My IF Comp Reviews

Hello, everyone–

I needed a place to post my reviews, so here they go! Here’s hoping I do this correctly.


[spoiler]This appears to be the result of some sort of class project and thus I am loath to be too harsh. It’s essentially classic CYOA, with three main paths (I’m assuming that there were three authors as well — the writing styles are very different). There are many grammar/usage issues throughout, from point-of-view hopping to verb-tense disagreement to plain old spelling errors/typos.

The story itself was initially a little hard to follow. The introductory text describes three funerals, each attended by the same red-headed young lady… I’m assuming that this is ultimately the PC, but I did not make the connection until later in the game. After the brief intro, you are immediately dumped into the realm of Norse mythology (hence the title) without much explanation. The gist is that you are imbued with a special power to foresee death. You are given the option to see how this plays out as a thief, a wizardess, or a swordswoman. These paths are, respectively, sparse, bland, and verbose but not without charm. There is some overlap between them as each involves the retrieval of Freya’s missing necklace (the famed Brísingamen?) from Loki. Your chosen calling plays more of a role in your success in this task than your psychic abilities, however, so that was a bit of a wasted plot point.

All in all, it’s a mixed bag.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Another CYOA. In this one, you are a would-be passenger searching a foreign airport for your friend. There isn’t a whole lot of action right up until the security check endgame. You are able to loop through a few of the standard airport locales (the terminal, the food court, the bathrooms) and grab some sustenance along the way but it’s all relatively ineffectual. Well… aside from your choice of beverage, potentially.

When you finally do attempt to make your way through security, you find that someone has mysteriously planted drugs and a knife on you. I found it kind of hard to imagine why anyone would do this. Hiding drugs in your luggage as a part of a smuggling effort, sure. But slipping a small bit of powder into your pocket along with a switchblade? That’s one mischievous stranger.

Aside from that silliness, the writing is fairly solid, if generic. There were a few typos, but nothing too egregious. And, it’s worth mentioning, one of the lines in the description of the bathroom made me retch a little.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Placekickers can’t get no respect, apparently.

This game was pretty cute. In it, you are the kicker for an American football team, striving to do your best in your latest match-up. Unfortunately, as is the nature of your position, you spend a lot of your time on the sidelines, watching everyone else get the glory.

Kicker is fairly novel in its structure as a work of interactive fiction in that there are no real puzzles to solve. You just wait and watch as the game unfolds, stepping in when needed. While offense and defense take turns slugging it out on the field, you are essentially relegated to the role of spectator, dividing your attention between the action on the field, the rambunctious crowd, and the teammates whom you long to impress. Some fun “sporty” verbs have been implemented as well to help you pass the time: you can practice, stretch, exercise, and down electrolytes to your heart’s (and hamstring’s) content. It’s not clear whether or not this actually helps you when you are called in to assist with field goals and kick offs. For all I know, the measure of your success in these efforts is entirely random. Still, it’s all pretty fun and I managed to ending up on the winning side during my second run-through.[/spoiler]

Castle Adventure

[spoiler]I was a little confused by this one at the onset. It has a publication/release history? The original copyright date is listed as 2002 (for Grinnan Berrit Software), and it was adapted to Inform 7 in 2012. I was unsure whether this was a weird detail that skirted the rules of the competition or it was part of a greater joke. I decided on the latter as I settled in and took a look at the first prompt:

You are in a forest.

LOL. Surely this is going to end up being a parody of the bare-bones games of yore, replete with knocks on two-word parsers and shout-outs to grues. Well… as it turns out, nope. It’s a straightforward old-fashioned adventure game. And it’s every bit as tedious as the first room description suggests. Almost every major area of the game is a maze, if not in the traditional sense, then due to the fact that there are numerous empty rooms with identical descriptions. Yikes.

I have to admit that I gave up early on and turned to the walkthrough/transcript. There were some rather charming puzzles as the game progressed (such as the magpie with the fetish for shiny objects) but I never would have gotten to them on my own due to the whole map situation.

It’s clear that some degree of effort went into the making of Castle Adventure. Unfortunately, not enough of that effort went into ensuring that it was user friendly. Few players these days have the patience to deal with mazes, darkness puzzles, and unwinnable states, even in the name of nostalgia. If this is simply a porting of an older game to a new format, however, I suppose none of that matters much.[/spoiler]

The Lift

This game is like if a 13-year-old boy’s Pre-Algebra doodles were turned into a work of interactive fiction. You are trapped in a building full of DANGER! and you must fight your way out with the weapon of your choice. But first, you must decide whether or not to masturbate one last time. Riveting stuff.

Irvine Quik & the Search for the Fish of Traglea

[spoiler]The title pretty much sums it up: you are Irvine Quik, space dude, and you’re on a madcap mission to hunt down the nearly extinct Great Sleeping Fish on the planet Traglea so that it can be cloned. This will supposedly prevent great economic collapse in that area of the galaxy.

I got stuck pretty early on in this one. I can’t be entirely certain, but I think that the memory-code/ship-landing puzzle is a little broken, because… my memory is not that bad. Thankfully, there were a couple alternative solutions. It’s kind of weird, because on the one hand, the game includes a lot of nice features for new users, like mini-tutorials and chapter selection (which allows you to bypass some of the clunkier sections). On the other, I had a rather frustrating experience with the walkthrough, which is more of a collection of puzzle hints/solutions than a step-by-step listing of commands. Still, in spite of this and some adventures in parser wrestling, I was able to muddle my way through, and I did have a bit of fun along the way.

The story itself is light-hearted and silly (as one would probably expect, given the title). There’s a cat in a top hat, a monkey thief, and a literal red herring. It wasn’t really my humor, but I rather enjoyed the fighting sequences.

Overall, for this one, I think a little tightening up would go a long way.[/spoiler]

howling dogs

[spoiler]A lovely prose poem of a game. This is how CYOA should be done.

I was not quite so enthusiastic at the onset, with the esoteric opening quotation and the stock space station/medical facility setting. I was quickly taken in, however, with the quality of the writing, the interesting vignettes that unfolded during the activity room sessions, and the deftly employed graphics.

So you, the unnamed PC, are trapped alone in the aforementioned asylum (I’m going with this setting, even though it’s not explicitly identified, given the “sanity room” and the allusions to hospitals elsewhere in the game). The only “real world” clue to your identity is a photograph of a woman from your past… obviously a person you cared a great deal about before you were thrust into your current situation. Your actions are limited to addressing your basic needs (eating, drinking, bathing), passing time in the sanity room, and indulging in virtual-reality–type sessions in the activity room.

The bulk of the game is made up of these simulated scenes, which start out rather idyllic but, by the end, have ventured into some deeply disturbing territory. The scenes appear to be linked by the theme of feminine persecution: there is an abused wife, a Joan of Arc figure who is burned at the stake, and a powerful empress whose life has nonetheless been mapped out for her. The relationship between the scenes and the PC’s reality is left a mystery, although some dots can be connected based on the ending with the woman in the sky mask.

I have my own theory: the scenario with the wife and husband was real. In the scene, the woman/PC constantly refers to a span of three hundred days, the happenings during which have led her to decide to commit the murder. By the time she is in the institution, she is at day 367, indicated by the red LCD. This number is incremented after each activity room session. These sessions serve a rehabilitating role: they allow her to confront the incident, work through feelings of guilt/suffering, and, ultimately, decide whether to spend the rest of her days in an “opiate” haze or to allow the memory of her one true love to guide her to salvation. Again, that’s just a theory.

I will be very interested to see how others respond to this one.[/spoiler]

“Fairly novel” as in “has been a standard technique for over a decade”?

There are many other time-based games where turns are measured in terms of sports plays and where the player can choose to perform (or not) at select (but perhaps random) points? I haven’t played them, but I am probably a more casual consumer of IF. Also, I never assumed Kicker was entirely experimental, just that it was somewhat rare and certainly a departure from the other comp games I have seen so far.

[spoiler]Maybe the novelty of Kicker, if there is one, is that not only are there no puzzles to solve, there’s nothing else to do either. Most of the other puzzleless IF I’ve played takes pains to make it feel as though the PC is participating in the story, and you have to give them the (obvious, which is why it’s puzzleless) commands it takes for them to participate. Even in Rameses the PC is doing stuff, though it’s largely out of the player’s control.

The only games I can think of where the PC is simply an observer in an unfolding process are Centipede and The End of the World (from Gregory Weir’s The Bryant Collection). And those games were a lot shorter, and had a lot less simulation in the process you were observing. (I’ve read that Centipede actually has some puzzles where you can change what happens, mostly by doing a bunch of stuff in the timed opening sequence. I find Centipede one of the most enigmatic games I’ve ever played.) This is surely deliberate on the part of the author, who made an entire Flash game about standing in line for a performace art exhibit – I was going to play it now, but the stupid museum is closed Tuesdays.[/spoiler]

[spoiler]Okay, that’s more specific than what you originally said: “a work of interactive fiction in that there are no real puzzles to solve. You just wait and watch as the game unfolds, stepping in when needed.”

IF games about sports matches are a bit more of a recent trend, but Kicker is, as far as I can tell, something of a parody of last year’s Bonehead, another mopey game centred around a sports match with an outcome that’s effectively out of your hands; and perhaps also Fan Interference from the same year, in which a baseball game is recounted play-by-play in the background and you have to interfere to fix it in time.[/spoiler]

Pretty sure ports break the rules of the Comp., so Castle Adventure should be a new game (or disqualified [emote]:?[/emote] )

The only public info about Castle Adventure’s origins appears at game start, which says:

‘Written and directed by Ben Chenoweth (Copyright 2002 Grinnan Berrit Software). Adapted to Inform 7 by Ben Chenoweth, 2012.’

It may be a joke, or a way of saying the author was working on the game back in 2002 in some other form. I’m assuming the comp organisers would have queried this and that it’s comp compatible.

  • Wade

Yeah, I assumed that this was essentially a version of Terry Pratchett’s blurb to The Carpet People, where he says that the book has two authors, one of whom is a much younger Terry Pratchett (and he doesn’t even have to share royalties with him, hah.)

Shuffling Around

[spoiler]Shuffling Around goes from plain old wacky to headachingly surreal pretty quickly. You start out at a job fair after having recently been fired, but soon wander away from the crowd and into a realm of zany word puzzles. There are some early hints of what is to come (e.g., the caterers on the terraces and the no-entry sign) so this transition is only slightly jarring. From there on, though, it’s anagramorama. Thankfully I like word games.

This one is fairly long and chock full of locations, objects, and multi-part puzzles. Progress is made by uttering magic words, which happen to be anagrams for key items in your immediate vicinity. So, when confronted with a toga, typing “goat” conveniently transforms the garment into a horned and hoofed mammal that is more than happy to eat the pesky thorn blocking your passage.

The transformable objects are generally easy to spot. On top of this, the game provides a couple handy gadgets that allow you to scan the objects and de-scramble their names. That said, I still managed to get stuck a few times, namely in the metro. That section didn’t work as well for me as some of the others. (My favorite puzzle overall: making the taco.)

Beyond the opening and the vaguely described threat of some villain named Red Bull Burdell, there isn’t much in the way of a plot. The prose is also occasionally difficult to slog through due to the superabundance of anagrams embedded in the sentences. Some of it was amusing, but it caused a little brain melt at times. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the level of effort that had to go into it, however.

Final judgment: Recommended (with Tylenol).[/spoiler]


[spoiler]I think this may be the first Quest game I’ve ever played. The interface has some interesting features, like pop-up menus and an information/status panel, but they are not implemented as fully as they need to be in Signos. For example, clicking on the menu links for certain objects often produces a list of commands that aren’t really applicable to the object at hand (like the option to “take” the bed). But on to the story…

Signos finds you exploring a dream land of your own creation, the purpose of which is to find the answers to life’s big questions (Why am I here? What is the meaning of it all?). The game is no deep philosophical journey, however. Figures and symbols from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism do make an appearance, but your interaction with them is very limited (and buggy). I suspect that the game is an ESL effort and that that contributed greatly to the stripped down nature of the prose (as well as a lot of the grammatical issues).

On the plus side, Signos does include some pleasant graphics and sound effects. I thought I read somewhere that there was music as well, but if there was, it didn’t work in my browser.[/spoiler]

Last Minute

[spoiler]A last minute IF Comp entry about putting together a last minute IF Comp entry. This is not the most gripping premise for a game. Add to that the fact that it’s CYOA and takes place in someone’s apartment and you’ve got… a recipe for something potentially smelly.

The author manages to skirt limburger territory, but barely. Last Minute is saved by a strong, often amusing narrative voice. The gameplay finds you searching three locations in your apparently tiny domicile for potential inspiration for your hero, conflict, and villain. Once you have your inspiration, the game spins out your resulting yarn for you. There are quite a few possible combinations for this, but they all essentially involve your flawed protagonist trying to save the world from some ridiculous baddie who is using beetroot for the power of evil. So, silly stuff.

Overall, it’s a fine 15-minute diversion. I have to ask, though: why all the beet hate? They’re delicious roasted or in salads, and they’re an excellent source of folic acid and manganese.[/spoiler]

Lunar Base I

[spoiler]Lunar Base I is a slight but interesting work of science fiction. You are an astronaut on a mission to the moon, where you are set to live and conduct experiments with your partner for an extensive period of time. As it turns out, your trip gets cut quite short…

Okay, so it’s not exactly original: there are space story tropes galore, from the spartan moon base to your partner’s bout of space madness to the appearance of a mysterious obelisk. It all hangs together fairly well, though, and the resulting game is polished and player friendly (aside from the airlock/space suit removal tediousness).

While the characters were pretty generic and the prose was clunky in spots, I did appreciate the research that went into little details like the regolith, space weathering, and phosphenes. Such minutiae add a sense of authenticity to the setting. Games that take place in space often involve special gadgets and machinery, and this one is no exception. Typically I find the prospect of dealing with such mechanical puzzles to be unappealing (to say the least), but here they were straightforward and well clued.

I have to return to the length of the game, though. It definitely felt like the story could’ve been fleshed out more. Another day on the base, a deeper look into the mysterious flashes of light, more character development… As it stands, the ending is a bit abrupt and the “twist” more than a tad undercooked.[/spoiler]