Monday, October 06, 2008

IFComp '08 Reviews: The Lighthouse

Nothing to see here, just spoiler / RSS padding. The juicy stuff is below the Read more! link. Which is below. I mean, below this paragraph. You'll have to look down a little. I can't give a precise measurement, I think it would depend on your display's resolution. I should probably get a generic space thing that I could copy and paste. But I... wait, are you still reading this? Are my reviews that comparatively boring?

Short Version: The most sparse game so far.
Number of Lighthouses I have Taken Lightly: 1
Score: 2

"The Lighthouse" by Eric Hickman and Nathan Chung is so sparsely implemented that it almost does not exist. Not that I think a count of locations and objects actually lends to aesthetic legitimacy or implies depth in IF, but:

Objects (counting doors): 12
Locations: 4

With that in mind, the introductions begins

"You walk up to the lighthouse. It's large wooden frame creaking in the wind. You then step in front of the door and knock. Silence. Then the door opens and reveals the face of Mr Webster."

I've been seeing this sort of thing a lot. Bearing in mind that I have not written any IF, and may never write any IF, allow me following advice: things that read like the output to a sequence of commands might best be left as... the output to a sequence of commands. If nothing else, in a work this small, it'd give it more of a chance for atmosphere and exposition.

All the locations I was able to discover consisted a list of the objects present. Examining those objects results in the stock reply of "You see nothing special about x".

>x crystal key
You see nothing special about the Crystal key.

I think the fact that the key is crystal is pretty remarkable. A little later the unremarkable crystal key opens a "wooden container". After opening the generic containing apparatus and performing the winning action the game does not actually terminate. It leaves you in a perpetual limbo like the original Myst, but sans conscious design decision.

Anyway, I cannot really recommend playing this one, or even rewriting it. There was no discernible authorial intent, no content to smooth out.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

IFComp '08 Reviews: Recess at Last

In this filler space I intend to show how space can be filled by typing a sufficient length of characters that will not spoil any part of the game I will be reviewing later. This will be done by filling writing in the style of an school essay, typing even more after that, and finally by obfuscating the rest of the post after the Read more! link below. In conclusion, I have wasted space by typing a lot and it has helped people to avoid being spoiled by padding out the RSS feed that gets included on Planet-IF.

Short version: A very polished, charming work, but studiously neutral.
Score: 6

I honestly do not have a lot to say about this one. The author, Gerald Aungst, clearly put a lot of care into it, from an attractive title screen to clever formatting and dialogue through-out. At its heart, I guess "Recess at Last" is essentially a puzzle piece with no larger ambitions, beyond perhaps a touch of nostalgia.

All the details (such as finding your backpack in the coat-room) were surprisingly spot-on, so I'm guessing Mr. Aungst is either a parent or remembers childhood exceptionally well. The writing was very competent, and I found no bugs to speak of, but I did not play it very thoroughly. It just is not a genre that grabs me, and I did not find any interesting or surprising viewpoints on childhood. Even so, the extremely solid presentation merits a fairly high score. It is not unpleasant in any way to play, and someone who likes this sort of thing would like this one probably quite a lot.

Friday, October 03, 2008

IFComp '08 Reviews: LAIR of the CyberCow

No spoiler-space for this one: I simply cannot rate it. I attempted to play with Spatterlight and Zoom on Mac OSX, but there were simply too many bugs that were probably interpreter related. I cannot attempt with my linux box as it is broken, and I do not have a Windows box. If anyone can offer advice for running this before the competition is over, please let me know so that I may review it.

IFComp '08 Reviews: Trein

There is a review below which will contain spoilers. The review will only be visible after you click the "Read more!" link. This sentence, however, is visible now. And it will keep going on until it has reached approximately 393 characters. So I'm going to type a little more. And a little more. And this should just about cover it. Why have you read all this anyway? It would have been better to have scanned over it.

Short version: Long-winded prose fails to take advantage of the medium, much of what is mentioned is unimplemented. There are multiple endings, however, and the writing is mostly competent.
Rating: 4
Number of Unseelies Encountered in Prose to Date: 0

"Trein" by Leena Ganguli had a story to tell, but seemed to want to do so in prose rather than interaction. The first text-dump is about a screen long, and most of the initial descriptions span a very long paragraph. There were three endings (I was able to view all three within an hour), but the author did not seem to understand the mechanics of IF. Many of the text dumps could have been done as a longer, more interactive sequence. Prime example (and this is from one of the ending sequences, so don't read if you don't want some major spoilers):

As you enter the Waterway, a foul smell assaults your senses. You ignore it, however, as you know that however unpleasant this may be it could be nothing compared to remaining here at the mercy of whoever might wish to do you and your country ill. You edge your way along a stone walkway until you can go no further. As you reach the end, you see a channel cutting its way through the stone structure, with fast-flowing water that could carry you away in a heartbeat. Already, you feel its tug at your boots. Making sure that the precious cargo that you carry won't get wet, you dive in without thinking - you don't need to be reminded that this water carries the town's waste, and you try to ignore this particular fact.
I think it would have been much more effective to have to keep pushing your character forward through the muck, turn after turn as the text rebuffs you with descriptions of the smell, etc. Keeping the evidence dry could have been a minor puzzle in and of itself.

The puzzles that are actually in the game (the walkthrough notes them as puzzles) are very straightforward. The game also drops some pretty leaden hints on top of that:
You wonder if you should ask someone about him.

You could probably climb the wall if you had a rope.

As you make your way back to the South, towards the secret passage, you hear faint footsteps coming from that direction. Aware of danger, you feel it is best to avoid going this way.
And more of that sort.

The prose, while mostly confident (and again, long winded), had some peculiar moments and a couple of typos, but nothing major. Even if the author is steadfast about the long narrative chunks, more synonyms for the objects in the game would have been helpful, and much more thorough implementation of mentioned nouns would help.

The story felt like is was going to go a more supernatural direction than it actually did, and I admit to being a little disappointed. The game continually hinted at spirits and faeries, but actually contained only political intrigue. I am however thankful to the author for teaching me the word unseelie. I was previously unaware of such classifications.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

IFComp '08 Reviews: Freedom

What you are reading is filler space for the RSS feed. What you are reading is not a review. What you are reading contains no spoilers. What you are reading contains no surprises. What you are reading is unbelievably boring. You should click the Read More! link below... unless you want to click this Read Less! link.

And through a lack of planning and observation I slightly under-estimated the RSS feed. But now all should be safe, click past the cut to read the full review.

Short Version: A very short and completely unremarkable game unless you happen to type "about".
Number of Beers Consumed to Cope with Social Anxiety Today: 7
Score: 3

I played entirely through "Freedom" (signed Anonymous) in approximately 15 minutes, all of which I was waiting for some twist. It never happened, there was no joke, no explanation. You start in a barely described, barely implemented apartment, then walk through a barely described and barely implemented city block and check items off a task list. The winning action was completely unclued. Then I read the "about" text:
"Freedom" is intended to create the experience of suffering from social anxiety disorder. It's a sort of "worst case scenario" in that everything a socially anxious person fears comes true; everyone yells at you, everyone hates you, no one cares if you're run down in the middle of the street.


If you're wondering why this game was submitted anonymously, read this note again
Which is neat, this is just the sort of thing IF could achieve wonderfully... except that none of that "worst case scenario" stuff really happens in the game, which leads me to believe that the author's writing was hyper-informed by her condition. The stuff that actually happened in the game happens to me nearly every day-- it's not a worst-case scenario, it's every day life. It is every day life presented so neutrally that no fear, or emotion at all is communicated. But that is what social anxiety is all about: being mortified by every-day encounters, and self-editing to the extreme to compensate.

This work is extremely minimalist, and I did not notice any bugs or spelling errors, but I know the author is capable of fleshing this out, and I really hope she does. If the very same idea were rewritten and the repetitious, maddening gibbering and fearful internal-monologue that really goes on when you are certain that every wayward glance, every exchange with a stranger, every movement is a testament to how horribly things are about to go... and the shape of the text turned into an equation ending in... well... nothing, nothing happens after all. That would perhaps be closer to what the author intended us to feel.

Please, anonymous author. Please, please please rewrite this and really show us the way you see the world, don't hold back. It may be scary, and people may say mean things about it, but it could be cathartic... and at least, then, people will have really heard you.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

IFcomp '08 Reviews: Cry Wolf

Each of the following posts will have space-filling introduction that has nothing to do with the actual game review to keep the RSS feeds from spoiling anything. These space-filling texts will be extremely boring and should be avoided at all costs. Even reading this very sentence is wasting precious time and energy. Go outside. Enjoy the autumnal weather. Or click the Read More! link below.

Spoiler-laden game discussion below, use caution (full review after the break):

Short Version: An interesting failure, gonzo horror meets implementation problems
Rating: 4

According to the "About" text, "Cry Wolf" is Clare Parker's first work of IF, and in this regard, I am impressed. It is clear that a massive amount of work and care went into it's creation, though the end result is severely marred by inconsistently quirky writing and bugs of varying seriousness.

The included walkthrough is labeled "beta walkthrough", which might explain why following it left the game unfinishable at the end of Act III, which was extremely frustrating. I did want to see how the story turned out. The walk-through, in fact, was completely necessary to me, and I would not have completed the story within 2 hours unaided. I think actually that is tied to the game's primary failure; as a first work of IF it seems overly ambitious.

I thought the story was interesting, and the climax where you perform surgery was... surprising. I've never seen that done in IF and I hope Clare will either smooth out this work or write more IF. I am supportive of any game that is sufficiently different, and this excels in that regard by crossing "dating/lycanthropy/bestiality/medical drama/horror" genres. The writing itself is just passable with some extremely weak spots, including a glaring double negative in the introductory text. Also the game had some awkward emergent text, such as after the extremely gripping surgery scene the game lists Julia again as "your priceless assistant", which was just the wrong tone for the scene. I think rereading/writing the text in many of the scenes with more distance would have have helped the author tremendously in conveying the atmosphere she hoped for.