Ratings & Reviews of the 2010 Interactive Fiction Competition

The Ratings

Game Technical Puzzles Story Overall
Game T P S
Gris et Jaune 9 7 10 9
The 12:54 to Asgard 8 7 7 7
The Blind House 8 5 9 7
Under, In Erebus 8 8 5 7
Aotearoa 8 5 8 7
The Bible Retold: Following a Star 8 8 4 7
Flight of the Hummingbird 6 6 8 7
Leadlight 4 5 7 5
East Grove Hills 3 1 2 2
The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game 0 0 0 0
Oxygen 0 0 0 0
Sons of the Cherry 0 0 0 0
Rogue of the Multiverse 0 0 0 0
Pen and Paint 0 0 0 0
Heated 0 0 0 0
Mite 0 0 0 0
The Warbler’s Nest 0 0 0 0
The Bible Retold: The Lost Sheep 0 0 0 0
Death Off the Cuff 0 0 0 0
Ninja’s Fate 0 0 0 0
Divis Mortis 0 0 0 0
Gigantomania 0 0 0 0
The Chronicler 0 0 0 0
A quiet evening at home 0 0 0 0
One Eye Open 0 0 0 0

The ’Net is making us stupider; that, a website vandal, and a soul-sucking job conspired to make this the least number of games I have ever reviewed for a competition.


Technical: 4
Puzzles: 5
Story: 7

I hate competition entries like this one. Like Java entries, there’s no excuse for me to skip them, but they offer little in terms of novelty to justify their existence. doubly so since this one is written for a platform that ceased production in 1993. Nostalgia is all well and good, but not at the expense of usability.

The real question is, why bother submitting this at all? Was the effort of porting the game to a cross-platform runtime like TADS or Z-code too difficult? Also, the work here looks like a recent effort. Did the author purposely set out to piss us all off?

Looks like a traditional hack-’n’-slash from the Players’ Guide introduction.

I hate having my character dictated to me. I understand the setting does not allow for a gender-neutral PC, but forcing on a name and a history seems like shoddy writing. Allow the player to discover things on her own.

Stats? Stats?!? Seriously, what is this, Beyond Zork? Actually, it feels more like Eamon, but without the charm of being obviously low-tech. I should drag out some of my HyperCard-based games…

Verb-Noun parsers are so 20th Century.

The need to hide constantly is reminiscent of Enchanter.

My guess is that the twist at the end of the story will be that the girl is completely schizophrenic and she’s spent the night murdering her innocent classmates.

Only three save slots?

Penalties for deathtraps? That’s cruel. Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that all of these deathtraps will have no obvious clues.

Holy crap on a cracker! It is Eamon! Dude, the Eighties are calling: they want their software back. (But in the meantime, if you’re looking for a HyperCard-based RPG engine…)

Wonder if this uses the original six-point compass or the “extended” ten-point compass?

Enough with the Players’ Guide, time to get the show on the road…

What? I don’t start out in the classic “Main Hall” with the ersatz Italian? I feel cheated.

Sooooo tempted to dredge up some of my old Eamon cheat utilities and just dump the maze.

Dude, I always blame Belinda, that bitch.

Well, at least score works. But can I score with Debbie?

No kiss command? So much for my dreams of lesbian make-outs. And I suppose eat is right out of the question.

Ah, right. Eamon has two different noun tables: one for living things (“monsters”) and one for non-living things (“artifacts”).

I suppose the iPod is a gentle hint about what background music we should listen to while playing.

Well, Debbie’s boring and Charlotte’s dead, so I might as well leave. This party’s a taco fest anyway.

Can’t even cut-’n’-paste sample transcripts. Boo!

Library monitor Narelle Parker looks up…

Attack Parker

You can only attack an enemy.

NARELLE tears at you


Sure, we can use any word to refer to things in the game… except last names, obviously.

Part of the problem is my sarcasm gland is working overtime, so I’m making little progress through the game.

Hm, either rescuing Alexis is an impossible task, or it’s one of those puzzles that require knowledge of previous lives.

Yep, I encountered the first deathtrap without a warning. I suspected this would be the case; bang-you’re-dead was an annoying hallmark of Eamon games, but without the luxury of an undo option.

Wait, there may have been a warning that I missed. Damn, no way to scroll back.

Whoo! “DISK ERROR #53 OCCURRED. Press 1 to reboot.”


Sure, peanuts always are able to remove wounds.

Yeah, methinks Belinda’s just plain nuts.

My secret belief is that all the girls at this school are the same girls that turned down the author when he asked them for a date. Paul Bunch wrote an Eamon adventure back in high school where he was the mack daddy for half the girls in our grade. I killed him in that game, which pretty well sums up our friendship.

OK, the super secret unlock code is up-arrow return. That’ll get you to the “DISK ERROR” puzzle. I’ll remember that.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, homework, kill, kill, kill. Just your average school day.

The problem with RPG-style games is that they take forever to finish. Game play is not predictable.


RES always resolves to RESTORE, never to RESCUE. Plus, RESTORE is not implemented as a metaverb.

If this were a made-for-TV movie, the headliner would be Kate Jackson or Karen Black.

Yep, she’s a psycho.

This was a long game, but most of it was tedious. There were significant response delays between commands (an issue that always plagued Eamon) and the bang-you’re-dead puzzles were less challenging and more annoying. On the other hand, the story was rather gripping (if a touch wooden) so the author did well despite the limited capabilities of the runtime.

The worst part was running out of time. As I said, RPG-style games are too random to allow simple walkthroughs, so that was a big limit on my ability to finish the game under the deadline.

The 12:54 to Asgard

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 7
Story: 7

Nice introduction. Sets the mood without being overly verbose.

No in-game help system.

And the Award for Including an Object in the Room Description goes to… the roof tile!

Cute description of Death: *** You have died ***. I wonder if it is hard-coded or if they are using the library routine?

Actually, the Ferryman of Death is from Greek Mythology, but who’s quibbling?

I’m starting to think I made a mistake… restarting.

New strategy: the old strategy, namely grab everything not nailed down.

Hm. I think the tile shouldn’t be in scope until it is discovered. This is a past-life shortcut.

Library omission or accidental humor?

Screw tile.

Nothing obvious happens.


Examine stones.

A garden of smooth pale stones, raked into parallel lines that follow the circular curve of the plaza. Some of the stones are disturbed and no longer neatly combed, but are strewn and chaotic.

Fix stones

You would regret disturbing them.

Somehow I think I’ve missed something extremely important…

Aaaaaaand I’m back to where I started, minus a lot of things that I need to repair the damn hole.

Going to the walkthru…

All right, that makes absolutely no sense. Where was the hint about the suitcase? Or the gates? Or anything?

The freaking tag. The hint was on the tag. But I had no idea when I started that I was going to die, which is a whole mess of violations of the PBoR: ¶2 (not to be given unclear hints), ¶4 (to be able to win without knowledge of future events), and ¶5 (not to have the game closed off without warning). Perhaps the return to the start was a kind way of the author to give me a second chance, but I don’t see a way to return to the afterlife because the necessary tools are no longer there.

OK, there is a second way to die: found it accidentally during the second time through.

Some good one-liners:

Get all.

leaky roof: You took a leak before you left the house tonight.

And another:

Smell Death.

Smells like between spirit.

Hm. Scoping problem:

Get on ferry.

Which do you mean, the boat or the ferry boat?

Uh oh…

Polly whirls through the topaz turnstile and disappears in a flash of amber light.

[** Programming error: objectloop broken because the object Polly was moved while the loop passed through it **]

Ran out of time. This is a complex game full of a lot of interesting puzzles but the puzzle prompts are atrocious. The overall goal is obvious after the first death but the means to approach it not so, which is unfortunate because the writing is far above par for a competition entry: neither condescendingly simplistic nor pretentiously bombastic. With a little tightening-up and better prompting this could have been a first-rate entry.

The Bible Retold: Following a Star

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 8
Story: 4

Every year it seems someone tries to slip in a game promoting some facet of religion, and each time I am faced with a decision: should I simply pass on reviewing the game so that my review isn’t tainted by my own opinion of the subject matter, or take the author to task for putting me in the awkward position in the first place?

Screw it. If you aren’t willing to be mocked, you have no right to evangelize.

Interpreter is taking a long time to start up; this does not bode well.

What’s the size of this thing? 1.1 mb? That’s not unreasonable, although I remember when good games could clock in at 100 kb. The original Zork shipped on a 5.25" floppy, and that INCLUDED the interpreter.

The advice to IFComp judges? “Please don’t actually play the game, just race through as fast as you can. Of course if you do that, you can’t win.”

Normally I grouse against non-English games and how they fail to account for the typical judge, but in this case I’d be interested to see how someone unfamiliar with Christian mythology would do.

This is the problem with adapting stories to games: you have to force the player to conform to the rôle of the character.

“C’mon Balthazar, C’mon Louie. We don’t believe in that ‘What’s your sign?’ hooey, do we Louie?”

“Of course we do! We’re astrologers! Astrological signs dictate every facet of a person’s life!”

“They do not!”

“All right then, what’s your sign?”

“Virgo… the virgin.

“I rest my case.”

The Reduced Shakespeare Company

Oh, opportunities lost:


You won’t fit through the entrance on your camel.

Huh, just noticed the compass on the left shows the exits. Wonder what it would look like in a text-only interpreter? It’s not really important, but it’s the little things that bother me.

So basically the store is one big red herring?

The hints are a bit heavy-handed, but at least they are mentioned. I wonder if the course is randomized or is it locked to historical accuracy?

Bug: If you walk out of the store and WALK to the palace rather than taking a camel, you cannot get back to the camels because Gaspar is “helpful” even though he is not there. Restarting…

Skipping the store…

Nope, the course is not randomized.

Ouch, mimesis violation:

“Don’t go back now, Balthasar!” calls Gaspar. “Whatever you’ve forgotten, I’m sure it won’t put things into an unwinnable state.”

Map pops up showing our trail through the desert. Unbelievable urge to hum the Indiana Jones theme.

Wasn’t Melchior one of the villains from Teen Titans?

At least the grammar rules don’t describe Pig Latin.

I’m robbing a synagogue. This just does not feel right.

Basically, this is a treasure-hunting game; the most traditional game there is. Aside from the context in which it is set, there’s very little religious overtones (which is good).

And it’s time to rob the synagogue again… vague anti-Semitism is bothering me.

Time’s up. To be honest, I wasn’t really trying that hard, but the reasons were different from Asgard: namely my discomfit with the theme. Still, from the quick glance at the walkthrough I’ve only finished about half the game. Still, the writing was good and the puzzles above par (and far from nonsensical). If only the story were, well, original.

Under, In Erebus

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 8
Story: 5

Well, that was a hard drop. No prologue, no setup, just “Hey, mysterious unexpected train to someplace I’ve never heard of!”

Descriptions are very brief and to the point. No wasting time establishing atmosphere here, no sir. Most are of the “You are…” variety which only enhances the monotony.

Well, at least the “You can’t go that way” answers are descriptive, but appear to be automatically generated from their stilted language.

Finally, a complex description, and what I suspect is the first puzzle. “Heart of Darkness” (the location, not the novel) has more words than the other places seen so far combined.

Damn, killed by my own classical education.

OK, I followed the hints about the booths after wandering around for thirty minutes. I still don’t understand what happened.

Damn, stymied by my own classical pronunciation.

A phonetic alphabet. If I hadn’t looked at the clues, I’d never have found it before the deadline.

Duh, it’s right there under secrets.

Hm, the hint system seems to have gone into an infinite loop: it doesn’t realize that I’ve already accomplished one task.

Nope, I guessed the wrong word. Missed the obvious hints.

Finished with 70½ points out of 100. I think I know how to get a few more of the missing points, but one was lost when I ate the pea without being naked; and I don’t feel like going back for the book. There was a hint about waves, but I’m not sure what to do there (go sailing in the tub, maybe?). In any case, I’m out of time here.

Clever little game, definitely a puzzlefest with only the thinnest of plots. There’s an unspoken rule that at least one game of every competition must be wordplay-based, and once you figured out what the ‘trick’ was, the major obstacle was figuring out which words you could make with the available letters. I’m not good at those kind of puzzles unfortunately. I almost wrote a quick script to find all words under six letters with that limited alphabet, but I wasn’t sure if I should count that against the play time so I punted. (I liked the half point I got for making the dog.)

East Grove Hills

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 1
Story: 2

“An Interactive Anecdote” does not bode well…

I could go on a minor tirade about how people view high school favorably through the haze of nostalgia, when in reality for most it was a study in ruthless social stratification that makes Lord of the Flies look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Right, is this a real anecdote, or fiction? I don’t remember hearing that name in the news, so I’ll assume “anecdote” is being used instead of the more proper “vignette.”

Cute, explaining away the compass direction model by claiming that the PC is addicted to adventure games.

The game restricts movement through apathy. This feels like another story-on-rails…

Oh joy, a linear conversation maze; the author seems to be trying to hit every one of my buttons. I’m reacting negatively to this. Granted, it has more depth than In Erebus that I just finished running, but it may have too much depth: forcing the player into a predefined role by restricting every movement until the equivalent action is simply [Press Space to Continue]. This feels a lot like last year’s Condemned, complete with the “finish it already” mindset it instilled.

And we have a flashback… the ultimate cliché. Plus an embedded plug for Inform 7! Inform 7: “Bringing the power of IF to the mediocre masses!”

Starting to notice punctuation errors. Intentional? No, just laziness on the part of the author.

Hell no, Condemned had ten times more interactivity than this…

Uh, what? It’s over? How… anticlimactic. Actually, no: to be anticlimactic, there would have to have tension built up to this point. There’s no tension, no grim foreshadowing: just overused literary tricks wrapped up in a high school creative writing project designed primarily to scare the teacher into thinking the student is an embryonic psychopath who repeatedly masturbates to the gunfight scenes from The Matrix.

This is another one of those vapid entries that will win critical praise from the pseudo-intellectual crowd that insists on calling works like this “Interactive Fiction” and will tear you a new one if you call it otherwise. I think they’re starting to be overwhelmed by the pragmatists, however; expect a very U-shaped curve on the scoring of this one. About the only thing saving this is that it had no egregious technical errors; fortunately it had enough grammatical and formatting errors for me to knock it down for that.

And for those that feel stories that model themselves after expositional novels are high art for IF: well, you’re entitled to your opinions. They just happen to be wrong.

The Blind House

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 5
Story: 9

I am so ready to knock off points for anyone who has the nerve to explain “Interactive Fiction” to me again. It is completely unnecessary for the audience: if someone has the brains to download an interpreter and your game, they already know what they’re doing and what is expected of them. Just provide a link Emily Short’s guide and be done with it.

The introduction fills me with dread. What I read from the explanation: “The story does not wish to entertain; rather, it provides a conduit from which the author can excrete copious amounts of emo-laden purple prose.”

“There is no correct ending” is even more sinister.

And yes, kids: It’s Inform 7! (I really should get off the bash-inform-7 kick, but it’s just too much fun.)

Oh boy, the opening montage does not bode well… unless this is going to break into steamy lesbian sex. Maybe. Hopefully.

Yeah, lots of blood, missing friend. The theme of this competition? Women who commit violent murder, also known as “The Lifetime Original Movie.”

Now I’m not sure if this entry is a Virginia Woolf novel or a Cinemax “erotic thriller.” I’m not sure it knows, either.

Trust me, there is no light at the end of depression.

Strange woman who claims to be me, can’t look in mirror… could it be…?

Yes, I’m really beginning to loathe the PC, but I think that’s the author’s intent. Definitely schizophrenic, possibly psychopathic.

Despite earlier jokes about heavy-handed prose, the story worked. The ending was impressively well done: each of the three possible choices offered in the final conversation produced three different interpretations of the entire story, all of which made sense in context of prior discoveries: the murderess, the manipulative domineering partner, and the self-destructive friend.

The diary was a bit of a McGuffin, but I think it was necessary given the cramped time offered by the competition. Most everything explained in the diary could have been discovered through more hints hidden throughout the house so it wasn’t necessary.

The only real flaw was the introduction: far too emotive to the point of being comical, and it took me some time to work past that. It should have been toned down a bit: let the suspense gradually rise rather than dropping the player in medias res with a sinister prologue. I believe having the PC wake up in a strange room with amnesia and discovering the details of the past through the think command would have been preferable.

But yeah, a steamy Skinemax “thriller” would have held my interest more.

Flight of the Hummingbird

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 6
Story: 8

Another comedic superhero story… we’ve had a few of these in the past. Granted, few unexplored genres are left in IF but some of them are so overused that only a clever hook introduced early on can rescue them from disappearing against the backdrop of mediocrity of those that came before.

I wonder if all areas will achieve ample amounts of asinine alliteration?

Best “You Have Died” message so far:

Unfortunately, that's not fast enough to outpace Dr. Sinister's genetically modified sharks. Putting some distance between you and the ocean might have given you more time to react.

*** Game over, chum ***

Tower isn’t in scope on the eastern shore.

He can’t be a very good villain if his nemesis can fly and all of his traps involve deep pits.

Serious bug: If you try to fly while in the truck, the restrictions on the truck’s movement still take precedence. In other words, even though you’re flying, you’re still in the truck!

Sinister Isle (100 feet above the ground)
You are now level with the tower’s roof. You could land on the roof by going to the south.


You haven’t started the truck yet.

This is the kind of thing that seems clever to the author, but is really annoying for the player: action-at-a-distance puzzles. In this case, every time I wanted to open either the main door or the hangar hatch, I had to make the long trek all the way through the lair and up the side of the tower. I did this four times to get it right, and even with perfect foresight it would take a minimum of two.

Hoo boy, manual navigation of a spacecraft. All right. I remember something similar from waaaay back in 2000: Enlisted and its EVA suit. This seems to take care of my major objection with that implementation: namely, having to manually determine the current velocity and location after every action. (Addendum: My bad. I forgot that Star City also had manual navigation as a puzzle.)

Hm. That was easy; too easy. I’m not sure how navigation actually worked: I was expecting full three-dimensional control with rotation and momentum being factors, but this worked oddly.

Now I do feel insulted. Well done, author.

Oh good, a change in directional commands.

Damn it, one last lousy point!

Well, that was a distraction. Or, in my best evil villain voice: “Clever… but not clever enough!” None of the puzzles were exceptionally difficult, the plot was purposely cheesy, and it lacked anything to really differentiate it from superhero stories of the past. The only puzzle that provided any challenge was learning how to fly: once I did that, the remaining puzzles were of the type impediment-at-A-go-to-B-perform-C-return-to-A. Nothing great, nothing atrocious.


Technical: 8
Puzzles: 5
Story: 8

Aotearoa: it’s Māori for New Zealand. So why does the cover of the magazine look like something produced by the Norwegian Tourism Council? And why does the game package contain a style sheet? Questions abound and I haven’t even started the game.

Ah, Unicode! Is there no one who can resist your sweet temptation?

Gah! You gave me a name! I hate when authors give me a name! I’m willing to look past giving me a gender — sometimes it is impossible to avoid — but giving a name is just plain lazy. It is like starting every room description with “You are…”

Hm, this game uses nonstandard conventions. The empty command is equated to an implicit look, it seems. That’s an interesting take, but I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Well, as long as it’s a metaverb it’s OK, but if I were charged a move for every time I accidentally hit enter twice I’d be furious.

More unusual conventions: giving a name alone implicitly examines that object. This seems to be a topic-driven game. There was another one a few years back that tried the same thing, with examination being the primary driver of action.

So, from the intro we’re looking at Jurassic Park meets Jonny Quest. Either that, or an episode of Sliders gone horribly awry.

Shipboard directions, good.

Name and unname look like useful commands; I used them extensively in Beyond Zork.

Huh. I thought NZ was too far north to have snow-capped fjords. Not only are they snow-capped, but they are also spelled “Fiords.” I take back my criticism of the magazine. Thanks, Internet!

Not so lucky for the rabbit, though.

Good, the request for the tool in the hold is randomized.

So much for thinking this was a kids’ adventure. We’ve just jumped into hardcore violence.

And… flashback! It’s the IF author’s overused literary tool of choice! (I know I’m being a hypocrite; I reserve that right.)

Having a hard time setting the leg; think it’s a guess-the-verb puzzle.

No, it’s a don’t-expect-a-single-verb-to-do-everything puzzle: laziness on my part.

Ah, the typical deus ex machina of just happening to find the right flotsam. Welcome to Gilligan’s island.

Topic-driven conversation mazes are just this side of an infodump. They usually contain vital clues, but they are buried in so much text it is difficult to absorb it all.

This could have been phrased better:


You could ask him about nothing.

Map is nicely laid out: not too sparse, but not so dense as to be ridiculous.


You are carrying:
  an a GPS (unpowered)

Puzzles shouldn’t be formulaic, but being scared can always be solved with a fable. This should have a little more variation.

Sometimes, a wall of text from a complex series of actions (the dragon in Zork II, for instance) is preferable to a sit-and-wait solution. The latter seems to slow down the pace of the game.

Not a bad story; started out a bit slowly, but quickly picked up the pace. The puzzles were a good mix of very easy to downright irritating, and the story is well-researched and immersive. The biggest issue I have is about the target audience. The general feel of the game — making the PC a young boy — certainly puts it in the Seastalker junior adventure category, but some of the violence — explicit when the PC dies — feels inappropriate to the general theme. Then again, perhaps it is the sugar-coating of children’s entertainment that has made me hypersensitive to such things. Not sure I care for the nontraditional way of examining things, but it certainly sped up the game so I could finish it just under the two-hour limit while only needing one hint.

Gris et Jaune

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 7
Story: 10

Did you really have to expand your email address like that? I very much doubt spammers would make the investment to extract text from Glulx story files.

Another zombie game? Well, at least this one started out a little more zombie-ish than last year’s Lucubrator.

Whoops, someone left the debugging commands in:


What do you want to climb?


dump of entire game tree

I am completely lost. Up until now, I’ve been led by the woman behind the wall, but now it seems she wasn’t trying to help me. Going to have to hit the walkthru.

Oh, duh. The paper has more than one use.

You expect me to know French? Who speaks French anymore? (Aside from the French themselves.)

Ah, good ol’ Baron Samedi. I knew watching James Bond movies would come in handy one day.

Did a part of the map just get closed off? I have a sneaking suspicion I should have done more inside the bar.

This is an incredibly detailed game: detailed to the point of being distracting. Beautifully researched and vividly described. According to the walkthru I’ve only reached about a third of the way through the storyline, which is unfortunate. Some of the puzzles though were so bizarre as to require some in-depth knowledge of the subject matter to proceed; however, being led through the first set gave an early sense of accomplishment which is vital in game design. Sometimes the first impediment is so daunting that it casts a shadow on the rest of the game play.

The only quibble I have is that vital parts of the map get closed off: the lab and the bar to name two. After Samedi did the trick with the wasp paper I realized I could have done much more in the lab, but by that point the lab was no longer accessible. The map may have reopened at a later time, but I chose to restart. Doing so did not offer any more information, but it did explain the effect of the pea pod.

The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

I’d promise to finish reviewing games in the upcoming weeks, but I still haven’t reviewed the last three games of 2007, even though they have been sitting on my desktop since… 2007.


Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Sons of the Cherry

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Rogue of the Multiverse

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Pen and Paint

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0


Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0


Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

The Warbler’s Nest

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

The Bible Retold: The Lost Sheep

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0


Technical: -
Puzzles: -
Story: -

Abandoned because I couldn’t be bothered to find an interpreter that likes my system.

Death Off the Cuff

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Ninja’s Fate

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Divis Mortis

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0


Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

The Chronicler

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

A quiet evening at home

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

One Eye Open

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0