Introcomp Reviews

It occurred to me during the last comp that the reason competition reviews tend to be so much harsher than ordinary ones is because when you write comp reviews, you're writing for other players to read -- swapping your impressions with everyone else who just went through the same set of things that you did. Whereas when you write in other circumstances, you're generally more polite, and thinking of the authors as among the audience. (I use the hypothetical "you" here.)

But if there's ever been a competition that needed critiques written for the authors, it's this one, right? Because the games aren't even finished yet.

Now, when I first played these (I was sick, and in a bad mood; why are comps always while I'm sick?) I wrote some irritable, fairly unkind reviews, which contain Snarkage At Large. Later I came back and wrote some other reviews, with more of an intention of helpfulness. Here are both sides, the Jekyll and Hyde of reviews:

SNARKY
CONSTRUCTIVE
...Praxis, Mike Silcox NR
My Mac playeth not Adrift. Next!
Maintenance Man, Philip Dearmore NR
I couldn't get into this at all, and wasn't crazy about the author's other entry (see below) so I didn't play far enough to rate it fairly.
FOTR, Adam Thornton NR
I was undisposed to download the interpreter. Yes, this is hypocritical of me. I have released Glulx games. I have forced people to decide whether to download a new terp or skip my entry. But, on the other hand, at least Glulxe then plays other IF once you have it.

Translation: Yeah, I'm lazy sometimes.

Artifiction, by Mikko Vuorinen 1
Is there ANY point to this whatever? Anything interesting implemented? No?

Time passes slowly, indeed.

As introductions go, I think this one needs some work, both in terms of puzzle design and in terms of hook and generating interest. I am given to understand that once you arrive in the prison, you can in fact get out again -- but my experience was that I spent a little while poking at things, got very discouraging responses, and decided perhaps I'd reached the end of what was implemented. Granted, you won't have people making that mistake in the real game, but this does need some work in terms of implementing non-critical things in a way that points towards a correct solution.

The larger problem, though, was that I was planted in a world about which my PC apparently knew plenty, but which was not only cryptic but uninteresting to me. How can you be bored by a giant vortex whirling between dimensions? Very easily, I say, if the world is not drawn with any particular attention to detail, and if I'm given no emotional hooks or motivation.

What I would do if I were the author of this game and wished to complete it: Go back and lavish a lot more attention on the descriptions.

Genie, Stark Springs 2
Several points. One: an important verb is stuck away in the introductory paragraph, and no synonyms are provided for it. Otherwise, the one and only puzzle in the game is deeply tedious, calling for no particular exercise of ingenuity.

Two: story banal. I mean, you've got a genie in a bottle, and all you can come up to do with it is have it run errands to the liquor store? I admit there's bathetic humor here -- Adam Cadre, if his tastes ran more to fantasy, could do something with it, and it would be hi-larious. Or of course you could go the other direction and come up with a real fantasy world and a real fantasy implementation for the genie, as JD Berry did.

But this, meh.

And then the writing style. The Master is not laying on the sofa, unless he is a chicken. There are numerous punctuation mishaps. A sum of money is referred to as "a twenty dollars bill." I am not sure whether the author of this game is a native English speaker: if not, I recommend acquiring a native proofreader. If so, well.

Would I play more of this game? No.

It feels like this game doesn't have anything particular it is trying to achieve. Is it intended to be funny? cynical? pathos-laden? I didn't get a strong sense of style from the writing.

To go along with this -- I think they're somehow related -- the game world is as simple and minimal as it could possibly be. What I mean by that is that the items present are the ones that have to be present by the demands of the story and situation. Nothing new, nothing surprising; nothing particular that sets apart this man's house, neighborhood, and liquor store from every single other one in the universe. And that, frankly, is not very interesting to play, in my opinion.

What I would do if I were the author of this game and wished to complete it: Think more about the person who lives in this house. He's apparently a drinker, but that's the only touch of characterization, and frankly, it's not much. Is this unusual for him, or standard? What else is there in his life? Photographs of himself with a fishing buddy on the dresser? A torn-up overdue bill? A pair of cleats? Anything, anything at all, would begin to fill in the lines of character and make him interesting to the player. Or, if your desire isn't to focus on the character, then there's the nature of the game world to elucidate, beautiful or funny or frightening as the case may be.

Death By Monkey, Robin Rawson-Tetley 3
Takes forever and a day to load in my browser. When it finally does, it advertises multiplayer capacities that we later discover it doesn't have, and then finally lets me play.

You know what they say about homebrewed parsers. This one is no exception; there are things it ought to understand that it doesn't (based on my Inform/TADS/Hugo-reared notion of parsing).

The opening plays a bit like an IF-ification of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, though what I was able to see before I quit playing in the house suggests that it doesn't go quite that direction. I found fairly little inventive to counterbalance the cliches, though: mad scientist, check, but there's little there that seemed richly and newly imagined. I don't know why, but that seems to be the central theme of my complaints or praise in this competition-- perhaps because other issues, like puzzle design or pacing, don't really have time to show up in such a limited showcase.

Even less time to show up in this game, because I accidentally pasted something into the location bar of my browser, lost the page, and was going to have to reload and replay the whole damn thing, which looked to be a half-hour operation or more. So I stopped.

I think my problems with this game are partly interface (slow connection, irritating experience), but I didn't bother working out how to run it natively on my machine. What can I say: I'm a very lazy person.

What I would do if I were the author of this game and wished to complete it: Hmm. Use Inform, but that doesn't seem like very productive advice at this point.

Virus, Philip Dearmore 4
Hmmmm.

The setting here doesn't appeal to me much, off the top. Not sure why, but I've never really liked sagas of prehistoric man. Possibly a decadent preference for politics and art and the trappings of so-called civilization; who knows. In any case, ... yawn. The introductory space here feels too large, with too little in it; you have to spend too long waiting on top of your rock, and afterwards wander too long aimlessly. And then there is an abrupt change of surroundings, thanks to no particular action that you've made willingly.

I have a feeling where this is all going, too, and I confess right up front that I don't really like medical thrillers, either.

Not my cup of tea.

My not caring about this is almost entirely a matter of taste. I did have some small quibbles with the game structure, mostly because I felt undirected in the open space at the beginning.

What I would do if I were the author of this game and wished to complete it: Dunno. Would not be writing this game.

AWEA, Mike Sousa 5
Hmmmm.

I didn't really care for At Wits' End, though I appreciated that it must be fairly thoroughly crafted. This doesn't give you a lot to hold onto -- several different scenarios, where it's not quite clear what the stakes are, though I confess that once I knew it was a nightmare I didn't try very hard to deal with the Cessna. I am left without a very strong sense of where this might be going. Likelihood that I would play it, in any case? Slim.

I bet it would be done well, though. So I'd rather see this finished than some of the others, for the sake of other people.

My not caring about this is again almost entirely a matter of taste. If I had objections that are objective enough to be useful, they are that the scene changed too often for there to be a feeling of continuity of motivation; it wasn't clear who I was, or where, or what I was supposed to be trying to achieve over the span of these situations. (Admittedly, it's possible that I would understand better if I had completed AWE the First.)

What I would do if I were the author of this game and wished to complete it: Dunno. Would not be writing this game.

Private Cyborg, Tony Ash 6
Yet again, this isn't really my style of thing. But I find it more compellingly written than a lot that went before. Gross, grotesque, with too long spent on just dying when it seems there isn't much I can do to help myself -- but I really tried to rescue my poor PC, before I realized that probably death was inevitable and hit Z a bunch of times.

On the other hand, there's clearly been a certain amount of thought put into the detailing of the world setting. Which, it seems to me, is what really sets the decent games in this comp apart from the not-so-good ones. I just cannot get into, cannot care about, a game that is too generically envisioned. This one is not that, though it certainly sports its share of cliches. The idea of a zombie-ized cyborg is kind of interesting, though.

Would I play the rest? Well, maybe.

On the whole this isn't too bad.

What I would do if I were the author of this game and wished to complete it: Perhaps shorten the number of waiting turns. But then again perhaps there was a puzzle here I missed.

Madrigals of War and Love, Jason Dyer 6
Hmm. I suppose I should really replay this: it's so very very brief that it's hard to get the sense of in a single playthrough.

I could not help noticing, however, that the Most Beautiful Woman in the World is implemented as male. I wonder whether this indicates anything particular about Thomas', ah, predilections.

No?

Ah well. At least the conversation has amusing bits.

Okay, I replayed it, but now I realize there really wasn't actually much more there than I saw. The conversational bits are amusing, but I find it difficult to get a very clear sense of how this game is going to go (there must be puzzles coming up, right? I sense this in the comment about how the cookie jar used to contain a key, but now doesn't.)

What I would do if I were the author of this game and wished to complete it: Continue writing.

The Waterhouse Women, Jacqueline Lott 8
One of my earliest game attempts was a game about a gallery in which you could enter the paintings. I still rather like the room that describes what it's like to be inside Bronzino's "Venus and Cupid with Folly and Time", all crammed against the edges...

This is a little like that, I guess, in that it takes the conceit of filling out what you could see if you were really inside the frame of a painting. So far, so good. And it has some elegant features, like the delicately placed Hint, and the meticulous implementation. Some time and craft went into these.

So why do I find myself faintly underwhelmed? Perhaps because I don't know my motivation yet. Oh, yes, I'm told I am supposed to get home, but how the hell did I get here in the first place? What is this all really about? Who am I, come to that?

But solid. And maybe it acquires a point later.

I hope my remarks from the other side (over <---) aren't too discouraging. For what it's worth, I think this game shows excellent execution and attention to detail on the part of the author, and this is very much a good sign. A little rewriting is what the game needs -- not the implementation necessarily, but the text -- either to characterize the PC a bit, or to give some other sense of motivation. A mystery, a question, a hook of some kind.

What I would do if I were the author and etc.: Try drafting a transcript by hand of the opening of the game which contained a strong hook. Then implement and go on from there.

TimeTrap, DR Porterfield 9
There's a great deal more to this intro than there is to most of them, and the beginning definitely felt urgent -- I was worried about whether I would find everything in time. I never did figure out what I was supposed to be using for a weapon -- the heavy-duty flashlight, perhaps? This leads me to wonder, how long has my character known this was coming? Why don't I have a whole stockpile of food, supplies, and assorted goodies to take with me? In this situation I would've maxed out my credit card, buying anything I thought would do me good survivalwise.

And then, do I have no family and friends I would care to get out of town?

But never mind all that. It's quite compelling, despite the fact that anything involving terrorism makes me flinch with apprehension. And said terrorism is really just the motivating factor, as far as I can tell. I didn't manage to play Vicious Cycles, but then, it's been longer since September.

Things go fine, but are perhaps a little obvious, during the main sequence implemented; I don't get the sense that there's much clue for the player about which time period to elect to visit, though. In a full version of the game, it seems like it would be nice to have that at least hinted, so that the player does not have to discover by trial and error which of the visitable time periods mean instant death. (It's not clear, for instance, what scale a 'short' time into the future would be -- whether you're likely to be caught midblast, or in a radioactive zone, or, again, somewhere entirely safe.)

But for the most part, I like.

Hey, Jingo, Caleb Wilson 10
In Mr. Wilson we have the makings of a great IF author, I think. This environment feels richly imagined, with a lot of hints of things to come in the future.

My one complaint of any substance is that Helzog is strangely unreactive when you come back into his room with the mask, until you address him directly. In fact, when I first played I was concerned that he might be dead, and examined him carefully trying to determine whether something was wrong with him.

But otherwise -- this is a richly imagined world, which feels constantly and swelteringly alive. For reasons that I can't really explain, first loading it up gave me that feeling of old excitement that I used to have in the olden days -- of playing an Infocom game, or one of Graham Nelson's early efforts, before I got all jaded and crafty-wise. There are a lot of bits here that I want to understand better -- for instance, what is going on with those comic books, which seem so sinister?

Caleb also has a good sense for when to draw a curtain at the end of the first act. Some authors seem to have picked a random point in their game, or just cut it off when they got as far as they felt they were going to get in the allotted time, but this is a much more effective use.

And I don't even like gross monsters.

What I would do: put a little more work into Helzog, and definitely trigger him to say something when the main character enters the room after being absent. Otherwise, keep writing!


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Last Update April 6, 2002. All text and images on these pages copyright Emily Short, 2001.
Contact me at emshort@mindspring.com with any questions or comments.