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Reviews by Jim Kaplan

C. E. J. Pacian

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1-3 of 3


Castle of the Red Prince, by C.E.J. Pacian

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Intriguing gameplay and an undercooked story, July 14, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: C. E. J. Pacian
Play it if: you want a short, sweet game with a smoothly-implemented gameplay gimmick.

Don't play it if: you prefer gameplay to be accompanied by a fleshed-out story, because in narrative terms this does feel a bit incomplete.

The most memorable aspect of this game is immediately noticeable: verbs of movement are discarded in favor of an alternative mode of transportation, and EXAMINING a place is what takes you to it. What impresses me more than the coding (not that I'm a wizard, but I can make a couple of guesses at how it was done) is the manipulation of English in order to make the effect seamless.

A common flaw in descriptive writing is the provision of information that confounds the mind's natural means of acquiring that information. For instance, in an oft-quoted sequence from the novel Bronwyn: Silk and Steel, the observing character is implied to be standing some distance from the lady he is observing. But then:

"Her face had the fragrance of a gibbous moon."

The reader is confused on two counts: first, the assertion that the moon has a fragrance (which given that's located in space, is impossible); and second, that the observing character can smell her face - specifically - from more than arm's length. In Silk and Steel, this is just poor writing. In Castle of the Red Prince, though, it's twisted into a means of travel. Essentially, examining locations from a distance will often bridge the spatial gap by simply beginning to provide information that would be unavailable from your original location. Coding aside, it's a fascinating linguistic trick.

(I should mention that this gimmick plays havoc with your ability to appreciate the relative locations of things, but given the small size of this world it's not really a major drawback.)

What's also interesting about this device is that it's left ambiguous to what degree this travel is simply a novel description of normal movement, and to what degree it's a form of sorcery available to the player character. This also leads into a minor disappointment I experienced: the player character has a sort of ambiguity which is suggestive of depth, but that depth is never really exploited. I mean, in theory the PC's dreams are being haunted by this Red Prince, but it's not used for much more than a basic motivator to tell the player what they're doing in the game. The Red Prince's rather blase attitude to your machinations, couple with the contents of a certain book, made me think that the PC was the Red Prince's son, or that the Red Prince had some sort of personal role in the PC's dreams and backstory. None of this appeared to be true, which is a bit of a shame.

The point is not to judge Castle by the arbitrary standards of my personal imaginary alternate universe for this game, but to point out that this game ignited my curiosity in a way it wasn't prepared to engage. In fact, the story itself is not particularly engaging, lacking much in the way of twists. The titular antagonist knows what you're doing from quite early on, but he'll be damned if he expends any energy on trying to actually stop you - and speaking here as a reader rather than a game-player, seeing that sort of thing feels like it's the story itself expressing this attitude to me (though I'm hardly going to go about accusing the author of laziness). Victor Gjisbers's The Baron might have been fairly unremarkable gameplay-wise but it made better use of a similar sort of premise.

On the whole, then, I have to agree with previous comments that this is a better experiment than a game. It's not that it's a bad game, it's just that what actually happens in it is barely enough to fill a two-page short story.

Rogue of the Multiverse, by C.E.J. Pacian

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
There may be a banana in it for you!, July 13, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: C. E. J. Pacian
Play it if: as with Gun Mute, you want a game short and easy enough to breeze through but quirky and different enough to be memorable.

Don't play it if: you get turned off by dodgy pacing or an absence of any strong sense of story, because while this game has a number of great set-pieces it doesn't really feel like a streamlined, complete narrative.

Elements of Rogue of the Multiverse reminded me of Gun Mute. Non-human NPCs with human-like behaviors. A stoic protagonist of few words. The eschewment of compass directions. Gameplay consisting of repeatedly achieving the same goal, but with subtly differing details. And an environment whose nature is revealed more through small, evocative details than verbal exposition.

While I do prefer Gun Mute to this game, Rogue of the Multiverse still carried a couple of elements that delighted me and made it absolutely worth playing.

First is the main character, the antagonist Dr. Sliss, who subjects the PC to scientific experimentation. Sliss does superficially resemble GLaDOS in that she is a pleasant-speaking female taskmaster, but I find her a good deal funnier and more likable because while GLaDos is pretty obviously malevolent, Sliss is well-meaning but rather ignorant. Her patronizing comments to the PC, such as offers of banana rewards (she has trouble distinguishing between you and a rather hairless chimp), are perfectly balanced to get you liking her against your better nature. And in spite of the potentially lethal conditions to which she subjects you, I was very happy to see the game give the player the option to develop their relationship with her.

Second is what is arguably the central element of gameplay, the resource-gathering exercise. Normally I should find this sort of thing to be tedious: fewer things turn me off to modern RPGs faster than being asked to perform dull, repetitious resource-gathering tasks. But it works a lot better here than it has any right to, partly because it's quite easy and fast-moving (turn-based time will do that for you), and partly because each procedurally-generated world is given just environmental detail to make it a little memorable. You can encounter security robots in industrial complexes and rock-hurling apes in mountain ranges. The description is sparse, as it would have to be, but it a Zork-like way the concise description allows the imagination to fill the gaps.

Third is the vehicle sequence. I loved this scene. It pulled off the kind of urgency and excitement I so enjoyed in Gun Mute - again, we're not talking about real-time events here! (Spoiler - click to show)Sliss's shooting and dialogue during this sequence do a lot both to keep the scene fun and varied and to increase my adoration of her character. It's difficult to describe what made it work for me on a visceral level, but that's just another reason you should check out Rogue for yourself.

I did say that I preferred Gun Mute, of course. This game is a lot less streamlined than Gun Mute: structurally speaking, it's more like two or three games stuck onto one another than a complete experience in and of itself. Finishing Gun Mute gave me the satisfaction of a completed story; in the case of Rogue of the Multiverse, though, it's difficult to know when the story is supposed to end - I identified about two or three different points at which it could plausibly have ended, only for the game to continue so as to depict events which, frankly, didn't really need depicting. This is a short game, but it's not exactly concise; the endgame is dragged out a little unnecessarily. I also can't help but feel that the resource-gathering game offers a lot of room for expansion into a fuller game. Yes, the procedurally-generated environments are part of the point and yes, repeating the missions as they're written here for a long game would get tiresome fairly quickly, but there's definitely more that can be done with the basic idea.

Ultimately, though, none of these issues will by any means preventing you from enjoying yourself here. It's a light, humorous, not-too-long romp in an imaginative sci-fi setting and deserving of a look.

Gun Mute, by C.E.J. Pacian

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it, July 8, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: C. E. J. Pacian
Play it if: you want a game short and easy enough to breeze through but quirky and different enough to be memorable.

Don't play it if: linearity is a major turn-off.

The premise is simple. You're a reticent gunfighter, The Man With No Voice if you will, and your single purpose is to save your loved one. Get from point A to point B. Kill obstacles. Rinse and repeat with feeling.

Gun Mute is probably the most fun I've had with a game this linear. It's something like a cross between Time Crisis and those town-wide shootouts that seem to populate the climaxes of old Westerns. And as with the best action sequences, no two killings are alike thanks to a series of varied if easy puzzles.

Although the game doesn't operate in real time, it maintains a sense of urgency. The need to make use of timing, not only in response to your opponents' actions but to keep your own gun loaded, gives rise to a near-illusion of real-time action. It's an interesting effect, almost reminiscent of watching the still images in a flipbook come to life with motion. Perhaps I'm overplaying it, but I found it notable.

The setting isn't a straightforward Old Western locale so much as a post-civilization anarchy that has reverted to a sort of New Old West. Cyborgs bartend at the local saloon, the railroad transports futuristic battle turrets, and you install GPS software by drinking it. Pacian makes the wise choice not to dwell on the setting, as it isn't the focus of the piece, but lets it color the environment a little and thus keeps it memorable and distinctive while still sticking to the basic forms of the genre.

Overall, this is a fun and different sort of distraction. Hardly morally challenging or thematically deep, but a great deal of fun. I spent less than half an hour getting from beginning to end, and it'll stick with me a whole lot longer.


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