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Reviews by Wade Clarke

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1-7 of 7


Home Open, by Emily Boegheim

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Me and this house have sort of a Shining thing going on., January 13, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: TADS
The visiting of an open house is an activity eminently suitable for simulation by parser game. In Home Open, you're a prospective owner-renovator checking out a two-storey home. You get to observe the arrangement of rooms, jot critical shorthand notes about the furnishings on your pad, which is fun (NOTE BEDSTEAD) and generally poke around in a state of mild suspicion. Then comes unusualness – though some of the pre-unusualness prose sneaks through.

Home Open develops with a sense of mounting mystery, but I found the outcome to be too ambiguous for a satisfying pay-off. To its credit, the outcome prompted me to re-enter the game to seek out more information (did I miss something? I don't think I did). When I couldn't find anything new, I sat back and thought 'Hm,' my eyes focussing on a point slightly beyond the pane of the screen.

A few of the game's inaccessible props and portals don't yield to other obvious objects to which one might hope they would. e.g. A conspicuously interesting place that's too dark to see into still can't be seen into after obtaining a light source. Are the game's slice-of-life qualities looking for a fight with typical adventure game behaviours, and with prop-puzzle pairings like the light and the hole? Home Open is confusing like this, because sometimes the slice-of-life wins very decidedly and sometimes the classic adventure game puzzles win very decidedly.

Sometimes in life, a sideboard is just a sideboard. But ultimately, Home Open didn't radiate as much drama or explanation as I wanted, or as I felt it signalled it would.

Slasher Swamp, by Robot

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Slip, die, repeat in a swamp made out of bits of slasher movies., November 17, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: horror, IFComp 2014, TADS
(This is an edited version of a review I originally blogged during the 2014 IFComp.)

As much as I hate dwelling on the concept of tropes, Slasher Swamp is an old school (i.e. all puzzling for puzzling sake, sparse prose, several schtick mazes, scores of instant deaths, no UNDO) adventure in which you find yourself a witness to a nonsensical mishmash of slasher film tropes after your truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere. It’s a Windows application with the TADS engine under the hood, and the author proffers a small command set which can be used to clear the whole thing. I mapped the game and played to completion in about an hour, but I have to admit I achieved this by brute-forcing the content of locations. And there are a lot of locations.

The prose is a mixture of the atmospheric, the overdone atmospheric, the jokey and the juvenile. It's a tone that will be recognised by anyone who’s played any old school games which indulged their authors.

I mildly enjoyed ticking off the scores of discrete images and moments I recognised from horror films I’ve seen, but they're assembled in this game with no overriding design and no consequence, and thus to little effect. Most objects go unused, including conspicuously important-looking ones. The player has no direction or purpose other than to keep throwing themselves at everything until they can win by a kind of exhaustive attrition of props and puzzles, though there are few puzzles in light of the size of the map. The forest mazes are small but tedious, and the random deaths are numerous, and truly, deeply random.

The worst symptom of the disabling of UNDO is that from any of the scores of rooms with teleport-like one-way exits, you can’t go back. I would often save the game just so that I could try each of the four exits from a room without having to circle the entire map after each teleport.

In the end, Slasher Swamp has all the shortcomings of both old school senselessness and aimless design. The world is the base for something decent, but the hodge podge of blood'n'excrement scenes aren't woven into any specific gameplay content. They’re just there, usually described to you and then gone again all in the space of one move, unrelated to each other, unrelated to progress in the game.

In spite of Slasher's shortcomings, I still got moderate amounts of fun out of throwing myself at it for an hour.

Ecdysis, by Peter Nepstad

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Horrors great and small., December 16, 2012
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: horror, Lovecraft, TADS
Ecdysis is one of the English language entries making up the HP Lovecraft Commonplace Book project of 2007, and in spite of its brevity – or maybe because of its brevity in league with its quality – it's probably the best of them. It is based on the following jotting from Lovecraft's book, which I wouldn't actually read if you want to approach the game in a pure state: (Spoiler - click to show)Idea #221: “Insects or other entities from space attack and penetrate a man’s head and cause him to remember alien and exotic things–possible displacement of personality.”

The great idiosyncrasy of Lovecraft's writing and subject matter are capable of indirectly prompting degrees of weariness from IF players, who cannot help but wonder why so many IF horror games choose to follow in the footsteps of one writer. Yet there is still a great variety of stances the authors of these games can choose from when adopting an approach to the material. What is strong about Ecdysis is that it manages to draw both extremes of the scale of Lovecraft's material together into a short game; the epic, cosmic end involving interplanetary concepts and great, smiting alien beings older and more powerful than humankind can comprehend, and the claustrophobic, imminent end involving monsters and putrefaction in the here and now.

Ecdysis is linear and uncomplicated, but the PC is driven in his actions, which tends to be the thing that makes linear games work as interactive pieces. When there are few actions you can take but they happen to be the ones you'll really want to take, it can draw attention away from the absence of a range of alternate choices and help keep the game out of "Why wasn't this written as a short story?" territory.

This is one of those games where to say more would be to spoil the effect, so I won't.

All Alone, by Ian Finley

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Effective in its aim but low on interactivity., December 4, 2011
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: TADS, horror
All Alone is a very short horror game riffing on those urban myths about what can happen to women who are unfortunate enough to receive a creepy phone call late at night. You play one such woman fielding one such phone call; you're alone in your apartment when the call arrives, a storm's moving in and the TV news is yelling at you about the local serial killer.

The game is effective in evoking the fear people can experience and generate in their own homes at night, and eliciting that fear from a handful of rooms and domestic props. It also uses a couple of sound effects at choice moments. Unfortunately, it's also tremendously short and not really very interactive. Suspense is built up from a sequence of timed steps which mostly proceed no matter what you're doing. Admittedly this is a rather dull and mechanical perspective on how the game works, but if that suspense is the game's sum effect (Spoiler - click to show)(though the final twist is pretty good, too) it's too little for me in an interactive medium.

One more note: Reviews contemporary to All Alone's release (11 years ago at this time of writing) often quote the author's advice on how to play it – that is, with lights out, alone, at night. This advice wasn't anywhere in the game that I could find, so I assume it was on a promotional website which no longer exists or in a readme file which is no longer attached to the game.

Blind, by Andrew Metzger

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Well-designed creepiness., November 18, 2011
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2011, TADS, horror
When I came to play this game, I thought, "I see political trouble ahead for Blind from reviewers, based on the title and tagline…" that tagline being: "Who says blindness is a handicap?" As it turns out, Blind isn't about overcoming blindness through medical advancement or political agitation. It is about overcoming blindness by having you play a young blind woman who must escape from the house of a cannibalistic serial killer.

Blind women in peril (or women whose eyeballs are demonically possessed - that one doesn't apply to this game) have a rich history in thriller and horror films. Audrey Hepburn played one in Wait Until Dark (1967), foiling a drug-dealing criminal in her own unlit apartment. In that film it was all about the drugs. In many later blind-woman-in-peril films, and in Blind, the criminal's goal is the blind woman herself, his motives sexual and sadistic. This takes the game into creepy and harrowing terrain, and puts the player in a desperate survival situation.

In technical terms, Blind's sensory schtick is less than perfect. As you cannot see, you are given other verbs to discover information about your environment, such as 'feel' and 'smell'. 'Look' remains implemented, giving general feedback from your other senses on your present location. Being able to use several senses multiplies the amount of feedback you can get from each object in the game, but sometimes it can feel like a simple obligation to have to 'examine' each item in three or more different ways, and more objects could use more describing. Nevertheless, the overall effect works in that you do progress through the game by applying sometimes unexpected senses to the obstacles you encounter in a way that a sighted person wouldn't.

I was surprised to learn that the author is not particularly a fan of the horror genre, as he demonstrates a pretty good understanding of it in Blind. Some of the heroine's realisations about her plight (and the plight of those who went before her) as she stumbles about the killer's house are written with great psychological and physiological realism. Unfortunately, the game is also capable of undercutting such moments with the odd joke at the expense of the fourth wall, or occasionally managing to frame the heroine in a pervy way, even though it's her POV. These weak spots do not detract from the game's overall sincerity of effect, nor from what turns out to be a very elegant and detailed game design.

While Blind's early scenes distressed the adventure gamer in me by presenting me with a huge number of implemented household items which I could pick up (I was having visions of having to construct some incredible escape device from my packrattings, and I feel I am only being kind to future players in saying -- that is not what you have to do… (Spoiler - click to show)At least upstairs. When you get downstairs, some assembly may be required.) Blind demonstrates a lot of interactive possibilities and outcomes in its second act down in the basement. Violence has been used against you; how much and what kind of violence are you prepared to resort to in order to escape? Some possibilities seem to be a stretch when derived from the context sensitive hint system, but other clever and resourceful actions for the heroine to take are well implemented. You might have to face your captor more than once, and the game becomes particularly dangerous and exciting as it approaches its climax.

I also like that when you first complete Blind it presents you with a list of achievement-like extras you might want to try to avail yourself of in a subsequent game. Some of the proffered feats are easy to pull off, others quite difficult. In any case, I found this to be a more strongly motivational approach to inviting replays than those typical 'amusing' lists, which I've never really liked. And the second act gamespace is both small and detailed enough that I think most players who enjoyed the game are likely to be interested in going for the extras.

Version 1.6 of Blind (the final IFComp 2011 version) could use more polish in proofreading and implementation, but its core design is good enough that some roughness is unlikely to be bothersome for any player who is interested in its subject matter. It certainly doesn't betray any sign of its having had no testers beyond the author; I find it to be as least as well implemented as many games which placed above it. Blind is an imperfect but strong horror-thriller puzzle game, with moments of authentic creepiness and gruesomeness.

Six-Chamber Champion, by C.E.J. Pacian

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
No whammies, no whammies!.. AUGH!!!, January 22, 2011
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: TADS
Six-Chamber Champion was written for "The 371-in-1 Klik & Play Pirate Kart II: Klik Harder" (it was one of the non-Klik & Play games, obviously) with development time limited to 2 hours. The resulting compact game lets you indulge in a round of Russian Roulette, and it doesn't beat about the bush. You and your opponent are seated, a gun loaded with one bullet is placed before you, then an armed referee and a bloodthirsty crowd watch over the pair of you as you take turns putting the gun against your head and pulling the trigger. The survivor will walk away with €1 million. There is no extraneous story or detail, just visceral suspense ala The Deer Hunter. A few other actions might occur to you and you can try them en route.

The game is cleanly programmed and operates only in the service of the situation, so player reaction to the whole thing isn't steered. It turns out that Interactive Fiction's delivery method of breaking reality up into tiny discrete steps might as well have been designed to play virtual Russian Roulette. It works very well here to create suspense and excitement, and to elongate individual moments. I found my fingers reluctant to commit to entering the PULL TRIGGER command that could blow my brains out each time. The outcome is randomised whenever you restart, and I was surprised to find that the reluctance effect wasn't significantly diminished on replays.

This game does exactly what it says on the box, and it does it well, so there's not much guesswork involved in deciding whether you might be interested in playing it or not. While having a gun at one's head might sharpen the mind wonderfully, sanity advocates will quickly point out that there's no shortage of less dangerous ways of reminding oneself that life is infinitely interesting and exciting. Though it must be admitted that those other ways don't give you a 50/50 shot at winning a huge pile of money right away.

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

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Life is weird in the multiverse., November 21, 2010
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2010, TADS, science fiction, comedy
(Review of the original IF Comp 2010 release)

Rogue of the Multiverse is a humorous sci-fi adventure with some wacky/peculiar dynamics which guarantee that its story maintains unpredictability for its short to moderate duration. Whenever you start to feel you might be getting a handle on your situation, the space carpet is likely to be pulled from underneath you in a slightly Hitchhiker's Guide fashion. The result is a mixture of pleasant surprises and disorienting turns which will cause each player to identify different bits that they enjoyed the most, and disagree with others about which bits made them go, 'Huh?'

(Spoiler - click to show)The game will also prompt arguments about whether one should make kissy faces at alien lizard doctors or try to sock them between their stupid beady eyes as soon as one gets the chance.

In this game you play the eponymous rogue, and while "Rogue of the Multiverse" sounds like a real badass title, the kind to be bestowed upon a Han Solo, the segment of your life portrayed here happens to be one of the mushier ones. In the space prison where the game begins, none of the other inmates react to you as if you have any street credibility at all, and pretty soon you're the lab monkey in the rather unimpressive experiments of one Doctor Sliss, a condescending lady lizard who is convinced that bananas are your god. I did feel a little annoyed at my own confusion at having to move about the science complex with the commands 'forwards' and 'backwards', but this ultimately wasn't a huge issue.

Thus a rogue's lot in life appears to be that of playing second fiddle to a reptilian scientist, searching randomised grids of alien turf for interesting people and things to tag at her behest. The descriptions of the alien inhabitants and their behaviours are pretty cute, and each bout of exploration feels not entirely unlike a game of Hunt The Wumpus. Once you work out what you're doing, this section is fun but pretty easy, so it's good that it doesn't outstay its welcome. I was disappointed, however, that I was not able to butter up some of the aliens with goodies procured from the Doctor's complex to convince them not to remove their tags.

Just when you think you've got this grid searching thing nailed, a helpful space agent shows up in a space toilet and assures you he can bust you out of captivity if you just buy him the stuff that will allow him to cobble the escape thingy together... Eww, but he's in the space toilet! Moving toward your escape is arguably the most tense part of Rogue, but afterwards, proceedings get - relatively speaking - even weirder.

My own sense of aggro towards Doctor Sliss, my former jailer, after the tables were turned (or at least shuffled around) never did find release. At first I thought the game was strongly signalling that I could not avoid casting my lot in with her, to the extent that when I had an opportunity to do something contrary to her wishes, I missed it. Plus I was probably distracted by the recent excitement of a chase on jet bikes, another sequence which arrived with the game's customary surprising-ness. What's obvious though is Sliss's presence as a well-written, if inscrutable, character, whether you feel amorous or murderous towards her.

The game's last scenes on another planet (assuming you go that route) feel like the unheralded ending of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, the one where you forget about the adventure you were having for the last 80 pages and suddenly travel to another time, meet new people and assume an entirely new role, all within the space of one page and one illustration. Of course this isn't literally what happens in Rogue, but it generates a similar sensation. And this is not an inappropriate final sensation for a game whose story structure and interests have hardly been traditional beginning, middle and end. The game feels more like a window onto the amusing and chaotic adventures of a rather put-upon individual, adventures which were probably just as strange before the game began and will continue to be as strange after the game ends. The title could almost be a joke, or at least ironic. Or it could be the po-faced earnest assessment of the main character's view of him or herself.

The game's peculiar turns felt weird while I was playing it, but they evoked a small portion of universe held together by wonky chance rather than sense. It was the vision of that wonky universe which stayed with me after I completed this well written and executed adventure.




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