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Notes on IF Competition 2011 games

My notes on the IF Comp 11 games.

I haven't tried to conceal spoilers. On the other hand, I haven't often gone into much detail about puzzles and plots. I'm usually too lazy to start with a summary of the game like a proper reviewer would do, so if you haven't played a game my comments are more likely to be meaningless than spoilery. However, consider yourself spoiler-warned.

Sometimes I played updated versions of the games and sometimes I didn't, depending on whether I remembered to check for updates and whether I had a net connection at the time.


Dead Hotel - Comazombie

It's a Windows executable, it's about zombies, and it's CYOA. So three negative indicators before I get started. First impressions of the game don't help to change my mind: we have ugly retro fonts and colours, and a fixed display size.

The interaction is an odd approximation of parser IF in CYOA form. So choices are given as take revolver and walk to bed, not Take the revolver or You could walk to the bed. You do very fine-grained actions: you unlock drawer then open drawer, and you go to window before you can look through window. So the game isn't even trying to approximate good parser IF, it's trying to approximate the bad kind. It must have taken extra work to add the separate unlock drawer step to the code, and there's no reason for it.

Then there are compass directions in the descriptions: a bathroom to the south. These aren't used in the choices, so are pointless.

It's an introduction rather than a complete game. When I said it was about zombies, that was an exaggeration—it's about looking around a hotel room and then meeting one zombie.

PataNoir - Simon Christiansen

Pet hate which I always feel the need to complain about: An Interactive Fiction. It gives the wannabe-literary impresssion of a novel which is subtitled A Novel. You should only do that when the book could otherwise be mistaken for non-fiction, as in Diesel Locomotives Of Northern Europe, 1962-1965: A Novel.

I realise that people using An Interactive Fiction aren't actually being wannabe-literary, it's just that they haven't worked out how to change the default.

I want more idea of when and where this is set. The Baron says unbaronial-sounding things like the primary goal here and okay and way too old. On the other hand, nobody has a mobile phone or a computer, and the bar is still smoky. And I'd like to know if we're in Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or some other place.

You could claim that it doesn't matter, if everything is in the PC's head, but I still feel the need for more period and location detail, even if what it shows is that the PC is mixing all the details up. A game can get away with something fairly artificial, like the common ploy of a putting a newspaper in the first room. Nobody will complain, because they want the information.

When there are embers and fires in the game, the response to burn really ought to be changed from the usual This dangerous act would achieve little.

This is irritating:

>hit man with literal knife
Bringing a knife to a gunfight is rarely a good idea.

>shoot man
You don't like using your gun.

Anyway, the main thing about this game is the simile mechanic. There are a couple of problems with this. One is that you have to read everything twice. You read things normally, for the meaning, then you have to go back and check what all the words were. Dragging the reading process up to the conscious level like this makes it feel like work. Earl Grey had the same problem.

The second thing is that the figurative items are basically magic spells: tokens you tend to acquire arbitrarily, which have an effect on the world which you guess at approximately from their descriptions. The game shares the problems of those that use magic spells badly. There are lots of spells for a game this size, mostly only used once each, and the feedback from trying to use them wrongly is often unhelpful. So it can be hard to make good guesses about where to try them. And when new similes can be found anywhere and might do anything, you have the difficulty of wide-open old-school games where it's hard to know which puzzle you should be trying to solve first.

It's still a reasonably well-implemented and playable game. It might get a wide spread of scores, depending on how much people like the gimmick.

Escape From Santaland - Jason Ermer

I was stuck for a while in this one because I'd missed an exit. This was mostly my own fault, but I think I can blame the game a little for inconsistency. It always lists the exits except for one room where it doesn't, leaving you to rely on the status bar. However, when I went to the hints they were good.

The writing isn't up to much, and I can even identify some of the reasons why. For a start there are too many adjectives:

Entrance to Santaland
Something about the 10-foot tall hedges and the squishy, padded astroturf under your feet has transported you away from the migraine-inducing chaos of the mall. But now the narrow pathways and tall hedges make you feel antsy and claustrophobic.

The tallness of the hedges is mentioned twice there, too. There are also too many parentheses:

The locomotive is a rideable kid-sized version (and, you hesitate to say it, a magical one), which means you can mount the train (and, once you are on the thing, dismount it).

I can quibble with some word choices. Bucolic isn't right to describe an arctic wilderness. In A red and white striped signpost juts out of the snow bearing a snow-flecked sign, it's odd to use signpost to describe just the post and not the whole thing. The repetition of snow is a little ugly as well.

I suppose automatons is probably acceptable, but it's a shame not to take the chance of using a good plural like automata.

A plot does exist, at least enough to motivate the puzzles. I wondered where the thief got to at the end. I mean, I suppose he had opportunities to sneak back out of his trapdoor while I was wandering about, but where's the drama in that?

A solid enough little puzzle game, but nothing special. My real objection is this: it's all very well to write cynically about Christmas shopping, but when you release your Christmas game in October, you're part of the problem.

Taco Fiction - Ryan Veeder

This is a rarity: a game which has a spelling mistake in the first room description, but which is nevertheless reasonably good.

The implementation is sketchy in places. A door with no handle or keyhole needs knock to be implemented. There should be a response to giving ice-cream to the cops. I should be able to talk to cops, since I actually do end up talking to them both when I talk to either. There's a don't-do-that response to trying to set all the safe dials with one command, when it would be fine just to let me do it.

I thought the COPS thing was a bug at first. It would have worked better with a press-any-key ellipsis rather than a > prompt.

So why do I still think the game's reasonably good? Mostly because it's funny. I like this, early on:

The important details are easy enough: You point it like this, you put your index finger in here, and when you squeeze the trigger it goes boom, assuming the gun is loaded. One other important thing to keep in mind is that the gun is not loaded.

This is good too:

If this ice cream shop really were a mountain cottage, you would be able to peer from behind these curtains and see a pack of wolves standing around and howling at you from across the snow.

The Disneyland bit cracks me up:

This looks like one of those tunnels they use to covertly transport uncostumed workers at Disneyland.

A room name with a question mark in it is somehow brilliant as well.

Back to bad points: the ending didn't work well for me, because I missed the cashbox, and then I was outside, not knowing whether I could do anything else or not. In the room where the cashbox is, the room description gives you the detail that the shelves are empty and there aren't any fish in the aquarium, but it doesn't give any hint that there's anything on the table. Plus you're in a hurry at the time.

I don't know how I'm supposed to get the best ending either. I went through all the conversation options with Zuleika and none of them seem to go anywhere.

Worth playing, anyway.

Minor technical point: it's 2011, use proper dashes instead of --. If you like you can still keep that as the fallback for interpreters that can't print a real dash. (Later: it looks like lots of other games do the same. Do it properly, games.)

The Binary - Bloomengine

On one hand, this is a good demonstration of how it's possible to make something like proper puzzles using only multiple choice and a small amount of state. On the other, it shows up some of the limitations of that form.

There are things I want to be able to do which are perfectly reasonable, but aren't there as possibilities. For example, before I worked out that I could dodge the woman, it felt odd that I couldn't decline her offer to buy me a meal. In the hotel, I would have liked to be able to go up and listen to what the man was saying at the desk, or just ask him if his name was Aaron. In parser IF, these actions would probably have had responses, even if they were the you don't think that would be a good idea type.

The puzzles are there, but they are shallow. I was able to guess that ordering room service would make the chef go away, but I think that was after the game had presented me with You could use the phone to call hotel room service. So it isn't what can I do to achieve this?, it's here's a thing I've done, I wonder what that achieved?. You can apply logic to answer that question, so it's not as bad as the sort of puzzle where there's an unlabeled button which for no particular reason unlocks a door at the other side of the map—but it has something of that feel.

I also worked for myself out that I had to dodge the woman so that I could keep her stuff. But those two things are the only ones that seemed like planning. The rest of the game was trying all the options and watching what happened.

There were a couple of confusions. At one point the game told me I had used a keycard when I wasn't actually carrying it. And when I defeated the sniper by turning the lamp off—er, is it nighttime? I hadn't realised.

It's all more fun than I'm making it sound. I didn't have to use the hints, nor did I solve everything immediately, nor did I give up. The way your knowledge of the situation builds up works well enough, and to be able to do even a small amount of intelligent planning makes it a more interesting form of CYOA than some.

I didn't get much from the parts outside the timeline. I would rather have been told more about why this assassination was happening and why we thought it was a good idea to stop it. Maybe I'd know more if I'd played the first game in the series. This is why I don't like having to judge a sequel. Who's this Jonathan chap anyway—am I supposed to already know, or not?

Tenth Plague - Lynnea Dally

The metadata is broken; it has the author's name as lynnea dally Story author is 'lynnea dally'. I'm sure I've seen this in some other game, so maybe it's an Inform bug.

How the hell is a cow sleeping in a manger? Possibly lying on its back with its feet sticking up, like Snoopy on top of his dog kennel? Or on its belly with legs hanging down the sides, like a leopard on a branch?

Also, can cows scream? Maybe they can.

Enough about cows. Do I have anything else to say? You're some sort of angel of death, slightly handicapped by an inconvenient flammability. You're more like one of Terry Pratchett's Auditors than the wings-and-harp style of angel, in that if you try to assert any personality you're vanished and replaced by a new part of the collective, rather than being exiled to hang out with Satan.

There were a few plausible actions missing. I wanted to blow out or extinguish the torch, or pick up some water from the river to put it out with. I wanted to knock on doors. (Lots of games miss out knock.)

Undoing after you died was broken sometimes.

I laughed at the locusts. Maybe the whole thing should have been a black comedy. As horror, well, it did achieve something in making me uncomfortable about killing people. There's a nicely-judged balance here, between making it sufficiently unpleasant to be interesting but not nasty enough to override my make-progress-in-the-game instinct and make me refuse to play.

Overall, this one didn't quite work for me. But I'd recommend trying it anyway, because it's interesting and not too long.

Let's hope the idea of in-game commentary doesn't catch on. Not that it wasn't worth reading, but if it's in the game I feel obligated to read it, and if every game starts including some it will get very annoying. Keep it for your blogs, authors.

The Myothian Falcon - Andy Joel

This clearly hasn't been spellchecked, sigh.

The parsing is pretty bad:

> enter booth
I don't understand your command.

> get in booth
I can't see that.

> x booth

Vic looked thoughtfully at one of the booths [...]

You can also see there that it's doing third person past tense but a lot of the default messages haven't been customized, even the commonest ones. So you get a jarring switch to first-person present I can't see that rather than Vic couldn't see that.

There are obvious missing synonyms: for example, you can't refer to Lawrence DeValle by his surname. It felt awfully out of character to be calling him Lawrence all the time.

The writing has a very matter-of-fact style. It could have done with borrowing a few of PataNoir's hard-boiled similes. There are a lot of uninteresting desks and chairs mentioned.

The setting's a retro-scifi sort of future, where the technological progress of the next thousand years has mostly been confined to space travel and teleportation. In 3145 computers still crash, people still make printouts, and you have to carry around a credit chip to pay for things with.

(Tangent: why is chip such a 1980s word? It's not like we stopped using silicon chips. I suppose once everyone knows what I'm buying some memory means, there's no need to say I'm buying some RAM chips for my computer.)

Death of Schlig - Peter Timony

Extra crap in the author name field, objects mentioned twice in the first room description, spelling mistakes, huge amounts of extra blank lines, a switch that can't be pushed or pressed, incorrect articles, inventory limit, too much in cutscenes.

Possibly solvable if you have more patience than me. Has a mechanic that could have been interesting if it had been used more.

Playing Games - Pam Comfite

I finished this in twenty-two minutes, and only the first half of it counts as interactive fiction. The rest is an abstract ASCII-art maze puzzle. The puzzle is pretty much trial-and-error, though you can just about imagine it being developed into something if it had twenty boards instead of three, and if it had a graphical interface. It's bizarre to shoehorn it into a parser game.

It - Emily Boegheim

It, hell; she had… never mind, it looks like this isn't going to be an Elinor Glyn adaptation.

I don't have much to say about this game. I complained about Playing Games being short, but It shows that you can get a lot of interest into a shortish game. It does that with a well-described, detailed setting and dynamic NPCs.

When it comes to judging, duration still has to count for something. It's not a straightforward case of Score = Quality × Duration, since a game that takes me an hour to finish probably scores almost the same as one of the same standard that takes two. But if I'm finished with a game in half an hour it can't score as highly as a longer work.

That said, I'd certainly like to see more small, highly-polished games in the competition instead of the sketchy overambitious ones.

Fan Interference - Andrew Schultz

And, as soon as I say I want more good small games like It instead of sketchy overambitious ones, I get a sketchy overambitious one. There must have been a lot of work put into this, but for me at least it didn't translate into player enjoyment.

It's too big and difficult for the competition. I don't believe anyone is solving this by themselves in less than five hours.

You can't examine many objects. You mostly get used to it, but it's very strange that you can't even examine the players, and that you can't examine things when the description says you can see or have a good view of them.

Coding is a little rough. It has the standard author-hasn't-read-the-manual indicator you scored 0 out of a possible 0. I got one run-time error, and one message repeated nine times on the same move. The game appears confused about whether it wants me to use talk to or whether it doesn't.

Blind - Arman

I suspect blind players are going to find this game horribly patronising.

I try to steady my nerves. I WILL escape - somehow. And when I do, I'll show the world that blindness is not the handicap they all think it is!

…a message somewhat undermined when things are conveniently labelled with escape instructions in Braille.

Spelling mistake before the game even starts. Broken grammar:

>feel desk
It feel like ordinary writing desk to me.

Getting through the first door is a guess-the-verb.

Girl is captured by movie-style serial killer, must escape. I'm not sure it's really possible to do a serial killer plot any more except as parody. Here it's done completely straight, except that plausibility has been ignored. The bad guy doesn't seem to be anywhere in the house while you are exploring it, he just pops up out of nowhere later. The house apparently doesn't have a single window anywhere you could escape through. You die from standing in a deep freeze for three moves with the door open.

To save you playing this game, let me quote the most amusing bit:

My chest is bare! I have a pair of underwear (being worn) and a restraining straps (being worn).

The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor M - Edmund Wells

The opening had me worried that it was all going to be vague and surreal. It's a mistake to open a game with that sort of thing. It must be about the third most common IF opening: (1) in bed in your apartment, (2) in a cell, (3) some misty dream sequence crap. Luckily in this game you quickly get to the inn and everything becomes more concrete and interesting.

Spelling mistakes. Courser and gage might not be caught by spellchecking but legistlature would be.

The writing's sometimes a bit over the top: Dials and gauges cover the furnace like a fester of sores, grates and vents mar its surface like wounds. Hoses droop languidly amongst a tangle of wires. Or shrouded in dark ethereal robes that billow as if caught in an unfelt wind. (The word ethereal should probably never be used by anyone ever.)

It isn't all like that, though, and in general the atmosphere is a strength. I'm enjoying the game; it's the best entry I've got to so far.

The pacing went all to buggery at the end. I don't really see why I was supposed to do the flashback scenes in a particular order, but if that's what the author wanted he should have disallowed doing the wrong one first, not forced me to replay whole scenes. There was unnecessary fiddliness involved too: it would have been better if the strange door just closed and locked itself without making me do it explicitly every time. It was also odd that I could end up in a flashback and not have the device with me.

How Suzy Got Her Powers - David Whyld

So I have a fire extinguisher:

The flames are in your way.

>extinguish fire
I don't understand what you want me to do with the fire.

>put out fire
Where do you want to put the fire?

And here's a great example of Adrift-style parsing:

>talk to woman
Use the format "ask the woman about [subject]".

>ask woman about herself
How Suzy Got Her Powers {version 1} was written with ADRIFT 4, Release 51 and was completed on 24th June 2011.
Size: 40Kb; Locations 5 {8 as per the ADRIFT Generator but only 5 are accessible during the game); Objects 84; Tasks 380; Events 11; Characters 2.

It's another entry that's an introduction rather than a full game. Enter this stuff in Introcomp, that's what it's there for. I finished in sixteen minutes. You win by doing basically two things. One is this:

>throw extinguisher at fire
Sorry. That isn't recognised. If you're stuck for general commands, type COMMANDS.

Yes, you have to throw extinguisher at fire to win, but if you try it at the wrong time the game lies and tells you it doesn't recognise the command. Sigh.

Cursed - Nick Rogers

The introductory sequence is enormous. There must be thirty or forty moves where you can't do much except move when you're told to and examine things. It's not just the move count either; there are text dumps and there is proper-name overload. Lord Sulanar, Lord Gaxin, Lady Edukam, Lady Harridan, Lord Vonisor, Lord Reken and Lord Adath are all in the room along with Rithusar and Rixomas, and a bunch of other people and places come up in descriptions and dialogue.

(Lady Harridan looks a bit out-of-place there as the only one whose name means something. Perhaps she's going to be the amusing comic relief character.)

It looks like a pretty big game altogether. After a couple of hours I'm only just onto the third of six sections, and that's ignoring the fact that you can apparently play the whole thing as three different animals.

The coding seemed solid. I got plenty of responses to things that could easily have been missed. There was only the occasional ugliness:

>get in it
(the wooden cart)
You can't carry anything in your current condition.

The puzzles are shallow—more about trying out actions that look as if they might do something than about observing or planning—but they aren't horrible. In general it's a reasonably playable game. It's not really to my taste, but I think it will score fairly well.

I found the world rather colourless. There is a king and knights. There seems to be monotheism and some sort of constitutional monarchy. Also there are wizards who can turn people into animals. It didn't seem to amount to much, but perhaps I didn't get far enough to see it developed.

The dialogue has a tendency towards management-speak:

He initially told me about this a couple of months ago but he hasn't reported anything else until today. Sulanar just said that when he returns to Alallsia tomorrow he will be following up on reports that he has received.

I don't think Reken has the same level of involvement that I do, Rixomas.

I've spent so much time being king, so much time dealing with issues in the kingdom, I feel I've neglected Alsanter and Tevona.

Dealing with issues and following up on reports—ah, the romance of chivalry. One feels that at any moment the king will proclaim a great leveraging of synergies throughout the realm.

Cana According To Micah - Rev. Stephen Dawson

This started off being good fun but it became very frustrating. The puzzles were underclued in many ways: some people you are never able to talk to, and some you need to solve a puzzle to talk to, but there's no way to tell the difference. Some actions were irreversible, and after doing them I didn't know if the game was still solvable. It wasn't obvious that by asking people and getting vague responses I was actually making progress towards finding Mary of Nazareth. There was at least one place where ask would give you the generic not-understood response, but tell about the same topic was what you needed to do to solve the puzzle.

I never got anywhere by reading one hint at a time. I pretty much had to read all the hints on all the topics before I could get a good idea of how to make progress. Even then it took a while to work out exactly what was required. I never worked out how I was supposed to get hold of the dough or biscuits. This is why you should provide walkthroughs.

I could see this game still being enjoyable for a very thorough and persistent player, but for someone like me it's too much pain.

Like The Bible Retold: The Bread and the Fishes from a few years ago, it's about a bunch of preparations for the miracle, because there's not much it can do with the miracle itself. I want to see Jesus reading his Scroll of Transmute Liquids or waving his Wand of Boozification. Failing that, at least a lightning bolt or two. Maybe I have a serious point here, though: if you want to do a puzzle-box game about a party full of wacky characters and the problems of finding more drink for them, that's great, but it's a distraction to slap a miracle on the end. If you want to do a game about miracles they ought to be somehow a bigger part of the story.

The Play - Deirdra Kiai

This is a CYOA short enough that it can reasonably expect people to replay a few times and eventually see most of the paths. You can't really strategize; perhaps what you've learnt about a character might once or twice nudge you towards a better choice, but mostly you're just memorizing which choices you've already tried and what effect they had.

In The Binary I was complaining about not being able to plan. Here it doesn't seem to matter, maybe because you quickly find out that you aren't expected to. Anyway, I enjoyed the game.

I prefer this short, many-replays, see-it-all style of CYOA to novella-length things like, say, Choice of Broadsides. If a game is long enough that you only play it through once, maybe twice if it's good, then you never find out what effects, if any, your choices had. That brings them dangerously close to being meaningless.

In The Play I found bad endings to start with, then better ones, and eventually found one that might be the best. I'll be interested to see if other reviewers say the same. I think there must have been a fair amount of authorial cunning involved in making this a likely progression. Even so, there's nothing to stop a lucky player getting the best result on their first playthrough. This wouldn't be a disaster, but it wouldn't be quite as good.

I would have liked to have undo, for when you're trying to find paths you haven't seen yet. You want to be able to backtrack if you accidentally choose the same path you took last time. But you can replay quickly enough that it isn't a major problem.

There's a save button, but I couldn't see how you were supposed to restore. I don't think I would have used it much, anyway—explicitly saving is too heavyweight for this size of game.

Minor: I'm not sure I like the way it removes the text of the choices from the scrollback. This might be an Undum thing. I suppose it does look prettier, but if you're looking at the scrollback at all it's to use it as a reference. It's quite likely you're trying to remember which choice you made earlier. Even when you're not—say you're trying to remember which character did or said something—the choice points are your strongest mental reference points for when things happened.

Fog Convict - Arman

The short entrance hall is to the north-west but You can't go that way.

There's no automatic opening of doors, which is painful when practically every room has doors in it.

Another broken exit:

You'll have to open the fire door first.

>open fire door
The door is already open.

You'll have to open the fire door first.

Now I've mapped about fifteen rooms in the first building, and apparently there are twelve buildings, none of which I have any particular reason to visit. There's a fire I could try to put out, although the NPCs don't seem very concerned about it. They don't seem very concerned about anything.

>daren, hello
Daren doesn't appear interested.

>talk to daren
I don't know the word "talk".

>ask daren about fire
He doesn't know any more than you do about that.

>punch daren
I don't know the word "punch".

>kiss daren
I don't know the word "kiss".

>tell daren about crater
The crater isn't important.

Puzzles make no sense. Walkthrough doesn't work. Waste of time, giving up.

Calm - Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy

It's all a bit scrappy. Lots of wrong or strange uses of words: You never did get pass the swipe-card lock, most of the building lie to the east, a rotten-jetty stretches south. It's probably been spellchecked, which is something, but you need proofreading as well.

The description logic has bugs too. A rack is still described as screwed into the floor after you've unscrewed it. And You see a pack of dogs in the immense oak.

This and other things happening while you're asleep:

You continue sleeping.

The rack is too heavy to carry, so you drop it.

Minor: the automatic typo-correction annoys me. Maybe there was a way to turn it off; I wasn't quite annoyed enough to try and find out. Even if you like auto-correction (you weirdo), it's too aggressive:

>open barrel
You break up the chocolate bar into bite sized chunk, making sure to collect all the chunks.

Adding or removing a single character or transposing one pair would be sensible limits for a corrector. Also, if I type lower-case it should echo back lower-case.

Another minor annoyance: you have to explicitly exit conversations by choosing a say nothing choice before you can take any normal actions. Why?

However, I like the auto-examine when you pick things up. More games should do that. It might not work for games where items have very detailed descriptions, but it would work well for plenty of games.

The main feature of this game is that it has about fifty rooms, which is kind of on the enormous side for a competition game. I suppose Nightfall from a few years ago must have been about that size, but then it gave you a map, and it also told you backstory all the time while you wandered about. This game doesn't add much to the exploring except a lot of annoying deaths.

Awake the Mighty Dread - Lyle Skains

There are map connections that go in strange directions for no very good reason. When objects aren't significant, they just aren't there:

>enter hut
The city light spilling around you through the doorway reveals a small desk holding something that looks like a calculator mated with a typewriter, along with a sheaf of leaflets that might be train schedules. The hut contains no chair for employees to squat on, which is really pretty mean of the bosses to do to the people who work here.

The "Rib-click" noise is coming from the corner of the hut. As you take a step into the room, your shadow shifts away from the corner. A small object gleams in the new light - and then it moves. Is that...a a frog?

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

>get calculator
You can't see any such thing.

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

You get the same description even if you've already got the frog. I saw another object-in-room-description bug somewhere else.

If it's a child of eight or nine years old who is supposed to be narrating, would they really say/think You're fodder for a robot's alien autopsy?

The sleep inventory item didn't seem to do much. You could take things out of it but not put things into it. And the RAM didn't do anything at all.

Launch glider and fly glider ought to have worked.

Worst of all, kiss frog doesn't work! Even though it's an actual real proper frog prince! Really, five testers listed and not a frog-kisser among them?

Bah, it's another intro. It did have a sort of ending, but nothing is resolved.

The Guardian - Lutein Hawthorne

What's up with supplying the music separately? Do it in Glulx and put it the music in the game.

For as long as I can remember, I've been far from home. Where I grew up, and met my love. Then came the ships, and I travelled far away.

Does this opening line make sense? I know that I grew up and met my love at home, and that the ships came to home, but I can't remember being there? Maybe I'm being pedantic. Maybe it's deliberate.

Bad start: I can also see a rusty gate here, when it's already appeared in the room description. And you can't go in through a door, you have to use a compass direction.

This is a pretty bad missing synonym:

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

>x shelves
I stared at the tomes, and remembered how I had stood across the gray circular table from the wizened old woman in that tower, whose dark, furrowed eyebrow wrinkled in consideration.

In the endgame put stone in obelisk and put stone in crack really should have worked.

It's supposed to be for beginners, but you wouldn't really recommend it with bugs like these. I also think it's unnecessarily cruel to have the first object you find be a key that you don't actually use anywhere.

I only vaguely understand what the story is.

The writing manages to get across the feeling of journeying. With its model of discrete rooms, IF doesn't always do well describing large areas and long distances, but this game did a good job.

The Ship of Whimsy - U. N. Owen

Hmm, whimsy. I feel the need to reference Stephen Bond on whimsy, although this game doesn't actually have much of it, unless a few random fantasy creatures count.

I didn't see any spelling mistakes, but I don't much like this from the first room description: This is the deck of the Ship of Whimsy. It is spacious, indeed vast, maple timbers firm beneath your feet. I try to read this as saying the deck is spacious maple timbers. I think what is intended is that the deck is spacious, and the timbers are firm beneath my feet. Just changing maple timbers to the maple timbers would be a help.

It's a small game and there's very little to it. It took about half an hour to finish. The puzzles are trivial, and nothing is implemented beyond the minimum needed to solve them. So for example you can't talk to the NPCs, and they only ever say one thing to you. You can't do something as obvious as look through a telescope. Trying to mess with any of the scenery gives nothing but default responses.

Kerkerkruip - Victor Gijsbers

This has some amusing writing. The blood-hungry soul that animated the ape is absorbed into your own body. You are strong. You hunger for blood. Yay, I hunger for blood! Also, Drawing Room meaning a room with a drawing in it. Also, the rotting corpse that hops towards you after his leg falls off. (That effect was a little spoiled later, when the corpse had lost both legs, one arm, and its head, but was still crawling with its single arm raised. You'd think it would have needed the arm to crawl with by that point.)

Although there's plenty of colour in the descriptions, it doesn't add up to a plot. So for example when you see something like Why the great druidess Bodmall has chosen to work together with Malygris is a subject of much speculation among scholars of the occult, don't expect that you're going to find out.

After playing for a couple of hours I think I've seen most of the content, although I haven't learned enough to win yet. Experimenting is a slow process. Each time you play you might hope to learn one or two pieces of new information about what a scroll does or something, but you are doing a lot of repetitive work too. It's starting to feel a bit like playing Minesweeper, which consists of occasional interesting logic problems in between long intervals of mechanical clicking.

Having auto-mapping would help a bit. The remember command gives you directions, but isn't really worth bothering with—it's quicker just to draw your own map. I wish there was less up and down in it, though—sticking to north, south, east and west would be fine for this size of game.

I can imagine this game being a lot more interesting if it's expanded to be maybe ten, twenty or a hundred times the size, with more plot, and the chance to experiment and learn without repeating so much. I'm not sure if it will ever really be my thing, though. I've never got into roguelikes, although maybe I've never tried one for long enough.

Operation Extraction - Ming-Yee Iu

So the Dawn Militia is sending in a convoy to pick up Dr. Galland at 32 ticks. Why don't these Agents use hours and minutes like normal people? Weird.

The interface is a bit painful to use. It badly needed a way to automatically follow a character around, since that's what you want to do most of the time.

I got my first mission success mostly by accident, then used the walkthrough to get a better one. I don't really understand it, though: the best solution is when you plant a bomb and then blow it up for no particular reason? Maybe I missed something somewhere.

It would be good to have a map included, I think. I found it tricky to visualize things, like which streets were overlooked by the clock tower, and where people were when they were running about shooting at each other. Partly because I was trying to do it in my head, but I think it would have been difficult even if I'd drawn a map.

Ted Paladin And The Case Of The Abandoned House - Anssi Räisänen

Old things, when no longer of use, must yield to new concepts and ideas. What's the difference between a concept and an idea anyway?

This game is just a small collection of set-piece puzzle rooms. They aren't very interesting. One is just a bunch of not very good crossword clues. Another one is about a piano which is two whole steps out of tune, which apparently means three semitones.

It's picky about how you phrase things. You must state what you want to unlock the door with when you're carrying exactly one key. To play a note on the piano you can't play c on piano, you have to play "c" on piano. It does tell you this, I just don't see why it doesn't allow both. And if you try to just play "c" the game crashes.

This sort of thing is always annoying:

>look under fence
You should lift the fence in order to search better under it.

There's no reason why the game couldn't just have had me lift it. If I was likely to have second thoughts—say if the fence is heavy and lifting it will strain my back—then fine. Or if the game is trying to train me to go around lifting things, also fine. But here there's nothing like that involved.

Luster - Jared Smith

Full of spelling mistakes and broken grammar. Buttons that can't be pushed or pressed, signs that can't be examined or read, a door that isn't there. An annoying inventory limit and a goddamned maze. And, >quit.

Beet the Devil - Carolyn VanEseltine

Well, this should demonstrate why I'm not a proper reviewer. I enjoyed this game a lot but all I have is a list of quibbles. Here is the list of quibbles. An Interactive Fiction, see above. Standard look through window failure. The darkness section is unnecessarily long. A few too many objects are unimplemented. It's all very linear. Hell-as-bureaucracy has been done (although it's only a small part of this game).

However, sometimes IF quality works in a non-linear fashion, so that when a game gets above the threshold of not bad for quality of writing, puzzles, and coding, the whole thing holds together, stays playable, feels trustworthy, and becomes pretty good.

It was just a good length for a comp game. I needed one hint, where I was fixated on something that turned out to be a red herring.

Also you have a cute puppy. It was an excellent puppy, but I do worry that if this game wins the competition after Rover's Day Out and Aotearoa, the PC-and-their-pet motif will have become overly dominant.

Return to Camelot - Po. Prune

I didn't like the start of this one much. It's got some big text dumps, and it's a sequel, so there's stuff about the last time you were here which is just annoying when I haven't played the previous game. Then it teleports you around, from one room, to another, to a third where the real game starts. This is usually a bad way to start a game, because I'm going to try and look around these places, then find out it was pointless because they weren't actually parts of the game. Or if they were, then I have to worry about whether there were things I should have done before I was teleported.

This is the first time I've played an Adrift 5 game. There are some things I'm not sure whether to blame the game or the system for. To start with the auto-mapping is completely broken: for example you can sometimes go north and it will draw a room to the south. The page numbering makes no sense either—the first page of the map is called Page 11.

There's a window called Graphics that stayed blank for the whole game. Why is it there?

I don't like the way it just overwrites your previous save when you type save.

It won't accept adjectives without nouns, so you get this sort of pain:

>x table
Which table? The heavy oak table or the long wooden table.

>x wooden
Sorry, I'm not sure which object or character you are trying to examine.

>x long wooden
Sorry, I'm not sure which object or character you are trying to examine.

The game has a tendency to give you more information than you want about directions and the positions of furniture and the like. Look at this description:

East end of corridor
You are heading down a long corridor running east west. Behind you to the west at the other end of the corridor is the stairway leading down to the great hall. Ahead of you to the east is a small room in which you can see a stairway leading up.
Two doors, one of each side of the corridor (left and right) leads into chambers guarded by a soldier. This part of the corridor is better illuminated than the west end, as the torches seem to burn brighter.

So, we're at the east end of the corridor, the corridor runs east-west, and the west is at the other end of the corridor. Is everyone clear about the corridor and the east and the west? Splendid. We're also told about two different staircases, one in the next room and one which is two rooms away. We're helpfully reminded that when there are doors on each side of a corridor, one is on the left and the other is on the right.

And the whole thing becomes nonsense when we come back into this room heading west and the description is the same.

The game is in need of proofreading: craftsman ship, so the south, wooden poles holds up the tent, your intestines is on fire, a solid bras hinge. It's also inconsistent about whether or not to have blank lines between paragraphs.

It likes to tell you the phrasings you ought to be using:

>talk to woman
You don't have to [talk to a character] Just use [say hello or hi to character] in order to start a conversation.

So why not make talk to a synonym?

>enter painting
If you wish to use the paintings as means of getting around, you need, first of all to have the correct object allowing you to do so, and then make it clear which painting you wish to enter. "Enter merlin's painting" for instance, would be a valid command.

But there's only one painting in the room, so why on earth don't you know which painting I mean?

Six - Wade Clarke

If one twin is called Demi, shouldn't the other one be called Hemi? Or Semi? Or maybe John. Anyway, another game about hide-and-seek. It's all hide-and-seek and detectives this year. And perhaps detection is just the grown-up form of hide-and-seek.

It's very instructiony. Instructionful. Has a lot of instructions at the beginning that it's keen for you to read, and really it doesn't need them at all. It's already good about putting nudges in the text when you need to try particular things. A sentence or two in-game could have introduced the meaning of tip, and maybe the verbs like chase and follow, although it doesn't really matter if the player never finds out about those; it's easier just to type compass directions anyway.

On top on the introductory stuff, you get told about more commands for the duel, and more again for the maze.

I don't think I like the << blue chevron style >> for messages from the parser. Those messages ought to be less emphasized than the normal text, but giving them a bright colour and a wacky bracketing makes them more emphasized. You get one and it looks like you've done something horribly wrong.

None of these things are major problems, but added together I think they are intrusive enough to hurt the game a little.

I didn't like the way you finish it and then it gives you a harder mode with different puzzles. That means you've got to explore all the same territory again working out what's different, which is never going to be very interesting.

It's not a bad game, though. Like the other hide-and-seek game, it has a bunch of good NPCs to interact with.

Keepsake - Savaric

For a game this small it hasn't been well proofread: The days and weeks leading up to today has not been kind on you, The Fixer is man man in his his early twenties, no control over you actions.

In the hints, it says the point of this game is to understand what is going on, and to learn something about the main character, so exploring is important. But there isn't very much to explore. You don't get a chance to talk to any of the characters, and there isn't a lot of scenery to look at.

And so I don't really understand the point of the gimmick. If anything it prevents you learning about the main character, because it stops you wandering around or having conversations with anyone. Understanding the gimmick is a sort of puzzle, although all you really have to do is get through the game the first time by trial and error. But apart from that, I'm not sure what it's doing except being a cool idea. Perhaps something could have been done with the backwards flow in some more interesting puzzle. Perhaps there could have been a backwards-branching plot where you could reach different starting points.

The game is short and worth playing as a curiosity, but it feels like it takes an interesting idea and does not a lot with it.

Last Day of Summer - Cameron Fox

>x sundial
The sundial has markings carved around its top edge to allow the time to be indicated to the nearest minute.

A slender brass rod protrudes from the center of the sundial at an angle, casting a shadow pointing to 12:47 pm.

Is it actually possible to make a sundial accurate to the minute? I would have thought you'd need to redraw the scale differently for every day of the year, or something. I'll have to think about it.

This is a bizarre response:

>greengrocer, hello
You speak.

I don't much like the way it doesn't bother to list exits. You're just expected guess that since there's nothing to do, you might be able to go somewhere else.

There's not much else to say about this one. It's tiny and the puzzles are trivial. It has a little bit of story I suppose. Meh.

Vestiges - Josephine Wynter

Doesn't list exits, doesn't let you refer to things, spelling mistakes, bad plurals, text dumps. You're supposed to cut a gate with a sword, but you can't use the verb cut and you can't call the sword sword. Walkthrough doesn't work, sigh, quit.

Sentencing Mr Liddell - I-K. Huuhtanen

I don't know what scouring means in the rubbish bin scouring with crumpled notes and order sheets. A few other proofreading errors too:You seem to have misplace our daughter and The carriages extends west.

These aren't very nice:

>x catherine
What do you want to examine: Cat, the head or the body?

>get in river
What do you want to get in: the water, River Walk or River Walk?

This needs a better response:

>move poppies
That would be less than courteous.

Having to look under the poppies twice is verging on unfair.

Well, this was an interesting game to play through the first time, although I had to rely on the hints a lot. When trying to follow the tips to get different endings I didn't manage to get anywhere at all.

The Hours - Robert Patten

You're wearing tick and black clothes.

Tick turns out to be a thing, so it ought to say the tick here. It's poor to have a mistake like this in the initial inventory listing. In general, although I never hit anything game-destroying, it's a bit sketchy.

It has the standard failures on look in mirror and look through window. Then this, which isn't very nice, although I suppose it's obvious enough what to do:

>get table
That's fixed in place.

You wonder if you should help the poor guy.

>move table
You heave your weight against the table. It screeches against the floor as you right it.

This is worse—you have to hold the tick but not wear it here, even though you were wearing it before:

>get tick

>wear it
You put on the tick.

>get in water
You need to have a tick on you to travel through time.

This is just ugly:

>get out
You drag yourself out of the pool.

You drag yourself out of the pool.

You get out of the pool.

The introduction, in Alexandria, was quite promising: atmospheric and action-packed. After that, I was disappointed. There was too much jumping about from one place to another without ever being able to do much, and it was mostly set in offices and apartments.

The Elfen Maiden - Adam Le Doux

I want to say it should be either Elven or Elfin, but I'm probably wrong. Maybe elfen is an acceptable spelling.

The PC as PC idea is a good one. It does sometimes feel like you're more limited in what you can do than you ought to be. For example, I ought to be able to delete files, or at least get a response when I try. I ought to be able to play a .wav file. There didn't seem to be any effect when I took draft emails away from the email client. The player obviously can't be given complete freedom to do random things with the computers, but a few more possibilities might have been covered.

It's occasionally very funny. I loved Apps are sliding everywhere. Other times it's relying too much on nerd stereotypes. It's also evidence for my theory (unless it was someone else's theory that I stole) that the really funny IF games do most of the jokes in responses. This one is mostly being joky in descriptions, which isn't quite as good.

I'd like to know, if we accept the PC's opinion that hollyrose177 is actually a man, what he really expected to happen on the date. Maybe that's explained in the third ending, which I didn't get to.

Cold Iron - Lyman Clive Charles

Another one to show up my incompetence as a critic. This game consists mostly of things I've been complaining about in other games, but I really liked it. So it's very small, the puzzles are trivial and you're basically told what to do, it's completely linear, and it doesn't always tell you where the exits are. But it just does its thing very well.

It has beautiful short room descriptions. It does have an advantage over most games here in that it can get away without always listing exits, but even allowing for that it's doing a lot with few words.

The switch between protagonists works like magic. It's hard to imagine this being done half as smoothly in a static fiction short story.

The only complaint I have is that I want responses to ask and talk to. I don't expect dialogue, just some sort of custom response.

It's still hard to judge a game this short against longer ones. I don't think this could have benefited from being any longer, though.

Professor Frank - Laurence Kilday

Before Professor Frank can move, there is a loud bang and the chemical cabinet bursts open. Out leaps a strange-looking young womam who is wearing a white lab coat!! "It is Jekyll's loony assistant scientist, Doctor Mia Heidbanger," says the parrot.

Basically all like that. Spelling mistakes and random extra spaces all over the place. Tedious wackiness and many double exclamation marks!!

It's trying to be in the third person, but half the messages still refer to you: That's not something you can open, You can see Captain Flint here, etc. Worse, every single room says Professor Frank is here when you enter it.

It badly needs auto-unlocking and auto-opening of doors.

Andromeda Awakening - Marco Innocenti

It's a setting where there's intergalatic travel but people are still reading newspapers and there are still physical railway tickets. I suppose they might be super-futuristic newspapers and tickets though, so never mind. You'd think by the time we invent intergalactic travel we might be able to make the trains free, though.

Anyway, I don't know why I complain about this sort of thing when I quite happily accept wizards and dragons.

I got stuck after a while and started using the walkthrough, and was glad I did, because it seems like you have to start examining walls for no particular reason in order to make progress. Maybe I missed a clue somewhere.

The writing is fairly obviously non-native English. It's all understandable but occasionally odd, such as when there's a gas light which is battery-powered.

On the other hand it made me learn the words levigated and cyanotic, so there you go.