Anssi's mini-reviews of the Comp games

Note: most of the reviews below contain heavy spoilers.


[spoiler]I couldn’t quite understand what was going on here, but part of the idea was probably to make the player try to figure that out. I admit I failed in that task. ‘Take’ is more or less the only verb that works in the game (besides ‘examine’), and it works practically with everything you can think of, but it doesn’t actually take anything. Taken things don’t go to your inventory, and the location description remains the same after trying to take an object mentioned in it. You’re playing as some sort of a knight who is preparing for a battle. You are described as having a monitor attached to your chest, and everything you do is reflected in the monitor (as text?) and reacted to by an audience. You have a female assistant who prepares you and I got a feeling that it’s an assistant like on movie sets or something. Or is the protagonist a reporter or a journalist who must constantly write about stuff to keep the audience’s interest and survive (professionally)? And the ‘assistant’ is actually his boss? Go figure.

The verb ‘take’ seems to mean typing down something on the monitor, even if a separate keyboard is not mentioned. I played the game through a couple of times (it takes just about 15 minutes to finish one playthrough), and the outcome was the same both times; I am not sure if that was winning or losing. Seems like the protagonist finally succumbs to his adversary at the end, so it doesn’t feel like winning; and there is little I can come up with to change that outcome. Curiously, one of the options after the game ends is WIN, and if you type that, a short post-game follows (written by a Jeremiah Carver for some reason). In it, you have to use the verb ‘use’ and you win right away.

Looking at all of the above, I am not sure if this entry is poking fun at some more artistic pieces of IF, or if it seriously tries to get a point across. The experience was not that exciting, and no special atmosphere, gimmick or other special value was imminently visible. There was an unfinished sentence near the beginning that broke off without a warning, and a new sentence, with a capital letter, started right away: “You must You’re competing with cinema combat and gladiator personalities.”

The subtitle mentions a ‘joke’ but there was nothing that funny here. But it did make you think. And there was some fine prose included, anyway.

=> 5[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This was a fun game with good, inventive puzzles making creative use of the old rock-paper-scissors theme. Appreciated even more as this is the author’s first game. It is solid and well-tested. The puzzles were just the right difficulty and fair. There was a good amount of humor that made one chuckle a few times. The location descriptions were sometimes on the short side, mostly describing the directions. At the end I was expecting that all those nice and even less nice people encountered who ended up in the vortex would have re-emerged somehow, but it turned out to be part of the humor of the game that this never happened. The ending was a bit abrupt; there could have been something more, like some more description about how the protagonist felt or what he did after winning; after all, he sacrificed many people to his ends. Anyway: a good, fun game.

=> 8[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This seems to be one of those joke entries that pop up in more or less every IFComp. Because I basically believe in the basic goodness of humanity, I trust that hidden there somewhere is an awesome game that just didn’t get unlocked by anyone yet. That one brass key that could be taken and examined, unlike anything else in the game, was a hope-inducing token of this.

In practice though: if there was something else to this, it wasn’t clear how to reach it. That made the game just feel like a piece of lazy immaturity that doesn’t give anything to the player but sooner underestimates them.

=> 1[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This was well-implemented and took almost the allocated two hours, so the timing was good. The conversation system worked fine and the ability to combine conversation topics was great - I don’t remember encountering this kind of method before in IF. The number of various topics didn’t fortunately grow too big. The story was interesting. It was a nice touch how the location descriptions changed depending on the character viewpoint. One thing that caught the eye was the relatively big number of spelling mistakes, the odd lone quotation mark, missing full stops, etc. despite the number of beta testers listed, but the amount of text was admittedly large, the story worked coherently anyway and there were no bugs as such. A strong entry and enjoyable to play.

=> 9[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Wow, this game surprised me twice. First in the beginning where, after starting realistically enough, it took a surreal turn and things started to go crazy, with lots of wacky humor - in one bad ending you’re even abducted by aliens. The endgame takes another turn, towards the more serious, and the protagonist learns a lesson in life by understanding how everything that happened was a symbol of his own inner reality, and the very end was sweet. I didn’t find the reference to Mexican headgear referenced to in the beginning though. Shortish but lots of fun, with no bugs encountered.
This one is also a

=> 9.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This is a parser game where most standard commands have been disabled; you only need to use directional commands for the most part. Having made a bet with your friend, you are supposed to visit 65 locations of a big facility. Going around, you will pick up stuff automatically (because ‘take’ etc doesn’t work), and this picked-up stuff helps you gain access to hitherto-locked rooms. You also learn pieces of information when going around, and that info will be automatically remembered and used when needed. This allows the player to type less in the course of the game but it makes one feel that there is not so much interaction as in an average parser game. While progress is fast in the early parts of the game (you will have visited 10, or 20, or 30 rooms in no time), the difficulty increases later - which is good - and gaining access to the last ten or so rooms is a lot slower. I got stuck in the Code Wing. There, the player is supposed to find out codes and enter them to a device that opens code-locked doors. But, because all standard commands are disabled, you can not just >type 2323, for example. The solution here? You have to move between small locations, so called code bays, which represent numbers, and the device records your movements and produces the needed codes. But this is very cumbersome and slow and it kind of mars the latter part of the game. I ran out of time (the 2-hour rule) before I could finish, and also a seeming contradiction I couldn’t solve kept me from proceeding: at one point, you need to move through a coded door to access another coded door. You know both codes but you can only enter one code at a time to the device. After entering one code, you must return to the code bays to enter the other code to be able to enter the other door, but meanwhile the first door has closed. This dilemma was not adequately addressed in the walkthrough, either - at least not in a simple enough way to be understood clearly.

All in all, the game is well coded, there are no discernible bugs, it’s fun to play and everything works well - until that passage mentioned above.
Because I couldn’t proceed and the walkthrough didn’t help, the score will be a bit less than otherwise.

=> 5[/spoiler]

For what it’s worth, I thought this puzzle was clever, logical, and fair. (I just looked at the walkthrough and it seems to be addressed there, although the reasons for your actions could be spelled out more clearly.)


[spoiler]I played Problems Compound in last year’s comp and enjoyed it, although I cannot claim I understood every bit of what was going on. Slicker City is a sequel to PC, although slightly smaller in scale (as the ‘about’ text states). The mechanics are much the same here, so in that respect the player is on familiar ground. The locations you will visit here, as in PC, are difficult to visualize, as they, and the objects you will find in them, are largely based on wordplay. Despite there being a larger theme that binds all locations together, this approach takes maybe some getting used to, but I got tuned in quickly and enjoyed trying to spot all the various instances of reversed compound nouns or noun phrases that are the thing here. My not being a native speaker made it maybe a tad more difficult than otherwise, but I managed to solve enough puzzles on my own that I felt that the experience was rewarding. For example, the ‘roll’ and ‘grate’ objects I managed to tackle by searching online for “idioms with role” and “idioms with great” and that helped instantly to solve the puzzles. All puzzles don’t demand word play skills from the player; in some cases, it is enough to >use object on another object, which makes the progress a bit easier. Some of the locations were not accessible at all during a single playthrough, based on an object I picked up early in the game allowing access only to a certain set of locations. At that early stage, you can choose between three different objects and based on your choice, you have then access to certain locations of the game. As you cannot change that object after a certain point, that gives nice replay value to the game. I only finished it once but I want to try the other alternatives later. A couple of remarks: at Performance Peak, if you try to go to a direction other than the ones mentioned in the description, the response mentions you can go north, south, or in, when you basically just can go south. In the last cave, I wished that ‘cast pod’ would yield some kind of response. There were a couple of locations that seemed to be there for no particular reason, but maybe further playthroughs might show them in a different light. The very last puzzle is clever. There is a number pad with 286 different buttons, but you have to push only one to win, and there is no apparent clue. I was able to figure this out pretty quickly; the number was easy to figure out as it sounded the same as the action I was close to reaching, and then the needed letter was found after some trial and error but made immediate sense. It was a nice touch that also some wrong combinations had a specific response. All in all, the rewarding feeling the game gave to the player, and its suitable length, make it deserving of a

=> 9.[/spoiler]

I recognize the game’s merits and understand that I just didn’t get the end bit… I will have another go at some point because I want to see how it ends :slight_smile:.


[spoiler]A nice touch: the title is a sentence that continues in the first location description.

Ok, let’s see. No ‘about’ or ‘help’ text, no beta testers listed, I’m described as being ‘as good-looking as ever’, wandering about a bit
or trying a couple of commands shows that implementation could be better, of course no walkthrough… challenge accepted! :sunglasses:

Initially I can go into three other locations from where I started. The garden with the faun statue is described nicely and gives the first indication that the author does possess an amount of talent. There’s also nice humor included, for example when trying to play the flute in the garden (or anywhere else).

The SW room (with the swirls) has a couple of especially well-described instances - I liked the feeling the description of the east statue evoked, and how the bridge across the chasm was described to emerge.

The puzzles are good - you just have to settle with ‘use x on y’ working most of the time, but that saves you the time on guessing the verbs. The fly trap was one instance when something else than ‘use’ worked for me, though (aside from the obvious turnings of dials or pushing of buttons elsewhere).

Fortunately the inventory I start with is quite large, so trying objects on objects, when you feel you’re stuck, works. Lighting a match is a bit cumbersome - use match on matchbook - but not too hard to figure out.

Some things that were clearly not meant to be takeable were - the east and west statues in the swirl room, for example. And even when they were out of the room, they stayed in the location description.

Also, you could gather points repeatedly doing the same actions. Also, if you put the moss in the bin and tried to take it, you got the same description as when you scraped it off the statue.

I managed to finish this - yeah! There were some things that didn’t need solving - for example the broken gear door in the secret room, and the east rubble in the starting room (if that was ever meant to be solved anyway). Also, you never needed the floss or the moss (or the three-dollar bill, if I can remember correctly). The dedication which could be read in the bedroom near the end of the game was a sweet touch. All in all, an enjoyable game, and could be finished despite lacking implementation at some passages. The descriptions were very good in many places and the puzzles felt rewarding to solve. An updated version could do a big favour to this game but it had its own charm in this form, and was clearly made out of love for IF. Rough at places but appreciated.

=> 7[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Also this year the comp has at least one zombie game, well ok, let’s give it a try!
This turns out to be a tongue-in-cheek zombie fight set in a video game museum in Rome. The puzzles are usually straight-forward: you find weapons, or objects suitable as weapons, and with them you can eliminate the encountered zombies. There are a couple of places where you need to use a bit more thinking, like when figuring out how to open a couple of doors. There are frequent references to other games, both IF and video games, even to the author’s other game in the current comp. The humor, though appearing mostly adolescent, manages to be funny. In the endgame, there is at least one bad ending. The good ending is funny and makes one crack up. There’s delightful use of the word xyzzy in this game. A brief fun, takes about 30 minutes to play, maybe a bit thin and doesn’t take itself too seriously, gives homage to text adventures and other games, and has no discernible bugs. It doesn’t bring much new to the genre, though, so the final verdict is a strong

=> 7[/spoiler]


[spoiler]A fun premise. You’re a SF writer invited to judge a elementary school’s science fair. The exhibits are dubious as to their scientific value (except for one, the senator’s daughter’s, which sounds like someone else was helping out with it), and it doesn’t probably matter which one you choose to be the winnder at the end. The game screams for replay after one playthrough (which are comparatively short), and I played four more times. On the second time I tried to focus more on getting my own books sold (to increase my score) and I ignored the outdoor areas and the visiting senator. I chose a different winner each time I played but I couldn’t seem to affect the outcome much in spite of all this; I was still hopelessly far from the maximum points. There might have been something I missed, but anyway I enjoyed the humor - the description of the exhibits, the dialogues during my attempts to sell my book, the victory ceremony. As the game was rather short and I couldn’t find a way to affect the outcome much whatever I tried, I am pondering between 7 and 8, in the end leaning more towards an

=> 8.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This is a CYOA game with a protagonist who is weary of the bad news pouring from every media and consequently decides to take over the world to change it for the better. The first task for them is to find a secret lair as their headquarters. The humor here is nice and whimsical - you employ an assistant, find an expert to provide you with an arsenal of means to help you to world domination, and then try your best to deal with the police, etc. An example of the whimsical nature of the humor is that at one point when you have managed to get a robot army to back you, you are asked if you want to go on with the plot or abandon it and just go on a stomping spree. The author also provided her own illustrations to the story, which is a nice touch. I played through five times, losing two and winning three times. Winning doesn’t necessarily mean world domination (I didn’t reach an ending that actually resulted in that) but some other nice outcome to the story. This was a pleasurable, albeit short, well-meaning good-mood experience and thus defends its place among the recommended games in this year’s crop.

=> 7.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]In this game I am a sigil reader. What that actually means was explained perhaps more in the game blurb than in the actual game, unless I missed something. In the game world, sigils are inscriptions that are used for different purposes such as to protect, but they can also be harmful. I found one sigil on the desk in the first location, but when trying to examine it, there was a disambiguation question between three different sigils, two of which I hadn’t encountered yet; one of these, I never managed to find at all. Playing the game further, however, it turned out that the sigils don’t actually do much; you can examine them but they are not that essential to the plot. You wander through the office complex of your workplace and try to figure out what has happened - why the quarantine room door is open and the dangerous exhibit, whatever that is (a lot of things were left somewhat unclear), has vanished. The narrative is in the past tense, but this is not consistent all through - for example the default for >think about (thing) is the present tense “Nothing comes to mind.” (">remember sigils" also had a problematic response.) I played through twice and it looks like there are certain randomized things in the gameplay, such as at least the protagonist’s name and the time of day (although this was not consistent; in one room, moonlight was described to shine in, when in the next room sunlight poured in). Towards the end there is a loud sound outside the building, but it was never explained what caused it. In the endgame, there were some problems with the conversation system - some passages of text were shown twice, and alternative (1) showed where I had chosen alternative (3). I got a similar ending on both playthroughs, albeit with a slightly different wording. I am not sure if there were considerably different endings to reach. The endings I got seemed a bit unsatisfactory - spoiler start - your colleague comforts you and reassures you that whatever happened, it was not your fault - spoiler end. And whatever did happen, that’s largely still unclear. I might have had to look for some further clues, or examined things through the lens in a greater extent. Despite all small shortcomings described above, the plot and the writing were good enough for me to be interested in a further playthrough which might shed a bit more light on what happened. Based on the two playthroughs I completed, the happenings and the endings were left a bit too vague and unfulfilling.

=> 5.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]A poem generator - a very nice idea. You choose a verb and an adverb from a list, and the game produces a poem. Otherwise, there is no plot or objective here. I “played” around 20 times and would have liked to see maybe a bit more variation between the different versions. Now, even if I chose very different verbs and adverbs, some outcomes were almost identical. There were always seven verses, and some of them started almost always in the same way. Also, some outcomes were a bit nonsensical. The poems could have been of varying lengths and have a bit more varying topics, now this felt like reading one and the same poem over and over, with slight alterations.

=> 6.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This game has a very nice steampunkish concept. You play as a woman whose husband has been trapped in an old 19th century automated hotel full of traps and strange machinery, and you have to find him and save him. The introduction, set in the 1890s, feels a bit separate from the main story, but it does set the atmosphere and give an idea of what to expect later. It takes quite a while, though, to get to “actual” game after the introductory chapters. So much, in fact, that within two hours I only managed to enter the hotel and die a couple of times because the robot bellhop found me and I couldn’t figure out a way to avoid him. But based on what I managed to play, I really liked the concept and the idea. There were some long passages of text which felt like a drag, for example in the very beginning, and in the scene where the protagonist is at home in the morning. Other problems included exits that were not mentioned in the location descriptions (for example inside the shop - no mention of a backroom which is crucial in finding an object that is needed in the game. I only found this looking at the walkthrough. There were numerous other instances of this same problem. Also in the beginning, I didn’t figure out very quickly how to manipulate the “glass panes” at the reception desk - pushing, touching, etc. didn’t help. Also here, I needed to resort to the walkthrough and learned that an object needed to be placed on the panes to make them respond. This could have been clued better.

All in all, a neat idea slowed down by some implementation issues.

=> 7[/spoiler]


[spoiler]A nice setting - theatre backstage, preparing for a play to start. However, there is only one puzzle that needs to be solved, and consequently the game is very short. If there had been more content to the story, it would have made the game so much better. Now, it remains a bit thin, even if the puzzle itself is good. I couldn’t solve the side plot puzzle involving the crying actress. A larger game in this setting would be very nice to see.

=> 5[/spoiler]


[spoiler]In spite of the very lengthy, almost off-putting introduction, the setting here is very intriguing - you’re spending time sitting in a rocking-chair on the porch of your friend’s store at a quiet crossroads somewhere in the Midwest, when something a passer-by remarks makes you think about your old neighbor living on a farm some way away. You, an ardent ambler, embark on a walk to that farm where you used to visit as a kid but never visited since. The farm environs are large and it takes a lot of time to wander through them all. In the allotted two hours I managed to find the farm owner and to enter the house, make the vorair (whatever that was) sleep, and collect a bunch of inventory items. However, I couldn’t figure out the mystery behind the owner, or what to do with the windmill and the vane.

Even though I couldn’t play it all through, it was obvious that this is a polished and well-implemented game, even if there were some typos a bit into the story. Also, maybe the scarecrow was not meant to be taken, given that it was described as sitting in its original location even when I carried it around. An interesting, well thought-out story with some small unsettling elements sown here and there that make you want to find out what’s going on. Based on the impression I got from this during my incomplete play session it’s easy to give this one a

=> 9.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This game has a very nice, creepy atmosphere. The protagonist is a small girl wandering about the dark house and wondering where everybody is. There are some surprising elements she finds along the way, making this one feel in some ways similar to Hill Ridge Lost and Found. This game is polished, even if there are many things the parser doesn’t understand. However, being able to click on keywords makes playing quite smooth. There are good puzzles, they are spread evenly all over the map, and there’s a big number of inventory items one can use. I was drawn in and enjoyed this a lot. It might actually be the best game I’ve played so far, as it is of a suitable length, and everything works and is clued sufficiently, except for two places - I couldn’t figure out by myself what to do with the pit in the basement, and then one big puzzle near the end; for these I had to use the walkthrough.

Unfamiliar with the Quest system of saved games, this was unsettling:

That’s not a verb I recognize.

Turned out, however, that you can just click directly on the saved game file in the directory and it opens the game at the point where you left off. Phew!

=> 10.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]A choose-your-own Edgar Allan Poe adventure, integrating many of the themes found in his short stories and poems. A nice idea in itself, but in many instances there is a long page of text followed by a single link to the next page, and consequently the proceeding is very linear. That is not choosing, that is not interactive. This is not the problem of this game alone, this is a misfeature present in many “CYOA” games. It made me quickly weary of following the story path I was on. I restarted a couple of times and there were some shorter paths (sometimes very short ones). However, I felt this was not as good as it could have been. Suggestion: make the text on any single page short enough ( = “digestible”) and offer more choices to keep the player’s interest. I like Poe but this was not inspiring.

=> 5.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]A CYOA game with a delightfully absurd plot. On each page, there is just a suitable amount of text and always two choices to forward the story. The story branches in various, unexpected ways at every page. In a way this distantly resembles “Description of a Struggle” by Franz Kafka. There seems to be a certain number of turns before the game ends, and one playthrough is not particularly long. A nice feature is that you begin on a dusty road in a city “that was not here a week ago”, and all playthroughs also end in dust in some way or other. I quickly grew to like this. I played some ten-twelve times through but am willing to try further times to see all possible twists and turns the story can take. Good, imaginative storylines. There’s something absolutely charming about this. As I can’t find anything to fault this, let’s award it a

=> 10.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This was a joy to play. In two hours, I was able to play through two of the three stories included. Everything worked, the interface was a successful mix between clicking links (on the right) and reading the outcomes like in parser IF (on the left). The puzzles were mostly fair, and I didn’t encounter any bugs. The humor was great. A couple of puzzles were a bit difficult (in the Speakeasy story, how was I supposed to know I was to visit the lumberyard, or the lawfirm?) but the included hints and walkthrough were very helpful.

=> 9.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]A sci-fi game where I am waking on a spaceship, not remembering entirely at first who I am. Soon enough, I learn that I’m approaching a civilization I’m supposed to eliminate because they are a threat to the human race. The first part of the game is spent on getting prepared and finding my gear. I played through once and reached what I learned was a bad ending, based on the walkthrough I consulted after play. I restarted and now paid more attention to the quote at the beginning mentioning subduing the enemy without a fight. So, the key here should be to find a more non-obvious way to end the story, and to refrain from declaring a war. Consequenly, I played differently on the second playthrough, taking care to make different choices where I could. However, I got the same ending as during the first time through. As I couldn’t figure out anything else to try, I looked at the walkthrough. Reading through it I was able to see that on my own, I would never have guessed the actions to try, to reach the optimal ending. So, this was not my cup of tea. One playthrough was short enough, but the difficulty of figuring out alternatives jarred the experience.

=> 7.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]An atmospheric piece about a protagonist who keeps visiting her mother, suffering from cancer, at a hospital. The mood is effective, and the build-up to the inevitable ending, in all its grimness, is beautiful. The only gripe I would have with this is that there are not many, if any, branches in the story; no matter what you choose (most usually from two alternatives), the story goes on in the same manner. At many instances, there is only one alternative to click - in other words, no interaction at all. Therefore, this could perhaps have worked as effectively in the form of static fiction. Then again, for example the “You should go now” alternatives, with no other alternative given, are perhaps meant to underline the patient’s feeling of despair. All that noted, the scarceness of alternating branches subtracts a couple of points.

=> 8.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]A lot of fun and smoothly implemented. I managed to find 9 of the 16 endings in the two-hour playtime. Nice humor and inventive puzzles. A couple of complaints: it took rather many clicks to hang the wreath above the door, and it didn’t get any faster on consequent tries. Entering the kitchen was a bit problematic; every playthrough, you had to wait for the vampire to go to the counter and start wooing the waitress and then wait for them to disappear into the kitchen. But these are minor issues. A nice touch was that the game remembered the psalm (or other religious passage) on subsequent playthroughs and you didn’t have to choose the words all over again. All in all, a real pleasure to play.

=> 9.[/spoiler]