IF Comp 2007 – Lost Pig, Across the Stars


I said I had two more games I wanted to play. Well, it was Across and one another. But I finished the other one so quickly I decided to play a few more. I have played a few more, but I am only going to review/critique/comment on two more.

Also, as we near the end, I tend to adjust my votes. Which is why my numerical votes are not published here. Before when I did comp reviews, the last seemingly six years ago, I wrote them all up with numerical scores and only published them in rgif once the deadline was over. I used a four point judging system, the four P’s:  plot, prose, programming, and puzzles. I would award 1-10 points for each. Add the total and divide by four to arrive at a 1-10 overall score.

This year, because I started writing as I played and voted (because of the change in the comp web page), I knew I would change some of my numerical votes up or down later. So there was no point in publishing them, because they would have changed.

I adjust my scores to help ensure the one I wanted to come in at the top comes in at the top, and to help ensure the one I wanted to come in at the bottom comes in at the bottom. Not that one vote can affect the outcome, but I try. 😉 I also adjust to spread out my own votes — I tend to bell curve, with maybe one ten and one one and the majority hovering around above and below five — what I consider average. Though I don’t usually have that many fives, because not that many games are really average.

This year I found myself adjusting Pack Rat much further up than its programming really warranted, simply because I enjoyed it more than most. I also adjusted I am Jack Mills up further than I felt its shallowness warranted, because I also enjoyed it more than many others. I also adjusted some others down and up, but those two benefited the most from my final adjustment.

In the end, there were really only a handful of comps games I enjoyed. Sure some were okay, and some were not too bad, but in the end, I look for enjoyment above all else.  (And when I used the four P method, I’d find myself adjusting for enjoyment as well, which made the four P method  questionable, since I’d have to adjust one or two of the four P’s up or down to compensate.)

So I enjoyed…

Lost Pig

It wasn’t very long before I was into this game that I knew an experienced Iffer had written it. It had a “zarfian” quality, in other words, it had a response to everything I tried. And not just “that doesn’t accomplish anything” type of response (although I ran into one or two), more along the lines of “you try that and blah, blah.” Those paying attention to Live Journal will know who the author is, I don’t, so I didn’t.. at first. It’s not zarf, but it is someone who has been around the Iffy block.

You are Grunk, an orc, big, green, and stupid, and you’ve lost a pig. And not your pig, so you have to get it back. At first the dumbed down dialect annoyed me, but the more I played (and ALL the responses had Grunk-speech, not default library messages) the more I liked it. Especially when chasing the pig around, which I suspected might be a bit smarter than Grunk. Grunk also ends up being rather endearingly child-like, curious and good-natured. After all, its not his fault that he’s big, green, and stupid — it just comes with the territory.

I found the other NPC in the game not nearly as well-drawn, although he is mainly a talking head, sitting in one place to answer Grunk’s questions. But I felt he could have been made to have a tad more character as well. Grunk really overshadows him.

Because this game has a response to just about everything (I would say everything, but I didn’t try everything), it is a good game. The sort of game one can trust. This is what Infocom games had going for them that modern IF often lacks, trust. Trust that the game isn’t buggy, trust that you can work at the puzzles, trust that you can solve them by trying different things and finding out what will work from what doesn’t work, and trust that the puzzles will be well-clued and not some obscure idea in the author’s head. So I leaned back, relaxed, worked at the puzzles, and enjoyed the game.

However, I still got stumped about 3-4 times. But I suspect if I didn’t feel in a rush to finish games and had more time to work at it, I would have solved most of them on my own because all the hints are there. Although sometimes the depth of response ended up being very misleading, creating red herrings. SPOILER ON. I put the green pole in the statue’s upraised hand. And because I could, for a long time I thought that was the proper solution. Yes, there was a hint elsewhere that that was not it, but I could do it! I am not sure if this level of response shouldn’t be fine tuned to allow only one proper solution, or if the author wanted to mislead. And I am unsure if I would recommend changing that or not. Because in real life more than one solution will often work. I remain undecided about it — but it was often misleading. SPOILER OFF.

It is nice to see such a very well-crafted game in the comp. Overall I enjoyed it and seriously wished there was more. This could easily have been double the size, triple the size — the larger the better — I would have enjoyed it more with more. But a nice feature of Lost Pig is that one can win without getting all the points. I won with 6 out of 7. I am unsure what point I missed, but suspect where it was because there was a clue I never used.

I will give this high marks, but not top marks, because once I hit the main playing area, I felt it was a tad too short. Not quite complex enough. That seems a funny reason not to give it top marks, but the level of complexity in the game, the responses for everything, led me to expect more. That is one downside of excellent crafting. 😉

Across the Stars

This isn’t really a two-hour game, at least, not for me. I have not finished it yet, but I have to move on and finish up my reviews and voting.

I started this game, failed at the first puzzle, and then put the game aside to play last. Because the first puzzle showed me that the puzzles were going to be difficult, but with decent cluing, and I really like spaceship scifi. However, I ended up enjoying it less than I had anticipated, mainly because it goes from science-fiction to a more obcure sort of fantasy. In fact, this game seemed unable to decide what it wanted to be — Star Trek, Indiana Jones, or The Illearth War. This overlapping of genres makes the puzzles much harder to solve than the authors probably thought they were, because there are clues in the prose. Only one is often unsure how to use them — go for a straight scientific approach?, go for a fantasy approach?, or go for a daredevil approach? It turned the fantasy approach would not work, but there is nothing really in the game, at least for quite a while, to say if it it will or will not.

There is a very good hint system, emphasis on hint (although solutions are offered too), and by use of it I was able to progress as far as I have to date. Sometimes all I need is a hint and that is why I hate having to resort to walkthrus. But I don’t like having to resort to hints either, and not so often.

I didn’t find any bugs, although I found some areas that could be improved, so it’s a pretty decent game overall. However, a great many of the puzzles are too difficult without either a lot more game play and/or a lot more cluing in the text. Several times I would go to hints and it would appear the authors felt I had been clued in the text, but I had missed it. It wasn’t obvious to me. SPOILER ON. Box – I had to ask someone how to get in the secret compartment to not be caught, even with hints and a walkthru. Why? Because once I took the card out of the slot, the box was rewebbed anyway. And if I unwebbed the box and moved it, I could not move it back. So there didn’t seem any point in going to such effort to reweb it and I did it the easy way. Something was wrong there, either I should have been able to move the box back, or the rewebbing sequence should have mentioned it also moved the box. Rune – The rune in the secret alcove wasn’t even mentioned in the room description. It was also not mentioned in the worm description, so I didn’t know there was a rune there to scan. I kept scanning the one outside the alcove. APU – when I went into the cargo hold, and asked Adar about the APU, she said it was aft, except I couldn’t go aft then. That response was appropriate for when I was in the cockpit, but not the cargo hold. There were quite a few things like that that could be caught with more betatesting and more work, more writing — those were just the only ones I wrote down. SPOILER OFF.

The game borders on the trite, I suppose, but not enough to worry me. I will give it decent marks for being a decent game, but I feel it could use more work. Not in the programming area, not even in the puzzle area, but in the prose area — to make the world encountered more believable and to add clues to the puzzles into the PROSE rather than into the HINT SYSTEM. A good hint system is simply great, but it is not really a substitute for good game writing and with Across I feel the authors ended up relying on it too heavily.


3 Responses to “IF Comp 2007 – Lost Pig, Across the Stars”

  1. 1 dgarciaroger November 17, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    First of all, I enjoyed your review of “Lost Pig”.

    Now that the competition is over, what do you think about this work winning the IF Comp 2007?

    On the one hand, I mean… it seems that short (but well-crafted) works are attracting increased attention from interactive fiction readers, aren’t they? Or perhaps is it all due only to deep-rooted competition artifacts (mainly, judgement of each game on at most the first two hours of play).

    On the other hand, do you think that relaxing the requirements–those that forbide judges from reviewing pieces during the competition period–has had a degree of influence on the final results?

  2. 2 doeadeer November 17, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    I am not sure I understand your question (s).

    I found many of the recent comp games TOO short — having played many comp games in the past. I don’t think there is MORE interest in short games, no. The comp has been going on a long time. There were fewer entries this year than some previous years, and fewer judges this year than some previous years. In fact, I haven’t added up the statistics, but it seems there has been a steady downward trend from a high around 1999-2001.

    I do think reviews should be held until the judging is over. OTOH, many had their reviews on blogs during the judging period, like myself, i.e. they were not totally inaccessible. However, I voted differently from the norm, and some other reviewers I read did also, and we do appear to have influenced anyone to vote our way.

    I’ll be doing the IF Art Show next year again, to support short experimental IF, emphasis on experimental.

    I was sort of disappointed in this year’s comp, it felt like a skimpy year compared to some previous years. Many games needed a lot of work. OTOH, there were also some previous years (that I played and voted) that were skimpy.

    It is very hard to draw conclusions based on one comp. Trends or patterns need larger spheres to be spotable.

    Did that answer one of your questions? 🙂

  3. 3 dgarciaroger November 17, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    > Did that answer one of your questions? 🙂

    Of course, all of them. Perfectly. 🙂

    IF Comp games are increasingly shorter. There are fewer entries… Thank goodness, it is not only I who feel a bit uneasy about this trend.

    Just as a side note. I like the concept behind IF Art Show, but I think that my ‘polishable’ entry probably affected the overall quality of the show–negatively, I mean. 🙂

    Jokes aside, again, thanks a lot!

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