George's 2009 playlist and reviews

I’m a little late to the party, but better late than never (or after November 15 I should say).

My playlist:

[x] Star Hunter (zcode/hunter/hunter.z5)
[x] zork, buried chaos (zcode/zorkburiedchaos/zork, buried chaos.zblorb)
[x] Beta Tester (zcode/beta/Beta Tester.z8)
[x] Earl Grey (glulx/earlgrey/earlgrey.ulx)
[x] The Ascot (adrift/ynkaboom/YNKaboom.taf)
[x] Gleaming the Verb (zcode/gleaming/gleaming.z5)
[x] Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort (adrift/astoundingcastle/astoundingcastle.taf)
[ ] The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man (zcode/invisible/invisible.z8)
[ ] Eruption (zcode/eruption/eruption.z5)
[ ] Resonance (glulx/resonance/resonance.gblorb)
[ ] GATOR-ON, Friend to Wetlands! (zcode/gatoron/gatoron.z5)
[ ] Trap Cave (windows/trapcave/nxi.exe)
[ ] Condemned (zcode/condemned/condemned.z5)
[ ] Interface (zcode/interface/Interface.z8)
[ ] The Grand Quest (zcode/grandquest/TheGrandQuest.z5)
[ ] Rover’s Day Out (glulx/rover/rover.gblorb)
[ ] Spelunker’s Quest (zcode/spelunkers/Spelunker’s Quest.zblorb)
[ ] The Duel That Spanned the Ages (zcode/duelthatspanned/duel.z8)
[ ] The Duel in the Snow (zcode/duelinthesnow/duel.z8)
[ ] Broken Legs (glulx/broken/Broken Legs.gblorb)
[ ] Byzantine Perspective (zcode/byzantine/byzantine_perspective.zblorb)
[ ] The Hangover (adrift/hangover/hangover.taf)
[ ] Grounded In Space (glulx/gis/GiS.gblorb)
[ ] Snowquest (zcode/snowquest/Snowquest.zblorb)

As in past Comps I’ll be rating games in three categories: Execution (how well the game plays technically; this category forgives a lot of errors like spelling and so on), Creativity (the richness of the idea, its characters and so on), and WTF!?, which rates how audacious, daring, and/or bold the entry is. The final score averages the rating in each category.

Usually I don’t play through two hours if a game isn’t holding my interest; I’ll still score these games though.

[size=150]Star Hunter[/size]

[spoiler]To be honest I would have enjoyed this a lot more if I actually was hunting stars. An old school text adventure, Hunter isn’t without its charms, such as collecting every object in sight and putting things into other things to see what happens, and hyperjumping around the solar system. However this isn’t enough to hold my interest; I would have liked to see some more verve in the action, maybe an antagonist racing you to find the bear? After about 45 minutes I peeked at the walkthrough. I salute anyone who wins this game.

Execution: Competently coded, and I can’t really fault it for ease-of-use since figuring out the various interfaces is what a lot of the gameplay is about. 6.

Creativity: Just enough to keep this together, but not without some style. 6

WTF!?: Not much going on here. 5

Score: 5.7[/spoiler]

[size=150]zork, buried chaos[/size]

[spoiler]Once again, I’m faced with a game where the title endears me more than the actual gameplay. It reminds me Paul Panks’ Ghost of the Fireflies, though even that game had a lot going for it to make up for its lack of firefly ghosts. To make a long story short, I could get behind zork, buried chaos if there was some amount of chaos, buried or not, but as it stands it’s another old school game without too much going on. I lasted about 15 minutes.

Execution: 5. It gets the job done.

Creativity: 4. Not much to see here.

WTF!?: 6.
I have to give a little bit of respect for entering this game in 2009.

Score: 5.[/spoiler]

[size=150]Beta Tester[/size]

[spoiler]One thing I’ve always liked about the IFComp is how it feels like you’ve just walked into an arcade (or, if you prefer, a library). And like an arcade or library you’ll walk by a few titles that are really similar, the shooters with the plastic guns or five year out of date books on HTML or whatever, but then you’ll turn a corner and walk down another aisle and find something different.

You could make the case that at its core Beta Tester isn’t different from the first two games I played – it’s an exploration game with some puzzles – but I would argue that in IF, a game’s presentation, or in other words, a game’s voice, can be everything. Beta Tester, then, lives (and dies, unfortunately for me) on its voice.

I get the feeling from this game that the author started off with a lot of energy to work on the first puzzle room, but this energy waned as he went further in. You can hear this in how the style of the voice supports the puzzle solving in the first room with its failure messages and extra descriptions, but later comes to replace much of the player agency with scripted outcomes to the actions you do take.

There is some genuinely funny writing here, but again, later in the game the comedy is less about the style of the voice itself and more about trying to script the comedy like conventional fiction, and for me this just didn’t work. The beginning of the scene with Greymyrrh is a good example. I quit a little after this point, as I didn’t feel the future boded well, and there was no walkthrough to peek at to see if I was making a mistake (I admire people like Mike S. with the stamina to play all the way through most of the games and write a fully informed review – unfortunately I’m not one of those people!).

Ultimately Beta Tester started off strong with real personality, but I think later used this style, to its detriment, as a crutch in place of real gameplay.

As far as I can tell this is the author’s first game; I definitely look forward to the second.

gameplay script (I’m not doing this for every game, just the ones that held my interest for a while)

Execution: 7
. Some complicated interactions pulled off well. (I’ve revised an earlier score for Star Hunter downward in this category)

Creativity: 8. Definitely a lot of effort here.

WTF!?: 7. Mainly because any IF game with a personality has something going for it in my opinion.

Score: 7.3[/spoiler]

[size=150]Earl Grey [/size]

[spoiler]The worst I can say about Earl Grey is it’s a game I would like to like more. I think in the end it’s just not the kind of game I usually like, as it’s sort of a cross between Violet and Lost Pig (I should add I’ve played about twenty minutes of those two games combined). I lasted a little longer with this one, and the script is here. I had to go to the walkthrough in the first puzzle, but I rarely play a game using a walkthrough at all, so it says a lot for this game that I continued from that point.

One of my favorite things about IF is its facility for transformation, something that hooked me early on in one of the first games I played (Worlds Apart, when the heroine changes into a bird), so Earl Grey had me from the start.

The problem was, except for a few moments (knocking the guardsman to wryness, and transforming the paper, as notable examples), the transformations remained firmly behind the battle lines of the crossword so to speak, though of course this really is no fault of the game itself. It could be I’m terrible at puzzles and just bitter as well. In any case a combination of losing interest and needing to hit the walkthrough more and more ended the game for me in the middle of the sphere scene; I’ll probably go back to this just to read the walkthrough.

Execution: 8. I especially liked the limits on the command set, though just by habit I was a little grabby grabby from time to time.

Creativity: 8. Imaginative to say the least.

WTF!?: 8.
An 8 for the unusual gameplay, probably would have scored a 9 if it wasn’t a series of puzzle boxes.

Score: 8.
Best of my list so far.[/spoiler]

[size=150]The Ascot[/size]

[spoiler]One thing I’ve noticed in the few years I’ve judged IFComp games is people talking about ‘joke entries’. Like, ‘is this a joke entry? Maybe this is just a joke entry but…I’m just going to assume this isn’t a joke entry and…’, etcetera. The assumption kind of being that I’m getting conned, and this isn’t serious business, or more to the point that the author didn’t put any effort into their game.

But what’s wrong with a joke, especially if all IF games are supposed to be riddles anyway :wink: ? Furthermore, I haven’t written any IF myself, but from the little I’ve messed around I get the sense that writing something that even just barely hangs together is significantly more work than I usually think about when I’m trying to tell a joke. All of this is a long preamble to saying that The Ascot is not a typical work of IF – in fact it feels like a joke – but whether it’s a joke or not I think it’s told very well. It demonstrates perfectly my opinion that the best IF uses the medium to its advantage; just because most IF doesn’t have graphics doesn’t mean that the form of an IF is not vitally important.

The Ascot conveys its form mainly by turning the game into a CYOA with two choices every turn; in this way it controls the game’s pacing (and so how the shape of its form unfolds) nearly to a tee. Any attempt to diverge from this constraint will ultimately end in death (brilliantly done). This is a very good way to present a game, if the writing is terrific, and I enjoyed some of the writing here a lot – “I mean, the sight of it is like nine nightmares wrapped in accidental electrocution… I mean, really shocking”. However at other times the writing was too glib for me and didn’t feel quite as vivid or gutsy as I would have liked, so in the end I wasn’t as entertained as I think I could have been.

Execution: 8. IF doesn’t have to be complicated to be done well.

Creativity: 7. A typical IF fantasy, but not done badly.

WTF!?: 7. The unusual format deserves some points here.

Score: 7.3[/spoiler]

[size=150]Gleaming the Verb[/size]

[spoiler]A word puzzle game (and that’s all, as far as I can tell) with minimal operating instructions, Gleaming may have some relationship between the puzzles and the answers but I wasn’t able to understand it. The weird thing is that many of the answers are very simple, more on the order of a spatially well defined cascade of letters through the puzzle, so…I just don’t get it I guess. I don’t think this was substantial enough for a Comp entry honestly, but nevertheless it’s competently done.

Execution: 7. Sufficient for what it does.

Creativity: 6. Some points are in order for even thinking of those puzzles.

WTF!?: 6. I’d give this more points if the game wasn’t as slight as it was.

Score: 6.3

[size=150]Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort[/size]

[spoiler]The amazing thing about this game is I stuck with it – even after the totally unclued up exit in the hovel, looking something up in Wikipedia (?!), and the random apply this to that sort of thing going on here. Regardless YAC is unabashedly what it is, and pulled off with a style and unity most games don’t come close to. Still it was far too much of this sort of thing for me to stick with it; I quit after about an hour when the goblin stole my treasure and peeked at the walkthrough. I’ll come back to this on a rainy afternoon. I don’t know why but I had fun playing this game.

Execution: 8. Despite the random difficulty and some minor typos this is really well put together in my opinion.

Creativity: 8. The work of a fertile mind.

WTF!?: 7.
This gets points for the Olde Englishe (which isn’t random as far as I can tell – there is a curse of spakery after all).

Score: 7.6[/spoiler]