Ratings & Reviews of the 2012 Interactive Fiction Competition

The Ratings

Game Technical Puzzles Story Overall
Game T P S
Changes 9 10 10 10
Shuffling Around 9 10 7 9
Sunday Afternoon 7 10 8 8
Spiral 8 9 7 8
A Killer Headache 8 9 6 8
Escape From Summerland 7 7 8 7
In a Manor of Speaking 7 7 7 7
Body Bargain 8 4 9 7
Murphy’s Law 6 8 7 7
Irvine Quik & the Search for the Fish of Traglea 6 8 6 7
Andromeda Apocalypse 7 7 5 6
Lunar Base 1 8 7 4 6
Guilded Youth 8 4 6 6
Fish Bowl 5 5 6 5
Eurydice 7 3 5 5
J’dal 5 5 4 5
Castle Adventure! 4 5 4 4
The Sealed Room 5 3 3 4
The Test is Now READY 4 2 4 3
Living Will 5 1 3 3
The Island 4 3 2 3
Last Minute 3 2 3 3
Transit 2 2 3 2
howling dogs 3 3 1 2
Valkyrie 2 1 2 2
The Lift 1 1 1 1
Signos        
Kicker        

The theme of this year’s competition is: zombies, ghosts,… and murder. Maybe the competition should be moved away from Halloween?

Almost finished everything, except for one game that looked like it would be an exercise in tedium: the next worst thing to Desert Bus.


Transit

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 2
Story: 3

First game of the competition, and it’s a web game. I’m not exactly pro-web for the competition (or IF in general): there are only two real options, either spin your own parser (which will usually end up limited to being so VERB NOUN it would make Scott Adams blush) or use a point’n’click interface. On the other hand, this has something to do with transportation, of which I obsess frequently.

Aaaaannd, it’s CYOA. But it’s a framework someone else wrote which is a small solace.

… so simple that I could make something like this without bashing my head with a coding book. Not encouraging.

The use of the ever-present stick figure men to decorate section headings is a nice touch.

Good thing I read the bugs section! Actions that lock frameworks are the author’s fault and an automatic “1” as far as I’m concerned. I’ll avoid those actions, but that doesn’t exactly lend confidence to the framework.

First death. The problem with games like this is that the menu-based approach leaves the player unsatisfied, especially if the choice is between death and death.

There’s not many options, and lots of story loops so exhaustive search seems to be the only option… if I cared. Which I don’t. So it’s off to the walkthrough.

And that’s it. The “direct” solution was just that: direct and concise. The “interesting” solution was far from it: insipid and silly.

When you have such a limited interaction model you better damn well have an interesting story to back it. This story is too short and too undeveloped to justify the effort.


howling dogs

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 3
Story: 1

Another web-based game. The randomizer hates me, I just know it.

DOA? No, the game link changed. Forcing people to visit your web site does not win points with me.

I have given a name to my pain, and it is Twine.

I can’t even parse this opening sentence. It reads like bad Hemingway, which may or may not be what the author intended.

It was bad Hemingway: Kenzaburo — we meet again.

Lots of sentence fragments, missing words and tense changes. Feels like automatic translation. This is the news.

Feels like the midpoint of a long journey. Can we all agree that in medias res is passé and be done with it? The idea of starting with a partial amnesiac is sloppy storytelling, and can only be excused if the opening sequence is exciting.

Scott Rice once described the ideal entry of the Bulwer-Lytton contest as as opening line so bad that the reader immediately puts the book down and never returns. Such is the power of the opening line. In IF, the opening line is the initial description: the quick vignette that introduces the player’s character and the world as he sees it (see DM4, §48.2 for examples). Of late I’ve noticed a disturbing trend of replacing (rather than supplementing) this initial description with an opaque epigraph. I’d say this is unabashed pandering to the literati, but that would imply forethought on the part of the practitioners.

It might be a prison instead of a spacecraft. In either case, it is boring. I don’t need IF to suffer someone’s histrionics; that’s what LiveJournal is for.

I have no idea… what this was about. Absolutely none. Five thousand metaphors in search of a context. Florid prose vainly concealing a vapid mind. There is nothing more dangerous than an self-proclaimed artist confusing impenetrability for thought.


Shuffling Around

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 10
Story: 7

Odd technical note in the introduction. I’m not sure what the author is asking us to do: help debug the effectiveness of the hints, or help build up a proper model for hints. In either case, I’m not here to beta test. This is the real world, baby: deal with it.

OK, the empty command prints out an anagram of the traditional I beg your pardon? Cute.

Shuffling Around. Oh, man. I am so out of it. The whole thing is going to be anagrams, isn’t it? I hate anagrams: of all wordplay puzzles, they tend to stump me the most. My aunt is really good at them, though: pity she’s 400 miles away.

Well, if you have to do a bang-you’re-dead puzzle, doing it at the beginning of the game is slightly tolerable.

The side passage does not correspond to a compass direction. I don’t know why, but that annoys me.

Typo: The dingy toga shuddders.

Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail of It. Definitely inspired by the spoonerism section. I haven’t played that in years, and unfortunately my only copy is on floppy disk. Nord and Bert also was sectional, allowing the player to jump from section to section depending on the mood.

Hey, 100% conversation coverage is a bitch. I’m not holding a missing response against you (this time). Not sure admitting that a conversation topic is missing is a good idea: pretending that the player is at fault can be a good way to spackle over the gaps.

BUG: No response, not even boilerplate.

Open silo.

A grand puzzlefest! Only two glitches found, and one was declared as a bug in-game. Granted, as in Nord and Bert the story is the thinnest contrivance required to justify the puzzles, but for puzzles of this kind that’s perfectly acceptable. Anything more would feel forced.

Actually, I forgot about the prologue. Looking back at it, it seems incongruent with the rest of the storyline. Did the author change tack halfway through the design, going from traditional comedic to absurdly surreal? Not sure if the prologue was needed at all: starting off in A Dry Yard would have worked as well.


J’dal

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 5
Story: 4

What umlauts are to metal, apostrophes are to fantasy.

Don’t know why the author insists on the verb hints; again with this pervading mentality that every single person that will play the game is a complete moronneophyte.

Ah, racism. The multiversal constant.

Yes, a young girl would find the prospect of her father urinating disturbing; yes, yes, adventurers don’t usually pay attention to details; but seriously: this toilet obsession is bordering on purile.

The pile of tools has a static description:

Examine tools.

There’s a bunch of junk ... a hammer head, a wooden handle, a pick axe head, a rusty saw and what looks like a tent peg or two.

Get pick axe head.

Taken.

Examine tools.

There’s a bunch of junk ... a hammer head, a wooden handle, a pick axe head, a rusty saw and what looks like a tent peg or two.

More static description problems:

Put axe head on handle.

I slip the pick axe head over the smaller end of the handle, and slide it to the thicker end to secure it in place. But the handle is so old and rotten, the wood just cracks in pieces and the hammer head falls to the ground.

Boo!

“Just throw a rock at it or something,” Dad says.

Throw axe head at beart.

I lack the nerve when it comes to the crucial moment.

BUG. The beart lives (and impedes progress) even after killing it.

Attack beart.

I put the beart out of its misery. I stab the it right into its furry chest. It screeches strangely, my sword must have pierced its lungs.

“It’s okay,” I reply, “I just killed me a beart.”

This eyeless bastard can see better than we can. Every time I try to strike, he turns to face me.

North.

I’m not leaving them like this!

“Someone BLOODY DO SOMETHING!” Rod yells. The beart backs away from him.

Attack beart.

I can’t see any such thing.

“Don’t undo if something bad happens”? “There are no dead ends”? I think dying is a pretty explicit dead end. Stupid grumble author advice…

Missing objects:

I can see a dead beart, Roderick, Stolas and Dad here.

Examine dead beart.

I can’t see any such thing.

Another glitch:

Ask Stolas about pool.

(the pool)

Started out feeling like a kid’s game: about Seastalker-esque level of difficulty. Then it became excessively violent, with lots of death and swearing at the end. Not exactly sure who the target audience is. Puzzles were run-of-the-mill, writing quality was decent (if stilted); the big questions were left unanswered, which makes me suspect that this is set in a game universe of which I am unfamiliar. Not too bad for a first-timer, but the beta players should have offered more constructive feedback. If they truly improved the game tenfold, it must have been originally quite pathetic.


A Killer Headache

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 9
Story: 6

Oh joy, yet another zombie story. If you pardon the pun… done to death.

Limited inventory slots. Physical limitations as well (well, I am dead).

Oh, how to get around the inventory limitations was a puzzle.

I guess I’m just not into the whole zombie mystique like everyone else. I’ve been virtually cut off from recent cultural movements, and there are a lot of zombie shows on TV that I simply have not watched. That made some of the puzzles exceedingly difficult. I didn’t even consider it possible to reattach limbs: I am shocked and amazed at the wonders of necroflesh!

I meant to type Marie, but accidentally typed Mary and got this odd response:

Mary.

Who do you mean, ?

Mary Jim.

It’s true - this is a cursed existence.

I suppose that religion was inevitably going to make an appearance in the game: after all, this zombie apocalypse is referred to as “the Plague of Satan.” Still, assuming that the PC is Catholic, assuming that the player himself is familiar with the rites, then inscribing said rites directly in the game smacks of proselytizing. I’ve complained about this before: it’s a dangerous approach, and will almost guarantee a weak overall score.

Clever little game, and some really tough puzzles that I appreciate. If I had been paying attention more, I would have noticed the hints. It was a hard starter in terms of motivation: almost from the outset the PC was doomed to destruction (unlike, say, Infidel where dying at the end to get the final point was a surprise) so actual progress made felt unsatisfying. Past zombie games — The Lucubrator springs to mind — were somewhat more upbeat. Still, the writing was above par for an overdone theme.


The Test is Now READY

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 2
Story: 4

This looks like a lighthearted game given the title. While A Killer Headache was supposedly lighthearted (or at least tongue-in-cheek), it failed to be so in the end.

Bloody hell. Another zombie game! I am seriously pissed. Have some creativity people! Just because the current boogyman is the zombie — zombies! Whether you believe that they are reflecting the American revolutionary mythos, a manifestation of the disenfranchisement of the people, or (my favorite) an indication that the population as a whole is becoming simultaneously more sociopathic and bored; it does not matter — it’s an overused cliché.

Frank winces and grabs at his side. Maybe you should ask him about it.

Ask Frank about Frank.

There is no reply.

OK, abrupt change in theme. Looks like a game told in flashbacks, like Spider and Web.

A serious abrupt change in theme. Maybe that is the theme: comparing the onslaught of mindless zombies to the autonomous brutality of our new post-9/11 society?

All right, now this is getting ridiculous. What is it: some sort of psychological test, to see how sociopathic the player is? The problem with these kind of “what if” tests is that the subject is usually dropped into a context (especially in the torture room) into which he would never normally arrive. As I am approaching this with the mentality of a “player” rather than myself (approaching as “myself” has caused me problems in the past, see my comment about PataNoir; also The Craft of Adventure, §3.15, “Moral Objections”). This isn’t a wannabe Spider and Web, it’s a wannabe Photopia.

Please, give a better reason than boilerplate:

… At the foot of her bed is a violin case.

Open case.

That’s not something you can open.

Took me a while to even try:

[Your score has just gone up by fifty points.]

Score.

You have so far scored 90 out of a possible 0, in 76 turns.

And… done. It was a test, a boring, run-of-the-mill pop psychology test, similar to ones found at mediocre jobs everywhere. And what was my reward? A career assessment.


Living Will

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 1
Story: 3

Another web-based game… and this one requires me to visit the author’s web site. Not looking forward to this.

This is… not really a game. It’s more of a click-to-proceed story (the hypertext equivalent of [Press Space to Continue]) with minimal branching and interaction. It is using the “Undum” engine which was used for last year’s The Play. I expect the same limitations that I encountered with that entry as well. On the plus side, the author has some credentials so it might be an interesting read.

Not sure if the will’s author is insane or this is a science fiction story.

Looks like near-future science fiction. A legal document that changes according to the reader’s wishes? Obviously a hypertext document such as this easily fits that bill; but it certainly would be difficult to find a court of law that would indulge in such an offering.

First POV change. And done three clicks later.

Decided to run through the entire document again using the exact same clicks. This time the result was significantly poorer valuation. There seems to be a random factor involved here, outside of the control of the reader (I am loathe to use the word player as that implies some sort of control).

I suppose the overall objective is eluding me. I can do tricks — steal shares from the other beneficiaries, for instance — but I’m not sure exactly what it all means. I understand some of the back stories of the other beneficiaries, but that seems to be all I get from it. I am either missing something obvious — or there really isn’t anything there at all.


Andromeda Apocalypse

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 5

Please don’t be a sequel… Please don’t be a sequel…

Crap. It’s a sequel to Andromeda Awakening, most notable for its plethora of purple prose.

“That’s no moon. It’s a space station!”

I have earned… an achievement. Oh joy of joys — the dreck of the post-Facebook gamescape now oozes into the world of Interactive Fiction. So help me, if an interpreter one day offers to post my progress to Twitter I will give up and return to my venerable Powerbook G4 for the rest of my days. Seriously, this is just a score with a stupid name. Stop trying to be hip, it’s embarrassing.

Now the author is lifting straight from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Last year was a hodgepodge of homages; should we expect this to be any different?

Technically I have no problems with the writing: for the most part it’s grammatically correct which puts it above most of the entries each year. There are forgivable issues: A crumpled, alien wreckage lays at your feet is awkward as “wreckage” does not require an indefinite article — if you really need the indefinite wreck works fine — and the phrase should not have a comma. And nobody should be expected to correctly use lay versus lie 100% of the time — this author would have punted and substituted rests. (cf. Crumpled alien wreckage rests at your feet.)

But the loquacity dwarfs all of that. Example:

You are standing in total darkness, apart from a faint, azure light flickering through a hole that opens east through a bush of exploded metal.

I had to fight through fourteen words just to discover that a hole opens east. The overindulgence of adjectives is the hallmark of science fiction; the compulsion to make even the most mundane objects seem extraordinary is nigh irresistible. Again, I refer you to my favorite consultation material, The Craft of Adventure, §5, “Writing Room Descriptions”: avoid the mediocre room description. But as I said, it’s par quality for common sci-fi.

How could we have tightened that up?

To the east, a hole allows a blue glow to illuminate the Hyerotrope.

Since there does not seem to be a lighting puzzle involved, that can be dropped in favor of more relevant information:

A hole to the east seems to be your only option now, as the Hyerotrope’s spacefaring days are obviously over.

(Unless, of course, you want to introduce the red herring of getting the Hyerotrope spaceworthy again.) Try to leave the embellishment to the end, so the poor player doesn’t need to search the text for the information he needs.

Oh, right. I remember now why I really disliked Andromeda Awakening: huge maps with lots of unnecessary, practically indistinguishable rooms that you had to constantly traverse.

And here we go in the East Laboratory, The Craft of Adventure, §3.1: Don’t kill the player without warning. And that’s one of the “achievements” too! So much for using the “achievements” as a gauge of game progress.

Microcosmic God, anyone?

Whoa, major technobabble infodump from LOGAN! Plus a Star Trek: Voyager reference to boot!

The fuse on the freezing chamber does not reset after you leave the room. You should warm up over time.

Damn, I forgot the coordinates where I was, and I can’t persuade LOGAN to reveal that information.

Ah, I could get it from asking LOGAN to describe the pod.

As expected, I am spending most of my time navigating across this huge map. A shortcut command (such as Go to room used in Deadline) would be helpful.

And… damn. I did release the creature from the cage, so there’s no way to win according to the hints. And that’s a big design flaw: The Craft of Adventure, §3.5: Do not have the game close off without warning! Actually, this solution is completely unobvious unless the player has accidentally opened the case before, so that’s also in violation of section §3.3.

I have exactly five minutes left in the review, and I don’t think I have a save file early enough to recover. Walkthru time…

And… another anticlimax, steeped in bathos. Still, reasonable gameplay (if reminiscent of Stationfall or Star City) but with the same problems that plagued the first part: too large a map and too adverbial. But I’m in a better mood this year, so a better score.


The Lift

Technical: 1
Puzzles: 1
Story: 1

The game is using the “Twee” engine, just like Transit. CYOAhoy!

…and that your survival may depend on this choice. Way to give confidence and prompting. If I choose the wrong choice (and at this point, there is no hint to which would be best), will I block myself into a no-win situation? That’s what the room description (for need of a better word) implies.

Ah, it’s a joke entry. Or one done by an eleven-year-old with too much time and no access to Internet porn. Same diff’.

Enough. One thing you can say about “Twee,” it won’t waste your time. I can safely assume no “Twee” game will take me more than twenty minutes.


In a Manor of Speaking

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 7

A Punny Adventure. Oh, my stomach is already churning. This title was lifted directly from Nord and Bert but I’m going to assume the author was ignorant of the original (“Always assume laziness over ignorance over malice” is my motto — but laziness doesn’t apply here).

The Google translation of the French wikipedia page for Calembour is an exercise in post-modern humor.

So I cannot smoke my camel. Such a missed opportunity…

Yes, if you are going to pun on chicks, at least give me the opportunity to use other names for baby fowl.

I’m guessing this is more of a traditional adventure with puns in the descriptions, rather than the puns being the puzzles themselves (a la Nord and Bert). I can deal with that, but it makes life less interesting than Shuffling Around.

How exactly do I take a picture without a camera?

A man walks into a bar… ouch!

The map is very griddish. Not sure if that’s good or bad, but it makes plotting easy.

Normally I’m all for economy of text, but this is one case where I don’t feel the result is correct:

Car Park

You’re standing in an empty car park. A path leads west while desert extends in all other directions.

North.

You can’t go that way.

South.

You can’t go that way.

East.

There is nothing but desert to the east!

Everyone is so modest: they refuse to talk about themselves.

Ask Salazar about Salazar.

He makes a series of unintelligible hooping noises.

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

If someone screams “Duck! Duck!” I look for waterfowl. That’s just me.

Too! Many! Exclamation! Points!

I die from picking up a rock. Yes, it’s the son of Pick Up The Phone Booth and Die.

Including your beta testers’ names in the game is a nice touch.

Overall, a pleasant (if somewhat bland) game. Nothing extraordinarily bad, but certainly not a stinkeroo. Most of the puzzles were on the low end of challenging, and one or two had non-obvious solutions. That, or I missed the clue — for the most part, the author did well in giving leads to solutions. Consider it junior level, and a little extra bowdlerization would make it perfect as an intro game for children.


Body Bargain

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 4
Story: 9

Sounds like a horror story… or an “erotic thriller.” We could use more Cinemax-After-Dark themed games.

Oh hell no! I better not be a zombie!

This year’s winner of The Matt Barringer Memorial Award for Including a Movable Object in Another Object’s Description goes to…

Looks like an illegal back-alley surgery. Maybe this is film noir instead.

Looks like a remedial course in intercepting actions is required:

West.

You open the recovery room door.

There’s no point in leaving carrying all your old baggy clothes, so you drop them in a heap before continuing out of the room.

You drop your old baggy clothes in a heap.

That’s already open.

Hm. I hear metal against metal as I walk. Am I a robot? The game won’t allow me to examine my feet or hands or other body parts. This can be taken to an extreme (e.g., the raft scene in And the Waves Choke the Wind) but I think this capability should be provided.

Awkward phrasing:

If you go directly east, you will go back to the post-operation room where you initially woke up. North of there is a small storage closet.

That sounds like east to the recovery room, than north to the storage closet; but the author really meant the storage closet is to the northeast.

“Doctor Overclock” sounds like a villain from a bad ’70s Saturday morning cartoon.

OK, I am a robot. Or cyborg, to be politically correct. Martin Caidin is spinning in his grave.

No score, no win. I did exactly what a robot would do. Not sure if this offers any better solution…

Yep, I can double-cross the doctor. And I did so, and escaped.

A bit gory, but it was a horror — albeit a horror of the blood ’n’ guts kind, rather than the psychological kind. I did like the fact that the author brought in the idea that tattoos and piercing were stepping stones to more extreme forms of body modification: a supposition promoted by more than a few futurists. The story itself was rather linear: no puzzles of which to speak except for the very end, where two very obvious options were made available to the player.


Signos

Technical: -
Puzzles: -
Story: -

Not available for my platform. I will play this via the web later if time permits.


Lunar Base 1

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 7
Story: 4

Moonbase Alpha… Massive nuclear explosion… Moon torn out of Earth orbit… Hurled into deep space! I should be so lucky. I suspect this is going to be more prosaic.

With the Chinese going to the moon the US will have an incentive to get back there, so I think 2080 is a little extreme. Of course, with sci-fi there is a long history of underestimating (Space: 1999) and overestimating (Amazon Women on the Moon — granted, in jest but reflective of the genre’s inability to estimate).

I would hope by 2080 we would have better equipment than the LEM and CSM, but what do I know?

I hate it when games give me a name. But “Stan Rogers” is a perfect ’50s sci-fi name. Of course, now I’m thinking of a completely different “Captain Rogers,” and I’m sure that’s not accidental.

Menu-driven conversations: Not too happy about that, but it sometimes cannot be helped. Might have been more interesting (if less plausible) to have made this a solo mission, but I’m sure my partner will eventually be part of a puzzle I’ll need to solve.

Here’s an example of using a 50¢ word without sounding overly florid:

You are standing on the surface of the moon with your feet sinking a few centimeters into the regolith. Endless mountains and craters surround you in all directions.

Granted, it starts with the tired “You are…” but “regolith” is exotic enough to pardon that word choice.

Nice bio-containment protocol there, guys. Let’s hope Jeremy Stone was wrong about microbes on the lunar surface.

I suspect at some point I will go space-mad and kill John. Otherwise this is going to end up like The Loneliest Astronauts.

Hm, I would think that NASA would be loathe to send a married man on a one-way mission.

Grrr… this has the same double-door that annoyed me in Starcross.

Aliens! Or Commies! Or maybe Nazis! Radioactive Space Nazis with laser beams! Or maybe I am going space-mad.

Vunce ze rockets go up, vho cares vhere dry come down? Zhat’s not my department, says Werner Von Braun.

DUM dum DUM dum DUM dum dah dah dah DA-DAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Oh no, not Dark Side of the Moon: the movie that dared to make the interface to the master computer a hot chick!

But he’s unconscious!

Hit John.

You completely take John by surprise with a wild hay-maker punch to his temple…

[…]

Get John’s suit.

That suit belongs to John.

All right, this made entirely no sense. Ancient astronauts, a parallel history (cf. The Parallel), a government cover-up of a landing hoax (cf. Capricorn I), holes in the plot you could fly a LEM through… crap, it was Dark Side of the Moon — sans Satan. Even following the walkthru explicitly failed to reveal any sort of rational explanation. Sad, really — the writing was solid, the implementation sound; it was the plot that needed debugging.


The Sealed Room

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 3
Story: 3

Oh, and I was hoping for a classic “sealed room” mystery.

“The dragon and the unicorn were fighting for the crown…” Wait, that’s not right.

Ask dragon about dragon.

“Idiot! Just ask me about: ”
   yourself …

Alan’s parser seems to have improved somewhat. In the past it has given me nothing but grief.

OK, I have asked all of the topics, and I still have no idea what’s going on.

You can’t revisit topics. Annoying, but at least this interpreter has a scrollback buffer.

And bam! Done in ten minutes. Nice try, but needs fleshing out. Solid (if unambitious) implementation, but no real story or puzzles to speak of.


Spiral

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 9
Story: 7

Hint: important commands are THINK and REMEMBER. Oh, one of those games.

Even better, I switch perspectives.

Deep religious overtones: maybe that’s the tacit theme of this year’s competition.

Seven chunks of soul. Excuse me, J.K. Rowling and her lawyers would like to have a word with you.

BUG:

Scrap Room (as Ross)

Cut east wall.

You swipe out to the east, but nothing is repelled by some invisible force.

[** Programming error: Class (object number 1) has no property w_to to write to **]

[** Programming error: Class (object number 1) has no property archto to write to **]

[** Programming error: Class (object number 1) has no property archdir to write to **]

You plunge the sickle into the wall, and it cuts itself into the shape of an arch, leading east.

OK, I get this… sorta. It’s a metaphor… everything in the game was a metaphor, so the game itself was too… two possible endings… and one of the PCs have to die for the other to live for one of the “optimal” endings. Ross had a friend who was a terrorist; and Helen was just a victim when that friend bombed a train. The overall game had good puzzles but the story was — for need of a better word — stilted. The writing was good, but the overall game left me cold. Too much suspension of disbelief, perhaps.

Of course. This is the exact way I felt when I finished Infidel — dissatisfied because the only real way to win was to lose.


Irvine Quik & the Search for the Fish of Traglea

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 8
Story: 6

OK, this time I am sure that this game is being played for laughs. If it turns out to be another emo-laden zombiefest I shall weep.

Hm. Looks like the game is being told in the third person.

The compass is annoying. Traditionally, fore corresponds to north. Also, sb is not accepted for starboard.

Playtesting usually will catch unplanned “puzzles” like that. During the testing of The Best Man, I was chastised by one playtester for using compass directions on a moving object — namely a train going from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The solution was to satisfy everyone: offer traditional compass directions (north and east) for traditionalists and technical directions (aft, port) for pedants. Combined directions (e.g., southwest) were tricky as there are no nautical terms I could find to say “move forward and starboard simultaneously” so I usually hid those from view in technical mode, instead relying on enter for movement.

The plop command sometimes complains about syntax. Can’t reproduce consistently, however.

Grrrr:

Score

Irvine’s score is 0 out of a maximum of 0. (0%)

Oops. When on the planet:

Irvine’s Cabin

A small, circular window on the southern wall looks out into black, starry space…

The hint system doesn’t appear to work. It brings up a menu, but I cannot select a specific hint. I’m sure this is an interpreter bug.

Tried to switch at this point to Windows, because I was getting annoyed with the little bugs that I was sure was the result of interpreter issues. But Murphy dropped by and my VM started having issues, so it’s back to Gargoyle.

It’s not the best idea to emphasize objects and then not actually allow any indication of their purpose:

A clumsy stalagmite juts out of the ground.

Examine stalagmite.

Irvine sees nothing special about the stalagmite.

BUG: I died, was reincarnated, and still the bad guy is with me:

Grastor leaps on top of Irvine, pins him down to the ground, and… and… oh, dear. A most unpleasant death!

Darkness descends on Irvine’s mind…

Infirmary

The ship’s infirmary is a small, sterile room…

“Glad you’re still with us, Irvine,” he says. “And without actually having died. That saves us another clone.”

Irvine’s health recovers slightly.

Grastor the Champion charges after Irvine.

This is what Larry Page was saying when he talked about “impatience”: If everyone is going to do an obvious action immediately following another, combine the two:

It beeps happily in response, unlocks, and swings open.

Now you can type x locker to see what it contains!

More missing objects:

Examine fountain.

A marble fountain in the shape of a Great Sleeping Fish spewing clear water from its mouth. Irvine surmises it must be fed by an artesian well.

Examine water.

Irvine sees no such thing.

More non-objects:

Master Moji bows to Irvine and hands him a scroll. The scroll has the names of all four karate moves on it.

Examine scroll.

There is no scroll here to read.

Intentional, or accidental parser humor?

Look.

Crooked Trees

[…]

Find courage.

I don’t know where that is!

Um, ok?

Ask for help.

Unless you’ve heard otherwise directly from a character, the only useful asking that can be done is to “ask for help.”

I read “laser crossbow” as “laser eyebrow” for some reason. I think the latter might have been more appropriate. “FEAR. THE. UNIBROW!”

A sentinel is here, brandishing a laser crossbow!

Sweep sentinel.

The sentinel slams onto the steel floor on his head.

Get crossbow.

Take what?

The destruction of the crossbow should have been mentioned in the description.

And now it’s Enter the Dragon, with the all-you-can-punch salad bar of goons and henchmen.

If this is an easter egg, you may make up some points:

Punch patrol.

(dot tumblr dot com)

It is not. Boo!

And a sequel… why do they always threaten a sequel?

Comedy sci-fi is hard. Traditional science fiction is usually self-absorbed, grandiloquent, and more often than not dystopian; case in point, Andromeda Apocalypse. Humor is difficult to pull off in such context: that is why Red Dwarf in traditional media and The Hitchhiker’s Guide and Planetfall in interactive fiction stood high above all other attempts and are so beloved. This tried, oh it tried, but ultimately failed. It was silly, but not funny. The inline directions, especially the one with the locker, were disruptive (The Inform Designer’s Manual, §47, “Crimes Against Mimesis”) — so disruptive that I actually stopped playing and considered giving the score right then. Which was unfortunate, really: the puzzles for the most part were well-written and sensical (although at some points tedious), and the actual ending was funny (if not a blatant Planetfall rip-off).


Castle Adventure!

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 5
Story: 4

Too! Many! Exclamation! Points! (Seriously, I’m tempted to make this a tag in game descriptions, because all TMEP games feel the same: like a poor stand-up comedian floundering on the stage, vainly laughing at his own lame jokes.)

Or better yet subtitled, The Vengeance of Scott Adams:

You have to rescue a princess of legendary beauty who is reportedly being held prisoner in a labyrinth beneath the Castle…

Forest

You are in a forest.

If it’s a maze, indicate it is so, e.g., …twisty passages all alike; otherwise vary your descriptions to avoid boredom.

At least make the magpie an animal and override the boilerplate:

Ask magpie about castle.

You can only do that to something animate.

Minimal descriptions, incongruous signs, odd objects: this really is a Scott Adams homage.

Unless I’ve missed something, it is impossible to solve the cave puzzle without having mapped it fully. Since the mushroom gives you a time limit, this is a “cruel” puzzle (The Craft of Adventure, §3.3). The walkthru seems to confirm this.

Oh, you will pay for this:

Undo.

The use of UNDO is forbidden in this game.

Map fluffing. A game this simple does not deserve to have the map expanded unnecessarily.

Yeah, it’s far too easy to get killed/arrested/quagmired in this game, and no undo is available to reverse that. Saving like mad…

Writing was terse and simplistic, puzzles were either extremely difficult (not challenging, just annoying) or amateurishly simple. Lots of randomness where randomness was not needed. Completely nonsensical ending. Even the title screamed Scott Adams.


Sunday Afternoon

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 10
Story: 8

I’m playing this on a Thursday; hope I can keep the correct mindset.

This is so, so British. I have a strong desire for afternoon tea.

No score available. Please people, don’t make me beg. The achievements of Andromeda Apocalypse are looking pretty good right now…

Beautiful:

Examine me.

You’ve been thoroughly scrubbed and ironed and starched into your least comfortable set of clothes. One day, when you are either Prime Minister or Archbishop of Canterbury – depending on whether you listen to Mother or Father – you’re going to outlaw starch or declare it anathema or both.

Should be a verb, to give some feedback:

Sleep.

No! You want to play!

Play.

That’s not a verb I recognise.

Boo! I got this far, and then the author had to give me a name (and an implicit sex). And what a name: Hector. With a little more effort, this could have been avoided.

Trying to toady up to me by obliquely referencing Bogart will not… actually, yes, that will make points.

This is the kind of conversation maze I appreciate. The author did a fine job of giving Aunt Emma a wide variety of topics on which to opine.

BUG:

Hall

[…] A small, unobtrusive door behind the stairs goes northeast to the servant areas, and then there’s the hall closet, revealing a walking stick.

Get stick.

You can’t see any such thing.

(The closet is closed, so the stick is not in scope. The room description should change to reflect that.)

Wait, what just happened? Why am I suddenly in World War I? Oh, is this one of those wartime-nostalgia-for-peaceful-childhood stories?

It’s an epigraph-fest!

Oh, you just won major points from me for the gnomon.

Holy misplaced modifiers! Be very careful when adding items to room descriptions.

[…] A small, unobtrusive door behind the stairs goes northeast to the servant areas, and then there’s the hall closet.

It sounds as though Aunt Emma is having something of an argument with Uncle Stephen in the study, revealing a walking stick.

Aunt Emma, in the Study, with the Walking Stick. Sounds like a Cluedo solution.

Well I… won, I guess. And I think I went over the top — literally, in this case. Not sure why the flashback (flashforward?) was included in the game — it really added little to the plot. Then again, I don’t think I investigated enough of the house and the photograph in the kitchen still bothers me. The story was actually quite charming, the puzzles were challenging yet sensical, and the implementation was sound save for the name-giving and the glaring problem with the hall closet description. Sometimes it is best to let the game engine do the work of describing items in a room.


Changes

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 10
Story: 10

Thanks. Now I have David Bowie running through my head.

OK, I am dying. And hallucinating. And what I do in the dream world may or may not save me.

Or maybe it’s the ol’ mind-body switcheroo in a sci-fi universe. It’s hard to grasp what the theme of this story is.

Odd: typing version displays some of the introductory text.

Definitely science fiction. The introductory text originally read like something from the last moments of a World War II pilot’s life, but now looking back it could just as easily have been a space explorer crashing on an alien world.

Odd. Does Inform 7 have issues about cant_go and the “extra” directions (northwest, southeast, &c.)? I think I’ve seen this happen in other games.

No, it seems like cant_go works fine… at least in the Western Desert. I guess the author hard-coded the cant_go strings in the Forest Cathedral.

Surrounding the canyon with impassable forest is a nice way of keeping the map small.

God, I hope this was a typo (underscore mine):

…the exploitation team, if they ever landed on Elysia, would have…

But sometimes a sword is just a sword.

OK, I’ve made some progress, but just. I’ve been stuck for an hour now, and I’m not seeing how to progress. So I’m reaching for the walkthru… and, damn. OK, I was not expecting that I’d have to commit what, in essence, is murder. Rabbits (or Ribbits) are herbivorous: even killing the fish left (both figuratively and literally) a bad taste in my mouth. This is the same feeling I got in Trinity with the lemming, the dolphin, and the skink — three creatures that had to die for the story to progress.

A little randomness is a nice thing, but having to do the same thing six times because you are interrupted each time can get very annoying.

Ah, “exploitation” was purposeful, and I believe the author chose a negative-sounding name just to make sure they sounded villainous.

Okay, going on a cross-species murderous rampage was intrinsic to the plot and in the long run not gratuitous (except for the beavers — poor beavers). The moment I read that the computer had been uploaded then I knew what the ending was going to be, but I’m sure that was the author’s intent. One tick off for the hyperactive randomizer that made the first part of the game annoying, and a better hint system might not have been amiss, but aside from those minor scuffs, a perfect entry. I do believe we have a winner.


Fish Bowl

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 5
Story: 6

Oh, thank you for giving me a name. And what a name! Why not call me “Don” and at least have a chuckle about it?

Examine me.

Larry Wyndam, beachcomber.

That was not helpful.

The first time I ran this, the initial epigraph rolled off the top of the screen. This time I saw it.

Examine bowl.

It’s an empty grey glass fish bowl, slightly dusty on the inside. You can’t for the life of you remember how you got it or, for that matter, why you put it here.

Dust bowl.

You achieve nothing by this.

OK, this is rapidly converging onto “horror” territory. The dead cat, the shovel… it feels Lovecraftian, somehow.

Sleep.

You are getting more exhausted.

You aren’t feeling especially drowsy.

This parser is odd. Sometimes it puts a blank line after the boilerplate, and sometimes not.

[…] from the wind. Bits of equipment litter the sandy ground.

Examine equipment.

That noun did not make sense in this context.

This is ZCode, but is it the Inform library? It feels odd, somewhat mangled. There was an attempt to rewrite the standard library from scratch; perhaps this is it?

And… done in thirty. A very linear game. Not too many puzzles, and the plot was a bit hackneyed. The game itself needed some fleshing out. Some points lost to the oddness of the game library: it felt unfinished, beta-quality even. Not bad, not great — your typical competition entry.


Valkyrie

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 1
Story: 2

Another “Twee” entry. This looks like a traditional sword ’n’ sorcery game.

And we’re forcing a gender on me as well. This one’s forgivable, if I am to play the title character.

Writing has a lot of run-on sentences. I’m guilty of the opposite sin: the comma splice.

The story is written in the first-person. I find this awkward; third-person is barely acceptable (but when properly used is highly effective: see Lost Pig) but first-person is grating. It requires too much mental switching between being the player and being the player character.

And, boom! done in five minutes. A few quick checks of alternate pathways, and yes… this solution is optimal.

(Norse mythology is rife for IF conversion; but if you’re doing Valkyries, do your research and add a twist or it’ll get tired fast.)


Kicker

Technical: -
Puzzles: -
Story: -

This sounds remarkably tiring, as it’s not really an “adventure game” but more of a football simulator written in text. Since I can’t stand football, I’ll pass for now — if time permits, I shall revisit.


Last Minute

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 2
Story: 3

Next year I’m just going to skip the “web” entries — the technology is just not there yet. The web is, for the most part, point-and-click so text interactivity is limited to CYOA-style games.

Well, this is very meta.

And laden with exclamation points, too!

And fast. Basically, you have a choice of two heroes and two villains. And a few choices within the “actual game.” It’s better than most “Twee” games because it acknowledges its uselessness, but just barely. It’s obviously a joke entry, but it’ll probably get a better score because of its self-deprecation.


Murphy’s Law

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 8
Story: 7

Lowercase room names bug me. It’s a style thing; I will ignore it if you are consistent.

Now when I find myself confronted with a genderless player character, it’s a bit of a shock:

Examine me.

As paunchy and middle-aged as ever. Moreso, in fact.

Damn!

Your papercut is bleeding slightly. Might want to do something about that.

Suck finger.

That’s not a verb I recognise.

I suppose it was too much to ask for:

Phone AAA.

That’s not a verb I recognise.

Oh, come on! I almost made it to the end, and then you named me!

Maybe things are finally starting to look up for ol’ Murphy Slaw.

Hm, 14 out of a possible 20. I think I missed the optional ending.

Retried, followed walkthru explicitly. This time I got 15 out of 20. Either there are some hidden points, a better ending, or the game has some bugs. A cute concept, but it needs to be cleaned up. Still, a nice distraction.


The Island

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 3
Story: 2

The only TADS game this year. Is TADS finally dying as a platform?

So help me, if this is a rip-off of Michael Bay’s rip-off of Clonus

Actually, it’s annoying as hell. Can’t move, can’t examine half the things in the room description…

This is starting to feel like Hell (literally). The constant screaming, the stone of Sisyphus…

Examine man.

The man is in agony. He is bound to a post by his neck, waist and ankles. He is screaming at the top of his voice. His arms are free and flail around in a futile effort to get free.

Untie man.

You cannot detach that.

Free man.

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

Cut rope with dagger.

You can’t cut anything with the dagger.

On replay:

Search seaweed.

There’s nothing unusual in the seaweed. Water drips down the walls.

Examine seaweed.

Hidden beneath the mat of seaweed is a dagger. Salt spray splashes in through the mouth of the cave.

Grrr…

East.

The way to the jetty is blocked by a stone wall.

Examine wall.

You see no wall here.

I’m stuck. I thought I had solved the cannon problem, but (I suspect) that the cannon itself is unloaded. I cannot seem to find a suitable cannonball and there are no hints or walkthrus.

Or I could look at the competition website. Grrr…

This was not worth the time. There were some ideas there, but almost all of them were either overly simplistic, find-x-use-x puzzles or ones gratuitously lifted from other classic games (the bucket and chain from Zork I for example). The end game, of course, was an almost verbatim copy of Trinity, Charon included.

There was a Stone of Sisyphus game from long ago, but for the life of me I cannot remember who wrote it or what it was about…


Eurydice

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 3
Story: 5

Oh good Lord, not another “mood piece”! The competition does not exist for you to smear your mascara with bitter tears, dahlink; that is why Facebook was made.

Inconsistent room name capitalization.

OK, Celine’s gone. Dead. Deceased. An ex-person. Game is titled “Eurydice.” And now I have a Lyre. I suppose there is an entrance to the underworld somewhere nearby?

I have met the cast of characters, and I hate each and every one of them dearly. Seriously, “Twitch”? This sounds more and more like a forgettable melodrama that would last less than a season on the WB.

ECT? Oh, that. Celine’s death may not have been an accident.

Greetings, Charon.

So close with the synonyms…

Examine Charon.

You can’t see any such thing.

Examine man.

The man is so swathed about in garments it is hard…

[…]

Examine Kerberos.

You can’t see any such thing.

Examine Cerberus.

“Dog” somehow doesn’t cover it. This creature…

Most of the prose has been magniloquent, but this is a nice passage:

The Warneford Hospital has a distinctive smell. It is the smell of a place that very consciously has no smell, underscored by a desperate edge of nicotine.

Well, that was short. And not as bad as I expected… the writing softened a bit near the end. I read the walkthru and did all four endings: no surprises there. The magic/non-magic alternative paths were interesting (a la Wishbringer). Still, this felt very personal and while the author made it abundantly clear that this was a public exercise in catharsis, it still felt voyeuristic.


Escape From Summerland

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 7
Story: 8

Summerland: the Wiccan realm of the dead. I’ll never escape the zombies, never.

I’m a monkey! I’m a ghost! I’m a monkey and a ghost!

Obviously, monkeys only communicate with emoticons. Bad emoticons.

So this isn’t WWII, but some steampunk universe.

In the robot perspective, the temperature and luminosity keep changing. Is this just random amusement of the developer, or is it supposed to fluctuate wildly? I would think it was a fire, but the temperature is too low.

Static description problem: the robot has a new arm, but the ghost still describes it as armless.

The robot is describing the monkey as a human would. The monkey’s description should not be a part of the room description from its perspective.

This is very reminiscent of Suspended, except the interaction is more awkward. Having to manually switch personas is distracting.

OK, according to the walkthru, I can illuminate an area by holding the bulb as the robot, but this isn’t working.

Ah, there was an action missing from the walkthru: install emitter.

I don’t think baboons can pass the mirror test; that is, they do not recognize reflections. Just a random factoid, but Jacquotte wouldn’t call the mirror “me-not-me,” but rather “a standoffish baboon.”

BUG:

Examine insurgent.

Do you mean:

[1] the Insurgent

[2] the Insurgent

1

Error - You shouldn’t be able this message for the description of the Insurgent.

Robots can’t pass the mirror test either.

Something went wrong. I think I sent the elevator on its way without being on board. While it is listed in the room description, it is no longer in scope, nor are any of the buttons controlling the elevator in scope.

BUG:

Play with shiny.

Error - playing with the shiny thing!

Yes, what I have done seems to be at odds with what the game designer intended. I’m stuck, and the walkthru does not contain enough details to tell me what important step I’ve missed. Pity, too: the story sounded interesting, and the puzzles made sense. But there were too many implementation errors that made it impossible for me to get past the stage with the lift. I may return my attention to this after the competition is over, but for now I have to end it uncompleted.

Damn, I should have checked: there was a second release. OK, I still have a half-hour…

All right, this fixed a lot of the bugs mentioned. I should have checked earlier.

Not a bad little game, and the ending was clever, but the interaction needed fixing. Having to explicitly switch characters was a bore. Since none of the characters could talk, it might have been easier to override the order mechanism to allow implicit switching — at least, that’s what I kept trying to do (Monkey, get stick instead of c monkey. get stick).


Guilded Youth

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 4
Story: 6

Oh, nostalgia — granted, it’s a web game, but it doesn’t look like your traditional point ’n’ click yawnfest. Brings back memories of geeks huddled around an Apple ][ vainly fighting Werdna in WizardryTILTOWAIT!

This is actually… a good engine. I am shocked. I knew there had to be people out there trying to port a decent parser, and remembering that the key component of a text adventure is, well, text.

Damn, I take that back. The interface won’t allow me to cut ’n’ paste. DOM inspector to the rescue!

Wink at Paula.

You may be a rogue, but you’re no flirt.

This is almost anti-click. None of the icons or images are interactive; they exist purely as decoration. In that respect, it resembles an Infocom V6 game like Zork Zero.

East.

The formidable door has one of those fancy crystalline doorknobs, which won’t turn. It does, however, pull out in your hand and fall to the floor.

Examine door.

You can’t see any such thing.

In the outside world:

Examine Ryan.

You can’t see any such thing.

Things are getting steamy…

The problem here is that there is no save command, so I cannot see the effects of giving the wine to the various players at the end. I picked the one most likely to appreciate the wine — and the one most likely to reward me — and that seemed to work well.

This was a cute game, very well implemented, nary a hint of CYOAness of it. Puzzles were light, so not having a save command was less annoying than I thought it would be. All developers are to be congratulated on their work, but… did it have to be implemented using JavaScript? Most of the graphics and sounds — while nice — were superfluous and non-critical. One can understand the appeal of not having to download an interpreter, but the inability to save and restore is a deal-killer. HTML5 offers local storage in a database, so those features should arrive shortly; but until then, web IF will be second class for me.