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Monday, 16:30, by Alexander "Mordred" Andonov

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Origami, Gnomes, and Caffeine Overdoses, July 14, 2010
by Rose (New Zealand)
"Escape the locked room" games have been done so many times it's very difficult to write this genre in a way that feels original. Monday, 16:30 doesn't try. Instead, it shamelessly employs all the conventions and clichés, ignores the fourth wall, and generally refuses to take itself seriously in any way whatsoever. It works.

You play a bored intern trying to kill time until you can leave work. That's an over-simplistic description; the plot thickens quickly as you attempt to win the attention of the girl in the office block opposite without leaving the room. Depending on what you're doing, time passes at different rates; you have a time limit towards the end, but it's fairly flexible and if you think fast and don't waste your turns you're unlikely to run out. The writing is technically accurate most of the time, and will have you laughing out loud in many places. Since I usually abandon puzzly games early on, it says a lot about the quality of the writing that I was willing to persevere to the end just to read more of it. Unfortunately, some of the humorous passages get repeated often (particularly the message when you (Spoiler - click to show)drink too much coffee) and they began to annoy me after a while; it would have been nice to have the message be shorter and simpler after the first viewing.

Monday, 16:30 rewards patience. The opening, which is a railroaded menu based conversation, is extremely unpromising, and I'm still not sure why the dialogue is in italics. It's easy to get stuck close to the start without hints, since the game doesn't give you much of a clear direction. Give it ten minutes, however: the writing and the sheer silliness of some of the situations are well worth the effort.

The puzzles pretty much all involve the same thing: manipulating paper in different ways to achieve different ends. From origami cranes to giant A3 paper planes, it's amazing what it's actually possible to do. The programming must have been a nightmare, but it works well. The special disambiguation when you have too many pieces of paper is a nice touch. The one room of the game is split up into separate areas; this isn't really necessary but it gives a nice sense of where everything is placed. The built in hint system (a miming gnome) is brilliant, and challenging to use in itself. Unfortunately, it's actually impossible to complete the game without using the gnome hints. (Spoiler - click to show)You need to speak to the gnome at least once to learn a miming action you need. Even when it's theoretically possible to solve some of the puzzles without hints, you'd need to read the author's mind to be able to do it without the gnome. Since I was leaning on the hints anyway I didn't mind, but those who like to solve puzzles themselves may dislike this.

Overall, Monday, 16:30 is a fun puzzlefest that's really worth a play. It shouldn't take more than two hours to complete. I look forward to seeing more of this author's work!

Blue Lacuna, by Aaron A. Reed

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
Truly Interactive Fiction, July 14, 2010
by Rose (New Zealand)
The words 'interactive fiction' imply a story you can truly influence - that you're part of the process of telling the story. Unfortunately, few titles actually accomplish this. Even when the game contains multiple paths, you're still essentially playing through a detailed puzzle box. Blue Lacuna is an outstanding piece due to its true interactivity.

You, as the PC, have the ability to Wayfare - to travel between worlds and places by creating art. When called by another of your kind, you rush to the rescue - only to find yourself on a near-deserted island with a crazy old man and some very creepy trees. Who called you here? And what do they want with you?

This game goes far beyond multiple paths: you genuinely do shape the story. The characterisation of the PC is entirely up to you and you're able to act in almost any way you feel fits. In turn, your actions shape the environment, the outcomes of the story, and the attitudes of the one main NPC in ways that frankly boggle the mind. Progue is an incredible NPC; your behaviour towards him influences his towards you, as well as what encounters you will have. He can be your mortal enemy, love interest, or anything in between. No two playthroughs will be the same. Sadly, the game is so huge and time-consuming that it's difficult to live up to the near-unlimited replay potential.

The setting - the island of Lacuna - is a character in itself. Complete with succinct but vivid descriptions, day-night and weather cycles, random environmental events and an expansive but intuitive map, it's the most detailed setting I've ever seen in a work of IF. Even on third and fourth playthroughs, I'm still discovering new treasures hidden away. Exploring Lacuna even without a plot to drive you would be well worth the effort. Speaking of the plot, it's one of the few things that don't replay so well. The main events of the plot (particularly the (Spoiler - click to show)dream sequences) are less adaptable than the rest of the game, so even the most haunting parts grow dry and familiar after you've read them once or twice.

Aside from the story itself, Blue Lacuna breaks ground in other ways. You may select between story and puzzle modes; this adds to the re-playability, and means the game will appeal to both fans of narrative (like me) and those who like a challenge. I loved this touch and wish more games would offer it. While not exactly a new idea, the (optional) compass-free movement commands heightened the realism and made it feel like you really were exploring the environment instead of a game map. (Spoiler - click to show)The backstage commands were a brilliant touch; they made it way easier to find new endings and to otherwise mess around with the game environment, which is always fun.

Unfortunately, with great interactivity comes great complexity, and with great complexity comes great bugginess. (Is that a word?) On my first playthrough, an essential plot event (the (Spoiler - click to show)tsunami, if you're wondering) never triggered and the game was rendered unwinnable. Though nothing that bad ever happened again, the interpreter kept crashing during one of the conversations and there were way too many bugs and minor inconsistencies to count. I understand that the huge scope of the game makes it impossible to debug completely, but I had so many issues dodging bugs it's enough to lower the game one star in my estimation.

Blue Lacuna is a groundbreaking game that is likely to take an important place in the history of IF. If you enjoy immersive games that reward persistence and patience, then I would definitely recommend giving it a play.

Fine-Tuned, by Dennis Jerz

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Fun, But Not Fine-Tuned Enough, July 12, 2010
by Rose (New Zealand)
Right from the pun-filled title, Fine-Tuned promises a fun ride. You play Troy Sterling, a wannabe dashing hero who charges around the 1910 countryside in his trusty automobile - and Miss Melody Sweet, a struggling but talented opera singer. The point-of-view switches in each chapter as the plot continues.

The opening chapter as Troy is brilliant. The narrative voice is fun, it's fairly intuitive what actions to take, and I found myself becoming more and more sympathetic towards our dashing but not entirely bright hero. The second chapter, as Melody, is where the puzzles really begin, but also where it gets much less fun. You have no clear goal, so you're forced to blindly experiment, and Melody's point-of-view is much less interesting. Of course, I favour narrative over puzzles, so some may prefer the puzzly sections. The puzzles themselves were interesting, but not terribly complex. (Spoiler - click to show)Most involve utilising Melody's talent as an opera singer in some way; breaking the jars was the most amusing instance.

Fine-Tuned's biggest problem is the fact that it's unfinished. The game ends (Spoiler - click to show)right before the final showdown with a rather anticlimactic message, which is frustrating. If you don't like playing unfinished games, I'd recommend that you stay well clear until the final chapters are released.

The game could certainly use some polish on the later chapters (and an actual conclusion), but is otherwise very entertaining. I'm rating it only a four because it was incomplete, but it's still a piece of IF that will appeal to fans of both narrative and puzzles.

The Duel in the Snow, by Utkonos

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Emotion in Old Russia, November 30, 2009
by Rose (New Zealand)
The Duel in the Snow is a strong, short piece with very strong emotional impact. A story of betrayal, danger and lost love, this game will stay in your brain long after playing. It is also notable for being set in old Russia - a rare setting for IF which Utkonos has utilized extremely well.

This is a game that rewards patience. The piece is small, but long segments of the game are spent waiting for something to happen, or trying to trigger the one command that will advance the situation. I found that later playthroughs were more enjoyable, since once you know the trigger actions you can speed things up and are able to hunt for details where it counts. It takes perseverance and effort to unlock the entire plot of the game, but it pays off.

The villain of the piece has a Russian name. While that may not sound like a problem, it is a name that I had to check the spelling of every time I typed it, even after three playthroughs. The main friendly NPC, Kropkin, was excellent. He has an impressive assortment of anecdotes, and his dialogue is dripping with personality. He was a very likeable NPC. (Spoiler - click to show)This made his (probable) betrayal more painful and gave the death ending far more emotional impact - very, very well handled.

The descriptions are sparse, but well-judged. Each room or object is described merely with a few carefully chosen descriptive words rather than paragraphs of prose. Careful details from the real historical setting are interspersed throughout, adding strength and depth to the setting where quantity of description cannot. The addition of a glossary to explain any terms the reader is unfamiliar with was a thoughtful touch. The game was very strongly implemented with no bugs. However, there was one unmentioned exit in the second room of the game, and several synonyms left unaccounted for that really should have been.

Puzzles are few. One puzzle had a very arbitrary solution (Spoiler - click to show) requiring a seemingly useless item from the beginning of the game, which annoyed me intensely as this is one of my pet peeves. In addition, (Spoiler - click to show)I felt like the solution was cheating, which ruined any sense of triumph. The ending resulting from the solution of this puzzle is also rather unsatisfying, which leads me to wonder why this puzzle and ending were included at all. The other ending is certainly stronger.

In general, The Duel in the Snow was a good piece of narrative IF. Rated four stars.

The Legend of Lady Magaidh, by Daniel Freas

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short and Sweet, September 15, 2009
by Rose (New Zealand)
A very interesting section of a larger story. I'd love to know more about the surrounding tale; but fitting in more exposition just wouldn't work. Nevertheless, I enjoyed what little story was there. The writing was good, and the characters surprisingly well defined within the material.

One thing bugged me, however. (Spoiler - click to show)The one winning ending involves saving the life of a man you've just met, to whom you owe pretty much nothing. Sure, you've kissed him, but that's it. I just didn't think it was sufficiently motivated.

Overall, I quite enjoyed The Legend of Lady Magaidh - what there was of it. If it was longer, I probably would have loved it. As it is, three stars.

The Mysterious Case of the Acrobat and His Peers, by Amanda Tien

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Mysterious In Unintended Ways, February 2, 2009
by Rose (New Zealand)
The real mystery of The Mysterious Case of the Acrobat and His Peers (TMCOFAAHP from now on) is how a closing carnival, which presumably would have loads of people about packing up, manages to feel so deserted.

It isn't the lack of NPCs. There are certainly plenty of those. These NPCs, however, utterly refuse to respond to any input. Any attempt to ask them about relevant topics resulted in a stunning lack of communication. Which is a real pity, since the descriptions (what descriptions there were) exuded personality and gave me the impression that the characters, including the PC, might actually be interesting and well-rounded characters.

Which brings me to my next point. The writing, though it contained plenty of technical errors, was enthusiastic and full of subtle and not-so-subtle details about the PC. I really enjoyed the opening text, and felt quite ready to forgive technical errors. Until I hit this.

(from the opening text)
All you have with you is your police badge in your front pocket.

(a little later)
>INV
You are carrying nothing.

>X BADGE
You can't see any such thing.

>LOOK IN POCKET
You can't see any such thing.

>X POLICE BADGE
You can't see any such thing.

(later still)
>SHOW BADGE TO RINGMASTER
You can't see any such thing.

>ASK RINGMASTER ABOUT ACROBAT
You nod hello and show your police badge to the Ringmaster.

This was, obviously, totally mimesis-breaking. And this wasn't the last time either. Loads of items clearly mentioned in room descriptions aren't implemented. I quit shortly after I discovered that I could ride a bicycle into a tiny office.

I wanted to like TMCOFAAHP. But the mysteries of unresponsive NPCs and unimplemented scenery were not ones I was willing to explore, no matter how much I liked the descriptions that actually displayed. I would recommend to the author to proofread the writing, add meta-commands such as ABOUT (yup, it's missing), fill in all the unimplemented scenery, and make the NPCs respond to conversational commands. I would definitely be willing to revise my review in the event of a re-release.

To the author: Keep at it, and keep trying! I think your work shows potential. To everyone else: I would recommended holding off on this one until/if there is a re-release. One star.

Oh, and I love the cover art.

Prized Possession, by Kathleen M. Fischer

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Flawed but worth a look, January 31, 2009
by Rose (New Zealand)
Prized Possession is a reasonably entertaining and beautifully written story. I'm just not sure it works well as IF.

You play a young female landowner in 1192 AD, presumably in England (although I don't think the actual location is ever stated). What begins as a journey in response to a royal summons turns into a desperate fight to survive as you become caught up in a whirl of intrigue.

What I say about the story in the plot summary above is actually about all I can make out about the narrative. It took me three playthroughs to sort out the plot at all. My impression is that, in an attempt to avoid too much exposition, Ms. Fischer erred on the side of too little. Our PC knows the situation and characters; but evidently doesn't feel the need to inform us. I found myself confused through much of the story. Once I received an unfavourable ending when I couldn't quite see what relevance what happened in the ending had to my choices. A little (okay, a lot) more plot information would be nice.

The game's structure consisted of a sequence of chapters, some short, some long. Instead of progressing towards a larger goal, most of the time you are hunting for the magic command or series of commands that will allow you to view the next cutscene and progress. Interactivity is minimal.

There are hardly any puzzles; getting through most sections of the game requires stumbling upon an unobvious action or performing an action at precisely the right moment. In many cases, progressing onto the next section involves picking the right conversation topic; but, as mentioned above, it is often not clear what the right conversation topic is due to the lack of plot exposition. Guess-the-command is common.

The non-player characters, however, are fairly impressive. There are only three NPCs that I would call well-defined, but those three, if slightly cliché, are well-written and interesting. I often wanted more information about an NPC, however. (Spoiler - click to show)What had Ranulf's father done, for instance?

Worth mentioning at this point is the conversation system. You type >TALK and are presented with a list of relevant options, one of which you type. It is quite similar to the more recent TADS 3 conversation system; interesting since the game was released in 2001. In theory, I quite like this system. Where it falls down is the vagueness of the responses presented. (Spoiler - click to show)At one point I was given the option to tell the truth or lie. The problem was that I didn't know what either would mean in this situation. Luckily, both lead to the same result in the end, but it was somewhat daunting.

I love the prose. The writing is vivid, engaging and elegant; perfectly conveying a medieval setting. The beauty of the writing made me forgive a lot about the game; I continued to play regardless of bugs simply because I wanted to read more. When played from a walkthrough, Prized Possession reads like a short story; in this respect it is quite similar to the author's earlier work, Masquerade. (I loved the writing in that game as well.)

I finished this game with mixed feelings. The prose was beautiful; and I think I would have liked the story had I understood it. The linear structure was sometimes mimesis-breaking, which didn't help. I would have loved it had I been able to stick around in some of the scenes and grill NPCs so I could get more background information. I would recommend Prized Possession, but you may want to keep the walkthrough at the ready. Three stars.

Thingimijig, by Neil James Brown

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Cute and quirky, January 26, 2009
by Rose (New Zealand)
This is my idea of what a short game should be. Amusing, if clichéd, NPCs; simple, if dated, puzzles; and an environment in which even the Inform default responses seem amusing.

Coming from the PC of this game, "As good-looking as ever" actually sounded suitably self-aware and cocky. Of course, I could be reading a lot into it, but I don't think so. The humour is innocent and subtle. The parser makes fun of the player on at least one occasion. Personally I find this amusing, but I am aware some dislike it. Generally, the writing was snappy and funny, reasonably well-crafted. NPCs were stock-clichés with no irrelevant conversation topics, but in this setting it was fine.

The puzzles were fairly dated (searching, get-X-give-X etc) but that is not surprising considering the vintage of the game. I solved most of them by myself; going to the source code for two. I probably would have solved them myself eventually, but I felt impatient. There were no guess-the-verb problems or tricky syntax.

Most scenery is unimplemented; attempts to manipulate most objects in the room descriptions will result in "That's not something you need to refer to". This is fine by me, as what is irrelevant is clearly marked as irrelevant. However, it sometimes got confusing trying to decide what was unimplemented scenery and what wasn't. (Spoiler - click to show)I resorted to typing "take all" in each room to find important objects.

Overall, a quick, child-friendly diversion. I'm giving it three stars on the grounds of under-implementation and lack of length, but I still recommend it.

Special Detective Agent, by Pradeep Baral

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
A bug-ridden first attempt, January 26, 2009
by Rose (New Zealand)
I hate writing bad reviews. But frankly, in this case I don't seem to have an option. This game seems to have been written for a university project, which is great: IF is vastly underrated in general, and the more people who write games the better off the community is.

First of all, I'm not trying to discourage the author from writing more IF. I sincerely hope that the author will practice more and continue to write -- if nobody ever wrote for fear that their writing wouldn't be perfect, nothing would ever be written. Practice makes perfect. However bad the game mechanics, I think the enthusiasm of the author shows some promise, and wish him luck with future works.

The standard commands "about", "help" and "credits" turn up no responses. The game constantly breaks the fourth wall trying to hold the player's hand. I did appreciate the attempt to prevent the game from becoming unwinnable by clearly stating objectives, but there are subtler ways of doing it then blatantly mentioning the INVENTORY command in game text. Guess-the-verb problems are frequent; scenery is unimplemented; punctuation and grammar mistakes are rampant; plot information is included in room descriptions; exits aren't mentioned in room descriptions. I quit when a NPC started talking about an item I hadn't seen anywhere and couldn't locate.

I would recommend a revision of the game to the author: if you tidy up the game mechanics, fix the bugs, provide help commands and clean up the grammar and punctuation, I would be willing to revise my review, and I believe other reviewers would also be willing. I would also recommend that with future works, you ask a competent IF player to beta-test it for you. It makes a world of difference.

At present, as a game, Special Detective Agent certainly does not shine. It is, however, a start. If you want to know whether it is worth playing, then the answer is no. If the author wants to know whether to have another shot at it, the answer is yes. One star.

Hunter, in Darkness, by Andrew Plotkin

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Eerie and Satisfying, January 25, 2009
by Rose (New Zealand)
Woah. This game takes me back to the first time I played Adventure; I was so terrified when I reached the dark section that I rushed out immediately and refused to explore further until the next day. This game has a similar feel: you don't want to progress for fear of what you might find, but feel compelled to progress nonetheless.

The writing really makes the game; crisp, succinct, vivid and chilling. An interesting touch was the total lack of compass directions; you navigate with commands such as left, right, forward etc. This defiance of genre traditions actually works surprisingly well, adding to the feeling of realism.

The structure of the game is not so much defined by puzzles as by learn-by-dying. Save often and expect to die often. In fact, if you play from a walkthrough and never die, you'll miss some of the best writing in the game. If you really really really need a walkthrough, I'd recommend saving often and trying different ways to die anyway.

Overall, in terms of craft and writing, this is an excellent game. I'm rating it only four stars, however, because of its small scope. Regardless of the small size, Hunter, in Darkness is definitely worth a play.


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