Ratings & Reviews of the 2011 Interactive Fiction Competition

The Ratings

Game Technical Puzzles Story Overall
Game T P S
PataNoir 10 9 10 10
Cursed 9 9 10 9
Taco Fiction 7 9 10 9
Sentencing Mr Liddell 8 9 7 8
The Elfen Maiden: A Comedy of Error Messages 7 8 8 8
Beet the Devil 7 8 8 8
Calm 7 8 7 7
The Play 8 3 10 7
Fan Interference 8 7 5 7
Cana According To Micah 7 6 5 6
Keepsake 7 6 5 6
Six 6 4 7 6
Andromeda Awakening 6 7 3 5
Last Day of Summer 6 4 6 5
Fog Convict 5 6 4 5
Cold Iron 5 2 6 4
The Ship of Whimsy 4 3 6 4
Luster 3 4 2 3
Operation Extraction 3 2 2 2
Professor Frank 2 3 2 2
The Myothian Falcon        
Return to Camelot        
Escape From Santaland 0 0 0 0
The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor M 0 0 0 0
Playing Games 0 0 0 0
Death of Schlig 0 0 0 0
Blind 0 0 0 0
The Guardian 0 0 0 0
How Suzy Got Her Powers 0 0 0 0
The Binary 0 0 0 0
Awake the Mighty Dread 0 0 0 0
Kerkerkruip 0 0 0 0
Tenth Plague 0 0 0 0
Vestiges 0 0 0 0
Ted Paladin And The Case Of The Abandoned House 0 0 0 0
It 0 0 0 0
The Hours 0 0 0 0

Note: Scores in parentheses are post-competition reviews; this score was not submitted.

Tried using Gargoyle this year, because a number of the games explicitly warned about problems with Spatterlight and Zoom. I got halfway through the second game before I realized that I could not cut ’n’ paste. Seriously. Now I know that I can make a transcript of the game then later cut out the significant bits but a lot of my irritations have to be documented right now and forcing myself to display a running log in another window was just too bothersome. So if bugs I mention are unique to Spatterlight, you will know why.


Technical: 6
Puzzles: 4
Story: 7

And here we go…

A nice start, if the packaging is any indication. We have the usual superfluous "Introduction to IF" handbook (I still do not get it — this is a competition) and a map! Yes, a map!

And all the joy disappears when the first paragraph of the IF booklet dictates a name. Gender, that I can accept; name, not so much.

Harriet Leitner sounds a bit like Hannibal Lecter. Or maybe that’s just my psyche searching for surprises where there are none to be found.

Zoom does not support the sound and music… And this is a bad thing?

Oh yes, getting a multimedia interpreter was so worth it just to hear that. The eighties called, they want their MIDI back.

What am I doing, playing a game or installing Linux?

A tolerable infodump…

Six friends, six points. Gotcha.

That was it? Even for a kids’ game, it seemed, well, short. Let’s try the advanced level…

A witch, a witch! BURN HER!

Geez, Rose. Try some Metamucil or something.

Hm, Demi seems to have some brains for a six year old. Pity she’ll grow up to marry Ashton Kutcher.

Listen, listen, listen… and Demi gets eaten by a wumpus! What a twist!

Hm, bug? If I take the leaf, then the mud, I cannot take the leaf again.

Well, that was a cute little diversion. As I expected it did not need the music or pictures for decent gameplay, so a simple text game would have sufficed. Nice length for the competition (1:15 by the clock). Well-written (for its target age), with no notable typographical or grammatical errors. Puzzles were weak and solutions obvious for a veteran. Granted, the difficulty level was for novices; still, points will have to be docked. Worse, the ending left us with a lot of unanswered questions. Who was Rose, and what was her problem? Was the koala just a MacGuffin or did it have deeper significance? We will probably never know.

The Elfen Maiden: A Comedy of Error Messages

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 8
Story: 8

Story told from the perspective of someone inside another person’s computer, or in this case the computer itself. This has been done before, but not very well. Let’s see how this attempt turns out…

I would have used a real IP address in one of the “example” blocks, rather than one that is patently wrong. Or better yet, a random IPv6 address.

And Jason is a perv. Big surprise.

Whoa, way to make friends and influence people within the Warcraft community. “All elfen women are really men.” Sheesh. (Even if it is true.) Also, who am I — I being the computer — to decide whom Jason entertains? Maybe he secretly wants to walk on the wild side and he just needs a little push — which this impostor will happily provide. They could move in together, take up regular bathing, adopt two cats, redecorate the house with a grand piano… OK, better stop before I become a first-class hypocrite.


Examine dothisnow.

There is only one item on the todo list: “sign up for Geocities account.”

First typo: fragement.

A cherubim flies on tiny wings - it is going on its rounds, making sure your data is Reliable and Secure. As it passes, the nearby clouds sigh in contentment.

Examine cherubim.

You can’t see any such thing.

Nice, a security company that allows open access to their systems from the outside world. Sounds like my company. (Kidding!) (Sorta.)

You are not winning points with a person who holds “North by Northwest” and “Charade” as two of the greatest movies ever made. The Randolph Scott thing was just a rumor, and even if it weren’t… well, as Betsy Drake so eloquently put it: “Why would I believe that Cary was homosexual when we were busy fucking?” (There, rant over.)

This is turning into a theme:

Next to the monkey’s typewriter is a plastic figure. It looks like a Realms of Realmland character of some kind. Apparently, the game has quite a following in the office.

Examine figure.

You can’t see any such thing.

Whoops, missed the deadline. Restarting…

Grrr. I find your lack of synonyms… disturbing:

A dark puff of data floats from the top of the Engine.

Examine puff.

You can’t see any such thing.

Examine data.

You can’t see any such thing.

This social networking profile is doubly embarrassing: first, it hits on every possible negative computer geek stereotype imaginable; second, I know far too many people for whom it would easily apply.

Amy is too perfect. Considering this game, she’s probably a pre-op transsexual.

Ah, the Hollywood ending. Two out of three ain’t bad. Only five minutes of play left; no real chance to get that other point but I have a good guess how to find it.

A quick glance at the walkthru to see if I’m missing anything… and yes, I am. I am really really tempted to dock a point just for the Cory Doctorow reference. Something about how that guy has been deified by the geek community bugs me, but I can’t really blame the writer.

A fun game, with too many in-jokes that I unfortunately understood. (Not that I’m a WoW player — NetHack is more my speed.) The idea that the computer itself needed to play the part of both an electronic Jeeves and a digital Yenta was unique. Execution was a bit slipshod; the game needed to be fleshed out with more scenery objects. Hint: if you describe something in a separate paragraph, people are going to try to interact with it. At least put in a stub object so they get a better response message.

Still, if for some reason disaster strikes and I am unable to finish the competition (like last year) I still will be happy for playing this game.

Operation Extraction

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 2
Story: 2

Our first “web game” of the competition… but first, a rant. IF games really do not lend themselves to a mobile experience, or even a nomadic one. There has rarely been a time when I’ve done an IF game and said to myself, “Well, gotta stop here, move to another computer, and pick it up there” — and as for my iPhone experiences, the less said the better. The browser interface does not lend itself well to large walls of text followed by syntactically correct freeform text. So we’re left with Myst-like click-’n’-move adventures where the principal puzzle is getting items from point “A” to point “B” without having to traverse the same familiar (and quickly tedious) landscape more than a dozen times. I would like to be surprised, but I do not expect to be.

Not encouraging:

NO beta testers were used during the development of this game.

This game is an experiment in how to portray multiple interactive interconnecting narratives…

Translation: I wrote a cool spy novel, but it’s not good enough for traditional presentation.

I accidentally walked down the street (I clicked the wrong link) and by the time I got back there was a link labelled “Leave the explosive package here.” Unfortunately, since I was not in the room at the time I had no idea what the package actually was, or where it was supposed to go. This was information that came out of nowhere and was very disconcerting.

I have complained at length about games that are mostly “Press Space to Continue” (Condemned immediately springs to mind). This is based entirely on that concept.

I never thought I’d see the day when a conversation maze would be welcome.

During a replay, I see no text. I think I have to advance, then click on each actor in turn. Unpleasant.

I will say one thing in defense of the author: IF in the context of multiple player characters is hard to pull off. Probably the best example of this was Suspended, where you had multiple robots to move around (and you were provided with a map and tokens — I still have mine). Suspended had the slight advantage that if a robot was performing a long task (e.g., moving from one end of the complex to another) you could switch viewpoints, but if it needed direction you had to focus on it exclusively. Here, I have to cycle through each PC every turn, and I have little control over their actions. Nor do I have the “all-seeing eye” of most third-party narratives.

Crap! I just noticed that switching viewpoints takes a turn! And since some things are obviously time-sensitive, every click must be planned in the correct order. Not, I repeat, not happy.

Frustration… walkthru time.

Followed the walkthru to the letter — still failed.

I was surprised — in a bad way. This isn’t the worst possible game, but it’s close. As an experiment, I would say it is an unmitigated disaster.

The Play

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 3
Story: 10

Well, well, well. Another web-based game; it’s just sheer luck that I would have to play two in a row. Any non-web game would have been welcome (and thus have had a slight advantage); this one carries over the taint of the previous game.

On the plus side, this is using an IF engine. Granted, it is not one of which I have ever heard, but at least it is not hand-assembled.

Nice splash screen, sets the tone without presenting a wall of text.

Basically, this seems to be a limited choose-your-own-adventure with lots and lots of footnotes. It’s patently obvious what are the “actions” and what are the sidebars, so again we have a linear narrative. Granted, it is much more readable than the previous entry…

Not a bad little story; well written, in fact — no grammatical errors, characters were fleshed out, no continuity problems. For this type of storyline the hypertext model worked out well (even if it really is a high-tech variant of CYOA). On the minus side, the CYOA model doesn’t offer much of an intellectual challenge, and the structure of the game engine won’t allow backtracking. Most bothersome, however, was the ending: was it optimal? My gut says “no” as the review was tepid, but with the actors I was given perhaps a tepid review was more than I should have expected. A second pass confirmed my feelings; but again, the ability to backtrack would have been preferable.

Andromeda Awakening

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 7
Story: 3

Man, the open prose is so purple it’s practically ultraviolet. “If there will be a tomorrow…” Sheesh.

I am so going to go through the archives of the Bulwer-Lytton contest to see if any of these lines appear there. “Like a cascade of dusty milk”? Metaphors are all nice and good — when used in moderation.

No reason is given why I cannot go back inside; even a “There’s no more reason for you to go inside” would have been welcomed here.

All right, time to fall back to the ol’ standby: the DM4. §51, “The Room Description”, warns about the dangers of mediocre room descriptions, where every noun has an adjective, every potential action adverbial. “Faint light gets fainter” sounds like something a lolcat should do.

OK, it’s obvious. The end of the world is tomorrow, and only a handful of people know about it while everyone else enjoys their final hour in blissful ignorance. The Outer Limits episode “Inconstant Moon” was a prime example of this.

Wait. No. Oh good Lord, no. Please, no. Not Nightfall. Anything but Nightfall. Every attempt at a movie was bad, even the story itself does not deserve the accolades it was given and had it been written by anyone else it would have faded into the background with all the other mediocre sci-fi short stories. Yeah, I said it: Isaac Asimov was the Cory Doctorow of his time.

In the end, everything digs deep, but nothing as deep as terror.

Sounds like a tagline to me.

Think to it as some kind of Guide to the galaxy. First drop of humor in this melodrama.

They haven’t invented the cellular data plan? Hardly an advanced civilization:

The full map of the train rails is available at wmw-monarchtrains-asa.

Consult pad about wmw-monarchtrains-asa.

This is not a web browser, sorry.

No, not Inconstant Moon. Not Nightfall.. It’s And Lo! The Bird. (Gee Rob, for someone who’s pretty snide about science fiction, you certainly have read your fair share. Yes, I’m a hypocrite. Shut up.)

OK, physics time. How can the entire planet be submerged in water? Tides are water from the poles being pulled towards the moon and sun. Only the equatorial regions would be submerged.

The descriptions get more tolerable as time goes on, but the size of the map appears daunting.

…like a comfortable thalamus. Uh, yeah…

It’s full of Stars. Arthur C. Clarke called — he wants his catchphrase back.

That was… that was… that was spectacularly cheezy. That is the only way to describe it. From post-apocalyptic monophobic survival story to “it’s full of stars” this story put every bit of opera into space opera that it could — complete with the total obliteration (save one) of the human race. The implementation was fine but the prose was so florid that it was a chore to wade through the game. Too many of the puzzles were of the form do-A-go-to-distant-B-return-to-A which is an easy trap to fall into when your map is large.

Sometimes I think the IF Competition would be better if entries were restricted to z5 games — brevity is the soul of wit, after all.


Technical: 9
Puzzles: 9
Story: 10

And here’s our first Adrift/SCARE game of the night. I hope I have the right version of the interpreter… Adrift games are so sensitive.

Well, at least the game detected that my interpreter was iffy and disabled the extensions that may cause problems. That was very considerate.

Three, three, three games in one! Granted, the separation of storylines is less than subtle, but it could be worse.

No problems until:

Crawl space

A wall of stone stops any further progress southwards, but you estimate that you have come far enough south to be directly underneath the antechamber. Around you are more support pillars, and there is more dirt and debris, but there is little else of interest visible.


Another game with a change in viewpoint, although this time it works.

Joy, the conversation maze. This is becoming the stale stalwart of modern-day IF.

Lots of text to consume here, and I mean lots. There are clues buried in that infodump, but the downside is that it’s taken me twenty minutes to parse it all.

I don’t know if these “Your rodent senses…” messages are supposed to pile up on each other.

Gah, a hunt-the-verb puzzle!

Time’s up. Twenty-seven points out of one hundred and one. This is a vast game and I only scratched the surface. But what I saw, I liked very much. The storytelling was great, the descriptions were rich without being overwhelming, even the characterizations were above par. But I have to knock off a point for the runtime error. Granted, it could have been my compiler, but Adrift is known to be unstable on all but Windows.

I was afraid I’d give this game too much leeway when compared to the previous entry, but it really did earn high marks on its own.

Ouch. Finished my game using the walkthru. Not the ending I expected at all; very bittersweet. Maybe the other animals had better conclusions.

Cold Iron

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 2
Story: 6

Best excuse for an ineffable inventory item:


You can’t go off piskey-hunting without the book!

…That might not make sense if you had to explain it. But it’s true.

Ten minutes. Ten minutes from start to finish. The book gave far too many hints and they were completely direct. I wondered if maybe the ending I reached was suboptimal, but no — my path through the game was practically the same as that in the walkthru. A cute concept, but there wasn’t enough story to justify the lack of puzzles, and the structure far too linear to justify it as “interactive.”

The Myothian Falcon

Technical: -
Puzzles: -
Story: -

Not available for my operating system.

The Ship of Whimsy

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 3
Story: 6

Ah, a nautical adventure! This is a welcome change from Dungeons & Dragons™ or sci-fi noir.

Looks like the major puzzle here is how to move the sails.

Synonym trouble:

This is the forecastle; actually you stand on the forecastle, a raised cedar platform near the bow of the Ship. From here you can see the figurehead, a mermaid. The only exit is aft.

Examine mermaid.

You can’t see any such thing.

Examine figurehead.

The figurehead has been carved…

Interaction between the PC and the NPCs is scant.

Oh, the queen was the one to tell me what needed to be done. I would have expected the seneschal to perform that duty, as he is more of an organizer.

Another fast one. Cute story, but barely challenging. I’m tempted to knock off a point for the “walkthru,” which was simply the source code for the game.

Cana According To Micah

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 6
Story: 5

All right, I know this is all about freedom of expression and writing skills and fun and all that, but it annoys me when a game decides to evangelize. This is the miracle of water into wine, which to me always sounded more like prestidigitation than religion.

Oy, nothing says Judaism like disparagement:

Hah, you should be so lucky.

Locusts are kosher?

“Little Orphan Anna”? Ouch.

“John ben Zechariah, commonly called the Baptist. What, you really didn’t recognise me in this monkey suit (Hebrew unclear - SD.) my father made me put on?”

Even for a heathen such as myself the irreverency is unnerving.

“Albatross! Albatross!” “What flavour is it?” “It’s a bird, innit. It’s a bloody sea bird!”

So Anna is going to be my shoulder angel, is she? We’ll see about that.

All right, I’m reaching for the hints now… and they make a lot of assumptions about my knowledge of the characters involved. Needing the backstory isn’t just a problem isolated to the Bible stories; novel adaptations fall into the same trap (I’m looking at you, Manalive).

There are a couple of nasty guess-the-noun puzzles here too.

Yeesh, I can’t go on with this. I’d like to: the implementation seems solid and the game tree offers multiple solutions for puzzles from what I’ve gleaned from the hints, but I’m just not familiar enough with the characters to be able to work through the game and that makes the puzzles ridiculously hard. I’d pretty much require the walkthru from start to finish.

An author really cannot win with a story like this: either the story contains too much detail which is mistaken for evangelism, or doesn’t have enough which is mistaken for bias. Even the Greek myths are troublesome in this respect. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Sentencing Mr Liddell

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 9
Story: 7

A game loosely based on the life of Alice Liddell? This could be interesting or go horribly awry.

Claiming that knowledge of a novel is unnecessary can only be justified if at least one of your beta testers had never read the novel.

No score = no sense of progress. I know it’s a pain to rate puzzles according to their difficulty, but people like to feel they are making some sort of quantifiable progress towards a goal.


You leave the stroller and go.

River Walk
Your little bunny rabbit is still fast asleep in the stroller…

Oh dear, I think I’ve died.

This is surreal. I recognize the Duchess, of course.

I take back my comment about having knowledge of a novel gives the player a synthetic advantage. In this case, the storyline is only superficially connected to the Alice stories, and I am looking for connections where there are none. This will slow me down.

Your brother adverts his frustration from the pig to you and starts punching your arm. "Hit it, Alice, hit it! I would."

Hit brother.

You can’t see any such thing.

Examine me is the same as inventory. That’s a bit of a cop-out.

This is a very small map, which makes it doubly challenging.

Leo is in the room, but there’s no indication from the room description that he is there. I would think that he would at least be a static object rather than invisible scenery.

Row, Row, Row your boat…

The paper: I dislike universal tools on general principles.

Ah, nice: the final decision can be undone.

That is a perfectly reasonable sentence, sir; I object to your judgement.

OK, this is cruel. There are alternate solutions, but the walkthru only gives the solution with the most negative connotations.

Time’s up. Could only find the worst scenario and the walkthru’s no help, nor is the hint system. A good entry, but ultimately unsatisfying. The problem with abstract games like this is that the rules require you to think like the author, and if you cannot get into the proper mindset you will fail miserably.

Last Day of Summer

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 4
Story: 6

Off to collect berries without Mom or Dad? I feel like I should be wearing a red cloak…

Good intro puzzle: not impossible, but gives a sense of confidence from the start.

Hm. A bit leading: no matter which direction I take I end up in the same place. This is starting to feel linear…

An epic quest! Who would’ve thunk it?

Trinity called: it wants its sundial back.

OK, the reason the bird attacked me was my hair? I think a slightly less opaque hint is called for here. On the other hand, since my options were so limited the puzzle was easily solved.

Synonyms are unforgiving.

Another fast one; easy to power through. There were maybe a dozen locations in the game, and each one had at most a single key object. Cute if uninspiring; needs more fleshing out.

Taco Fiction

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 9
Story: 10

All right, I now know why the splash screen had a menu: the prologue is annoying.

I like the fact that my current assets are listed in place of a score.

I wonder if the misplaced apostrophe in the sign was an accident or intentional? If the latter… then well done, sir!

Nice to itemize the steps of my crime. Saves me the trouble of having to repeatedly save and restore. (This kind of planning is rare in the petty crime industry.)

Ha! Cute trick with the fake prompt. I thought the game was crashing at first.

Gimme a W! Gimme a F! Gimme a…

OK, that was surprising. I was expecting to find an empty safe, or something innocuous, but not a control console straight out of a ’50s sci-fi epic (“Mars Needs Tacos!”).

Yep, it’s the local chapter of the International Secret Confederation of Furries (founded © 1734 ad, 231 chapters worldwide).

Good ol’ Thoth. I was worried that the bird would turn out to be a flamingo, and that I would end up battling the forces of John Waters.

Hm. There’s a couple of glitches in the ice cream shop. Ordering chocolate prints out a single period. Tasting the mint leaves a blank space in the description.

Great competition entry. Perfect length, puzzles were fair (granted, I needed the walkthru up to the office), right amount of humor, even a touch of romance. I loved the story; but then, I always love silly conspiracy stories. The only problem was the occasional glitch that appeared in a description. The ice cream shop seemed tacked on, a last minute addition not thoroughly tested. There were a couple of items that had actions in their descriptions (“The door shuts behind you…”) which is a definite no-no. But those glitches could be easily fixed.


Technical: 3
Puzzles: 4
Story: 2

Incomplete games are troublesome for a reviewer, and words like this make me nervous:

Some “doors” are locked for until a later time. Thanks for playing.

Definitely nervous:

You read:

Dear ,

Welcome to *Luster*…

OK, the letter fills in the blank after getting my name. That’s reasonable; however, since I start with the letter the game should ask for my name up front.

What’s with all the definitive-less “Capitalized nouns”? Was this translated from Deutsch?

Somebody sounds bitter:

The amount of resemblance to your former job is sadly shocking. To the south a large fence blocks your path, very similar to a certain coworker…

More missing scenery objects, plus a dynamic object with a static description (either that, or it’s the world’s longest locomotive):

…A sign sits ignored at the side of the path. An old locomotive passes through, wheels screeching against the harsh metal…

Read sign.

You can’t see any such thing.

Boom! A bang-you’re-dead puzzle! First one of the competition.

OK, why is the town deserted? Was there a flood warning? Did aliens come and steal away all the people? Had everyone raced to a “Midnite Madness” sale at Penny’s? Enquiring minds want to know! (Actually, enquiring minds don’t give a shit at this point.)

A pedestal sprouts from the floor.

Examine pedestal.

You can’t see any such thing.

Oh, how much of The Craft of Adventure must I quote to enumerate the mistakes this author has made? I’ve encountered obvious in-jokes, incongruous rooms, blatant map-fluffing, and surprise death traps. My motivation is minimal, and my backstory nonexistent. Glitches and typos are blaring, and one wonders how the playtesters — if there were any — could miss the obvious ones. There’s no walkthru and the help system is laughable at best.

Oh, no, no, no! Not hit points!

The swordsman strike you with rapier, causing 8 points of damage!

Diagnose me.

You have 27 out of a possible 35 hit points remaining.

What is this, another Eamon port?

The arena clue is actually clever…

I would think the body-consuming smoke was an homage to Zork, but I think the reality is that the author just indulged in a little plagiarism.

I give up. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to this game, aside from the collect-n-treasures-to-win goal. Not worth the ninety minutes spent playing it.

Beet the Devil

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 8
Story: 8

What did I say about evangelizing? Well, at least this time it’s definitely tongue-in-cheek.

The game is leading me, but I don’t think there is any constraints to ordering; more like helpful suggestions.

I’m collecting vegetables and hunting daemons. I’m wondering if PopCap Games has a lawsuit ready to go…

The dark maze and the puppy reminds me of the “smart” solution to the Lurking Horror maze. (The dumb solution was to map the maze.)

I am obligated to put one of my favorite interactions (Trinity, of course) here:

Give coin to Charon.

“So educated,” giggles the voice in your ear...

And the Award for Lifting Inferi from Harry Potter goes to…

OK, the flour sack has life, but the vegetables do not? I know they’re evil, but are they also undead?

There’s white steam twisting up from a small pot on the counter, and, beneath the chirping of the little demons, you hear something bubbling.


You hear nothing unexpected.

Not according to Fred Phelps:

In a way, it’s kind of comforting (though a bit of a surprise) to see Hell could use a good interior decorator…

And the Award for the Most Naïve-Yet-Honest Description goes to:

The air smells really strong of perfume - the kind that smells sort of like flowers and sort of like a cat’s butt.

(C’mon, we’ve all encountered a person wearing that perfume.)

Yes, the pun we’ve all been expecting: Hell’s Kitchen. (But Escape from the Underworld did it first.)

AARGH. Icebox. There are a dozen appropriate synonyms for icebox, but I didn’t pick any of them.

Oh, duh. Seven rooms. It really is late in the game cycle, so I never made the connection. I am so embarrassed.

Clever game, although the pray command was a little too convenient for some of the puzzles; but I did have the problem of having to split my game run over two nights so I was going to hit the walkthrough frequently anyway. Some of the puns were, well, punnish but they should be forgiven. All in all, a nice diversion somewhat reminiscent of Nord and Bert.

Professor Frank

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 3
Story: 2

Aaah! If you are going to include a walkthru, please name it walkthru.txt or something. I thought the included file was a “README” or a game package.


Also, do not use spaces to center things unless you’re willing to verify the screen size beforehand. I like quote boxes and text effects but with modern interpreters and variable font widths they the layout is mangled more often than not.

“If it ain’t Scottish, it’s crap!”

Er, is this being told in the third-person? If so, then the library boilerplates should have been modified to use the third-person as well (cf. Bellclap or better yet, Lost Pig) and that is a serious undertaking. This constant switching of perspective is annoying and inappropriate third-person should be relegated to Seinfeld episodes.

Loch Lomond — The preferred whiskey of adventuring drunken sea captains everywhere!

The author seems to be limiting himself to primary colors as adjectives: e.g., red book, blue radio.

I never thought I’d say this, but after reading the wall o’ text from typing about I actually miss seeing the Emily Short boilerplate for first timers.

There are a lot of extraneous spaces introduced in the text. The author cannot decide if he wants to separate exclamation marks from the previous word or not. Even if it is wrong, at least be consistent.

This game is mainly intended to give you a few laughs.

I’m not laughing.

OK, the PC is visible in the room description. This makes sense for a third-person narrative, but PCs usually do not list themselves in the contents of the room.

I’m sure if I were Scottish this would be hysterical, but to me it is quite jejune in all senses of the word.

Plutonium? Seriously?

OK, either Inform7 allows you to easily muck with the error prompts, or somebody went to a lot of trouble to make something look poorly executed. My greatest fear is that Rick Astley is going to make an appearance before the end of the game.

Ah, chilled organ meats, Dr Frank!

I hate to do this, but I’m going to cut this one short. I don’t expect it to end well, as the walkthru indicates it is mostly a find-n-treasures game. From what I’ve seen, the next hour would have been agony. If there were beta testers involved in this, they should be shot.


Technical: 10
Puzzles: 9
Story: 10

Ah, our first epigram of the competition! But I still looked up the word to make sure I understood it, then went into the deep spiral of dreck that is the world of philosophy. I love how some philosophers call it “pseudo-philosophy,” as if they have any real concept of what is real and what is fake. As far as I’m concerned, professional (and I use the term lightly) philosophers are nothing more than con artists preying on the pseudo-intelligentsia.

From the name and the intro, I’m guessing that the main character is a schizophrenic whose fantasies involve being a detective in a pot boiler.

The about command is actually useful in this case.

I can deal with purple prose when it is intentional and intrinsic to the plot. These huge chains of metaphors must have been a pain to code.

This is going to be difficult; fun, but difficult.

Hm, no follow command? Hardly seems right in a detective game.

So help me, Baron: if it turns out you killed your wife by injecting her with insulin, I will be very angry.

…and make sure she is okay. Do you think you can handle that?”


That was a rhetorical question.

What is with all the eccentric Scotsmen this year?

Everything of late seems to remind me of Trinity: the “snake in the grass” puzzle is quite reminiscent of the “keep off the grass” puzzle in Kensington Gardens.


The air is cold and clear, like the justice we all seek, but never find.

Examine justice.

You can’t find it.


The mansion lies behind you, to the south.

Examine mansion.

That is either not here, or doesn’t need to be referred to at the moment.

Not sure I want to wake the sleeping giant.

Here’s where my personality gets in the way of good gameplay. I was willing to go around to the public areas of the house, but entering bedrooms makes me uncomfortable (and a bad noir detective). This cost me almost a half-hour of searching.

Examine minarets.

An endless multitude of minarets reach towards the sky from the streets of the city. The inhabitants must be very religious.

Drop manna on minarets.

That would not be a very good simile.

Au contraire, I think it would be an excellent simile.

I really did not want to hit the walkthru, but I have too many games on the back burner to ever return to this one. I’m glad I did: “Lytton-Chandler syndrome” is a perfect name for this disorder. It’s a pity so many of the authors of this year’s competition suffer from it.

In terms of the game itself: near perfect. It’s a unique concept that fits well into the framework of interactive fiction; something that not only breaks mimesis, but crushes it into a fine powder. Some of the puzzles near the end were cruelly difficult, but that may have been the result of the compressed time window.

Ha! “Lytton-Chandler Syndrome” is a Google meme! Well done!


Technical: 7
Puzzles: 6
Story: 5

Sounds a bit gruesome from the game description, but I’m willing to give it a go…

Excellent opening epigram! Fits the game description to a T.

Remember when I said that my personality would get in the way of gameplay, that I wouldn’t barge into private rooms or whatnot? Well, this PC is so far from my personality that I shouldn’t have any problem portraying a cold-hearted bastard.

Oh, lovely. This is one of those Memento rip-off games. Keepsake, I get it now. I’m doing everything in reverse.

Hm, I missed a step.

Well, at least the author is willing to admit it is a rip-off.

And… we’re done. Twenty minutes from start to finish, going back once to get the optimal score. The problem with effect-cause stories is that it forces the player into a linear storyline, with minimal deviation. It can be done (think Möbius), but it takes serious effort and a reasonable plotline. Maybe there’s some hidden easter egg in the game that allows you to avoid the outcome; maybe if I had bothered to see the movie I would understand the plot. In any case, the more interesting questions never were answered, and I suspect never had answers to begin with.


Technical: 7
Puzzles: 8
Story: 7

Interesting concept for a post-apocalyptic survival story, but I’m not sold on the opening quiz. Still, the ability to set one’s goal based on the initial interview offers a unique challenge. The feeling I get from this opening sequence is that no matter what path I choose to take it is not going to end well at all…

“Easy mode”? Try more like “annoying mode.” Seriously, what is this fascination with including tutorials in these entries? Do they really think first-time players are going to be judging, let alone playing?

Motivation is a problem in these post-apocalyptic games. When your only goal is survival, it is a bit depressing to do anything at all. The end of the game is finding others (or so it seems from the introduction), which is small comfort.

Got stuck and ran out of time; I don’t know if I placed myself in an unwinnable position, but I suspect so. Still, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but finding out exactly what I was supposed to do (aside from simply eating and drinking) turned out to be the true barrier.

Fan Interference

(Post-competition review)

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 7
Story: 5

Probably not the best game with which to restart my reviewing: I’m not a baseball fan by any stretch of the imagination. In general, I’m not a fan at all — I much prefer participating to watching and have never been able to enjoy vicarious victories. Then again, isn’t that what interactive fiction is all about: sharing in the victories of the player character as he or she “beats” the storyline?

The other complaint against the storyline falls into a familiar pattern: adapting (or attempting to adapt) a well-defined storyline to a more open-ended medium like IF. Novels and historical events, especially when the PC is interacting with notable figures, often force linearity and strict pacing to a game.


You are carrying:
  your khaki pants (being worn)
    a wallet (open)
      a matchbox
      $90 in cash
    a security badge
  your white button-down shirt (being worn)
  blazer (being worn)

Close wallet.

It already is, and you should probably keep it that way.

Motivation is a real problem here.

The crazy guy is a little too convenient, and this itinerary is forcing the plotline. Again, my comment about the problem of adapting well-known timelines holds.

Examine fool.

Up close, he looks a little less tough. His hair’s receding, and you grudgingly admire how he hasn’t given up on it. His arms look skinnier under the tattoos that probably made little sense before they got blurry.

Examine tattoos.

You can’t see any such thing.

Anything that would be warmly received should inspire a non-boilerplate response when displayed:

Show tape.

(to the Sox fan)

The Sox fan is unimpressed.

Give tape.

(to the Sox fan)

“Oh man! This is great! This is proof that Cubs fans are total degenerates cuz, well, it’s like, Lee Elia swears a lot, and he’s pissed off, and, I mean, he’s the manager!”

Most of this game seems like waiting for things to happen. The other issue is the “odd things in odd places” trap a lot of authors fall into.

Break toothpick.

Violence isn’t the answer to this one.

Snap toothpick.

You snap off the toothpick in the lock […]

Stopped about an hour into the game. As I said, motivation is the problem here. This is like the sci-fi trope where a time traveller has to fulfill history by executing a number of steps exactly as they were known to have occurred. Technically it is solid — the amount of detail, the transcriptions of the game — all involved a lot of work which attests to the author’s love of the game. But knowing how things should end forces a linear approach, leaving more than a few stall-points in the flow.

Return to Camelot

(Post-competition review)

Technical: -
Puzzles: -
Story: -

Nice map. I like games that supply maps, especially if they are well-drawn.

Unfortunately, any brownie points earned from the nice map were immediately lost when you supplied the walkthru as a Microsoft Word document. It looks more like a transcript capture than anything else. What, HTML not good enough for you?

Wait, this is supposed to be an Adrift game; so why is it being supplied as a BLORB package? And the hint reader is a Windows executable?

It’s not BLORB; the interpreter barfs on it. Changing the suffix to TAF doesn’t help. Skipping this game.

Fog Convict

(Post-competition review)

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 6
Story: 4

Oooh, a map! A map… well drawn. Too well-drawn. Yes, the university is real, and the map was lifted from the web site. Please don’t be another Mary Sue adventure…

Fire! I’ve just run out of my bedroom into an empty hall and… what?

north-west hallway

This is the north-west corner of the Mabee Hall hallway. A window looks north, and doors lead west and north. The hall continues south and east.

I have no idea which way is the way to safety. If you drop a character in medias res and fail to give the player any hint as to what the character should already know (“Fall Break” implies that the character has been here a while) and what would be in the character’s best interest (getting out of a burning building), you are either assuming too much about the player or just being lazy.

So, back to our favorite game: What Would Rob Do?™

The problem here is that (at this point in playing) I don’t know what the author’s intent is. I have a PC goal — get out of the building! — but not the means to execute it, and it’s a certainty that getting out of the building is just a mechanism for introducing either the primary goal or another prologue goal. I can see three reasons why the author would not provide instructions for exiting the building:

  1. To establish an atmosphere of tension;
  2. To force the player to explore the local area; or
  3. His target audience knows the local geography.

Let’s ignore number 3 out of charity for now. How could we establish tension? Through the judicious use of dynamic room descriptions. You hear shouts and cries from the other floors or Smoke billows in from the west appended to the otherwise prosaic description would add a sense of urgency. Also, preventing the player from doing non-essential things (e.g., examining everything in the room) with a warning (You don’t have time to dilly-dally) adds to the tension.

If the goal is to force the player to explore the region, there are a number of ways to do this without leaving them in an improbable situation. One of my favorite is the fake random walk. The game acts as if the player is moving in a random pattern, but it’s fully deterministic so that the player does not get caught in boring infinite loops. (A real random walk is the fastest way to piss players off; re: Changes.)

north-west hallway

This is the …


In the smoke, you cannot tell which direction you are moving…

north hallway (by room 106)

This is the …

After a brief tour of the area, release the player from the walk (The smoke has cleared a bit so you can…). Mission accomplished, and no mimeses were hurt in the making of this game.

And here we go with the useless objects:

[…] A drinking fountain is built into the south wall, beside the lobby door.

Examine fountain.

I don’t know the word “fountain”.

Examine drinking.

I don’t know the word “drinking”.

Drink water.

I don’t know the word “water”.

Tell me why! Even a supposition would be welcome rather than a simple outright refusal:

Open fire door.

The door won’t open!

Ah, examining the door gave a clue. I still think it should have been part of the response to opening the door.

OK, I’m trapped in a building. A room has been destroyed (I see a burning crater but curiously can’t examine the fire), the emergency exits have been sealed, and the only other exit is shrouded in darkness. On the plus side, the fire doesn’t seem to be spreading, so any sense of urgency is now lost.

Hitting the walkthru… and hitting problems. Not sure if it’s Gargoyle’s fault, or if the walkthru itself wasn’t tested.

The phone in the empty Washateria room rings is not helpful if I’m unaware of the nearby locations on the map. To the northwest you hear a phone ringing would have been much more appropriate.

And I’m stuck because of a bug:

Examine fire door.

The door stands open.

Open fire door.

The door is already open.


You’ll have to open the fire door first.

I think I’ve seen enough. Craft of Adventure, §5, “The ‘In-Joke’ syndrome.” Assuming that the player is familiar with the entire campus of a rather obscure college is asking too much. Some of these problems would have been detected early by an independent beta tester.

Escape From Santaland

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor M

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Playing Games

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Death of Schlig

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0


Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

The Guardian

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

How Suzy Got Her Powers

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

The Binary

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Awake the Mighty Dread

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0


Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Tenth Plague

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0


Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

Ted Paladin And The Case Of The Abandoned House

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0


Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0

The Hours

Technical: 0
Puzzles: 0
Story: 0