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Ratings and Reviews by JonathanCR

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Hoosegow, by Ben Collins-Sussman, Jack Welch

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A great bit of hokum, March 7, 2012
As the other reviews make clear, this is a witty and entertaining game. It's certainly not the hardest game you'll play.

There are a number of particularly nice touches, beyond the clever setting and the splendid use of language. One is (Spoiler - click to show)the series of "alternate endings" you can see with the EASTER EGG command - a lot of fun. A more substantial strong point is the originality of the puzzles. I particularly liked the fact that the apparently obvious solutions to the various problems aren't, at all. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, you don't use the coffee to wake the preacher, you don't use the meat to distract the dog, and you don't use the key to open the cell door.

I did, however, encounter some bad guess-the-verbiage. (Spoiler - click to show)I worked out quickly that I should fix the stool with the tube, but finding the right choice of words for this took a long time - especially as I had used "fix" before and the game seemed to understand it. But not for this. I also tried to examine the deputy once I'd knocked him out, eventually having to resort to hints to find that only the verb SEARCH would give the desired results. Worse still are some apparent bugs and inconsistencies. (Spoiler - click to show)Trying to do actions that the game won't allow sometimes results in it telling you that the object is out of reach in the office, even when you're holding it. Trying to touch the deputy when he's lying in front of the bars returns the same message, even though he's certainly not out of reach.

A more minor matter is that despite the great writing, it's not entirely consistent. It struck me that while the "error" messages are written in cowboyese, the rest of the narration is not, which is a little odd.

So the game could certainly use a bit of smoothening up. Despite that, it's a lot of fun, a bit more original than your standard escape puzzle, and consistently witty. Certainly a worthy competition winner.

Dead Like Ants, by C.E.J. Pacian
JonathanCR's Rating:

Broken Legs, by Sarah Morayati

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Tough, nasty, guilty fun, November 16, 2009
Broken legs is a gloriously written game, one that revels in the sheer vileness not only of its protagonist but of the world in which she dwells. This is a character who makes Varicella look like Francis of Assisi, and the basic idea of the game is much like Varicella: the loathsome PC must eliminate a series of equally loathsome rivals within a time limit. Rather than a struggle for political power between courtiers, however, this is something much more vicious: a group of teenage wannabe starlets competing for the last place at a prestigious stage school. Lottie, the protagonist, has screwed up her audition, so the only thing to do is to ensure that all her rivals do the same thing even more disastrously. And so the mayhem begins.

I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with a more over-the-top hateable main character: it both adds to the game (as an interesting experience) and detracts from it (you really don’t want Lottie to succeed, given that she’s the nastiest one of the lot). The game’s light touch and superb writing do much to make the nastiness fun, however. The author captures and parodies the ghastly valley speak, not to mention the two-faced bitchiness, of these would-be clean-cut starlets in such an exaggerated way that its basically humorous nature is never obscured. (Spoiler - click to show)The effect is enhanced still further by the glorious twist at the end, complete with the option to play through the game again with additional comments in the light of what we now know is really going on. It turns out that the wickedness of Lottie as revealed throughout the game is entirely fictional – but only because there is even greater duplicity at work. The world of this game is revealed to be even more fathomlessly nasty than we thought.

I found the game staggeringly difficult. Some of the methods needed to eliminate the rivals are decidedly hard to work out. That is, of course, as it should be, but some are harder than they need to be because of the fairly basic interaction system. Much of what you need to do involves getting other characters to do things for you, but the limitations of the ASK/TELL conversation system make it hard to do this. (Spoiler - click to show)I worked out, for example, that I needed to get Rosanna to lie to Kassie about the audition, but I couldn’t find any way to even suggest it to her. It turned out that I needed only to give her the memo. But it wasn’t obvious to me that it was merely a lack of the memo that was preventing her from telling the lie. One or two also seemed insufficiently clued to me. (Spoiler - click to show)When talking to Alexandra, the topic of her shoes and music never came up. In fact even after I knew, from reading the hints, that these were the key to defeating her, I never found a way to get her to talk about her music. And these items weren’t visible in the room. So without the explicit clues, I would never even have thought of focusing on them. However, the in-game hint system is a lot of fun and gives helpful hints. It still wasn’t enough for me, though, since I ended up using the walkthrough to see enough of the game to try to judge it fairly. And in this case, I’m glad I did, as I would never have solved most of these puzzles left to my own devices.

For me, the difficulty and rather random nature of many of the puzzles is a negative point against this game, although they may not be for others. Apart from that, though, the game’s gloriously nasty premise and excellent writing make it a very strong and enjoyable offering.

Snowquest, by Eric Eve

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
Enjoyable, but ultimately flawed, November 16, 2009
I found it hard to evaluate this game. On the one hand, it’s very well written, the plot is engaging, it’s all well implemented, there are many striking images and it draws you in. On the other – well, I leave it feeling very dissatisfied with how it all turns out. (Note: the rest of this review contains unhidden *mild* spoilers - don’t read it if you want the playing experience to be totally unspoiled - I have of course hidden the more explicit spoilers.)

This is one of those games that puts you into a fairly clear situation, lets you play it for a while, and then it turns out that you’re not really in that situation at all. Personally I find this kind of approach not only rather cliched (it’s only a small step from waking up to find it was all just a dream) but also somewhat annoying: it takes energy to invest into believing in the situation that the game presents us with, and to be told that in fact this situation isn’t real after all can make you feel a bit cheated.

In the case of Snowquest there are definitely mitigating factors. Things that happen in one reality are mirrored in another. (Spoiler - click to show)The obvious example is the wolf in the initial story, who appears as Agent Wolf in the final one – and throwing a stick at him defeats him both times. The theme of “snow” is obviously constant throughout as well. However, I found the overall story quite baffling. This was especially so given that there seemed to be not two but three realities. (Spoiler - click to show)The first is the initial situation, which ends with the finding of the book. Then you’re taken back to the cave of the first part of the game, implying that all the stuff that just happened didn’t really happen; this ends with the finding of yourself in the plane. And finally there’s the “real” reality in the airport. It seems that the *second* of these two realities is shown to you by Wolf in an attempt to prevent you from flying off with the parcel. But what on earth is the first reality? Was it part of the hallucination, and if so, why did Wolf induce it? What purpose does this setting – which seems to be far in the future – have within the story as a whole? Why was the book hidden in such an odd way, and why was the skeleton held together with gold thread? Even the final explanations didn’t really explain very much. These things led to my being far more confused than enlightened at the end of the game. On reflection, what I find odd is that the initial scenario seems to be much better thought through, and generally fleshed out and interesting, than the final “reality” is. Is this deliberate? Perhaps, but it feels wrong.

Overall, the game plays well and the writing is good. It is pretty well implemented, although there are occasional annoying lapses (“examine mountain”, when you’re standing on it, doesn’t give a very helpful response). I found one very annoying “guess the verb” puzzle: (Spoiler - click to show)you are supposed to “turn” the bone when it is in the slot, but “move”, “push”, or any other action won’t work. Given that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of logic to this scene to start with, it’s hard to see how one could be expected to guess that.

So I must admit that I found this game more frustrating than anything else, mainly because the longer it goes on, the less sense it seems to make. Perhaps this is deliberate and the game is meant to leave the player somewhat unsettled, but if so I’m afraid it didn’t do a great deal for me. The good implementation and writing, together with a story that is interesting (if increasingly disorienting), mean it gets a decent score for me, but the aforementioned problems (at least from my point of view) mean the score isn’t as high as perhaps it might have been.

Byzantine Perspective, by Lea Albaugh

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A single idea, but a good one, November 16, 2009
This is a very clever little game. It is one of those games that basically have a single puzzle. In this case there are a couple of things you have to do, but once you work out what’s going on, it’s not enormously difficult to do them. The tricky part is working out what’s going on. The best procedure if you are having difficulty with this is but don’t want to be told the answer outright is (Spoiler - click to show)to make a map, showing where you actually can and can’t go, and compare that to the map that is provided.

It is hard to say any more than that without spoiling the game.

The basic mechanic is very simple (if utterly confusing at first), and there is nothing really to the game other than this: no objects besides the couple involved in the puzzle, and not much else to look at along the way. The puzzle itself is short and the game does not take long to play at all once you twig. What content there is seems to be well implemented and I didn’t find any bugs.

Overall, then, this is a simple game that does little other than introduce an initially confusing but ultimately elegant mechanic and leave the player to work out what that mechanic is – but it does it very well indeed.

Resonance, by Matt Scarpino

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Good fun, some interesting ideas., November 16, 2009
This is a fun if fairly short game. The setup is nothing too unfamiliar. You play a private eye, disgraced and penniless after a disastrous court case with an evil corporation. The evil corporation has now kidnapped your wife and is about to unleash a diabolical scheme of world domination. Naturally, only you can stop it.

The game is not enormously difficult, mainly because with each section completed, it is made fairly obvious where you need to go next and who you need to speak to. It’s mainly a matter of simply following the cues. One complication is that the game rather unexpectedly contains riddles! Which to my mind rather breaks the suspension of disbelief. I must also say that one of the riddles stumped me, and it seems that I wouldn’t ever have got it without using the hints as it required cultural knowledge that I lack (Spoiler - click to show)(when on earth is a hearse white? I’m going to guess Asia, but I used to live in Asia and I never saw a white hearse, so it can’t be that mainstream a reference).

However, the game also contains alternate routes to victory. Following the fairly clear cues as outlined above will take you through the “main” route. But you can also behave quite differently to find the “saboteur” route and, best of all, the “dancing man” route. I followed the walkthrough for the dancing man, but it would probably be possible to work it out without help – although a lot of experimentation, undoing, and restarting would probably be necessary. (At least this route doesn’t involve any riddles.) I found this way through the game to be very interesting. The “dancing man” route is so-called because it achieves victory without any deaths, leading to a happier victory – but as you go down the route, the game plays with what you’re doing. There has been much discussion of games where the player must do things that the player character would never do, or never have any reason to do, since the player has knowledge (perhaps derived from previous attempts at the game) which the PC should lack. This is certainly the case with the dancing man route through Resonance – but the game comments on it. As the game progresses and the PC does increasingly weird things the purpose of which is not immediately clear, other characters comment on it and wonder what is going on. The PC himself begins to act rather strangely, inexplicably literally dancing his way through the scenes and telling other characters he cannot be beaten.

I thought this very interesting, simply as a comment on how PCs behave when the player knows all the strange actions required for victory, and it added a lot to the game.

The game is well implemented and largely free of errors. There were one or two minor ones that I spotted. I got an error message when examining the cabinet. At one point I was told that I had dropped something, but in fact I had not. And there’s the occasional typo (e.g. “get his” instead of “get this”).

Overall: the game is fairly short and relatively easy. The main point of interest is that you can choose to follow the not-too-difficult route that is clearly cued, or strike off on your own and try to find one of the alternatives. Doing that leads to interestingly postmodern stuff along the way.

Earl Grey, by Rob Dubbin and Allison Parrish

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Baffling, capricious, but always entertaining., November 16, 2009
This game is tremendous fun – at least, once you work out what’s going on. The game combines a ruthless logic with dazzling capriciousness. The best example comes in the introduction. The first part of the game introduces you to the game mechanics and explains what your task is going to be. As it turns out, however, you never perform that task at all. No sooner is the introduction over than the game takes a wildly different turn. You’ll still need the skills you learned in the introduction, but you won’t be doing what you thought you were going to be doing.

It quickly becomes apparent that the game revolves around word play of a kind very similar to that of the seminal “Nord and Bert”. Like that game, you change the world by changing the words that describe the world. Moreover, like that game, the action is extremely episodic. The tools you need to solve each scene are within that scene, and when you move to the next scene, you won’t take any with you.

There is a story, though, and there are even characters who appear in different scenes. (I especially liked the Earl himself.) Even having completed the game, however, I’m not entirely clear on the details of the story – but one gets the impression that it doesn’t really matter. Nothing in this game is to be taken seriously, even by the characters in it.

A very nice touch which brings this home is the “thought line”. This is displayed *after* the command prompt, and gives the PC’s thoughts on what has just happened – which are usually fairly sarcastic and pretty funny. I don’t think these thoughts are ever essential to the game, although they sometimes give vague hints. One slight annoyance is that the contents of the runebag are displayed in the thought line, which changes after you type the next command. That means that you might forget what those contents are after a couple of moves and have to check it again.

The puzzles are fairly logical – in a sort of a way – although tackling them can become fairly mechanical. When I couldn’t think what else to do, I found myself examining everything and then trying to manipulate pretty much every word I saw in a methodical way. Most of the time, however, it was easier to guess what to do, although it was not always clear why.

Negative points: there isn’t a great deal of freedom in this one. You can effect the transformations that are required to solve the puzzles, but no others. So the great promise of your world-altering abilities isn’t really met. You can’t take objects, only transform them. There is very much the sense that you are progressing through a set series of events rather than really controlling what’s going on. Similarly, you can TALK TO characters, but that’s it – you can’t specify subjects. In fact, this works well and keeps the story flowing – when the character stops being responsive you know it’s time to start changing objects. However, the game’s rails can sometimes work against it, especially when it is far from obvious even what you’re attempting, let alone how to do it. (Spoiler - click to show)Perhaps the worst example of this comes at the beginning, when you finish learning how to use the runebag, but Eaves won’t let you go into town until you’ve finished your training. What to do? In fact you’re supposed to turn the plants into pants, thereby driving Eaves mad and initiating the events that drive the actual adventure, but it’s not clear why you’d want to drive Eaves mad at all!

These negative points don’t really detract from the game. This is the kind of game it is, and it does it very well. All in all, a lot of fun and a genuinely funny game to boot.

zork, buried chaos, by Brad Renshaw

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Not for anyone lacking the patience of Job., November 16, 2009
I don’t like giving negative reviews to things or being critical for the sake of it. But I thought it worth tackling this one fairly with the more constructive aim of giving some indications to the author about how to improve things.

If anyone else reading this is like me, they were captivated by Zork in their youth and made fumbling attempts to create their own games in imitation of it, but lacked the imagination or technical ability to produce anything remotely uncringeworthy. This game is those games, but in Inform rather than C64 BASIC. If you’re expecting a jolly, in-joke-filled nostalgia-fest, in the style of “Enlightenment” or “Janitor”, you can forget it. If you’re after a more serious retro-style cave crawl, in the style of “The adventurer’s museum”, you can forget that too. This one tries to recreate the world of Zork but without, it seems, either the imagination which made the early cave crawls such experiences or the wit to parody them amusingly. In fact it’s not merely completely humourless but lacks pretty much any kind of atmosphere or character whatsoever. And that is the first point I want to make: if you’re going to make a game, you need to have some kind of vaguely worthwhile story, or world, or experience to convey to the player.

We don’t get that here. The room descriptions are spartan to the point of meanness:

medium room
You are in a medium-sized room. Exits lead south and west.

A panel is on the wall.


Or:

big room
You are in a huge room. Souoth is a smaller room and hallways lead east and
west.


(That’s just one of the many spelling errors, which it would be tedious to list.)

The implementation is poor:

blue room
You are in a blue room. Exits lead east and south, and there's a glass wall to
the north.

A gray door blocks your way south.

A dial is on the wall.

>x glass wall
You can't see any such thing.


Or:

platform
You are on a small platform over spikes. The platform feels weak beneath you. A
bar leads out over the pit to the south and northwestt lies the maze.

A door leading southeast is here.

A rocky shelf is sticking from the wall.

The platform is collapsing!

>climb onto bar
You can't see any such thing.

>s
You realise that there's a hole blocking your way south.

The platform is collapsing!
You fall onto spikes!
You have died! You wake up in a random room!


It was that last one that finally exhausted my patience. (Spoiler - click to show)I did have a look at the walkthrough at this point, which revealed that what I should have typed was GET ON LEDGE (“climb onto ledge” or “up” or any other alternative wouldn’t have worked). Incidentally, that last room doesn’t really have a door leading southeast – that is actually the door leading northwest, but it seems to have the same description in both of the rooms it’s in. (You can’t go back through it though, for no apparent reason.) There are many other examples of this sort of sloppy implementation. As for the design of the game itself, I could also mention the maze (the rooms of which don’t have any descriptions at all, and which has no original features apart from its thankful shortness); the Room Of Pointless Death (my name), where pressing any button other than the right one will kill you; or the locked door puzzle where you must simply turn the dial next to the door until you hit the right number. There is one part where the game appears to be completely broken (Spoiler - click to show) where you are told that there’s an exit east, but you can’t go east.

The game gets some points for being competent and coherent marginally more often than not, but not many. In short, it feels like a practice game, written as a programming exercise. Its biggest flaw, though, is just a complete lack of imagination.

To the author: as I said at the start, I don’t want to be negative for the sake of it. The criticisms I’ve made are meant to point to questions about why one makes a game and puts it online for others to play. The game has to make sense and be reasonably playable by other people, and that means making sure that objects are properly implemented, that things mentioned in the descriptions can be appropriately manipulated, and that there aren’t points where only one particular form of words is accepted despite the existence of many other equally plausible ones for the same action. That’s just fundamental. Equally important, though, is having something worthwhile for people to play. The Zork games were great games because they took the player to an interesting world that was well described. If you use the Zork name, that’s what people expect. Even if you don’t, people will expect something that’s worth their time. A “big room” and a “medium room” with nothing of interest going on in them isn’t. If you try writing something more original or simply more imaginative in general, and testing it properly, you might well produce something worth playing, but I’m afraid this isn’t it.

In the Woods, by Anna Anthropy
JonathanCR's Rating:

Bedtime story, by Marius Müller

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
A great opening., October 1, 2009
I loved this. The main gimmick of the game is its dual setting: you are telling a story to your small son. A nice touch is that the prompt is "The prince then " - inviting you to finish the sentence (in either the past tense, to match the prompt, as if you are really speaking your move to your son, or the present tense, in standard text game format).

Now at first I thought that this was a cute gimmick but nothing more. But in fact the story-telling setting is neatly woven into the whole game. After typing a move, for example, the game may describe what happens in the standard way (in "your" voice - this is what you're saying to your son), and then add the boy's comments. Often the boy decides what happens next, even overriding "your" description of the action. There are points where he takes control of the story quite drastically. The effect of this is that very unpredictable things happen in the story, but while this highlights the unrealistic nature of the story *that you're telling* (about the prince), it actually helps to make the story *that you're in* (about the father and son) much more immersive and believable. When you play this game, you don't believe in the prince and his adventures, but you do believe in the father and son making up the story about the prince. And you care about the prince, despite his obvious unreality, because the father and son care about him, and the telling of his story is an important part of their bonding.

In short, then, what might be a cutesy gimmick is actually a clever and charming technique that draws you into a story in a way that often eludes games that make far more effort for "believability". It is funny, but the humour is not just about jokes, but serves the deeper purpose of fleshing out the characters of the father and son (and the mother) and their relationships. The game as it stands has basically a single, not-too-hard puzzle before its disappointingly premature ending. I give it only a 3 because it is only an introduction, but it is a spectacular introduction and I would absolutely love to play a full-length version of this. I can easily see how more serious aspects of the family relationships hinted at in the introduction could emerge in a longer story, making this potentially quite a thoughtful and moving piece as well as a very entertaining one.


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