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IF Comp 2007 – Games I Started (They Know, Varkana)

..and Have No Desire to Finish.

Now you must remember I have been around a long time, and even though these are the first comp games I have played in years, in the end, I have still played a lot of IF.

That is my disclaimer, which means, I just don’t have the patience anymore to play a game that either doesn’t intrigue me and/or seems to be so flawed from the get-go that I know it will be more work to play it than it will be fun. Or a combo of those two or something along those lines.

Lots of times in the past I would play a game say, 5-15 minutes, and still vote on it. This year I decided not to vote on games I only played a few minutes of. <shrug> Sometimes they get better than I think they will, and it seems fairer to the authors (who, after all, probably put a lot of time in on their games).

They Know

Ho hum. University setting, so many graduate students write IF (or used to), where have I seen that before? An agent on some kind of secret mission, unspecified, but the purpose seems to lift some technology from the college. A cave at the beginning that appears important, but I can’t enter it or seem to interact with it in any way.

It does have a game map, good, but wander around, and what do I find? Paganism, or some kind of black magic, or Satanism stuff here and there. Nyah. Already we have a combo of science and magic. Okay, that means probably very counter-intuitive puzzles where solving them will mean combining magic and science in ways that I will find it hard to guess at. I also am not clear on my mission. Just what technology I am supposed to industrial spy on and where it is? As a spy going after it, I should know that from the beginning. Mission Impossible type prepping and all that.

It might end up being okay, but probably way too much work for me. I also don’t like that cave thing, it bodes ill. Besides, it doesn’t appeal to me anyway.



Cool graphic. Okay, looks good. Two people from the beginning me, the PC, and a female friend. Nifty. Strong start. Hmmm, it also seems like a well-conceived fantasy world. Okay, friend eventually takes off. Now what do I do? There was a suggestion of what I was supposed to be doing right now, but not clear to me exactly what it was. Also there is a big celebration going on, so it may not be work as usual.

Oh, a platform, some kind of flying bicycles? Motorcycles? Neat. Wander around and look. Okay, found my room. Nothing much helpful there, but I can change my clothes. Hmmm, you know this is turning out not to be as promising as it first looked. Wander around some more. Doesn’t seem to be much I can do.

Just what was my goal, anyway? What am I supposed to be doing right now? Taking a holiday or pursing my original work day tasks? Very unclear. Maybe there isn’t much to do, but it sure looks like it will take me a lot of time and effort to determine if there is or not.

I am getting turned off — not engaged anymore.


IF Rule 999 – Make sure from game start that the goal is clear, or clear within the first ten turns. Even if that goal turns out not to be the real goal after all. It gives the player motivation to play.

Of course, all rules are made to be broken, but usually they are only broken well by experienced game authors.

IF Comp 2007 – Bellwater, Wish

Lord Bellwater’s Secret

This game will probably place in the top three. Since I have not played all the games and probably won’t play ALL the games, take any prediction of mine with a grain of salt.

This is a well-done game. It has no bugs that I could find, and everything seems to be implemented. It also has good puzzles, not too hard and well clued, but still challenging, and the writing is good.

I just have sort of an aversion to one-room games, although I must admit this one one-room game that is so well-done that you may not miss the lack of other rooms that much. Or not until the end.

Semi-spoiler here, as you do not know this at game start — you are a groom in Lord Bellwater’s service and your ladylove, the housemaid Elsie, was killed falling from the window of the study. You are convinced he is a cad and he had a hand in her death, so you sneak into his study to find some evidence to prove it.

I liked the mystery element.

Since this is a one-room game, the player, naturally, has to examine and search everything in that room and the environment is rich. It provides flashbacks telling who you are and what you are doing and it also provides puzzles and hints. In fact, the rich environment also provided me with a learning experience. Heh. Learn something new every day. One of the items in the room is a grocer’s cardboard box that was delivered. This struck me as an anachronism, and I had to google to see if cardboard would have been appropriate to the time. What do you know? Cardboard (and grocery delivery) was used in the 1800’s. Not the corrugated cardboard we have now, something much thinner. But I found that interesting and I ended up feeling that the author had researched the time period and the items likely to be used in that time period. The amount of research put in is another aspect of the game that makes one feel it is well-done.

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about this game, because a great deal of it is examining things and solving puzzles and to discuss it much more would be spoily, but I did find one puzzle TOO hard. SPOILER ON. After I had Lord Bellwater’s birthday, I figured that was the basis of the safe combination. I don’t know, maybe there was something somewhere that indicated that was not enough. But after doing about 8-10 combinations of the birth date, I gave up and had to peek at the walkthru. I didn’t feel that part was well-done. Looking at the walkthru, I couldn’t figure out how, on my own, I would have ever hit on the combination. SPOILER OFF.

Despite this game being crafted than most, I still felt that there was a major problem with the ending. SPOILER ON I am not sure I found the only ending, or the optimal ending — I suspect not.  Trying to leave the room when done, I got caught. I had been very careful to avoid removing the money so I wouldn’t be called a thief, after all, I was looking for evidence, not to do some thieving. Yet when I was caught, I was arrested for thieving. Now, logistically I could have been arrested for trespass, but the papers I still had on me probably would not have supported what the ending said happened. Although I admit I may not have reset something back, and maybe if I had that wouldn’t have happened. I almost decided to replay the ending to see if that was it, but lack of time has prevented me. Anyway, unless I missed something, in my opinion, that needs fixing. SPOILER OFF.

Overall, I enjoyed this game, and appreciated the care that went into it. However, I still find one-room games not very intriguing — I like moving around a game map, it makes the world inside the game more believable to me. I am very spatial and tend to look for that. And I like having a game map because usually it means that game is more complex as well. Therefore I find one-room games too short and hard to take seriously as full games or view as more than show-your-stuff comp entries.

So I will give this game high marks, but I will also not remember it for that long.

But this author has serious potential.


I was bored by this game, sorry. This is really nothing WRONG with Wish, the writing is okay, there are no bugs that I found, the needed things seem to be implemented, the puzzles aren’t too hard — except playing it felt pointless. To me, anyway.

There are two stories running concurrently. The PC is a little girl and she is thinking about her grandpa at Christmas time — in cut scenes. She is also wandering around a game map, a fantasy game map, and there appears to be no relation between the two stories. In the end, they are brought together, but not in a big AHA kind of way.

Fantasy is hard to do and I found this fantasy land incongruous, not consistent, and also not full bodied enough to be intriguing.

Maybe my attitude is based on the fact that the writing is minimalistic. But the plot also feels minimalistic. The game feels minimalistic. Too thin. Way too thin.

I peeked at the walkthru fairly early on, but still after solving some on my own. I also solved some after peeking. But I just wasn’t interested enough to keep working at it, so I peeked a lot. SPOILER ON I only found one puzzle that seemed unfair, waiting for the hat to fall off. No indication really that that was going to happen. Maybe if the little girl tried to go pass the guard the hat would fall off, I couldn’t tell. SPOILER OFF.

I feel this game was probably a good exercise for the author to learn I7. But if it had been me, I would have left it as an exercise and never released it.

Overall, it just doesn’t feel like an adult game. (Not speaking of sex here. :-)) This might be a game a child would enjoy playing, I have no idea. But I am not a child and I didn’t.

I will give this decent marks for being well enough done, but also rank it average for being too thin.

IF Comp 2007 – Ferrous Ring

I made no notes on the following games as I played them, so I better get my thoughts down before they fade. (I was going to post three reviews in this section, but as I have already posted one and wordpress keeps reformatting my paragraphs, I will post the other two in a separate post.)

Ferrous Ring

I ended up unsure how I felt about this game, so it is going to be hard for me to rate. I found no programming problems and everything that needed to be implemented seemed to be implemented, but I ended up pretty confused. I also read someone else’s review and don’t agree with his take on it, so here’s at it…

The PC is living in a post-acopolyptic world near a university/library. It is unclear what happened, although it is clear that some of it has happened quite recently. There is some destruction that implies a war, bombing, something — which evidentially occurred right before game start. But there are also indications that the deterioration of society and infrastructure has also been going on for some time. So one gets the feeling that the war has been getting progressively worse and coming closer and closer to home. The remaining pockets of civilization are rapidly disappearing.

It is unclear whether the PC is a student, but he appears to be one, or a semi-student, and he has friends that live in underground grottos and collect food cans. It’s like people have been hanging onto technology and the survival items created by mass production as long as they can while society has been falling apart. Only now the library is also gone and it appears his reason for continuing to remain there has disappeared.

The intriguing thing about this game is that it is done in first person, I, and done pretty well. No responses I got included the word you, such as “You can’t see that here.” This, I felt, was done better than I would have expected and worked better than I would have expected.  Also there is an interesting take on inventory/surroundings. If you enter “look”, below the room description is a listing such as this:  “Good: list” and below that “Bad: list.” Each list includes things in one’s location and one’s inventory. A nice conceit, although I am not sure that most of us classify our surroundings that primally, into what we think is good and bad around us. Although maybe on some level we do, as a survival trait, what is a threat to us and what is not. Since the story is written first person, though, it does let us know where to focus our attention and where not to, because it lets us know where the I in the story is focusing his attention.

The game starts out pretty directive, which at first annoyed me, but that tapers off pretty soon and eventually it fades out completely — but in a realistic and gradual way. The directions are also done well, with things like “I probably should go over to…” (paraphrasing, it’s worded a little better than that). This is extremely helpful, what would the person that you are sort of riding along with do in this situation? So the game tells you more at first, and less and less as you go along and get a sense of who the PC is. It also seques from one scenario to another pretty effectively, by use of the space bar. These are not quite chapters, but they do help skip over intervenening actions that might not only be time consuming but also hard for the player to figure out while he/she is still getting to know who the PC is and what he would do.

But there were two problems with this game for me:  once all the direction is removed, I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t “get” the finale — at all.

In the end, I feel the technical expertise shown and the thought given to how a first person story should work, how the game play should work, was not supported by the plot. The plot is murky.

A plot does not have to be clear and straight forward, but I feel it should let the player guess at what is happening, so it should be, I feel, guessable. This one really isn’t. Or not for me, anyway. What is clear in the author’s head often does not end up clear or even semi-clear in the game — it doesn’t make the transition from imagination to implementation. I think having beta testers give feedback on whether they “get” a plot would greatly improve some games, and I think it would have greatly improved this game.

The PC sets out to find someone (this is a semi-spoiler as the player doesn’t know that right away) and the rest of the game focuses on that. I found the bulldozer puzzle a bit tricky, but finally managed to solve it. However, SPOILER ON, when I made it into the house and was unceremoniously dumped out of it, I didn’t know quite what to do. Finally I looked at the photo, and realized something had happened. Only that still didn’t let me know what to do. Since I had exhausted everything in the immediate area, I returned home just to see if something would happen back there. I guess I was supposed to search the library before I went, but I had no clue really that since the library was demolished that the stuff on the back of the photograph could be looked up at the library. So at that point of return, after I revisited some sites and fumbled around, I went to walkthru mode, and continued the game from there on out in walkthru mode. I frankly doubt even with more game play that I could have figured out most of the following actions without walkthru anyway. And watching the walkthru take place, much of the last part of the plot seemed to be spurred by the PC continuing to LOOK at one particular item. I also doubt, that without walkthru, I would have repeatedly looked at that item to spur the story on. SPOILER OFF.

After finding the person, the game ends up with the PC finding a place of isolation and safety that is not the place he was originally apparently destined for. This is the confusing part. Does he really find it? Or is he imagining it as he lays dying from a beating? Also he is supposedly replacing someone in that place. Is he replacing the person he went searching for? (One contraption in the vicinity is similar to another one he saw earlier in the vicinity of the person he found.) Or is he is in some time loop, where he is actually becoming the person he was searching for? And those are only some of the possibilities.

Beats me. I don’t know what happened.

A bad ending can ruin even a great game, and this is not a great game. But I do feel this had some serious thought go into it about how to do a first person game.

A worthy effort. 

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. 


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… 

IF Comp 2007

Just a short hi, after a long absence.

Been ill, nothing too serious as it turns out, but it means I was either very worried and/or very tired for about six weeks, a month and a half. This brought my work to the Quick Tour to a halt, which was annoying because I was close to finishing. Eric has been patient. Hopefully I can finish it up in the next two to three weeks and it will be out there for you guys to use. I think Eric has already released some of the demo games he developed for the Quick Tour (at my strong urging, want credit here, heh), so that should have helped.

I started playing the comp games, and luckily hit on a good one for my first one. Think the last time I really played the comp games was 2002. Although I may have played the top winners in a few of the following comps, frankly, I forget. I used to try every year to play MOST of the comp games and do reviews of MOST. Seems unbelievable now that I did that. This year I am aiming for only say eight to ten reviews.

I’d post them here except I haven’t written them yet, heh, and I never do my final scores until I have finished all the games I am going to play. Yes, sometimes I like to adjust one or two up or down slightly in light of the context of the whole comp, to where I thought they should come out.

So far I’ve played one almost very good game, a mystery, (it will probably win or come in the top three), one sort of medieval one that was promising and had some good humor but serious implementation problems and ended up crashing on me (though it did not crash on everyone), one short and totally silly one with repetitious actions, and one that was very well-done historical one but not that exciting and it had too many numbers in it. So deduce from that what you will.

I was going to go on how this comp may show I7 to be either a boon or bane, but, frankly, I haven’t played enough yet to make any judgments on that. And maybe no conclusions can be drawn, because there have been both well-written and poorly implemented games before.

 Watch this space, the Quick Tour will emerge in all its finalized glory someday. Heh.

Quick Tour – First Peek

(Note this article has been changed from first post.) 

Yes, you may now take a peek at the Quick Tour. It is about 3/4 done. In other words, the NPC stuff isn’t there yet, plus it needs some editing. The way Eric and I have done this is that he has sent me summaries of the classes, I have put them into HTML with revisions (my revisions to clarify them in my own mind), also asking him questions to clarify some things. Then when I am done he edits the page. We are now on second pass editing — redrafts being edited. I wrote the Using TADS 3 and The TADS 3 Language and Verbs & Action pages myself, but they have errors and I haven’t done Eric’s edits on those pages yet. There also need to be edits done on most of the other pages — second pass edits.

(When I say errors, I mean factual errors, so beware. I am often writing things incorrectly, because I am a T3 newbie and get things wrong. 🙂 That is part of why this is working, when I don’t understand something Eric can explain it to me. I figure anything I don’t “get” as a T3 newbie maybe someone else won’t “get.” So clarifying those areas, trying to put them into clear and complete enough language, though briefly, will help others as well.)

I am also going to rewrite the first page, right now it’s a tad too complicated. Okay, version 1.05 does not yet incorporate Eric’s edits for the How to Use and Verbs & Actions pages, so THEY HAVE ERRORS. When you see version 1.06, then How to and Verb errors will have been corrected. Version 1.07 will be when all second pass edits are done. Version 1.08 will likely be when the first page is rewritten, and 1.09 on will be when new things have been added. That the version numbering that I see occurring, roughly.

But, if you’ve bookmarked this blog, or are paying attention, you can take a peek at the TADS 3 Quick Tour now. I won’t be announcing this anywhere else.

Here is what I am wondering.

Do you think this would help you learn TADS 3? (Well, if you know it already do you think it would help someone learn TADS 3?)

And, if you are interested, some actual editing would be nice, such as finding typos, misspellings, and awkward sentences.

Also, if a T3 newbie, where mentally do you get lost? Page by page, where do you get lost? I’d like to target any unclear areas and clarify them.

Bear in mind what I said about errors, edits, and plans to rewrite the first page.

For the first two questions you can answer here.

For any edits, more discussion, and any points that you still find unclear (where you get lost), please email me.

I am very uncomfortable, right now anyway, with posting my email address here. However, go to the IF Art Show Gallery and email the curator. That will do it. 

The quick tour is at:

I should also say that the map is not progressively colored in yet, that some larger map graphics are going to be replaced, and at least one is going to be added.

T3 Quick Tour – Progress

We’ve renamed the Game Writer’s Digest to Quick Tour, because that is exactly what it is. So far it is about 1/2 done. It will be a quick overview of the library (mainly, a little on TADS 3 as a language, etc., too). So that one can get a sense of what is in the library before one plows into other material to read-more-about-it. Actually one may get more than a sense of what is in the library, we are making it fairly complete — summary of classes. I foresee it may run to 12-15 pages. But with lots of graphics. I think this will really help people learn TADS 3.

Wish I could finish it sooner, but I have other things to do in my life, surprisingly. 🙂 This is definitely a joint venture between Eric and I. He sends me class summaries and I plug them into web pages, editing and adding if I think they are unclear. Or unclear to me anyway. Which also necessitates various explanations by Eric to me, since I am still learning T3. Actually I may be still learning T3 for a long time, it is a huge library.

When more is done I will let people know for a preview. Watch this space.