IF Comp 2007 – Pack Rat, Act of Murder, Slap

In the past I’d work hard at reviews. <shrug> This year, I do not feel so motivated, so here are a few quick reviews, dashed off. I tend to forget things about games if I don’t make notes, be all vague and all that, and I only made a few notes. For better reviews read others’. I also can’t seem able to do it this year without spoilers, so bear that in mind. I also haven’t arrived at my final scores for each, so these are without scores. 

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Pack Rat

The second game I played, and I rather liked it, but it is seriously flawed. The premise is cute, sort of the aftermath of a fairly tale. The PC is a pack rat, but really a petty thief and he has found a castle, like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, where everyone inside is under a spell and has been sleeping for a long time. A good opportunity for a little thieving, er, pack ratting, right?

Alas and alack the idea has occurred to others as well and the castle is already picked pretty clean. I enjoyed the premise, and the prose that is lightly tongue-in-cheek, and the dashes of humor.  “That was too easy.” “You are sorry to see it go. Genuine teak.” Also the PC has chances now and then to be noble, and he isn’t totally sure how he feels about that. Heh.

But many of the puzzles border on the too hard. I was actually figuring them out and wouldn’t have complained about that, because there are ALMOST enough clue lead ins in the prose, except for the poor implementation. Doors that seem important aren’t actually there, “x door” — “you can’t see any such thing.” And some of the puzzles DON’T have enough lead in. For instance, SPOILER ON, just exactly where to get out of the chest once it is in the water — also get out of chest doesn’t work while get on landing does. And I had to ask someone what to do with the chest in the first place, because the moat does not include a description that even MENTIONS water. Big slip up there. I wasn’t positive there was any. SPOILER OFF.

The game crashed on me, yup, literally crashed, when I was trying to solve the puzzle involving the lantern. Crashed with illegal op codes. I was on the right track, but the command sequence seemed to have to be rather exact, so I finally took a look at the walkthru. When I tried to follow it from where I was, the game crashed. The sequence wasn’t exactly the way it was in the walkthru and puzzles should be able to be worked out of sequence. Looking at the walkthru, though, it seems I made it about half way through the game.

But I have to mark it down seriously for crashing.

This could have been a pretty good game, more entertaining than some and the puzzles wouldn’t have been too hard with a tiny bit more lead in here and there, and a nice premise. But I have the feeling the author is not a programmer, or they haven’t used I6 before using I7, or something. This game needed serious play testing before being released to catch the things not implemented, the missing lead ins, and the possibility of crashing.

With a lot more programming and a little more puzzle hinting in the prose, this could be a pretty decent game.

Act of Murder

I debated holding off my review of this until a second-replay. I suspect this will place in the top three (hard to say  yet when I have played so few so far).

This was the first game I played, either unfortunately, or fortunately (because it is good). I liked it right of the bat, very Infocom-esque and it even has an Inspector Duffy. I loved Witness and Deadline (Infocom), they were the first Infocom games I ever played and I always hoped for more Infocom mysteries, and the only one that later came down the pike was Suspect (which I remember getting really excited about at the time).

Although it in some ways it’s not quite Infocom-esque, as it is a lot easier, not as involved or complicated as their games were. But there is a level of complexity that is pretty pleasing for a game that is supposed to be played in two hours and not over the course of a week or two or three.  Also it lacked that Infocom type of humor, college boy gee-whiz comments (although I did find one). But it comes very close — I really loved the Infocom flavor and that is all there is to it.

Except I ran into two problems, therefore, in the end, I will probably not give it a ten. They weren’t programming problems, I found everything implemented, and I found no real bugs (I did see one double a in one sentence, that was about it for the author missing things. This, I believe, WAS well beta-tested and it shows). The writing is brief, also like Infocom (they had memory limits) but just descriptive enough. The characters are pretty well drawn. No, my problems were not that it lacked good game qualities, my problems were in solving it.

The major puzzle involves numbers and math is my downfall. SPOILER ON. I am just not good at that kind of thing, not good at word math problems. I couldn’t even conceptualize how to put the problem and had to ask someone. I was aware that Duffy could be called in to do the math, but I wanted to solve “who done it” before I called in Duffy, and I couldn’t. There should have been a hint, either in the hint menu, or in the prose on how to even solve that problem. I didn’t see one. I had no idea what measuring the post, the water level, and looking at the tide table would do for me. I didn’t know what to do with the information once I had it. SPOILER OFF.

The second problem, for me, is I didn’t have a good idea when I was done. I can see leaving out a score, but on the other hand, I didn’t know when I had enough clues to call in Duffy. So I sort of flopped around for a while looking for other things, unsure if I was finished. There should really be some way to let the player know, yup, you have enough to call Duffy. Maybe just something in the text that says, “You feel you have enough now to call Duffy if you can figure out who did it.”

I would also suggest the directions in the menu be a little clearer exactly what Duffy will do once he is called in. Because it seemed he put together some of the clues in ways I had not anticipated. I was trying to have it all pinned down first, and I didn’t really need to in every case. In the end, I picked the wrong person. I simply overlooked the significance of one particular clue. And I was tired, I think if I hadn’t been so tired, I might have gotten it. But being disappointed that I didn’t solve it means that I felt challenged, and I like being challenged, so I am very intrigued about replaying this game and seeing if I can solve it next time. That is another neat thing about it, it has more than one murder scenario, a different murderer for each one, and it can be replayed (I am not sure how many there are). Unfortunately, naturally it will easier on replay as I will already be familiar with the characters, game map, clues, and props. (It seems just the murder weapon and murderer differ each time. Although the props are  used differently each time to support different motives. I will have to replay to see, really.)

In the end, this game will probably stand out in my memory for some time, contrasted to lots of other IF games that I have forgotten over the years, simply because I enjoyed playing it more than tons of other IF games that I have played. It is well programmed, well enough written, and well thought out — and I feel it could be even better with just a little brushing up.

This probably comes as close as we will ever get to having another Infocom mystery, so play and enjoy.  

Slap That Fish

That’s what this game is, slapping fish. You can just read the title and be done with it. A totally silly game with no point. I was mildly amused the first two turns, but I am not a violent woman and beating up two fish was about my limit. I was told it varies a little more later, but my impression is that it is highly repetitive.

It’s not badly implemented or written, although all the descriptions are very brief — it’s just that one joke games get old, quick. This did and it will get a correspondingly jokingly low score from me.

More to come… 

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