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Notes on IF Competition 2008 games

My notes on the IF Comp 08 games, as posted to rec.games.int-fiction.

I have my transcripts from all the games that would let me keep one - if any author wants to see my transcript from their game, just mail me and ask. They don't have any annotation or anything, just the raw data.

I didn't score anything above a seven this year. This makes me wonder whether I should start being more generous, but when I think it over I say I shouldn't. If "Lost Pig" was a nine, and the top three or four from 2006 were eights, then I'm not sure anything this year is higher than a seven.

Anyway, I'm certainly not going to change my scores now - I don't think I could do it fairly without replaying a lot of the games. Luckily it doesn't matter much what range I score in, since I gave a score to every game and they all suffer in proportion.

I'm not going to pick a particular winner. Here are a few general categories.

Recommended: Violet, Nightfall, April in Paris, Opening Night, Everybody Dies, Snack Time!

Worth playing since they are interesting and short: Buried in Shoes, Grief.

Consider if bored: Recess At Last, Afflicted, Berrost's Challenge, Piracy 2.0, Cry Wolf, Ananachronist, A Date With Death.

Thanks as always to all the authors and organisers, and on we go to the individual games. As usual my notes are about 80% nitpicking, 10% insults, and 10% commentary.

Serious spoilers are done like this: the butler did it. (That should look like a black box and the text should appear when you hover your mouse over it. If it doesn't, it means my stylesheet doesn't work on your browser, or you're using your own stylesheet on purpose.)

Contents


Riverside - Jeremy Crockett, Victor Janmey and Drew someone

They must have put a lot of time into this. I wonder if it was originally intended seriously, but when they failed to get further than half-implementing the first third of the game, they decided to make it a joke instead. Either that or the submitter stole someone else's source code.

Anyway, don't bother playing, one point.

Violet - Jeremy Freese

I see Inform still hasn't got implicit take of X when you do "put X in Y".

Inventory is very slow for some reason.

Blank response to "throw coaster at pen". However, in general it's thoroughly implemented.

I think it suffers a little from being a one-room game without a huge amount to look at. There's a lot to offset this - plenty of varying item descriptions, and the songs, and Julia's conversation - but I still felt like I spent a lot of time reading the same stuff.

So. The schtick was clever, although it may be in the category of schticks that are only worth doing once. And it's quite funny sometimes. But the puzzles were only average.

Fun game, seven points.

The Missing Piece - C. Yong

Ugly as hell. Random fonts. The icons, surely drawn in Microsoft Paint. The amateurish sound effects. The awful dialog boxes. The colours, dear God, the hideous colours. It looks like it was designed by letting a troop of monkeys riot in a paint factory. And it's as bad to use as it is to look at. In my time I have implemented some bad UI at the behest of misguided employers, but nothing like this. You have to really fight a UI toolkit to make it let you be as retarded as this.

On to the game itself: lots of crappy RPG combat in a generic fantasy setting with bonus modern weaponry: "You have found a hand grenade and a fireball spell hidden beneath the layer of rotten leaves!" (Yes, that's really a genuine quotation.)

And it needs some serious editing by a competent English speaker, though it would have been a shame to lose "The Bat is slained!"

I give this my default two points as an entry that tries to be a proper game but has nothing else going for it.

(By the way, has anyone considered starting a junior comp for young authors? It would save me feeling guilty when some kid has put in tons of effort and I have to smack them down like this.)

Red Moon - Jonathan Hay

The first room description of this game is hereby awarded my newly endowed You-Can-Also-See Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements in bathos deriving from the juxtaposition of human- and computer-generated prose:

  Wooden Hut
  The room is frightfully dark, save for pale streams of red light
  shining through various holes in the ceiling. Shadows lurk around
  objects, forming vague outlines of unknown monstrosities. There are
  no windows, just four wooden walls around you, a weak fortress you
  hope will hold. And of course... the door to the outside.

  Your sister sits here, huddled in a dark corner, eyes wide with fear
  and mumbling incoherently to herself. Your heart breaks to see her
  in such a state.

  You can also see a rotting wooden desk (on which are a computer, a
  digital clock and a manuscript), a wooden cupboard (closed), a tall
  mirror and a small lamp here.

Splendid. OK, let's get started:

  >sister, hello
  There is no reply.

  >ask sister about hut
  There is no reply.

  >talk to sister
  That's not a verb I recognise.

Bizarre use of dashes for emphasis like it was Usenet or something: "you -might- just be able to get some help".

Anyway. There isn't much you can do, so you probably won't waste too much time on it before reading the hints, and the FAQ in which the author is whinily apologetic. In future please be whinily apologetic in advance so I'll know not to bother with your game.

Three points, or maybe only two. I suppose three because I didn't notice any spelling mistakes.

Project Delta - Emilian Kowalewski

This is a demo of a forthcoming CYOA system.

It quite often gives you two options, one of which is blank and does nothing. Unimpressive that a CYOA system can't even do a basic thing like that properly.

This doesn't qualify as a game. You can examine a few things, do a couple of trivial actions which the game tells you to do, and that's about it. Why the author thought this should be in a competition I have no idea. One point.

Piracy 2.0 - Sean Huxter

I thought space pirates was last year's competition theme? And I thought games where you start in a cell were mocked out of existence by Lock and Key.

Spelling and grammar OK. Implementation seems patchy - it fails one of my standard tests:

  >look through window
  You find nothing of interest.

This is poor:

  >shoot pirate
  You shoot at the pirate. You hit him, killing him. He falls dead to
  the floor.

  >x pirate
  You can't see any such thing.

Yes, simple but annoying combat with generic pirates. "Generic" sums this game up, actually. It's all unimaginative sub-Star-Trek stuff. And the villain is introduced as "infamous throughout the United Worlds for heinous crimes against all life forms". It doesn't tell you what the crimes are - they're just crimes.

When I read the huge list of emergency procedures and realised I'd probably have to go through every damn one of them, I nearly lost the will to live. Puzzles where you are told what to do and then you do it are tedious. Maybe it won't actually be as bad as that, but I'm not willing to tolerate the random combat long enough to find out. I've spent long enough with this game just mapping the 30+ rooms.

By the way, does the pirate captain turn out to have been hiding somewhere? I think I'd been everywhere before I gave up, but I never met him.

Comment applying to sci-fi games in general: enough of the futuristic data-storage cartridges now. It's 2008 and we already keep our shit in the cloud. I refuse to believe that when we have faster than light travel, we'll be using SuperHyperFloppyDisks which we will carry around and insert into computers.

Five points.

Nerd Quest - RagtimeNerd

A combination of a bad game and a really incredibly bad IF system. Play this simply to marvel in slack-jawed amazement at the fact that someone considers it worth entering in a competition.

Usually I give two points to anything attempting to be a proper game, but here I really can't. One point.

Trein - Leena Ganguli

Is that Treen or Trine? Train? Tree-in? Dammit I hate fictional proper names that I don't know how to pronounce. I whined about this last year too. I realise it's probably unavoidable. Maybe worth keeping them out of titles at least.

This game capitalises the names of all the objects that you can interact with. I suppose you can make an argument for this but it seems jarring to me. Maybe if you're trying to write for children or beginners. If you really want to do it I'd prefer a different text style to capitalisation.

Other than that, we can probably destroy this game pretty well with some representative excerpts:

  >barkeep, hello
  There is no reply.

  >talk to barkeep
  That's not a verb I recognise.

  >barkeep, get me a drink
  There is no reply.

  >ask barkeep for drink
  You can't see any such thing.

  >ask barkeep about beer
  There is no reply.

-

  Only the Old Guard appears interested in speaking to you.

  [...]

  >x old guard
  You can't see any such thing.

-

  >drunkard, hello
  The drunkard is not motivated enough to speak to you. He is just
  sitting there looking forlornly at an empty Ale Mug.

  >x ale mug
  It is a mug full of ale.

-

  You can see an Unlit Torch here.

  >get torch
  Taken.

  >light torch
  This dangerous act would achieve little.

And various broken articles: "a Dark Clothing", "a Stew Pot (in which is a Grain)", "You can see a Chamberlain's door and an Evidence here."

And my favourite diagnostic of rubbish Inform games: "In that game you scored 0 out of a possible 0".

So, very poorly implemented and has nothing interesting in the plot or the trivial puzzles. Not too many spelling mistakes though. Four points.

Freedom - Anonymous

This looks like a pointless non-game, but no, from the author's note: '"Freedom" is intended to create the experience of suffering from social anxiety disorder. It's a sort of "worst case scenario" in that everything a socially anxious person fears comes true; everyone yells at you, everyone hates you, no one cares if you're run down in the middle of the street.'

Well, I failed to notice. I played the whole thing without realising that it was anything other than someone's tedious my-first-inform-game or that I was anyone other than Nameless Apartment-Dweller. You see, the protagonist in this game has an easier time than 99% of IF protagonists. Being alone and oppressed in an uncaring world is the IF standard.

The game has very little opportunity to make its point, because there's hardly anything you can do. You can't talk to anyone for a start. And I don't mean like in Rameses, I mean like you do "ask woman about topic" and "woman, topic" and you get the same response for every topic.

Two points.

Nightfall - Eric Eve

Bloody hell, it's huge - was my first reaction on looking at the map. Don't let that worry you though, in terms of playing time it's probably about right for a comp game.

Pathfinding takes a just-noticeable time - maybe half a second in glulxe on a cheap-in-2005 CPU.

Solidly implemented - I only noted this oddity:

  >listen
  You can't reach into Mandlebury Bridge.

And "plug in radio" ought to work.

Digression: this game features tape cassettes, which are starting to look a bit retro. Maybe it's supposed to be set five or ten years ago. Anyway, my point is that representing information as objects is going to get less and less plausible in modern-day games, especially if books start going seriously digital sometime soon. I can only hope the IF cabal has its best scientists working on what the hell we do about this.

There's some good atmosphere going on. I have to wonder if setting a game in a deserted city was just a cunning dodge to keep the number of NPCs down, but it works well.

The bad thing about this game was that it sometimes felt like I didn't have much to do except a hell of a lot of reading. It was described as "An Interactive Short Story" but still. Partly it was because some of the puzzles are optional, and it's easy not to do them. You can drift along playing the whole thing doing mostly just things the game suggests. And while this fits in fine in terms of the plot, it damages the gameplay.

Recommended - seven points.

The Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom - Anssi Räisänen

I only saw one spelling mistake, "expentantly", but "you instantly knew she's the girl of your life" is nasty, and I'm not sure what "a pulled-up sword" means.

Then there's something which is "intensifying the mystical feel of the room" - grammatical, but ugh.

Lots of sensible attempts to solve puzzles just give default responses:

  > hit warriors with staff
  Nothing much would be achieved by that.

It will only accept "butterflies" in the plural, which is pretty poor considering how they are the major part of the puzzle.

This badly needs to do something:

  > touch head with staff
  Nothing is achieved by that.

It continues:

  "Now, take me by the hand", she says smiling, not seeming to mind
  the tiger at all.

  > take hand
  [Invalid command. Please rephrase, or try something different.]

 > take diridu's hand
  [The word 'diridu's' isn't recognised in this story.]

You have to "take diridu by the hand".

So, nowhere near enough implemented. If you're going to stick the player in one room at a time with not much to look at or play with, then the game has to be super-thorough about giving responses to every sensible action and most of the stupid ones too. This comes nowhere near.

The puzzles aren't very interesting either.

I gave this five points, apparently, so I must have liked something about it at the time. Don't know what.

Dracula's Underground Crypt - Alex Whitington

Oh dear. Before the first prompt we have at least four spelling mistakes, two missing apostrophes, and some inconsistent spacing.

The coding isn't much better:

  You can also see a large oak door, a slab of granite, a fireplace
  and a four-armed suit of armour here.

  >x slab
  Good idea, but...the thing is... you have to find it first.

and

  >x staircase
  A narrow staircase descends into darkness

  >d
  You can't go that way.

The walkthrough tells you "make a rubbing of the message carved into the coffin lid". OK, let's do that:

  >put paper on lid
  Putting things on the coffin lid would achieve nothing.

  >rub lid
  That's not a verb I recognise.

  >put paper in lid
  That can't contain things.

  >make rubbing
  That's not a verb I recognise.

  >use charcoal on lid
  I only understood you as far as wanting to use the lump of charcoal.

  >use charcoal on paper
  I only understood you as far as wanting to use the lump of charcoal.

You have to "draw on lid with charcoal".

So, unplayable without the walkthrough. Most of the jokes are laboured but it's amusing sometimes. Author might do OK once he learns to use an IF system properly.

Four points.

The Lighthouse - xyzzyman

If you couldn't handle the complexity of "Cloak of Darkness", then "The Lighthouse" is the game for you. There's a four-room map with room descriptions consisting only of "You are now in <room>". There are two immediately obvious keys and two immediately obvious things to unlock. That's it. I don't think there's a single non-default response to "examine".

Incredibly, there's still room for bugs. The game doesn't end when you win - it says "***THE END**" but doesn't stop. And you can pick up the button and carry it around. And also: "You see nothing special about desk."

One point.

Grief - Simon Christiansen

It starts off by asking if you are male or female, which hardly seems worth it - I only spotted one single-word difference that it made. We're playing a specific character, so I think their gender could have been fixed without losing anything.

The story didn't engage me like it needed to. Maybe because there are puzzly things to be doing it feels a bit mechanical.

The gimmick is sort of OK. I guessed what was going to happen though.

If you try to "walk to school", the game has you get in the car and drive there. That would be fine in most games but it badly needs a custom response here.

I'm afraid that "You have died inside" just sounds comical.

Six points.

Berrost's Challenge - Mark Hatfield

In the introduction it uses "serviture" to mean servitude.

Then there's the "small thatch shoppe of the herbalist" - meaning a thatched shop, not one that sells thatch. And why the cutesy spelling "shoppe" I don't know. The rest of the game is spelt normally.

I also noted an "in-tact mineshaft" and "Its a bucket", although in general the writing is OK.

This sort of thing is bad for confidence:

  >take berries
  The berries are attached to the bush.

  >pick berries
  Taken.

You can climb down a rope then you aren't allowed to climb up it because "It's pitch black".

It's firmly old-school - it kindly lets you turn off the hunger timer and the inventory limit, but there is still the learn-by-dying.

Didn't feel up to making a serious attempt to complete this myself. It might be solvable without the hints, but it's big - thirty rooms - and the puzzles are hard. It would probably have taken me days of play.

Five points.

Cry Wolf - Clare Parker

Fails a couple of standard tests:

  >look in mirror
  You find nothing of interest.
  >look through window
  You find nothing of interest.

There's a blank response to "read books".

We have "a latex gloves", "a gauze bandages" and others.

And one programming error: "no text for Mal."

I often had difficulty doing things even after knowing what to do from the hints. For example, we have "Bookcases cram the north wall, stuffed with veterinary books and periodicals", and we're trying to find something called "Vets Today":

  >x periodicals
  Books on mammalian anatomy, manuals of surgical practices, lists of
  drug interactions, endless periodicals - every reference item a vet
  could use.

  >x bookcase
  The bookcases are filled with veterinary books and periodicals,
  carefully organized, though pressed for space. The latest edition of
  the Vets Today! Newsletter juts out from where you crammed it onto
  the shelf.

Here's another - the hints tell you to talk to the woman, but:

  >woman, hello
  You would have to stand up, and you are not about to lose what
  little dignity you have left to you.

Has to be "talk to woman", which is fine, but you have to tell me when that when I try "woman, hello".

That was an awful puzzle anyway - it completely wrecks the scene if I'm buggering about trying to guess what the game wants me to do before it will let me put on my jeans and get on with the game.

You can't "dial number" or "phone marissa", you have to "use phone".

The general impression is that different ways of phrasing actions have almost never been considered.

The writing is mostly OK, although there's a "plumb tree" (maybe it's just a perfectly vertical tree), and it makes no sense to use "eked" in "your clothes have gradually eked out onto the floor". There's a lot to read sometimes, especially the conversations near the end throw a vast amount of text at you.

When the protagonist acts all reluctant to believe in werewolves it's somewhat annoying, because the player has been expecting a werewolf to turn up ever since reading the title. (Actually, for a while in the first scene I started to think I might be wrong and there wasn't going to be a werewolf involved, but of course my optimism was unfounded.)

I'm not sure how games can avoid this - I shall term it the Sceptical Protagonist Problem - although one good way might be to not write about werewolves. In films it's generally the hero that believes in the werewolves/vampires/fairies/aliens from the start, so the audience can share his frustration when the sceptical minor characters dismiss his maverick views.

Ambitious game, let down by implementation, but maybe worth a run through if you're bored. Author can probably learn to do better in future. Five points.

Ananachronist - Joseph Strom

Full of spelling mistakes: "wisked", "northren", "immediatly", "corregation", "machinary", "aparent" and more.

Lots of missing articles and bad plurals too: "You can see reactor airlock here", "Barrels is empty", "On hanging shelf is screwdriver", "Lying inside you can see plastic rod", "You can see a truck-sized doors here".

  >point tracer at table
  The rune tracer elicits no reaction from the rune tracer.

(You get that when you point it at anything uninteresting.)

Blank response to "open door" (in Near Mechanics Building).

  >wear uniform
  You can't wear that!

When I examined the uniform I got the description of the shield.

If there's an hourglass I should be able to "turn hourglass".

  Depending on where you are in the game, typing HINT again might give
  you a little more detail.

...but I tried it several times and it never did.

Until I read the walkthrough I never properly absorbed the fact that I was supposed to be destroying the three things. I had the idea I was looking for three other things. I mean if we already have the things, can't we destroy them somewhere else with better tools? The game does probably tell you enough that I should have worked it out. I'll be interested to see if anyone else failed to grasp this.

With a bit more cueing to get the player started I think this game could have been better. It would also help if it didn't take so much typing to move betwen zones.

Five points.

When Machines Attack - Mark Jones

Plenty of spelling and grammatical errors: "adress", "introudces", "turn int to the right", "your twenty minutes late", "Stairs to a catwalk is up to the north".

It seems like everything in this game is only some sort of thing. I saw "some sort of locker room", "some sort of bench", "some sort of key", "some sort of room like a bathroom", "some sort of worktable", and "some sort of disk".

There's a guy called Wong, but you can't refer to him as "Mr Wong", even though the game does.

Oh dear, it can't even get the exits right:

  all you know is that you may return alongside the conveyor belt by
  going either south or west.

  [...]

  >w
  You can go only south or northwest.

and again:

  To the west, you may go over to the Boss's headquarters/office, and
  to the north, you may enter a more public room.

  [...]

  >w
  You can go only north, south or northwest.

But the one that really annoyed me was when it didn't mention the exit to the Testing Room back to the east, but it did mention a locked testing room door to the northeast. I think that was supposed to go to another part of the room, but I spent ages thinking it was the only way back. After the two exit fuckups I had already seen, that made me completely lose confidence in this game.

Three points.

April in Paris - Jim Aikin

It's a relief to get back to a solidly coded game where I felt I could trust that the puzzles would have fair solutions and I wouldn't have too much trouble phrasing them.

The writing is good - the only thing I wasn't sure about was "up 'til now". I think I'm right in saying that the word is "till" and it's not a contraction of "until".

I solved it all myself except for the final puzzle - and there I only had to see the title of the hint to get it. I was fixated on the idea that I would have to find something different to wear, so I'd forgotten about the other stuff the chef said.

I would have liked a few more conversation topics - "ask woman about food" should do something, and so should "ask chef about food".

Recommended, seven points.

Escape from the Underworld - Karl Beecher

Another game using Usenet emphasis, or possibly it's wiki markup: "a *mouse* for hell's sake!"

Looks sketchy - there's a default response to "show"-ing something when you need "give" it.

It gets worse:

  >unscrew hinges
  Those are fixed in place.

  >unscrew hinges with screwdriver
  You turn the old hinges with the screwdriver [...]

Then we have three buttons, but:

  >x buttons
  You can't see any such thing.

  >x button 1
  You can't see any such thing.

  >x button one
  It has a number one on it.

Then we have a phone, but "dial" and "phone" aren't implemented as verbs - you have to "use phone".

The walkthrough failed to work (the phoning went wrong) on gargoyle frotz (gargoyle 2008-10-31). Worked on console frotz v2.43 though.

The first puzzle is something of a guess-the-topic. It got easier after that.

The problem with doing hell-as-bureaucracy is that it just becomes a game-set-in-an-office. The jokes aren't good enough to save it.

Four points.

Channel Surfing - probabilityZero

Ugh, every response seems to be a default or completely blank:

  >x remote
  A television remote control. It appears to be brand new, but the
  plastic seems a bit cheap and flimsy.

  >press 1 on remote
  >press remote
  You feel nothing unexpected.

  >press button
  You can't see any such thing.

  >use remote
  I didn't understand that sentence.

  >turn on television
  That's not something you can switch.

  >change channel
  I didn't understand that sentence.

  >change channel to 1
  >

But you have to "change channel to 16"!

The author claims to have had four testers. I find it hard to believe that all of them managed to hit on "change channel to 16" the first time without finding any of these problems.

  >x note
  16

Would it have killed you to say "the note reads '16'"? If you just print a number it looks like a bug.

The cat isn't implemented. And Steve is supposed to have run off but is still listed in the room description.

  >i
  You are carrying:
    Coins
    [...]

  >put coin in machine
  You can't see any such thing.

...because you have to call them "coins", sigh.

  A balding man in a dark suit - the strategist - stands in front of
  you. His skin is pale, and his eyes seem unusually harsh. You
  somehow remember him, but from where you can't remember.

  >x man
  You can't see any such thing.

I wanted to like this one because "Cat or Dead Cat" was funny. But the implementation was just awful, and the game declined into a sequence of textdumps at the end. If you're going to have a big evil plot in your game I should be able to discover it for myself, at least to some extent.

Three points.

Snack Time! - Hardy the Bulldog & Renee Choba

Short but good. Everything is implemented.

Probably had more fun playing this than anything else so far, but I'm not giving more than six points to a game which is set in an apartment and where you play a dog. However, I will watch out for more games from this author.

Search for the Ultimate Weapon - Sharilynn

Doesn't support "x" for "examine".

Oh dear. It has "You step into the courtyard" in the room description so that any time you type "look" you're stepping into the courtyard again.

It recommends playing in hardcore mode, which has no compass rose, but then doesn't tell you any directions in the room descriptions.

It has hilariously fast-moving time and switches abruptly among three brutal colour schemes. There's a four-move "day" (with a light blue background), then a four-move "afternoon" (bright red) then a five-move "night" (dark blue). The Earth spins so fast in this game that it's a wonder everyone doesn't fly off into space.

I went west from the start room and it put me somewhere else that made no sense and which had no exit shown.

Too painful to get very far. Two points.

The Hall of the Fount of Artois - Simon

No undo. Doesn't support "x" for "examine". Crashes when I try to restore saved games. One point.

Gave up, so I never found out if the title refers to a fount of Stella Artois or some other kind of Artois.

Buried In Shoes - Kazuki Mishima

Credit for taking on a serious subject, but the game doesn't really work. I hate the wishy-washy framing. '"We can be as one, you and I." Is this an angel? you wonder.' Is this pretentious crap, I wonder.

It improves when we get to the main part in the house, and stop getting teleported around to different places every two seconds. Even there it's too rushed - there isn't enough to do that would make me start giving a shit before here we are getting historically beaten up.

Also, not enough detail. For example, you can't look at what was in the shop and find out what kind of a shop it was. This is probably deliberate, but I can't get interested if everything is so vague.

Worth a look though, it doesn't take long to play. Five points.

A Martian Odyssey - Horatio

A textbook example of a game which fails to respond to anything except the commands in the walkthrough.

So, my rocket has crashed:

  >fix rocket
  You would achieve nothing by this.

This is pretty bad:

  >cut straps
  Cutting those up would achieve little.

  >shoot straps
  The straps slide on the floor as you cut them away from the seat.

And this is awful:

  >n
  There's nothing there worth wandering around for. Only Ares is to
  the north.

...but it lets you go east!

And you have to go to sleep, but it ignores the damn verb:

  >sleep
  You aren't feeling especially drowsy.

  >z
  You spend the night sleeping under the Martian sky.

After I have taken the case, the ostrich is still described as having it hung round his neck.

What's with the five-second pauses between moves sometimes? I can't tell if these are deliberate or if the game is just doing something horribly inefficient.

And, inevitably: "In that game you scored 0 out of a possible 0".

Three points.

Opening Night - David Batterham

I got off to a bad start with this one - first I was convinced that I had to move a trash can, but it turned out to be in the right place already. Then I thought that a real exit was just a scenery exit that wasn't going to take me anywhere. I think both of these were mostly down to me being stupid, but they could both have been described a bit more usefully.

Needs a few more responses in places: e.g. to "climb over bric-a-brac" and "get costume".

I can't go "in" to a building, have to go north.

  You can see the little tramp off to the east, pasting playbills onto
  every available surface.

  >x tramp
  You can't see any such thing.

The writing is mostly good, although please don't say things like "The atmosphere is one of wealth, optimism and grandeur." Only games set on space rockets should talk about the atmosphere.

  >look in hole
  There is nothing on the hole.

  >get in hole
  That's not something you can enter.

  >put paper in hole
  That can't contain things.

So, it lacks polish. But the game isn't too badly hurt, and overall I liked it.

It hides an exit, I think probably deliberately, but I don't think the game gains anything from doing it. Maybe if it stopped describing any of the exits, or at least changed the rest of the description.

When stuff first started to go strange I was unimpressed, thinking a game that had started well was going to descend into disappointing surrealism. But it's better than that, and I think it works.

Seven points, recommended.

Afflicted - Doug Egan

People, please stop using the subtitle "An Interactive Fiction". I know it's the default and everything, but if your game doesn't have a subtitle of its own, don't put one on the screen.

It's a bit odd to start immediately referring to someone as "Angela" when I wouldn't know her name yet.

"a dish rack (in which are some servingware)"

You can't "look on shelf" although there is stuff on the shelf.

It seems like you can lock yourself out of some of the good endings easily if you don't get a certain item before it gets blocked off. And it's a hidden item so you might not even know you missed it. But maybe there's a way round this that I didn't find.

I actually liked the start of this game best - when you're just wandering about noting down disgusting stuff.

Not great, but playable enough. Six points.

The Absolute Worst IF Game in History - Dean Menezes

I wouldn't have said so. I see all the timewasting crap as pretty much on a level, specifically the one-point level. At least this was shorter than the other deliberate timewasting game.

The Lucubrator - Rick Dague

First room description has some odd punctuation: "The lack of adornment: the sparsity of detail match the morbid nature of this room." Maybe you could just about get away with a comma there, but a colon is strange.

"his hair touchs your breasts"

It keeps mixing up tenses for some reason: "You try to speak, but your lips didn't move." and "he swears and dropped it in a pocket" and "he mutters, and then pointed at me".

If I can't talk, I should be able to point at things.

An almost unbelievable "Violence isn't the answer to this one" when violence is in fact the answer to this one, and the previous one. Even worse, "You lack the nerve when it comes to the crucial moment" when you do the right thing but on the wrong turn!

There's no chance of getting through this game without the walkthrough.

Three points.

A Date With Death - David Whyld

Grr, it's a sequel to a game I haven't played.

  >x pool
  Minus any water. In fact, if the truth be told, this isn't so much
  an indoor pool as a long, narrow hole dug in the stone floor. [...]

  >look in hole
  You haven't found the hole... yet.

  >get in pool
  Get it? Clearly, you misunderstood the definition of 'indoor pool'.

(I assume that last one is just Adrift being crap.)

There are conversation options that don't do anything. There's an unopenable bureau (not locked, just "You can't open the bureau!").

The writing isn't too awful, but I saw "treds" and "Throw yourself the palace roof", and "But you can move, but you can move south and west", and the High Chancellor gets called "High Chancelle" at one point.

This is nasty:

  >x bell
  That either isn't here, isn't important or is just part of the
  scenery. Whatever the truth of the matter, it's fair to say you can
  ignore it.

  >ring bell
  You ring the bell, summoning a servant to do your bidding.

Not the worst game, but not solid enough to trust, and it's all so damn verbose. Every trivial thing you examine gives you three paragraphs to read, and I got fed up of it. And a point off for that crap where it says there's a walkthrough but won't tell me how to get it.

Five points.

LAIR of the CyberCow - Harry Wilson

When describing things for the first time, this game always seems to assume I already know about them. "You are carrying the desperate letter" - what letter? "Also here is the book" - what book?

Oh, and "The CyberCow is here." Yeah, that's how you meet the CyberCow of the title. "The CyberCow is here." Wow.

Descriptions are minimal:

  In the Chapel
  You are inside the local House of God.  You can move north, east and south.

Although it does insist on continually telling you "It is daytime" for some reason.

"Also here are the heavy cross."

There are a large number of irritating pauses that you can't skip.

I was supposed to guess to milk the cow? Looks unplayable without the walkthrough.

Three points.

Everybody Dies - Jim Munroe

When I typed "transcript" and saw a "Shipboard Directions" extension among the credits I thought it was a spoiler, but if there's a ship in this game I managed to win without ever finding it.

  I catch a glimpse of something moving in the toilet water.

  >x thing
  I can't see any such thing.

-

  >push carts west
  Really, the only sensible thing to do to a cart train is to PUSH it.

It's not good that you can still get an "X has better things to do" response for telling people to do things, when telling people to do things is important.

You can't "put patrick's namecard on graham's locker", you have to explicitly put it in the holder - but that wasn't too hard to work out.

(Nice puzzle though.)

Fun game - a lot better than you would think from the title. Felt a bit short. It could be more polished, but the problems aren't too serious.

Recommended, seven points.

Magic - Geoff Fortytwo

Hmm, so "compare X to Y" can do something when "compare Y to X" doesn't. That seems unintuitive to me.

We have a pack of cards:

  >pick a card
  The story doesn't understand that command.

  >shuffle cards
  The word "shuffle" is not necessary in this story.

  >cut cards
  What do you want to cut it with?

  >play cards
  The word "play" is not necessary in this story.

Huh. So much for being a magician.

"The silver jewelry screw is not something that can be turned like a screw."

  >throw grenade in hole
  You see no grenade in the hole.

Well into the game, I still have no idea what I am supposed to be trying to do.

Going through with the walkthrough, and it looks like you wouldn't have a chance without it.

No obvious spelling mistakes, although I noted "Your feelings of shame further shame you" and "a unskilled conjurer".

Four points.

Recess At Last - Gerald Aungst

What sort of school keeps children indoors just because the weather's bad? When I were a lad etc.

Moves seem a bit slow sometimes for no obvious reason.

You can't refer to the schoolbags as "bags", or to your backpack as "bag". "Suzie Derkin's desk" is mentioned by the game but isn't implemented, and neither is "desks". If you try to "open" an envelope it just treats it as examining it. You can't refer to the worksheet as "sheet".

  >write on worksheet
  In your best cursive handwriting, you write "On worksheet" on your
  blue jeans.

It's a bit difficult to work out what you're actually supposed to be doing with the book, since it doesn't have proper responses to the standard looking-shit-up phrasings, and it has a default response to "examine".

I managed to get through it without using the hints - there aren't any hard puzzles really.

The NPCs were good - I didn't try a lot of conversation topics but the ones I wanted were implemented. Overall, not bad, but the patchy implementation lets it down, and it's not like there's much of a plot. Five points.