Intro Comp 2009 Reviews

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.
Post Reply
revgiblet
Posts: 444
Joined: Sat Aug 05, 2006 10:11 pm
Location: Canowindra, NSW

Post by revgiblet »

Seeing as the individual game threads have been locked following the end of the comp, I'm putting all of my reviews for the games right here!


Dung Beetles Are Aliens

What makes this enjoyable is the humour and formatting combo - the old presentation one-two. The game is very pleasing to the eye as DB has made every effort to ensure that the layout of the screen adds to the atmosphere of the adventure. The ASCII graphics (they may be ASCII but one could hardly call them crude) are splendid. However, the downside to this is that the game practically demands that you play it in the ADRIFT Runner -indeed, I couldn't even get to play it in Gargoyle without it dumping me out of the game when I tried to leave the MAWINDEX terminal. Hardly a major complaint - that the game is designed to run best in its natural environment - but one that may mean that those non-Drifters who like to use Gargoyle etc. will face the harsh glaring light of discrimination.

DB's prose makes the kooky B-movie sci-fi setting works very well. Add this to the generous layer of polish and this intro certainly seems to inspire the player to try the full-fat version. There are a couple of other comments that I would wish to make. Firstly, the intro is 'unwinnable' - or at least it tells you that it is while you are playing. This is clearly, no doubt, due to the fact that the first 'puzzle' appears to require the use of more than the three rooms and this is not allowed by the competition. I don't like being unable to reach an 'ending', even in a competition like this. The second comment is that if I were playing the full version of this game I would be doing so to uncover more witty writing and messages on the MAWINDEX and see extra cute ASCII art. It wouldn't be because I cared about uncovering the Dung Beetle conspiracy. This may be a flaw in the introductory nature of this game, or it may be because the concept doesn't really grab me. Either way, it shows that it's tricky to develop a killer hook within the constraints of this competition. And trust me on this, if I'm an expert on anything it's failing to deliver on expectations.

I really like DB's writing and style. He shows talent at such things. He also has an edge in that he already knows how to make ADRIFT dance to his tune, despite being a relative nOOb. His first complete, non-comp restricted, non-based-on-an-obscure-film game will be a beauty I reckon.


Dead Race

Everyone has at least one Zombie game in them, and this is Justahack's (or so it seems). I'm not sure what I think about this game. Zombies may be overused, even in the world of IF, but there's still life in them yet (ho ho, I made a pun). The problem is making such a common scenario seems fresh and interesting. To me 'Dead Race' feels very clichéd in its set-up. It doesn't help that it's minimalistically implemented. I couldn't examine anything or really do much other than get the ubiquitous gun (it's a Zombie game after all) from the bedroom and climb out the window. I assume this was because JaH cut some corners to get the game in for the deadline. This is fine. It is a demo, after all, and the point is to try and grab me with the setting and story. Those of us who just cut down an already partly-finished project had an unfair advantage in respect of implementation. The trouble is that it's becoming increasingly hard to make Zombies an interesting hook.

The mobile phone could be interesting. The first text message just cemented my feelings about the game's hackneyed approach, but the second text message was more amusing and made me wonder if JaH was going to pull a switcharoo and put some kind of unique spin on the genre. It's certainly possible, and the ending of the intro (it had an ending. Yay!) could certainly lead in that direction - or maybe it was just a convenient literary device to signal the end of the demo. On a different note, I would advise that JaH come up with something other than the oh-how-convenient "You lose the signal as soon as the message arrives" mechanism to control the player's use of the mobile phone.

What I did like was the use of bold text to highlight functional room features (at least I assume that was its purpose, as nothing was implemented). Some players may feel that this is hand-holding, but in this case I appreciated not having to wade through text to identify the important things. I think this will be a matter of taste, but I liked it.

I suspect the deadline forced JaH to rush this somewhat, as it didn't seem to have the same sparkling writing as his 'Spring Ting' entries (second text message and the cry of the being-eaten passer-by excepted). I stand by my comments for my last reviews of his games - this boy has the ability to write very good IF, so I'm hoping that he can do something with Zombies that will make me give this the thumbs up.

EDIT: I too failed to try "look at..." instead of 'x' and 'examine'. The game is not as sparsely implemented as I assumed. Sorry JaH.


Dish Duty

An interesting entry, and arguably the only one that could be considered a 'true' introduction. The demo ends with, what I happen to know, is the title page and a hint at the real direction that the game is going to go in. Having a little bit of insider knowledge really helps, because I think that this could be something really special but I wonder if the uninformed would be bemused and turned-off by the seeming nonsensical turn of events and confused implementation.

It probably succeeds the most in leaving the player wanting something more, but what else can be said about it? The struggle of the protagonist to interact with his world is the whole point, so I can't rag on it for poor implementation. The same can be said about the confusing interaction with your significant other, or the seeming random interjections from your own subconscious. This is the entry that will probably see the wildest swings of scores, and I think that says something about it. As it stands, it's not quite enough information and purpose to draw the player in, but it certainly promises something - no doubt about that.

I'm at a loss what else to add about this game. I'd probably be unimpressed if I didn't know what kind of thing DB was looking for. As I do have an inkling, I can be a bit more generous and say that I'm looking forward to this one. Here's hoping that it sees the light of day...


Donuts

TDS can write good IF. He's bona-fide. The man has a pedigree. The beginning of the game is well-written, in fact that's the theme of this game. Well-writing. I mean, good-writing. The writing is probably not only the best I've seen in this comp, but possibly the best I've ever seen from TDS. The noir feel is convincing; the unsympathetic protagonist and his (possibly) paranoid delusions interesting; I can almost forgive him for including a scene using the default ADRIFT battle system. Almost.

Thankfully, the battle scene is non-compulsory but I still don't like its inclusion. Is it possible to win? I don't know. I'm just glad that TDS game me something else to try or he would have lost me before it started to get interesting.

It is interesting, but like some of the other entries suffers due to the limitations of the competition. It doesn't do *quite* enough to grab me totally. I'm intrigued and curious, but not desperate to see what happens next. I also think that it might lose points in the eyes of some for not being enough 'game' and being too much 'text dump'. Now I don't mind this at all - which shouldn't surprise those of you who have tinkered with any of my games. Text dumps get a bad rap. Of course it's 'Interactive Fiction'! I'm asking you to press 'Enter' to see the next page of text, aren't I?

Enough of this diversion. I would rather read a couple of pages of good writing with a little bit of interaction than play a badly-implemented and story-light puzzler. I think that the strength of this effort is the good writing, though I'd have to play more to see if - as a game - it holds my attention. As it stands, and bearing in mind the goals of the competition, 'Donuts' is probably my personal pick.


Existence

Of all the games that I played for the comp, this one probably struck the best balance between teasing you with hinted-at answers and giving you enough of the story to go on. The big hook for this one is "What am I?". Like everyone else who's played this, I was speculating and looking for clues as to my identity in the text with each new piece of the puzzle uncovered. At first I thought I was a bird - I could only move up, after all - but as I went on my theory began to change. A fairy, perhaps? Maybe a ghost, or even a gust of wind? Now that's how to get someone like me interested.

The assumed spectral nature of the protagonist, coupled with my inability to interact with anything in the world, really reminded me of the old Level 9 adventure Scapeghost. That game begins with you, as a ghost, developing your ability to interact with the physical world by picking up objects of increasing size. Having solved the puzzle with the fan I began to wonder if this was exactly the same sort of thing that Abbi was going for. If I recall correctly, a feather was one of the graded objects in Scapeghost too.

Anyway, enough of the trip down memory lane. This game's great strength was that it had a compelling hook - and that's what this comp is all about. Although it was frustrating to not be able to interact with the world more, it did seem to fit with the game so I couldn't get too mad at it.

It's hard to sum up my thoughts about this game. It succeeded in its goal and left me dangling, but I still feel a little unsatisfied - as though the demo also left unresolved smaller issues that should have been resolved by the end. I can't quite put my finger on it, but think that the demo could benefit from a bit more fleshing out (no pun intended). If there was more to do and see within the three rooms, that would be good. It wouldn't have to give anything else away. I'd be happy to be left as clueless as I was, if only I could engage with the world a bit more. Despite that, this is shaping up to be game that, after Donuts, intrigues me the most.

EDIT: I don't think that there was a feather in Scapeghost after all...


To End All Wars

A First World War game - one that reminds me of Over the Top in that it seems to want to portray the brutality of the Great War by making the game punishing. As in 'Dung Beetles Are Aliens', DB tries to evoke a particular atmosphere through his presentation, this time through the medium of music. The jolly nature of the tune jars a little with the nature of the game, but I assume this is intentional as the lyrics are clearly satirical and therefore tie in with the heart of the game.

The style and presentation are excellent. DB puts lots of effort into this side of his projects and it contributes to making his games a pleasure to play. Navigation of the text is painless and his descriptions are spot-on. In terms of the writing matching the genre and atmosphere of the game, all of DB's efforts for this comp have been flawless.

However, I'm not too sure what DB is trying to achieve with this. There is no obvious plot, other than to survive, so the incentive to play the full version of this game appears to depend on the player's interest in a series of timed puzzles, with failure to complete being punished harshly. The game invites you to try a variety of different actions, each of which either kill you or reduce the number of moves that you have left to prevent inhaling toxic death. Checking the hints seems to confirm that it's impossible - like Over the Top - to complete the game. I suppose that you can't fault it for making its point. It does, however, make it hard for me to judge this game. What am I judging it on? The writing is, as I would expect, great but there isn't anything else about this effort that makes me want to play on. As an educational tool, a First World War IF game has the potential to be perfect. Combining DB's writing with the chance to learn more about 1914-1918 *does* appeal to me (I do have a passing interest in military history) but beyond that there's not much to entice you to play this game.

I would certainly recommend the full-game to myself, and people like me, but I am fairly sure that this would be unlikely to become anyone's favourite ADRIFT game. But that doesn't matter - an interesting and very good ADRIFT game would be enough for me.


The Magician's Niece

Dan Blasquez wrote 'A Witch's Tale', which was my favourite of the Odd Comp. 'The Magician's Niece' reminded me of 'A Witch's Tale' and not just because it's a piece of Rowling-esque IF about a teenage magic user. It was because there was something charming about it. I like charming. Although I am obviously a big fan of 'mature' IF (and I mean 'mature' rather than 'adult', a genre which can end up quite childish) I am also very pleased to see well-written 'old-school' fantasy and classic adventures turn-up. 'TMN' appears to fit into this mould - though I suppose that a three-room intro is too soon to pass final judgment. After all, I cannot categorically say that there will be no strip-clubs featuring further into the adventure.

However, this fell a little short of charm for me, simply because there were implementation troubles and guess the verb mayhem. After finally figuring out the command to teleport to my uncle's place, I was told that I still needed to do something else. The only thing that seemed to be missing was that the game had told me to research some of my spells - something I couldn't figure out how to do. Whenever I read my PDA and tried to find out more about some of the spells I had available then I was told that these were details absent from a three-room demo. The command 'index' didn't work, even though the game told me that it would. Little things like this meant that I couldn't really get too far into the game.

The spell menu and system did look interesting. I would look forward to whizzing around, casting spells here and there - as far as my 'Magic' level allowed. If it was well-implemented and gave you a degree of freedom (allowing multiple solutions to puzzles for example, rather than simply functioning as a key/lock dynamic that forbids you from using spells in the wrong place for no good reason) then it would be the sort of thing that tickled my fancy.

OK, the bottom line is this. I didn't find the story as engaging as 'A Witch's Tale' and the trouble I had navigating my way around the game put me off a bit, but this has as much potential as most of the games in this comp - perhaps a little more than most due to the intriguing magic system. It's just a shame that it's a bit rough around the edges.


The Merlin Bird of Prey

As with 'The Magician's Niece', I'm quite happy with this genre. A game isn't going to lose points from me just because it's a bit old-school, with evil wizards and the like. However, 'old-school' is one thing, 'clichéd' is another. There's a nice curve ball in the way that you're supposed to be a modern-type dude who seems to magically appear in this olde worlde kingdom because you wish for more adventure in your life, but even this this is explained in a clichéd way - a paragraph about a random old man who grants your wish for no reason other than it's convenient. Still, it's possible for a game like this to win me over through the power of sheer charm. Because this adventure can't really be explained by using the words 'gritty', 'harrowing' or 'realistic' it automatically starts higher up the 'charm' ladder than other games in the comp.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a huge amount to do in the three-rooms allocated in the comp. The game hinted at exciting locations to explore, but I couldn't get to them. That's OK. It's in the rules, after all. However, I couldn't really do much once I got inside the monastery and there didn't seem to be much to explore. I found a coin. I had seen a fountain in the courtyard. IF Logic dictated that I throw the coin into the fountain. I couldn't seem to do this. Fair enough. What can I do then? There was a lion statue as part of the fountain. This item appeared to be described in more detail than other facets of the fountain - such as the water - so it must be important. Maybe I can put the coin in its mouth? No. Nothing. I can't seem to do anything.

It's hard to make a final judgment about a game
where there's so little to do. I couldn't get a sense of how the story was going to go, or even what I was supposed to do to prove my worth and find the Merlin Bird of Prey. Maybe I'll see in future. Maybe not. At the moment I don't feel to compelled to find out.


Through Time

I'm confused. The introduction tells me that it's 1954, but I'm fairly sure that Panasonic were not making 42" High Definition TVs back then. I'd also stick my neck out and question the appearance of home-delivery pizza too. In fact, after wondering around a bit the whole thing seemed so anachronistic that I became convinced that the introduction was talking about somebody totally different. Maybe I'll go back in time to 1954 and meet the farmer/scrap-iron salesman referred to in the introduction? However, the setting (of a man who is clearly something of a loser and bored with his life) is done quite well, and the little side-comments referring to different aspects of life as you examine your meager possessions does paint a fine picture. I do think that Finn writes well, especially for a non-native English speaker.

Like 'Ghost Town', the game is quite old-fashioned in its approach (that's not meant as a criticism. It's a neutral statement). There are few hints about what you're supposed to be doing, and the introduction appears to include one quite-easily-done-action-that-causes-death-after-a-few-turns. 'Through Time' is quite an apt title because it did feel a little like the 1990s when I was playing it. If you've read my other reviews for this competition then you'll appreciate that I really don't mind that at all.

What I did mind was getting to the stage where I didn't know what to do next. I assume that the big space in the sky marks a cloaked alien spaceship - which is no doubt how my adventure Through Time is about to begin - but I couldn't do anything else. I just wandered around with stinky garbage and old pizza in my hands, like an aimless tramp. I'm not sure if this is one of those sandbox demos where you just explore a scaled-down version of the full thing, or whether this is a more customised demo that you can actually finish.

What do I think of this? As a potential game it certainly seems to be promising. I suspect that if you enjoy 'Ghost Town' (and I recommend that you download it and give it a try if you can) then this will be right up your alley too. As a competition entry, it falls a bit short of making me keen to try the full version. I didn't enjoy lacking aim and not being sure what was trying to do.


Yon Castle...

I imagine that some people might not like the way that this is written, but I enjoyed it. At least an effort was being made with the presentation and atmosphere. In fact, after playing this game I found myself using phrases like 'methinks' and 'gadzooks' in general conversation. That's right, there was something catchy about it. Yep, it's not natural to read and slows things down a little but I appreciate the effort it must have taken and give it two thumbs up.

If 'Through Time' made me think of 90s IF, then this game took me back to the Scott Adams-fueled 80s, with the whole treasure-collection scoring mechanic. I approve of this as well. In fact, I thought this was a very good effort from a (I assume) new author. As well as the interesting writing, I thought that the game was quite well coded with few bugs and implementation errors. There was some polish that reflected the effort that the author had taken to make this entry suitable for the comp, even including a few hidden features.

I don't have much more to add, other than I really enjoyed this game and would like to see a complete version.


Conclusion

A great comp with some very good entries. I was flattered to win, and thanks for all those who voted for Apokolupsis. Thanks also to KF for the effort that he put into this comp.

My personal faves were 'Donuts', 'Dung Beetles are Aliens', 'Yon Castle...' and 'Existence'. These are all games that I'd be keen to play a full version of. I know that in the review above I picked 'Donuts' as my fave of the comp, but on reflection I think that I'm now leaning towards 'Existence' as my top pick. Let's see a finished version, Abbi!

Edit: Edited to include my review of 'Existence'!




Edited By revgiblet on 1245364239
"He who lives only to benefit himself confers on the world a benefit when he dies."

Tertullian

In Progress:- Watch This Space...
alsnpk
Posts: 523
Joined: Wed Sep 27, 2006 11:58 pm
Points: 10
Location: UK (was US)

Post by alsnpk »

Aww, cool, I'm glad you like Existence! :) I actually entered the game because I liked the concept a lot but only had the beginning and some possible ending material in mind... But now some people really want me to continue it?! What's that about? ;) Just kidding; that's awesome! Maybe I'll have to finish it after all... I have a couple other things I may want to finish first, but we'll see.

Oh, and I understand and agree about fleshing it out more (er, yeah, without the pun, heh heh). Definitely. The game probably won't have exactly the same beginning anyhow if I work on it more; I modified the original beginning idea just for the comp, to give a better taste of the basic overall game.

Also: thank you for writing reviews of all the games, including mine! I'm glad someone wrote more than just a few sentences about each one. Hmm... Maybe I'll do the same.
Released:
For competitions: Business As Usual; Oh, Human; Existence (intro); Motion
Shared names demo: "Guys, Guys"

Works in various stages of progress:
Y'know, things and stuff...
Post Reply