Ratings & Reviews of the 2009 Interactive Fiction Competition

The Ratings

Game Technical Puzzles Story Overall
Game T P S
Rover's Day Out 10 10 10 10
GATOR-ON, Friend to Wetlands! 9 8 10 9
Broken Legs 9 8 10 9
Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort 9 7 9 8
Resonance 9 9 7 8
Earl Grey 8 10 6 8
Snowquest 8 7 8 8
The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man 4 10 8 7
Grounded In Space 7 8 6 7
The Duel in the Snow 7 5 7 6
Byzantine Perspective 8 6 5 6
Interface 7 6 5 6
Gleaming the Verb 7 7 2 5
The Duel That Spanned the Ages 6 7 3 5
Eruption 6 4 5 5
Beta Tester 6 6 3 5
Condemned 5 2 7 5
The Ascot 4 2 7 4
The Grand Quest 7 4 2 4
Star Hunter 5 3 5 4
Spelunker's Quest 2 3 2 2
The Hangover 1 1 2 1
zork, buried chaos 1 2 1 1
Trap Cave 1 1 1 1

Spelunker's Quest

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 3
Story: 2

This looks like a classic “explore cave” game. Either that, or a lightweight rip-off of The Descent.

Nope, definitely “Adventure.”

Get Torch returns a suitable response. Good.

A goblin? WTF? Oh great, this is more of an RPC than an actual adventure.

And bang, I’m dead. Lovely.

This first puzzle was annoying. It violates so many of the rules in the PBoR. Let’s itemize them:

  • Not to be killed without warning. Nope, there was no indication outside of the bedroom that I was about to enter an unwinnable state.

  • To be able to win without experience of past lives. I read the hint to see if I missed an obvious clue; I had not. But now I know not to enter that room, and knowing is half the battle.™

  • To be able to win without knowledge of future events. I would not know how to solve this puzzle without discovering the sword first which means finding the chest, &c. &c.

In the words of the great Eddie Izzard, “Just don’t go in that fucking house.”

…The floor at the north end of the passageway contains a circular hole that is approximately 4’ in diameter.

Go North.

You can’t go that way.

Way! Too! Many! Exclamations! William Safire is spinning in his grave:

Examine miner.

He’s dead!

Search miner.

You search the miner’s clothing and find a bundle of dynamite!

A machine gun? A MACHINE GUN?!?

With all these weapons, I’m beginning to feel like Ash.

More irreversibility:

After plummeting for a couple of seconds, you land upon a rock floor! You have landed well and have not been injured.

Go up.

The walls are not scalable.

If I cannot return to the rooms above, or I require something that could only be found above, I will consider this game a wash.

This time it is (slightly) my fault; but in my defense, the author should have given me at least one turn to retreat or turn on my lamp:

Go north.

You begin to walk north.

After a short while, you hear scampering to the north.

The scampering draws near!

A large, unseen creature bites you fiercely, mortally wounding you!

And speaking of lamp, had I not visited the storage closet I would not have been able to move. Boo!

I swear, the most common command I am executing is undo.

Hints again. Oh good Lord, that’s such an obvious place to search. Especially since entering it KILLED ME LAST TIME.

Well, at least the stone gives me a chance to return to the living room; BUT, I cannot get the stone without the lamp.

This felt like an Eamon adventure, ported to Inform. What does about say? He’s a fan of Sierra games? Figures.

Inform 7 again.

Earl Grey

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 10
Story: 6

How lovely! A tea party complete with swifties. We shall see if the author remains adverbial.

You gush, Eaves demurs… yep.

… who thirsts for content like a simile thirsts for a fitting analogy. Heh.

Odd screen layout: split screen with prompt at top. The text in the bottom panel? Perhaps it is the player character’s thoughts; either that, or a director’s commentary track. (Not a bad idea, actually.) I hope the text in the lower window is not important: the window has no scrollback buffer.

Talk to Eaves. Again. Again is getting tiring. It’s not an infodump, more like pagination in the guise of action. (And yes, I do know about command abbreviations; my transcriptions expand them.) I suspect we have a conversation maze on our hands.



Okay, you win the silent game.

Grr… If you are going to disable the commonly used commands, at least replace them with a custom answer.

Look in bag.

I only understood you as far as wanting to look in.

Open bag.

That’s not a verb I recognize.

Not sure I like the second-person / first-person differences in the two windows. I wonder if it would have been preferable to write the entire game in first-person.

…its weapon? I have championed the need for gender neutrality, but that’s taking it too far.

So, collecting letters? Feels like Letters from Home, or maybe Scrabble™. Problem here is that knock feels like an über-verb.

The hints in bold are beginning to gnaw at me. Also, the obvious tutorialness of this prologue is wearing thin.

Again, a maddening response to the wrong action:

The teapot screams an awful scream. “Break off my handle,” it cries. “Break off my handle, and then the pain will stop.”

Break handle.

It’s times like these I’m glad we’re not in a room together.

“I don’t know what’s worse — the traps or the puns.”

That was tough, and I fell back to the walkthru in the last ten minutes. The problem is that word games like this almost always boil down to a get-x-use-x playing model.

The end was disappointing. It answered none of the hanging questions, the town lies in ruin, and the Earl is free to cause more mischief. Perhaps my interpreter cut out some of the infodump at the end. Still, a heavy hit to the story score.

The Hangover

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 1
Story: 2

Minimalst introduction, not even a room description. Might be the interpreter, might be intentional.

Room has a description, so it was not for style. First spelling error encountered. Author cannot decide between “bath robe” and “bathrobe,” so both are used.

Please please tell me the spelling errors are intentional.

Wait one minute… Bathrobe. Toothbrush. This sounds familiar…

Examine toothbrush.

A red toothbrush. Something is written on the back. Perhaps you can read the writing. You could also put this in your bathrobe.

Put toothbrush in robe.

Your toothbrush is too big to fit inside your bathrobe.

And the winner of The Matt Barringer Memorial Award for Including the Location of a Movable Object in Its Description goes to…

OK, this has got to be a joke: The women is here. That has just sucked away any remnants of enthusiasm to finish this review. Yet I plod on…

This has got to be a tribute to Barringer, because we have the closed hyperspherical room geography.

I give up. Even when following the walkthru, I keep having items mysteriously disappear. Isn’t it time somebody did the decent thing by taking SCARE out to be shot?

Bad implementation, lame storyline, and all the puzzles are of the search-x-find-y type. This kind of game went out with disco and EST.

Gleaming the Verb

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 2

Sounds like a wordplay game. Not sure if I should play this so soon after Earl Grey, but what the heck.

Nope, it’s a inexplicably-locked-room-solve-puzzle-to-escape game. This one will most likely involve aliens and anal probes.

Oh joy, after thirty minutes of head scratching I find out its one big cryptic crossword.

The problem with one-trick ponies is that they quickly become boring. This game broke down to the equivalent of a word search puzzle. If they had been true cryptic clues, I may have been entertained more. Instead, I hit the walkthru after the third puzzle.

The Ascot

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 2
Story: 7

Too! Many! Exclamation! Points!

Talk to man.

Whoa, easy tiger! You better just stick to just YES or NO, cuz you speak through an electronic interpreter for reasons unexplained. Don’t want to overload it now, do ya? It’ll totally explode on you if that happens and, I mean, then where would you be?

Speechless, that’s where!

And pushing it does make it explode. So the major interaction with the game is saying either yes or no. This is even worse than a Choose Your Own Adventure™ style of game.

Ah, I get it: “Shake ’n’ Nod Adventure.” You’ll have to excuse me: my new schedule has left me a bit slow on the uptake.

So, basically every wrong answer I give results in either my death or an uneventful ending. I can live with that, because the author has graciously allowed undo in the conclusion.

Pity that the game interaction is so simple. There are some classic lines in here: Looks emptier than your Geocities guestbook, for instance.

Got the game into a state where it refused to accept any answer but yes. I wonder if this is a bug.

I think I found the optimal ending (the one that brings Gary Coleman to mind), but I’m not sure: the walkthru is rather vague about it. I’ve covered most of the possible paths, so I’m satisfied that I can make an honest evaluation. The concept is cute, but it suffers from the same perceptual lack of freedom that conversation mazes have. It’s just too easy for the author to come up with a linear storyline then force the player on it by merging all divergent paths. Aside from the bang-you’re-dead endings, I think there are only three or four true endings in the Eagle Beast’s cave. Sad, really: the Dadastic writing deserved better game structure.

zork, buried chaos

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 2
Story: 1

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is dangerous to place anything in the “Zork” universe. Only a Michael Bay adaptation would be a bigger slap in the face of the fandom. That the title of the game is in lower case is not allaying any of my worries.

Let’s itemize the danger signs on the opening page:

  • Overdramatic welcome text, complete with exclamation points;
  • Author name is “bloodbath”;
  • A “sereal” number; and
  • Inform 7.

I hope — no, I pray — that this is a parody. It has to be. There’s just too many things wrong with it from the start.

And lo, the read / examine rears its ugly head once again:

Open crate.

You open the small crate, revealing a map.

Read map.

There’s nothing written on that.

Examine map.

It’s a map of the underground empire.

Egregious spelling errors encountered.

blue room
You are in a blue room. Exits lead east and south, and there’s a glass wall to the north.

A gray door blocks your way south.

A dial is on the wall.

Examine glass wall.

You can’t see any such thing.

Oh good Lord, a maze. Will this nightmare never end?

Push button.

You hit the button and the floor collapses! You see stairs leading up.


Go up.

You can’t go that way.

So, the solution to the dial puzzle is… exhaustively searching for a solution.

This is Zork Lite, except without, y’know, the difficulty and style.

Get circles.



You are carrying:
  a small circles

Oh yes, taking fixed items. Love it.

Game is stuck. According to the room description and the walkthru, there should be an exit east, but there is none. Restarting…

Followed walkthru to the letter, but no — the exit is still absent. Without it, the game cannot be finished.

I have a friend whose car maintenance skills were so bad that I had to make an homage page to his clunker on my website. I found out later that he was purposely sabotaging his car so that I’d have things to grouse about, so I stopped documenting his automotive disasters. This game is like that: either it is a bad game, or a good parody. In either case, it isn’t nasty enough to discourage this type of untested and uncritiqued submission.

I’m of two minds about this: if it were a serious submission, I’d like to give the author a “nice try”; if it were a parody, then it’s too subtle. I hate parodies where the story is constantly winking at the audience, but there has to be a point where the audience has to be assured that it is just a joke.

And if it is not a joke… don’t quit your day job, OK?

Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 7
Story: 9

SCARE problems again. It gives me no end of trouble. Each Adrift game seems to be tailor-made for a specific interpreter, and crashes all others. This game is no exception. Granted, this is an anecdotal problem — not a technical one on the part of the author.

Cute introduction.

OK, what was cute is now bordering on the annoying.

Well, at least the first bang-you’re-dead gave me an explicit warning.

OK, being the grammar nazi I am, the horrible misuse of “ye” (second person plural, equivalent to German “ihr” and the modern American “y’all”) is really annoying. Unless I have a tapeworm that I do not know about…

Gonna need a bigger map…

Looks like only the six cardinal directions work here.

I’m no longer annoyed by the language. I’m annoyed by the number of times I’ve had to go across the entire map…

Not much more to complain about. Generally fun to this point.

This was a cute game, but a bit long for a competition entry. Still, the parts I successfully explored were clever. The stilted writing style was annoying at first, but I adjusted. (I had the same problem with Lost Pig when I first played it.) The silver keys were a nuisance. The occasional find-x-use-x puzzle is welcome, but the sheer number of places that keys could be hidden was ridiculous. Also, a lot of the puzzles involved crossing vast distances: this was a problem I had with Zork Zero too: the map was too big and many rooms existed for no reason but to add atmosphere and/or annoy the player. The second make item puzzle (which required me to scan the walkthru) seemed a little too complex. Surprised there weren’t any complaints during playtesting.

Best of the lot so far, but that’s faint praise.


Technical: 5
Puzzles: 2
Story: 7

Purple prose alert! Better slap on the emo music.

Hm, the tone is rather morbid. A bit of a shock compared to the previous entry. This is turning out to be a little more sinister than I expected.

Ah, yes, the tried-and-true flashback-to-a-tragedy device.

The description of the parents via conversation feels a bit stilted. It might have been better as internal conversation.

Talk to Jill is this game’s variant of [Press Space to Continue], under a gossamer veneer of interaction. It’s really an excuse to strap the player to a chair and shout the story to him. We get a few of these each year, and people are harshly divided on their validity: granted, a forced-linear walk allows for an easier time to establish a complex storyline, but it feels like cheating.

So, yeah, the cross — I think we all see where this is going.

Yes, this is annoying. Annoying in the sense that you just want to get over it, finish it. The foreshadowing is so thick it could protect the Space Shuttle on reentry. I can not sympathize with any of the characters, especially the player’s character. Really, we know who’s going to die… we know there will be no surprises… no last-minute redemption… no happy dénouement. The machina is there, but it certainly is not deus ex.

OK, that was… interesting. Not your usual competition fare, and certainly not one that fully reflects the “interactivity” that is normally expected: very linear, which takes more than a few points off. Near the end, I was skimming the text because I knew what was going to happen. The plot was straight out of a college creative writing course (or a Stephen King novel), but one cannot fault the author for description and mood. The main “puzzle” — if you can call it that — was of the find-all-n-treasures variety, and most were not well-hidden. This is going to be another U-shaped score distribution: people will love this or hate it. I am going to slap this right in the center: the writing side of me appreciates the effort, the programmer side of me yawns at the sheer simplicity of the game tree.

Strangely enough, Inform 6. I was surprised.

The Grand Quest

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 4
Story: 2

From the silly to the serious to the standard. A welcome break.

Looks like someone took Ruins to heart.

Hey, typing about made the clock move forward! Isn’t that supposed to be a meta-verb?

And the award for the Most Egregious Use of a Power Word goes to…

Looks like a solve-puzzle-move-to-next-stage style of game. I’m willing, but these get annoying if you get stuck on a single puzzle.

I hate riddles. I will spend no more than five minutes on one before cheating, especially if I can do nothing else but try to decode it. Gleaming the Verb annoyed me in much the same way.

Yes, I was sitting there playing with syllables for ten minutes.

Huh, there seems to be an issue with the parser and plural words: the 5-jin coin is not included when referring to all coins.

OK, this puzzle is an homage to Zork II and the author should note that fact somewhere.

I can put the knife in the keyhole (no spoiler there — as I said, Zork II) but it remains on the table. Bug.

Grrr… the problem with plurals and the parser is distracting. Is this endemic to Inform 7?

Am I going to have to map out every combination of cards? Looks like it.

Frustration hit its limit. Read walkthru again. Oh good Lord, that’s a nasty puzzle.

These puzzles were tough, but the fatal flaw was that they were also tedious. I caught a lot of flack for the balancing puzzle in The Best Man, because it involved titration which in itself is a tedious process. Now I know how it feels, and to all those who suffered through it: you have my heartfelt apology.

The ending was reminiscent of the ending of Infidel, in that the only way to win is to lose. Not satisfying at all, and certainly not after the pain of the final puzzle. This and the previous game are the antipodes of the IF spectrum, and for similar reasons they were both unsatisfying. A narrative at war with a crossword indeed.

The Duel in the Snow

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 5
Story: 7

…features multiple endings. See if you can reach both of them! Technically, two is multiple, but most people view multiple as three or more. “Dual endings” might have been better (if the author could stomach the pun).

The concept is interesting. Historical drama is not normally a subject for IF; authors usually reach for science fiction, sword-and-sorcery, or the supernatural. I just hope that this isn’t an adaptation from an old Russian folktale.

All right, this is not historical fiction. A fairy tale?

Nope, we’ve returned to the prosaic.

No score. No way to estimate how far along in the game I am. Joy.

Hm. Do not like the comment that leaving the house is an irreversible action. Makes me want to take everything, just in case.

That, it turns out, was a very good idea. I pretty much have to iterate through every item in my inventory.

The solution could be reached only by experimentation; unfortunately, I had to die to see if my choice was correct.

This was an interesting experiment, but it really only had one puzzle and that was solvable only through repeated playing. As far as multiple endings go… dead versus not dead is pretty much a dichotomy found in all games. The one thing that eluded me was finding the alternate death.

I still have no idea what the windmill meant. It must have been a red herring.

The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 10
Story: 8

Whoo hoo! Mad scientist game! Something I can sink my teeth into! I just hope I’m not played by Ed Begley Jr.

Ouch, first typo: …mild mix of sweat, urin and regular chemicals…

I can take the letterbox. I think that’s a bug.

Rats, I cannot use the dead guy as a puppet.


Open boss’s door.

It seems to be locked.

Go west.

Adrenaline is rushing through you as you take the step into your boss’s office. There is nobody in there. Damn! You had hoped your boss to be here so that you could personally have your revenge on him. Now you have to think of something else… but access to his office should provide enough opportunities.

You can’t, since the boss’s door is in the way.

Bad time for a boilerplate:

Examine soup.

It doesn’t look like much, but it does have a distinctive smell.

Smell soup.

Judging from the strong smell, it might taste very good!

Taste soup.

You taste nothing unexpected.

I think there’s a bug: the game seems to be forever stuck at 9:00 a.m.

It is a pity that put on and take off do not take multiple objects, because typing everything out is getting tedious. Also, the smelly clothes responded to drop all, but the other wearable items do not.

Gah! Got locked in. Tried same trick but stayed outside. Somehow secretary walked past me unnoticed. Everyone’s invisible in this game.

Bug: Throw pizza out window does not parse, but throw pizza out does. I suspect this is the “fly in amber” edge case for parsing. (DM4 §28)

If the bunsen burners were supposed to be scenery objects, I shouldn’t be able to take them.

Running out of time, following the walkthru…

OK, the secretary is the one who places the order, but the event description reads: …Although the secretary is surprised, she assumes someone else from the department must have placed the order… That’s definitely a continuity error (a change of solution, perhaps?).

I can’t even follow the walkthru hints without hitting a guess-the-verb puzzle. Ouch.

This was a really clever idea, filled with some red herrings that suggest a more convoluted plot had the author time. The problem here is implementation: there were too many cases where the same command had to be done repeatedly (donning and doffing the disguise). There were also innumerable errors where the results of an action were displayed immediately followed by a message stating that the action had not been performed. Playtesting should have caught that. Pity, too: aside from technical glitches, this was an excellent competition entry.

And yes, I did feel like the player character was Ed Begley Jr.


Technical: 7
Puzzles: 6
Story: 5

A map! A map! A map… with a transparent background. Hold on, I think I’ll need to print this out.

This floor plan seems a tad… simplistic. Why would I need a map to navigate?

Suspended Lite, anyone?

Minor quibble: …since the curtains is closed.

The doorway to the kitchen is missing from the map.

…On the bed is Gilby sleeping deeply. There is something under one of his hands.

Examine hand.

Your camera does not see that at the moment.

Examine hands.

Gilby, your Uncle Floyd’s (former) assistant, looks like…

What the heck is a “tage”?

Hm. Won without the full score. Bug, or are there some LLPs I’m missing? Walkthru time…

No, nothing is mentioned about more points. This is either a bug or something subtle. I suspect the former.

This was a cute game; unfortunately, it’s a theme that is a bit threadbare. Brain transference is classic IF, from Suspended to Transfer to Zork Zero. This did not fail in that respect, but neither did it introduce anything novel (e.g., the board puzzle is strongly reminiscent of the ramp from Suspended). The supplied map was more of a distraction than an aid: the missing door and the very narrow area of the dining room confused me. I suspect puzzles were left out which would account for the discrepancy in the final score.

“Gilby Sleeping Deeply” would be a good name for an alternative rock band.


Technical: 9
Puzzles: 9
Story: 7

“Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope!”

Boo! You gave me a name! Hiss!

Looks like another Defeat-the-Evil-Corporation game. Intimidating but meaningless business name? Check. Overuse of the phrase “forces of darkness”? Check. Weather is dark and stormy, a la Bulwer-Lytton? Check. Protagonist having nothing left to lose? Double-check.

Their plan: to unleash Operation Resonance upon the world and seize absolute power. The time of execution: tomorrow morning… “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” Hold on a sec while I get iTunes to play the “Mission: Impossible” theme in infinite replay. Dum-dum-dah-dah-dum-dum-dah-dah-DUM-duh-duh-duh!

OK, enough silliness. Getting down to playing the damn thing.

Well, drunken amnesia is one way to build a backstory.

“The name’s Steve. Right now, I’ve got two shots in me: one is lead, the other bourbon.”

“There’s nothing more useless than a lock with a voice print.” Sorry, Doctor Who, but there is: a lock with a voice print where the key is written on the very desk it protects.

Odd. I can pick up the uniform, but I cannot wear it. Bug?

I cannot put the suit back on once I remove it either.

OK, restarted. The bug is that if you are naked, you cannot put on any type of clothing: game over, man. You have to be wearing the suit to change clothes.

Hm, not the best score. I suspect it is because of all the dead bodies. Let’s try that again…

Whoo! Barbershop Ludditism!

Good game. I especially like the alternate solution paths, although the non-violent path did have a couple of places where it came dangerously close to violating the “past lives” rule (getting past Mr. Tucker). I probably shouldn’t have used the walkthru to get the maximum points, but I wanted to see what the alternate ending was before I made my final judgement. Heavy on the cheese (c’mon, the evil-scientist schtick demands cheese!) but generally lightweight and player friendly. I was a bit surprised that Sonia didn’t have a bigger rôle in the plot: I expected her to be a kind of “guardian angel” guiding me past the problems. Might have been an interesting way to provide in-game hints.

GATOR-ON, Friend to Wetlands!

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 8
Story: 10

Another teaser lifted from Ruins, or perhaps Trinity. This time it seems to be tongue-in-cheek.

Heh heh heh. For every hour the alligator is in operation, much of the cities of Berkley, Asheville, Eugene, and Takoma Park have to voluntarily go dim for a week to supply the necessary carbon offsets.

Minor, insignificant grammar bug: (as giant fuchsia-colored robotic alligator) really should have “a” or “the” in there.

Aw, there really is no score point for reading the credits. That would have been a great LLP.

Oh, Lordy. This isn’t Voltron, is it?

Keeps getting better: …consisting of reactionary sugar growers, building developers, feathered hat makers, and extremist elements of the United States Chamber of Commerce…

Voltron, definitely Voltron. It’s the last unexplored frontier of IF: ’80s cartoons.

Damnit, I know what I want to do, I just cannot find the right verb. Not release, not open… oh, unverb is the verb I’m looking for. That’s completely unfair because it’s not a common “un-” word.


You deliver Pyth-nor a decisive blow…
Violence isn’t the answer to this one.

No! It can’t be over! That was too damn short.

I’ve always said that you have to love something to be able to parody it successfully, and the author obviously loved Voltron. The only technical flaws I found were the verb puzzle (again, unfair) and the glitch at the very end. The biggest flaw, of course, is that it ended too soon.

If this doesn’t make the top three, then I will know that the competition judging has been taken over by pseudo-intellectual snobs.

Grounded In Space

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 8
Story: 6

I had a lot of problems starting this game — problems getting the desire to do so, not problems with the game itself. Something about the introduction (too reminiscent of Starfall, a personal favorite) dissuaded me from playing after the first few steps, and I’d wander off to find something else to do. I have no idea why I found it a chore to play at first. Perhaps I was just burnt out by the time I reached this one, or perhaps I was still too ebullient from the perfect silliness of Gator-On to treat a space opera fairly? In any case, I’m sure it affected my scoring.

If you refer to something in the plural in the room description, it should respond to the plural:

Examine racks.

You can’t see any such thing.

Examine rack.

The racks are made of thin titanium tubes, just sturdy enough to support the heavy autominers in the low pseudogravity.

And here we go…


Examine desk.

A simple desk with a zero-g chair to keep you in place during periods of null gravity, and a built in multimedia display.

Sit on chair.

You can’t see any such thing.

The display doesn’t work, or I can’t figure out how to make it work.

Oh, the connect-the-points puzzle! A new take on an old classic, and well-integrated into the game. My only complaint: the console should have some sort of “automatic” mode like Seastalker rather than try to describe everything in text.

TANSTAAFL? Not the most appropriate computer acronym…

Cue romantic violin music in 3… 2… 1…

Oh great, another not-sure-I-won game. Verifying walkthru…

Ah, a better solution exists. Unfortunately, this game supported no score, so I wasn’t told what I needed to do to achieve the best solution. There were hints in the dénouement, but only careful analysis reveled them.

A classic space opera, with pirates and lone pilots saving the day. Still, the storyline was reasonable (and fun!), the puzzles were appropriate for a competition entry, and the implementation had no show-stopper bugs: it’s all good in the end.

Byzantine Perspective

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 6
Story: 5

“Byzantine” has multiple meanings: a 16th century artistic style, or something excessively complicated and bureaucratic. I’m sure the author understood this from the outset.

A heist game! Yesssssss!

OK, the map is more than useless. Doors that are listed aren’t there; walls that are solid allow easy transitions. I can walk through solid walls. Maybe I died repelling down and am now a ghost.

Ah, cute. Once I mapped out where the walls actually were, I understood how the goggles worked.

A short game, and a clever puzzle. Not much backstory, and the puzzle lacked depth. This would be a good mini-game to embed in a much larger work. As a standalone… not so much.

Broken Legs

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 8
Story: 10

Nice way to sneak the unnecessary PC name into the narration there. I’m willing to accept the player character being female (although it seems a bit stereotypical — men can scheme and backstab too) but does she really need a name?

Right, sabotage everyone else, sit-com style.

This is one of those games where you have to do everything perfectly, and replay replay replay. Annoying. The actions the PC is taking are somewhat unconventional and non-obvious. Hitting the walkthru far too often.

Ha! Last season’s Veruca Saltly. It’s black and purple… Oh, wait, no: Veruca got kidnapped by squirrels, Violet was the one who turned purple. Not as clever as I thought. My bad.

Some of these are obvious: Seraphina was easy to sabotage. Others not so obvious: it took me a while to figure out exactly where everything had to be to ruin Alexandra.

OK, the ending was a twist that I did not expect, and I’m glad in a way that I used the walkthru. If I hadn’t, I would have had a lower opinion of this entry. Because it was good, it was clever. I absolutely hated the PC by the end, and who wouldn’t? We’ve played the part of the total bitch before (e.g., Sting of the Wasp); this time, the character was completely unredeemable (both the initial PC and the “true” PC). I like how you can replay the game but see the PC’s actions from a different point-of-view.

The time limit was the only thing that really annoyed me. Granted, it makes sense: the PC has to eliminate the competition starting with the earliest threat. But it ended up constraining my actions, so the game ended up a lot more linear than I would have liked. Not sure how given the structure of the story a wide puzzle graph could be achieved (lengthening the time of the auditions and including a wait for command?), so no points off for that. No spelling glitches, no conversation problems: a classic entry. I’m even willing to forgive giving the PC a name and sex: these were important for the plot of the game rather than for the convenience of the author.

Rover's Day Out

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 10
Story: 10

Huh. I was expecting a dog’s-view-of-the-world game and instead it’s more space opera.

It’s dogs-playing-poker. Dogs. Playing. Poker.

An IF game within an IF game? Recursion alert!

Ah. I once tried this as a short story: a person performing relatively mundane actions was in fact controlling a spaceship. Of course, Orson Scott Card could claim he came up with it first.

It’s the future, and they’re still running MS Windows? What were they thinking?

Either that isn’t fair, or it is a bug: I couldn’t leave the kitchen (Engineering) for some reason, but I could cd .. out of it. If this was the puzzle, than it would be completely inaccessible for anyone not familiar with UNIX.

Retried. This time I could leave the kitchen without difficulty. Must have been a bug.

This is another game where timing is everything, but the timing and capabilities of the system can only be discovered by trial and error (mostly error). Repelling the invaders requires information (and time) that I do not have unless I’ve previously tried and died. That could be considered unfair at best.

Oh, that’s the problem: the exit command is a dessert topping and a floor wax, so the floor wax takes precedent. Misinterpreted the error message: it’s not a bug at all.

I’m stuck, and the walkthru is curiously silent about how to keep myself from being disemboweled.

…and just under the wire. Turns out that I didn’t need to destroy every invader, just enough to survive.

This was a neat concept; reminiscent of A Mind Forever Voyaging but much better. The overlap between what was real and what was simulation was intentionally awkward. I had problems remembering the illusory names of the various items in the game, but again — intentional on the part of the author. The depth was incredible, the story gripping, the puzzles challenging without being unreasonable. A little long for a competition entry: for example, the second dry-run after the heat lamp failure added an unnecessary delay. No glitches, no mockable spelling errors, no detectable flaws at all.

This one will sweep the competition, I know it.

The Duel That Spanned the Ages

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 7
Story: 3

Our second duel game of the competition. What are the odds? Was there a Dennis Weaver marathon on TV?

“Mr. Anderson… you disappoint me.” Maybe I should have asked about a Hugo Weaving marathon? (Hi, Grace!)

And the award for the Most Grandiloquent Language in an Opening Infodump goes to…

Looks like someone’s going to count ammunition rounds. Good.

Whoops! Spontaneous interpreter crash! Restarting…

Maybe it’s not The Matrix. Maybe it’s Stationfall.

Yep it’s Stationfall sans Floyd, but with a self-indulgent modern sci-fi tone.

Bug: no matter where I am, the sentry gun destroys any robots that approach me.

Boo! Not fair. Submitting an incomplete game to the competition is just annoying. I remember the frustration of reaching the end of And the Waves Choke the Wind only to find that the story would be finished “at a later time.” (It never was, as far as I can tell.) We need to nip this bad habit in the bud. Major points off for that, so future entrants will be discouraged from following suit.

Trap Cave

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 1
Story: 1

I originally planned to play this one last, because it would require me to set up a virtual machine on my workstation. On the final weekend of the judging, however, I was going to be away and my laptop didn’t have the power to run a VM, so I pushed this one up.

In a way, I’m glad I did — I hate ending the competition on such a sour note.

Every year we get someone who insists on “improving” on the available interpreters. I may bitch about the primitiveness of SCARE/Adrift, but at least it works (somewhat). Homebrew crap always ends up pissing me off.

It took me twenty minutes to set up a virtual machine, and that’s cutting into my review time. Sorry, but if you spin your own interpreter, be prepared to pay the penalty.

It does not like my Linux setup, not one bit.

Ah, it uses a Windows character encoding. Joy. Well, that’s easily fixed.

Took a quick glance through the English walkthru. It is in German. Fortunately, I can read some German. If the whole game is in German, however…

It has taken me forty minutes just to get the game running. This involved editing initialization files. Wanted: one UX engineer.

Scheiß, it is in German.

Well, that was fast. Fast in the sense that it didn’t take me long to come to an opinion. There is no justification for a CYOA system in this day and age, none whatsoever. The length of the walkthru suggests that this game is only minimally structured, and the map (what I could glean from it) trivial.

I really should not submit my score, except I want to make an example of this type of submission. DO NOT SPIN YOUR OWN INTERPRETER. The existing systems have been tested and refined to the point that anything in late beta (which this game seemed to be) will look pathetic in comparison.

The other problem is the language. My German is extremely rusty, so I could only understand about a third of what was written. Since I had no desire to babelfish the entire game, that hit the score hard as well. The strong majority of the reviewers will be English speakers, so you need to know (and cater to) your audience.

My guess is that the author heard about the competition (most likely via the Slashdot article from last year) and decided to enter without looking at the previous submissions. If he had bothered, he may have been dissuaded from looking like a complete amateur. Usability should not be part of the puzzle.


Technical: 8
Puzzles: 7
Story: 8

Crashed while reading the about blurb. Again, not the author’s fault — all interpreters are wonky.

Huh. The author said that the game pushes the maximum capabilities of the Z-Machine. That might explain the crash. Still, I hope that this means the game is deep, rather than filled with useless locations.

Well, at least the game is willing to admit that this part is a dream.

“Folly”? Oh, Holly.

Oh, looks like another post-apocalyptic search for artifacts. Are we looking at a nuclear winter here?

Yes, it’s an artifact from the modern era. Most likely a copy of Radio Shack’s Getting Started in Electronics by Forrest M. Mims III. Get yours today!

Wait… what happened? The whole trip was a dream?

Blast it! I got this close to the end, and you had to give me a gender! Boo!

All together now: “Room for one more, honey!”

Cute game, but I wonder if the author really needed to complain about size. The map wasn’t excessively large, and the number of objects seemed limited. Perhaps there were alternate paths through the game?

Star Hunter

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 3
Story: 5

Adventures in the Forbidden Zone! Oh, wait… wrong Hunter. Sorry.

Do not ever claim your adventure is cool. That guarantees it is not.

This opener feels like Battlestar.

Descriptions terse. Objects abound. Take everything not nailed down.

Too Many Capitalized Nouns.

And here we go:

Examine console.

The helm controls consist of a tape slot, a shallow receptacle, a black display, and three buttons colored green, red, and white.

Examine display.

You can’t see any such thing.

“Times Roman Font Announces Shortage of Periods.”

Bubble memory? What is this, the ’80s? Oh right, Voltron.

This makes no sense. The objectives here are scrambled, and the game seems to consist entirely of get-x-use-x puzzles. The descriptions are laconic. Items are randomly strewn about.

The Android Bazaar is one of the worst possible types of puzzles: one where you have a near infinite number of objects to choose from but you don’t know which one to actually take.

This does feel like the ’80s: it feels like a Scott Adams adventure if he had a ton more memory to work with on the TRS-80.

Remember when I complained about games with rooms that had no purpose other than to enlarge the map to ludicrous size?

Bad bad bad pun!

All right, this thing is too large. Even larger than Yon Astounding Castle. The author tried to make up for the simplicity of the room descriptions by filling the game with unnecessary locations and tons of red herring objects. A quick glance at the walkthru tells me that this could take hours, if not days, just to find everything. After two hours, I barely finished a third of the game and my fingers were tired from typing.

Some games should be fleshed out. This one needed to go on a diet. Quality, not quantity, should be the goal here.


Technical: 6
Puzzles: 4
Story: 5

Huh. Did any other game open with an epigram?

A deserted island is an easy way to avoid interacting NPC yet gives the game a spooky environment (used more effectively in And the Waves…).

This game is actually five years old; the developer stopped in 2004. I can relate…

Included some objects from the description. Good.

The initial room’s description should change when the player returns to it. There’s something awkward about reading it after partially exploring the island.

Nice that the author coded responses when you try to destroy the oars.

Forty minutes from start to finish; no need for the walkthru. Three puzzles in the game; map was less than a dozen locations. This feels more like a prologue to a much larger game. I can understand why the author was reluctant to submit it to the competition. That’s really all I can say: not spectactular, not horrible; the author wanted to shoot for the middle and that’s exactly where he landed.

Following the alternate solution path…

Forcing the player to search something multiple times is mean; I didn’t like it in Trinity, don’t like it now. Not going to knock off points because the alternate solution was easy to find.

Beta Tester

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 6
Story: 3

Final game, whew.

Cute, the author is explaining how to scroll.

Repetitive Input Technologies does not bode well.

Am I just going to be hitting the spacebar all day?

Oh, joy: a text version of “Second Life.”

Room descriptions are a bit laconic. Random objects floating around imply a lot of find-x-use-x puzzles.

This paging paging paging is getting really annoying.

The hamster is not animate.

This looks like the Babelfish puzzle in Hitchhiker’s Guide; however, the beauty of the babelfish puzzle was that the result of each step indicated what the next step would be. This is completely random. Saying “it doesn’t fit” isn’t helpful. This could take days to solve without the walkthru, especially for a prologue. This is a stall in the game flow. A blocking puzzle like this, especially in the beginning, should drive the player to the solution.

The theme this year seems to be “exhaustive solutions.”

Same tone as Phlegm of so many years ago, except without the self-consistency. This is more of a Rube Goldberg game. The problem is that Rube Goldberg only made sense after the machine was complete.

Having the maximum score be zero is equivalent to having no score at all, so scoring should have been disabled.

This puzzle is obviously a tribute to Douglas Adams and Hitchhiker’s, but it’s a bad tribute.

No, my last action was not Slide ring into clasp:

Put rod in slot.

The rod slides easily into the slot on the treadmill's wheel. The hamster nods happily.

Upon sliding the ring into the clasp, a ray of energy shoots from it to the rod in the slot in a blinding blast of light.

This is an implementation of the classic drinking game ‘Piggy.’ What’s it doing in a competition game? There’s no deterministic solution, no puzzle; just repetitive playing.

And now ‘Roshambo.’ I think I speak for everyone when I say: WTF?

A puzzle based on a glitch with the command-line parser. Cute. Really the only challenge I’ve met that hasn’t been nigh impossible nor trivially easy.

The puzzles were reasonable (if pedestrian) save the first one which was extremely obnoxious. The games were… dumb. Unless the author wired in a consolation prize for a number of losses, these games could go on ad nauseam if the player had a run of bad luck.

There seems to be no change in ending whether the player tries the puzzles or not. I understand: “toybox”; but it does not encourage the player to continue. There’s no real goal, no ultimate puzzle, no prize that separates the coward from the hero.

As a technical exercise, I cannot fault the author. But offering an exit early in the game is really selling short any possible storyline. At least Gleaming and Grand Quest had a tantalizing goal that encouraged play.

The easiest way to improve this game would be to actually score it.