As editor of an IF review magazine, I'm a bit ashamed to admit this, but this is the first year that I've played and reviewed every game in the Comp.  I found it to be a rewarding if somewhat exhausting experience.  I took the traditional approach, generating a random list from the Comp website and playing in order.

If I could play a game and understand it, I gave it at least a 2.  Two failed to meet even this minimal standard of quality, although one of these was later disqualified.  My plan going in was to give out just one 10, to my personal "game of the Comp."  That game turned out to be the Elysium Enigma by Eric Eve.  I played it quite early, and, while I found some excellent work afterward, nothing seriously tempted me to supplant it.  That said, I gave out five 9s and even more 8s and 7s.  Perhaps I am a bit on the generous side as judges go, but if so, so be it.  I like to think I was fair and consistent.

As expected, this Comp turned out to be a coming out party of sorts for Inform 7, with over half of the Z-Code entries having been written in that language.  I was generally very impressed with this crop of games.  Not all were flawless by any means, but Inform 7 did seem to influence their authors in a positive way.  The average Inform 7 effort was better fleshed out and generally felt more "literary" than the average Inform 6 game from this or previous Comps.  Of course, there were some fine Inform 6 games to be found here as well.

Overall quality seemed better than in previous years.  The use of multimedia elements was down, but writing quality was up, and that's a trade I think most of us will take any day.  The 18 games I rated with a 7 or above are well worth diving into today, and a good proportion of those that were ranked lower have flaws that could be surmounted with some further work on the part of their authors.  There is some drek too, of course, but then there is bound to be in a wide open competition like this.

I think it might be wise to consider amending the Comp rules to disallow authors submitting more than one game.  As I noted in my reviews, I'm not thrilled with the practice, and find it somewhat against the spirit of the Comp.  I also find myself in the paradoxical position of wanting IF to grow, but not wanting to see too many more games in this competition next year.  Playing 44 games in six weeks took everything I had, and there is no way I could have managed more than a few more.  (I know the rules don't require me to play every game, but, well, if I'm going to judge at all I want to.)

But enough preliminaries.  The following reviews are presented in the (random) order I played the games.  If I gave your entry a bad review, I hope you will not take it personally.  These are just the subjective opinions of one IF nerd.  My criticism is always of the game, not its author.  Further, these are the opinions of Jimmy Maher, not SPAG Magazine, which will publish reviews from others in its next issue that will quite possibly differ markedly from my personal opinions.

Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game
The Apocalypse Clock
Aunts and Butlers
Ballymun Adventure
The Bible Retold
A Broken Man
Carmen Devine: Supernatural Troubleshooter
Delightful Wallpaper
The Elysium Enigma
Enter the Dark
Fetter's Grim
Fight or Flight
Game Producer!
Green Falls
The Initial State
Lawn of Love
Madam Spider's Web
The Primrose Path
PTGOOD 8*10^23
Simple Adventure
The Sisters
Star City
Strange Geometries
Tales of the Traveling Swordsman
Tentellian Island
The Tower of the Elephant
Unauthorized Termination
The Wumpus Run
Xen: The Hunt
Yasmina's Quest

Strange Geometries

Michael Gentry wrote that "anyone who has ever read anything by H.P. Lovecraft, or even stood downwind of someone who has, will immediately recognize his influence" on Gentry's game Anchorhead.  Well, anyone who ever played Anchorhead, or even stood downwind of someone who has, will immediate recognize its influence on Strange Geometries.  It's a virtual carbon copy.  Once again, the player is a recent transplant to a small, insular, vaguely disquieting, and thoroughly isolated town, and stumbles into an Evil Plot involving Unspeakable Beings From Other Dimensions.  Oh, some details get changed.  Geometries, for instance, takes place in the landlocked frontier town of Malnoxet of an unnamed fantasy world rather than in the seaside hamlet of Anchorhead of our world's New England.  For the most part, though it's all here, right down to the inhabitants' taste in architecture and their fondness for erecting tasteless statues in their town squares.  Lovecraftian horror is becoming a bit overworked as an IF theme, but I could embrace it if it was done really well, as it was with Anchorhead.  Geometries, unfortunately, isn't nearly as good, even though its author did get many things right.

To wit: Mr. Chambers knows how to use a spell check, something that seems to escape a stunning number of IF authors.  His text is also generally grammatical, the occasional comma splice or missing preposition aside, and at times he attains a real sense of atmosphere.  Virtually everything described in his room descriptions is examinable, and these aren't just cursory descriptions.  The result is a feeling of playing in a fleshed-out, believable world.

Still, the writing needs some work.  Commas never seem to be in the right places, making it jarring to read at times, and there are too many sentences like this one from the introduction:  "In the middle of the crowded marketplace yesterday Alexander Hidron began screaming that something had grabbed him and vanished."  If the monster vanished, Alexander, why scream about it so much?  But seriously, one comma in the right place would make this sentence read the way Mr. Chambers intended it.  The game also shifts into past tense occasionally for no apparent reason.  I am guessing that Mr. Chamber originally intended to write the whole thing in past tense, then decided that modifying the Inform library appropriately was too much trouble, and so went with present tense.  I also suspect that all this happened quite late, leaving him with little time to get the change done... and leading to chunks of the original past tense text strewn at random throughout the game.

As I played on, implementation problems began to crop up.  1) Any game that requires the use of "look in" should definitely implement "look under," "look on," and "look behind."  2) There are some very strange things going on with the magic circle, as after solving the puzzle to activate it I found it to contain something called Filled_right.  3) If you are not going to use a score,  print a message to that effect in response to "score," rather than just setting it to "0 out of 0."  This stuff isn't that hard to do, and it pays off in spades in your game's overall impression of polish.  Other blemishes crop up a fairly regular basis, not enough to make the player lose faith in the game entirely but more than enough to make it all seem a bit amateurish.

What did make me lose faith and go to the walkthrough were a couple of lousy puzzles.  If you are going to implement a device with an antenna, please take the time to tell me it is an extendible antenna that is currently retracted.  And then there is that egregious "guess the verb" puzzle inside Bedlam, which I never would have solved in a million years.  The sad part is, before stumbling on these and one or two others I was quite enjoying myself playing along on my own in what seemed a fairly interesting, not too taxing mystery.

This game is something of a near miss.  While it will it never win awards for originality, it could be cleaned-up and bug-fixed into a nice little game.  I would encourage the author to so, as he has obviously put quite a lot of work into this and it is far from unsalvagable.  And when the time comes to write another game, either be more original or steal a bit more creatively.  And... is this just me, or don't we ALREADY live in a three-dimensional world?  Shouldn't these creatures be from the FOURTH dimension?  Or if the fourth dimension is time, maybe fifth?  I'm so confused!

Score: 6 out of 10.


This must be the year for deja vu, for this game is also a variation on a fairly well-worn IF theme, the fairy tale adaptation... specifically, Little Red Riding Hood.  I was rather skeptical at first, especially when the game went into a long non-interactive text dump almost as soon as I had left for Grandmother's house.  From there, though, the railroading stops, and I found myself enjoying a well-written, well-designed, and at times downright compelling experience.  Much like Emily Short's recent Bronze and Glass, Moon-Shaped uses its fairy tale source only as a jumping off point.  From there it tells a complex, coherent story of an ancient family curse, and even weaves a bit of Hansel and Gretel into the tapestry as a bonus.

This is Mr. Ermer's first game, but he has obviously taken a lot of the community's established wisdom to heart.  He does just about everything right here.  His prose is clear, grammatically correct, and sometimes even approaches the evocative in its description of the fairy tale woods in which the action takes place.  The story, in typical adventure game fashion, is not really plot per se but rather back story, parceled out in dribs and drabs as the player solves explores the landscape and solves puzzles.  Some might consider this technique cheating in a way, but when done well, as it is here, it manages to be compelling while avoiding about a million problems that enter in as soon as one tries to tell a complex story more interactively.

The game design on which everything is hung is also very good.  Everything works as it is supposed to, and the puzzles, while never innovative, are not difficult at all and generally interesting to solve.  A nicely done, but (at least from my experience) perhaps not quite complete, adaptive hint system is also present.  There are, however, a couple of problems that mar my overall positive impression just a bit.  I had a great deal of trouble with one puzzle not because I didn't know what to do, but because I didn't realize I could make the game understand what I was attempting.  Specifically, if you are going to make it possible for the player to "set clock to X:XX," you should print some sort of helpful response when the player, by way of experimentation, simply types "set clock."  And then there is one cheap puzzle that seems doubly out of place given the overall friendliness of the design.  Just tell me plainly where exits lie from each location, please.  Don't tell me the way is blocked in "almost all directions," then make me type directions at random.  This kind of stuff is easy to implement when you just feel like you need one more puzzle, I guess, but it is not interesting or satisfying for the player... to say the least.

There was also a certain feel of randomness to the design that bothered me a bit at times.  Most of the gameplay is about learning the complex backstory just discussed.  This is done through having revelations relating to certain object connected with certain places.  What happens, though, is that when the player feels at a loss but is carrying a potentially significant plot object, she has to wander about the map with it, fiddling and examining, hoping for a revelation that might lead to the next bit of game.  At least, this is what happened to me.  Perhaps there is some more logical pattern to all this that I missed, but I don't think so.

It's kind of strange that the number of turns completed is just sort of sitting there in the status bar, with no prefix like "Turns:" or anything to identify it.  Not a big deal, but kind a bit surprising given the game's generally high level of polish.

I always end up talking more about negatives than positives, though, and that is a shame.  The bottom line is that this game does far, far more right than it does wrong.  A few minor frustrations aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.  Not just as a first game, but as any game, it is well worth being proud of, and I fully expect it to do very well in the Comp.  I also hope we will see more from Mr. Ermer.

I was amused by the inclusion of the mushroom from Graham Nelson's DM4 example game Ruins.  I wonder if Mr. Ermer, like me, started learning about Inform 7 by implementing some of the old DM4 exercises with it.  If this game did indeed start as such a learning exercise, it has come a long way indeed.

Score: 8 out of 10.


I tried to run this from my Windows XP command prompt, and was told I don't have enough free memory.  I tried it under DOSEmu on a Linux machine, and it just crashed the emulator.  Then I remembered that I had installed DOSBox on my XP machine a year or two ago to satisfy a Panzer General jones.  Surely that would work.  Um, no.  It crashed DOSBox too.  

I turned to the walkthrough to see if it might contain some notes on how to run the thing, and found that the game appears to be written entirely in German (!).  Playing this might be good practice for me, considering that my girlfriend is German and I am expected (ahem) to learn the language at some point.  If I could run it and it gave me an impression of decent quality, I might be tempted to give it a good go, albeit perhaps after the Comp when I can really take my time.  But I can't and it doesn't, and there are too many other games waiting for me to spend a lot of time fiddling with it.  

I don't really understand why people enter non-English games in this Comp, and I don't really understand why we haven't amended the rules to disallow it.  I don't mean to sound like a typical egocentric America.  I am all for the English-speaking world learning more languages, but I also don't think restricting this particular Comp to games in English is any great crime against multi-culturalism.  I was torn whether to give this one a low score or just abstain, but the technical problems plus my own feeling that it is just rude to enter a game in a language 95% of the judges will not understand decided the issue for me.

[I later learned from reading the newsgroups that this game was in fact a zip file masquerading as an exe.  Too bad.  I had moved on, and didn't feel inclined to return.]

Score: 1 out of 10.

The Elysium Enigma

Like (presumably) all Comp judges, I try very hard to be impartial.  At the same time, though, I can't deny that when I first scanned the entries, a few games popped out at me as ones I was particularly interested in playing.  Eric Eve's effort was definitely among them, as I was thoroughly impressed with both of his earlier TADS 3 works.  Well, to put it succinctly, I wasn't disappointed.  This one is simply superb, folks, raising the bar even higher than those earlier efforts.

This is unabashed space opera, a genre that I must confess to having a huge soft spot for.  I grew up on Poul Anderson and Isaac Asimov, and even though I spend more time reading highbrow British lit than science fiction these days, this sort of stuff still fills me with warm fuzzies when I see it again.  And Mr. Eve does it well here.  The feel is just perfect.  The player is an agent of the Moltinoran Empire who has been sent to the backwater planet of Elysium on a less than glamorous diplomatic mission.  Here he finds more than he bargained for, as a plot as interesting as it is well thought-out gradually reveals itself.  Think of one of Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry stories, or even one of those episodes of Star Trek in which everyone prattles on a lot about the sacredness of the Prime Directive... right before violating it, of course.

Mr. Eve just does so much so well here that I don't quite know where to start.  It's an embarrassment of riches, really, but maybe the most impressive thing to me is the character interaction.  There are only a few NPCs, but they are all done well, and Leela, the enigma / love interest at the heart of the story, is as close as we have yet come to a truly believable person in an IF game.  She talks about a wide variety of topics, offering cagey answers to your questions even as she probes for information of her own, and her actions are always believable in the context of the story at that moment.  I remember the moment when I first began to distrust her, how I began to watch my words more closely and to try to shake her into contradicting her own story... and how natural, how real the whole progression felt.  Mr. Eve's achievement here really is (and I use this word without hyperbole) amazing.  Yes, there are still odd responses and clunky moments, and occasional spurts of "guess the topic" syndrome, but darned if I don't think we might just be on the road to solving the ever-haunting "NPC question" after playing this.  I think the credit belongs equally to the TADS 3 conversation model, which is different and (I think) better than anything we've had before in IF, and Mr. Eve, who is a master at making it work.

Everything is done so well, and with such understated elegance, that it seems almost superfluous to mention it.  Everything holds together as consistently as one might expect from a game whose backstory has been lurking in its author's imagination for thirty years.  Anything the player might reasonably attempt to do to deal with his situation is generally accounted for.  Multiple solutions abound to the puzzles, and should one get stuck there is an excellent adoptive hint system in place.  Typos are non-existent, as are bugs and other glitches.

And then there are all the little extras.  When I completed the game with 22 of 30 points, I was given some helpful suggestions about what else I might want to attempt on my next run-through to increase my score.  It inspired me to want to start all over again, to poke around a bit more in this cool little universe Mr. Eve has designed for me.  But, alas, there are still 40 games to be played, so that will have to wait until after the Comp is over.  (Actually, this prompts me to mention one of the drawbacks to a competition like this one.  When one finds a game one wants to just relax with and inhabit for a while, one just doesn't have the time to really do so.)

So, lest this seem like mere gushing, I should point out some flaws.  There are a (very) few.  Leela at one point referred to a trapdoor I had not yet discovered as if I had.  (Of course, this immediately sent me scurrying to find said trapdoor.)  Mr. Eve's prose is generally as solid and elegant as the rest of the game, but his adjectives sometimes get a bit out of his own control. ("... you wouldn’t be a normal red-blooded adult heterosexual male if you weren’t at least a little aroused at the sight of her naked body...").  And, as there always seems to be, there was one puzzle I hated and never would have solved without the online hints.  (Figuring out the password to the orange datatab.  Just too obscure and cutesy for its own good.)

But that is mere quibbling with a tremendous overall achievement.  When I played this game, I didn't feel like I was playing a text adventure.  I felt like I was playing an interactive fiction.  And that's exciting.  I am giving this game a 10, and if just a few others games approach its quality I will consider this quite an amazing Comp year.  And Mr. Eve... please, publish some of those novels you've been working on for thirty years.  I'd buy them.  But don't do it at the expense of more games like this one.

Score: 10 out of 10.

The Primrose Path

Hmm, it's a game by a new author.  And I start out in my bedroom.  And the I am playing in first person.  Based on this data, I had immediate visions of an overwrought vision of adolescent angst, of which there are always seem to be one or two entered every year, and whose only saving grave is the fact that, well, they that there are a few adolescents out there playing IF.  But wait... I realize that I am playing a very unglamorous lady of late middle-age or older.  And from there my fears gradually fade away.  This is a very strong, original effort.

So, I am an aging spinster who shares a duplex with an artist named Leo, with whom my relationship over the past decade "has been everywhere from icy hostility to unabashed longing."  Over the course of this game, I will come to realize that Leo has been hiding quite an important secret from me all these years.  He can do Magic (!).

Really, this is great stuff.  There is an interesting use of time travel that reminded me at times of both Sorcerer and Trinity.  The trope of traveling about by diving into paintings has also been seen often enough before in IF, most notably in Curses, but we have perhaps reached the point of having such a sizable body of work that just about everything has been seen before.  More important is how well it is done, and this game doesn't disappoint.  I think the most impressive element for me was the characterization of myself, Leo, and Irene.  All are decidedly unusual, about as far as one can get from the typical IF adventurer.  I was intrigued enough by them that I just wished they had more to say and were more interactive.  (Perhaps my opinion was influenced by playing this right after The Elysium Enigma, which set a high standard indeed for its competitors.)  I got particularly frustrated by the lengthy sequence at the beginning of the game, as Leo was lying there apparently dieing of a gunshot wound, and none of the quite logical things I tried to do and say to help him seemed to be possible.  From here on, though, I felt like I had more agency.

Puzzles are generally not difficult if one can put on the correct whimsical frame of mind, and there is one at the end that is beautiful in the way of that famous Photopia puzzle.  (I refer to the method of getting onto the roof of the cabin.)  I'm sorry to say I turned to the hints too soon for this one, thus depriving myself of some of the magic.  I think I would have solved it on my own shortly enough, but it's the Competition, and I was feeling rushed, and... oh, yes, you've already heard that rant, haven't you?

This is in fact another one that I feel the urge to spend some more quality time with post-Comp.  I'm still not really sure just what was really going on with Irene and Leo.  Was Irene just pretending to be senile?  If so, why?  Where was this mysterious gallery of Leo's?  Why on earth did Irene shoot Leo?  Why was finding the gun in my living room so horrifying to me?  And, most of all, what was going with that painting of Ivy, and what did the game mean when it referred to Irene's father "winning?"  I feel confident the answers are in there, and look forward to going back to look for them.

I am not quite sold on the game's conceit of having "me" give orders to "Matilda."  Again, this left me rather confused.  Who exactly am I supposed to be?  And the refusal to accept "x me" was just too clever for its own good.  In the giving credit where it is due department, though, I have to say that the conversion to first-person was very well done.  I didn't see a single reversion to second person anywhere.

The game is perfectly polished, with nary a bug or typo in sight.  The writing is consistently clear and vivid.  The in-game hint system is cleverly thought out and works perfectly.  This little note was quite gratifying: "my programming background is more or less nonexistent and this game would never have been created without the natural language interface."  Inform 7 does indeed appear to be opening IF authorship up to those who would otherwise never have attempted it, and to think that it has resulted in games of this quality already is wonderful indeed.

This Comp is so far setting one heck of a high standard for quality.  This is almost worthy of my second 10 in a row, but my frustration with the character interactions and a plot that is perhaps a bit too obscure for its own good lead me to bump it down a notch.  Still, a fine,fine piece of work...

Score: 9 out of 10.

Delightful Wallpaper

Hmm, Edgar O. Weyrd.  Do you suppose that might be an alias?  Upon firing this one up, my first thought was of that horrible Charlotte Perkins Gilman story The Yellow Wallpaper that I was subjected to twice in my undergraduate career.  Luckily, though, this is nothing like that.

What it is is the most forthrightly gamelike game I have yet played in this Comp.  The concept is very clever: I am a ghost or spirit of sorts arrived at gloomy Victorian mansion where an Agatha Christie-style cozy mystery is about to play out.  My job is to set the scene by scattering "intentions" for the guests in the right places.  Because I am a ghost, I cannot deal in physical objects at all, only ephemeral things like said intentions.  

The game plays out in two stages.  In the first, I must explore the mansion looking for the most important intention that will bring the guests here in the first place.  This is complicated by the fact that I cannot actually manipulate physical objects like doors that bar my way.  Luckily, the mansion has something of a mind of its own.  Going through a certain archway, for instance, might open a door on the other side of the house.  And so we basically have an elaborate set piece puzzle here, requiring careful planning on the part of the player to gain access to all of the mansion.  Anyone who has played and enjoyed the puzzler D.R.O.D. (Deadly Rooms of Death) will likely have a lot of fun with this.  I did, and I did.  Granted, it's the sort of thing that could quickly get out of control, but the game is kind enough to give the player a notepad which automatically updates as new interactions are discovered, and with the aid of this  I found the difficulty to be pitched just about perfectly.  I was mildly frustrated on a couple of occasions, but never had to turn to the walkthrough.

The second stage is just as interesting.  Having placed the first intention to bring the guests to the mansion, I must now place a collection of subsidiary intentions to make the mystery actually play out. with lots of murder and mayhem and even a dash or two of sex.  To aid me I have only some fragmentary notes.  Using these and my own observations of the guests, I must craft the story.  Besides being somewhat interesting theoretically as a meta-fictional exercise, this is also great fun, and once again just right difficulty-wise.  When I finished the game, I learned that "the next pack of cards is already being shuffled, and their road has yet to be paved..."  Am I living inside a Clue game?

The presentation here is very minimalist.  No credits or instructions are even provided.  I commend the testers that I think have to exist, though, as this one was thoroughly polished and bug free.  Room descriptions are also a bit sparse, but that somehow suits the overall feel of the game.

I suspect that this one might be a bit divisive.  Those looking for elaborate stories in their IF might not find much to like here.  There is room for more than just interactive short stories in the world of IF, though, and I for one had an absolute blast puzzling this one out.  There is virtually nothing I can find to really complain about.  But one question... why the obsession with wallpaper anyway?  Did I miss something?

Score: 9 out of 10.

Fetter's Grim

Well, folks, it seems that Paul Panks has been reading Biblical and Roman history, and has decided to combine his new interest with his standard Westfront PC brand of pseudo-RPG text adventure.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Actually, call me a big softy, but I was kind of happy when I saw Mr. Panks' name in the Comp.  It has always been abundantly obvious to me that he is not mentally well, and I always had dark visions of the collective jeering of the community leading him to do something I'd rather not discuss.  Yes, the idea of someone harming themselves over an ill-received text adventure seems ridiculous on the face of it, but I've been around enough to know that when someone has little in their life to start with, minor things can seem major.  So, anyway, here's wishing Mr. Panks the human being all the best, and letting him know that the criticism that follows is directed only toward this little adventure game, not him personally.

So, then, how is this particular text adventure?  The good news is, Mr. Panks seems to have put forth more of an effort to polish (or at least finish) this one compared to his previous Comp entries.  The bad news is, alas, it's still not very good.  All of the standard  Panksian annoyances are here, from the terrible two-word parser to the randomized combat.  I struggled through with things for a while, but gave up not too long after encountering the inventory limit.  I'm sorry, but in 2006 I'm just not interested in spending my time trekking hither and yon across the map again and again because I can't carry more than six items at a time.

And then there is the absolutely incoherent setting and plot.  The game is subtitled "...or how I became a zombified hitman for Jesus."  Okay (?).  Yet my goal is "to unravel the mystery of why you ended up on a lonely beach beside a man who eats only locusts and honey, and speaks odd incoherent phrases."  Yet to win the game I must "find the parchments and take them from Rome itself! "  Um, what parchments?  And what about the hitman thing, plus unraveling the mystery and all?  Shouldn't my goal and the thing I must do to win the game be the same thing?  Throughout the game, there are occasional non-sequiters like this dropped into room and item descriptions: "(Hey, I'm drunk! WHEEEEEEE! Oops, sorry...back to the, uh, game!)."  I'm Mr. Panks thinks he is being amusingly ironic and charmingly cracked with stuff like this, but, well, it's really all just sort of stupid.  There is nothing more painful than an unfunny person who thinks he is a comic genius.

Even though this effort is a bit better in the polish department than previous Panks entries, there are still plenty of problems.  There are room descriptions that begin like this: "You close the doors soundly behind you as you enter the church."  Fine, right?  Well, yes, I guess, except when you come from the other direction, deeper inside the church where there are no doors to close.  When exploring dark rooms without a light source, one receives the standard "It's too dark to see" message... yet items and monsters within the rooms, which are the only things you can generally interact with anyway, are always visible regardless, making the whole light source requirement sort of stupid (unless one wants to read the deathless prose of Mr. Panks' room descriptions, of course.)  Mr. Panks has at least taken the community's advice about making the items in his world examinable.  His descriptions of weapons and armor now read like entries from some classical dictionary... which is, I suspect, exactly what they are.

All that said, this is not unredeemably terrible.  It's probably not any worse than the average budget text adventure, circa 1982, and I cannot deny that it takes a certain skill to make BASIC work even as well as it does here.  I certainly couldn't do it.  Of course, I wouldn't want to do it, either, and that statement perhaps embodies much of the problem I (and the community at large, I think) have with Mr. Panks' work.  He is writing from a retro-gaming mindset, trying to bring back the 8-bit glory days of the eighties.  I, on the other hand, remember those days fondly but have no desire to return to them via IF in 2006.  There is so much more that the form is capable of.  I wonder if the might not be some other group somewhere who would be more receptive of Mr. Panks' work.

If you do decide to give this one a go, be sure to look at the first few lines of the program listing, which include a nice ASCII map of the whole landscape.  I don't know if I would have gotten even as far as I did without it, as a game has to impress me to a certain degree before I will pull out the pen and graph paper to map it.

Score: 3 out of 10.

A Broken Man

Having praised TADS 3 to the skies in service of Eric Eve's effort, I can now state that it is also possible to produce a perfectly ordinary text adventure using the system.  This game is the proof.

So, the concept here is that you are an ordinary man whose daughter was killed by an Evil Terrorist.  Now you have come to the Evildoer's mansion seeking Revenge.  Sigh.  At least your enemy doesn't appear to be a Muslim Fascist. Still, it's a plot about as sophisticated as the average Steven Seagall movie. There is a little twist at the very end that the author doubtless considers very clever and shocking, but it didn't do much for my opinion of the game, only increased my distaste at its general misogyny.  It could have been very affecting, mind you, but the the literary chops to pull it off just aren't in evidence here.  Absent those, all I can feel is how much I dislike being asked to murder in cold blood in a game, even when I supposedly have a darn good reason.  And that's not even getting into the sexism and the potty humor.  We have another example here of a game that thinks it is much, much funnier than it actually is.  The result is often painful.

Technically, this isn't a totally lost cause, but things could definitely be better.   The map is strange, with nothing in the house seeming to line up right from floor to floor.  This house must look decidedly deformed from the outside.  Far too many of the sparse scenery objects return the generic "nothing special about..." message upon examination, and there are a fair number of strange quirks and garbled messages.  For instance, when attempting to attack John from behind the shower curtain with the knife I was told, "You cannot reach John through the ."  The wonderful TADS 3 conversation system is entirely neutered, as NPCs respond to one or two queries at best.  Perhaps that is for the best, given NPCs of the depth of the maid, who is eager to get it on with me from the moment I burst into her room, as long as I am wearing the right (leather) outfit.  Why do women like this seem to inhabit so many text adventures, and where are they in real life?  I would have loved to have known a few fifteen years ago.

And then there is dialogue like this: "Listen bub. I don't wants no trouble. I was here first, so I gets first pick. Even so, I'm a nice guy, so here's what we're goings to do. I've got most of the good stuff already, so I'll just quit now and let you have whatever else you can find. Have a good time."  When I read this, I for some reason think of one of Bugs Bunny's cartoon nemesis.

On the plus side (I guess), the puzzles are as straightforward as they are unmemorable, with the exception of one obscure one that sent me to the (very well-done) hints.  And the whole thing is mercifully short.

I objectively feel like this probably deserves a 6, but I'm going to knock off one more point because, well, I didn't much like its attitude.  But if you think an interactive Steven Seagall movie might be your thing, have at it.

Score: 5 out of 10.

The Bible Retold

Ah, a Christian game.  It seems that as often as not someone enters their well-intentioned little moral allegory, and it ends up finishing near the bottom of the standings.  I don't think the problem is so much some collective hatred of Christianity on the part of the IF community as it is the fact that these game just aren't generally any good.  I actually have a high-flown theory about this.  "Art" that is created primarily to propagandize or (to use a less loaded term) teach is necessarily inferior to art created for the simple purpose expressing one's thoughts and feelings.  It's the reason that Van Morrison's spiritual-themed music is glorious, while the carefully pigeon-holed pap on your Christian radio station is so terrible.  Or, for that matter, the reason that The Legend Lives and All Hope Abandon are still a fascinating play while Jarod's Journey finished at position 47 in the 6th Competition.  Actually, though, I have gone on at more length than was necessary, because The Bible Retold isn't too bad by the standards of Christian IF.  Unfortunately, it's not too good by the standards of modern IF.

The idea here is that I am Jesus Christ (how often will I get to write THAT sentence in my lifetime?), and I must enact the "famous" Biblical story of the bread and the fishes.  I put famous in quotes there because I'd never heard of the darn thing, although a quick visit to Wikipedia got me reasonably up to speed.  As my reader may have gathered by now, I am not a Christian.  I don't get all hot and bothered about wanting to disprove it or anything, and I recognize its importance in the history of Western civilization and even its possible continued relevance for instilling morality, providing a sense of community, etc.  It's just that when it comes up in a contemporary context I tend to find it, and the people who espouse it so zealously, sort of tedious.  Which, as it turns out, was also my exact reaction to this game.

There's nothing really bad here.  It's a reasonably well put-together text adventure, tested, polished, and reasonably bug free.  It's just that, that's all it is.  Nothing here grabbed me, nothing motivated me, nothing made me want to finish it.  The game relies at points on knowledge of the Bible, but it is kind enough to inform the player up front that "While you are not disadvantaged by being non-Christian, it might be a good idea to have a Bible (or an Internet connection) handy while playing this game."  (Even though this is an odd statement on several levels.  Aren't there non-Christians with a detailed enough knowledge of the Bible to complete the game, and (for that matter) do most Christians really have all these tales available for instant recall?  And how can I not be disadvantaged to be a non-Christian?  If I have to look everything up, and a Christian doesn't, then aren't I disadvantaged by definition?  Sorry, I seem to be going off on random tangents in this review for some reason.)    I actually often enjoy puzzles that send me off to the Internet to do secondary research.  This game, though, just never motivated me enough to give it more than a half-hearted attempt.  I lost a little bit of faith (hee hee) in it when it refused to accept "touch ear" in lieu of "put finger in ear."  And then the last straw came when I was forced to careen around on a horse-drawn chariot through an elaborate village landscape that was not quite a maze in the conventional sense, but every bit as annoying as one.

One somewhat interesting thing that the game does do is to make use of the Z-Machine timed input ability to try to add a bit of atmosphere.  If one doesn't do anything for a while in the midst of the hungry crowd one is expected to feed, they will shuffle about and grumble anachronisms like "Do the Mexican wave!"  This technique is a clever one that I can't ever recall seeing in the modern era, but it is unfortunately not implemented as well as it could be.  If the timer goes off while one is in the middle of entering some input, one must start all over from a fresh command prompt.  Annoying considering that the Z-Machine has a way around this designed into it, as anyone who played Border Zone can attest.

The quotation in the previous paragraph will perhaps give a taste of the game's style of humor.  While I appreciate the authors not going all Biblically solemn and holier than thou on me, the humor is, yet again, just not very funny.  If you are amused by a God that accidentally drops his stone tablet on his followers heads and says "D'oh!" in response, you will love this.  If not, it's going to be a long text adventure...

I've probably been harsher on this than it deserves.  If you are looking for simple, traditional text adventure, it will likely fill the bill nicely.  And I can see Sunday schools or families using this as a fun way to teach the Bible.  I've played a lot of text adventures, though and have no great fascination with the Bible, and so my reaction was just a sort of respectful boredom.  I'd give it a 7, but I feel obligated to subtract one point for that godawful (hee hee) not-quite maze.

Score: 6 out of 10.

Tales of the Traveling Swordsman

Now this one is a lot of fun, a tale of a dashing swashbuckler ala Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.  There's nothing really new here, and nothing terribly interesting from a theoretical standpoint.  The structure is completely linear, not only in its three-act overall design but to a large extent within each episode as well; puzzles are simple and predictable even though they are a lot of fun to solve; and the game moves about as far away from simulation as you can get in IF.  Basically, it cheats to make sure the story is exciting but never fatal.  So, for example, you will always manage to raise the barrier between you and the host of giant spiders just in the nick of time, whether you spend 2 turns or 100 solving the puzzle.  I tend to be most fascinated with the potential for more deeply simulationist IF, but I recognize a well-told story when I see one, and this certainly qualifies.  At the end of the game, one is even given a clever excuse for all these last-second escapes that can never in fact result in death when one learns that the whole game was a fantasy of a young boy's overactive imagination, for which the family cat and the girl next door have suffered mightily.  It's really quite brilliant when you think about it.  Of course the little boy would make sure every bit of timing was action movie perfect.  The "gotcha!" ending has become such a prevalent trend in recent IF that it is verging on cliche at this point, but the version of it seen here is so perfectly executed, and so sweet and charming, that I wouldn't want the game to end any other way.

The writing is pitch-perfect for this tale of adventure, full of wide-eyed possibility, vivid imagery and (unusually for a form that often trades in passive, museum-like scenery) a sense of motion and action: "Thick blades of grass at hip level part and bend with your long strides. Onward you go, one hand on your broadsword's sheath, the other clutching a scrap of parchment, and your water flask dangling from the opposite hip. The town of Homesdale is now a morning's journey behind you."  And the bit about the cat made me laugh at loud for I think the first time in this Comp.  Thank God.  After playing three games in a row whose jokes fell horribly flat for me, I was starting to wonder if my sense of humor was broken.  

The author has also taken fine advantage of Hugo to insert nicely-done scroll work section titles that further enhance the game's atmosphere.

There's not much at all to complain about here.  Sometimes the games extrapolates from a single command a whole series of follow-up actions, which can be a bit disconcerting.  And the text dumps between chapters are perhaps a big lengthy.  But really, I'm reaching here.  

I was torn between an 8 and a 9 with this one, but in the it charmed me enough that I decided on a 9 in spite of its rather limited ambition.  Even if it doesn't break any new ground, this is a fine piece of contemporary IF, and its puzzles are simple enough that it might make a very good introduction to the genre.  It deserves to be played and enjoyed for years to come.

Score: 9 out of 10.


Oh, my.  I had concerns when I saw this was a 143K game inexplicably compiled to .z8 format.   My worries deepened when I saw the overwrought purple prose of the introduction.  "The winter smothers you, forces you to keep yourself hidden, trapped behind the icy layers of pain."  True foreboding set in when "x me" yielded the tried and true "As good-looking as ever."  Then the railroading: I tried to open the mailbox, but could not until the game had ordered me in no uncertain terms to do so.  To the author: If you're going to design a linear game, take a look at Tales of the Traveling Swordsman for some ideas about how to do so elegantly.

So, the premise here is that I am a socially dysfunctional, possibly mentally disturbed fellow who is being incited to murder by a little device manufactured by a mysterious company called the Pathfinder Corporation.  See my comments on A Broken Man for my opinion about any game that forces me to kill in cold blood.  This game, I am sorry to say, is even more offensive than that one.  At least there I had a motive.  

And then there are the bugs.  Actually, maybe I shouldn't complain about the bugs.  They were quite possibly the most enjoyable thing about this game, the sort of stuff one can only throw up one's hands and laugh at.  A few examples are in order I suppose.

In the second stage of the game, I was dropped off by the Pathfinder Corporation at a run-door apartment complex.  The sedan that transported me there drove "off into that good night" (ahem), but the room description still said, "The black sedan waits here, frost growing on the sides."  I now ran into (or rather was forced into encountering, as playing the game is as linear an experience as reading a (bad) novel) a locked apartment door.  I tried opening it, knocking, fiddling with the device that sends me my murderous instructions, etc., without success.  Finally, just for the hell of it I typed, "Unlock door," even though I had no key... and it worked (!).  So I breezed on through to find myself in some guy named Steve's apartment, whom the game kept discussing as if I knew who the hell he was.  I poked around for a while through the (sparse, totally unimplemented) scenery, then finally turned to the hints.  I found out that I wasn't supposed to be able to just unlock the door like that, so now all the continuity (such as it was) was hosed.  Okay, thought I, what WAS I supposed to do?  "Knock on door."  But I tried that!  Well, as it turns out the game accepts "knock door," but "knock on door" returns, "I only understood you as far as wanting to knock the on button."  This mystery solved, I was able to proceed with chatting up and murdering Steve.  What a relief.

The whole game is a similar comedy of errors.  I mean, folks, when just typing exactly what the hints say sends you hurdling headlong into bugs, you know a game has problems.  Here's a shocker: This game allegedly had three (!) beta-testers.  With friends like that, does an IF author really need enemies?  Most annoying bug of all: at one point the game starts printing everything in the fixed-pitch font used for the status line.  

I appreciate the author taking the time to include online hints, but even they are screwy.  Selecting one of them informs me, "Storing the hints in a routine rather than an array uses less readable memory." Um, okay.  Thanks!

Bad writing.  Bad and distasteful plot.  Bad game design.  Bad, bad, bad bugs.  Bad game.  I'll give it a 2 because I could at least start it, which is more than I can say for Visocica.

Score: 2 out of 10.

Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game

This one raises something of a philosophical question.  If someone writes a really bad game, but claims it to be a satire of another genre of really bad games, is it still a really bad game?  I have given the question considerable thought, and have at last concluded that, yes, this game does indeed pretty much suck.

The genre being allegedly satirized here are the many Flash-based pseudo-adventure games requiring the player to escape a locked room that have sprung up in recent years.  At least, I assume there are many of them from Mr. Conner's notes, as I don't personally have any experience with them.  One wakes up in said locked room with amnesia, and must find a way out.  It's not exactly a plot worthy of the Nobel Prize, or even an XYZZY award, but it could be turned into a fun little puzzler by a clever author.  Unfortunately, though, a multitude of design sins, whether enacted in ignorance or in the spirit of satire I don't really care, drain most of the fun out of this one pretty quickly.

Mr. Conner has seemingly gone to great lengths to dumb down the Inform parser, making too many "puzzles" (I'll get to them) a horrendous exercise in guessing the verb.  When trying to put a band-aid on my wounded wrist, "put band-aid on wrist" doesn't work.  Nor "wear band-aid."  Nor "band-aid wrist."  Finally I figured out the correct syntax was "use band-aids."  Don't expect consistency, though.  I also had problems figuring out how to use a roll of tape to attach two halves of a coupon together.  "Use tape" in this context just told me to be more specific.  Finally, I stumbled across, "tape left half to right half."  This is the way it goes throughout the game.  There is generally only one acceptable syntax for any given action, and it is up to you, poor player, to find it.  I might have put up with this sort of thing in 1983, but not now.

But if the parser is bad, the puzzles are even worse.  I would be very surprised if anyone could ever solve this one without reading the hints or decompiling the game file.  Random, unmotivated actions abound.  Solving the game requires, for instance, hitting oneself over the head with a fire extinguisher and cutting one's hand off in an electric fan for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  Maybe these Flash games contain similarly ridiculous puzzles.  I wouldn't be surprised, as I have certainly seen my share in commercial graphical adventures.  The thing Mr. Conner should realize, though, is that those games can get away with puzzles like this because they have a digital interface.  The sufficiently motivated player can solve them just by trying every item and action in combination with every other item and action.  (Not that this is fun, or anything remotely close to good game design, of course, but these games are at least solvable on some level.)  IF, however, has an analog interface that makes solving the game by brute force impossible, and moves this one from the horribly frustrating to the well-nigh unsolvable.  The sad thing is that buried amidst drek like the two puzzles just described are some that are actually clever and fun to solve, such as finding the safe combination and getting the mail order crowbar.  There are also some genuinely funny moments, such as the return of the poor crowbar-toting carrier pigeon, but they are hard to appreciate in a game so determined to annoy and frustrate.

There are other problems.  Objects that one must interact with are completely undescribed in the room descriptions, leaving one to just guess they are there and try interacting with them.  Room exits are also left out of the descriptions, so one must just try out the various directions.  (I actually though this was a one-room game at first, and spent about 100 moves banging my head against the wall in the initial location before I thought to try moving around.)  Yet the game is grammatical, well-written, and basically bug-free, and includes a nicely done set of online hints, which proves to me that its design flaws were due to deliberate calculation, not sloppiness or ignorance.  

Apparently Mr. Conner really did set out to create a frustrating, unrewarding, virtually unsolvable game in the name of satire.  I'm happy for him that he succeeded in his goal, but I'll take my IF satire with a dose of playability on the side, thank you.

Score: 4 out of 10.
Tentellian Island

My, Java certainly isn't the most space-efficient language, is it?  All those files for maybe the shortest game I have played so far.  Well, I mean I think it would be the shortest game if I could actually, you know, finish it, which I can't.

So, obviously, this is one of the dread written-from-scratch games of the Comp.  I'm sure I won't be surprising anyone when I say that the parser is pretty bad.  All of the usual issues with home-brewed parsers crop up.  It only understands two words, often completely misinterprets the simplest commands because it is doing simple word matching rather than truly parsing, and it is monumentally unhelpful when one enters something it doesn't understand.  "That doesn't make sense" is as good as it gets here, folks, as if the player was the stupid one, not the program.  For all that, though, it's almost good enough for this very simplistic adventure.

I was exploring along nicely, and actually feeling sort of kindly disposed toward this one.  Not that I would give it a very high score, mind you, but I wasn't going to trash it needlessly.  It was created by a first-year computer science undergrad for a class project as a learning experience, after all, and for what it was it wasn't too bad, being reasonably polished and grammatical.  In short, it hadn't done anything to really irritate me.  (If you just don't irritate me, you are a good part of the ways along to a decent score already.)

Then I got to the auditorium with the hole and the floating box, and couldn't figure out what to do.  I mucked around for a bit, then turned to the hints.  I was told the solution has something to do with the bulb, but I had no idea what to actually do.  I tried every interaction I could think of without success.  I even took a gander at the game's data files, not hard to do as they are plain text screens.  Apparently an orange floor is supposed to come out to allow me to reach the box, but I have no idea how to make that happen.  Then, when I  tried "cut bulb with knife" for the hell of it, the game locked up.  I was now officially annoyed.  Let the trashing begin.

I had been saving regularly like a good adventurer.  But wait.... there's no restore option on the menu.  And so I came to realize the clever little joke.  The save command in this game just creates a text file with the current contents of the scrollback buffer.  There is no ability to really save.  I spend a moment considering whether I wanted to trudge back through the game just to bang my head some more against a puzzle I had no idea how to solve, and that was quite possibly just bugged anyway.  You can probably guess what my decision was.  And so I proceeded to throw this one against the virtual wall.

Score: 2 out of 10.


This one has its fair share of problems, but I'm happy to say that it is a vastly better effort than the last few I've had the "pleasure" of playing.  This is about... well, I'm not quite sure just what it's about, really, and perhaps that is one of its problems.  Apparently I am a rather down-on-his-luck fellow who has decided to seek his fortune with a mysterious institution known as the Hedge which is housed behind, you guessed it, a hedge.  My attempt to prove myself by penetrating into the institution's inner sanctum is the subject of the game.  I think.  It's all really quite surreal and confusing, you see.

If you are like me, the very mention of surrealism in IF sends up warning flags in all directions.  Never fear, though, this is actually done pretty well.  The writing never lapses into airy-fairy realms, remaining sharp and often funny no matter how ridiculous the surroundings get.  I loved the occasional reminders of the player's apparently thoroughly undistinguished past life that are dropped in here and there, as in this description of a battlefield: "You stand in a circle of battle-churned mud, surveying the carnage. It reminds you of the last time you and your ex had a fight."  Sure, it's silly, but what can I say?  It made me laugh.

By standards of many of the Comp games, this one is quite robust, but playing it for a while turns up its fair share of niggling little problems that make me think it could have used another week or so of beta-testing.  The parser behaves slightly oddly at times, as when "cut xxx" works but "cut xxx with knife" does not work.  (I seem to be having all kinds of trouble with knives lately.  I wonder why?)  I was amused to find that I could manipulate the crumbling column in the garden from the roof of the gazebo.  Am I Plastic Man?  Trying to drink the water in the fountain yields, "There's nothing suitable to drink here."  And I sort of like to be notified when my score increases, if you would.  Makes me feel good, validated, all of that.  I hate having to type "score" over and over in search of my warm fuzzies.   Heck, why not put it in the status line alongside my mood?

My biggest beef, though, which probably cost the game a full point on its own, was the lousy puzzle with the cone on top of the gazebo.  I'm sorry, but a hairline crack on the side of the cone does not to me in any way imply that it is openable.  It just made me think it was damaged and ready to give way, for which reason I spent a lot of fruitless time beating on it, pulling it, twisting it, etc., before turning to the walkthrough.  It seems that "open" is the one verb I didn't think to try, because, well, why would I?

After I got past that stumbling block, I found the game to be very straightforward and easy to solve, in spite of the fact that I never really knew what was going on.  The last puzzle, requiring me to "sing" before the gladiator and the audience, I would admittedly never have solved if it hadn't been for the About text mentioning that verb as one to keep in mind.  The puzzle still doesn't really make sense per se, but hey, at least it didn't frustrate me.

If I sound a bit confused about this game, that's because I am.  The notes in the walkthrough imply that there are a lot of optional things to see and do, of which I suspect I saw and did very little.  I actually finished with only 45 out of 100 points.  Perhaps there are answers to my questions hidden in these nooks and crannies, and a coherent story to be puzzled out.  This is another one I am likely to revisit after the Comp to spend some more quality time with, especially if the author cleans things up a bit in a post-Comp release.  It's interesting and I suspect even ambitious in its unassuming little way.  I just don't have the time to really figure out just how ambitious right now, but I have seen enough to think it more than worthy of the minor polishing it would need to become a really first-tier piece of work.

Score: 7 out of 10.

The Apocalypse Clock

Here's another one that I wanted to score higher than I actually could.  I am a member of the tinfoil hat brigade sitting innocently in my bedroom one day when my apocalypse clock goes off.  Uhoh, time to save the world with the help of my trusty talking cat and her network of secret tunnels.  

It's all thoroughly silly, of course, but it's also loaded with some very funny writing, which is the game's strongest attribute by far..  I think this one made me laugh more than any game of the Comp so far.  "But regardless, you knew they'd get their comuppens. Their uppens would come."  Everything is printed in the fixed-width status line font, which somehow adds to the game's flavor of insane, but very funny, paranoia.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of flaws in the implementation, which are made doubly inexcusable when one considers what a short, simple game this is even by Comp standards.

 The most troubling sequence:  The room with the computer is described as just an empty room (or cave) containing said computer.  Yet when I loaded the tape into the computer, I was told that "the door" had been unlocked.  I figured the game must mean the front door to my house, and went trooping back westward to try to open it.  Hereupon I found that I couldn't return to the living room.  Traveling back west from the tunnel just left me in the tunnel.  Wondering if I had hit a showstopper, I turned to the walkthrough and discovered that the door in question was actually to be found in the same room as the computer.  The game just hadn't bothered to tell me about it.

Another disconcerting moment: At the end of the game, in my climactic encounter with the mad scientist, I decided to try to take him out by throwing my cat at him, figuring she could maybe do a number on him with her claws.  "Throw Sara at scientist" yields, "Thinking fast, you throw the pencil at the mad scientist, catching him in the eye! He, oddly enough, dissolves into a could of black smoke. And, somehow, you escape from the claw! Now, the matter of the apocalypse..."  Right after that, I am informed that "The scientist, apprently [sic] done with his monologue, glances at his watch awkwardly."  So much for dissolving into smoke.

There are way too many little glitches like this.  The game is also rather under-implemented.  Folks, if you mention something in your room description I should be able to examine it.  That's simply a minimum standard in 2006.  (Incidentally, and totally off the topic of this game, I am happy to see that Inform 7 seems to be encouraging its authors to describe their worlds much more thoroughly.  I don't know quite how it accomplishes that feat, but the Inform 7 games I've played so far have been much better fleshed-out than the Inform 6 games.)

You know what's really disappointing?  The serial number on this game indicates it was last compiled on August 1.  It's author had two full months to fix these problems and likely do much better in the Comp, but didn't.  As it is, it is amusing enough to be worth a play-through even in its present state, but I can't justify giving it a very good score.  Give it a good cleaning up, fleshing out, and bug fixing, and it could be a real gem.  A trifle still, mind you, but a gem of a trifle.  Sometimes that is more than enough.

Score: 5 out of 10.

Yasmina's Quest

[This game was disqualified from the Competition for having already been released, but I am including my review here anyway in case anyone is interested.]

Hm, a web-based game.  A web-based game using PHP server side scripting at that, meaning I can't just browse it off my hard drive.  Surely, I think, the author must have put it up somewhere on the Internet for everyone to access.  When I check the documentation, I find it is in what appears to be Italian.  Hockay.  (See my earlier rant on people entering non-English games into the Comp.)  And I don't see any URLs in there.  I'm feeling charitable, though.  Maybe, just maybe, I think, the actual game is in English, or at least has an English option.  So I upload the whole kit and caboodle to a PHP-equipped Linux server I have access to and fire it up.  Italian.

Even leaving aside the language issue, this has got to be the silliest way to distribute a Comp game I have ever seen.  How many people are going to go through the effort I did even if they have access to a server to set it up on?  Heck, many probably aren't even going to know what to do.  Do the authors of these non-English games know most of us aren't going to be able to really play them, so they make the game trying to figure out how to get the things running?  First we had Visocica distributed as a zip file with a .exe extension, and now this.

I have a policy that if I can at least start your game and interact with it, you get at least a 2.  This one doesn't meet that criterion.  Nice stick figure drawing, though.  If entered into a competition where most of the judges actually, you know, spoke Italian, and distributed in a more reasonable manner, this might have done well.

Score: 1 out of 10.

Unauthorized Termination

Pointless personal anecdote: This one made me think about an old graphical game I played a million years ago called Metropolis, also about a mystery within a city inhabited only by robots.  I think I am the only person on the planet who ever played that particular game, and for some reason feel the need to mention it here.  Moving on...

This was my first ADRIFT game of the Comp, and it didn't do a lot to improve my opinion of that system.  The parser is annoyingly stupid, leading to exchanges like this:  

give square badge to mu-nu
Which badge.  Your square id badge or the oblong id badge?

That is still ambiguous!

It's better than the typical home brewed design, mind you, but still leaves much to be desired, and it is pretty evident to me that Mr. Otter spent much of his time working around its failings with things like the strange numerical menu system for teleportion.  The ADRIFT interpreter also has some problems.  It never trims its scrollback buffer during play, meaning that during a long session it just consumes more and more memory and gets slower and slower as the amount of memory it much shift around with each new output gets larger and larger, until the player clears the screen manually.  And since a scrollback is already integrated, why do I have to go into "edit mode" just to copy and paste?  And why does "save" arbitrarily assume I want to overwrite my previous save file?

Okay, then, my elitist complaints about the ADRIFT system out of the way, I can move on to talking about this particular game.  I am a sort of police robot on a planet of robots.  My function is to track down and terminate any robots that break the rules of my totalitarian government in any way.  It's pretty clear that the author has given considerable thought to his settings.  

In addition to this welcome impression, there are a few very clever things that I really impressed me, and that I need to mention.  First, I liked the way I was allowed to gradually figure out that I was a robot on a planet of robots, rather than have this information beat me over the head right from the start.  Second, the author has very cleverly neutered his game, removing all pronouns with the exception of "you."  This combined with some nicely controlled writing gives the whole a flat, unemotional style that really serves the setting.  And then I liked having my expectations of how the story was likely to play out subverted.  I fully thought I would end up rebelling against the powers that be, but in the end I remained the bad guy, at least as near as I can tell, defeating those pesky freedom fighters with their silly ideas about self-determination and rights.

There is a lot to like here, but this has more than its fair share of problems as well.  There are occasional typos and odd sentences (although nothing really egregious compared to some other games I've played in the Comp), and some strange, spurious messages at times.  I don't really know if these latter are authorial bugs or just the ADRIFT library acting strangely for reasons of its own.

The game design is unfortunately also problematic.  In the early stages, I felt like I was being led around by the nose too much.  Go here!  Do this! I was told, and any deviation from the path laid out for me only led to frustration.  Things opened up eventually, but the result was even more frustrating.  This is one of those games where the "puzzles" require one to ask one of the considerable number of NPCs about just the right topic, or show them just the right object, to advance.  The whole thing is made even uglier by the fact that asking about the wrong things inevitably throws one straight up against the many failing of the ADRIFT parser.  And then in one case that really had me stumped, one must reenter a room several times for a plot-advancing event to happen.  I completed the game because I was genuinely interested to know how the plot would play out, but I ended up consulting the walkthrough on several occasions to find out what arbitrary interaction would trigger the next plot point.

This feels like a first effort.  (I don't follow the ADRIFT community closely enough to know whether this is in fact the situation.)  I had fun with it despite its failings, and hope Mr. Otter will take some of the criticism he will receive to heart and come back with a more polished effort.  And thanks for the map, by the way.  It really helped make this a much more pleasant experience.  I'd like to see more authors include these.

Score: 6 out of 10.


"It's a just a regular old cell phone. But it's kind of big. It looks like the cell phone you had when you were a kid."  Outputs like this are a sure sign that 1) this game was written by someone much, much younger than me, and 2) I'm getting old.  But I kid.  Really, I am thrilled to see that someone who has no memory of a time before every child had a cell phone has written a text adventure.  Perhaps there is hope for these kids today after all.

This is quite a short and easy one.  It also begins in my bedroom, always a bad, bad sign.  

It's trying to do something theoretically interesting, casting me as a poor lost soul in a never-ending computer simulation represented by the game I am actually playing, but the whole thing doesn't come together for a number of reasons.  The writing too often trades vague generalities for concrete specifics, as in passages like this: "There are some posters on the wall of music groups and sports heroes that you loved when you were were younger."  Typing "x posters" only yields a repeat of this message.  You need to tell what music groups and sports heroes are represented!  Name names!  This is the sort of thing you'll learn in any creative writing class.  I highly recommend that and any and all prospective IF authors sign up for one.  It will be great fun, and it will improve your writing immensely.

The idea that the game is really my father speaking to me is clever enough, but my father's personality needs to be integrated a heck of a lot more consistently with the game's more humdrum descriptions of my surroundings if it is really going to work.  As it is, the effect is rather schizophrenic, as the game lurches wildly back and forth between dry, somewhat bland (see previous paragraph) descriptive prose and my father's emotional outbursts.  Sometimes the switches happen in the same paragraph:

You just wouldn't fucking listen to me would you? Well now I'm going to have to have to teach you a lesson. A long time ago you took from me someone I loved and now I'm going to take from you someone you love. Your dog, Montmorency, barks and looks up at you in surprise and fear. He collapses to the ground. Montmorency has breathed his last. His tired, spent body now lies stiffening at your feet. I warned you. Don't fuck with me.

At the very least, my father's, ahem, personal messages could be set off somehow, with italics or something.  And trying to convey rage through lots and lots of "fucking"s and similar words is a sure sign of an amateur writer.  The pointless cruelty to the two dogs also bothered me.  For that matter, was the death of the German shepherd supposed to be funny, or was it unintentionally so?  And did I really have time to love Montmorency?  I mean, I couldn't have spent more than an hour or so in his presence.

Plotwise, this one didn't really come together for me either.  Am I a robot, or a being inside a computer simulation a la A Mind Forever Voyaging?  The story seems to imply be saying the latter for the most part, but then refers to me as a robot and explains that my father was a robotic engineer.  And if I am inside a computer simulation, how can I destroy the computer that is keeping my father alive?  Wouldn't that mean my father's body is also inside the simulation?  But how can this be?  The disconcerting thing is that I'm not sure even the author could answer these questions for me.

Okay, enough negativity.  This one did have some good points.  I didn't find any bugs, and the puzzles, while extremely simple, were fine.  (Well, I don't understand why the lightning magically struck the kite only when I went  down from the roof, but anyway...)  It's  amateurish in the extreme, but it never annoyed me and never blatantly violated any of the rules of good game design, and that's worth something.  Heck, even the scenery was fairly fleshed-out, if not often well-described.

Score: 5 out of 10.

Green Falls

You know, when you've played one Paul Panks game you've sort of played them all.  For this reason I'm just going to direct you to my review of Fetter's Grim, because most of it applies equally to this one.

That said, this one actually seems a better execution of the standard Panksian design.  Except for one comment on the title screen ("(Ok, stop laughing...I wasn't drunk when I wrote this adventure!) :)"), the strained attempts at self-deprecating humor are gone, as is the annoying pastel color scheme in favor of simple green on black.  Again, Mr. Panks seems to be actually trying here, and if you enjoy old-school text adventures with lots of randomized combat, you might actually have some fun with this one.  There is nothing I can see fundamentally wrong with it, taking it for what it is.  The problem (again) is that it's just not the sort of thing I care about playing anymore, and I think most of the IF community probably feels the same.

There is one example of shocking laziness, though: "There is a(n) rope here."  "There is a(n) villager here."  Etc., etc.  It's been a long, long time since I've done anything in BASIC, but, Mr. Panks, try something like this:

500 PRINT "A"
510 IF LEFT$ (A$,1) = "A" OR LEFT$ (A$,1) = "E" OR LEFT$ (A$,1) = "I" OR LEFT$ (A$,1) = "O" OR LEFT$ (A$,1) = "U" THEN PRINT "N"
520 [continue on...]

It's really not that hard, and little things like that sure will make your game look better.  (Of course, if you used an IF-specific language for your work, you wouldn't have to deal with minutiae like this at all, but we've all beaten that into the ground with you over the years, haven't we?)  Also, you should include a walkthrough.  I wasn't going to put much effort into actually solving this one, as simplistic randomized textual combat really just isn't my bag, but I might have played considerably further and had more thoughts to offer if I'd had a guide to follow.

Score: 4 out of 10.

Enter the Dark

I think this is the worst written game I've ever seen.  The combination of purple prose with bizarre syntax, punctuation, and vocabulary is just... indescribable.  

Darkness, where evil plays with the innocents of its victims. Blood pumping anxiety, of the horror sounding in the invisible distance. Shadows crossing the walls out of the corner of your eye. In the loneliness and silence, you think you are safe. Yet the creatures that manifest themselves behind you, creeping slowly to strike without warning. Its only you and the darkness...Or is it?

Wow.  Just... wow.  Where does one even start?  This is the Sistine Chapel of bad writing.  It's breathtaking.  This stuff makes H.P. Lovecraft, the prior king of overwrought horror, look downright restrained.  Really, this game deserves to speak for itself a bit more:

The cemetery is old and sterile. There are hundreds of tombs tightly packed into a confined L-shaped layout. The grey sky contrasting the black ground. The gothic abode swaying your interests as you walk among the dead. Memories of your sister come haunting back to you in flashes of scattered images. A strange broken bone is laying near your feet, neatly placed as if by intent. You notice a small white tooth nearly buried under some leaves on the ground.

Questions abound.  How can a cemetery be sterile?  And how can the gothic abode possibly sway my interests (ignoring the grammatical problems here for the moment)?  Are my interests dancing with the abode, or what?

And then there's the parser.  This is the first Alan game I've played in a long, long time, and only maybe the second or third total.  I must say that I'm not impressed.  Interactions like this left me nostalgic for the ADRIFT parser:

> w
Crypt West Wing (again)
There is an unusual stone door here. A statue of a nude woman hold her hand out, pointing at something. She has a look of sadness but it is imposable to tell in this light.

> examine door
In the center of the door is a neatly carved circle that has been painted yellow. The handle is carved into the stone door. Below the handle is a hand pointing to the yellow circle.

> throw arrow at circle
I don't know the word 'throw'.

> open door
You try to open the door but it doesn't seem to budge. It may be locked in some way.

> examine circle
I don't know the word 'circle'.

> push door
I don't know the word 'push'.

> touch door
I don't know the word 'touch'.

> give arrow to statue
I don't know the word 'give'.

I'm not quite as confident in criticizing this game's overall design as I am its writing and technical merits.  I gave up fairly early on, when I was chasing a crow around the graveyard trying to figure out via what syntax I might be allowed to shoot an arrow at him.  (I have no idea why I wanted to kill the poor crow, but the walkthough told me to do so.)  Based on what I saw, though, I feel pretty confident in saying it probably sucked as badly as the writing and the parser.

Score: 2 out of 10.


This one was (initially, at least) quite a pleasant surprise.  I had suspected that I was in for bad, bad things based upon the title.  It is actually one of the most polished, well-written games I have yet played, however.  I only wish that it was equally satisfying.

This game and its sequel (also in the Comp) are based upon a novel by G.K. Chesterton.  I can't say I know much about Chesterton.  He is on my list of authors I really must get to at some point, a list which I suspect has already ballooned beyond what I can reasonably hope to read in my lifetime.  The novel in question here is one of Chesterton's more obscure works, one I had never even heard of before firing the game up.

I'm not opposed to the idea of adopting print literature into IF.  On the contrary, I have something of soft spot in my heart for same.  Perhaps this comes from collecting all of the Telarium games as a child, which led to that company having a place in my present day nostalgic remember the 80s heart second only to Infocom.  I think one thing we have learned, though, is that one must be very creative in the way one uses the source material.  Simply inserting the player as the book's main character and asking her to recreate the book's plot does not work.  One must find some other approach, as the team behind the recent Voices of Spoon River did so well.  Mr. Powell states in this game's about text that he is aware of the problems associated with adopting a linear story into IF, but then proceeds to take the above-mentioned straightforward approach.  Guess what?  It doesn't work very well.

I am one Innocent Smith.  I have arrived at a London boarding house inhabited by an interesting cast of characters, and must... well, here the problems begin to arise.  I really have no idea what I am supposed to do, unless I have read the book, helpfully included with the game as a 326Kb text file, or turn to the hints.  Well, I don't have time to read a novel as preparation for my two hours with this game, so the hints it is.  I am informed that I must cheer up my fellow boarders.  Okay, fine.  But how do I do that?  Well, through talking a lot using the menu-based conversation system, through examining the hell out of everything, through making some wild intuitive leaps, and through playing a few of the most egregious games of guess the verb I've yet seen in this Comp.  Oh, and through solving the occasional reasonable, logical puzzle.  If I had read the book, I'm sure everything would be pretty straightforward.  Just do what Innocent did.  This wouldn't make for a particularly satisfying game, but at least it would make for a solvable game.  Since I haven't read the book, though, I'm left with a frustrating game of read the author's mind, which is made no more enjoyable by the fact that said author is Mr. Chesterton rather than Mr. Powell.

In the end, there isn't a whole of interactivity here at all.  It comes down to a game of figuring out what arbitrary action will trigger the next plot event, then kicking back to read a screen or more of Chesterton's prose describing what happens next.  It's pretty darn good prose, mind you, and the story had me interested.  Too bad the interactivity, such as it is, is more of an annoyance than a feature.  The game closes with one of the longest infodumps I have ever seen in IF, pages of text that just seems to go on and on.  I enjoyed reading it, but it would have been even more enjoyable from my sofa and inside the pages of a book.

I suspect this one will raise a bit of a debate among judges for reasons other than its merits as a game.  It does strike me as cheating on some level to split one's game into two parts and enter both into the Competition.  It's basically a way of giving your game four hours of play-time rather the usual two.  Don't get me wrong.  Mr. Powell seems like a nice enough fellow, and I don't think he is so devious as to have planned that result out.  It does seem to me, though, that this game is not really suited for the Comp.  (Actually, I think that having one author be allowed to enter multiple games, whether related or not, is a bad idea, and that amending the rules to state this might be a good idea.)

I feel kind of bad about reviewing this one so harshly and giving it a very mediocre score, because it's obvious that a lot of effort went into it.  It's a very polished and very close to being bug free, and I spotted not a single typo anywhere.  The hint system is also very well done.  (Thankfully, since I made considerable use of it.)  In the end, though, it just doesn't really work.  I would encourage Mr. Powell to continue his interest in adapting static literature into IF, but would recommend that he try to find a more creative approach that will ultimately be more satisfying to the player than is simply jumping through the same rote hooks as the main character in the story being adopted.  Such an approach just leads to a game that is unsatisfying for those who have read the book in question (because they know exactly what to do) and impossible for those who have not (because they have no clue what to do).

Score: 6 out of 10.

The Wumpus Run

Revivals of Hunt the Wumpus have become quite the thing in modern IF.  There was Hunter, in Darkness, then Wumpus 2000.  Now we have The Wumpus Run.  While those earlier games were variations on the basic concept of the original, this one comes down much more firmly in the camp of simple recreation.  That doesn't mean it's bad, though.

If you've played Hunt the Wumpus, you know exactly what to expect here.  It's all in place: randomized caverns to map, bats and a pit to avoid, and of course the Wumpus itself which must be killed by shooting your weapon -- a "starblade" rather than bow and arrow this time -- into the cave where he lurks from an adjacent location.  The backstory is, however, fleshed out a bit to turn the whole from the elaborate logic puzzle that was the original into something that at least resembles our modern conception of IF, and some nicely done sound effects are included.

The only major change from the original is that the map now lines up in the way that we expect in modern IF.  In other words, going north and then going south leads one back to one's original location, rather than the whole cavern complex being a maze of twisty little passages.  Anyone who has played the original will tell you that creating an accurate map was by far its most challenging aspect.  I'm not sure if Ms. Howard changed this to have mercy on her players or because the ADRIFT system will not allow these types of non-intuitive map connections, but I can say that the game is now much, much easier, perhaps overly so.  I had recently played the original as an exercise in historical research, and so knew exactly how to approach this version.  I solved it in under ten minutes, without dieing once.  I think I probably had an unusually favorable starting setup, but still...

So it's not particularly hard, but it is fun, probably more fun than the original now that the frustration of maze-mapping has been removed.  It's also one of the few works of IF I've seen that I could call truly replayable.  I think what it could use now are some more challenges to deal with to replace the maze and make it a bit more interesting and challenging.  That said, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with what we currently have here.  It's solid, bug-free, and a fun, quick play worth returning to occasionally.  What it lacks in originality it recoups in execution.

Score: 7 out of 10.


This is going to be the hardest game to review of those I have so far played.  It's got so much going for it.  It's been honed and polished to a tee, and it is quite well-written.  Virtually any reasonable action the player might attempt has been accounted for, and there are a multitude of ways to solve (or not solve) its problems.  It's a game deserving of a good, long look, one of the handful I know I should return to to spend time with once the frantic pressure of judging 44 games in barely that many days is behind me.  And yet, I don't really like it all that much.

I think it might be writing like this that puts me off:

We were once this entire world, a stretch of red and black beneath a violet sky. We were every rock and every pool. But she has made it painful to live in the rocks, and so we hide in this dark cave. There is no wind here or else we would surely be scattered. The stale air gives us a home. It is unstable, not like the rocks, but safe enough. The pain of the stones is distracting, but we miss their safety. We long to return to them.

To tell the truth, this sort of thing just makes my eyes glaze over.  I find it mildly tedious and extremely pretentious, and it just kind of makes me tired.  There's an old saying that the death knell of any work of fiction is its reader saying, "I don't care what happens to these people."  Well, I'm sorry to say that I didn't care what happened to the alien essences or whatever it is I am actually supposed to be in this story.

But I guess I should quickly describe that story, at least as far as I understand it.  I am apparently a sort of living essence inhabiting a heretofore deserted planet.  I can move freely through all kinds of material -- rock, air, metal, presumably water -- and bend the substances to my will.  I can travel from the surface to the core of my planet within minutes.  My planet has been invaded recently by what seems to be an automated drilling exhibition.  (Is a society advanced enough to have long-range space travel still dependent on oil?  Maybe it's uranium or endurium or something they are looking for.)  How I deal with this situation is the essence of the game.  I seem to have several choices, as the game advertises four separate endings.  In my session I ended up with what I suspect is the most obvious and straightforward ending, choosing to use my powers to kick a little oil driller ass and regain control of my planet.  The included walkthrough details what seems to be a more subtle approach, and I really should return to explore my alternatives in more detail after the Comp.  And yet... meh.  I don't know.

 I actually suspect this game will do very well in the Comp.  I'll be very surprised if it doesn't finish in the top five.  It is polished; offers multiple endings; is slightly experimental but not too much so; and is self-consciously literary.  All of these things generally go over very well with Comp judges.  Even I can't bring myself to give it less than a pretty good score, and yet I can't bring myself to really warm up to it either.  The best advice I can give to my readers is to try it out.  I suspect that many of you will like it much more than I did.  It's definitely a quality work, and my score of 7 is quite possibly unfairly low.  And yet... meh.

Score: 7 out of 10.

Ballymun Adventure

This is a modest, good-hearted little effort that, terrible menu color scheme aside, is likable enough.  It was created by a teacher to entertain his students and introduce them to the wonders of IF, certainly a noble enough goal.  The game is a very simple scavenger hunt taking place in said teacher's school.  This sort of thing gets a lot of criticism, and I'm sure this game will be no exception, but I must confess that I sometimes enjoy exploring an environment that is obviously based upon a real-world location.  Perhaps I have a bit of textual voyeur in me.  The primary school being explored here is apparently British, which gives it just enough of a hint of the exotic to really pique my interest.

The whole enterprise is let down, though, by one awful flaw.  The mapping quickly becomes an absolute pain the butt.  Rooms never line up symmetrically, which might be a realistic depiction of the school's floor plan but does little to endear me to the game when I am struggling over my map trying to get everything to line up and connect in some straightforward manner.  Then for some reason Mr. Cribbin has chosen not to list entrances to rooms (as opposed to hallways, courtyards, etc.) by their compass direction, leaving his cartographers to just guess where they fit on their maps.  The end result is really, really annoying, and exactly the kind of "fun" I'm not interested in having in my IF in 2006.  Maybe this geography would make more sense and be easier to deal with if one was acquainted with the real school it depicts.  Obviously, I couldn't say.

Apparently a snazzy map that allows navigation by simple clicking can be found after a little bit of exploration and problem-solving, but I never got that far.  This should have been in the player's inventory right from the beginning, or included as a feelie with the game file.  As it was, I threw the game against the wall in frustration before I had gotten very far at all.  A darn shame, as I was actually rather enjoying myself.

The writing here is very simple.  I don't know whether this was done purposely for the benefit of the author's primary audience of young people, but it actually suits the game well enough, as does its asking me my name at the beginning and referring to me by name throughout.  There are quite a lot of little typos and grammatical errors, indicating to me this one could have used quite a bit more polishing, but I found no outright bugs.

In summary, this is not a bad little effort in most ways, but that one terrible design choice just about kills its appeal for me, and costs it a full 2 points on my judging scale.  Pity.

Score: 5 out of 10.

Lawn of Love

So here we have an entry from one of the two major groups of IF community trolls.  Unfortunately, Santoonie Corporation is not so witty as Jacek and company.  I'm sorry to say that this one is definitely no Gamlet.

What it is is a hopelessly amateurish mess that is supposed to be a satire of a summer romance, but really fancies itself a satire of us over-serious literary types in the modern IF community.  I don't want to spend too much time pointing out the flaws in this one, as that would make me rather feel like the straight man in Santoonie's little attempt to poke fun at IF community mores.  Therefore I will just run through a few items on the list quickly: wild vacillating between first and second AND third person; jumps from present to past tense; lack of any status line whatsoever; occasional pictures that look like they were selected at random from Flicker; serious spelling and grammar problems; lack of any "you can't go that way" message when attempting to move in invalid directions; etc., etc.

I'll confess that A.P. Hill and crew's newsgroup postings have occasionally made me smile, and even if the whole Santoonie storyline has passed its sell-by date it is nevertheless basically harmless.  This isn't a very good stab at comedy, though, even in comparison with those postings.  All the standard tropes of A.P. Hill as loud and clueless NASCAR fan are present, but we've seen it all before, and whatever comedy value it had to begin with has pretty much been bled dry by now.  What we are left with, then, is just a bad adventure game that never even tempted me to crack a smile.  It's not sharp and satirical.  It's just boring.

Score: 2 out of 10.


You can probably guess the premise of this one.  Yes, I am an ancient Greek who has offended the gods, and have thus been condemned to push a boulder up the same hill in Hades over and over.  And that's about it really.  No ending, no puzzles to be solved, nothing.  I was sure there must be some bit of cleverness that I was missing, some way to break the cycle, as the game is quite grammatical and well-written, and really doesn't have the feel of a tossed-off joke entry.  Since no hints or walkthrough were on offer, I took the time to disassemble the game file with TXD.  The major thing I learned from this exercise is that Inform 7 really puts a lot of strange padding into its game files.  No wonder the file sizes of games produced with the system have grown so much over Inform 6.  Unfortunately, I didn't find what I was really looking for, a way to "win" Sisyphus.

This one sort of baffles me really.  I'm not sure what its author was trying to accomplish.  Is it some commentary on the ultimate pointlessness of playing IF, or playing games at all?  If so, Mr. Koutz needs to make that connection in a more explicit way.  Is it just a toy, the sort of thing where one types all kinds of crazy things just to see what responses one can get?  If so, it needs to have lots and lots more actions provided for.  There are a few amusing responses in the game, but they are few and far between.  Most actions, reasonable or unreasonable, just result in generic error messages.

So maybe it is just a silly joke, albeit an unusually polished one.  I'll go with that assumption anyway.  It gets one point for playing on my computer and one point for not really annoying me, and thus ends up with...

Score: 3 out of 10.


This is the first Quest game I've ever played, and I have to say I'm not impressed with the system.  The parser is absolutely terrible, literally no better than Scott Adams quality.  In an attempt to make up for this I suppose, most input can be done using point and click.  Indeed, there are times when one must use the mouse.  It works like this: Enter an extremely simplistic command (because that is all the parser can understand), then clarify your request using the pop-up menu that appears.  The end result is just annoying.  It won't satisfy those looking to play IF in the conventional way, nor will it please those wanting a no-typing point and click system.  If a system wants to provide menus to ease the path for those who haven't played IF before, that's wonderful, but everything doable from the keyboard should be doable from the menu, and vice versa.  Otherwise, either give up on the menu system or give up on the parser and go with an all point and click system.  (Actually the latter would be an interesting experiment that would at least be different from the other IF also-rans.)

I see that a new version of Quest is under development.  I hope Mr. Warren realizes he must do much, much better than the current version to be taken seriously by the modern IF community.  You need a much better parser that can deal with more than two-word inputs; you need undo; you need a command history; you need to understand verbs that have been standard for over 25 years, like "wait."  Otherwise, just don't bother.

But enough griping about the system.  Let's talk about the game itself.  It's not horrible, although it's potential is sharply limited by the shortcomings of Quest.  The story, such as it is, has me waking up under a tree for some reason, and finding that I have apparently been abducted by a strange sort of alien spaceship.  Winning the game requires escape from said spaceship.  It's short and simple and perhaps a bit pointless and definitely a bit bland, but constructed with reasonable care.

There are a few annoying things.  One puzzle requires me to "look up" just for the hell of it.  Even worse are the hunger and thirst daemons that run not by turns but in real-time.  I found this out the hard way when I stepped away to eat breakfast and returned to find my character dead of thirst.  This is not the way to endear me to your game, authors.

On the positive side, the author has included a map, something I am learning to appreciate more and more in my old age.  It's kind of a strange map, mind you, but it gets the job done well enough.

Score: 4 out of 10.

Fight or Flight

After quite a stream of problematic games, this one came as something of a relief.  It's by no means perfect, but it is ambitious and well-written, and grabbed my attention in a way I was almost forgetting was possible.  Call it a restoration of my faith in the Competition.

I am one of a half-dozen or so teen camp counselors.  The kids are all gone and we are just shutting up shop for the season when our camp is attacked by a genetically modified rabbit from a nearby military research facility.  Bummer!  If this sounds like any number of teen horror flicks, that's because it basically is.  Never fear, though.  The game sticks to its chosen genre without irony, and is actually better written than most of its inspirations.  The game's name comes from the fact that the player has two choices on how to proceed: fight or flight, naturally enough.  I ended up stumbling down the "fight" path largely by accident, but I'm impressed and curious enough that I am likely to explore the other option when I have more time after the Comp.

There's a lot worthy of praise here.  The first thing that jumps out (hehe), though, is the characters.  Both myself and all of my fellow counselors are given well-realized personalities of their own, and the sense of dynamism in the game world is very impressive.  Before the monster appears, the characters move about casually, bickering and joking and having conversations among themselves.  Afterward, they react realistically to the trauma, arguing about what to do and eventually either cowering indoors or going outside to investigate, according to their personalities.  These kids are not mere window dressing either.  To win the game, one must take charge, instructing them on what to do and using their individual skills in appropriate ways.  Indeed, the sense of existing in a real world that one gets in this game is wonderful.  One never feels railroaded.  There is simply a situation which one must deal with, and the game is willing to let one make one's own story from there.

The writing here is consistently excellent, and (in continence of a trend I am noticing with Inform 7 games) the scenery is thoroughly fleshed-out.  Virtually anything in a room description that one chooses to examine is described, and not just cursorily but with real care.  This combined with the realistic actions and reactions going on around one makes the whole feel palpably real.  I truly feel like I inhabited Open Arms Academy during the time I played this game.

Impressed as I was overall, there are some niggling problems that cost this one a point or so on my rating scale.  There is no score, which is fine, but the author hasn't bothered to turn off the score mechanism in Inform.  Thus the status line always just shows my score to be 0, and typing "score" tells me my score is "0 out of 0."  Ugly and unprofessional, and so easy to fix.  

The game has a steady sprinkling of typos that are not horrible but definitely noticeable.  Strangest of these is the repeated use of quotation marks in place of apostrophes.  I know that the earliest betas of Inform 7 had issues here, but I'm not quite sure why this has snuck into a game last compiled on September 29.  Non-existent map connections also occasionally appear in the room descriptions  There are some disambiguation problems, particularly with the guitar and the guitar case, and occasional odd sequences like this one:

>katherine, play guitar
(Katherine's guitar)
"All right, Ben, if you think this is the time."

She thinks for a moment, then apparently decides upon Greensleeves.

Given the situation, you choose not to judge.
Katherine is unable to do that.

After a few bars, a huge, almost rabbit-like monstrosity lands with no warning before you, clicking its giant chitinous feet together, but not otherwise behaving aggressively.

The creature eyes the guitar with glistening black orbs.  It seems... fascinated.
I have no idea why the third paragraph above appeared, as it seems to apply to nothing else.

I also had a couple of quibbles with the overall design.  I had a terrible time with the last puzzle to defeat and capture the creature, and finally had to turn to the walkthrough.  I was given no clue by the game (that I was aware of, anyway) that having Sydney throw the brick at the creature might be effective.  Certainly I was unable to do so with any success, and I saw no hint that anyone else might.  This is doubly odd when one considers that a little bit of conversation with the other characters revealed clear hints that Samantha would be able to do something with the rope and Jason with the bow and arrow.  Why no similar signposting of the third part of the puzzle?  This frustrated me because I really liked the puzzle and had solved it with the exception of that part.  A little more authorial consistency would have let me solve it on my own and left me much happier.

The sequences in the role of the scientist were too passive, requiring me to do little more than wait.  Perhaps they would have been better implemented as non-interactive cut scenes.  The bit with the phone call to the camp I quite liked, however.  Very clever.

The other counselors are described so well and move about so realistically that I was disappointed to find their ability to converse with me sharply limited even by normal IF standards.  There are only a few queries and commands (that I found anyway) that they respond to.  The rest of the time one is left with, "There is no response."  This really damages the sense of mimesis the game otherwise does such a good job of building up.

And then I didn't like the ending at all.  Strange as it may sound, I had in my couple of hours with the game started to really care about these characters.  Learning that they would get to spend the rest of their lives in government internment did not please me one bit.  It just felt cheap to me.  One of the reasons I want to play this one again after the Comp is to see if just running away will result in the characters keeping their freedom.

In the end, though, this is still a very impressive effort.  I hope it will get a bit of cleaning up after the Comp to make it even better.

Score: 8 out of 10.

The Sisters

From the department of random observations: Campbell Wild certainly knows his compression algorithms.  There is an amazing amount of game packed into this 46KB file.

As fate would have it, I played this one on Halloween.  It genuinely creeped me out in a way that no game has in a long, long time, and I don't think it was just due to the holiday atmosphere.  The initial premise is cliched as all get out.  I am a motorist who spots a spectral girl on the roadway in front of me on a dark and rainy night.  Swerving to avoid her, I wreck my car, and have no choice but to make my way to a gloomy mansion in search of aid.  The author builds a much more complex and interesting story from that simple premise, however.  As I've mentioned earlier, I'm not always a big fan of gotchas! at the end of games, but in this case it works perfectly, fitting so neatly in retrospect with everything that has come before.

I actually wasn't too impressed by this initially.  The early stages require one to solve a linear chain of very simple puzzles to find one's way to the mansion where the bulk of the game takes place.  I tend to get annoyed pretty quickly with this type of "jump through a linear series of hoops" game design, but then I made it to the mansion.  Once there, the game opens and allows its player to wander and explore freely.  Everything is implemented in impressive depth, at least as much as is possible within the limitations of ADRIFT.  I spent most of my time wandering about compulsively examining everything, while various creepy visitations steadily ratcheted up my sense of dread.  When the climax finally comes, it is masterfully done.

In the end, then, this one is all about the atmosphere.  Such an achievement is not easy in either IF or static fiction.  It really requires an excellent writer to pull off.  Luckily, "revgiblet," whoever he or she is, has the chops to do just that.  Oh, there is perhaps a bit of overwriting here and there, but that's almost par for the course with a plot like this one.

The puzzles here are generally quite simple.  None gave me any real pause at all, but I wouldn't really want it any other way.  Brainteasers just aren't what this one is about.  There is an egregious repeat of the hoary old "push the newspaper under the door then push the key out of the keyhole" puzzle, but even this didn't really bother me beyond a knowing smile and a raised eyebrow.  The game telling me it is hip to the puzzle's unoriginality by mentioning the "old adventure games" I used to play didn't really thrill me, though.  Metatextual comments like this only destroy some of the atmosphere the author has done such a good job of building.  Luckily, there are very few similar offenses.

Two Sisters is a very simple game really.  It doesn't innovate in any way.  It isn't technically impressive in the least.  It involves no character interaction whatsoever, being at its heart no more than a variation on the tried and true explore a deserted house theme.  Yet it works so well within its limitations that I was left deeply impressed.  I enjoyed this game more than all but a few I have played so far.  It even managed to move me emotionally.  That should be worth something, don't you think?  I do.  I think it's worth a very, very good score.

Score: 9 out of 10.

Xen: The Hunt

Whatever else one can say about this one, it certainly has plot.  Man, does it have plot.  Apparently, two interstellar races with a rather complicated backstory are engaged in war to the death with one another.  Only it's not that simple.  Some folks from each race are actually fighting for the other side for rather complicated reasons.  Also, each race has members that have various levels of magical powers for, you guessed it, complicated reasons.  As is typical in these things, this fight for galactic dominance all comes down to me, a rather ordinary student at a rather ordinary university right here on Earth who has been granted incredible powers for, you guessed it, rather complicated reasons.  Unfortunately, I don't yet know how to control these powers, which tends to result in an unusual number of buildings burning down in my vicinity.  You wouldn't like me when I'm angry...  This is actually a sequel to a game from last year's Comp that I never played.  Perhaps if I had everything would make a lot more sense to me.  Perhaps, but I'm not counting on it.

I don't want to beat this one down too  thoroughly, as there is actually a lot that I quite liked.  The hopelessly convoluted storyline actually didn't interfere with my enjoyment too much, because the actual gameplay chronicles a fairly straightforward, albeit linear, action adventure, and never requires me to understand what is really happening in the big picture.  Thank God.  

The writing is quite polished and sometimes has real bite to it.  I was particularly impressed by the early stages of the game, as I wandered about my university campus and was treated to little satirical nuggets like this: "The physics lab is full of various types of equipment, most of which you can't identify. The walls are covered with odd posters showing stick figures getting brutalized by badly-run experiments, and one table is covered in some odd-looking gadgets."  Or this: "You are standing in front of the Liberal Arts building, a monument to everything the University doesn't care about."  If only it weren't so true...

There are a lot of characters to deal with, and while interaction is a bit minimal they are fairly well written.  Inevitably, though, packing so many into such a brief space results in them all blurring together a bit, especially as telling me one is an "Aeotian" and the other a "Ratal" doesn't exactly bring a start of understanding to me.  (Those are the two aforementioned alien races, by the way.  I think.)

As the game wore on, some of my positive feelings began to fade due to some dodgy design choices.  The sequence on the train is the first real offender, if one is willing to pardon a few unclued instant death sequences that are made a bit less annoying by the ability to "undo" out of them.  This sequence, however, is a real mess, well-nigh insolvable even with recourse to the hints.  I finally had to turn to the walkthrough.  If there is an empty seat in a given car in which I can sit, I need to be told that, especially when attempting to "sit" in every other car results in, "What do you want to sit on?"   Then there was the bit with Rikket (what a name!) in the strange apartment.  The only way to get out is to "tell" him about a certain topic, but said topic doesn't appear when one asks for "topics," and no hints whatsoever are on offer for this sequence.  Once again, I was sent scurrying to the walkthrough to continue my game.  The endgame hinges on a horrific guess the verb puzzle, but by this time I was highly suspicious of the game's integrity and at least didn't waste too much time before turning to the hints.  At least I found what I needed there, rather than having to fall back on the walkthrough again.

For all that, though, I'm actually quite kindly disposed toward this one, and wish I could give it another point or two.  I can tell this was written by a younger person, probably a student at a university suspiciously like the one that satirized in the game, and the whole has a freshness and youthful energy I really liked.  And gosh darn it, the author has the heart and the soul of a romantic.  The morning after bedding my (alien) love interest for the first time: "‘I'm here.’ She smiles warmly, pushing off the sheets and getting up, naked except for her ring. She embraces you, kissing you deeply, then dresses herself. Once, you would have killed to see her undressed. Now, it doesn't matter. She's perfect either way."  How much can I really hate a game that contains sweetness like that?  

So, Mr. Shlasko, don't take my mediocre score personally, and keep writing IF.  Just work on tightening up your puzzle design, and maybe don't try to pack a doorstop space opera trilogy's worth of plot into a 2-hour Comp game next time.  I would suggesting taking a look at The Elysium Enigma in this regard.  Mr. Eve is writing in a universe at least as complicated as yours, but he focuses on only a small part of his elaborate backstory for this one Comp game, allowing the rest to hang in the background and convey the impression to the player of existing within a much wider, more complex universe.  In short, not everything in your head has to make it explicitly into your game.  If you intend to continue your Xen series, think about just giving us a bit of your world each time rather than overwhelming us with everything at once.  Do that, and work a bit more on your puzzles, and you're golden.

Score: 6 out of 10.

The Tower of the Elephant

Here we have the second literary adaptation I've played in this Comp.  I'm happy to say that this one avoids most of the problems of MANALIVE.  Doubtless much of this is due to the nature of the story chosen in this case.  It is a Robert E. Howard tale of a very young Conan the Barbarian, taken from the pulps of the 1930s.  I haven't read the story in question, but thankfully that doesn't matter with this one.  It's a very satisfying, atmospheric little adventure that I suspect does its source material quite proud.

The writing, as one might expect, is just about pitch perfect.  I assume this is mostly Mr. Howard's prose rather than Mr. Andersson's, but even if this is the case Mr. Andersson deserves credit for slicing and dicing and parceling out his source material very cleverly.  There is no jarring contrast between the prose of the story and the IF author's additional prose.  It is all blended into a seamless whole, and the end result is a great little swashbuckling adventure story that isn't remotely taxing but is a hell of a lot of fun.  I love classic pulp adventure, and this one just made me smile from beginning to end.

From a technical standpoint, the most interesting thing here is the conversation system, being a quite credible imitation of that employed by TADS 3.  As I have mentioned frequently enough for many of you to probably be tired of it, I'm a big fan of the TADS 3 system, and I'm very happy to see something similar filter down into Inform 7 games.  I haven't researched the current state of the art of Inform 7 extensions in a while, but I certainly hope that this system is available as an out of the box solution for other authors.  It doesn't have quite the sophistication of TADS 3 in the hands of a master like Eric Eve, and doesn't ever really feel like real conversation, but it's certainly a good start that I hope will be further improved.

This one is quite polished in most respects, but I did stumble over a few parser frustrations that could do with some cleaning up.  To wit:

>cut yag-kosha with sword
I only understood you as far as wanting to cut Yag-kosha.

>cut yag-kosha
You set to work on your grisly task and quickly bring forth something that you feel must be the strange being's heart, though it differs curiously from any you have ever seen.

I got to play more word games in the endgame.  Yag-Kosha had told me:

"Take your sword, man, and cut out my heart; then squeeze it so that the blood will flow over the red stone. Then go you down these stairs and enter the ebony chamber where Yara sits wrapped in lotus-dreams of evil. Speak his name and he will awaken. Then lay this gem before him, and say, 'Yag-kosha gives you a last gift and a last enchantment.'"

This led to parser fun like this:

That's not a verb I recognize.

>say "yara"
(to Yara)
There is no response.

>say yara
(to Yara)
There is no response.

>wake yara
"Yara!" you say, like a judge pronouncing doom. "Awaken!"

And this:

>lay gem before yara
That's not a verb I recognize.

>drop gem

>get gem

>show gem to yara
You lay the jewel on the great ebony table.

"He who sent this gem bade me say, 'Yag-kosha gives you a last gift and a last enchantment.'"

None of this gave me more than a few seconds' pause, and even mentioning it here may seem like terrible nitpicking.  Still, I feel that little blemishes like this do affect the overall feel of a game, and should be addressed when doing so is as easy as it would in this case.

But really, my biggest complaint about this game is that there just wasn't enough of it, which I suppose is not such a bad position for an author to be in.  I was rather surprised at the end to find that that was all there was.  On the other hand, there are plenty more Conan stories just waiting to see their IF adaptation, and Mr. Andersson certainly showed he is more than capable of doing them proud with this first attempt.  Have at it, then!

Score: 8 out of 10.


I'm not going to spend a great deal of space discussing this one, as everything in my review of MANALIVE I pretty much applies equally here.  Just like its prequel, this one is polished, well-written, and carefully put together, yet misses the mark entirely as a playable game.  If anything, this one's problems are even worse: virtually every puzzle involves reading G.K. Chesterton's mind (or novel, which I don't have time to do) and/or guessing the verb.  See also my review of MANALIVE I for my raised eyebrows about the propriety of doubling the span of time judges devote to your long game by chopping it into two parts and entering each separately.

The very first puzzle in this one pissed me off.  I am sitting in a witness dock with the paper boat, paper dart, and paper doll I have just folded.  I pick them up.  I examine them.  With memories of Trinity in my head, I even try to unfold them.  I try to stand, to do something, anything.  No dice.  I can't interact with or even examine anything, and I can't leave my starting location.  Off to the hints.  Turns out I must "touch" each paper toy to trigger a flashback sequence.  Umm, wouldn't picking them up require touching?  After little bit more of this sort of thing, I decided life is just too short.  Maybe I'll read the book someday (although Chesterton's brand of cozy, chatty prose is starting to wear thin just from my brief exposure in these two games).  Maybe I'll catch the movie if they make it.

I'm giving this one a point less than its prequel, because it made me much grumpier.

Score: 5 out of 10.


For all that I like to prattle on about the literary potential of IF, I love to dive into a pure puzzler with no literary aspirations whatsoever on occasion.  There've been precious few games of that description in this year's Comp, which is perhaps why I initially enjoyed this one so much.  It's a collection of tough as nails but generally fair puzzles rooted in mathematics and logic, with just the barest stub of a story on which to hang the framework.  Mathematics is not my strong suit, but I'm always up for a challenge, and so dived in with a certain amount of enthusiasm, buoyed by the game's promise to play tough but fair with me.

For a good while that promise held true.  I was quite proud of myself, actually, for working out a way to map and conceptualize the game's wicked network of three-dimensionally rotating rooms; for winning at the game of nim; and then for figuring out the code to get my girlfriend Melanie back into my hot little hands.  By this time I was left with with 45 out of 66 points and one puzzle I was clueless how to solve: the encoded message.  I was reluctant to give up, as I was left feeling downright MENSA-like by my previous successes, and since the game had played fair up to this point I thought it would surely continue.  Actually, reluctant to give in is perhaps not the phrase to use.  I went so far as to write a simple program in an effort to break that damned code.  But finally, inevitably, I turned to the hints, fully expecting to be left beating myself about the head and shoulders at my sheer stupidity.

The hint file informed me that the code in question was a keyword cipher, as if I was supposed to immediately know what that is and how to break it.  Well, I'm afraid neither was true.  So I turned to the walkthrough, where I learned it was a keyword cipher based upon the phrase FRESHCUTG.  How on earth was I supposed to figure that out?  Logical puzzles -- hell, even a bit of higher math -- don't bother me in a game.  But advanced cryptography?  (Okay, okay, I know this isn't really advanced cryptography, but it is more advanced than the simple transposition cyphers that are about as far as my knowledge extends.)   Like all good geeks, I read Cryptonomicon, but come on!

When I give up on a puzzle after expending a great deal of effort on it and turn to the hints, it's pretty much a lose-lose proposition.  Either 1) I will be left angry at myself for failing to figure out a solvable puzzle, or 2) I will be left angry at the game's author for wasting my time on an unfair, underclued, or well-nigh impossible puzzle.  I'm afraid it's #2 in this case, and I feel doubly betrayed (betrayed! I tell you!) by the game's having told me beforehand that I could trust it.  I must exact my vengeance by giving this one a very mediocre rating, even though I liked some things about it a lot and actually had a pretty good time with it for a while there.  Ms. Preuninger, why did you end our relationship in such a sorry way?  It all started out so promising.

Score: 5 out of 10.

Madam Spider's Web

I quite enjoyed much of Sara Dee's first effort entered in last year's Comp, Tough Beans, but felt that it was ultimately let down by a series of fiddly, frustrating puzzles that only distracted from its strengths of fine writing and a wonderfully memorable player character.  I find this is not an unusual failing among first-time authors.  It seems that in an effort to make sure the crossword side of their game's equation is as well-developed as the narrative, they tend to make the puzzles too difficult.  In reality, puzzles that are too easy will create far fewer detractors for your game than puzzles that are too hard.  I personally don't need mind-bogglingly difficult or original puzzles in a game with a strong story, and I think more players than not are the same.

So, with that out of the way, perhaps I will actually talk about Madam Spider's Web now.  The good news is that it maintains the high standards of writing and general polish of Ms. Dee's first game, while going much easier on us in the puzzle department.  This time around nothing is particularly taxing, but everything is fun to solve and satisfying, more than enough for me in a literary-focused game like this.  The bad news is that this game has some problems of its own.  Actually, to tell the truth, I'm not quite sure what I am supposed to get out of this one.

It's like this: The bulk of the game is warped, dark fairy tale fantasy.  I am a young girl who has been pressed into service as personal maid for a giant spider.  Apparently my predecessors in this job have tended to meet a rather grisly fate when they failed to live up to Madam's high expectations.  Thus the central conflict.  If you are thinking there is probably more than one layer to this story, that it is really standing in for something else, well, I suspect you are right.  My problem at this point, though, is that I'm not quite sure what those deeper layers actually are.  

The ending further confuses the issue.  My mistress suddenly begin behaving kindly to me, and tells me to go sleep on what I assume is her own bed.  I do so, and am catapulted into a largely non-interactive dream sequence in which I am a 36 year-old mother of two on verge of a car accident.  After this, I was expecting to awake again and continue the game, wherein all would eventually be explained.  Instead... "The End."  Huh?

I see from consulting the walkthrough that the game has five possible endings.  As near as I can figure, the events in the dream sequence will vary depending on how one behaved in the bulk of the game.  I was quite a good, kind little girl, and I assume this is why I got a relatively benign ending, with my character surviving the horrible accident with fairly minor injuries.  So... I get that much.  But what do these stories have to do with one another?  It makes no sense to arbitrarily award a happy ending in one story for actions in a different story entirely, so I assume there are more connections here than I am seeing.  Yet I am really clueless as to what those connections are.  Thus I am in a very frustrating position as I write this review, sure that I missed something, quite aware of the possibility that it may even seem breathlessly clueless to some brighter light than me who understood this one better.  Yet the fact remains that I don't understand, and a small if naive part of me believes that might just be the game's fault rather than mine.

Even if I am missing something obvious here, I'm still not sold on the game's overall construction.  It all seems rather arbitrary.  In fact, were one to play this without looking at the walkthrough, one would never realize that one's behavior in phase one had any relationship whatsoever to what happens in phase two.  That's a real design flaw in my book.  

Still, I give Ms. Dee high marks for ambition, and salute the writing and overall polish of this one.  Whatever its big picture flaws, the game does a whole lot of little things right.  They are the kinds of things that don't get mentioned often enough in reviews.  Everyone, myself included, piles on with criticism when a game's parser frustrates, but we too seldom praise excellent parsers like this one.  Virtually every reasonable input and action is accounted for.  Minutiae like this isn't the fun part of writing a game, but man does it pay off for the player and, in a competition like this one, for the author in the form of higher score.  Even if the overarching concept of this one either didn't quite work or was lost on me, I feel no hesitation in congratulating Ms. Dee for taking chances and for taking her work seriously, and am perfectly happy to award this one quite a good score.

Score: 8 out of 10.


David Whyld's IF work really frustrates me.  I am always interested by his games.  His characters and plots are always entertaining, and his games often offer a surprisingly level of player agency in his stories' outcomes.  Yet his work if always rife with rough edges and little errors, giving it an unfinished, amateurish quality.  Some of that is undoubtedly down to ADRIFT, a system I am not terribly impressed with as a player, but much is perfectly, even easily, correctable.  I think that Mr. Whyld's mind bogglingly prolificness is actually his main problem.  He seemingly never met a contest that wasn't worth entering.  The result each year is multiple interesting but flawed also-rans, rather than the one polished, stellar effort I know he has in him.

Requiem is fairly typical of Whyld's work in these respects.  The story here involves a down on his luck PI who has been hired by a gorgeous femme fatale to investigate her murder.  Yes, you read that right.  It seems that she has (or believes she has) been given a second chance by the supernatural powers that be, who have reincarnated her and sent her back in time to one year before her death to prevent said unfortunate event.  The hardboiled private detective with gorgeous but dangerous client trope is of course hardly a new one, but Whyld plays it pretty well here with writing that is as enthusiastic as it is unoriginal.  Call it a tribute, and take it for what it is.

Structurally, this one does some very interesting things.  There are apparently quite a number of possible endings.  I experienced only a couple of these during my time with the game, and in fact never made it more than halfway through the full seven days of plot, but I saw enough to get the gist of things, although I do wish Mr. Whyld had included a walkthrough so I could have seen a bit more.  On the meta-level, though, the game works quite well, and even shows evidence of considerable authorial care in working out this web of possible endings.  It's always nice as a player to feel like my actions are genuinely affecting the plot, that I am more than a rat in a cage performing to trigger the next linear plot point.  This is one I want to return to after the Comp to really explore the possibilities on offer, although I would be more enthusiastic about doing so if Mr. Whyld would clean up the issues I am about to describe (hint, hint).

The problems here start at the level of nitty-gritty details, in the writing and in some silly technical flaws.  Foremost among the latter is the game's habit of dumping the string "CLS1" into its output occasionally.  Apparently this is supposed to cause the ADRIFT interpreter to clear the screen, but, at least on the ADRIFT Runner 4.0 Release 36 I have installed on my machine, it does no such thing.

The writing is not dire by any means, but I was constantly noticing little slip-ups and logic errors, the sorts of things that sneak into fiction when no one, including the author, has bothered to read through the work carefully and really think about it.  I'll throw out a few examples. Consider this paragraph that appears when I enter the murderer-to-be's last know address in search of clues:

Something seems wrong the moment I enter the apartment. It takes me but a moment to put my finger on it: it's been trashed. There are books and papers scattered on the floor, the bed has been slashed, the bedside cabinet opened and its contents thrown all over the place, the window has been smashed, graffiti has been scrawled on the walls.

Something "seems" wrong, and it "takes me but a moment to put my finger on it?"  What a bright spark I am.  Um, the place is trashed!  Wouldn't it be pretty obvious what is wrong as soon as I walk through the door?

Shortly after, I get knocked on the head by an unknown assailant and wake up in the hospital.  The police officer at my bedside tells me this:

"I'd lie still if I were you, Mr Standler," says a voice. It belongs to a uniformed cop sitting at the side of my bed. "You took quite a nasty knock there. Could well have suffered a concussion."

I'm in a freaking hospital!  Wouldn't they know if I had suffered a concussion?

The writing also jumps constantly from present to past tense and back, within paragraphs and sometimes even within sentences.  And the beginning of the game clashes with the end.  I die at the very beginning, and am told that the rest of the game is the backstory leading up to that event.  Yet that game, as mentioned previously, has many different possible endings, some good and some bad, of which the scene described at the beginning is only one.  So what is it doing there?

Things like this drive me nuts because they are so darn correctable, and because I have seen them over and over in Whyld's games, preventing me from giving really good scores to works I would otherwise have been very impressed by.  So, my advice for Mr. Whyld is to slow down, and throw yourself into just one game.  Think about it, polish it, beta test it, and really get it right.  Until you do, you will continue to suffer the same fate: average scores leading to middle of the pack rankings in contests.  You have the conceptual talent and the writing chops to do much better than that, my friend, and I hope you will someday take the time to give us the really first-rate work I know you have in you.

Score: 6 out of 10.

The Initial State

I feel like someday one of these home-brewed efforts is going to surprise me.  This, however, is not that day.  This game has all the standard home-brew parser flaws, so much so that it feels a bit repetitive to even go into them.  Since this is after all a review, though, I will run through them quickly.

The help text tells me that the only verbs the game understands are EXAMINE, TAKE, DROP, OPEN, CLOSE, and USE.  Gee, impressive.  When it doesn't understand something, its error messages are uniformly unhelpful and insulting:

Enter your command: touch hatch
Even if I could touch the hatch, I wouldn't.

Please. authors, don't have your pathetic "parsers" get all testy at me when I try to enter a perfectly simple command that any of the established systems could deal with just fine.  At least have the good grace to let them just humbly tell me when they don't understand.  Maybe I shouldn't be complaining too much about the above message, though, as it is actually rather verbose for this game.  Trying to use the abbreviation X for EXAMINE, for instance, which has been standard for, oh, about twenty years now, simply yields a blank line in return.  But then, this game also has no capability to save and restore, which the original Adventure had thirty years ago, so I guess X for EXAMINE was far, far too much to hope for.  I sort of wonder why authors even bother to create parsers this simplistic, since they bring none of the benefits that a quality parser brings to IF.  Why not just go with a menu or point and click system?  It seems to me it would be easier on both the author and the player.

But anyway, on to the plot.  Apparently I am trapped on a spaceship that has been attacked by aliens.  I have managed to rid the ship of them by flooding all the decks but the one I am on with poison gas, albeit not before every member of the crew save me was killed.  The drawback to my plan for dealing with the aliens is that now I am trapped on the only inhabitable deck with no apparent means of escape.  I don't really know if the game offers me a legitimate opportunity to devise some means of doing so, as I found myself stuck quite early on and wasn't inspired enough by the game to spend a great deal of time looking for a way forward, especially with a parser like this that always makes me wonder if I just haven't come up with the right syntax with which to phrase my otherwise correct intentions.  A walkthrough would certainly have been nice...

I'm not quite sure what to say about the writing, because I'm not quite sure what it is trying to be.  It is either tremendously overwrought, "edgy," "life sucks" prose from someone who has been listening to far too much emo, or a rather belabored, unfunny satire of same.  Here is an example, being the text that appears when I gaze through a viewport into space:

A view like this imprisons the soul. Gazing out into the stars and empty spaces, you see your past in every milky speck, and your future in the quiet gloom. Forever is the space from its left to its right, and eternity slowly lumbers towards those pinpricks of light. All is wholesome in those empty spaces, free of oxygen and life, and if you could but get beyond this glass, you might introduce yourself to peace, and leave behind all mortal strife.
Nature may abhor a vacuum, but you long for one.

Whether it be serious or satirical, I can say without hesitation that the writing didn't work at all for me.  I just found it tedious and annoying.  In fairness, however, I must admit that the text was grammatical and correctly spelled.

One reason I didn't put too much effort into this one is that I am vaguely suspicious that it might not be possible to finish.  It has just that air of pretension about it of an author creating unwinnable adventure as a metaphor for the pointless struggle that is life.  Give me a break.  I agree only if I am forced to play many more bad text adventures like this one.

Score : 3 out of 10.


It's really impossible, unless you are a tedious Usenet troll, not to respect all Emily Short has done for IF.  Not only has she written a host of quality games, but she also played a huge part in the development of Inform 7.  She is editing the much anticipated IF theory book; contributes regular reviews to both the IF Reviews website and SPAG (for which I am particularly grateful); and has spent the last six months tirelessly answering newbie and not-so-newbie Inform 7 programming questions on  I don't know how she finds the energy to do all this, but I am grateful that she does.

For all my respect, though, I've traditionally had a rather lukewarm reaction to her games.  They have seemed like self-conscious genre exercises, lacking a certain spark of something, call it life or soul.  They have been defined not by the stories they tell but by their structures, and even much-loved works like Savoir Faire have inspired more respect than excitement in me.  "Worked examples" seems an appropriate title, not just for Ms. Short's samples games released with Inform 7, but for all of her earlier work.

That all changed for me this year, however, when I played Bronze.  It was the first work of Ms. Short's to really compel me to play it.  It made me want to finish it, and when I had done so I was genuinely moved.  To me it marked the possible beginning of a new stage in her IF career, a progression from an artist who is defined by her tools to one who simply uses her tools in the service of the art she wishes to create.  (Now if only more new media writers and artists could make that step, and move away from the pretentious juvenilia that largely defines the field.  But I digress...)

And so, finally, we come to Floatpoint.  I am happy to say that it continues the trend I had hoped was begun by Bronze.  The story it tells is not only something of a departure for Ms. Short, always nice to see from any author, but very interesting in its own right.  I am an ambassador from an apparently rather aged and decrepit Earth, visiting a colony world whose once human inhabitants have been extensively genetically engineered by their own hands, and have, perhaps in consequence, developed a very alien culture.  Their planet (or, at least, the major city I am visiting) is on the verge of becoming uninhabitable, as an ice age is coming on.  I am expected to convince them to return to an underpopulated Earth that desperately needs more bodies.

This plot is of course somewhat similar to Eric Eve's superb Elysium Enigma, and the game suffers somewhat from the inevitable comparison.  It's not really in the plot or setting that the problems arise, as those aspects of this one are almost as interesting as Eve's effort.  It is rather, strangely enough for an author as experienced and skilled as Ms. Short, in the overall design and some of the technical details.

The ultimate outcome of the story is left in the player's hands, always a good thing in my book.  I am allowed to judge this strange culture for myself, and can invite them back to Earth's as either equal partners or as subordinates, or (I believe) not invite them at all if I choose.  I receive at least three conflicting opinions from people worth listening to on what actions I should take, and the ultimate choice is left up to me.  Bravo to that.  Unfortunately, that choice is not really too satisfying.  Upon making my proposal to the would-be colonists, the game ends abruptly.  I was rather shocked.  I had expected more somehow.  There is little real drama about the plot at all.  Everything just sort of goes as one might expect... good for my character, I suppose, but not so interesting for me as a player.  I expected problems, complications, dangers that never arise at all.  All of the wonderful details about my surroundings can't quite make up for my disappointment at this failure.

And now I must discuss something I am surprised to find in a game by Ms. Short: a nasty bug.  When entering the research lab and seeing the young scientist, the sentence, "She greets you with a stream of words you don't understand, and bows deep" repeats about a dozen times, followed by,  ">--> The scene change machinery is stuck."  I assume the latter is a debugging message of some sort.  This might very well be something of a showstopper.  I couldn't figure out how to acquire the vaccine from within the lab, and don't know if this bug is the reason why.  I therefore diverted from the course I had originally planned on, and invited the colonists back to Earth on equal terms rather than as subordinates.  Bummer.  It's a big enough problem that it will by itself cost this one a point.

This one suffers in one other major way by comparison with Mr. Eve's effort.  In contrast to his superb use of the TADS 3 conversation system, this one takes the easy route by simply not letting me talk to anyone because I don't know the colonists' language.  It's hard to enjoy the feeling of being a diplomat when one never gets the opportunity to, you know, talk to anyone.

But I don't want to be too hard on this one.  There really is much to like.  The setting is well-imagined and very, very interesting, and it is filled with the usual fine writing we have come to expect from Ms. Short.  The task management system always keeps the player informed of what his current goals are, and is much appreciated by me.  Knowing Ms. Short's professionalism, I am certain that a cleaned-up and bug-fixed version will arrive shortly after the ending of the Comp.  When it does, I will definitely be returning to this one.  I know there is much more to discover than I have seen so far.

Score: 7 out of 10.


The time travel puzzle has a long history in IF, dating back at least to Sorcerer.  Also fairly common since the beginning of the Comp era is the short game based around a single, elaborate puzzle.  This game owes an obvious debt to All Things Devours from a couple of years ago in combining these two tropes.  It's not quite as satisfying as that effort, which I absolutely loved, but it has worth of its own.

I am a space marine -- think Starship Troopers -- who has been sent to investigate a "temporal explosion" at a laboratory that was doing research into time travel.  Temporal explosions are apparently similar to nuclear explosions, but even nastier.  I arrive to find both scientists badly wounded, and the "temporal reactor" they were working on in full meltdown.  As you can probably guess, my goal is to stop this unfortunate event.  The big wrinkle here is that if the reactor does explode, I am not actually killed, merely sent back in time to my arrival at the lab.  Those who remember either of the games I mentioned in the previous paragraph can probably guess where this is going.  Success hinges on me coordinating my actions over two timestreams.

The implementation of all this is simply superb.  It had to be extraordinarily tricky to program, yet it all works perfectly, with nary a flaw or spurious message anywhere.  To my mind this game proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is possible to create games in Inform 7 of enormous technical complexity.

I'm unfortunately not quite so impressed by the central puzzle upon which this one must live or die.  It's very well implemented, but I simply could not in my couple of hours with the game figure out what it really wanted me to do.  I figured out how to repair the reactor in a reasonable length of time, but when I did so the game just killed me anyway for reasons I'm still not quite sure I understand.  I eventually had to turn to the walkthrough to learn that my goal must be to disable the reactor twice, within each of the two active timestreams.  I certainly wish I had had that little nugget of information before, as it would have allowed me to solve this one on my own, left me with a warm fuzzy feeling, and probably earned it another point or so.  As it is, I am left impressed on many levels, but with a slightly bad taste in my mouth.

The opening of this one, before I beam down to the research lab, was quite richly implemented, and made me think that this was more of a plot-driven effort than a "solve the one big puzzle" game.  I can't help but feel like I would have preferred to play the game I thought it was at the beginning.  Still, if you go into it knowing that crucial nugget of information about what your goal really is, I think it could be quite a lot of fun.  I would suggest to the author that he tell the player just a bit more about what he is really trying to accomplish in a post-Comp release.  In the end, though, this game deserves quite a good score for its solid writing and technical strengths alone.  There is much that is very impressive here.

Score: 7 out of 10.

Carmen Devine: Supernatural Troubleshooter

This is far from the most ambitious game of the Comp, but for all its modesty it does a whole lot right and only a little wrong.  I am a werewolf (!), but a good werewolf, one who works for the supernatural troubleshooting agency of the title, dealing with unrest in the spirit world.  I have been called to a remote African village whose population was recently massacred by an unknown force.  The local wolfpack might be worthy of suspicion, except that they are, like me, supposed to be on the side of good.  Hmm.  What follows is a modest, entertaining little text adventure.

As first efforts go, this is nothing to be ashamed of.  The very occasional typo aside, this one is polished, well-written and bug-free.  It makes very good use of the same status bar compass Emily Short used in Bronze.  As an aside, I must say that I really, really like this mechanism, and wish more games would do something similar.  Room descriptions can be written so much more smoothly when they are not sprinkled with directional information.

In general this one is not difficult at all.  It's mostly about exploring, with only a few bits that could really be called puzzles at all.  Unfortunately, one of those few puzzles is unclued and verges on "read the author's mind" in my opinion.  I am referring to the need to transform into a wolf and howl to summon help for the injured wolf I discover in the woods.  I saw no reason to even suspect that other wolves were still in the vicinity, and would frankly never have solved this puzzle without the game's online hint system.  Once the pack arrives, things continue in a somewhat problematic vein.  I kept trying to ask the leader to help the injured wolf, which is after all ostensibly the reason I summoned the pack, but the game staunchly refused to understand me.  It turns out that the wolfpack is really necessary to get the magic box within which I can cage the supernatural source of all this trouble.  Okay, fine, but surely at least a token nod could be made to helping the poor dying wolf as well?

The idea of being able to transform from wolf to woman and back is a fun one, but is rather underutilized here.  I would have liked to have seen much more done with this, with puzzles revolving around the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each form.  And then I am not quite sure why large sections of this one are here at all.  What is with the boarded-up cave?  And the abandoned altar in the catacombs beneath the monastery?  And the several useless objects I find to carry around?  I suspect that the author originally had a more ambitious game in the works, then was forced by time constraints or fatigue to cut things down considerably.  As such things go, the cutting wasn't done too badly here, but there is still enough left in that doesn't make sense and doesn't have a purpose to raise an eyebrow or two.

The author states in his notes that this game was produced as a sort of Inform 7 practice exercise while taking a break from the creation of an epic.  As such, I think it will serve him well.  Certainly if the feedback he receives prevents bad puzzles like the one described above from making their way into said epic, the whole IF community can be thankful for this game's existence.  Taken on its own, this is a mildly amusing little yarn good for an hour or so of fun, especially if that puzzle is clued a bit better in a future release.

Score: 6 out of 10.

Star City

This one starts out as an obvious homage to Starcross.  I am a down on his luck adventurer who has bet everything on a crazy plan to rendezvous with a huge, apparently alien spaceship that has recently entered the solar system.  It's not a bad premise to start with, but things soon get more original and interesting.  Once inside the ship, I discover that it is actually a top-secret relic of the old Soviet Union, returning to Earth a century later like a prodigal son.

I should say right up front that I was predisposed to like this one.  I have a fascination with the Soviet Union which perhaps springs from my childhood, when what went on there was such a strange, forbidding mystery.  On my best holidays ever was the trip I took on the Trans-Siberian railway, passing through and even staying in towns that had once been entirely closed to the West.  (Best place to feel the weight of the old Soviet state is the central square of Ulan Ude, dominated as it is by an absolutely massive head of Lenin.  Even the city hall still has the hammer and sickle logo above it, or at least it did in 2002.)

I'm happy to say that, based on my limited firsthand experience, this game gets its atmosphere just right.  The gray, uniform buildings in the city at the center of the station perfectly match my experience of the conditions in which many Russians still live.  I mostly stayed with Russian families on my trip.  I well remember my first such stay in Vladivostok.  My driver took me into a huge, ugly concrete slab of a building, the same as those all around it with the exception of slightly different graffiti.  I wandered around heaps of garbage scattered about the hallway to find the ancient elevator.  A nerve-racking ascent took me to the floor near the very top where my family lived.  I found their door and knocked, wondering what I would find inside.  What I found was a clean, cozy, nicely furnished home inhabited by some of the warmest people one could hope to meet.

But enough anecdotes.  I promise to focus on the game from here.  I am assuming that I am playing in an alternate version of history, one in which the Soviet Union lasted much longer and developed a much higher level of technology.  Not only is the space station proof of that, but also the space-plane, a Russian equivalent of our shuttle, that I make my escape on.  (In our history, plans were made for such a ship, but were shelved, perhaps wisely given the American experience with the shuttle, as not cost-effective.)  It's all rather absurd, of course, but it's also great fun and, for me at least, carries a certain poignant nostalgia.  Think a science fiction Goodbye Lenin.

Some fine writing, balanced perfectly between humor and urgency, complements things.  Consider the description of the interior of the one-man scout ship in which I visit the artifact.:

You are in the cramped, sticky, smelly, and oppressively humid pilot's compartment of your borrowed spaceship. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the chamber are made of rubbery gray tubelike structures, interrupted only by the airlock door to your east. There is a seat, of sorts, but it's broad, low, awkward, and even more suspiciously damp than the rest of the compartment. In front of it are the Gloss equivalent of instruments. Above the instrument panel a translucent window looks out on outer space.

Apparently my borrowed ship is actually a living organism of some sort.  Here and in other places there are hints of a larger backstory to this culture that is never explained in this game.  The repeated references to the Gloss are just one example.  This wasn't really a problem for me.  It merely gave me the feeling of playing in a larger, fleshed-out universe.

Pacing is also done very well.  My rather leisurely exploration of the station takes on a sense of urgency when a fall down an elevator shaft deprives me of my spacesuit and, apparently, of any way to return to my scout ship and make my escape.  Tension escalates from here to an absolutely frantic climax that had me hunched over my keyboard.  

Unfortunately, things break down a little bit at the end, when I must make my escape back to Earth in one of the aforementioned Russian space shuttles.  The author has designed a rather elaborate flight simulator of sorts for me to do so, but he has gotten rather too clever for his own good.  This part of the game is more frustrating than fun.  The main problem here is that I must continually waste turns looking at the instrument panel to know my current course and orientation.  Some of this information is displayed in the status line, but not enough.  I eventually had to resort to undoing after each check of the instruments, and even then I was never quite clear what I was really trying to do, and largely blundered into a successful landing after several frustrating tries and a check of the walkthrough.  Don't get me wrong.  This is a clever idea, and could work pretty well.  The author is 80% of the way there.  A bit more work is needed, though, for me to qualify this section as fun and clever rather than merely frustrating.

That complaint cost this one a point, but I otherwise enjoyed just about every moment.  It's a real gem.

Score: 8 out of 10.

PTGOOD 8*10^23

If you've been following the Comp for the last couple of years, you know what this is.  In case you haven't, I will just inform you that it is the latest in a series of deliberately bad fragments that are entered with the intention of placing not quite at the bottom, but just above.  It was mildly amusing the first time, but it's as far past its expiration date as Santoonie Corporation and Jacek now.  This bit did make me laugh, though, so this one isn't entirely useless:

You are reminded of a mold you once observed. You named it Jerry and allowed it to live in a petri dish in your refridgerator. You and Jerry parted ways when he betrayed you and allowed his spores to grown on your lunch.

Needless to say, the game, such as there is of it, is buggy and unwinnable.  My most interesting observation to offer is another homage to ADRIFT's compression algorithm.  Several rooms and a manipulatable object or two in a 2K game file.  Wow!  

I'll support the author's intentions by giving it the requisite 2 and move on.  No, no need to thank me.  Glad to be of service, really.

Score: 2 out of 10.

Aunts and Butlers

This was quite a pleasant surprise, at least initially.  When I saw it in the "web" folder, I expected a Choose Your Own Adventure hypertext narrative.  What I actually found, though, was quite a sophisticated little text adventure implemented entirely in Javascript.  As such, it deserves a considerable amount of credit for technical achievement alone.  

I am a decidedly down at the heels turn of the last century English gentleman living in the village of Bickering.  (Wonderfully sly humor of that sort pervades the whole game, and is by far the best thing about it.)  The proverbial rich aunt is coming for a visit.  My goal is to find a place in her will before I lose what little remains of my estate.  The game casts its satirical net widely and successfully.  Once it tires of razzing England, it moves on to America in the form of my redneck cousin, also come for a visit:

> x cousin
A second cousin on your late father's side, Virgule is a red-faced, portly American clad in an unflattering yellow suit and rubber running shoes. What really catches your eye, though, is the large, dirty, double-barrelled shotgun, which he is bandying around - you can't help judging - rather carelessly.

> ask cousin about shotgun

"Beaut, ain't she?" Cousin Virgule prods the shotgun into your face. "I was hopin' I might bag me a few o' them thar limey pheasants while I was over."

This is definitely the most impressive of the home-brewed games in this year's Comp, not that the others have set a particularly high bar for it to clear.  Saving and restoring is possible through the use of cookies, albeit with a rather unprofessional message to the effect that, hey, this might get screwed up if you attempt to generate more than four save games, and even undo is implemented.  The parser is decent enough for what it is, although nowhere near as sophisticated as those of the established systems.  Even a considerable amount of conversation is implemented via the "ask about" system.  Still, misunderstood inputs like this are possible:

Leafy path
A leaf-covered country lane with hedgerows at the edges bends round from the southwest to the north. There is a friendly wooden signpost here.
Exits are north and southwest.

> put hat on sign
Okay. You are wearing the hat.

In spite of such relatively minor issues, I feel very kindly disposed toward this one.  The game design smartly stays within the technical constraints of the parser, and, as just mentioned, the writing is sharp, satirical, and very, very funny.  This is quite possibly the funniest game of the Comp, albeit in a decidedly mean-spirited way that may not be to everyone's taste.  I must say that being forced to basically murder the irritating aunt didn't make me particularly happy.

For all the game's strengths, a few of its puzzles do get a bit fiddly, and the lack of standard modern IF niceties like the AGAIN verb, scrollback buffers, and a command history perhaps made it seem more frustrating than it actually was.  Impressive a technical achievement as it is to write an adventure entirely in Javascript, I couldn't help thinking how much better this would have been in Inform or TADS.  Writing this good deserves technical underpinnings of equal quality.  I ended up making fairly extensive use of the walkthrough, although I feel like I could have solved this one on my own if I hadn't been feeling a bit burnt out after playing 40 games in less than six weeks before it, and if I wasn't staring into the teeth of a fast-approaching judging deadline.  All in all, a quality effort worthy of a quality score.

Score: 7 out of 10.

Simple Adventure

Mr. Panks obviously enjoys writing the same game over and over, but I don't particularly enjoy writing the same review.  This one is supposed to teach me to program an adventure game using less than 16K of BASIC code.  (Well, that's the claim.  The actual BASIC file is over 20K, so I assume we've gone a bit over the limit a bit in spite of our best intentions.  Or maybe the REM statements don't count?)  The fundamental problem, of course, is that I have zero interest in writing a BASIC text adventure of any size, and haven't since about 1985. Did I mention that I'm also not particularly interested in fighting dragons and other monsters in simplistic randomized combat?  I suspect most of my fellow judges are of the same mindset.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time here.  Read my reviews of Mr. Panks' other two Comp games to know what you are getting into with this one, because they are all essentially alike.  This one is indeed the "simplest" of the lot, though, and I don't mean that as a compliment.  One question: Just how the hell does armor heal me?

Score: 2 out of 10.

Game Producer!

Gratuitous exclamation points in game titles are generally not a good sign.  Thankfully, this game defied my expectations.  And so we come to the end of the line, and, I'm happy to say, do it pretty fine fashion.  This is a really, really good one.

I am a, you guessed it, video game producer about to undertake the final frenzied day of my pride and joy's production, culminating in my shipping the (hopefully) finished product off to be mastered and prepared for sale.  It's a clever premise very well played.  Mr. Bergman apparently works in the commercial video game industry himself, and the wealth of detail on the subject he brings to his IF work  is one of the best things about this one.  One shouldn't take this depiction of life at a games company too seriously, of course, as Mr. Bergman takes pains to note in his unusually detailed accompanying information file.  I don't doubt that everything and everyone here are exaggerated.  Yet I am am also sure that a core of truth exists beneath the comedy, and I found this peak behind the curtain, as it were, very interesting to experience.

The structure of the game is quite unusual for IF.  As previously noted, you have one day to perform the various crunch time tasks -- final QA, approval of advertising materials, schmoozing the press, etc. -- that go into a making a title successful in the marketplace.  You can choose a difficulty level at the beginning of the game, which simply determines whether you oversleep in the morning, and if so how badly.  From here, every turn uses up time as the clock counts downs inexorably to midnight.  When time runs out, or you decide you have done all you can for your baby, you do not simply win or lose, but are rather given a detailed report of how your game fared in the marketplace.  I don't usually like games with time-based deadlines, as I prefer to leisurely explore my surroundings without feeling unduly pressured, but in this case it actually works pretty well, and combined with the difficulty levels lends a nice touch of replayability.  Exhausted by playing 43 games before this one as I am, I went easy on myself and played in easy mode, but I may just come back to this one in a few months and see how I can do on a harder level.

The time management system can lead to some raised eyebrows on occasion.  I was shocked at the beginning of the game to find that examining my alarm clock used ten minutes of game time.  It is however possible (and, indeed, necessary) to lesson the time cost of each turn by getting caffeine into one's system.

There is very little else to complain about here.  Upon entering my boss' office for the first time, I am informed that I am "Praying he doesn't mention the fact that you overslept on the day your game is supposed to go gold," even if I chose the easy option and did not in fact oversleep.  I can't come up with much beyond that, though.

All in all, a fine effort that shakes up the tried and true enough to really make itself stand out.  I really liked this one, and I'm pleased to award it one of my highest scores of the Comp.  There is something to be said for going out on a high note.

Score: 9 out of 10.