ECTOCOMP - Reviews and results

A forum where new and old games can be reviewed - an alternative to the reviews on the Adventures page of the main ADRIFT site. Also the place to ask for any assistance if you are stuck playing a particular game.
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J. J. Guest
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Post by J. J. Guest »

I am pleased to announce that the scores for ECTOCOMP have been totaled up and the winner is T.D.S. for Video.Tape / Decay! Congratulations to T.D.S. for an amazingly long and involved game, an incredible piece of work for three hours!

The scores are as follows:

1. Video.Tape / Delay by T.D.S. Total Score: 31.5 Average Score: 7.875/10
2. Witness: Demon vs. Vampire by Robert Street Total Score: 27 Average Score: 6.75/10
3. The Stowaway by Benjamin Samuel Total Score: 22 Average Score: 5.5/10
4. Forest House by Seciden Mencarde Total Score: 17 Average Score: 4.25/10

Congratulations to all the entrants! Individual scores and reviews are below:

Eric Mayer:

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Forest House | Seciden Mencarde |
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SCORE: 3
Comments: This game started well. I liked the idea of sneaking out to a strange house only I could see. But on the way, the three-hour limit seemed to catch up with me. After encountering some weirdly blank rooms and eerie error messages I abandoned all hope and gave up the...uh...ghost without finishing. Actually, I wasn't sure whether I was being stymied by a "guess the verb" problem or a bug so I didn't persist for too long. With such a time limit these things will happen. I suspect the problems can be easily fixed given a little more time and
the result will be quite an musing little game.



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The Stowaway | Benjamin Samuel |
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SCORE: 5
Comments: Don't know whether this had me shiveringing in me timbers exactly, but the nautical setting was certainly interesting and atmospheric and enhanced by the font. I'm not so sure that fancy fonts work for longer games but in a small dose, such as this, I liked it. Like the font, some of the language was eccentric. The whole thing felt a little odd, which is a plus. The story was unusual, both for a ghost story and for an If game. And everything seemed to work. A good effort.



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Witness: Demon vs. Vampire | Robert Street |
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SCORE: 7
Comments: OK. So, how lame of a player am I, to need hints for a game made in three hours? On the other hand, how does an author manage to include hints in a game composed so quickly? Or contrive enough puzzles to require hints? (Well, obviously, the game is compact, but well thought out without much wasted implementation or writing) Yes, there are actually multiple things to do in this game, and everything works, even if I am dense. Sounds like it might be an introduction to a longer game too.



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Video.Tape / Decay | T.D.S. |
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SCORE: 9
Comments: This is a massive game, considering the time restraints. It makes good use of Adrift's control panel and map features. It seems to be a fairly straightforward search for useful objects, with some extra locations appearing and a bit of added difficulty showing up as you
progress, which is a nice design. The location descriptions alone are enough to hold one's interest. I admit, even though I've managed to accomplish a lot, I am stuck, so I may be missing out on some important aspect, or have overlooked some objects, even with the help of the control panel. (Particularly since I'm not sure what the title has to do with the game) I will have to await a walkthru. A pretty amazing three-hour entry indeed.

James Webb a.k.a. Revgiblet:

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Forest House | Seciden Mencarde |
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SCORE: 3
Comments: Seciden lists this as his first ever game. He acknowledges that he might have been crazy to write his first game for the three-hour-comp. I think it was very brave. For a first game this has some very nice touches. Although you don't have the time for detailed description, he managed to create a nice sense of atmosphere in a few words.

There were some serious problems with the game that reflect the fact that it's a first effort and it's a three-hour-comp game. Firstly there were a few items that I couldn't interact with at all - not normally a problem and I wouldn't expect detailed descriptions for a game like this, but Seciden needed to change the "You can't see that" default message as it kept telling me that I couldn't see things that were clearly in the room descriptions. Second, there were a couple of implementation errors. I could move into the bedroom of my parents and my sister, but there was no room description. I think that they were supposed to be 'off-limits', so that would explain why there was no room description, but the fact that you can enter them isn't good. Changing the batteries in the flashlight was also harder than it needed to be. Finally, the game isn't finishable. When I moved into the bathroom and examined the mirror it should have finished the game (I think) but because there was a variable problem (again, I think) with one of the key locations in the wood the ending didn't work. When you enter said forest location you get an error message and continue with the game instead of seeing some key events.

On the plus side, Seciden didn't password lock the game so I could see how it had intended to go, and his attempt at multiple endings impressed me. I think that this was too ambitious for a first attempt under such a tight time limit (and with no beta-testers) but I think there's a good amount of potential here. Because I couldn't finish the game I marked it a '3' but I think that Seciden has a good grasp of ADRIFT mechanics and some writing talent so I look forward to seeing what he can write without the restrictions of a competition.


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The Stowaway | Benjamin Samuel |
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SCORE: 4
Comments: I liked this idea immediately - 'ghostly stowaway on a ship' has a lot of potential. Like Seciden's entry there was some good writing and I thought it worked well.

I found that there were too many parser problems here though. Although the first time you see the ghostly kid he's described as a 'boy' you can never use the word 'boy' as a synonym for 'kid'. You've always got to examine or interact with the 'kid'. Furthermore, there are too few clues as to how to get the good ending. The commands that you need to use are pretty obscure and exact (I had no idea what to do until the captain yelled at me to 'catch the kid' and then I found that the game wanted 'catch kid' as the exact command). I thought this game couldn't be completed because there were no clues that you had to use the kid as a shield. I wasn't aware of this until I looked at the game code.

On the plus side again, Benjamin didn't lock the game which is a good idea for comp games like this. Although there were too few clues for me to finish the game it *does* work and as a result I give this game a '4'. Again, I'd like to see what Benjamin can do with a good idea (like this one) and no time limit.


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Witness: Demon vs. Vampire | Robert Street |
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SCORE: 7
Comments: Robert's got a bit of ADRIFT experience and this shows right away. There are only two locations in this game, fewer than any of the other entries, and this works in his favour. He's able to pack more detail and game mechanics into the smaller play area and this game is a lot more polished because of it. The fact that, out of the four games, I spent the least amount of time playing this is actually a good thing. It shows good design and that the difficulty was pitched at the right level.

The only thing that frustrated me was the 'draw pentagram' command. I tried it in the main room and was told that I couldn't do it. There were no clues telling me that I was trying the right thing but simply in the wrong location. I had to check the hints just to make sure that I was on the right lines when a simple "You can't do that in this room" error message would have saved me feeling liked I'd cheated unnecessarily (I hate feeling like that). Still, that's a bit of nit-picking really, and you could blame me for giving up too early if you wanted. I also found the central concept of a demon fighting a vampire a little bit cheesy; a bit "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" if you like. But then I found out that I was actually a zombie victim of the vampire. That was pretty cool.

Having hints was great. You don't have time in a three-hour-comp to include clever clues (though this game had the clearest indications of what I should be doing) in your writing so a few hints really helped, though the game was well designed enough for me not to need them (except for the pentagram stuff I mentioned above). Also, another game that isn't password locked so I can take a quick look and make sure that I didn't miss anything. I gave this a '7' which makes it my favourite of the comp.



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Video.Tape / Decay | T.D.S. |
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SCORE: 5.5 (if I must go for an integer I'll go for...5)
Comments: This started really strongly and, for a while, I was sure that this would be my favourite. It began by quoting Augustine (out of context - for purely dramatic purposes natch), which is an easy way to get the nod from me, and was the only game to include an 'about' section from the start - suggesting that TDS had thought a lot about presentation. It also had the most interesting name, so I had been looking forward to playing it.

This game is a lot bigger than the other three, mostly due to the fact that TDS took advantage of rbaseal's 'generic town' module and built his game around that. This, for me, was where I began to wonder what score I was going to give. Although TDS didn't break any rules by doing this, it felt 'wrong' to me. It felt that this game was in a different category to the others, like it shouldn't be in this comp. It made it look like (though I am sure that he didn't) TDS had taken more than three hours to put it together. I think, in future, that three-hour games should be built from scratch like the other three in this comp. The other problem is that in this comp you don't have time to write detailed descriptions for every item - which is a problem when you have so many locations and so many items in the room descriptions. When you write 'x so and so' fifteen times and only get two custom responses it gets a bit difficult to be movtivated to keep examining everything. It's then becomes easy to miss something, which I must have done because I got stuck and couldn't finish the game. This led to another problem. There were no hints and TDS (I do understand why) password locked the game, so there was no way of me finding out what to do next. I would recommend that, for all comp games, if you're going to password lock your game then you should include a walkthrough. I don't know if it's possible to finish the game, and to be fair to Seciden's game I have to drop a point from this. One way to help would be to give more clues in the game itself, like letting the player know how many relics he has to find in total.

However, there was a lot to like about this game. There were various plot hints as your progressed - a nice touch - and plenty going on. Using the jukebox had a whole 'Silent Hill' feel about it which appealed to me. TDS also encourages the player to use the ADRIFT map, which makes this game a lot more playable as there many identical room descriptions and no 'exits' listed in them. This caused me no grief because I was using the map, as instructed. For a while I was unsure whether to give this or Robert's game my highest score, but in the end I went for the more polished, less ambitious game because I enjoyed it a more and felt less frustrated by it. It gets a 5.5 but would have a 6.5 if I could finish it.

Ren Rennington:

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Forest House | Seciden Mencarde |
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SCORE: 5
Comments: I thought it read nicely, though it's perhaps a little overwritten in places. The puzzles made sense, even if both gargoyle and the runner experienced some room craziness problems going west through the thorns. It was let down by the ending, which didn't work (I don't think either of final tasks are executable).

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The Stowaway | Benjamin Samuel |
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SCORE: 7
Comments: Bonus points for being interesting written, in the past tense. Minus points for the kid being implemented in the wrong room, for directions not showing in the text, and for the last task being a bit verb guessy.

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Witness: Demon vs. Vampire | Robert Street |
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SCORE: 5
Comments: I completed this, so, hurrah. It is perhaps the slightest game, but I didn't find any obvious bugs (aside from some confusion about drawing), and the writing was never less than competent.

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Video.Tape / Decay | T.D.S. |
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SCORE: 8
Comments: Phew. Interesting. Very, very old-school in its unfair hardness. At times, seemingly random implementation of objects and unguessable tasks. Fairly bonkers story. But, very atmospheric, big for the time period, and always interesting, even during the head-bashing moments of difficulty (really, how was I meant to know the briefcase had a combination lock, why would I search scenery that has no description?). My favourite game of the comp.

J. J. Guest:

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Forest House | Seciden Mencarde |
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SCORE: 6
Comments: Seciden Mencarde has been a presence on the forum for as long as I can remember, so I was surprised to learn that this is his first released game. Forest House, like so many other first games, begins in a boy's bedroom. Some implementation oddities immediately make themselves apparent; the parents' room and sister's room are enterable but non-existent. The first puzzle involves four similarly named batteries and immediately falls afoul of Adrift's lousy disambiguation routines; a problem that a more experienced Adrift author might have avoided simply by making the flashlight empty at the start of the game. But all these things can be forgiven. For a first effort, and a three-hour one at that, Forest House is not at all bad. There are some nice ideas in here, and the game builds up my interest in the mysterious house in the forest so that I can believe the central character has been itching to go there all his life. So it's all the more disappointing that three quarters of the game are devoted to getting there and a mere two locations to the house itself. The game contained a major bug; "ViewRoom error - subscript out of range" and this may or may not be why I was unable to trigger any of the three endings. It's clear that the author ran flat out of time. I hope that Seciden will return to this game and release a post-comp version as I think Forest House has potential and it would be a shame to abandon it after coming so far.


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The Stowaway | Benjamin Samuel |
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SCORE: 6
Comments:The language in this game is odd; I assume it is meant to be evocative of a bygone age, but it doesn't always come off. Instead it is charmingly eccentric; I could imagine some old sailor telling this story in a Cornish pub but I'd have to take it with a pinch of the old-sea-salt. The use of past tense is brave and quite effective for a three-hour game. I particularly liked the response to unimplemented objects, "I don't remember much about that"; it's as though you've interrupted an interesting story to ask about an irrelevant detail. Unfortunately, for all its charm this little game is rather linear and what interaction there is underclued and guess-the-verby. I had to resort to looking at the workings and even so when I completed the game (with the maximum 10000 points) I wasn't sure how I'd done it. I'd like to know how those points are awarded! I wanted to give this game a higher score, because it comes closest to what I had hoped for from the comp; a genuinely creepy fireside ghost story, but in the end the technical aspects of the game let it down. I had fun nevertheless, and look forward to future offerings from this author.


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Witness: Demon vs. Vampire | Robert Street |
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SCORE: 8
Comments: I played this game last because the title led me to expect a combat oriented game, which I loathe, but this little game is nothing of the sort. With just two rooms this game is the smallest in the comp, but it is also one of the better implemented, as one would expect from an experienced 'drifter like Street. I was a little stumped at one point, because I was trying the right actions in the wrong room, but once I had that figured out the game was pretty much in the bag. My one quibble is that though the focus of the game is supposed to be the battle between a demon and a vampire, this titanic struggle is described in a single line of prose, and prosaic prose at that: "The demon and vampire are fighting." Buffy it ain't! I think that, given the small size of the game, a little more time could have been spent sprucing up the battle with random events. All in all, a solid effort from an accomplished author.


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Video.Tape / Decay | T.D.S. |
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SCORE: 9
Comments: For such an enormous game, the writing is quite atmospheric and although let down by a few strange grammatical errors; "the curtains have fell", "there are blood on the walls", it evokes very nicely the feeling of an abandoned city. I wonder, though, whether it was necessary to create such a gigantic map? The repeating descriptions of the streets, without directions, give the game a maze-like feel and make it utterly reliant on Adrift's graphical map. Gameplay is old-school in a good way. You are left with no doubt of your purpose in the sprawling metropolis; it's a classic trophy-case game in the great Brian Howarth tradition with some good logical puzzles and one quite illogical one which I was nevertheless able to solve. All in all, even given the use of modules, a very impressive three hours work!

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TDS
Posts: 249
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Post by TDS »

Enter: The Latecomer

...and the 2007 EctoComp has come and gone and I've missed much of the excitement due to other engagements, but I've finally settled down to write a few, brief, non-sarcastic, reviews of the games entered.

The Forest House by Seciden Mencarde

Note: this review actually isn't based on the EctoComp release, but a version released afterward on Dec. 8. Because it hasn't been expanded greatly and still remains at such a small size, I will include it here, even though it technically shouldn't be.


The Forest House is Seciden's first adventure, and a promising one even written in the space of three hours. You are a child that can see a house in the woods out your window, and is so enraptured by the view that you decide to sneak out of the house and explore it. There are a few obstacles to getting out of your house, but even if you are caught, you are only taken to bed, so no harsh, unforgiving gameplay here. The puzzles are straightforward, classical in style. The writing is crisp and conveys what it should without any excessive description or detail deprived script. The ending...I didn't understand, and I felt like it should either have revealed more or less than it had. Overall though, the game was a pleasant diversion.

Witness: Demon vs. Vampire by Robert Street

The concept: a demon and a vampire are going at it, and they have as observer. Of course, you're not one wanting to stick around, so you find a way to get rid of them both. A pretty neat idea and the execution is well-done. The game isn't a three hour game pretending to anything more, which is why it focuses on a particular situation. The concept itself would be considered an individual puzzle in a larger game, but in this one, it takes main stage. It isn't a bad puzzle either. What needs to be done isn't obvious but if you check the hints it will make you slap your head and say “Duh.” This is a nice, compact puzzler that will keep you busy for a lunch break.

The Stowaway by Benjamin Samuel

Out of the three entries (apart from mine), this one had to be the most unusual. The plot recruits you as a crew member tasked with the challenge of retrieving a stowaway from the top of a ship's mast. Although that doesn't seem far-fetched in terms of interactive fiction goes, the execution was less conventional. The first thing you notice is the font of the game. It's nearly unreadable. It's too whimsical and distracting for IF purposes. After changing the font, the game starts off as a story. Because of this, it also employs the use of past tense, which makes for a jolting experience that would be better if the game were executed better. The one puzzle in the game requires you to either read the mind of the author or look into the generator for a solution, both options that drastically reduce fun levels. The ending of the game is...best to be read. This work from a new author, I'm afraid, isn't up to par with the other entries.

:bravo: to all those who entered. Not a bad showing overall.
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