Introcomp Reviews, 2003

Harlequin Girl

This one impresses me with the ambition of the story it seems to want to tell -- the selection of NPCs we see even in this short period, for one thing, and the hints of complexity and intrigue; but I am not so sanguine about the author's IF writing abilities. There are a fair number of misspellings and mispunctuations for such a short piece, not to mention unimplemented items. At one point, there's a door in a room, but it's not even recognized by the parser, for instance. The only exit you can interact with is the fireplace, which, frankly, is not the first way I would try to get out of a room I wished to leave.

Some interesting and inventive work with the opening of the game, where you have to learn to use senses other than the standard examine. I also approve of the creepy-disgusting feel of the face covered in grease. There is some imaginative and evocative material in this opening, which could lead to good things -- or could fall completely flat, depending on where it's all going and what the author intends to do. I do like having the glimpse of the mirror in the flashback (unbroken) and then in the box (broken); it makes it seem interesting and important before I even have my conversation with the man outside.

Still, some serious hiccups on the implementation.

Bottom line: 5. I wish to see more of this, but I wish it to be more solidly tested and written.


Agency

Hrm. I have a strange device that does... something, and I can't interact with it in any meaningful way over the course of the game. Most of this intro consists of me wandering around, at something of a loss. On the positive side, I appreciate the warping of familiar Boston landmarks into something strange. I'm not sure I'm terrifically enthused about another cyberpunk game, which is what this seems to be -- or is it just that I've seen a lot of not-exactly-good attempts at this genre?

Another issue I have with this is that it reads like a science fiction novel. Isn't that good, you ask? Well... no. At least, not for me. In a novel, I'm happy to read through paragraphs and paragraphs of text, picking up clues and suspending my curiosity about what a phase transitioner or midichlorian or a RWA (Random Wacky Acronym) really is. In a movie, ditto. In IF, I feel as though I'm at sea if I'm given too many suggestive hints at once without enough information to interpret them usefully. A few mysteries at a time are fine -- that's the essence of the genre, and I love having a machine I have to fiddle with before I can understand what it's for, or an NPC whose real purpose reveals itself slowly, or so on. But here I felt -- partly because the paragraphs were long, partly because I didn't know what to do with the items in my own inventory -- as though I was being given too much, too fast; there was too much to try to hang onto in my head, and not enough resources for managing it all.

On the plus side, again, I liked the gathering sense of dread as you approach your apartment and its disturbing contents. This is well-done, though I think your neighbor who's standing in the hallway might be able to use a few more responses. Maybe not, though.

Bottom line: 7. Maybe it would help if I played this really slowly. There's some good stuff going on, but the presentation makes it hard on me as a player. Note: I am a lazy player. I like to be able to scan paragraphs, build my image of a scene quickly, and then fill in the details by rereading the text more slowly. This is different from how I read novels, but games that make it hard for me to do this tend to take me more time and effort to play, and strain my immersion.


Harrington House

Hmm. I see the title, I imagine something in the English Country House oeuvre, maybe a mystery or a comedy of manners, or possibly a gothic. Instead, I find myself chasing around an old whittling guy named Albert, embarrassing him with my attacks and my kisses.

To make a long story short, I can't tell what I'm supposed to be doing here. Not enough of a hook in terms of immediate goal, and not enough things that seem to want to be fiddled with.

Some bugs: I'm told I have picked up the ladder, only I haven't. Eg:

>take ladder

You fold up the stepladder and hoist it over your shoulder.

>i

You are carrying:

a rose

>look

Side Yard (East)

The grass here is patchy and sparse--when Aunt Elizabeth was still driving, this was her driveway.

A tall tree grows here, its leaves and branches shading much of the lawn here.

A stepladder leans against the tall oak tree.

>i

You are carrying:

a rose

>x oak

The oak tree is very tall, and its trunk is so thick you can barely get your arms around it.

>climb ladder

That's not something you can stand on.

Bottom line: I think this needs much clearer initial motivation and more to interact with. Bugginess and lack of polish drag it down a bit as well. 4.


Ophelia

Um.

What to say?

First of all, I like standard IF engines. For one thing, I'm used to them. For another thing, they tend to respond in ways that let me know whether or not the game understands what I've typed, part of what I've typed, or none of what I've typed. I spend a while here trying to figure out whether or not the game understands X as an abbreviation for examine, before reaching the conclusion that it might, but that there are no objects implemented for X to work on.

Rar.

Then there turns up a door into the Spoiler area, where, basically, I can read all the things that are going to be implemented in this game, if the author ever figures out how to implement things, and I realize something: this is not an intro in the sense that the IntroComp was intended to solicit. Actually, it may not be an intro at all. I am undecided, but I spend a while debating the possibility that in fact, this whole thing is a joke -- a pre-April-1 joke, perhaps. The more I read, the more convinced I become. Consider the genius humor in bits like this:

Plot devices include +Despair, Ophelia's +Diary, and her pet pig, +Portnoy.

and

The major themes of this game are: +Death, +Disappointing female role

models, +Disapproving male figures. The overall goal is +Empowerment.

The little +Plus signs are great.

Bottom line: A hypertext, disguised as IF, written in java, mock-critiquing Hamlet; with cute little pig. HA. But no, I wouldn't play more; this is the main event right here. So in the terms of the IntroComp, I can't rate this too high. Say a 2.


Reality's End

Here is an author who has finished a work of IF before, and it shows somewhat in the assurance of the opening. Not that I'm prejudiced against newbie authors -- everyone starts somewhere, after all, and many games I like were written by new authors. But in this *particular* competition, where the participants are specifically contributing material that is not finished, there's sometimes a tendency towards partial games that feel as though they haven't gone through a heavy beta-testing, or received the kind of polish that usually comes towards the end of a game-writing process. With this one I felt that the author knew what the polishing process is, and had applied it accordingly. Little things: extra descriptions, initial routines that describe passages between rooms, and so on.

There are still some glitches; for instance, there are lots of places where the line spacing seems to be messed up, with double returns sometimes and single ones at other times. This wasn't too severe an issue, however.

Other positives: I liked how the descriptions of items around the house are written from the kid's perspective. I liked the fun behavior from the cat. I liked the atmosphere-building; the persistent snow made me worry about whether I would be able to get back again safely.

Bottom line: 9. I feel fairly good about where this is likely to be going. The initial sketch of the premise (find the magic Thingy) seemed vaguely disappointing, but I see that this is just the beginning. My favorite of the intros.


Statue

This failed to attract me mostly on the grounds of writing. Only, now that I've said that, I'm not sure I can put my finger on what's wrong with it. It feels a bit overblown. Or possibly it just seems likely to be massive, and I don't feel like a massive game. Possibly I'm not in the right mood for it at the moment.

Bottom line: 6. It looks serious, and solid, and it just isn't calling my name -- I might try it again later, or I might not.


All text and images on these pages copyright Emily Short, 2003.
Contact me at emshort@mindspring.com with any questions or comments.