Ratings & Reviews of the 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition

The Ratings

Game Technical Puzzles Story Overall
Game T P S
Distress 10 9 10 10
Vespers 9 10 9 9
The Colour Pink 8 9 9 9
Sabotage on the Century Cauldron 7 9 9 8
Tough Beans 8 8 8 8
The Sword of Malice 9 7 8 8
Beyond 8 6 10 8
Neon Nirvana 6 9 8 8
A New Life 7 9 7 8
History Repeating 8 7 8 8
Gilded 6 7 9 7
Off the trolley 9 9 4 7
Psyche’s Lament 9 8 5 7
Chancellor 7 8 7 7
Mortality 9 4 9 7
Snatches 7 6 7 7
Escape to New York 6 8 6 7
Xen: The Contest 8 5 7 7
Internal Vigilance 4 6 7 6
On Optimism 6 7 3 5
Dreary Lands 6 4 6 5
Vendetta 7 3 4 5
Son of a... 4 6 4 5
Cheiron 7 2 4 4
Amissville II 5 2 4 4
Phantom: caverns of the killer 3 3 5 4
Hello Sword 2 3 3 3
PTBAD6.5: The URL That Didn’t Work 2 2 1 2
FutureGame (tm) 2 1 1 1

Vendetta

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 3
Story: 4

The introduction is a bit blunt, and I have said in the past I dislike being dropped into a manufactured character, especially one with a name. This suggests that the author has a plot figured out and the player is only along for the ride: a linear game. Having the character evolve with the game is more satisfying.

“Natasha” is far from a proper name for English royalty.

MacScare has a real problem with non-Unicode text.

A “story on rails,” as proven by the videocom conversation. Rather than providing a menu of responses or allowing free-form conversation, the author chose to speak my words for me.

The author has paid attention to detail; even the most innocuous scenery objects are examinable.

Ouch. The stairs say that I am on the 494th floor, but the elevator says that I am on the 247th floor.

This is reading more and more like a bad Clive Cussler novel… but at least the main character has a back story for being a brilliant sociopath.

The whole reason I went to the theater was to get Sally’s suitcase to her. But…

Give case to Sally.

Sally doesn’t seem interested in Sally’s suitcase.

No, it’s more like Clive Cussler meets bad anime… The Dragon Lithoid reeks of kid-oriented sci-fi, and the restaurant scene is Expositionville. If the author could have made the edges of the text window shimmer, he would have. As it is, I’m having visions of Wayne and Garth wiggling their fingers and shouting, “Wooloolooloo! Wooloolooloo!”

You cannot eat in the restaurant.

Damn, the one scene that could have been steamy (and salvaged the story) was interrupted…

As a prisoner, you cannot call out on the videocom: an acceptable limitation, but the reasoning is weak (“…nobody you need to contact”).

Nice. The game has taken on a semi-real-time nature.

Guess-the-verb problem with the gate switch. Turn on switch, Throw switch, Open switch, Push switch up… oh, set switch. How obvious.

There seems to be a bug in the map. Going in from the neck room takes me to the ground floor unless the guard is already dead.

The two guards still pace the room even after they have been killed. Talk about dedication…

Time’s up. What started out as an easy linear game ended up as a difficult linear game: not because of any inherent cleverness on the part of the author, but from a number of annoying “find-the-object” and “guess-the-verb” puzzles. I started out biased against this story: suspense novels with larger-than-life heroes never have appealed to me; the technical problems and the inherent simplicity of the puzzles failed to make up for the weak plot. A nice try; too ambitious for a first attempt, but has potential nevertheless.


PTBAD6.5: The URL That Didn’t Work

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 2
Story: 1

Sigh. Yet another episode in the increasingly sad PTBAD series.

D does not work, but down does. Either this is a very old version of Adrift, or the author has damaged the parser.

Yes, it seems that directions have different effects depending on if you use the full word or the abbreviation: E versus east in the meadow return different (but equally useless) responses.

Bah. I will give one extra point for the puzzle, which I should have been able to solve had I been willing; technically, the game is sound except for the abbreviation problem mentioned earlier. The game itself was worthless; no cohesion or plot to hold the player’s interest. Also, it appears that a wrong decision at the beginning renders the game “unwinnable,” if you can call finishing this trite exercise “winning.”


On Optimism

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 7
Story: 3

The game starts out with a series of epigraphs that suggests a romance, either classical or modern. Nope, it’s a psychological symbolism-fest. I dislike games written in the first person.

Ouch. The poem Memory suggests that this may be more of an exercise in catharsis. I hope not; that never fares well.

A subtle note: even the library messages have been converted to past tense. This kind of attention to detail is often missed.

I’ve always wondered why people would consider someone so obviously flawed flawless. A suicidal addict is hardly flawless: the descriptions reek of obsession. I dearly hope that this isn’t an autobiographical catharsis: otherwise, the author is in need of a serious intervention.

The only serious technical flaw: the author failed to override the meta-verb die, which left me confused during the endgame.

Returning to the fork, I come across the heap of mud was closed.

The ending credits give more explanations than the rest of the game itself.

A nice try, but I’m no emo child; far from it. Sarcasm is my eternal watchword. The story is more consistent than most, and it is logical in its own way; but it failed to move me, which was the author’s obvious intent.


Internal Vigilance

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 6
Story: 7

“Prisoner No. 6”? Be seeing you.

Ah, a Frobozz Magic Notebook. I like this concept; it makes sense in games like this.

Ah, the classic anti-utopian genre. Not necessarily steampunk a la Slouching Towards Bedlam, and certainly less Orwellian than Kaged; but you can see it there. Maybe something near-future, like Square Circle? Still, it appears I’m playing the oppressor, which is a welcome change.

Nice reference to Icarus.

Drive to … was unnecessarily difficult. Perhaps a menu of known locations should have been provided?

Wear glasses

Everything gets darker.

You get cooler.

Minor bug: The file says apartment #24, the room description says apartment #14.

Frequently, the pronoun “I” is displayed as lowercase. Is this intentional? It brings to mind the stylings of an Objectivist novel.

Game ends. One of nine possible endings, although I suspect they are all remarkably similar. I have time to try again…

Big bug: Once you are in the mother’s apartment, you are trapped. The door is closed, but the card reader is not available to open it.

A good competition entry, only marred by the door problem that made that point of the game impassable. Especially impressive was the author’s insistence on not making moral judgments with respect to the possible outcomes.


Tough Beans

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 8
Story: 8

Splash screen is very creepy. Much potential here…

Bah, the author gave me a name, which completely invalidated the entire opening exposition.

Hm. This is degenerating into another slice-of-life story, albeit expertly written.

Minor glitch: …on your left your heel. This is the first typo I’ve noticed.

The purse is transparent, but the description of it says that it is canvas. Probably should be Plexiglas; it would fit the world’s view of the protagonist.

This took me a lot longer than I expected. A nice even competition entry; no surprises, no annoying glitches. The prose was well-written, but the plot rather linear.

Following the hints in the walkthrough, I managed to score 11 out of 10 points. Whoops.


Snatches

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 6
Story: 7

The about command says that this is a narrative, not a puzzle game. Lovely. Well, we shall see…

Ugh, another pre-made character; and pretty generic one at that.

Grandiloquent yet mediocre room descriptions.

Ah, I see. I’m going to be hopping from character to character. Now is this a modern horror or a Gothic one?

For a game that suggested a lot of conversation, the NPCs encountered so far are non-communicative.

Nor are you given much of a chance to do anything.

Finally, some conversation! But rather unnecessary and brief.

Well, that was interesting, and somewhat Zork-like in ending.

Oh, a different possible endgame, according to the walkthrough, but an ending equally unsatisfying.

On my third try, I managed to get the shadow angry, but was rewarded with [** Programming error: class shadow (object number 39) has no property health to read **].

An interesting submission: classic horror, told from multiple perspectives; the problem is that it has been done before and with much better skill. A lack of character development — aside from Susan the characters seemed two-dimensional, mere shadows — combined with weak endings (at least the two I saw) and the result is a disappointment for something with such a strong opening. Perhaps the third scenario (which was aborted because of technical problems) provided the prerequisite Hollywood ending…


Gilded

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 7
Story: 9

n.b.: I was interrupted halfway through this playing so the time was split over two days.

Interesting opening; a traditional adventure with a not-so-traditional player character.

Oh, good. This is a simplified competition entry.

The opening conversation outside the tavern is priceless.

…but then I stall. Nobody is doing anything.

Hm. Walkthrough solution is very non-intuitive. Might have taken me some time to discover just what to create. This kind of a puzzle — guess-the-noun — can easily turn a player off of a game, especially when fighting the clock.

Pookiebutt?!? Oh no, not Interactive Slash Fiction…

Wait, the about said that the full version is available on www.shonenai.org… yep, it’s slash.

Entering and exiting the tavern makes the conversation follow you around outside. Whoops.

Breaking the mirror creates mirror fragments but does not remove the mirror from the room description.

Val should have a response to questions about the flute. Val should have responses period. (I was taken to task on this; allow me to share the joy.)

Parsing problem with the blue stone in the lake.

Also, getting to the island: very non-intuitive. Especially since the description from the command in the walkthrough suggests go to island should have worked.

Oh, wait. Go to anywhere doesn’t work at all.

“Sutra” is not in the vocabulary of the game, but seems to be intrinsic to the wood puzzle.

This game is definitely pushing the PG-13 envelope.

Time’s running out, and endwalk doesn’t seem to work.

Well, that’s it. If I hadn’t turned into a pervy hobbit fancier in the last half-hour, I probably would have discovered an ending much nicer than the pyrrhic holocaust I found; however, the IF competition is about having fun so in that respect this entry was a resounding success. Overall, the entry had strength: good characters, good plotline; the pitfall was the “create” verb which gave little indication what creations were available to the player. Interaction was rough; except during menu-driven conversations, the NPCs spoke little aside from canned admissions of ignorance.


The Colour Pink

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 9
Story: 9

Nice introduction: set the mood, established the character and the environs without forcing the player into a predefined role.

You have just pushed an object here is an awkward construction.

You cannot enter the pool of water.

pack is not a synonym for backpack.

The books appear to be hiding something is too much of a hint.

Nice segue to a traditional fantasy game.

An excellent competition entry; probably one of the best: the right size, the right attention to detail, the presence of just enough red herrings to make it challenging. Some of the puzzles had too blatant hints; but this was the only flaw and easily rectified.


Hello Sword

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 3
Story: 3

I used to “handicap” non-English speakers when judging games, until I came to the realization that they had voluntarily entered a competition with the full knowledge that the strong majority of the judges were English-speaking. So, technical points will be removed for poor English.

Poor English abounds. This reads like a Babelfished adventure; well, maybe not that bad, but the first sentence had a glaring error.

Actually, the grammar itself is a puzzle: what exactly am I supposed to do here?

Hm. The status line suggests this is a slash’em game.

All of the major buildings do not lie in cardinal directions; you must explicitly enter shop to go in. While not an error in itself, it is disconcerting, especially since all other directions at this point of the road are blind.

OK, I’ve been wandering for a half-hour but I can’t find money. Time to check the walkthrough… oh, yes, that’s obvious.

Oh, it’s a magic sword. Who’da thunk it?

The default Inform responses are also in broken English (e.g., Nothing of interest); why change the defaults at all? For all I know, this is an English author with a twisted sense of humor, and the Italian version is really Pig Latin.

We’ve started the fantasy proper. In the first few minutes I’ve been given a full exposition which has made the previous half-hour a waste of my time. Prologues like that are unnecessary and often distracting; only a few games (e.g., Risorgimento Represso) can successfully pull it off, and only if they keep it short.

I usually dislike menu-driven conversations; in this case, I excessively dislike them.

This game is a ransom note epic: a dozen genres in search of a plot.

Joy, the walkthrough has errors.

Enough. I was biased against this game from the start, but even so… this is bad. The plot is pedestrian, the descriptions weak, the puzzles unintuitive. Perhaps the original Italian salvages it, perhaps there are some cultural nuances that I am missing; but for me, it fails to work.


Distress

Technical: 10
Puzzles: 9
Story: 10

Space opera is a popular genre in IF, and one of the more difficult forms to pull off. We will see how the author does…

Saving the Lieutenant is a diabolical puzzle; it required me to try three times to get the timing just right. This may be in violation of Players’ Right #3: to be able to win without experience of past lives. I may be wrong; I may just have missed an important hint.

Looks like a causality puzzle. Not sure how I would be prevented from violating casualty… Oh, very simple. I’m prevented from violating causality by never appearing in future events. So even if I choose a path that kills me, the game remains consistent. Brilliant.

Cute crew roster, but a bit more blatant than last year’s Splashdown.

OK, that was short but beautiful. The “happy” ending was far from it; not pyrrhic like Stationfall, but certainly not a Hollywood ending. More importantly, this story fits the size of a competition entry perfectly: it is neither abbreviated nor excessively long.

I’m going to keep an eye on Mike Snyder, if only because I agree with his comment, “I think we as IF players have grown soft.” This completely makes up for the annoying music he now admits to subjecting us to last year.


Off the trolley

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 9
Story: 4

Disclaimer: I’m obsessive about trains; I obsess about my commute daily. So a mass-transit themed game has a difficult journey: if it isn’t perfect, I will judge it harshly.

Oh, the story is about a trolly driver. Still, points for that.

…while the right side holds a glove box kind of compartment.

Open compartment.

I don’t know the word “compartment”.

The puzzle involving the bum is too complex. Every step had to be done in just the right order, and the command search coat did not seem appropriate, in the sense that it was not in my place to shake down my riders (again, Players’ Bill of Rights forbids this).

The endgame also does not make any sense. The game itself is surreal: definitely not puzzles-in-search-of-a-plot, but neither is it slice-of-life. The abrupt change in viewpoint, the lack of resolution for the trolley conductor’s obsession; these conspire to leave a conclusion most unsatisfactory. This game had potential but the author wimped out at the end. Not enough background to inspire, not enough explanation to reward.

The author asked me for my comments earlier, and in the discussion I came up with the reason I found the story so weak: the endgame violated the traditional short story plot structure.

Dan Harmon wrote a great introduction to plot structure, so I’m going to use his model:

  1. You. The conductor. Established well in the beginning.
  2. Need. Is disturbed by the glass-fronted building. Why? Not well-established, but this can be left to be resolved later. As long as the obsession is described, and the goal stated, it fulfills this phase. Very important in IF, otherwise the player is left floundering.
  3. Go. It’s the last day of the trolley run. This is the life-changing event that establishes the drive of the plot.
  4. Search. This is the body of the game. Getting rid of the passengers, switching over to the old track. Strongly established, probably the best part of the game. For those that do not finish it in the two hour limit, this game will rank highly because the first four stages are so strong.
  5. Find. We’ve switched over to the old track. Now we’re about to smash into the glass window and begin the endgame.
  6. Take. The unexpected consequences of our actions, the sacrifices made to achieve (5). Implicitly, this is the penalty the conductor will receive for deliberately destroying the building. Not well-established, but could have been saved by a strong endgame. Unfortunately…
  7. Return. Not established! The consequences of the accident are never revealed nor the mystery established in (2) solved, because there is an abrupt shift in the point-of-view.
  8. Change. How the story affected the main character (the conductor) is never described, except from a brief glimpse inside the train from the window washer’s POV.

From the correspondence with the author, it’s obvious that she was going for the “descent into madness” plot archetype, which may be near impossible in second-person writing.


Cheiron

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 2
Story: 4

My Glulx interpreter started out with the screen compressed down so that no text was visible. After a bit of floundering, I resized it and everything looked fine. I don’t know if this was the interpreter’s or the author’s fault.

Cheiron was the centaur that tutored most of the major Greek heroes. He’s somewhat associated with medicine and psychology, but Asclepius may have been a better (if more obscure) choice.

Yay! Differential diagnoses! Can I be bitter and walk with a cane? Oh, wait, I already am.

Hm, this hospital looks questionable: paint peeling, bad lighting. Part of the problem with using graphics (no matter how accurate) is that they take all the romance out of the story.

Getting permission to examine a patient is a multi-step process.

There’s no patient chart.

There’s no obvious guide to the unusual verbs: Auscultate, Palpate, et cetera.

Ask Lorna about complaint.

“How have you ended up in hospital?” you ask.

“I’m here to have this lump in my neck investigated,” says Lorna pointing her chin towards the ceiling.

Inspect neck generally.

You inspect the neck generally carefully but find no abnormality.

Oh, the verbs are explained in the hints.

The problem with a game like this is that it assumes far too much knowledge on the part of the player. A swollen thyroid could be anything from simple goiter to metastatic cancer. Without any form of medical reference in the game, it’s impossible to come up with a reasonable diagnosis.

The danger of writing a game requiring arcane knowledge is that you alienate the majority of your audience. Since it was obvious that I could not continue with any reasonable success, I abandoned the game early. Perhaps if the scope of available tests were limited it may have been more appealing to the armchair diagnostician.


Amissville II

Technical: 5
Puzzles: 2
Story: 4

What would be an IF Competition without a Santoonie Corporation entry? A lot better, that’s what. *rimshot* This year’s butchery is a “long-awaited” sequel to a game I’ve never played before.

As usual, the GameInfo file contains no info, just a snarky comment.

A preface, prologue, and introduction? A little overkill. Gotta do the legal; that’s usually the best part of the game.

Hm. The characters in the game just happen to be the same people in the credits.

Trying to answer a question on the CB radio gives the stock (but confusing) response, The CB Radio doesn’t appear interested.

The NPC Chris must have a bladder infection or something; he spends most of the game urinating behind trees.

The newspaper is worthless. Why include it if it’s just random typing? Put some effort into the details, guys.

Well, at least the game keeps me from picking up too many red herrings.

Gah! The parser has fits trying to distinguish between the water and soda bottles; either that, or the authors confused the descriptions of the two.

Examine water.

crystal clear water.

Examine soda.

crystal clear Cream Soda.

So much for rifling through my friend’s tents. On to TEH ADVENTUR!

This game has far too many in-jokes to be appealing to a widespread audience.

The map of the area is huge, but 99% of the rooms are there for atmosphere. Mapping seems to be the only option here.

Is this a game or just a virtual map of Virginia? There’s two large mazes that I hope are Euclidean; I’m not allowed to carry enough junk to map them otherwise.

Time’s up… never did find the damn house. But an interesting and somewhat revealing glimpse into the dark origins of Santoonie.

It has been debated by many why Santoonie keeps trying, year after year, each entry more mediocre than the last; my personal theory is that they know they have a captive audience, they know that there are idiots like me who feel that unless the game is patently offensive it deserves the full two hours of time, they know this is the only channel for promoting their efforts.


Neon Nirvana

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 9
Story: 8

Cute feelies, but the poster needs more blurry photographs and titles assembled ransom-note style.

Should you, or any of your IM Force be caught or killed…” There’s only so much drama that can be created through hyperbole. The excessiveness in the letter makes me feel like this game will be full of cartoonish violence; in fact, at this point I will be upset if the game is serious.

You see nothing special about Agent Prost. C’mon, try a little harder!

This competition’s “Most Unexpected Hunt-The-Verb Puzzle” goes to:

Examine graffiti.

The litter is awful. It’s scattered all over, and the graffiti reads "Type HELP for more information"

help

That’s not a verb I recognize.

The game breaks the fourth wall too frequently.

You can’t dance on the dance floor, nor can you get down.

The small switch on the back of the speaker is not addressable.

I think Stryker has a drinking problem…

Wow, three deaths in about as many minutes! This is hardcore stuff, as in Matt Barringer hardcore. Well, maybe not that hardcore…

The radio has a “PUSH TO TALK” button that you can’t push.

There’s either a bug in the game or in the interpreter: the instructions in the walkthrough refer to something that the parser refuses to recognize (Put winch hook on drawer fails).

Key hole is not synonymous with keyhole.

You can burn the statue multiple times, getting points for each action. I had 103 out of 95 points going into the endgame.

Good puzzlefest, enough tongue-in-cheek to keep it from being too drab. There were a few glitches that distracted from the storyline, glitches that should have been caught in testing. Some of the early puzzles were too difficult: finding the work permit would have taken forever (it was hidden in a non-obvious place).


Phantom: caverns of the killer

Technical: 3
Puzzles: 3
Story: 5

The capitalization of the title is all wrong; this does not bode well for my grammarian sensibility; indeed, the first sentence of the introduction has a superfluous comma and a spelling error, followed immediately by a sentence fragment. I blame this newfangled thing called “the Internet” for creating these neo-troglodytes; playing this game is like reading an instant messaging transcript.

I hate to rate everything according to Graham Nelson, but the door puzzle immediately violates Players’ Right #13: To be able to understand a problem once it is solved.

You can’t wear the gold ring.

This stall is covered with extreemly old, extreemly smelly things that you hope used to be food.

Smell food.

You smell nothing unexpected.

Bah, primitive mazes, grammar errors, stilted narrative; it all feels like a throwback to the days of Scott Adams. This game needed serious editing; both in structure and in text. As a concept it may have won some points from the nostalgic, but I suspect it will fare poorly because of all the presentation flaws.


Psyche’s Lament

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 8
Story: 5

OK, traditional greek myth with modern elements.

Hm, the thicket of reeds are animate. I’m note sure I would have coded them that way.

Nice little minimal puzzlefest, that. Strictly linear, though; the rams gave me a bit of trouble, so I had to glance at the walkthrough to get past them and finish the game. Also, the Zoom interpreter had some difficulty with the final puzzle; I suspect it was a font problem.


A New Life

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 9
Story: 7

The author says that this story has multiple parallel plots.

There’s one way to avoid making assumptions about the player: have the player character be in “neutral gender.”

The remember command is interesting, but active recall in a game disrupts immersion for me. (I’d call it a violation of mimesis, except “mimesis” is now a taboo word.)

The use of messages during movement increases the size of the mental map to good effect.

The menuing system for conversation is annoying; it should remain in the conversation mode rather than returning to the command prompt after each rejoinder.

The parts of the furnace are not addressable; odd, considering the detail of the description.

Oh, the memory system is a subtle solution to the dragon puzzle. The puzzle, by the way, gave no indication that it would be fatal not to solve.

The story was satisfactory, but… I really couldn’t “get into” the player character. The memory system seemed to be an awkward attempt to flesh out the PC; it ended up leaving more questions aggravatingly unanswered.

The theme of this competition seems to be “No Goals, No Motivation.” Whether the character is dropped into a clumsily manufactured plot or a psych-in chock full of Freudian symbology, there’s little if any attempt to provide a prologue that gives the player a chance to orient himself. This has made it difficult for me (a typical judge) to actually concentrate on each game and give it the full two hours it may deserve.


The Sword of Malice

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 7
Story: 8

I’m guessing… tongue-in-cheek adventure game. Right?

Nope, it looks like the author is serious. Seriously in need of a better title.

Intro is good; a little on the wordy side, but establishes character and motivation. The IF gods must have been listening to my little diatribe above.

No about, help, hint, or info; nothing to give any background on the author at all.

Hm. No indication that reading the book multiple times (as suggested by the walkthrough) returns different pages. Just my luck that the randomizer returned the same page three times, convincing me that the book was worthless. I don’t care for randomizers when consulting materials.

You vow never to return, and to free your fellow Sekoniun held within. (That construct just seems awkward.)

The journey home seems unnecessarily padded; much as I despise their overuse, a cut scene would be appropriate here.

The jury is still out on whether this is a superbly subtle satire or a serious stab at science fantasy. (The jury is also appreciative of alliteration.)

It’s difficult to put directions in object names and have the parser still function (this is the voice of experience here).

I never thought I’d say this in a competition review, but… the scroll puzzle is too easy. There’s more complex toggle puzzles like those in the ancient “Merlin” toy.

The DnD sequence in the “WAR” room was completely unnecessary.

Not bad, not bad at all. Scanning the walkthrough gives an alternate solution for every puzzle, except the author explains that the non-magical solutions give suboptimal scores (sort of an anti-Wishbringer approach).


Beyond

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 6
Story: 10

Hm, a dual-format game: both rich glulx and z-code for the multimedia challenged. I’ll try the glulx until it annoys me…

Another entry from the Italians. This year looks like it’s turning out to be a multinational event.

It’s not as babelfished as the other, but there are translation errors.

I wonder if the Italian teams know each other? They both seem to prefer the “display one line per keypress” style of cut-scene.

Game is written in first person.

Looks like your typical surrealist narrative. The waiting room is annoying, especially the prodding to go north.

OK, right off the bat, the “Rat Angel” tells me that my fate is sealed, I can only make one choice: learn about the circumstances of my death or remain ignorant. Nothing I can do can change the outcome. So, remember I was talking about having no motivation? Sheesh.

The game gives too many chances to exit early, as if the authors were unsure of their skills.

Amazingly enough, the plot is holding me even though I guessed who the villain was halfway through the game; but then I’m also a sucker for made-for-TV movies with the same quality pacing. Now it’s just a matter of getting the detective to find the proper evidence to catch the murderer. Touched by an Angel, meet Columbo.

I wonder how many people will be bothered by the strongly religious overtones? Satanism, church corruption, limbo: it’s all there.

Not bad, but again very linear. The end result was ordained, no decisions left to the player, no chances to fail or succeed; plus, the multiple options to exit early were distracting. The multimedia was problematic (my interpreter had a few glitches) but not completely detached from the plotline. Reasonable interaction, good (if hackneyed) storyline, appealing to both puzzle fans and the IF clerisy. Not my personal favorite so far, but knowing the past choices of the judges Beyond will most likely take the competition.


Son of a...

Technical: 4
Puzzles: 6
Story: 4

Another slice-of-life college slacker story; a popular genre, especially in the light of last year’s Blue Chairs.

Immediate typo: You can see Your ’81… Bugs like that should’ve been caught early on.

Hm. This feels like the opening to a slasher film. Jeepers Creepers immediately comes to mind. (Bad mind! BAD mind!)

The tavern doors do not block entrance to the tavern, even though they are closed.

In the swimming pool room:

Examine pool.

You can’t see any such thing.

If there is any sort of electrical equipment in a game, plug something into something should work.

Put sack on nest didn’t work, but put nest in sack does. The former seems to be less dangerous than the latter.

About the only puzzle that offered challenge was the final one: paying the driver.

To be honest, the environment was wasted on a game like this. An abandoned motel, a college student of questionable skill, a creepy tow truck driver — all would have been perfect for a “fight-for-life” horror game; instead, we are treated to a series of “find-X-use-X” puzzles. Oh well, opportunities lost…


Vespers

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 10
Story: 9

Finally, a new genre! We haven’t seen medieval religious plague drama in years. Let’s just hope that this isn’t a shallow rehash of The Name of the Rose and The Masque of the Red Death.

The art of the motive prologue is forever lost. I know I’m a hypocrite to say this but I believe it’s important that — before the first command is typed — the author establishes a goal for the player, however trivial. Waiting to die is hardly a motivating goal.

The occasional quote is amusing; but the sheer number of biblical quotes is getting on my nerves.

Huh. This is significantly different from Sting of the Wasp. A radical departure, in fact. Quite versatile, our Mr. Devlin.

The use of the cant_go property to describe the exits is a time-honored tradition, but when it describes three exits that are semantically identical (e.g., “down,” “south,” and “out” from the elevated chancel), it loses its utility.

Like Poe, Devlin enjoys using the recurring motif of blood to indicate coming death.

The map is more complex than I made it out to be.

This is the first time I’ve committed murder at the urges of an aphorism.

…except for the scuffling beneath your door…

Look under door.

You find nothing of interest.

(Normally I wouldn’t complain about the lack of support for Look under but the game so far has raised my expectations.)

A mechanical bell in the dark ages? This might be the first anachronism in an otherwise well-researched story.

When telling Cecilia about Drogo: [** Programming error: Cecilia (object number 432) has no property woken to read **]

Hint was not implemented as a metaverb, so it takes a turn, sometimes fatally.

Oh, I understand the random biblical quotes now… I’m going insane.

Once the initial hurdle was over, the game plotline moved smoothly. I especially liked the modified “clock” that showed canonical hours; it added to the ambience. This probably would’ve gotten a perfect score except for the occasional runtime glitch. All in all, Umberto Eco would be proud.


FutureGame (tm)

Technical: 2
Puzzles: 1
Story: 1

The biggest question I have before going into the game: is the ‘(tm)’ ironic or not?

Oh, good: it’s sarcastic. Dunno why the author singles out Cascade Mountain though; maybe he’s bitter.

Well… WTF? Did I miss something? No, the story file is too small. Damn twinks.


Escape to New York

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 8
Story: 6

A map! Somebody actually included a map! *swoons*

According to the readme.txt file, I’m a thief who has booked passage on a ship out of Queenstown on 11th April, 1912. Gee, I wonder what ship that could be?

Silliness aside, the readme.txt file should be used to provide meta-information about the game: new commands, unusual system requirements, and the like. Background should be discovered as part of the gameplay. On the other hand the game puts my objectives up front, so I really shouldn’t complain.

I dislike opening menus; except in the very rare case where they can be used to skip an annoying prologue they disrupt game flow.

You can’t go that way (at present) is a horrid way of responding to a closed door.

Hm. I was able to get into the mail room without any hassle, but nothing happened. Turns out I needed a disguise first. The mail clerk should’ve blocked my passage beforehand.

The clerk makes no issue about a crew member asking about a passenger’s package.

You open the mahogany furniture. Ouch.

I forgot how unsophisticated the Adrift parser is…

OK, didn’t get the full score; didn’t feel I needed to. There were a couple of places on the ship where I could have explored after the collision, but I was close to running out of time and wanted to see the end game. The room descriptions and the map were well-designed, but the background story was weak; not to mention that the whole “Titanic” theme was covered in Jigsaw.


Xen: The Contest

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 5
Story: 7

The unholy fusion of a slice-of-life college game with a science fantasy game?

First puzzle: how do I order food? Order doesn’t work; nor does Chef, burger or Chef, give me a burger.

Open pack.

Not here.

And later…

Put student ID in card reader.

It’s fine where it is.

Even later…

Wear backpack.

You can’t wear the backpack.

Sigh, story on rails…

There’s no way to get to my chemistry class, which suggests that I’ll never get to my chemistry class.

Time is passing but there’s no clock to be seen…

Another “find-the-verb” puzzle: getting my phone number.

Going east from the bus stop goes to the bus stop.

Now the story has switched to sci-fi.

After the math class, I end up… nowhere. No description, no room name.

The beta testers never made it this far, obviously:

Leah’s Apartment

It looks like an ordinary Leah’s Apartment to me.

The ending was satisfying, but the game had a lot of technical and stylistic problems; the story interesting but prosaic; the puzzles appropriate but unchallenging; the narrative strong but linear. A typical competition entry, but a little too ambitious for a first-timer.


Sabotage on the Century Cauldron

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 9
Story: 9

Looks like more space opera…

Well, so much for bitching about lack of goals early on in the game:

Read note.

‘Note to self: sabotage the ship, return to earth, and get Spaika!!’

I have never seen “remark” used as a synonym for “observe”: WordNet says it’s a rare but legal usage. Interesting…

I dislike overly snarky game responses:

Open nightstand.

Hey, you’re talking to me, an ordinary computer! I have learnt that a nightstand has a drawer which can be opened, so please don’t confuse me by trying to open the nightstand itself. Yes, I know it sounds silly as hell, but you have no choice but to comply with my demands, because nobody or nothing is more stubborn than a computer!

“No dogs are allowed in the shuttle son. I’m afraid Scraps will have to be shot.”

The kitchen mentions exits south and east, but the exits are actually south and west.

There was a noticeable delay when unlocking the lab door; I don’t know if it was intentional.

It’s very difficult to implement a computer in a text game; this one made sense and didn’t feel artificially constrained.

All right, the battle plan is simple: enrage the cargo, force the ship to return home. Considering how much it took to get into the lab, I expect the rest of the game to be equally difficult.

Cabinet should have been a synonym for closet, considering the number of times I typed it.

I accidentally took the hose into the cell with me. The hose shouldn’t be able to leave the lab.

The dream sequence is silly…

Well, this was useful (no sarcasm implied):

A hollow voice says, “I’ll be honest with you, player. You kind of screwed up. I strongly recommend you to restore the game.”

The map has changed, and I have a time limit because I am bleeding to death. Not fair…

These delays are intentional, and annoying.

Minor annoyance: inject disinfectant into me doesn’t work; the game wants inject me with disinfectant.

Damage points? Oh, that’s just being lazy.

Ah, looks like I’m on the “Beta” ship.

Time’s up. The walkthrough was somewhat helpful except in the cases of accidental “hunt-the-verb” puzzles.

An interesting game; part anti-utopian science-fiction, part black comedy. About halfway through the game I realized that the player character was doomed; unlike Cerulean Stowaway, there was no obvious means for redemption.


Dreary Lands

Technical: 6
Puzzles: 4
Story: 6

Oh joy, yet another quasi-surrealist psychosymbolic thriller. These rarely do well; why do people bother?

Well, the initial “puzzle” was easily solved, although it failed to answer any questions at large.

When default library responses attack:

In the hot-pink colored car you can also see a single grimy cupholder (which is closed) and some seats.

Open cupholder.

That’s not something you can open.

Why don’t IF writers allow backpack as a synonym for rucksack? There seems to be a pandemic against anti-American vocabulary.

Grammar is degenerating: But your still alive…

Major run-time error:

You are carrying:

  a piece of flint

  a round wooden shield

  a sturdy leather rucksack

    (which is currently burning.

    (which is currently burning.

    (which is currently burning.

    (which is currently burning.

    (which is currently burning.

    (which is currently burning.

  …

Whoa, unnecessary Crichtonesqe infodump!

(the A small, silver pendant shaped like an hourglass) Sigh…

Oh, look, the game has mutated into The Stand, complete with The Hand of God™.

Just like the Stephen King novel the game ends abruptly with a half-hearted dénouement. Four puzzles in search of a plot; none of which were exceptionally difficult. A few more red herrings or maybe more locations with hidden objects could have made the puzzles more difficult; coupled with the rather unoriginal storyline made this entry score so poorly.


History Repeating

Technical: 8
Puzzles: 7
Story: 8

Interesting opening: fools the player into thinking it’s going to be an office simulation; instead, it’s a high school slice-of-life game.

For being so loquacious, Mr. Hopkins is curiously unresponsive to my questions… Oh, it’s menu-driven. Never mind.

Well, there’s my goal: finish a history paper. Now all I need is George Carlin and a high-tech phone booth.

Writing the paper was easy; but how am I supposed to make this “anchor”? It seems a bit odd that a science teacher couldn’t rustle up a bit of wire or a weight!

OK, I jumped to the walkthrough; the weight is just silly.

Nice little puzzlefest here, although some of the solutions bordered on incredibility. The meatloaf puzzle was especially non-intuitive. Aside from that, there were no glaring errors; the author followed a basic story structure. Nothing annoying, nothing exceptional. Still, the end left me wanting more, somehow; something more substantial, something more satisfying than a trite homily on the impossibility of changing what has passed.


Chancellor

Technical: 7
Puzzles: 8
Story: 7

Looks like a young-adventurer-leaves-home story; another classic genre, but underrepresented this year.

The father is worthless. Why bother including him?

There is a singular solution to the cave puzzle, but I’ll be blasted if I can find it… and the hint file is equally worthless.

Going to website… oh, he’s responsible for last year’s Kurusu City, another exercise in frustration and overly vague hints.

Nope, can’t get past the mountain. I could spend hours asking the NPC father for random objects and having him scowling back at me each time, but my time is limited at this point.

Oh joy, I just figured out how to get past the mountain; but it was a gory solution somewhat reminiscent of the lizard in Trinity: outside of my normal moral ken.

Good Lord, that’s the most annoying prologue I’ve ever encountered. It better have some bearing on the main storyline, or there’ll be tears; especially since the tale has back-mutated into a college slice-of-life story. At least it explains the title…

My goal is to write a paper for Spanish class. The assignment is in Spanish (naturally). I wonder what fraction of the audience can read it?

Huh. I restarted and the name on the door (and my character, I’m assuming) was different. Clever.

The dungeon manual is interesting, but is it necessary?

Not sure if this is a glitch or puzzle:

Examine door.

Which door do you mean, the room 501 door, the room 502 door, the room 515 door, the room 516 door, the room 503 door, the room 504 door, your room door, the girls’ bathroom west door, or the stairwell door?

Examine 516.

The rooms on the fifth floor only go up to 515.

It’s a pity that the prologue took so much effort to pass; this looks like an interesting and difficult puzzle. To quote Craft of Adventure yet again,

The prologue has two vital duties. Firstly, it has to establish an atmosphere, and give out a little background information. […] The other duty is to attract a player enough to make her carry on playing. It’s worth imagining that the player is only toying with the game at this stage, and isn’t drawing a map or being at all careful. If the prologue is big, the player will quickly get lost and give up. If it is too hard, then many players simply won’t reach the middle game.

From what little I could gather from the walkthrough, I barely covered a third of the game’s map. This game is too ambitious and too large for a proper competition entry (and thus it will lose a point or so for that technical error), but from what I’ve seen it is a fine work.


Mortality

Technical: 9
Puzzles: 4
Story: 9

OK, from the attached documentation the game looks like an IF version of Memento, in that the game has a reversed timeline. The player character is definitely an antihero, so it will be interesting to see how the author develops that plot point as well.

Oh joy, the adrift font problem once again rears its ugly head…

Huh, practically all of the major plotline forks occur during conversation, making the game one large choose-your-own-adventure.

All right, the conversation forks set up the game proper. Still, it felt like I was setting up a game of Clue: the bodyguard… in the study… with poison.

This plotline introduced magic…

Bah, I spent fifteen minutes looking in the boxes when the game really wanted me to get the boxes.

Language is getting a bit graphic; the tone has changed since the beginning of the game. It’s too noticeable to be purposeful.

Interesting ending, but not completely unexpected. (Bizarrely enough, there was a Twilight Zone with exactly the same premise on last night.) However, my death doesn’t end the game, but rather puts me in a void. I don’t think there’s any return from this point; so not ending the game here is a cheap (and annoying) gimmick.

Hm, one of the game paths (Burglary ⇒ Poison ⇒ Page Boy) locks the game when Gamble asks if I can protect his wife.

I found the “ideal” ending, where I don’t die. Not sure which choices this time sealed my fate; I actually was playing for silly answers. Interesting concept, but too many of the decision points were red herrings in that all choices resulted in the same outcome. Still, the story was well-structured and the implementation novel; pity there weren’t any challenging puzzles in the game to solve. A mini-game in the middle of the story might have broken up the CYOA nature of the game.