Thoughts on the One Room Game Competition

Here are my reviews for the 2008 One Room Game Competition, an appropriately-named comp with but one rule: all game entries must have only one location.

I decided to only try the games written in English this year, despite an out-of-comp prize for the top reviewer of all seven games. Italian is the one romance language I never took, and this competition just happens to overlap with the annual French Interactive Fiction competition, where my time will be more productively spent. (Apropos of something, my apologies for entirely missing this year's Spanish IF Comp!)

Should you be interested in how I assign the numerical ratings for each game, I'm using the same scale I use to rate IFcomp games, and those methods can be found here.

Clicking on a title will direct you toward more information about that game. If you're new to interactive fiction, I would recommend a visit to A Beginner's Guide to Playing Interactive Fiction before you download anything.

Games reviewed:

Bad Toast | Escapade! | The Moon Watch

Bad Toast
An AAS game by Jeffrey MacArthur

In playing this game, I got the impression that it was a coding exercise in how to use the Advanced Authoring System, more affectionately known as AAS. I thought my days of playing AAS games were behind me, but it was fun in a masochistically nostalgic sort of way to play an AAS game again.

Thanks for the unfortunate trip down memory lane, Jeffrey MacArthur!

In Bad Toast, you wake up in a dungeon, and you have to solve a puzzle to win your freedom. Now, the puzzle is of a genre that I usually quite enjoy, but it could have been made more difficult, and could have been made more fun. There was no challenge here whatsoever. The puzzle was really, really easy; even I, Jacqueline of the Infamously Crappy Puzzle-Solving Skills, won the game on the first try after about sixty seconds of note taking—and in all honesty, the thing that hung me up that long was a short game of Guess the Verb. After I won, I was still uncertain as to what specific death I'd avoided, and was sort of curious about what was happening with respect to plot mechanics at each step in the puzzle; I played a second time to intentionally kill myself, hoping I could figure out more.

Sadly, even in death the strange smells were not explained.

It's like this, see... the main reason I pay attention to One Room Game Comp is that, in my opinion, constraining your game to one room gives an author the opportunity to lovingly code in deep detail and cover all the bases. AAS, for better or (more probably) worse, is not the language for that like of crafting.

At any rate, I've prattled on far more than this game merits in terms of a review. I'm of the opinion that coding exercises shouldn't be entered into competitions, even minicomps. Maybe we need a competition called the 'Games Masquerading as Coding Exercises Comp.'

I should probably give the author a 1 for wasting our time, but he only had a couple of typos and seemed well-intentioned, so...

Rating: 3

A Z-Code game by Juhana Leinonen

This one was tricky for me to rate.

On the one hand, I really enjoyed the game. I was amused from the start by the concept of the Screaming Communists. I found the NPC named H.R. to be quite endearing. I enjoyed the foibles which accompanied every successfully-solved puzzle. I was impressed by how many locations I visited without technically ever leaving the One Room constraint of the comp. I laughed out loud several times and had moments where I really and truly enjoyed myself.

I also got so stuck—despite the in-game hint system and walkthrough—that I e-mailed the author for help. Admittedly, I was partially at fault, but this was not helped by a rather unfortunate bug with the in-game hint system in which you kept receiving clues for a puzzle you'd already solved rather than being helped with the next puzzle. Juhana was very courteous and helpful in our e-mail correspondence, even going so far as to say that he didn't mind helping me (when I really should have read the walkthrough more carefully), because it was useful to know where players were going astray. Very kind.

I unfortunately also ran into a frustrating issue with another puzzle which I had to redo from scratch a couple of times before I figured out what I was doing wrong.

And then there's the non-intuitive aspect of some of the puzzles. This is, admittedly, a crazy setting, but it was just enough like the Real World that I sort of expected the physics of certain things to react the same intuitive way that they do around my house. I realize that this is a silly assumption in retrospect, but there it is. Had the hint system been fully functional I doubt this would have bothered me, though.

So overall? I think that with a bit more testing this would have been at least an eight; perhaps even a nine. As it was though, I unfortunately think the best I can give it is a seven. Somewhere deep inside, that makes me a little bit sad.

Rating: 7

The Moon Watch
A Glulx game by Paolo Maroncelli and Alessandro Peretti

This game was my favorite of the English ORGC entries, practically straight out of the gate. It was immediately obvious that a lot of time and care had been placed into this game. There was music that looped fairly well, and while I did eventually shut the music off and will not be e-mailing the authors for a copy of the soundtrack on CD, the music didn't scare the crap out of me (I am still suffering from PTSD as a result of music in another competition which shall remain nameless), and that's a good thing (it's a weird standard, I'm aware).

The art is the primary thing that puts this game in winning territory. I don't want to spoil too much, so I'll only post the title page:

There was art throughout, and it was used effectively. I particularly liked the way that a drawing of the room was used as a border to surround the game's text and how that art changed when you donned your space suit.

The game had lovely touches of humor and very effective silliness. This was yet another game with communist references*, which lends itself well to amusing stereotypes, and I really liked the coding touch dedicated to default library responses (for example, the response to >WAIT was, "Time passes and the end of capitalism is near.").

I also really enjoyed the way that I interacted with NPCs in the game. At first I found it a little daunting to enter and exit the conversation system, but ultimately I liked the way you could either just type keywords or type natural sentences (which were, I suspect, then scanned for keywords, but it gave you the impression you were holding an actual conversation).

On the whole, the game was fairly solid on mechanics and grammar, considering. I did not immediately catch that the authors were Italian (though I did cotton on soon enough). That having been said, there was missing punctuation here and there which they should have caught regardless of language, but on the whole it wasn't distracting, and that's what counts most. Perhaps it was because I was constantly ditracted by shiny art...

The main complaint I have is that I had to consult the walkthrough quite a bit, and there were a couple of things in the walkthrough I just didn't understand. I typed the actions because they were in the walkthrough, but in at least a couple of instances I unfortunately still don't know how I should have been clued in to do them otherwise. I'm fairly certain that I couldn't have solved this without walkthrough, and that's Not A Good Thing.

In short, this was fun, and this was worth sharing with others. Well done, boys!

Rating: 8


* With respect to the whole communist references thing... what was this? Communist Comp? First Escapade!, then The Moon Watch. I mentioned this during a conversation with Emily Short, who didn't miss a beat (she never does) and quickly stated, "That is an excellent question. I mean, even the AAS game had a red switch."

So it did, Emily, so it did.

I hereby dub this year's comp "One Room Game Competition: Communist Manifesto."