IFcomp 2007 Thoughts

Yeah, I know. I sort of took 2006 off. For awhile I deluded myself with thinking that I'd go back and play the games and review them, just to fill that big gap in the list of reviews on my website, but let's be honest, it's not going to happen (or, at least, not this year). The best I can do is try to jump back in again.

So here we go - reviews for IFcomp 2007.

First off, the standard caveats: I generally don't write straight reviews when it comes to the annual IF competition. It would be more appropriate to say that I jot down my thoughts. Furthermore, I was out of the country and away from most computers for three weeks during the voting period; I'm lucky to have played any games at all, really, and so I'd like to apologize in advance for the paltry number of 'reviews.'

Should you be interested in how I assign the numerical ratings for each game, my 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:

Adventure XT | An Act of Murder | A Fine Day for Reaping | Deadline Enchanter
Gathered in Darkness | Ghost of the Fireflies | The Immortal | My Mind's Mishmash
Orevore Courier | Packrat | Reconciling Mother | Slap That Fish

Adventure XT***
A Windows game by Dunric

*** NOTE: Please read this entire review out loud in your best Strongbad voice.

I just love Dunric. He is Mr. Smoooooth Old Skool. Not the sort of wimpy modern old skool, where you're crawling through a cave looking for treasure while being attacked by grues. No! I mean really genuine old skool, where >TAKE FOOD doesn't work but >GET FOOD does. I love the Windows-only terminal window, as well as the stylish neon-green-on-lime-green motif. Check this out!

It loses a point for being able to parse more than two words at a time, sadly.

One of the things I love about this game is its awesome battle simulations. Let me tell you about the amazing fight I had with a simple villager. All fights in ADVENTURE XT are TO THE DEATH, of course, because a fight that is not TO THE DEATH is not a fight worth having. Unfortunately, when I attacked the innocent villager, he turned out to really be a MONSTER VILLAGER, and I had forgotten to wield my sword, so I sat there and watched a blow-by-blow description of the fight (this took about thirty seconds and several screens on my Lappy 486), and after each blow it told me that I wasn't wielding anything. This being a fight TO THE DEATH, it would have been very unrealistic to take a moment from the fight to wield the sword I had in my inventory. Instead I just stood there until the MONSTER VILLAGER killed me.

This is as it should be.

Okay, okay, okay. I'll stop the parody and write a real review.

In terms of prose and implementation this is one of the better Dunric games I've played. In its simple style it tries to set a nice scene, with lush green meadows and ponds and such, and does so in technically solid English without any obvious typographical errors. It lacks the drive and humor of his classic game Jesus of Nazareth, the game against which I now judge all Dunric games, however.

All that having been said...
not that he'll read this...

Dunric, could you please join the 21st century? Please? There are authoring systems out there and everything. Inform 7 is really quite easy to learn. Honest!

Then dammitall, just after I went and wrote this nice long review, the game was disqualified for containing copyrighted Smurfs I never had the patience to run into. Oh, well.

Rating:  3  DQ'd

An Act of Murder
A Z-Code game by Hugh Dunnett

I'll begin by saying that this is a very good game, excellent in design and almost brilliant in execution (no pun intended). In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is one of the best murder mystery IF games I've ever played. It has the kind of replay value most games only dream of - you're investigating a murder where everyone has a good reason to kill, but the cause of death, time of death, and alibis change every time you play. So it's pretty interesting to play through more than once and see how things change.

The reason I say "almost brilliant" and the reason this game doesn't get a higher score from me is this: I had reason to get a little angry on my first play through, because I was unable to win even though I knew who the murderer was and had covered all my bases in the investigation. This was due to a design flaw, something easily enough fixed for a later version, but a design flaw present during the comp nonetheless. Fortunately, my husband was a beta tester on the game and was able to help me figure out exactly what it was I needed to type to achieve the proper conclusion, but that shouldn't have been necessary. (Basically, I'd tried several different ways to tell the Chief about a certain person's alibi... all the different ways except the right way, it would seem, although the other things I had tried were quite sensible. >Tell Chief about alibis really should work, but does not. In fact, the response to that is, quite annoyingly, "This provokes no reaction." I also tried >Tell Chief about Debbie. For some reason, I didn't think the game would be able to pick up a more complex sentence, such as >Tell Chief about Deb's alibi, which, as it turned out, was how you had to express it. I have a couple of new grey hairs now, and they have Hugh Dunnett's name written all over them.)

So yes, it's a great game that will do well in the competition, but I endured a little too much frustration to give it the eight it probably deserves. Here's hoping that "Dunnett" decides to clear things up with a second release.

Oh, and for a glimpse into the scary inner workings of my brane, here's the map I sketched out to make sure I'd searched everywhere for the murder weapon:


Rating: 7

Deadline Enchanter
A Z-code game by Anonymous

I both loved and hated this one, a roller coaster of desire and repulsion throughout.

The writing? Excellent in many respects, but I constantly had the feeling that this was written by someone who is a very good writer but who fails to do multiple drafts and relies on the first go 'round as good enough. There were just enough errors, just enough omitted or misplaced words to throw me off with some frequency, and it gave the impression of something hastily written by someone good enough to think that they could get away with that.

The plot? Unique and intriguing... but too linear. I mean, I realize that's actually part of the point, the linearity, and that would have been fine, if it had been fully implemented enough to make the whole thing feel real. Instead, lots of bits of critical polish were missing. I had the impression that, while I was to follow the instructions given to me, I was also granted time to pause and explore from time to time. When I deviated from the instructions and explored, when I tried to run my hands over the veneer, I was able to discover all the rough edges: the unimplemented bits of (often major) scenery, the total omission of key objects I'd been told were in the room.

In short, this felt like a game I would love to have gotten my hands on while it was still in beta. Well, actually it was a game I got my hands on while it was still in beta... unfortunately beta testing isn't something that should be done in the context of the comp.

Rating: 6

A Fine Day for Reaping
An ADRIFT game by revgiblet

Well, in general, I really enjoyed this. The writing is good, even if it's fairly unoriginal; it does a good job of imitating Pratchett's style, or at least it does based on the Pratchett I've read, even if it doesn't remain true to Death.

I hit a few poorly-implemented spots that nearly made me tear my hair out, however, and these were nearly show-stopping for me. First of all, I went down the Reaping List in order, going first to 'Nepal,' which worked. Once I ran out of ideas in Nepal, I figured I'd try the next place on the list, and tried to go to 'England,' which didn't work, leading me to falsely believe that I had to solve each location sequentially and independently. I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels in 'Nepal' before giving up and trying to go to 'Manchester,' which worked. Seeing as how Manchester was the only location set in England, 'England' should have worked to begin with... I lost a bunch of time and happiness over that. Another poorly implemented spot was the Parisian elevator, where you >push button to get in the elevator, but then pushing the buttons inside the elevator does nothing. It took me asking Sam for help to learn that once inside the elevator you just type >1 instead of >push one or >push first button or something similar.

Despite these setbacks, I generally enjoyed myself. I was unable to finish in under two hours, but then, I rarely finish comp games that I play through to completion within the allotted time. I'll go back to finish this one later, though, as it's worth playing.

Rating: 7

Gathered in Darkness
A Quest game by Michael "Dr. Froth" Millsap

With the first opening lines, I fear that I am playing a game that was actually written by Jules Verne, or at least in the Jules Verne style:

Later on, you will look back upon this moment as the turning point in your life. The fulcrum point on which the balance is swayed one direction or the other, that magical moment when everything that already has or will happen to you is divided into either occurring before or after this event.
But then I realize that it's just generally over-the-top dramatic writing. Don't get me wrong, building suspense and setting mood is good, but this felt like it went a bit too far in that respect. Certain turns of phrase did win my heart, though, such as when I jumped off a balcony from three stories up and was told that I was "as dead as anything that is no longer alive," and though I hate to spoil the game too much, this bit of writing merits special attention:
The beam of your flashlight catches the bag just in time for you to see his eyes, like boiled eggs, droop casually from their sockets and begin to float like little clipper ships in the pool of blood that has been steadily collecting in the bottom of the sack.
Now that's good writing.

While I loved the attention to detail in describing various aspects of my surroundings, I just don't think a man dying from poison would take time to remark on how the choice of a deep reddish stain adds tremendously to the aura of a coffee table. Similarly, I found it odd that a man desperately searching for an antidote would take the time to write journal entries, but perhaps he was hoping to leave a record of what happened to him in case he couldn't prevent his own demise - I'll give the protagonist the benefit of the doubt here.

In general, however, I enjoyed playing this. It was fun. It was reasonably tight with respect to implementation and while there were occasional grammar errors here and there (I will refrain from making the obvious 'cheese grader' joke), you could tell that the author had put in a lot of time - I wish all competition authors were as meticulous. The longer I stuck with it the more I wanted to play, and I played right up to the two hour limit. I had to quit before I was done, but I do very much intend to go back and finish this one.

On a side note, this was the first time I think I've played a Quest game. The interface was interesting. Some parts of it, such as the enhanced interface windows, were pretty nifty and I liked them. The inability to do some things that I'm normally able to do while playing interactive fiction, such as >x me and >turn on radio were a bit frustrating, however. The small red font on the black background was a bit difficult to read, a complaint I've heard from other players... Note that you can adjust this in the Quest Options menu.

Get ready, folks, because I'm giving this one an 8. That's right, an 8. I, too, would have been shocked at the outset if I'd known that that was what I was destined to rank it. But if you take a moment to examine my criteria, it says, "Eights are, for me, generally quirky and amusing, a worthwhile and entertaining expenditure of time." And this was all that and a bag of chips. Quirky, amusing, even wacky, and very entertaining. Maybe I was just in the right mood or something.

Rating: 8

Ghost of the Fireflies
A Windows game by Dunric

The first thought I have upon seeing the title of the next game in my queue is:

That's a rather beautiful title. I'm looking forward to this.
Then I see that it's written by Dunric:
Suddenly, I'm looking a little less forward to playing this game.
But I always try to give his games a fair shake. Despite playing another game of his in this competition which I did not enjoy and which was later disqualified, I loaded up Ghost of the Fireflies and had a go.

Dunric knows what he's up against. He says so in the help file:
In past competitions I have received very low grades. The nature of the competition is so competitive that a good game could easily receive a poor mark. Unfortunately, my name alone may cause many to vote this game down (which is unfair, as I put a lot of work into it, much more than in previous competition games). If you don't believe me, take a look at the long and complex source code (also included).
He's right in at least one respect. My husband, for instance, flat-out refuses to play Dunric games anymore, and he's probably not alone. But I live in eternal hope that Dunric will start listening to feedback, and so I still look at his games every year.

And you know what? He has gotten better.

While I did like some of the keyboard shortcuts Dunric has implemented, I'll be honest. I'm still not big on the antiquated parser and rather wish that he'd pour all that effort into prose, story, and implementation. I still had a lot of trouble navigating his world, and it wasn't just because I was one of those "lazy ones who cruelly require an 'x' command (instead of 'examine' or even 'exa')." The game felt jumpy... slow with sudden bursts of cruel action - especially early in the game, before I was properly equipped to fight.

And I wasn't very keen on the help file that new players to the game are encouraged to read before they begin. A 17 page hint file. Yes, 17 pages. Granted, he has a lot of non-standard commands he wants to explain, and some interesting interface shortcuts (which I found to be very useful) that he wanted to point out. But he also spoils a lot of the story that lies ahead in the help file, including how to solve a key puzzle. I think this could have been dealt with a bit better.

But I have to hand it to Dunric - his writing has improved tremendously with this entry.
By the Tree of Eternal Life
You sit by the Tree of Eternal Life, listening to its life force (chi) flowing through it. It sounds like a river, moving about the ground in harmony with the land. And as the kami knows, so it knows, too. The Tree looks down upon you with a sad face, saying gently, "The world has abandoned me. I am the lost keeper of the ways of spirit, but they mock me still! Why?" But you have no answer for it, catching only tears from the sun.

Raiythius walks past a large tree. He turns to you and says softly, "This is the Tree of Eternal Life. Everything we know about our world comes from this tree!"

"What is this tree?" you ask with curiosity. "How long has it been here?"

Raiythius sighs. "I don't know. My great-great-grandfather, Ramius, once walked among these trees and knew only saplings. But this tree, this one right here, I was told wasn't much smaller than it is right now."
Granted, I'm possibly keen on a lot of the writing because it's fantasy/spiritual, and set in a natural scene. But I also enjoyed the humor. Later, you encounter a group of musicians playing in an Inn:
>x Dunric
You knew you'd see him one day, those among you who voted his games crap. Now he gets his revenge by singing in Oibara Inn, poking fun at all his detractors.
So. Did I play it through to completion? No, I kept getting killed before I could get very far. But while I was still alive, not being slashed by ninjas or kami, I had time to notice that Dunric is, in fact, getting better. This is the highest score I've ever given one of Dunric's games, and I'm sad that I couldn't rank it higher. It's the parser, the Windows-only (minuscule) terminal window, and cruelty of combat that drag this down. It's too bad, because I have the strange suspicion that, had I been capable of going farther, I would have enjoyed it.

Rating: 4

The Immortal
A Z-code game by Just Rob

There's a long text dump to start (like, really long). And it's a little weird. And I'm not keen on all the word choice or verb tense or comma usage, but can't always put my finger on why, precisely. Pressing space after the prologue reveals... increased weirdness. The weirdness, however, is enticing. I really did want to explore this game a bit more deeply, but as I tried to do so it fell short in a number of ways. I found typos here and there, as if this is almost polished, but not quite, and then the discovery of a default PC description didn't help matters. I have flashes of thought... memories... which I feel like I should be able to explore, but I can't. There is a 'horde of tiny creatures' in the brightness, and while it seems like the creatures are probably quite critical, I can't so much as examine them.

I don't really have the patience to play a game that should have been implemented far more than it was. It's a shame, as some of the writing makes me think I'd enjoy this if I were able to play it. In short: a good beginning, but not ready for the IFcomp. I'd be happy to beta test for this author in the future, however - particularly a game with such intriguing visuals, unique turns of phrase, and non-standard setting.

Rating: 3

An ADRIFT game by Robert Street

Okay, let's start with the introductory text:

Yep. Horrifying.

But first impressions aren't everything, so let's play this one a bit. We're a sixteen year old named Marcus. We're psychic, and we are in command of a futuristic army fighting the Buggers aliens. Except the aliens are better at everything and the only (not sufficient) edge that we have is that we can communicate with our troops psychically, and we have an allegedly-spiffy modified cold suit which we can also control psychically.

Hooray for being psychic!

But, see, the thing is, I'm not actually psychic in real life, nor are there special commands for controlling the suit (at least none that are indicated when I type >COMMANDS). This led to a really frustrating exchange with the parser:
A modified cold suit belonging to the enemy is also on the display, which must be the traitor's suit. All the old weapons such as the shoulder mounted machine guns, electrifying grappling hooks and the diamond edged pickaxe are in both of your suits. However, your suit boasts a new weapon, with a psychic disruptor. You can activate any of these weapons with just a thought.

I don't understand what you mean!

I don't understand what you mean!

I don't understand what you mean!

>disrupt traitor
I don't understand what you want me to do with the traitor.

>kill traitor
Now that isn't very nice.
That's when I quit. I was too frustrated to care that I wasn't very far into the game. Knowing that my husband had somehow gotten past this awkwardness didn't help matters - especially since he can no longer remember how he did it and was consequently unable to help me.

Wait! I had a second thought, and restarted the game. Going to the hints, it turns out the verb I'm looking for is >use disruptor. Bah.

So I played a little bit more, and got a little bit more of a sense that this is sort of very Enderesque, but not nearly so good as Orson Scott Card. Who knows? Maybe this was Robert Street's original idea (Ender wasn't psychic, after all), and so if this was an original idea, my apologies... it's just that someone else did it before you and did it a whole lot better.

Man, I feel rather guilty writing such a harsh review. Sorry about that.

Rating: 4

Orevore Courier
A Z-Code game by Brian Rapp

Well, well, well. Pirates and zombies. But where, I ask you, are the ninjas? Ninjas (and monkeys, for that matter) are noticeably absent from this game.

But no matter. This game was fun, albeit seemingly very linear and excessively difficult. And the hints weren't always as hintful as I would have liked for them to be. But aside from that it's very, very thoroughly implemented and I didn't find so much as a typo. Extra points for the phrase this should be reassuring, nevertheless it gives you the free-floating yoamies.

Rating: 8

Packrat: An adventurer with a discerning eye
A Z-code game by Bill Powell

My initial gut response is that I like this game. I like the writing, and I like the shtick. It's a shame, though, that various key details were overlooked, such as a non-default PC description and implementation of certain objects (why exactly is the 'imposing door' in the Vestibule so imposing anyway?). The You vainly attempt to purloin the XXXXX bits were cute, until they became repetitive and formulaic. And beyond that, I can't say much except that I had a lot of trouble with this game such to the point that I didn't get very far during the two hours. Is it because I am an idiot? Perhaps. Is it because things were poorly clued? Perhaps.

Rating: 6

Reconciling Mother: A man of science and action faces his own personal horror of the supernatural
A TADS-3 game by Plone Glen

Jacqueline pants.
Jacqueline says, "Thanks."
inky says, "ha ha"

Yep. The above was my initial reaction. The game begins in a snowy parking lot with some grammar that sometimes lacks subject/verb agreement. There is a pendant you can't wear and a snow cave you can't examine. You enter the snow cave that you can't examine and, if you press the issue of going east too often, you die. Except you don't die. You die and then there's no End Game, and you just sit there with no ability to exit.

Which is sad, because the intro text felt interesting. Despite the subject/verb agreement problem. And I wanted to play. Really I did. But I can only take so much.

Rating: 2

Slap that Fish: An adventure in anger mismanagement
A TADS-2 game by Peter Nepstad

We go from 1893: A World's Fair Mystery to 2007: An IFcomp Enigma. I rarely use this phrase in IFcomp reviews, but it is, perhaps, warranted here:

WTF, people?
I guess I feel okay with using that phrase because it's not meant in a mean way - this game is solidly coded and it's clear there's a lot of effort behind it, despite the game's simplicity (I would expect nothing but polished out of Mr. Nepstad, of course).

But it is, well... it's wack. No one will deny this. It starts off a bit slowly and I'm honestly not sure what compelled me to keep playing it beyond the third fish, except perhaps Nepstad's reputation.

In the end, though, it felt like a really well-coded SpeedIF due to the seemingly very linear game-play and lack of depth.

There's an extra point though, for mentioning clear Alaskan streams.

Rating: 7