IFComp reviews by scratchm


Heh, I can’t let Flack be the only one doing this. :slight_smile:

I first played Adventure on a line printer terminal over a 300 baud modem, and hunt the wumpus on a microcomputer with a seven-segment, 10-character scrolling display, loaded from audio tape.

But aside from Zork 1, I missed most of the infocom era. Many of the classics are still on my to-play list.

Then I got back into interactive fiction around 1995 or so, and have played an average of 5-10 games a year since then. So not the most dedicated player, but fairly well versed in modern IF. Every year I spend at least some time programming IF, but have never completed or published a story. Now I find myself out of work, disabled, with a lot of free time on my hands. So I’m playing a lot more IF and may actually make progress towards completing a game of my own this year.

Anyway, on to the reviews. Each in a separate post, nicely wrapped in spoiler tags. I’m posting them in the same order I’m playing them:

  • Divis Mortis
  • A Quiet Evening at Home
  • Gigantomania
  • Mite
  • Flight of the Hummingbird
  • Sons of the Cherry
  • The Chronicler
  • Oxygen
  • Heated
  • The Bible Retold: The Lost Sheep
  • The 12:54 to Asgard
  • Death Off the Cuff
  • Gris et Jaune
  • Rogue of the Multiverse
  • East Grove Hills
  • The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game
  • The Warbler’s Nest
  • Leadlight
  • One Eye Open
  • Aotearoa
  • Ninja’s Fate
  • The Blind House
  • The Bible Retold: Following a Star
  • R
  • Pen and Paint
  • Under, in Erebus
  • Bonus: The Unicorn Pool (disqualified from the comp)


Divis Mortis by Lynnea Dally

Spoiler-tastic review below.

[spoiler]Ok, so my first game of the comp is a zombie game, cool! I groan at the amnesia angle, but it’s not as severe as it usually is so I decide to forgive it. Then I notice how hungry I am… and the headache, and how I’m covered from head to toe and can’t remove my rubber gloves, white boots, or lab coat. Hmm… I wonder if I’m being set up for a “Surprise! You are a zombie!” ending. That would be slightly disappointing.

First puzzle? Push a button. Ok then, pushed. Moving on.

What you did not expect is to see are two dead bodies.

Yup, the game is starting to lose points for bad editing already. Not a great sign. But the descriptions in this room are nicely gruesome, so again I forgive.

I arm myself with the handgun and spend eight turns trying to figure out if I have any ammunition or not (the description said the chamber was empty, but it didn’t say anything about the magazine). Finally I just try to shoot it and discover that it is, indeed, empty. Puzzle number two: Find ammo. Cool.

I look around again and the room description starts with

You are in a computer control system.

Really? I’m really in a computer control system? I want to like this game, but it keeps making it difficult.

The periodic messages about being hungry and having a headache make me wonder again if I’m a zombie, or on my way to being a zombie. I figure my head is the only part of my body that isn’t described as being covered, so I try to examine it:

>x my head Pieces of skull that have been scattered across the floor of the Radiation Controls room.
No points lost for that one because I suspect it’s an inform limitation dealing with pronouns.

Puzzle three: Swipe the badge across the badge reader. Done.

I wander out to the cafeteria, pick up a bottle of water, and get attacked by a zombie. Grabbing the closest blunt object, I smash her skull in. Neat!

The now broken skillet clatters to the ground.

Well and good, except that later I notice it’s still in my inventory. Grrr.

More pronoun trouble in the kitchen:

[code]>take chickpeas

eat them
(first taking the cabinets)
This was salvaged by the funny response to trying to take the cabinets, which I would not have otherwise seen.

Puzzle four: Sanitize a can of chickpeas. Done.

Another hint that I might be a zombie. Ugh.

Find the staircase… Puzzle five: Get upstairs. Puzzle six: Get downstairs.

Upstairs first, that’s probably where the ammo is for my gun. I need something to stand on, eh? Garbage bin: Nope. Recycle bin: Nope. Microwave: Nope. Let’s check out the entry hall. Looks like this bench can be moved, but then again I’m getting a message that it can’t be pushed from place to place. Then I get blindsided by a clue-stick telling me to put it in front of the sliding glass door, so I do it. Takes a couple of tries to get the syntax right though.

The pharmacy seems to exist solely to resolve the headache, so I do that and move along to the gift shop, where I get attacked by another zombie. Cool! But the only weapon I’ve got is the apparently ruined skillet. Might as well give it a try, so I attack the zombie with the skillet…

[code]>attack zombie with broken skillet
You can’t see any such thing.

attack man with skillet
You can’t see any such thing.
Yep… the zombie disappeared into thin air. One moment it was there, the next… not there. Oh well.

There’s an odd description bug the second time I look at the gift shop, but I ignore it and pick up a flashlight, discovering Puzzle Seven: Get the plastic crap off the flashlight. LOL! That’s an excellent idea for a puzzle.

Taking inventory, I decide to lighten my load.

[code]>x skillet
A skillet torn asunder; there is blood - both clotted and dried covering the metal part. It is rendered quite useless.

drop it
You drop broken skillet. You hope you remember where you put it.

get it
That’s hardly portable.

get skillet
That’s hardly portable.

Gift Shop
An assortment of gifts and necessities, designed to milk more money out of patients and their visiting families. The place is quiet and poorly lit, lending to a dystopian atmosphere. There are rows and rows of low shelves containing gift cards, knick-knacks, flowers and balloons. The section containing flashlights, lamps and batteries.

You can go south to the the Entry Hall.

The skillet must have followed the zombie, I think. Weird.

After observing the entirely awesome response to ‘take balloons’, I depart to check out the physical therapy room. Aha! Stepping blocks. Cool. Puzzle five: Done. Puzzle two: Done.

The mirrors in the bathroom are completely destroyed. More evidence that I’m a zombie, I fear. I don’t feel like a zombie. I seem to have too much control over myself, I don’t seem to shamble, there is evidence that I can think just fine. Whatever.

The medical records room provides a fair bit of backstory, and it is presented pretty nicely.

Puzzle seven: Done. I should be able to get downstairs now, I think.

Oh look, what’s this?

[code]>x telephone
A plastic set, with the handset attached to the base with a long, loopy cord. This model is slightly old.

call 911 on phone
I only understood you as far as wanting to call.

call phone
I only understood you as far as wanting to call.

The emergency call box isn’t open.
Hmmm… where would I find an emergency call box? Off to the elevators it is, then. This bit seems like it was written in a hurry, but lays out my objectives pretty clearly. Down we go now.

While trying to figure out how to get downstairs, I drop the flashlight. When I ‘look’ to find it (worrying that it disappeared like the skillet) what do I find? THE SKILLET! Now that’s a pretty weird bug.

I have to use a hint at this point, which reminds me that there were also lamps available in the gift shop. So I get one. The same verbs that gave me completely discouraging default responses with the flashlight work with the lamp. Could certainly have been hinted better. Puzzle six: Done.

A little poking around in the basement and a bit of conversation reveals my next several steps. Including another clue-by-four to the head regarding the gas solution. I’m a little miffed about this, because the entire justification for going down to the basement in the first place was to team up with other survivors, not to kill them with poison gas. But whatever.

Now I have to go outside, and I get stuck trying to figure out how to deal with the zombies outside the lobby (shooting them does nothing) at about the same time as my two hours are up (Yes, I play slowly). I decide to stop playing and wait for a post-comp bugfix release.[/spoiler]

Summary: I had a lot of fun, despite the bugs and other errors. I was surprised to learn that this was Lynnea’s first real programming effort; it certainly needs more testing and some bug fixes, but doesn’t strike me as a first attempt. I expect a fixed version to appear before long and eagerly look forward to seeing what she does for next year’s competition.


A Quiet Evening at Home by Anonymous

Very short spoilers.

  • Unlock the front door.
  • Locate the bathroom.
  • Explore the house.
  • Exercise the hamster.
  • Make a can of soup.
  • Quit from boredom.

Almost everyone who has written any IF has, at one point or another, implemented the place they live in. Once in a great while, someone is dumb enough to publish such a work. I suppose it was inevitable that one day someone would enter a “game” like that in the comp. This is that sad, sad day.


Gigantomania by Michelle Tirto

[spoiler]I had to type ‘harvest potatoes’ more than a dozen times.

The writing was very good. The story had a great (if dreary) atmosphere that was well communicated. The conversations were not great, but conversations are difficult and my understanding is that this was a first effort, so that’s to be expected.

I didn’t feel as if my choices mattered much at all. But maybe that was part of the point. The story certainly had a clear creative vision, and for the most part it seems that vision was accomplished. Whether one likes the result is somewhat personal.

I couldn’t finish the game. I have depression to begin with, and it was just too much of a downer. While I can’t really say I enjoyed it, I don’t think that means the story was a bad one.[/spoiler]


Mite by Sara Dee

I had the great pleasure of playing this game with my father, sister, and ex-wife in the car on a road-trip. I read it out loud and everyone suggested commands to type. I love group IF excursions. This may have caused me to rate the game a bit higher than I otherwise would have, I’m not sure.

[spoiler]This game had me hooked from the beginning. A mysterious thief running through the fields, in a dusky hood and with an impish smile. A curious bulge.

Something about it just wasn't right. And that's partly why you did what you did.
[/code]What did I do? What did I do? I pause before pressing the space bar, trying to guess. Then I find out. [code]
A millisecond before the caped sprinter was upon you, you stuck out your small green foot.

Well, this tells me a lot about my character. I’m fast. I’m brave. I’m small, and green. Such economy of words. I press the space bar again, eager to learn more. Then the thief swears – in Trollish. Along with my small green foot, this is already giving me an idea of my milieu. I’m loving this game, and I haven’t even seen a command prompt yet.

Soon enough I do, and a few quick commands tell me that I’m a pixie named Mite, that I have only a jewel in a sling, and that the grass here is as tall as I am. I’m not 100% sure if that means it’s really tall grass or if I’m really short, but I suspect the latter. I try out some magic words, which are implemented, and not knowing if pixies traditionally have wings or not, I try to fly. What do you want to fly to? Ooh, awesome! I type ‘north’. You are unable to. Oh. Interesting, maybe I can fly if I drop the jewel? Nope, I can’t drop the jewel. Maybe I’ll gain flying abilities later.

Not being able to see anything in either direction, we set off to the north. Hespa the nymph is missing her pet bug. We shall try to help. The spider doesn’t like it when I attack, especially the second time. Undo. Hmm… I’ll probably need a weapon. I spend several turns trying to sling the jewel at the spider, before concluding that it isn’t that sort of sling. Back to the rose bush for a thorn. Neat! This time I am victorious, and I quickly cut the pet bug out of the web. Hespa is grateful and gives me a small pouch. Odd, but no doubt it will come in handy.

Back to the fork in the road, and head east. One of the tulips is unique. We try to climb it, fly to it, talk to the butterfly, shake the tulip, all to no avail. Moving on.

Ah, a dandelion this time, with all those little white seeds. This one looks splendidly shake-able, but alas that does nothing. We spend a few turns trying to navigate the marsh to the east, but it is impassible. The dandelion has leaves on the stem that look promising, but they are not takeable. We conclude that these flowers are just pretty scenery and continue on our way.

We then meet the second NPC on the shore of the pond, a snail named Snoll. He’s obviously just there to tell us how to cross the pond. Hespa wasn’t a very deep character either. I would have liked to see more interesting characters in this game.

We don’t find the clues about how to cross the bridge (we never typed ‘x bridge’), but we do independently come up with the idea of putting dirt on it. While trying various commands to carry out this plan, we see>x dirt A patch of dirt hovering over the water is the only evidence that the bridge exists.We decide that this is a bug, a scenery object that is present too early, and take it as confirmation that dirt is the key. So we spent entirely too long trying to find portable dirt. Finally, we take a look at the hints, and retrieve the pollen from the unique tulip. Discovering, along the way, the utility (or lack thereof) of the fly verb.

On the other side of the pond, we had a little difficulty with the garden gnome problem. The pushable nature of the smaller mushroom could have been clued better, especially in response to ‘take’. The Alice in Wonderland references were appreciated, however.

The chipmunk guard was colorful like the other NPCs, but lacked depth, like the other NPCs.

Then we win, and the best part is that it is possibly set up for a sequel. Yay!

It was a little too short. There were a couple of minor typos in the text, and it could have used deeper interaction with at least one of the NPCs, and one of the puzzles (or puzzle chain, if you will) could have used a different or additional clue. But it was a fantastic game with great atmosphere and we all really enjoyed it. The implementation was nearly perfect as well. I haven’t played enough of the games to chose a winner yet, but Mite is definitely one of the contenders.[/spoiler]


Yeah… tho the hamster puzzle was pretty cute. I chuckled, briefly. In fact it sort of felt to me that the whole game might have been an excuse for that hamster.


I agree, the hamster was the best part of the game. Not that it compensated for the rest of it, though.


I saw the hamster, then the microwave, then immediately had a Maniac Mansion flashback … (wait, that was a gerbil I think).


My brother discovered that while it won’t let you put the hamster in the microwave, it WILL let you put the hamster in the bowl, and then the bowl in the microwave. The hamster doesn’t seem to mind.




I was right the first time; it was a hamster.


Flight of the Hummingbird by Michael Martin

[spoiler]So it starts out just fine. I do all my usual beginning of game commands, look around, check out the rooms nearby. A couple rooms to the south I find the wreckage of a shack.>x wreckage It's a pile of metal beams, once an innocent building.Obviously unimportant; more words are spent describing the sand, and it’s clear that I’ll need to fly over the water (by flapping my arms) which would be impossible while carrying metal beams. Off I go then.

I die once, splashing down into the ocean. Restart.

I manage to reach the island. Man, this flying mechanic is annoying.

The first conversation of the game has two options, and one of them ends the game. What was the point of that? I suppose to work in the ‘without bloodshed’ line, but that could have been done without giving me a meaningless choice.

I quickly find the fuel truck and put ‘find key’ on my to-do list. Then I locate the front door.[code]>s
(first opening the massive door)
The door is too heavy to open by main strength.

drink energy drink
(first taking the energy drink)
You take another sip of your energy drink and are fully recharged. You flap your arms with all your power and again defy gravity.

open door
You can’t really do that while flapping your arms.

You settle back to earth, your energy exhausted.

open door
The door is too heavy to open by main strength.[/code]This teaches me an important lesson: I cannot do anything other than fly when energized. I will remember this.

I fly up to the roof and struggle with the access hatch for a while. I search the island for anything to use for leverage. I finally give up and use a hint. 6/9: Have you seen a nice supply of metal bars anywhere? Gah. No, in fact I have not seen a nice supply of metal bars. What I saw was a “pile of metal beams”.

A beam is of no use as a crowbar. But whatever, now I have to do that annoying flying thing all the way back to the mainland. And then again back to the island.

So now I’m in the hangar, and I see what the fuel truck is for. It’s also clear I need to open the roof up. And the front door to get the fuel truck in. Down and south to the staging area, a room with absolutely nothing of interest in it. Then to the minions’ chambers, again nothing of interest. To the office, open the desk drawer, fall into the pit. Take the key, spend another few turns trying to figure out what this crate could be for and how I might be able to get it upstairs. Give up.

Go back up, take the key from the drawer, enter the command center. Figure out the command terminal puzzle.

Get the truck. Refuel the rocket. Open the roof. This is all very easy but slightly tedious. At some point I move the fuel truck away from the launch area just in case. Launch into space.

The docking puzzle was kind of interesting. I didn’t fully understand it; I think the directions could have been described better, but it was easy enough to manipulate the numbers to achieve the desired result.

So then I reach the vestibule. Earlier in the game, I had run across a bunch of things that I would expect to be described, but that were not. For example:[code]Pit Trap
This pit trap is almost two hundred feet deep, and surrounded by smooth walls on all sides. Nevertheless, the bottom seems mostly clean. Perhaps he has some means of flushing it out - or maybe it’s just never been used to dispose of anyone.

x floor
You can’t see any such thing.

x ground
You can’t see any such thing.

x walls
You can’t see any such thing.[/code]So here in the vestibule, when I start running into descriptions like this:[code]>x portholes
You can’t see any such thing.

x porthole
Which do you mean, the spinward, the antispinward, or the outside?

You see nothing unexpected in that direction.[/code]I’m not really surprised, but it does take me longer than it should have to figure out there was a passageway behind the drapery because I stop looking at everything so closely.

I enjoyed the process of digging through the countermeasures crate, even though I usually detest repetitive commands.

I understand that there are multiple solutions to weakening the guards; I chose to put the potassium bromide in the coffee. My first attempt at this was ‘pour vial into coffee pot’ but pour wasn’t implemented. ‘put vial in pot’ worked just fine, but it just wasn’t the sentence I would have used to describe the action.

So after they drink the spiked coffee, I find I need to do something else to give myself a further advantage. The solution turns out to be drinking the energy drink. But I’m kind of annoyed at this, as the game taught me pretty clearly early on that I can’t do anything but fly while energized. If it allows this exception, why not allow me to attempt other feats of strength while energized? Meh.

So then we have the final conversation, which at a minimum can be said to be better than the first. And game over. I got 50/51 points, but there’s no way I’m going back to find the last point.

All things considered, it was a good game. I gave it a high score. But it could have used any kind of in-depth characterization of the PC or an NPC, and some more work on some of the descriptions is needed.[/spoiler]


Sons of the Cherry by Alex Livingston

[spoiler]I don’t normally enjoy CYOA as much as parser-based IF, but for CYOA this was fairly fun.

It was too short, and for the most part the decisions one makes don’t matter or make any difference. As one other reviewer noted, it was full of historical inaccuracies (I didn’t care about that at all, because I viewed it as a fictional story with a few warped historical characters, not historical fiction per se).

On the other hand, it was well written, and just an entertaining story. I certainly enjoyed it more than A Quiet Evening at Home.[/spoiler]


I rated it rather low, but after the last two games I played I think I will bump up my rating a number or two.


Haha, yeah there are some pretty bad ones this year. Speaking of which… see my next post.


The Chronicler by John Evans

I can’t think of a better context to post this in, so…
[rant=Rant: Unfinished Games]So far I’ve played eight competition games this year (if you include the one I beta tested). I only consider three of them to be both reasonably complete and adequately tested, and one of those was the CYOA game. Four of the games I’ve played (including the one I beta tested) seemed to have been finished, if you can call it that, just barely before the competition deadline and received less testing than they should have.

Is it unreasonable of me to expect that games be completed and well-tested prior to being entered in the competition? Are game authors so eager to be embarrassed and mocked that they simply can’t withdraw their entry if it’s not done in time? One game I played had the potential to be a 10/10 if only it didn’t have game-ruining bugs and unfinished puzzles. Sure, you can fix those problems and do a post-comp release, but why you would enter a clearly unfinished work in the comp is a mystery to me.[/rant]

[spoiler]This was the most un-finished game I’ve seen (and I pray, will see) in the comp. No story to speak of. Most objects are not implemented at all (I saw “You can’t see any such thing.” more than all other text combined). A potentially fun time travel mechanic ruined by bugs and bad design decisions. When I finally resorted to reading the help file, I find

More like one-quarter, John, or perhaps one fifth.[/spoiler]


The ‘revolution’ one seems quite finished — polished, even. And it’s funny as heck. Try that!


Thanks for the suggestion. :smiley: I’m going to play them all before the comp is over; right now I have seven others on my list before The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game. Next up: Oxygen.


I’m afraid this particular author has a long history of submitting to the comp unfinished games with cool central ideas that could have been awesome. And every time, people say, ‘hey, this could have been awesome if only it had been finished enough to be playable. Next time give yourself more time and finish the thing.’ The advice hasn’t sunk in yet, and this makes me think either he doesn’t read the reviews at all or annoying comp judges has developed into some kind of bizarre performance art for him. Dunno.


Actually, I rather suspected that was what was going on with A Quiet Evening at Home… some kind of joke. :confused: