Cya(oh, no!)tic reviews. Sort of.

Hey all.

I’m giving a chance to my already full agenda to be in much worse shape by trying and play EVERY GAME on the comp’s list. And reviewing them, too!
The games (up to now) seem pretty short, so I think I’ll stick to pretty short reviews, also.
I’ll stick to the random order the site has given me. Let’s start with…

Their angelical understanding, by Porpentine.

[spoiler]As expected, the playthru is a grim sequence of metaphorical and cryptic counter-verbal experiences. This time, as opposed to howling dogs, though, it looks like there is a finale and something to aim at. What I read (given I’ve seen far different expositions in the web and, by the nature of Porpentine’s own style, it may well be a chance at winning the guess anyway): those “angels” are angels-my-butt, as they (he? she? it looks like the previous encounter is with no more than one of those) sent shivers down my spine every time they were named. The PC had a trauma or (rather) a very bad childhood and now she’s fighting for herself, on a trip that steps on the very lowest briquets of hell.
A - as stated – grim sequence of dark nights filled with ideas and fun (if you can call punishment “fun”, anyway). Text that comes and goes, changing words, and even the opportunity to spit out what haunts you.
And then, at the end, a neat choice to be made between revenge and indulgence (sort of).

Felt the agony, kinda understood the story, liked it much. If this is the beginning of the Comp, this year it will be a lot of good times.
A Comp winner. Too easy to rate.[/spoiler]
Giant Red • Small White • Orange Glowing • Azure • Cyanotic

Autumn’s Daughter, by Devolution Games.

[spoiler]Game two in my list is again a nice piece of game.

[Ok. Sorry for calling them “games”, it’s a deviation of mine. They were games, when I used to play IF 30 years ago. The will always be games.]

Nice piece of game, although there’s a substantial gap between this one and Porpentine’s. There are flaws. The biggest is that the outcomes of the PC moves (or thoughts) are too much driven by the choices one made. If you believe in fate, this game will give you a far different answer. As an example: if you follow a woman’s advice suspiciously rather than convincedly (is that a word?) you either end up saved or prostitute. Against your own will, ofc. Dunno. If life was that easy, I would have been much more “convinced” for the best part of my life.

As opposed to Porpentine’s metaphorical language, Shumaila Hashmi’s one recounts the tale straight to the bone. Too bad, sometimes it feels like it’s too much. Whatever you do you have 95% probs to end miserable. It’s like whatever the causeway, the same result. Which is, by all that I know in regard, pretty much the truth, in certain places in the world.

The motive behind Autumn’s Daughter were to let the world know what happens to a rural pakistan girl everyday. It succeeded. Nice work; just beware of fake choices: they sometimes ruin the job.[/spoiler]
Giant Red • Small White • Orange Glowing • Azure • Cyanotic for the game overall. For the good intentions, something more than a Giant Red.

The Paper Bag Princess, by Adri.

[spoiler]I don’t know of the original tale, it figures. That could be nice, for a better experience. Too bad, in this case, I suppose not knowing makes the game unwinnable.

I resorted to the walkthrough pretty soon (Ah: nice one on promising us there WILL be hints sooner or later. I really love reading those sorts of things in a Comp entry!) and pretty soon I realized I had no chances. The deal with the torch and everything was frankly hard, but not impossible. The dialogue with the dragon I bet I could have made attempts for one hundred years before getting it. C’m ON! And what about the maze (oh, yes, there is a maze)? I wouldn’t have passed this through, again, with no hints. Because one drops a maze with no hints in THREE moves, not ten…
Too bad, because the joke was funny (and the back story, also: odd as it might appear, this game has a message on women abuse, too), but I couldn’t have reached it without aid.

On a last notice: I love skinny games, but this is frankly too much [emote]:)[/emote] A three-lines stand-up-comedian joke would have done the trick the same.[/spoiler]
Giant Red • Small White • Orange Glowing • Azure • Cyanotic

Hmm. Some thoughts on your review of the Paper Bag Princess, a game I quite liked.

  1. I agree that, right now, the dialogue puzzle is hard and rather arbitrary. I was defeated by a missing synonym. In fairness, though, it’s not entirely unclued:

[code]> kill dragon
The dragon is much larger and stronger than you. Perhaps you can outwit it in some way.

outwit dragon
Maybe you could try asking the dragon about fire or flight.

  1. The game credits lots of testers, and the implementation of the early stages is very thorough, suggesting Adri paid attention to them; I thought this made it obvious that the maze was fake. They would have complained about a real maze.
  2. I’m a little surprised you reviewed a game for children without considering what the experience might be like for them. There’s a clear reason to include a ten-step fake maze and a torch that starts to flicker: a seven-year-old would likely find them atmospheric and agreeably scary, and they help demonstrate Elizabeth’s strength, courage and determination.
  3. Again thinking about it as a game for children: it doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s hard for you without the walkthrough if, once you’ve read it, you can make the experience rewarding for a child, like a well told story.

Uhm. Ok, you sound reasonable.

[spoiler]1. When I got to that point, the walkthrough was already my master, as usually it happens. I think I would have tried something on the dragon (not attacking him, tbh, if not as a last, frustrated resort) but I can’t tell, now.
2. This sounds obvious. But, when playing, I’m too much absorbed by the game itself to be the betatester. That’s why that kind of thought doesn’t usually come to my mind. Anyway: you get out of the maze sooner or later, but maybe that many turns is a bit too much.
3. I didn’t see this being a game for children. I’ve replayed it right now, and can’t see where it states it is for children. The overall tone may suggest it, but then you don’t call a Prince a “jerk”. [emote]:)[/emote] Seriously, is this a game for children? Honestly it didn’t occur to me.
4. Yes, indeed, in retrospect, it’s a funny game. In retrospect [emote]:)[/emote]

Let’s add a point number

  1. The cover art (although reduced by ifcomp website) is really pretty.[/spoiler]
    Out of spoiler tab, because this will count for every game: the ratings at the end of the reviews are NOT meant as universal votes. It’s just how the game fared for ME. They represent how I felt during THAT session, THAT day, with THOSE feelings in my head. [emote]:)[/emote]

Vulse, by Rob Parker.

[spoiler]I knew it from the start. From BEFORE the start. This year, Twine and/or similar games would have been a lot. What I couldn’t foresee is that everybody went verbal and vomited on us an array of hypertext poetry the meaning of which the dumb minds like me will never get. I wanned to play at least three more games before rollin the cyanotics, but the next story in line dropped a wall of text on me so hard I had to take a break from Twine and obsessive mouse-clicking.

This game is - at least - interactive, albeit in a way I cannot convincedly (is that a word?) judge. The ending seems to be the same whatever I do (I’ve replayed it 10 times at least). The gimmick seemingly consists in having me replay just for the sake of getting the full story… if just I could get the story at all.

There is this place which I cannot tell if real of made up (by the mind of the PC) in which a lot of highly suggestive - and exquisitely told – imaginery takes place. The “floating body” of the blurb it took me three replays to find. A house (much similar, in atmosphere, to the deserted hub location of howling dogs) with the remnants of a solitary, miserable life. And a bunch of former school-mates chasing me for whatever reason.

I liked the text (but, PULL-HEEZ, try and deliver something I can understand, too!), but I know balls about the story. The meaning, the motives, the sub-text, whatever. A “nice” experience (if one can call punishment “nice”) that left me agonizing. A good punch to the stomach. But to what use?

Please, God, let the next game’s author NOT be David Lynch. I just wanned text adventures…[/spoiler]
Giant Red • Small White • Orange Glowing • Azure • Cyanotic for the text. Far below Cyanotic for the gaming side of the project. Now label me “old”. I AM old, for what it counts.

I’m skipping browser games, at the moment. I will try and play them if there is enough time when I’m done with the parser-based.
This for three reasons, mainly:

  1. I don’t seem to like the CYOA side of life. This means my reviews (or whatever they are) will suffer from me not liking a particular kind of game. Rating games with such a biased opinion seems unfair;
  2. I don’t seem to like the CYOA side of life. So I better use my time dong something I like, like playing plain old text adventures. Fortunately enough, I’m not your average trend setter or icon of meaningfulness, so no one’s harmed;
  3. 100% of the Twine games I tried so far are rehearsals of Eraserhead or walls of text where the interaction is “click here” where I was used from birth to turn a page. I don’t seem to like this particular part of the CYOA side of life.

Next up:
Ollie Ollie Oxen Free, by Carolyn VanEseltine.

[spoiler]A real text adventure! Yay! I think I spoiled my happiness via Twitter, too, so it’s better if I let go of the reins.

Ollie Ollie Oxen Free is (according to Wikipedia) “a catchphrase used in such children’s games as hide and seek to indicate that players who are hiding can come out into the open without losing the game”. I never heard of this before, and this sounds right as I never played hide and seek with non-italian children.
The game is all about a hide and seek, although one especially unfortunate. The school’s been bombed and I, the surviving teacher, have to go find the kids and bring them to safety.

Enuf with the story to avoid spoiling it for good (because, yes, you know, there is a shock a the end!). Let’s get to the game.

OOxF is an old style game in both the good and the bad news. The good news is that it has a lot of hard puzzles; a maze, which is not frustrating at all once you understand how it works, and you get it quite easily; it has a lot of answers to the wrong idea when you go on tampering and trying to solve those puzzles. Also, a lot of NPC to interact with, and the interaction is TOTAL, as you have to do EVERYTHING through the NPCs because unable to act by yourself.
The bad news is that you have, to begin with, to do EVERYTHING through the NPCs. And you have to do it and repeat it a hundred time every turn. I wonder why this is the kind of system breakdown beta testers almost never get. I mean: did you play the game? Did you try it for real, instead of go bashing that metaphorical hammer of a verb on any new object you found? (Sorry for being aggressive, I’m just joking–I know how hard the job of betatester is). At the seventieth “NPC, GET THIS THING YOU WERE HOLDING JUST A SECOND AGO, BEFORE I HELD YOUR HAND SO YOU HAD TO DROP IT, AND FOLLOW ME THROUGH ALL OF THIS SCHOOL TO TRY AND OPEN A GODDAMN DOOR” you begin to ache. Old style is also the almost complete lack of aid in the parser one ought to get used to nowadays. Something that would shorten the typing (a faster way to interact with the children, maybe?) and the re-typing.

That said, I think this is the best “game” I’ve tried so far in this Comp. With just some (ok: a LOT of) revisions, Carolyn may be able to deliver a great experience. The story is cool, compelling and well recounted. The NPCs are very detailed and functional (to the setting, if not to the puzzles) and the setting is new and well described. The “large” map didn’t require mapping at all (it’s actually a loooooong L-shaped place: you soon understand how it works) and that adds to the rating. Some of the puzzles were fun and funny (as opposite to others, read: the Teddy-under-the-table). I had a nice experience and it was thanks to the story, thanks to the characters and thanks to the puzzles.

Some (not requested) advice:

  1. try and get rid of the redundancies. Once you got the point (“I have no hands, please use the students to solve this game”), many repeating commands should be automated;
  2. Give better hinting to some of the puzzles. Especially the ones involving George: at a certain point you get a response that makes you believe the game is broken;
  3. correct some of the technical bugs. Although I haven’t found so many as, i.e., Sam Kabo Ashwell had, I had to fight with too many disambiguations and the likes. Having myself programmed something in Inform, I KNOW how much the code can get in the way of what you are trying to do. So, I RESPECT Carolyn’s work a lot because I wouldn’t be able to code HALF of the things her children do. What better occasion, then, to turn an “astonishing” into a “perfect”?[/spoiler]
    Giant Red • Small White • Orange Glowing • Azure • Cyanotic, and a THANK YOU for letting me back into the Awesome World of Text Adventures. Yay!

If many judges agree with you and choose not to vote on the kind of games they don’t like, the results will not be representative.
I’m pretty concerned that the IFComp is losing its focus on parser-based IF.

Now, now.
I don’t think “many judges” will agree with me. As far as I can see, instead, there are a lot of reviews out there who aim at CYOAs. This doesn’t mean they are “judges”, as it doesn’t mean I will judge anyway. I’m writing “reviews” here (the quotes are mandatory: I’m not sure my rants can go under that name). Period.

As for the second sentence, there is a lot of talk going on these days. I didn’t enter the subject just because i have almost nothing to say. I could address just two things, in here:

  1. I’m “concerned” as you are about the demise of parser-games, but maybe not so much. There’s still a lot of authors doing their business in Inform or Tads and I don’t think we will have to enact a funeral soon. The IFComp is pretty much the most popular thing there is regarding IF: that’s why there’s a lot of contestants and that’s why we have a lot of popular (in the immediate, at least) entry in CYOA format. This proves nothing else.
  2. If CYOA will substitute parser-games… well, I can be saddened, but not concerned. The best I can do is try and write something worthy in Inform and make the old text adventures survive. If CYOA will win, in the end… well, it’s the zeitgeist.
  3. If one between CYOA or parser-games will suffer because many people will judge a format bad because of biased opinions… well, it’s the zeitgeist. The result WILL be representative. If people hate CYOA, what’s wrong in voting them bad? If I was a judge in, i.e., Cannes Film Festival I would downgrade any romantic-teen-comedy* and give plus to all of the Tarantinos or Scorzeses… It seems fair to me. What do you think?

Best regards,

  • If you read that as “so, you think that a very good comedy will always be worse than a very good drama”… well, you are right. That’s what I think.

Two games.

First: A Wind Blown from Paradise, by N.C. Hunter Hayden

[spoiler]Let’s start by saying this was not a fortunate week as far as IF is concerned, for me. I tried to code some, but haven’t got the time, so I succeeded only in making the first room. I tried to play some, but I haven’t got the time, so I succeeded only in playing two, and none were memorable. And it’s a pity, because the premises were quite good for both.

Reading the about text I got the impression that this was going to be a rehearsal of a quite good game I tested more than one year ago and which run for last IFComp. Too bad, although very good imo, Spiral had no chance to win for the simple fact that it was competing against ME. Har-har-har.
The bad part of it is I’m not exactly in the mood of playing a rehearsal. The original was tiresome enough (you know, testing is not exactly like playing. And I’m quite the nitpicker when called on duty) to last a lifetime. Another wandering through sub-realms to gather a sense into an existence would probably have been to much.

Fortunately or, rather, unfortunately, the Wind that Blows from Paradise has not the same scent as a Descending Spiral and in the end it proved quite hollow.

The main problem is the content. There is not enough of it to start a discussion on whatsoever. You just go around deciding whether to DWELL into an object or otherwise and nothing very special happens ever. While in Spiral you had a lot of intricate puzzles (some of which extremely clever-- I want to mention the hexagonal church or the many co-op enigmas) to solve and a lot of info to gather, in AWBFP all you have to do is witness the same scene over and over with reduced description at every rehearsal. Dunno.

Although I sense a sense in all of this, I’m not sure I got it. And, if I dared to give an Azure to Porpentine last year (in private forums, that is!) because I didn’t get it, I may very well give an Azure to this. But that would mean stating that Adri’s game The Paperbag Princess is the same quality as this one, which isn’t. Adding to this, the game has called me “idiot” in at least an occasion. So:[/spoiler]
Giant Red • Small White • Orange Glowing • Azure • Cyanotic

Second: 9Lives, by InformStorm

[spoiler]This one is about reincarnation. The idea behind it is pretty interesting, and I’d have wanted to see it much better compiled.

In brief: you have (guess what?) nine lives. As in a sort of retrogame arcade, you have to try and “kill the boss” before you exhaust them. Every time you do something cool the game advanced and you go up one level. Vice versa, when you fuck up you are sent back to a former state of being. I don’t know if this is true-buddhist, but I guess the circle of life is just about that: from cockroach to demigod. Get to be a demigod and the next you are the Buddha.

Unfortunately (I hate using this word, but know no better ones. And it’s not my fault if you people make me say “unfortunately”. There you go: I’ve said it again!), unfortunately, I was saying, getting to be a demigod is not as hard as it sounds, and you discover pretty soon that’s far more difficult to become a cucaracha. In my first playthrough, I won the game in 3 lives.

Fact is, the “questions about your own morality” are so easy to answer that you can hardly say “parting with your life to save the princess” is a well done puzzle. After finishing the game I was just, like, meh? Weren’t the lives NINE? This is three, you cheaters. And you cheated on me twice [In the second episode you go down a stairway from level 9 to get to level 4 in one jump. That’s pretty unimpressive]. So, I replayed and started losing on purpose… still I haven’t got under level 4, which is the start. And the lives started counting themselves as the levels in that tower. You have 9 lives, then 6, then 4…

I guess I’m missing something in this game. As said, the idea behind was good but the authors didn’t succeed in making it work.

As a final notice: the implementation is UGLY. I don’t go checking for testers when playing a game for a very special reasons: when you don’t have your game tested IT SHOWS. This game SHOWS and if there were testers they must have been sister/wives/husbands/boyfriends because they didn’t get it at all.
Almost everything in unimplemented. Scenery, ofc, but even the most obvious things. A couple of examples, enuf to gain you the coldest color in my grade.

  1. in the life boat “you can’t see any such thing” as: a life boat (sic), a cable (the same cable that holds the life boat), anything else apart from a life jacket (which, by the way, will serve you nothing. You’d just sink into the water anyway: go check); in the same life boat you cannot JUMP but “on the spot fruitlessly”.
    2+1) As a bonus example: you are, ofc, “as good-looking as ever”. Which seems to be a trait in both 9Lives and AWBFP… but shouldn’t be in a game in which you change POV every 3 turns.

Anyway: this can be perfected. Being an assignment for school or something, I would have preferred to see it in the forums rather that in the IFComp, but it can surely be perfected.[/spoiler]
Giant Red • Small White • Orange Glowing • Azure • Cyanotic