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Dual Transform, by Andrew Plotkin

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Symbolic Symmetry, May 20, 2010
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
This is a relatively easy one-room game by Plotkin that tries it’s best to stretch the ‘one-room’ category into a more robust game. Shade (also by Plotkin), is also supposedly a ‘one-room’ game but expands on that limitation by having several discrete areas you could enter and exit in order to interact with items there or see more detail when examining. Here, Plotkin takes a different approach to doing more with less, and the one ‘room’ you are in is actually a virtual reality that can be dramatically changed by invoking different icons representing different environments.

Of course, if that was the only gimmick of the game, you could easily argue that Dual Transform is a multi-room game with a unique method of traversing from one to the next. What makes this game unique is that some of the objects in the room are persistent, and when you invoke a new environment, that object takes on the aspects of the new room but is considered to be the same physical item.

It’s easier to understand with an example. This isn’t from the game, but, if you were in a cave with a large boulder sitting on top of a box or switch you wanted to access, but couldn’t lift the boulder because it was too heavy, you could invoke another environment, such as a beach. In the beach environment, the boulder would take on new characteristics fitting the new room and possibly become a beach ball. You could then move the beach ball, or deflate it, or tear it in half. After dealing with the relatively light and deformable beach ball, you then invoke the original cave environment. The beach ball would turn back into the boulder (fitting with the environment), but remain in its current location or condition, so it would be flat, or in two pieces, or moved to the side, allowing you access to your original objective.

This idea of objects being persistent but in different forms is the bulk of the puzzles in the game. As you progress you acquire new environments to invoke and learn how the persistent objects change to match their new surroundings. The game is short, and relatively easy once you understand how each room affects your inventory, and concludes with a satisfying puzzle that requires you to use all of the environments in the right order to solve.

Due to its brevity, I don’t have quite as much to complain about. The story is essentially non-existent, and what is there (provided at the beginning) doesn’t entirely make a lot of sense. Supposedly, you are a programmer working to create a perfect virtual workspace and you do this by invoking primal concepts and trying to shove them into a smaller virtual environment where they will all interact. Despite existing in a computer and starring a programmer, the whole idea is very abstract and symbolic rather than deliberate and material. As such, it plays with the same concepts I’ve seen in other Plotkin games where reality and dream collide, such as Shade and Spider and Web. The ending can also be considered just as vague (Spoiler - click to show)and, surprisingly, indicates that there will be a sequel. A first for Plotkin, I think.

Ultimately, it’s a fun little game that won’t take too long if you can grasp the essential concepts. You aren’t going to be quite as challenged as other Plotkin games but, for me, that’s not a big deal. The lack of a meaningful story, though, is a real letdown. I recommend it, though only if you’re looking for a brief diversion.

The Primrose Path, by Nolan Bonvouloir

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Everything coming up primroses..., May 17, 2010
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
This game is excellent. I want to get that up front for once so it doesn’t get lost in the endless cavalcade of small nitpicks, bugs, and my own cumbersome sentence construction. So, if you just want the knee-jerk reaction to this game: "It is great, and you should play it. Without question."

So, why is it great? It starts with the player/protagonist relationship, which is unique, and (regrettably) never fully defined (though I imagine doing so would be a needless distraction to the game’s events). The protagonist, Matilda, is an older, single woman, living alone in a two-family apartment. The other resident in the building (occupying the opposite apartment) is the enigmatic Leo, with whom Matilda has a complex, and uncertain relationship. Matilda is very spirited, but in the manner of someone who has been forced to endure any number of indignities and has learned to keep a stiff upper lip through life’s foibles. Ninety percent of the time, she does as instructed by the player, but occasionally, and usually for a reason, she gets a bit of spunk in her and decides to be prissy with the player. It’s charming, and only occasionally frustrating, and overall gives the character incredibly depth and believability. If one were to interpret the player’s instructions as her whims, you come to understand the character as someone who goes with the flow most of the time but has learned, over the years, that there are times she must ignore her whimsy and do what’s sensible.

There are only two other characters in this game (generally speaking), which are Leo, and Leo’s mother Irene. Both have only cursory roles in the game, but we learn much about them through Matilda, who litters her room descriptions and actions with reverie about her life living next door to them. Leo easily gets the least screen time, but it’s his dire situation that forces Matilda into action, and, as such, much of her nostalgic thoughts center on him. He doesn’t get as much of his character fleshed out as Matilda, but enough is filled in that some sympathy is created for his situation, and you come to understand some of the erratic behavior Matilda has witnessed over the years.

Irene, Leo’s mother, is a bit of a mystery, and is easily the least understood character in the game. Some of this has to do with role in the story. The first scene of the game establishes her as something of a nemesis, but further interactions with her make it clear she isn’t exactly evil. My biggest nitpick of characterization for this game is with her. I was never quite certain what I was supposed to feel about her. Was I supposed to hate her? Sympathize with her? Stop her? Help her? SAVE her (as the game suggests at one point you might do)? I never had a good bearing on her, and as such I was somewhat unsettled by the ending. But I won’t say more about that.

Gameplay-wise, this game is very clever, and probably technically complex. There are three major mechanics in this game that are turned and twisted and viewed at from almost every angle (like any good fantasy should do): time stopping, teleportation, and time travel. Each of these three mechanics has a unique method of invoking them and in the ending they all collide and must be arranged in the right order to save everyone.

Unfortunately, the technical complexity I spoke of results in a few bugs in the late game since there are a large number of variables being juggled at once. At regular intervals in the game, your inventory is changed because of plot-related reasons. Items are supposed to vanish and return into your inventory when certain actions are taken. Near the end of the game, I caused an inventory item to vanish and when I did the appropriate action to make it return, a different item came back. The game never acknowledged this and just went along as if I had always had the other item. It didn’t make a huge difference, but it was surreal. (UPDATE: Literally minutes after posting this review I went back and tried a few things and determined that a few of the bugs I thought I found (including this one) were based on misunderstanding of a couple events. A few more were in fact based on sub-plots I somehow missed during my first few playthroughs. So, less buggy than I thought.)

Additionally, there are about a half-dozen endings to this game and sometimes the ending text doesn’t exactly line up with the actions taken to reach it. A character may reference something from another room as if it was there with you. Or take an item you have yet to obtain from your inventory. Also, a couple of endings make reference to being trapped in an endless loop, but such a possibility is never hinted at during the game proper, so I was unsure if I had missed a plotline or if I was supposed to deduce something I hadn’t yet.

Finally, the last nitpick I have is the large, large number of red herrings in the game. It’s not terrible that there are things in the game that give character to the environments without having a direct impact to the story, but it IS somewhat annoying that some of those things take a bit of effort to maintain. Such as the birds nest, or the painting of Irene’s sister. Objects that were somewhat hard to find but has no purpose I could divine other than to teach you how to climb things in one case and to give a bit of (ambiguous) background to Irene.

But, as I said in the beginning, these complaints are insignificant compare to the excellence of the game overall. The scenario is well thought out and, as mentioned above, the game thoroughly explores the many possibilities of the time and travel mechanics such that I felt both satisfied there weren’t opportunities missed AND satisfied when I figured out how they all worked together. The characters feel very real, as well as the situation they are in. And mechanically, the game works perfectly about 99% of the time, an incredible accomplishment given the complexity of what’s going on behind the scenes. I really, really, enjoyed this game.

Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
A clever take on Rashomon, May 14, 2010
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
This was my third Plotkin-written game (discounting the Plotkin-starring game I played first, ‘Being Andrew Plotkin’) and I think it’s my favorite thus far. “So Far” was somewhat standard adventure hunt and puzzle faire (at least from a modern perspective, maybe in 1996 it was evolutionary), which was well written but wasn’t very fun for me. Then “Shade” was surreal and technically accomplished but left me feeling very unsatisfying because, ultimately, dream logic is really the absence of logic and Interactive Fiction games suffer horribly if you can’t figure out what the author was thinking.

Finally, “Spider and Web” has helped me understand why zarf is such a popular figure in IFdom. Spider and Web starts with a somewhat conservative opening, a man standing in an alley in front of a door he can’t open. But just as you are about to get bored (which the game figures out by you either standing around doing nothing or simply walking away from the door) you are suddenly blinded by light and find the curtain of the world torn away.

It turns out you have been captured by an organization and have been strapped to a chair to be interrogated. The interrogation is taking place in a unique manner, however. You’ve been connected to a computer which is allowing you to step into places you know from your memory and re-enact the events that led to your capture while your interrogator watches the play from his console. Ostensibly, the ‘game’ is about trying to figure out what you had done the first time around so you can show your interrogator and prevent him from killing you in frustration. The simulation you’re placed in allows you some freedom in that goal, but any time you do something that contradicts the evidence your interrogator has gathered, you are stopped and forced to restart the simulation after being told why what you did doesn’t match the evidence gathered.

Even if that was the entirety of the game, it would be fun and certainly out of the ordinary for the IF games I’ve played. But, naturally, that’s not all that’s going on. (Spoiler - click to show)And about three quarters of the way through the game something happens that changes your perspective on what you’ve been experiencing, bringing some doubt to whether you've been fully honest in your telling of events. Of course, the truth has been cleverly hinted at all the way through the game as well, with clever parser responses to actions that should be standard. For instance, very early in the game you obtain a ‘wrapped package’, but all attempts to open or unwrap the package receive the cryptic response “Not yet.” This does an excellent job of adding mystery to what is going on and make the reveal towards the end so much more satisfying.

The writing in this game is excellent, as is to be expected from Plotkin, so there is little more to say.

The gameplay, while ingenious at times, is a little cumbersome at times too. Much of the game involves meandering around doing things until something triggers your interrogator to intervene and reset the simulation because it didn’t match the facts. Then your challenge is to figure out how what the interrogator said you didn’t do alludes to what you DID do, and then do that.

Okay, that was a confusing way of putting it. Ultimately, it’s trial and error. You do something, like open a door, and then the interrogator yanks you out of the simulation and says something like “No, that door wasn’t opened until after you cut power to the security systems, otherwise the alarms would have gone off.” Then you are thrust back into the game and need to figure out where the security systems are to shut them off. This isn’t an actual scenario from the game, but it gives you an idea of what’s expected of you.

Unfortunately, what the interrogator implies is not always straightforward and I spent quite a bit of time fumbling around trying to figure out what was next. This is exacerbated near the end of the game when the guiding words of the interrogator are absent for a plot-related reason. Also, the end goal of the game, which is to obtain a MacGuffin of some sort, requires a bit of reading between the lines to figure out what exactly it is and what you should do with it when you get it. Unfortunately, I needed a walkthrough in the end to fully figure out what to do in the final few minutes of the game.

Overall, this game is excellent, and does a great job of allowing you to play a very, very intelligent protagonist without feeling as though you’re breaking his character. The story twist is superb, and launches an otherwise average spy story into new heights. Fully recommended.

De Baron, by Victor Gijsbers

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Ponder your fate, May 7, 2010
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
(Warning: This review might contain spoilers. Click to show the full review.)The game is conducted in standard text adventure style for movement and interaction. To reinforce that understanding, the first scene of this game takes place in a not-initially-apparent dream where the player is an armored knight encountering a fire-breathing dragon. Outside of that dream, the same play mechanisms are in place, with a few minor exceptions.

Dialog is an important element of the story of the game and as such, it eschews the default “ask about” and “tell X” and instead uses multiple choice to determine what the player will say. There are often four choices to choose from and the responses are not terribly different from each other in tone, but greatly despondent in meaning. The reason for this is that the game uses these discussions as the principal means of determining WHY the player is saying what he is doing. In a way, the game is doing a low-level psychological study on the player through his actions. Instead of giving a report at the end, however, the game uses the player’s responses to subtle guide the remainder of the game to match the rationale behind the player’s actions.

This is an incredible concept, one executed few times before or since because it introduces a very obvious drawback: it causes the scope of the game to increase exponentially. The story branches quickly become innumerable and a single developer will have a hard time keeping up unless they place some pretty strong limitations, which is what Victor did in The Baron.

The game tells a single story where all events have been fixed and there is really only one ending. While that may seem stifling for a game trying to explore the varied motivations behind player actions, it both is and it isn’t. It is rather confining in that no matter if your intentions are noble or cynical, there will never be an opportunity to turn away from your fate.

On the other hand, it is liberating because avoiding your fate isn’t the point of the game.

The protagonist is a father, which, in and of itself, is full of the complexities of raising children but this game narrows down on a single facet of this character: his daughter has been destroyed by the misguided actions of a single man. The game refers to the man as the Baron, and the progression of this game is the father’s attempt to confront the Baron and plead for him to stop and free his daughter.

Each step of the father’s journey, he encounters beasts driven by instincts they find hard or impossible to resist. (Spoiler - click to show)At first he meets a mother wolf who is searching for any food in the cold winter to feed her cubs. Then he encounters a stone gargoyle brought to life but only as a result of feeding on the happiness of others, leaving them bitter and depressed. Finally, you meet the Baron himself, who begs for understanding and sympathy. He admits to being a beast and denies the ability to be anything else.

In the end you reach your daughter and get to talk to her. Through the dialog you have with her, you decide if you have the same determination now as you did when you set forth to confront the Baron or if your vigor has waned. Whether you will let the Baron take her again, or if you will remain vigilant and end the cycle.

It’s a fascinating setup for a dialog over ethics and morality. It’s designed not to challenge your puzzle solving skills but your philosophical stance on conflicted situation. The actions of the Baron are reprehensible, but does his struggle over his nature make a difference in how we perceive him?

As a game, unfortunately, there is less here to be impressed by. It lends itself to two playthroughs on average, one to realize what is going on and see the twist, and a second to make the choices that matter to you. The branching dialog trees aren’t revolutionary, even if they’re not typically used in this manner. The on-rails nature of the game means that if you aren’t intrigued by the initial setup, you will probably be fairly bored by the time you reach the Baron. There is also one point at the ruins near the Baron’s castle where I got fairly turned around because it wasn’t clear to me how certain areas of the ruins connected to each other. So, the one place where the game isn’t strictly linear suffers from slightly muddled navigation.

And then after you complete the game, there is the matter of closure. The game doesn’t offer you answers or even much in the way of a definite future for any of the characters. The point of the game, as I was alluding to before, is to make you, the player, think and feel conflicted, and not necessarily to give resolution to the conflict between the protagonist and the Baron. That’s hard to except, at least initially.

The end of the game is not the end of the story, because the story has no end. Every victory for good or triumph of evil is still just one more day done. Even someone who has done undeniably evil things in the past and holds no hope for redemption, still must face the next day. And even if you decide that the protagonist does succeed in suppressing the Baron that day, he’ll still have to do it again the next day, and the day after, until one of them gives up forever.

Shade, by Andrew Plotkin

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful:
Lost In The Dark, December 15, 2009
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Shade is a one-room puzzle game, but what a room it is! Technically, this game is very accomplished. The room feels large and cramped at the same time. While there are no other real locations to go to in the game, the room has distinct areas that you can enter or exit but which don’t really impact the scope of your actions. What I mean by this is that you can enter the ‘kitchen’ area of the room, and the status bar will even reflect that, but if you then type ‘sit at desk’ (which is in the living room) the game will seamlessly make you leave the kitchen area then sit at the desk without complaint.

So it feels like one room but actually has distinct areas that you can look at and interact with, which makes it much easier on the player when he/she is trying to examine everything in the room trying to figure out what to do next, which, unfortunately, is something I was doing quite frequently in this game.

For all its technical achievements (which I admit all Plotkin games excel in – technical fluency), I simply wasn’t interested in much of the game.

The story starts out simple enough: You are going on a trip on an early flight and haven’t been able to get much sleep when suddenly you realize you can’t remember where you put your tickets. We’ve all been there before, and the charming familiarity of the scenario definitely piqued my interest at first. But then, as the game progresses, your room starts to lose a bit of its solidity. The descriptions of objects change almost randomly, and slowly the game descends into dream-logic.

There is a problem with dream logic in games: it changes the rules. While it can be fun to read a book where a character watches his sofa turn into a thousand snakes and then slither off, and halfway fun to watch it unfold in a movie or TV show, in a video game it means every gameplay mechanic up until the leap into dreamtime falls into question and the player is left in a lurch not sure what to do anymore.

I feel Shade fell into this problem and there came to a point in the game where I was doing things simply because the game wanted me to and not because I understood the reasoning behind them. Obviously since it was following dream-logic by that point, there was no reason behind it, but that was not very satisfying.

In the end, I sort of figured out what was going on, and the cause of the delirium the player stumbles into, but it’s never entirely stated that my supposition is correct, only vaguely gestured at. Personally, I like to see closure in a game, even if it is not a victory condition for the PC, and the strange happenings, and unclear ending of Shade didn’t work for me.

Jigsaw, by Graham Nelson

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful:
Historic Game; Aging Gameplay, December 10, 2009
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
As a latecomer to the IF scene, I have to admit to being more than a little spoiled. Intellectually, I knew games like Photopia, and Galatea, and Violet, and Blue Lacuna were atypical entries into the massive ocean of IF games, but, I think, somewhere in there I had come to expect that most games were like that, even games that predated them. So I was (rather ignorantly) surprised to realize that Jigsaw – released in 1995 – had more in common with Zork (circa 1980) than it did Violet (circa 2008).

What all that means is that Jigsaw’s gameplay is almost brutal by today’s standards. There are several sequences in the game that are very tightly timed (including, to my astonishment, the prologue!), as well as many, many ways to unknowingly put yourself into an unwinnable situation (including, again, in the prologue). Furthermore, the game expects you to look under and on top of things, deliberately, without any hints that something might be there, even when doing an ‘EXAMINE’ on the thing in question.

Another difference, and probably the hardest thing for me to adapt to, is that the game is very sly with respect to available exits. Rooms occasionally have exits that are undescribed and there is really no way to ‘LOOK’ or ‘EXAMINE’ the area to find them. Sometimes, if you attempt to go in a direction that you can’t, the parse will respond with “You can only go southeast and north,” but other times, it’ll simply say “You can’t go that way.” In the prologue of the game, in fact, there is a vital room you must enter that you only find out is there if you attempt to walk in a direction you can’t and get a message implying that there might be something behind the wall if you go one room west then head back southeast. Also, there are a couple cases where you’ll be navigating in cardinal directions (N,S,E,W, etc.) and then suddenly be expected to use a different way to navigate. Such as when you are on a boat in one sequence, and randomly you have to use ‘fore’ and ‘aft’ to navigate the deck, even though you were using cardinal directions when indoors.

As might be apparent from the above, almost all of these differences manifest themselves in the prologue, which is to say, the very first section of the game before you know how to time travel, before you ever meet your antagonist, and before you even know what the game is about! I spent quite a while in that part of the game trying to figure out what was going on and what I should be doing before putting the game down for a second and taking stock. If I couldn’t get through the prologue without a walkthrough, what were my chances with the rest of the game? Would it even be satisfying to play the game if I ended up using a walkthrough for everything?

The answer is yes, it was satisfying. In the end, I did have to use a walkthrough to get past 90% of the puzzles in the game, but I still enjoyed seeing how the game worked, and loved every time you came face to face with your sometimes partner sometimes enemy Black.

Black is quite an interesting character, mostly because you’re never quite sure what Black is doing, even at the end of the game. The first time you meet the character, Black tells you that history is going to be improved by your actions – even at the start, Black treats the player as part of a team, much to the enjoyment of the player character who is immediately attracted to the rogue – and demonstrates this by using the time machine to try and prevent World War I.

Now, if you let Black carry out the mission, history will be irrevocably altered and you, the player, will end up being someone different and the game will end because you no longer remember anything that has happened between you and Black. So, as painful as it becomes to the player’s growing affection for Black, you must try and ensure history goes it course in every mission.

(Spoiler - click to show)Oddly, this doesn’t always mean you’re fighting against Black. In some cases, Black accidentally changes history and you have to right it. In others, there are hints that Black comes from an alternate history altogether and the changes being made are actually the way things went in the player’s past, so you have to instead help Black accomplish the mission.

Just reading the above, you might start to think that Black is somewhat annoying, running through history changing things willy-nilly. But the real charm of Black, and really the charm of the game as a whole, is that despite conflicting interests Black never gets all too angry with you, just frustrated that you don’t understand what Black is trying to accomplish. You two are, after all, the only ones who can travel through time, and that does make you partners in a way. Black is almost always cordial with the player, and, it appears, begins to share your affection.

Watching this relationship evolve is fascinating, and the situations the player and Black find themselves in are frequently entertaining or suspenseful, which definitely makes the game enjoyable even when you’re using a walkthrough to solve every puzzle.

In fact, I’m not sure if it would have been all that great of an experience if I had to figure it all out on my own. I don’t want to repeat myself too much but those puzzles were HARD. Not just guess-the-verb hard, but really out-of-nowhere solution hard. The best advice I can give will sound awfully familiar: pick up everything you can. Fortunately, your rucksack is bottomless so you can carry everything you find for the duration of the game. And, if you pick up food or drink? Drink or eat it. Nine times out of ten, that’s what you’ll be expected to do.

It took me a good six hours to get through this game in the end, even with the Walkthrough. Without it, it could take days. I’m delighted to play an IF game with so much content, but the war you’d have to wage with the game to see that content without a walkthrough is incredibly discouraging.

So, in the end, I have to say the recommendations were good ones. This game IS worth playing! But please, keep the walkthrough handy, because this game deserves to be played to the end, and I’d hate to see a relative newcomer to IF gaming give up because the game appears impossible.

Awakening, by Pete Gardner

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Rise From Your Grave, December 8, 2009
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
This is a relatively straightforward game designed to deliver a particular atmosphere rather than a unique gameplay experience. Since this game was part of the 2009 Saugus.net Halloween Ghost Story Contest, you can probably imagine what that atmosphere is. On the whole, it succeeds in its endeavor.

The player finds himself waking from a muddy grave in the middle of a torrential downpour. Darkness and gloom permeate the environment and force the player to proceed towards the only light that can be seen. The player suffers from amnesia and can’t seem to figure out who he is or, for that matter, what he is. Much of the game is spent lumbering around the dozen or so rooms looking for some way of clearing the fuzziness from his brain. Actually accomplishing that task depends on whether or not, by the time you reach that which you desire, you’ve figured out (in a meta-sense, the PC remains in the dark) what you really are.

More directly: (Spoiler - click to show) It’s apparent from early on in the game that you are undead. If rising from a grave in the opening text doesn’t do it for you, the recurring reminders that you seem to be dying inside your cold body makes it pretty plain. But which form of undead remained a question for me up until you encounter another person. The game indicates that this NPC is ‘alive with life in the way you are not’ and then continues the constant reminders that you are incredibly thirsty. All attempts to drink either the bottle of alcohol or the NPC itself are refuted, however, because the proper command is ‘bite’. While this method of drinking blood is very common in vampire myths, the game itself never hints in any way that a ‘bite’ command is implemented.

I only got stuck once in the game, and that was plainly my fault as I missed an exit description in a room in which I wasn’t expecting to have additional exits. Otherwise, this game is pretty enjoyable. Great atmosphere, easily decipherable puzzles, and a somewhat interesting method of NPC control that fit very well into the ‘story’, for what it is. No real bugs to speak of, either, though I didn’t spend a lot of time hammering on it. Took me near an hour to figure out because of my aforementioned ignorance, but I’d say a more observant person could finish this off in ten to twenty minutes.

Earl Grey, by Rob Dubbin and Allison Parrish

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Knock Knock Logic, December 7, 2009
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Earl Grey relies on what I think is a pretty ingenious gimmick (which may or may not make up for any other shortcomings it has). The avatar in the game is given a magical bag that allows you to manipulate the words used to describe the world around you in one of two ways. You may either ‘KNOCK’ a letter out of a word, or ‘CAST’ a letter into a word.

For instance, if you are “Standing in the room with someone’s Aunt,” you could ‘KNOCK’ the last word in that sentence and suddenly you’d be “Standing in the room with someone’s ant.” The only restriction the game places on the player (presumably, there are a few missteps in the implementation) is that the resultant sentence must be grammatically correct.

This clever manipulation of the world is pretty exciting at first, but the game very quickly falls into drudgery when you realize how carefully every sentence is worded such that KNOCKing and CASTing opportunities are, in fact, limited to a single linear path of puzzles leading you from start to finish. The incredible freedom you might imagine with the power to change one letter in any description just doesn’t measure up to the implementation here. Often your avatar is shoved from featureless room to featureless room using one-way portals instead of doors so you end up with no spatial reference.

In the end, if a room has something in it, it’s going to be KNOCKed or CASTed eventually. The stranger the placement of the word in the sentence is also a good sign that something needs to be manipulated. You might think this would be a benefit to gameplay, however, the puzzles you are presented with sometimes require two or three separate KNOCKs and subsequent CASTings to solve and the intermediary steps often don’t appear to be taking you any closer to your goal.

Furthermore, there is a definite feeling that the puzzles were developed prior to the environment they were placed in, which explains why portals whisk you from place to place and that the flow of solutions doesn’t seem to follow logical sense. I’d think the most satisfying chain of puzzles would involve making a number of changes to a single sentence that get you closer and closer to your goal until they all add up to the solution. But Earl Grey doesn’t have many situations like that. In fact the only one I can think of that comes close was (Spoiler - click to show) when you saw a statue with a crown, and then continued to knock it until you ended up with a moon in the sky so you could turn the moon's 'luster' into a 'cluster' of rocks to stand on. Only that last bit will make sense and the rest is just playing around with anything the game lets you. Instead, if there are three sentences describing an area, there will be three changes to be made one to each of the sentences and ONLY in the order the game wants you to make them.

So, while the game has a brilliant idea here, it doesn’t succeed in fully exploring it, which disappoints. It does, however, have a very funny and charming commentary by the player character that appears after the command prompt after every effective action. It appears to be the stream of consciousness of the PC you’re controlling, and, if so, he’s a pretty sarcastic person and definitely witty. One action comes to mind is when you enter a room and see a large clock standing to one side. Naturally I tried to KNOCK the clock and, as a result, a large lock ends up standing to one side. The commentary at the bottom of the screens says: “Yeah, that could have gone one of two ways.”

So, my recommendation is to give it a try at least to experience this interesting gameplay mechanic, but keep the walkthrough handy for when the game goes off on a path that doesn’t immediately make sense.

Gleaming the Verb, by Kevin Jackson-Mead

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Not IF, but not terrible, December 7, 2009
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Gleaming The Verb does away with any pretense of a story and, honestly, almost every IF convention along with it. You can still examine things (if I recall correctly) but beyond that, every other action (or ‘verb’) you enter at the command line is offered as a potential solution to the puzzle before you. So there is no exploration, no interaction with any objects other than the puzzle before you, and no story beyond the fact that you are trapped in a featureless room with a floating, glowing cube.

At this point, one might wonder why this person even used Interactive Fiction as the basis for the game when it could easily have been done with forms in a webpage or even a Quizilla. Well, the only reason I can think of (being the jaded person I am) is that if they used a webpage or Quizilla they couldn’t have entered it into this year’s IFComp. So... I’m left thinking this person just wanted a greater audience for their work and picked IFComp to do it.

This is a shame, because, if anything, having it presented on the surface as an IF-game only forces it to be judged on measures it shouldn’t be judged on. I wouldn’t normally open a puzzle book looking for a story or an interactive experience, and their absence here meaninglessly detracts from what is not a terrible string of word games.

Yes, it’s short, and yes, the game suffers from it’s implementation (Spoiler - click to show) – presumably the puzzle ‘cube’ in the game requires the avatar to physically manipulate it in some way that solves the riddles present, which was fine by me until I was asked to TITRATE the cube, which is simply absurd – but otherwise, I wouldn’t have thought there was anything wrong with seeing these five puzzles presented on a page for me to solve.

So, I guess, my recommendation is to go into this game with your expectations properly set and you could get a good 10 minutes or so of enjoyment out of it.

Deadline Enchanter, by Alan DeNiro

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Recursive IF, December 4, 2009
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Deadline Enchanter is one of a relatively small set of games that turns the player-parser relationship on its head a bit. Typically, the PC is unaware of your (the player’s) existence, and the parser invisibly takes your commands and transforms them into thoughts that appear to originate from the player character’s mind.

A few games, however, like Deadline Enchanter and, a particularly memorable example from the 2008 IFComp, Violet, change the relationship between the player and the player character by giving the parser a personality. In Violet, the PC is the significant other of the titular Violet, and Violet herself is the parser, replying the way the PC’s girlfriend would, adding tidbits of information and occasional commentary on the player’s attempts to solve the puzzles.

In Deadline Enchanter, it’s even more complicated. The PC in the game is another player of a piece of IF within the game world. The parser in this game is the voice of the person within the game world that wrote the IF game.

Still with me?

It’s terribly surreal at first, playing DE, but as you move through the game it starts to make more sense and you start to understand the rhythm of the game. Through the course of the game, you learn that what has occurred is that the parser, a princess trapped in a tower, has created an IF game as a means of training someone to go through the motions of freeing her. You, the player, is in essence playing someone who has found the game and is playing to figure out how to free the princess.

It’s a pretty ingenious setup in my opinion, but hard to classify and even harder to explain. The game ends up using a few narrative tricks that offer variety to the game play experience, and the ending... well, it gives the player just the slightest hesitation, in a manner designed to create player agency.

In the end, I liked it, and would encourage others to give it a try. It’s actually rather easy, and probably not terribly bad for beginners to IF. I wouldn’t go into it expecting this is how most IF goes, though.

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