Mark Musante's Mini Reviews

For The Games Entered In The

1998 Interactive Fiction Competition


First Things First

I managed to play all of the games that were entered in this year's competition. That's a first for me; there are some games from previous years' competitions that I still haven't played.

I used Lucian Smith's Comp98 program to randomize the games; so the order in which they were played are his fault. :-)

This year, for the most part, I also saved nearly all the transcripts from the games I played. The purpose behind this was to give the authors' some idea of where my review is coming from, and what sorts of trouble I had with the puzzles. I'm a bit aprehensive about doing this, as it shows off what a poor player I am, but I hope that the benefits to the authors will outweigh my embarrassment. The transcripts are completely unedited, so there's quite a bit to wade through.

Some games didn't supply the option to make a transcript (Human Resource Stories, the Alan game and the home-brew interpreters). And for one game, the first one I played, I forgot to turn it on. Sorry Digby, if that's your real name.

These capsules were written immediately after playing each game, when each was fresh in my mind. I have since read reviews by others and have learned things (e.g. the REAL authors behind the pseudonyms and pseudosubmittors) that may have influenced my reviews had I known about them in advance. Like the transcripts, I have not changed anything with respect to the reviews in light of this new information. I have reformatted them for HTML though. I hope you'll permit me that one indulgence.

And for those of you who did submit anonymously: thank you. This is not scarcasm. I much prefer to write a review without knowing the author, since I can't help but be influenced by that knowledge.

Also, it's great fun to find out after the fact who wrote what.

Anyway, on with the show.


0. Guide to my ratings

For those of you who read the reviews I wrote from last year, you'll notice that this pretty much stayed the same.

My capsule reviews, list the games I've managed to play before reviewing was over. They are very short (sorry, authors - I'm not much for critical criticism); they're intended to give you an idea of where the rating number comes from.

The categories are:

a. Plot - my brief description of the story of the game

b. Summary - a quick mini-synopsis/review of the game as a whole

c. Writing - what I thought of the author's (or authors') writing style

d. Bugs - any I may have encountered

e. Puzzles - how good the puzzles were. This is a combination of two classifications: difficulty and cleverness.

Difficulty ranges as follows:
easy: not much thought required
medium: some head-scratching
hard: lots of head-scratching
obscure: resorted to hints
Cleverness ranges as follows:
obtuse: intentionally difficult
dull: no thought was put into the puzzles at all
simplistic: no attempt to create something new
common: nothing we haven't seen before
fun: a satisfied feeling once they were figured out
unusual: challenged my thought processes in a unique way
masterful: a thoroughly enjoyable, well-thought-out, professional puzzle
For both categories, I average the puzzles over the game.

f. NPCs - how realistic (i.e. well-written) the NPCs were

g. Replayability - was there anything added to give the player something new a second time around?

h. Gimicks - what's unusual, or what new (new to me, that is) types of puzzles did the author invent?

i. xyzzy/plugh - My personal quirk (but I suspect I'm not the only one who tries these commands :-). This category is unique in that it doesn't affect my ratings.


1: "Downtown Tokyo, Present Day"

Author: "Digby McWiggle"
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Save downtown tokyo from a giant chicken.

Summary:
This is a short, cute game. The author gets bonus points for coding results for actions which aren't necessary to finish the game, but sure are funny. Also, it's worth mentioning that the majority of the game is in third person. But it works well.

Writing:
Very witty. Shows a real talent here.

Bugs:
None noticed.

Puzzles:
easy/fun - The main puzzle here was figuring out that more than two directions from "above downtown" are significant. Once that's figured out, the rest falls into place.

NPCs:
The chicken was pretty cool, but there wasn't much interaction there. The reporter was no more than a prop, although what interaction there is was fun. ;-)

Replayability:
Nothing was added to give it anything here.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/yes.


2: "The Ritual of Purification"

Author: "Sable"
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Seek purification.

Summary:
Wow. This game started off very intensely for me, and it didn't let up. A dramatic game, one encounters a variety of creatures which can aid in your quest to become purified. They all seem to be helpful when approached the right way..

There's at least one learn-by-death issue in it, but the game is short enough that this isn't really a problem. The drawback for having a short game, of course, is that the spells you acquire over the course of the story are of limited use. I would have liked to have seen more situations in which the spells could have been been applied.

Writing:
Excellent. Some grammar/spelling issues only slightly mar an otherwise well-written game.

Bugs:
A few here and there, mostly with the spell system. ("cast x at y" sometimes results in no response whatsoever).

Puzzles:
medium/fun - Some NPC interaction, some spellcasting. The endgame was notably easy in that the (wink) magic 'undo' spell helped a great deal.

NPCs:
Very well done indeed. Granted, for the size of the game, it wasn't a major undertaking to add responses for nearly all the situations, but the NPCs really shined nevertheless.

Replayability:
There are two paths you can take, but it seems as though the only difference is in one of the NPCs that you encounter.

Gimicks:
An intriguing spell system. Although the games 'about' text said it was borrowed from "Balances", it's different enough to be new (for me).

xyzzy/plugh:
no/no.


3: "Photopia"

Author: Opal O'Donnell
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
A convoluted story which somehow involves a babysitter.

Summary:
This is one of those games where the story takes the front seat and the puzzles are unimportant. Sure, there are a few scattered about, but they're all straightfoward. A few moments' thought will solve the lot.

That being said, there is much to recommend this game. The story is complex and had enough twists in it to keep me interested all the way through.

But either I'm missing something or the game is. There were several story branches that were left unexplained and unexplored. By the time the game ended (without so much as a by-your-leave), I was deeply into it.

One last point. I found the in-text definitions of words off-putting initially. After a few of them, however, I pretty much guessed where Opal was going with them. But it was still odd.

Writing:
Excellent. Opal has a good grasp of storytelling and the words flow well off the screen.
Bugs:
A few grammar/spelling errors, but nothing more than that.

Puzzles:
easy/common - This game's forte was not in the puzzles but in the way the story was put together.

In the opening text, even before you speed down the road, this game indicates that we (the author and the player) would be telling the story together. It would have been nice if the player did have some influence on the story.

NPCs:
With its choice of NPC interation (similar to a graphical adventure), these were probably the easiest parts of the game to code. Where the NPC's really work well, though, is in the way they drive the plot and push the story forward.

There is much discussion on r[ag]if as to the benefits/drawbacks of a conversation system like the one used in this game. However, it certainly removes a lot of the frustration from the player's point of view: there aren't any guess-the-topic puzzles.

Replayability:
I'd want to replay it again, if only to get a smoother story experience. Solving the puzzles tended to interrupt the narrative. That's not to say they weren't well integrated; it's just that the story tended to pause now and then while I worked toward the solutions.

Gimicks:
You play different people at different points in time and reality.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


4: "Acid Whiplash"

Author: Rybread Celsius and Cody Sandifer
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
None, really.

Summary:
An attempt at interviewing one of the strangest members of our little IF community. Cody has put together a game that's at once funny and disturbing.

I don't think I played the game properly, though (perhaps that was for the best), as I seem to have missed out on scene 2. Also, I've no idea what the costume is for.

Writing:
Cody is coherent. Rybread is not. Enough said.

Bugs:
Some of the formatting didn't work quite correctly.

Puzzles:
obscure/bizzare - I had to get hints in order to complete the game on time. I think just about everyone would.

NPCs:
There were a couple, but the player can't really interact with them.

Replayability:
Perhaps; if only to find out what the missing scene is.

Gimicks:
Just the concept of an interview.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


5: "Arrival"

Author: Samanta Clark
System: HTML-TADS
Completed in time alloted: Yes.

Plot:
Aliens land in your backyard as a precursor to an invasion fleet and you, a precocious pre-teen, must stop them.

Summary:
I got the strange sense that I was playing a little girl. I don't recall anything in the text to indicate this, but that's the feeling I got. Perhaps it's because the dad is more fully implemented than the mother (who "isn't impressed" by nearly everything).

I didn't play this game with the additional sound file, although I certainly would have liked to. The pictures really enhanced the humor of the game and I imagine that the sound would have as well.

I probably didn't give this game as fair a time as I gave the other ones because my machine crashed during the middle of it (not the game's fault) and it took a while for me to come back and try again. So, unfortunately, I had to resort to a hint or two from the supplied walkthrough in order to complete it.

Writing:
Amusing. The conversion of the parser's error messages to suit the attitude of an 8-year-old worked well for me. The descriptions and fourth-wall-breaking also were enjoyable.

Bugs:
Although there's a 'commands' command mentioned in the 'about' text, it doesn't work.

The dad, when he returns to the livingroom, is still described as 'wandering through the hallways'.

When I talk to the dad during the time he's inspecting the lights, it still refers to him as putting down the newspaper.

Puzzles:
medium/common - It's really the story more than anything else that's important here. But I liked the distract-your-parents puzzle.

NPCs:
Like I mentioned earlier, the mom is the least implemented NPC in the game. The dad has, at least, responses to things you show him and tell him about. The two aliens are funny, in a good way, but also suffer from a lack of interactibility.

Replayability:
I'd want to replay it with the sounds on but, other than that, nothing speical was added here.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/no.


6: "Muse: An Autumn Romance"

Author: Christopher Huang
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Lift a young woman out of her depression.

Summary:
This is unlike any other game I've played so far. Christopher managed to write it in first-person past-tense and, for the most part, he succeeded.

Because of its unusual nature, I was unable to solve the game without resorting to hints. I hate it when I have to do that, but I became stuck early on and wasn't making any progress. Nearly all the puzzles involve talking to or telling someone about something or someone else.

I'm not sure what triggered Konstanza's ability to confide in me, either.

As to the story, it's a short bittersweet tale of a man trying to be young again and failing. I did enjoy it, but I think my IF brain is more attuned to traditional puzzles.

Writing:
Very good. I'm most impressed by the way Christopher has captured the feel of a victorian novel.

Bugs:
I'm not aware of any. Although the hint system could be beefed up a bit.

Puzzles:
hard/unusual - Much more NPC interation than your average IF work. As I indicated, the puzzles were quite difficult for me to solve. Even with the hints.

NPCs:
Extremely well done. Adding a few more responses to some of the more obvious actions would make this game absolutely shine in this area.

Replayability:
There is some, in the fact that the work seems more like a story than a game. Perhaps I'll go back and play it again, now that I know what I'm doing.

Gimicks:
First-person past tense writing. And it works.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/yes.


7: "Cattus Atrox"

Author: David A. Cornelson
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: Yes.

Plot:
Survive a night being persued by lions.

Summary:
I wanted to like this game. I really did. The idea of being chased down by lions and having to use your wits to survive is very appealing. But the game fell short of the goal.

The problems seemed to be of the guess-the-objects kind. I think I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I didn't know how. My first attempt at playing the game got me to the apartment well before I was supposed to -- I had neither gotten nor knew about the gun.

At that point, I was in the apartment trying everything I could. The game wouldn't let me go west and nothing else I interacted with seemed to allow me to progress.

Noting the fact that David had put a walkthrough on GMD, I popped over to see if glancing through that would give me a hint. I've been successful, in the past, at finding just a hint or two from walkthroughs. What I saw led me to dismay. A sewer? A gun? Where'd these things come from? I read a bit more. Loosen ropes?

Anyway, I have to unfortunately give this game a thumbs down. It could be really good, if the geography was made a bit more compact and if there are more clues added as to what is around you -- like the sewer, for instance.

Writing:
This was good and solid. There were several scenes in the game which had extended text and it was all pretty much good. I don't see why, with a little bit of work, the game's quality couldn't match the prose's.

Bugs:
When you talk to Susan on the phone, you can interact with her physically. After you get to Scott's apartment, entering the command "call" results in "You can't dial the nothing." If you type in "dial the nothing" you get "Exactly how would you like to accomplish this feat?" twice.

Puzzles:
If you want us to find the sewer, don't make us guess. Also, the paths between locations should be shorter. Looking at the walkthrough, it's mostly either travel (e.e.e.e.e) or waiting (z.z.z.z.z). And while those parts are e.z. to get through, it's also tedious.

NPCs:
Susan and Karl were well done. Most of the things I tried (except during the endgame) worked.

Replayability:
None really.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/no.


8: "Informatory"

Author: William J. Shlaer
System: Z-Machine/Inform
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Solve inform-related puzzles.

Summary:
A clever idea but the execution left something to be desired. This is another game in which I had to resort to the walkthrough early on. Apparently there's a hearth in the study, but I never managed to find it (until I got a hint of course).

The Helmet was really cool. It certainly helped in solving the game -- it made it very easy.

Unfortunately, this didn't help the story at all. This game was heavily puzzle-oriented, for what few puzzles there were. Objects seemed to be there because the author wanted them there (the forklift, Mr Toad's wrecked car, &c.), and not because they added up to a theme.

Or, if they did, the theme was a bit over my head.

Writing:
Nothing to complain about.

Bugs:
Hey, if there's a hearth in the room, you should mention it.

Puzzles:
easy/common - The helmet really helped, as you could imagine. It was an unusual experience, though, to try to solve puzzles by looking at the code.

NPCs:
I liked the guard. Full marks for him. The adventurer didn't do much, though.

Replayability:
Maybe some. Using the helmet in a few other places.

Gimicks:
Being able to see the source code form within the game.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/no.


9: "The Commute"

Author: Kevin Copeland
System: DOS
Completed in time alloted: no.

Plot:
Unknown. Presumably one must get to work.

Summary:
I had to give up. I just wasn't getting anywhere. Okay, I managed to get to the driveway, but that used up all my patience. When I could neither get into the car ("unlock car door" resulted in "I'm afraid it's locked.") nor could I get back into the house ("enter house" didn't work), I gave up in frustration.

Games should, at the very least, be able to respond to basic commands. Okay, good move in eliminating compass directions. That's bold. Points go to Kevin for that. But if I type "x toaster" I want to at least be able to see what the toaster looks like, not be told that it's something I don't normally do.

I do think I see where Kevin was going with this. Simulate a morning commute. But, unfortunately, there's nothing fun about commuting. I, and a lot of other IF players (I imagine), would agree.

Now if, when driving down the road, I met a talking alpaca, that would be something.

Writing:
Nothing really to complain about here.

Bugs:
A few typos, and the parser seems to get confused every so often.

Puzzles:
Can't rate these.

NPCs:
Can't rate these.

Replayability:
Don't see any.

Gimicks:
Compass-less directions?

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


10: "I Didn't Know You Could Yodel"

Author: Andrew J. Indovina and Michael Eisenman
System: DOS
Completed in time alloted: no.

Plot:
Chase your balsawood airplane through a psychotic dreamland.

Summary:
You know, the game that was dos-only (sort of) from last year's competition (the JACL one, Stuart Allen's "The Unholy Grail") was pretty good. I liked it, at any rate. Because of it, I had high hopes for these two DOS games (for some reason, Comp98 gave me both DOS games together. It's a conspiracy, I tells ya).

In the intro, the authors state that they're trying to emulate Infocom games of yore. Which is fine. Commendable, even. But they didn't follow through on their desire.

Parser issues aside, Andrew and Michael have used up their quota of exclamation marks for the rest of their IF careers. In addition, the story failed to keep me interested. I would have to say that, at least for me, battling incontinence is not a puzzle I look for in IF.

Finally, the protagonist seems to be a 29-year-old man still living with his mother. But the writing is in the style of a thirteen year old. If Andrew and Michael are both under the age of 15, I'm impressed by their technical skills. But that's not what this competition is about.

Writing:
Juvenile. And I'm being kind.

Bugs:
A few, mostly grammar and spelling. I'm puzzled as to why the bathroom key would drop a room away from the place where I found it. Maybe it's a bouncy key.

Puzzles:
They seem to be based on tried-and-true puzzles from folklore. An Infocom touch if you like Steve Meretzky's style. :-)

NPCs:
Not much here. At least, as far as I got into it.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


11: "Human Resources Stories"

Author: Harry M. Hardjono
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: sorta.

Plot:
You're being interviewed for a job in a multiple-choice format.

Summary:
Frustrating in the extreme. It took me a while even to get a salary offer. (Unlike real life, heh heh). Seriously, this isn't really a game. Games are supposed to be fun or entertaining or meaningful.

Once I saw how the game was played out, I tried to come up with a map of what choices led to what endings. But I soon grew tired of the exercise.

* * * I have missed the point entirely. * * *

Writing:
Poor.

Bugs:
None noted, save grammar & spelling.

Puzzles:
Multiple guess is not IF. It isn't even CYOA.

NPCs:
None.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
I guess you could say that the entire game is a gimick.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/yes.


12: "Mother Loose"

Author: Irene Callaci
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
A few nursery rhymes/stories in an IF setting. Also, find your momma.

Summary:
You start off with a single task: rescue humpty-dumpty from the predicament he's placed himself in. It soon blossoms into several nursery rhymes. You need to roll a 2d6 to save against cuteness before playing, though.

I got stuck a few times and had to go to the ifMUD for help once. So this wasn't a simple game for me, despite the environment. But I did have a good time and especially liked being able to get into trouble.

Writing:
Excellent. All of the rooms were well described but the tradeoff was that it was harder to pick up on the important items.

Bugs:
Try putting the ladder in the well and then typing 'down'. There's an extra "I don't think much is to be achieved by that." message.

Puzzles:
medium/fun - They were all puzzles that I should have been able to solve had I not been so lazy. I still can't believe I got the right knock-knock joke on the first try.

NPCs:
Very good. The wolf was a lot of fun, and the rest of them actually responded well to actions/statements.

Replayability:
There's a whole section, in the "AMUSING" list at the end, of things you can do to get into trouble. It'd be fun to go back and try some. Also, as the game says, for maximum points, don't get into trouble at all.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/no.


13: "CC"

Author: Mikko Vuorinen
System: Alan
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
To feel the power. I think.

Summary:
A very short game. But I still needed a hint :-(.

I didn't quite understand the ending. The game starts off in a void and you get a ring. After doing the obvious, you're in a desert of some sort where you eventually discover a sekkrit passageway inside a pyramid.

Eventually, you end up back in the void and, after a few more moves, the game ends. Yes, that's all there is to it. I must have missed something important along the way.

Oh, and bonus points for the lady of the lake.

Writing:
Not bad at all. In fact, this is the game's strongest point.

Bugs:
None that I found.

Puzzles:
easy/common - Yeah, easy. Even though I grabbed a hint from ifMUD.

NPCs:
The one interactable one, CC, was done well. No complaints here.

Replayability:
None. But the game is short enough to blast through in about a minute if you're so inclined.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/yes. Even 'plover' too!


14: "Spacestation"

Author: David Ledgard
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Survive a nuclear reactor esplosion.

Summary:
Now here's an interesting concept. Sure, it's been bandied about on the newsgroup, but no one that I know of has, until now, implemented one of the "sample transcripts" from the original Infocom games.

And this one is a worthy attempt. I was amused by the cries of 'unimplemented' from the game, as well as some of the things that were added in order to make the game a bit more interactive. But, on the whole, it's a very tiny game and solveable very very quickly.

Writing:
"Borrowed", for the most part, from the transcript.

Bugs:
Other than having unimplemented sections?

Puzzles:
easy/simplistic.

NPCs:
The fussbudget was fun, but it's hard to praise something that was, um, appropriated from somwhere else.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
Just the implement-the-transcript idea.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/no.


15: "Little Blue Men"

Author: Michael S. Gentry
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes. I think.

Plot:
Learn to love life.

Summary:
Any summary of this game is going to end up being longer than the game itself, unless I'm missing something important. You work on some paperwork, discover the meaning of life, and end the game.

Writing:
Very good. No issues here.

Bugs:
Couldn't find any.

Puzzles:
easy/dull - But they weren't really meant to be exciting.

NPCs:
None.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


16: "Research Dig"

Author: Chris Armitage
System: Inform/Z-machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Search an ancient site.

Summary:
An interesting idea but the ending was rushed. Almost literally. I only scored 9 out of 10, so I obviously missed something, but the end did say I won...

In this game, you play a woman on a solo assignment to investigate something that "looked old" at a local church. Visions of ancient cults and satanic rites danced through my head at that point but the truth was a bit stranger than that.

Most of the game has you exploring underground. Once you find the Quest Object, the game basically ends.

Despite that, I liked it for the most part. A few quirks here and there (see the Bugs section) but, until the ending, a good solid game.

Writing:
Not bad. Nothing to complain about.

Bugs:
Aside from a few grammar/spelling errors, I became somewhat confused about being in the boat. It seemed as if I was in it sometimes, but I could "walk" about freely. At least, so the room descriptions went.

I had to fight with the parser in order to enter the hidden cave.

Not all of the objects in the rooms' descriptions were implemented. (E.g. "the bottom of the coffin is covered in mist.", "x mist", "you can't see any such thing"). But nothing all that bad.

Some synonyms missing (e.g. 'telly' for 'tv'). Oh, and a slab of stone 2 feet square is *heavy*.

Puzzles:
easy/dull - Find the object, use the object.

NPCs:
Louise is a tease, basically, as you don't get to interact with her at all. And when she shows up at the end it's just a solid wall of text which threatens to explain what the hell was going on, but fails to carry through.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/no.


17: "Where Evil Dwells"

Author: Paul Johnson and Steve Owens
System: Inform/Z-machine
Completed in time alloted:

Plot:
Conquer the horror; save the world.

Summary:
Horror is very difficult to achieve in an interactive fiction game. After all, what is there to fear when you've got the save & undo commands at your fingertips?

This game takes a potshot at horror but, in attempting to not take itself too seriously, it goes a bit to far. Drunken imps, helpfully feral pets, and an addiction to "Gilligan's Island" all serve to take the edge off the horror; unfortunately they take off the blade and the handle too.

On the whole, though, the game isn't bad at all. Wandering through a creepy darked house trying to figure out what happened to the little girl's father is only the beginning of the story. You slowly learn that there's a Nameless (or was it Faceless?) Horror that simply must be stopped in order to save mankind.

Writing:
Competant. The authors did a good job in evoking an oppressively evil atmosphere for me. Only a few things marred it (see Summary).

Bugs:
This is probably an Inform bug, but I believe the authors intended for me never to carry the tuna fish sandwich. Apparently, there's no check for "get all from desk", so I was able to pick it up initially. But when I later dropped it, I was unable to pick it up again ("You can't bring yourself to touch that...").

Also, the text should be gone over for grammer/spelling errors.

A lot of the objects mentioned in the room descriptions weren't impelmented.

Puzzles:
easy/common. As long as you follow the old adage "examine everything", this game shouldn't pose too much of a problem for the average gamer. Most of the time I knew exactly what I had to do. I did need one hint (A *drop* puzzle! Never seen one of those before [or, at least, I don't remember having seen one]. Kudos to Paul & Steve for that one.)

NPCs:
There was one, "The Professor". But he's pretty much a madman by the time the player gets to him.

Replayability:
Nothing here.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


18: "Fifteen"

Author: Ricardo Dague
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Collect some treasures.

Summary:
A very simplistic game. Most of the room descriptions consist only of "There is an exit north and south." or somesuch. Everything seems to be borrowed from elsewhere (the remote control puzzle is a variation of the rock puzzle in "Spellbreaker"; the sliding square puzzle we've all seen a bazillion times in real life).

The ironic thing was that, shortly after praising the drop-the-bottle puzzle in "Where Evil Dwells", this game presented me with one as well.

Writing:
Nearly nonexistent.

Bugs:
None that I could see.

Puzzles:
easy/dull - You have to be somewhat creative if you're going to entertain the IF crowd, I'm afraid.

NPCs:
Charlie was cute; I'll grant you that.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


19: "Purple"

Author: Stefan Blixt
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Survive a chemical warfare apocalypse.

Summary:
An intriguing game marred by numerous bugs and spelling/grammar errors, "Purple" provides an interesting look at a future ruined by world war.

Apparently, you have a genius brother, Karl, who knows how to survive an attack of the purple cloud. He created a couple of "nests" in which you can ride out the destruction. Afterwords, he builds a boat with which you escape to who knows where.

This could have been a lot better if there weren't so many bugs hammering at you. Often, large blocks of text are printed twice. Often I wanted to do something but couldn't because I couldn't phrase it properly.

This could be a good game once it's beta tested. Karl is often wandering off somewhere and not working on what he ought to.

Writing:
Nothing to complain about.

Bugs:
Too numerous to list. One of the more amusing ones is that you can dig from the "Deep Furrow" room multiple times, ending up with as many "The hold you dug leads down." messages.

Puzzles:
medium/common - Once I figured out "get everything and drop it in front of Karl", I was all set. I was confused briefly by the fact that Karl can single-handedly build a boat out of odds and ends but can't manage to remove a shovel handle from the blade.

NPCs:
Karl was nearly a good NPC. But having him wander around, forcing the player to go hunt him down (or sit there waiting for him), isn't the best approach. Especially when there's a purple blob that pleasently takes you out of commission for a few turns.

Replayability:
Only to see how quickly you can win.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


20: "Trapped in a One-Room Dilly"

Author: Laura A. Knauth
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: no

Plot:
Escape.

Summary:
If this were real life, I would have searched for some other means of escape. Probably a violent one. :-)

Some of the puzzles were pretty good; for most I had to resort to hints, though. The transcripts tell the story better than I could here.

But the bottom line with this game is: no story, lotsa puzzles.

Writing:
No complaints here. I really was amused by the way the description of the doll changed depending on what you did to it.

Bugs:
None that I could tell.

Puzzles:
hard/unusual - The puzzle-box was an interesting varient on the Magic Square game I used to play on my Merlin(TM) electronic toy. The dartboard puzzle I never would have gotten if it weren't for the hints.

Ditto the keypad combination puzzle: after finding something written with a * to the right of it and something else written with a * above it, I kept looking for two more somethings: one with a * below it and one with a * to the left. I regard this puzzle as completely unfair; I found nothing in the game that would even hint that you must enter TWO numbers simultaneously on the keypad. Even the description of the keypad says "type '1234'" (or something like that). This puzzle needs to be reworked.

Back a year or three ago, a discussion came up on rec.arts.int-fiction about having commands with three nouns in them. I'm both impressed and dismayed that Laura implemented one in her game.

NPCs:
N/A

Replayability:
Only as a 'fewest moves' thing.

Gimicks:
A one-room many-puzzles game.

xyzzy/plugh:
no/no


21: "In the Spotlight"

Author: John Byrd
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes

Plot:
None.

Summary:
Another one-room game. This one was a one-room one-puzzle game. I didn't go back to find out what use the cotton ball and matchbook were.

The "reward" for solving the puzzle (other than winning) is seeing the authors explanation of the game; but that was ALREADY available through the 'credits' command. Sigh.

After playing the game, I read the supplied walkthrough and was amused by the methods of suicide. Of course I had to try them right away. Too bad 'choke on cotton ball' wasn't implemented.

Writing:
No problems here.

Bugs:
None that I saw.

Puzzles:
easy/simplistic - Here I have to shrug. I've never had this problem to solve before, so at least it was new to me. I imagine that others have seen it elsewhere, so this game ends up being a watered down version of "Fifteen."

NPCs:
None.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
One room game.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


22: "Persistence of Memory"

Author: Anonymous
System: Hugo
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Survive.

Summary:
My goodness. Three one-room games in a row.

By rights, anyone in the situation that the PC is in should never have made it out alive. Stuck in the mud, forced to hold down the trigger of a mine, dying of thirst, enemy soldiers all about and hallucinating. Did I miss anything?

I have to say that the most detestful thing I've ever experienced in an IF game was having to shoot the man in blue at point-blank range.

As events swirl around you (there's apparently no way to avoid the mine), you have to manage to stay alive through all the problems I listed above. What makes it difficult to do is having to guess how to talk to someone who doesn't speak your language.

Interestingly enough, this is probably the ideal way of having NPC interaction. I never played Edifice all the way through (sorry, Lucian), so I've never experienced the much-praised language puzzle. "Persistence" had a language puzzle, but it was more of a guess-the-verb puzzle, which the author, ironically enough, was trying to avoid.

Anyway, I didn't realize for the longest time that you had to WAIT after conveying the PC's message to the woman. It's not even in the hints.

Writing:
Well done. This is one aspect of the game that worked for me. But the story itself didn't. I'm not sure a kill-or-be-killed situation is enough for this plot, especially given the ending. The story really needs to develop more, I think, in order to really convey the horror of the situation. Being told how I felt about killing someone just didn't do the trick, I'm afraid.

Bugs:
I didn't notice any, but the transcript shows that, during the hint menus, the hint topics are logged to the file twice. This is probably a Hugo bug.

Puzzles:
medium/unusual - I kept hoping the dried mud would be enough to hold down the mine trigger. I guess not. But, as you probably can guess from the Summary above, I thought the water drinking puzzle was unfair.

NPCs:
The only NPC with interaction was the woman and, although she was effectively mute, it was a good job.

Replayability:
None here.

Gimicks:
Interesting (and well-implemented) time system. This game has the most creative use of the 'z' command of all the games in the competition.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


23: "The Plant"

Author: Michael J. Roberts
System: TADS
Completed in time alloted: yes.

Plot:
Discover the secret plot.

Summary:
Of all the games I've played so far, I like this one the best. It has a professional feel to it; its puzzles remind me of the best of Infocom's; it seemed just the right length.

The one thing lacking from this game is motivation. Sure, you've got Teeterweller egging you on (sort of), but why am I exploring this complex? Once the game nears its end, the motivation becomes much clearer but there's nothing that starts it off other than "gee, I wonder what THAT was all about."

That aside, however, I have to admit that I really liked the fact that the game could not be gotten into an unwinnable state, nor can the PC be killed off (both of which are the same in my book). It really took my mind off of having to save and restore and, instead, I could rather enjoyably explore. Admittedly, it does strain credulity a bit but, as a player, I liked it.

Writing:
Second only to Photopia.

Bugs:
If Teeterwaller is wearing a gas mask, and you say "wear mask" (depending on which one he's wearing), the game responds that YOU'RE wearing it.

Puzzles:
hard/masterful - The unfair puzzle in this game was the one requiring that you set the garage door opener to the *UPC SYMOBL* of another device. I needed the walkthrough for that.

The sheer number of puzzles that Michael packed into such a tiny game was both challenging and pleasureable. The only down side was the amount of kleptomania required. Does it move? Take it. Does someone else have it? Take it. This is best exemplified by the dog's harness. Why did I take it? I had no idea at the time. But I COULD take it, so I did. Turns out it came in handy. Amazing foresight. :-)

Other than that, I liked every minute of it.

NPCs:
I'm probably being a bit repetative here, part of the reason why I felt this returned to the excellent roots of Infocom was because of Teeterweller. A classic NPC.

Replayability:
Nothing special here.

Gimicks:
The one gimick, the Blottnian language, was only used once. I would have loved to see more of it.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/no.


24: "Lightiania"

Author: Gustav Bodell
System: TADS
Completed in time alloted: yes

Plot:
Fix the Alien Ship.

Summary:
I can't tell if this is a joke or not. The misspellings, the grammar errors, the hidden objects, the simple puzzles, all make for a primative effort. But they could be intentional. It's hard to tell.

Did ANYONE find the security card without reading the hints?

Writing:
My guess is that Gustav's native language isn't English. I suppose that that's a drawback of the competition: all games are expected to be written in English. Let me rephrase: games which aren't in English probably won't get the votes necessary for validation.

Bugs:
Both the sledgehammer and the (regular) hammer have 'hammer' as a noun. This causes disambiguation to fail; at least under WinTADS.

Also, I finished with "a score of 41 points out of a possible 39."

Puzzles:
easy/dull - The only thing that prevented me from whipping through this game in under 10 minutes was the fact that there was no bridge mentioned anywhere in the game's text.

NPCs:
None.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
None.

xyzzy/plugh:
No/no.


25: "The City"

Author: Sam Barlow
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes

Plot:
Try to figure out what's going on/escape.

Summary:
This is an odd, surreal game. Very short and very small, it takes you through what appears to be some sort of mental health facility. There's evidence that you're a trouble patient; there's evidence that whoever's in charge doesn't seem to care. Unfortunately, if there was any meaning or message in this game, I missed it completely. The game was far too short to draw me in.

Writing:
Fine.

Bugs:
The tape playback can be a bit repetitive. This could be cleaned up a bit.

Puzzles:
medium/common - although I did like the way the player escapes from the video room.

NPCs:
Nothing to complain about.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
The video tape machine seems to record fairly well what actions you perform. Similar to the time loop puzzle in Sorcerer.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/no.


26: "Four in One"

Author: J. Robinson Wheeler
System: TADS
Completed in time alloted: no

Plot:
Get the Marx Bros. to stand still long enough so that you can film them.

Summary:
Frustrating to the extreme. If you read the transcript, you'll notice that I quit right after I read the hints. The hints, basically, tell you that you need to gather the brothers 6 times: for three rehearsals and three actual takes. The only reason I got through one rehearsal was because they were all on the set at the beginning of the game.

I could find neither rhyme nor reason as to why the brothers behaved the way they did; I could never manage to get all four of them in one spot after their initial dispersal. To add to the difficulty, after I'd gathered three of them together, I sent Val to find the fourth and, before she could even return, one or more of the three decided they'd had enough.

I'm a big fan of Marx Brothers films. I used to watch them frequently. I imagine that they did actually behave this way in real life. But the rules here were too complex for me to fathom, especially when I'm running up against impatience.

Writing:
Good.

Bugs:
If there are any, they're farther along in the game than I got.

Puzzles:
obscure/obtuse - Even though there's only one puzzle (or so it seems from the amount of time I devoted to it), it was far too difficult for me to solve, let alone solve it six times in a row.

NPCs:
Excellent. This is one area where the game really does very well.

Replayability:
None.

Gimicks:
Lots and lots of NPCs.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/yes. And, like CC, it also includes 'plover'.


27: "Enlightenment"

Author: Taro Ogawa
System: Inform/Z-Machine
Completed in time alloted: yes

Plot:
Get past a troll.

Summary:
This actually is a cool game but, unfortunately, the puzzles are very difficult (at least, they were for me). Maybe it's part of the problem with being at the end of the competition: you're anxious to finish and patience wears a bit thin.

I did have to resort to the hints a number of times, which brings up the first problem I had with the game: I'd already figured out the object of the game (extinguish all light sources in order to summon a g***) but, the way the hint system was designed, the game FORCED me to read the "what the heck is going on here" entries. This was frustrating and patronizing and it nullified the satisfaction I got by having read the supporting documentation and having figured out what to do.

Which brings up another point: I liked the inclusion of the supporting docs. It really brought back the feel of an Infocom game (moreso than "The Plant", which came only with a walkthrough).

Writing:
Excellent. The humor was very well done. I did have a bit of difficulty in visualizing the gate (only 1 foot wide?!?) and the slope, but I think I got it now.

Bugs:
Some minor grammar problems, but nothing more.

Puzzles:
obscure/unusual - Some of them were very clever but, as I indicated above, I really needed quite a few hints in order to even get started.

NPCs:
The troll was very troll-like.

Replayability:
No special features were added for this.

Gimicks:
Another one-roomer. But the anti-light motif (heh) provides a unique spin on it.

xyzzy/plugh:
Yes/yes. Once again, 'plover' is included.


That's all of them! Thanks for reading.