IFComp 2009 review: Beta Tester by Darren Ingram

The setting makes Beta Tester basically a Portal clone without a clever physics gimmick. (There are portals, though, which makes the comparison even more obvious.)

In a twist of true Alanis Morissette irony Beta Tester is apparently not beta tested. Either it never occurred to the author of Beta Tester to beta test his game called Beta Tester, which is just sad, or he thought it would be really funny in an ironic way to not do that, which just isn't. Or he actually had it tested, but not enough and didn't bother to credit the testers, which is just as bad.

I might be a bit obsessive about the subject, so things like this make me bleed from the ears. That lowers the scores for you, Beta Tester.

Ignoring that the game is not that bad, actually. The writing is mostly proficient and there's some real content here. Even though the initial puzzle seems to toss any predictable causality off the window, it's fun to poke at it and I did solve it eventually. The two hour comp limit ran out shortly afterwards so I'm not sure how long the game actually is.

There's something going on with the narrator voice that I couldn't quite grasp onto. Is it talking to the player character or the player? It's hard to tell when the parts that look like that are talking to the player character are mixed with the default messages that are talking to the player.

IFComp 2009 review: Trap Cave by Emilian Kowalewski

To me it seems like a bad idea to submit a CYOA to the IFComp. It's a competition for interactive fiction, as in text games with a parser. People expect a parser, and a CYOA will be judged against games with a parser. It's like bringing an orange to the annual apple fair. Even if you had the best orange in the world it would still fail people's expectations set to the standards based on apples.

It seems like a really bad idea to submit a CYOA to promote your new CYOA authoring system. How is getting terrible reviews and placing last or next-to-last going to promote the system? "Now even you can write games like the classics from the bottom tier of IFComp!"

Now that we're talking about bad ideas, the author of Trap Cave had the worst idea ever. He submitted a CYOA that's half English and half German. Or maybe half English and 1.5 German, since there's an all-German version and a half-translated English version included.

I haven't played every game yet but I'd be extremely surprised if this placed higher than 20th place. What was the grand plan behind all this? Hoping that those who don't know German would just skip this and not rate it? That seems unlikely, given that then there wouldn't be the half-English version included at all. Was the idea that people would get some grasp of the story from those parts that they could read? Or is it just a highly elaborate trolling attempt?

The most likely explanation I can find is that the author has submitted for review not a game but an authoring system. It's easy to get blinded to what the players will perceive when the author has worked on it from a completely different perspective. The author sees the code and the workings of the system (especially when a new authoring system is also made in the progress), but the background is competely opaque to players. They judge what they play, oblivious or uncaring of how it works under the hood. The authoring system might be super good but you can't judge a system based on the games it produces. You can make excellent games with crappy authoring systems and vice versa.

As to the game itself, well, enh. It's basic cave exploring with little to no story attached. The german version renders umlauts and estsets wrong and I couldn't find a way to change the character set. I found a locked door from one end of a tunnel and a key from the other end, but there wasn't an option for turning back after I had picked up the key. There's no walkthrough included so I can't check but it looks broken.

All I can say to the author is this: good luck with the authoring system you're building. I bet it'll be a hit with the CYOA crowd, but you're looking for your audience from the wrong place. My hunch is that energy spent on the IFComp is something that could be more fruitful if directed to other areas.

IFComp 2009 review: Grounded in Space by Matt Wigdahl

In this game you're a teenager living on an asteroid with your family when you behave so badly that your parents send you alone in space for a potentially deadly mission. (Life sure is tough for children in space.)

The game starts with a lot of things to read. The intro is faux-interactive: the scene progresses no matter what you command. (I always get frustrated when I can't think of anything else to do than Z to keep the text coming.) This continues later when you have to learn how the technology works by reading chunks of text.

There's one unfortunate puzzle that just doesn't work as text. It involves moving mirrors in a grid using x and y coordinates and changing the mirrors' orientation, and it's truly a chore. It's a variation of an age-old puzzle that I could have easily solved on paper, but with a cludgy interface like this it just doesn't work.

There's a lot of build-up and learning how the space ship works and then... it ends. I guess the game does a good job giving the illusion of a world that exists far beyond what the player has access to, but that illusion breaks violently when the you have won -message comes on the screen when things have just begun to get interesting. The relatively large amount of work the player has to invest in learning the game world doesn't ultimately pay off when that knowledge isn't put to good use.

To my surprise I noticed that during the epilogue I was reading the lines of a NPC in heavy US southern accent in my head. Then it hit me -- this is not a space opera, it's a space western! It has it all - ranchers, herding, duels, vast and lonely frontiers...

None of these quibbles are to say that I didn't like the game. I really did. All in all the good background saves a lot and the prose is excellent but the abrupt ending and some puzzles unfitting to the medium keep Grounded in Space from truly shining.

IFComp 2009 review: The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man by Hannes Schueller

The "believable" adventures of an invisible man? Maybe that just shows a good sense of irony. The game works on its own little logic and trying to grasp it ranges from hard to impossible. At one point the otherwise invisible player character can get a disguise and walk around wrapped in bandages, but the NPCs don't seem to react in any way to him nevertheless and some even ignore him as if he were still invisible. This is where any remaining believability just disappears.

The walkthrough says I can't go into the pub dressed as a patient because none of the patients have any money. I bet that's why the "room for wealthy patients" was empty in the hospital. It's not a good sign when the walkthrough is the only place where you can find the reason why the game world behaves as it does.

The puzzles are really obscure - there's often only one solution that's not very well hinted. The final puzzle involves doing something to an item that's not mentioned in the room description or anywhere else. I'm not seeing any way someone would guess the solution to that, even if the walkthrough talks about it being a "cliché".

The premise would have had so much potential the game just barely scrapes and throws the rest away. You have to be alone to carry things or to do something to the environment to keep people from freaking out or noticing you. A lot of opportunities for cool puzzles with this setting.

Locksmith's Shop

[..]

>buy lockpicks

Nothing is on sale.

>give paycheck to locksmith

(the locksmith)
The locksmith doesn't seem interested.

The locksmith has a very peculiar business model there.

I tried to pick up a puppy, but the game thought I tried to take the sun. Easy mistake to make, no doubt.

You can see a luxurious bed (on which is a bedsheet) and a cabinet (closed) here.

>x bedsheet

The bedsheet is tied to nothing.

I wonder what the bedsheet will be used for?

>n

You can't, since the door is in the way.

Repeated a million times. What is this, the 1980s?

Almost every location description lacks the direction where the player first entered the room. You can't assume the players always remember from which direction they came in for the first time.

After an anti-climactic ending I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth. The main character is repulsive and the game assumes that either the players share his sadistic tendencies or that they are willing to roleplay the part. That's not how it works -- I'm not that keen on inflicting pain on a puppy to get my revenge on a guy I know nothing about and who is with all likelihood much more likable person than the player character.

Many games suffer from thin or non-existent characterizations. At least here the main character has some personality, even if it is so repugnant that it makes playing the game a nauseating experience.

IFComp 2009 review: Byzantine Perspective by Lea

In Byzantine Perspective you're a burglar who has broken into a museum. The grand prize is right in front of you, but then the situation turns out to be more complex than what it first seems.

Defaultish Messages version 10/080915 by David Fisher

Has David released some new version of his extension that I haven't heard of? Or did the author modify the extension directly instead of with the hooks it provides? Tsk tsk.

The included PDF map is useful and looks pretty. Feelies are always nice and this one is exceptionally well made.

The game is basically a one-puzzle game. Once you've figured out what's going on, getting to the end is just applying that newly-found logic to your actions. I didn't figure it out and went for the hints which basically spoiled the whole game for me. There's no-one else to blame but myself, but I wish there would have been some warning in the hints. So stay clear from the hints as long as you can so that you won't make the same mistake.

For such a short game (took me less than 30 minutes) there's formidable amount of betatesters, which makes it look and feel quite solid. It'll be interesting to see how far this one-trick pony will run in the comp.

IFComp 2009 review: The Grand Quest by Owen Parish

I wish, I wish, I wish people would have their games tested. Even a single betatester would have noticed these basic things:

There is a clicking noise from the ceiling, followed by the sound of breathing.

>look up

I only understood you as far as wanting to look.

...

>x stools

They look fairly comfortable. From the way they're positioned, it seems as though this room was used for readings.

>sit on stools

That's not something you can sit down on.

...

There are a couple of reading chairs facing each other in the centre of the room.

>sit on chairs

You can't see any such thing.

...

A brass whistle. Didn't you own one as a child?

>blow whistle

That's not a verb I recognise.

The Grand Quest is identical in structure to last year's The Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom. You enter one room and get a puzzle in front of you. When you're done with it you go to the next room and solve another puzzle. This continues until you finally reach the end.

The puzzles are a mixture of logic, wordplay and trick questions (like those "How many months in a year have 28 days? All of them have at least 28 days" riddles kids make). There's nothing wrong with this kind of puzzles per se, but I would have preferred to have access to more than one at the same time so when I got stuck I could have worked on some another puzzle and come back later with fresh ideas. Now when I got stuck with a puzzle I had nothing else to do than look at the walkthrough.

The biggest problem is the absence of anything else than the bare minimum needed for a playthrough. Frustration builds up on every "You can't see that here." With some testing and work on the details the game would be a hit with people who like the kind of brainteasers it offers.

Towards IFComp 2009

So, IFComp is underway again. I've set up this blog for reviews and maybe for other IF stuff I might come up with later on.

Initial impressions from the blurbs:

A new game by Eric Eve should be good as always. I'm expecting it to reach the top 3. Other works that look interesting are Broken Legs, The Hangover, The Duel in the Snow, Eruption, The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man and Rover's Day Out. Some for which I'm having serious doubts already are zork, buried chaos (exclamation marks and no capitals are suspicious) and Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort (ye faux olde Englishe nay bode well, even though it can be done well) but these are fortunately the only two that jump out, and of course I might be mistaken about them.

Seems to be a lot of traditional cave exploring and treasure hunting this year. Two games start with the player character having a hangover. Three with the word "quest" in the title. Two CYOAs and the other has the only homebrewn parser. No TADS games.

There are a lot of similar themes and names. This is the longest chain of names could find: The Grand Quest → Spelunker's Quest → Snowquest → The Duel in the Snow → The Duel that Spanned the Ages.

Coming up: A rating table and the reviews.