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Reviews by Kevin Jackson-Mead

IF Comp 2010

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1-7 of 7

Death off the Cuff, by Simon Christiansen

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A bit of light fun, November 27, 2010
by Kevin Jackson-Mead (Boston)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010
I know that there are other murder-mystery IF games out there, but this is the first one I’ve played, and I have to say I really enjoyed myself. I really liked how it excused the fact that you the player don’t know what’s gone on. You are a detective with everyone gathered in the room to make the big-finish accusation, but the detective doesn’t have a clue who the murderer is. So you’re just making random observations about people, hoping that they will confess or in some way slip up.

The first time I was able to accuse someone, I didn’t because I didn’t think he did it. After playing some more and getting somewhere but still not able to accuse someone else (even though I’d started to figure out something of what was going on), I decided to save the game and see what happened if I accused the guy I thought was innocent. And it was a very nice ending. (Spoiler - click to show)The guy is obviously not guilty, but you ruin his life with the accusation, which eventually causes him to commit suicide. The ending part that usually says “You have won” or “You have died” instead says “You have saved your reputation.” Awesome.

One thing I’ve learned is to definitely type “about” or whatever if the author tells you to in the beginning. Some of these games would have been a lot more frustrating without a bit of guidance. In particular, the about text for this game outlines what the interaction is going to be like (mostly just talking about people or objects, with just a little manipulating the environment), which helped me enjoy it more. I certainly would have gotten more frustrated if I went into it expecting to be able to search for clues around the room, move objects, etc. and then finding I wasn’t able to.

The other kind of losing ending I found (Spoiler - click to show)(there are several versions of the “You have saved your reputation” ending, depending on whom you falsely accuse) was particularly great, too. (Spoiler - click to show)I had run out of stuff to do, so I started talking about my own moustache. It lets me keep talking about it, which is usually a sign from the game that there’s something interesting there. But I was saying stupid stuff, and then I was shot from behind while pacing around the room pontificating about facial hair.</spolier>

I highly recommend this game, and it makes me want to go look at some other murder-mystery IF games.

The Chronicler, by John Evans

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
An unfinished game, November 27, 2010
by Kevin Jackson-Mead (Boston)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010
It’s not a good sign that the help says: “Unfortunately, due to time constraints it’s only half finished, or perhaps three-quarters. I can only hope that you’ll find some amusement from the manipulations of objects it affords, while apologizing for the shortness of the experience.” It has a standard sci-fi type of setting, but I never mind that, being a sci-fi fan. However, after not having much motivation, seeing various unimplemented things (scenery, verbs), and getting an error, I kind of lost interest. I really tried to force myself to play a little more, but I was unable. Given all the marks against it, I just couldn’t care about the game and certainly didn’t want to invest any energy in it. Maybe I didn’t give the game a fair shake, but if it starts out admitting that it’s unfinished, why should I put in the effort?

Gris et Jaune, by Jason Devlin

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Play this for the beginning, November 27, 2010
by Kevin Jackson-Mead (Boston)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010
I was definitely intrigued by the beginning of this game, and up through about half an hour in I was totally into it. I loved the setting and the story, and even though it was fairly linear, I was enjoying the interactivity. If the beginning of this game had been submitted to IntroComp, it totally would have won. However, after the first act, the game opens up completely, and I was lost. I quickly learned what I shouldn’t do, but I had no idea what I should do. I did a few things. I resorted to the hints. I still couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t have the energy (or the time) to start over and use the hints from the beginning.

I totally recommend that you play the beginning of this game. It is very much worth it. And then just decide to end the game when you’ve escaped the house. Pretend that that’s the end of the game and call yourself a winner. It’s OK; you have my permission. (Of course, this is subject to change if/when a post-Comp version is released.)

The Sons of the Cherry, by Alex Livingston

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Some promise, but ultimately flawed, November 27, 2010
by Kevin Jackson-Mead (Boston)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010
This game uses ChoiceScript, a choice-based programming language (think Choose Your Own Adventure books with stat-tracking). I was not feeling very hopeful after the first decision I had to make was what color shirt I was wearing. It asks you a number of questions at the beginning to determine your various statistics. Not all of them are as bad as the shirt one, but it just wasn’t very motivational. But OK, I thought I’d give the story a chance. And it’s got some promise, but you’re very much railroaded along. You’re allowed to choose to refuse to go along with what the main NPC wants you to do, but then you’re told that you do it anyway, except that you’re not as powerful, so you end up dying early. (Spoiler - click to show)Of course, the reason I didn’t go along with what the main NPC wanted was that it was obvious to me that he was a bad guy, responsible for my troubles. I decided to replay the game, going along with what he wanted (and what the author obviously wanted) just to prove to myself that the main NPC was in fact a bad guy. And guess what? I was right.

Unless you’re a big fan of choice-based narrative and want to see an example of how not to structure the narrative, you should probably give this one a pass.

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

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short sci-fi fun, November 27, 2010
by Kevin Jackson-Mead (Boston)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010
Even though this is an “odd-format” game for the 2010 IF Comp (read, not Z-machine or Glulx), it’s by the celebrated author of Gun Mute, so I had high hopes for this game, and I wasn’t disappointed. You start off in prison, and I wasn’t initially entirely sure if I was just supposed to go along with things or try to escape. (Spoiler - click to show)After getting killed during my first escape attempt, however, I figured this wasn’t that kind of game. The game as a whole is fairly linear, but the story is excellent, and there certainly is enough interactivity to make it engaging. What really shines about this game for me, and why I highly recommend it, is the writing. It’s humorous sci-fi, which I can sometimes like but which I sometimes tire of pretty quickly. This managed to hit the perfect tone of being humorous without being comical, and I certainly never got tired of it. Your interactions with the doctor are particularly fun. And, of course, the game is solidly implemented, so it’s really a nice way to spend some time.

I had two main problems with the game. The first was that I didn’t really know much about my character. I could assume I was some kind of “rogue” from the title, and I knew that I was a human currently in a world dominated by non-humans, but that was about it. My second problem was that I didn’t find the ending very satisfying. (Spoiler - click to show)Near the end of the game, you are presented with a binary choice, and this seems to lead to the two endings (at least I didn’t find any more than two endings). Neither ending was very satisfying.

However, the problems I had didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the game, and it’s short enough that I didn’t feel too let down by the endings.

Leadlight, by Wade Clarke

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Really worth it despite the platform, November 27, 2010
by Kevin Jackson-Mead (Boston)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010
I have to say that I had some initial problems because, for some reason, my configuration wouldn’t work with the supplied Apple IIgs emulator. The author pointed me at an Apple IIe emulator, and that cleared up my problem. So this is another one of those nostalgia platform things, but I had less of a problem with it. For one thing, the game was very fully implemented, with lots of things to look at and interact with. Also, there is a nice manual that comes with the game, so it’s pretty clear how to go about doing things.

This is a zombie horror game where you are a student at a girls’ school in Australia who wakes up after nodding off to find some kind of zombie apocalypse afoot. Much of the game is about killing zombies (your former classmates and teachers), and one of the few negative feelings I had about the game was the way combat worked. At least early on, you’re not all that tough, so I spent quite a bit of time saving and restoring in order to get a decent result in combat, which probably contributed to me not finishing the game quite within the two-hour limit of Comp games.

So, yes, you have hit points, and you also have other stats. This isn’t something I’m used to in IF games, but it worked well overall here, with different items giving you different stats. The game also has a really interesting method for keeping score. You get one point for each weapon you find (this is, after all, a zombie game), each enemy you kill, and each “secret” you find. Generally the secrets are things that you examine that give you a little bit of the backstory (which, by the way, is pretty interesting). You also have a couple of opportunities to earn some bonus points for helping some of the other victims. I ended the game with a score of 76/80, having failed to find just 4 out of the 25 secrets. One other nice aspect related to the scoring system is that there are “deathtraps”, but you can always undo and lose a point. Of course, I quickly learned to save often, so I ended the game without any negatives.

The puzzles in the game were really well clued overall, and I only had to consult the hints a couple of times (and I was helped along to resorting to the hints because I was running up against my two-hour time limit). I’m not the best puzzle solver, so maybe that means these puzzles will be too easy for some people, but I found them very satisfying. And I’m proud to say that I figured out how to make it to the endgame all on my own (there was no hint provided for it), even though it was one of the puzzles that I didn’t think was clued very well. I think what helped is that there really are a limited number of commands the game recognizes, and the game is nice enough to give you a list of all of them.

The other real standout aspect of this game is the atmosphere, in particular as brought out by the writing. You end up killing quite a few zombies and seeing lots of destruction, but it never gets repetitive and is always creepy. A particular favorite I encountered after slaying a zombie teacher was, “Mrs Palmer’s remains are just horrid, stinking slush. They continue to ooze even as you watch.” (If this kind of gore isn't your cup of tea, then you should avoid this game.) There was also (Spoiler - click to show)a note found on a girl’s corpse in the chapel that was from her mother telling her to make sure she eats today. It somewhat acted as a clue to let you know that you should try eating the food you find to recover your hit points, but it really hit me as a reminder that all of these corpses had loving families, and it made finding that corpse all the more poignant.

R (Pron: Arrr...), by therealeasterbunny

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Decent Pirate Theme, November 27, 2010
by Kevin Jackson-Mead (Boston)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010
R is made using the format of the old Scott Adams games. These games were before my time, so any nostalgia factor was lost on me. The only thing I got out of the format was being annoyed at how things were set up and missing various conventions that I’m used to. For example, you can move by just typing a compass direction, but there are certain directions that are listed as things that are in a location, like “Trapdoor”, “Path”, etc.) that you can only go to by typing “go [whatever]”. I was stuck fairly early in the game until I consulted the walkthrough to find out that I had to type “go trapdoor” to go back down into the hold of the ship (I had gotten up to the decks initially by typing “climb ladder”). Once I figured that out, it wasn’t a big deal. The other thing I had to consult the walkthrough for was for some guess-the-verb stuff. (Spoiler - click to show)I knew I wanted to distract the sharks with the meat, but typing “drop meat” just dropped it on the ground without doing one of two things I might have expected in a modern game: just going ahead and throwing it in the water or giving you some kind of response to clue the correct command. (The correct command, it turns out, is “feed sharks”.)

The rest of the game was OK, with some puzzles that were easily enough figured out and some that were head-scratchers. I may have headed to the walkthrough a little too easily because of my earlier frustration with the interface, but some of the puzzles really were not well clued. There were also things I couldn’t do that frustrated me a bit. I was particularly flabbergasted that (Spoiler - click to show)the “pirate’s code” kept me from simply running my sleeping enemy through with a cutlass. Mind you, this was the enemy who had snuck on board my ship while I was sleeping and ripped my sails, put a hole in my rowboat, and stole my food, my map, and my wench.

The one highlight of this game, though, and it’s not an inconsiderable one, is the whole pirate theme. I was initially cringing at room names such as “I be in t’ stern o’ t’ bowels o’ t’ ship”, but I quickly got used to it. The theme is very consistent, in an “Arr me hearties” kind of stereotypical semi-comical pirate kind of way. If this kind of theme were done in a more modern type of game, it would certainly be a lot of fun.

So, as I said before, this game might be worth it to you if you were into the Scott Adams games or if you are a big fan of pirate adventures. Otherwise, you can probably give it a pass.

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