned on the Wumpus Wikipedia page.)

Way! Too! Many! Exclamations!

“Cheryl”? At least give me the option of naming myself.

Hm. The boilerplate responses have been modified, but not in a good way.

The map is Euclidean. Interesting.

Plotkin wept:

There’s an awful smell coming from somewhere close by.

Smell.

Will you be serious, or are you just plain crazy?

And the most egregious abuse of ellipses goes to:

Throw starblade.

You must be kidding! It’s impossible to do that … with the legendary starblade.

Oh, man. I do feel sorry for Cheryl. It’s a reasonable attempt, and much more true to the original Wumpus than Plotkin’s adaptation in both tone and play. Still, it feels like comparing a Harry Potter fan fiction against Rowling’s original. I doubt any of the other judges will be any kinder.


Star City

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 6
Story: 4

Yet another space opera, but this one feels more like Starcross: silly and irreverent.

Crap, he’s one of the guys who write A Miracle of Science! Damn, now I have high expectations for the game.

The instrument panel responds to instruments but not to panel.

The prelude definitely feels like Starcross, except without the snarky computer.

Looks like I won’t have to worry about air, either.

Yow, it’s not space opera, it’s commiepunk. Sci-fi is sci-fi is sci-fi (to misquote Stein), but alternate reality stories tend to throw me since everything I know is wrong.

Cool, a monorail. Every game needs a monorail.

Hm. Technically, having the monorail car be a vehicle is reasonable design; however, since there is no freedom of movement it usually is better to implement it as a fully-fledged location and recode the door routines (a la Planetfall). The east door should have been coded to call <<Enter MonorailCar>>. Maybe this is an artifact of Inform 7?

Hm. I can move up and down the corridor without using the monorail car. This is probably a bug.

Read manual.

That would take time you certainly don’t have. It would be quicker to just consult the manual about a particular topic instead.

Consult manual about flying.

You hastily skim through the pilot’s manual but don’t see anything about flying.

Harness should be a reasonable synonym for a five-point restraint.

The full instrument panel should be on the status line, not just the altitude and heading.

I’m a bit disappointed, actually. No aliens, no major surprises; just a bit of alternate history and an abandoned spacecraft with prosaic descriptions. The simulator at the end salvaged some of the story, but the majority of the puzzles were sleepers. Hardly the legacy of Starcross. I had high hopes that Mark Sachs would translate his skills to interactive fiction; maybe next time…


Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 4
Story: 5

Jumping around again, looking for games that are potentially short. I started the reviews a little late this year, and the number of playable games is larger than previous years.

Well, at least it wasn’t made with Flash.

Amen, brother.

Open aspirin bottle.

That’s not something you can open.

Ha! finding the steel key was absolutely by accident. I was just being silly. I wonder if there is an alternate way of finding it, perhaps involving the can of beans?

The game keeps claiming I got a point, but (fortunately) the point is awarded only once.

And the Most Gratuitous Attempt at In-Game Self-Promotion Award goes to…

This is definitely a puzzle-fest, but unlike the other puzzle-based games I’ve seen, this one actually varies the puzzles. I’ve reached three points out of eleven after an hour; I doubt I will solve this one in the alloted time. Which is a tragedy; I sorely miss good puzzlers.

It pays to read the hints: the scoring is not for solving problems or making progress, it’s for discovering easter eggs. So I could be close to the end, or I could be hours away.

Børk børk børk.

That safe puzzle is just wrong. There were no obvious in-game clues. I’d love to know how many people solved it without cheating. I expect the number is zero.

OK, this is less Sartre and more Romero…

Gah, another non-intuitive puzzle. This game is very interesting in terms of the depth of the puzzles, but almost all of them violate one or more items in the Players’ Bill of Rights. Granted, Graham Nelson is not Moses on the Mount, but the PBoR is mostly common sense and courtesy. It’s a pity: most of the puzzles were good, but the endgame puzzle and the safe puzzle were too obscure and forced down the overall score.

Damnit, why don’t I ever type About first? The problem with good satire is that it is lost in the raw dreck that makes up half the competition. In the immortal words of Steve Martin, “Oh, ho, ho, irony! Oh, no, no, we don’t get that here. See, people here ski topless while smoking dope, so irony’s not really a high priority.” Since the game annoyed me (which was its intent) without being blatantly purile, I’ll bump up the story score. Wait, no… if an attempt at satire is indistinguishable from that which is being mocked, can it really be called successful satire? I think not! Back to sarcasm school for you!


Game Producer!

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 2
Story: 5

Way! Too! Many! Exclamations! Redux! There is even one in the name. We are told in the "readme" that the exclamation point is intentional: an homage to Sid Meier’s overly-excitable titles. This brings to mind the immortal exchange between Jeff Goldblum and Anna Massey in The Tall Guy:

Goldblum :
A musical of “The Elephant Man”? What’s it called?
Massey :
“Elephant” — with an exclamation mark presumably.

(Does anybody else remember that classic farce? I think it was severely overlooked because of the ridiculous finale in the trauma center and the fact that Rowan Atkinson played a perfect asshole in the supporting lead. People aren’t used to Atkinson playing an asshole character, but he was perfect. Maybe it was because Atkinson’s character’s stage persona was the same as the characters Atkinson normally plays, and people were concerned that Atkinson was equally assaholic off-stage. A world where an off-stage Atkinson is an asshole is not a world worth living in. But I digress.)

Oh look, it’s the gender-differentiating bathrooms from Leather Goddesses of Phobos. And the difficulty-differentiating doors of, well, something. (Enlisted, perhaps?) In any case, this prologue was unnecessary. Meta-decisions like gender and difficulty really should be done via a fill-in form, like in Bureaucracy or Beyond Zork.

Gah, what is with people and infodumps? I can tolerate an infodump in the dénouement where it is practically the reward for a job well done, but buring the player’s goals in a multi-page lecture is not kind.

Ask Sally about Sally.

There is no reply.

I take back what I said about it not being a fantasy. I have yet to meet the receptionist who wouldn’t talk about herself. (Hi, Rose!)

Adding features on the day of RTM? Maybe I don’t understand the game industry after all.

That was… interesting. Task-based game, non-linear (good!). Puzzles were bit on the simple side, with the QA server being the most challenging. A lot of typos and layout problems, enough to be distracting.

I guess my problem here is that this is what I do on a day-to-day basis. I don’t work in the game industry, but all software shops are but variants on a theme. The whole “write what you know” theory of dramatization is utter bunk. It’s boring, it’s vapid. It fails to hold my interest. Where’s the twist, the challenge, the disruptive moment? The game should have either provided a unique insight into the industry, or simply used the game production angle as a backdrop for a more focused story.


Strange Geometries

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 6
Story: 9

I was going to start this thumbnail sketch with a rant about long introductions in games, but then I realized I may just be a hypocrite. I replayed my 2000 submission, and yes, it did have a long introduction — after the extended prologue. So I’m only “slightly” guilty of hypocrisy.

Hm. Look under no longer works. Another artifact of Inform 7?

I hope that the notebook is a magic notebook.

A mystery story and I’m not allowed to type ask? Scandalous!

Not sure if this is alternate history or an alien planet. Not really important, either. In fact, the writing style feels more like Anchorhead meets The Wild Wild West than anything else.

Maybe the title has sensitized me, but I’m seeing puns everywhere: quad, rhomboid.

C’mon, you can give a better response than this:

Go in field.

That’s not something you can enter.

Oooh, fractals.

Touch spot.

discovered

I have a sneaking suspicion that the above action would have killed me if it had been coded correctly.

Gah, disable the meta-verb if you’re not going to use it:

Score.

You have so far scored 0 out of a possible 0, in 173 turns.

Of course every Lovecraftian Non-Euclidean horror story requires a sanitarium backdrop.

Yep, hyperdimensional monsters all right. How predictable.

OK, not predictable. Nice twist there. I’m tempted to restart the game and look for flaws in descriptions now.

Five ovals, eh? Rudy Rucker described something similar.

Ouch, another bug I suspect:

Open circle.

(the metallic circle)

You open the metallic circle, revealing Filled_right.

An odd game, a curious cross of Edwin Abbott Abbott and H. P. Lovecraft. What I thought was a bug in the parser turned out to be a vital clue to the structure of the game; however, if it were indeed a homage to Abbot’s world, it should have had more geometric references. If nothing else, after the revelation from Bonnel, the descriptions of the world should have changed, been enhanced to show the player’s view of the world. Pity there were so many technical glitches; the writing was excellent and gave no hint to the mid-plot twist.


Carmen Devine: Supernatural Troubleshooter

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 5
Story: 6

Yes, no lengthy introduction; just a vague description of the world and an indication where to find more information.

Mmmm… werewolves.

Look should reprint what is seen, not smelt.

There’s another scent, underlying the fear and death. The scent of grave dirt, and a hint of lilies pervade the scene before you; scents of the spirit world.

Smell.

Shattered House smells pretty generic.

Gah, I’ve run into a hunt-the-verb puzzle and the walkthrough isn’t. It’s more of a (badly implemented) hints system.

Ahh, a puzzle that wasn’t. I spent almost an hour trying to rescue/locate the villagers only to discover that their rescue was nonessential to solving the game. “Red herring” puzzles are never fun, especially when you’re trying to beat a deadline. Overall, the pacing of the game was weak, with a large map and few puzzles, all of which were “find the hidden object” puzzles. I suspect that the storyline had more difficult problems that were excised to make it a reasonable competition entry, but the excision actually made it more difficult and less satisfying than it should have been.


Madam Spider’s Web

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 3

Finally, something original.

The initial room descriptions are rather weak, forcing me to look every time I enter a room. This may or may not be an intentional design decision, but I find it annoying.

All right, major theme shift. I suspected this was a psychological exercise. Simple fantasy just doesn’t hold any attraction to authors anymore.

Uh, OK. Was the ending really necessary? It was a gentle fantasy up to that point, and then the abrupt “it was all a dream” dénouement as we were brutally slammed into reality (a perennial favorite of hacks since The Wizard of Oz). Overall, a good short set of puzzles marred by an unnecessary end-game.


PTGOOD 8*10^23

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 1
Story: 1

First off, the number you are looking for is 6.02×1023, as any good chemist will tell you.

Oh, it’s a self-referential parody of a parody franchise. The irony is overwhelming… yawn.

I hope this is intentional:

A goggles is on the couch.

Joy, undocumented exits.

Joy, first unreasonable death trap.

Yes, quickly got bored. I have a sneaking suspicion that I have to do something completely unreasonable to “win.” Well, now I can sleep peacefully knowing that I’ve finished another game. Thanks, Slan Sartre.


A Broken Man

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 4
Story: 9

Mmmmm… terrorists.

“The player’s assassin outfit graciously supplied by ‘Assassins Я Us,’ for all your vengeful needs.” Just what the heck is an “assassin outfit” anyway? Is it ninjaesque, or from the Hans Gruber collection?

The wall, even though it is decoration, should be present in every section of the lawn.

Oil lamp? Who the hell uses an oil lamp when battling terrorists? There better be some twist that justifies that decision, like this is set in the antebellum South.

I was waiting for the inevitable flashback…

And pray tell, how is a piano evil?

Well, he’s obviously not a Muslim terrorist. The pigs and the pork better not be cheap symbolism.

Damnation, I think I called it; or maybe “slave” was just a figurative description?

Wouldn’t it be better to kill the family and leave the terrorist in his misery? Vengeance requires casualties! — Ezekiel Rage.

He’s a much bigger man than you and has no problem holding you down while the authorities are summoned. The girl gives a little giggle as you reach under the pillow.

And the Federico Fellini Award for Unnecessary Gratuitous Symbolism goes to…

Oooh, a nice twist to the ending. It saved a rather pedantic (and occasionally puerile) story, with only one real puzzle to speak of. But yeah, I like the ending; completely unexpected. It also explained why the player character was so woefully underequipped, and even the costumes in the closet; although the maid and the burglar seemed a bit, well, off.


Sisyphus

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 1
Story: 2

An insurmountable task? Yeah, I’m soaking in it.

OK, good, this is a literal interpretation rather than an existentialist exercise.

Um, yeah. OK, after a half-hour, I figured this was a joke, and not a very good one. Joke entries like this require a full library replacement, while this one only replaced a handful of the boilerplate responses.


The Sisters

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 5
Story: 10

Nice prologue: direct, immediate, immersive.

Feels like a ghost story…

Actually, it feels like a bad horror movie, complete with an inability to do anything but incredibly stupid moves. I mean, driveways usually go from a house to a road; following the driveway away from the house should take me back to civilization. Forcing me into a house by eliminating all other directions is a clumsy hack.

This game seems to be following the scoring model of giving points for discovering details about the plot, rather than giving points for moving the plot forward. The last ten points I have received have been for incidental actions; actions that I did not need to perform to finish the game, but enhanced the plot. (This is the hallmark of stories that are linear and light on puzzles.) Games where you can win without reaching maximum score annoy me to no end (LLP games included). One could argue that a need for a reasonable scoring system is subsumed by point 17 of the Players’ Bill of Rights, but even that avoids commitment to the issue.

Ah, first hunt-the-verb puzzle: Drop over versus throw over.

The walkthrough deviates from reality in the Master Bedroom: it refers to a drawer that isn’t there.

Nice ending, not completely unexpected, but well-written. (Actually, for a long time I thought the player character was the missing girl suffering from amnesia.) The writing was stiff in places, but overall it set the proper mood, especially near the end. The most significant problem is that there were only two major puzzles that needed to be solved to reach the ending (get out of the bedroom; get into the cellar), and that a lot of the puzzles (as I verified by checking the walkthrough) only revealed supplementary information on solving. The mousetrap, for instance, I thought was a red herring — it turned out to be a major puzzle that I accidentally ignored.


Tentellian Island

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 3
Story: 1

A pure Java presentation? Well, there’s one way to write a custom game engine and still achieve portablity, but… why?

Also, our young friend has never assembled a proper JAR file. The data files should have been included in the archive so that the class loader would be able to locate them via ClassLoader.getResourceAsStream(). (I can bitch because I’ve been immersed in Java EE 5 for the last three weeks.) Otherwise, the game crashes unless it is opened in the same directory as the data files.

No command-line prompt, sigh.

Hm. Commands that are unusable in a given state are reported with the same message as syntax errors (That doesn’t make sense). Poor style, but it might be the consequence of a context-sensitive parser.

Window activation events are not handled properly, requiring an annoying double-click every time I switch applications.

Gah, no pronoun support. How primitive!

You can only move South into the structure or North towards the dock. Your movement is restricted by rocks to the West and a pool of water to the East.

Examine pool.

I don’t see any pool here.

I suspect the majority of the game will consist of find-key-use-key puzzles. The humming room, for instance, would have been better solved by finding something to plug up my ears (and a later puzzle might have required me to hear something).

You stand on a bit of land that juts out into a small, clear lake. An opening in the rocky ceiling lets in sunlight, which reflects off of the glittering yellow stone that forms the walls. This in turn reflects off the water to create a glittering yellow light.

Examine lake.

You can’t examine any such thing.

Oh, he’s a Stanford student. Explains a lot.

I died? Why? The description said I sucessfully escaped. Sadly, I don’t really care: I reached the end, and that’s enough. Simple puzzles, a primitive ’80s-quality parser, and an equally primitive plot.


The Traveling Swordsman

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 9
Story: 7

Thank you, mysterious author. From the README:

On the status line in the upper right corner of the game window, the percentage completed and number of turns taken are shown. The former is of importance during the 2006 Interactive Fiction Competition voting period, because it’s an easy way to check your progress.

The writing is delightfully cheesy.

The harness changes its description depending on whether or not you’ve encountered the bull first. Good.

Ah, this isn’t just one game, but three short games. Not a problem; as I said before, my gripe is when authors try to steal more time than allowed.

Gah, another huge cut-scene. Still, it’s broken up into “pages,” which makes it more tolerable.

Each of these chapters could have been a competition entry unto itself; considering that they are relatively isolated from each other, they could have been played in any order (a la Nord and Bert).

Running out of time… switching over to the walkthough.

What is with you people? Why does everything have to be grounded in reality? At the end of Zork, did you wake up to find out that it was all a dream, the result of a late-night pizza binge during the D&D marathon? Of course not. I blame Lewis Carroll: “I’ll shake you into a kitten, that I will!”

Here we have a perfectly reasonable (if slightly silly) fantasy story and you had to ruin it with an unnecessary expositional epilogue. Still, the ending was short enough that I’m willing to overlook the transgression.

And, heh, the cat’s name is cute.


Fight or Flight

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 8
Story: 9

A camp slasher? Cool! This is a genre that’s been rarely explored. Wish this one popped up closer to Halloween.

Lots of the Inform 7 entries have formatting problems: too little or too many blank lines between paragraphs.

OK, so it’s really a teen-psychosexual-slasher story like Friday the 13th, and not a fight-for-survival-in-the-lab story like Warning Sign as I originally suspected.

Lots o’ NPCs. Or should I say cannon fodder?

Gah, stupid scene cuts. Very distracting, having to shift my POV.

Good lord, he’s remaking Night of the Lepus!

Get guitar.

That’s hardly portable.

Rope, even when converted into a lasso, is still rope.

Hm, survived but not pleasantly. I suspect I need to do this on my own…

Nope, it’s a pyrric victory at best. Good game, great story, but a lot of glitches that distracted from complete immersion. A little more attention to detail and some more beta testing could have made this the winner of this year’s competition. Ah, well, maybe next time.


Pathfinder

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 5
Story: 5

Oooh, a feelie! Nice look, too; establishes the game mood. Probably should’ve been HTML, though. I got yelled at for putting non-text files in my game package.

Odd, this looked like a murder mystery, but the electronic device suggests something even more sinister.

Open car.

You swing open the car door, revealing the inside of the car. Very typical, plain. All the normal things you’d find in a car are there...and a little gray button near the floorboard, nearly hidden except for the light from the fence illuminating it.

Get in car.

At this point, the sedan’s doors are locked. The driver apparently isn’t interested in letting you in at this point. You’re stuck outside.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

Huh. Being a coward actually produces a decent ending; unsatisfying, but my character survives.

Gah, a major bug: once dropped, the hard drive can no longer be picked up.

Uh, yeah. Copying files from one hard drive to another does not automagically make the other drive unreadable, in any way, shape, or form.

Uh, yeah. Alcohol produces a cool flame, neither hot enough to melt steel nor ignite thermite.

“Uh, yeah.” I was saying that to myself a lot during the game. One danger when writing a puzzlefest is to make the solutions be both rational in the world-view of the game and in the mind of the player. I know hard drives can only be destroyed with fire or acid; but I also know underground telephone systems carry enough voltage to kill someone cutting through with a hacksaw. Some of the solutions were so poorly thought out that I had dismissed them without an attempt.

The ending was disappointing as well, but at least the PC didn’t wake up when someone moved him to K3 or something equally inane. The guy was simply a troubled loser, easily manipulated by an evil multinational thanks to a permanent malaise of ennui. But… why Steve? No answer was forthcoming, and that’s the biggest annoyance of them all. Still, the game achived a reasonable plot/puzzle balance — weak on both, but still balanced — and that’s about all I expect.


Ballymun Adventure

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 3
Story: 2

A game for teenage boys? Well, I have been accused of being a middle-aged teenager in the past…

Son! of! Too! Many! Exclamations!

Well, I can’t say I’m given a horribly unclear objective in this game: it’s all there in a lovely numbered list; but with what I do take umbrage is the perky, condescending tone of the story. Even as a pre-teen I hated reading text in that style: it reeks of false compassion, oozing progressive guilt from every stressed syllable like some cloying afterschool special. Teens and tweens read Harry Potter now; deal with it.

As you search you may find some nice things to eat and drink. TADS == Santoonie == Starvation!

Gah, the map is screwed up! The exits are all mislabeled.

After leaving the auditorium the area is sealed off. Since that is a major hub for movement it makes navigation difficult. Throw in the damaged map and you have a player’s worst nightmare.

Beware the generic room description, my son!
    The nouns that drone, the verbs that bore!
Beware the urge to say “there is,” and shun
    The fruminous “you are”!

First hunt-the-verb: Enter gap doesn’t work, but squeeze through gap does. (Remember: there’s no Gap™ in the Gap of Rohan.)

That’s a terrible cypher. Multiple letters map to the same letter.

Well, that was a quick romp. I have a sneaking suspicion that most of those locations and NPCs had real-life analogues. Still, unless it was produced by a teenage boy, the quality of the text leaves much to be desired: bad grammar and misplaced punctuation abound, enough to make Lynne Truss vomit. My personal favorite: “I’ts.”


Floatpoint

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 3
Story: 8

Ah, more space opera. (I was hoping to battle the IEEE 754 spec to the death.) Considering that space opera has pretty much given me joy in this competition, I shall not hold it against them.

Gah, multimedia attack! I forgot what “zblorb” meant.

Looks like I have a Frobozz Magic Notepad in my head.

Lots of empty space on the map, but at least the room descriptions are interesting.

… which look more like things to investigate later.

In other words, don’t go there as it’ll disrupt the flow of the plot.

Hm, looks like there’s a tacit time limit to this game.

Ah, the device is displaying my score, like a biorhythm.

I like the bunny slipper ending. But, like most Emily Short stories, it lacks depth: the plot is well-structured, every object touchable, every conversation rich — but the interaction is superfluous. The only “interactive” part is deciding what to wear and what the gift will be; the puzzles were trivial and I never hit the walkthrough on my first two passes (the second was spent looking for additional garments). Of course one could argue that that’s the whole point of the competition: display stellar writing skills with just a soupçon of challenge to keep the reader awake. This’ll take the competition but only on writing alone: it lacks the satisfaction of intellectual triumph such as that provided by Unauthorized Termination, also dealing with the tricky question of eugenics. Of course, this is near the end of the competition, so maybe I’m just jaded.


The Apolcalypse Clock

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 1
Story: 2

Ouch, a minor formatting problem with the third quote. (Were three epigraphs really necessary?)

Left arm?

West.

You bump into your front door.

Open front door.

You can’t see any such thing.

Oh dear, either this is purposely bad or it has more bugs than a week-old corpse.

My encounter with a Santoonie room forced me to restart.

Reticulating Splines? On a PET?

Nope, there’s too many bugs. The metal door at the end of the cave supposedly unlocks, but remains locked. Pity, the story had potential, but if I can’t get past the prologue there’s not much more I can say.

Oh, the bug is in the put the tape in the deck handler, which prints out the success message even if the computer is not on. Still, this game is not even close to being competition quality. Do more testing next time, m’kay?


Hedge

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 7
Story: 1

First silly attempt:

Violence isn’t the answer to this one.

And how.

Gah, the first puzzle is a guess-the-verb puzzle, I’m sure of it.

PBoR #13: Be able to understand a problem once it is solved. I didn’t understand the crossword puzzle at all, and after fighting it for ten minutes, I gave up and hit the walkthrough. I still don’t understand the solution completely.

Run, he knows Latin!

I wonder if I was really supposed to take the skeleton, or if that was a bug?

I definitely am sure I wasn’t supposed to take the transmitter, considering that the description describes a cable that runs from one side of the transmitter down into the gazebo ceiling.

Fun with ill-coded parsers:

Ask survivor about oversized dildo.

(the lone survivor about that)
The survivor stares at you, blinking to clear his eyes. “I already told you, you can’t have it! It’s for the General.”

Ah yes, another gender-selecting bathroom. But does it matter?

OK, the footnote on the walkthrough says that it describes the most dull solution to the game. Good. Do I care about finding better solutions? Eh, not really. Again, balance is the key, and it seems to be seriously lacking in this year of the competition. At least The Hedge offered puzzles in different styles, unlike the one-trick ponies Labyrinth and Wallpaper; but it lacked any sort of compelling story. I found myself struggling through the puzzles more wishing it were over than seeking any sort of conclusion for the story.


MANALIVE, A Mystery of Madness - II

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 4
Story: 1

This was actually the 34th game in my list, but I figured since I started with it, why not end with it as well?

Last time, on “MANALIVE” —

The player character is a hyperactive mental patient who barged into a rooming house, got everybody cheerful through childlike antics, proposed marriage to one of the tenants, took a shot at the family doctor (purposely missing, of course) and was captured by the local shrinks.

And now, the exciting conclusion to “MANALIVE”!

Rats, I forgot the password! Quick replay is in order.

Why you sneaky political idealist! Distributism, indeed.

Enough, the game is just more of the same: transcribe the short story verbatim, repeat what Smith says, ad nauseam. It’s a sneaky way to get people to read, but it doesn’t offer an iota of originality.

And, that’s a wrap! See you next year.