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Reviews by Felix Larsson

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Police Bear, by Anna Anthropy

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The 99 % go 70's, January 2, 2012
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: satire
This is a miniature piece of political satire. You play Officer Cubby, the cuddly police bear, whose tolerance is hard tried by anti-capitalist protesters. How much can he bear? Can he stop from going bear-serk?

Though belonging to different ends of the politicial spectrum, "Police Bear" nevertheless has a few things in common with "Burn the Koran and Die": both are very short, on-rails pieces, whose whole raison d'être is their respective satirical political points (which are quite clear from the beginning); I guess "Police Bear" can be just as offensive to some who don't agree with the tendency of it as "Burn the Koran and Die" was to everyone who didn't agree with its tendency (after all, people can take offense at anything); I certainly hope "Police Bear" is objectively no less unfair than "Burn the Koran and Die" was (or the future bodes no good for the USA); and -- oddly -- both games feature a policeman as the bad guy (a fact I know not what to make of) ...

Empty Rooms, by Kevin Lovegreen

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Well … not a maze, not a tutorial, April 11, 2011
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Empty Rooms is a storyless wandering through a series of nearly empty rooms. The goal of the game is simply to find your way to the next room.

Notwithstanding the game's claims to the contrary, it's neither a maze nor a tutorial, however. The complex of rooms you wander about in are unambiguously mapped, so it's not a maze but a dungeon; and though the author has obviously wanted the game to be very friendly to players new to IF, it won't really serve as a tutorial game.

The tutorial part is actually restricted to the first few rooms, where the game tells you how to pick up things, move to new rooms and examine things (though it tells you nothing else, like how to take inventory). Even after this tutorial introduction the puzzles are very simple, though, and the player is at times guided through them by prompts such as «You should maybe try to “kill” the rat». It is a smooth passage through these empty rooms - at least till you get to a room with a lever high up one wall, which you can and cannot reach: i.e. you can PULL the lever (nothing obvious happens), but if you try to SWITCH it you're told that it is out of reach. ((Spoiler - click to show)You have to SWITCH it, but that won't work till you bring the right thing to the room.) The solution to the following, and last, puzzle is pretty arbitrary as well and not too obviously clued.

For the author's next game I hope for a little more proof reading and lot more beta testing—as it is, things you have taken or eaten appear in room descriptions, though they are no longer there; you're told your backpack can't contain things, although you need it to carry large things around; one room has four doors, but you're not told what door leads in what direction (and the tutorial has only told you how to move in compass directions not that it's possible to ENTER doors); you can't interact with people you meet, because you can only do that to something animate; etc.—that and some modicum of plot, characterization, formal structure or other device to hold your players' interest, especially if the next game is meant to be longer than this very short one.

The Empty Room, by Matthew Alger

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A Casual Puzzle Game, August 13, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
The Empty Room is is a short game, way out at the crossword end of the IF-spectrum. There’s hardly any story to it; indeed, it's a single multi-step puzzle. You find yourself inexplicably imprisoned in a perfectly empty and totally white room, where, at first, you can't even make out where floor and walls meet. You yourself are quite as characterless as the room—but as this is very much a mere game, this doesn’t trouble the NPC very much and need not trouble the player at all.

Your task, obviously, is to get out of that room; your means to that end is, to begin with, to examine whatever may after all be supposed to be examinable in that room. Gradually, your searches will uncover details about your environment and start to reveal hidden contraptions that you have to operate in the right way finally to find a way out of your prison.

As soon as the room is no longer perfectly but only almost empty, the player probably makes fast progress, one thing leading to the other in fairly obvious ways. As the strange devices hidden in the room start to interact with each other, things get less obvious. Make sure that you examine and re-examine everything, reading and re-reading descriptions carefully!

The puzzle of the game is solved in a large number of small independent steps, so the player keeps making progress at a rate that, though decelerating, still suffices to reinforce playing behaviour positively. That helps, for some of the steps to your way out you probable have to stumble upon by chance. I did not find that seriously frustrating, however, since the room is never crowded with things and there is ever only so many actions to try.

Also, the game plays with the ‘counterpart’ idea that you find in several recent games (notably Plotkin’s Dual Transform). The room and its contents has each its counterpart, and sometimes some things can only be made to happen to things in one room by manipulating counterpart things in a counterpart room.

If you need a short game to satisfy a casual puzzle craving, finding your way out of this empty room may well do the trick.

Being There, by Jordan Magnuson

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Floating impressions of Korea, August 2, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
As the author makes clear on his website, this is a nongame “about existence and Korea” .

You are presented with a photograph (nice and competent photography by the way) and a written description of ten or so Korean scenes: a street lined by cherry blossom trees, a temple spring, pots full of kimchi, kids playing baseball etc.

The writing ranges and changes (more or less abruptly) from the lyrical through the whimsical to mere statements of facts about the country. Mostly, though, Korea is viewed in this work through a lens of wistful memories that lend the country a magic feel.

The description of each scene usually ends with a couple of suggestions about possible ways to interact with it. These suggestions make it clear that interaction is not limited to the realistic: you can fly, climb into kimchi-pots like some ten inches high Alice, dance in the sky, etc. The possible interaction is, however, not at all limited to the suggested actions, and the author seems to have taken particular care to ensure that the different senses are implemented: you can smell, touch, listen to and taste most anything.

However, there really is nothing you're required or even supposed to do. You just explore the scenes, for as long as you please, trying any commands you can think of. And then, when you feel you have done with a certain scene, you type LEAVE (or any compass direction) and is automatically transported to the next scene in the series.

The sequence of scenes is predetermined, but I don't think there is any intended progress in the series (though peopled scenes come at the end of it).The scenes seem largely independent of and unconnected to each other.

There is a vaguely nostalgic feel to much of the work, and the author’s love for Korea shines through clearly. However, it all lacks a sense of direction. In the end, it really doesn’t say very much about either existence or Korea.

The lack of direction to the piece makes it a little like watching slides of your neighbours’ recent trip to Korea. Only, the pictures are seriously better than your average neighbour’s. And, the way your neighbour talks about them, he’s obviously stoned. And you’re obviously stoned, too, the way you buy what he says. And that certainly makes the whole experience much more enjoyable, but—it’s not enough to make a thoroughly successful piece of IF out of it.

To that end, I think, a more well-defined content would have helped. If the piece had somehow told a story, raised a question, evoked a precise emotion, stated facts, made a point or whatever about Korea (or about existence), it would have been the better for it. No deep or original ideas are necessarily needed, just something to help the player/reader get his bearings. I would say, only a few accomplished stylists (like zen master Mumon or trout fisher Richard Brautigan) ever really make do without something like it.

However, I’m sure the format could be put to excellent literary and/or educational use. And one more thing —
it might well be that, if you come to this nongame with a Korean experience of your own, it is much more compelling and evocative than I realize.

Works of Fiction, by FibreTigre

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Special FX from a Parallel IF Universe, July 3, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: truce, [8]
To those of us who aren't fluent enough in French, German, Italian, or even Spanish to tackle a piece of IF in those languages (every other command turns into a guess-the-verb-issue, unless you know a language well enough)—to us the French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc. IF communities are in effect parallel universes.

There may be all kinds of interesting things going on there that we know nothing about, and only all too seldom do portals open up into those other worlds, as with Montfort’s translation of Peláez’s Olvido Mortal or, now, JB's first (I think) game adressed to an English speaking audience: Works of Fiction.

JB is, judging from the information that does trickle between worlds, one of the fixed stars of the French IF universe (he seems to be best known, perhaps, for Filaments and Ekphrasis). Also, it seems that he has a soft spot for Glulx effects—at least Ekphrasis is said to make extensive (and essential) use of images and sounds.

Works of Fiction certainly relies heavily on Glulx: there is a slideshow, there is music, and there are split windows. Actually, the game is a full scale implementation of the idea found in Zarf’s Glulx-demo Two Columns. The story unfolds largely in several parallel worlds at once, with the game’s window split up to show all the worlds separately and simultaneously.

You play Gerard Lescroc, literary agent of an author about to receive the Philip K. Dick Memorial Prize at an SF-convention (you've bribed the jury to make sure of that). However, due to an overdose of extra strong black French coffe, laced with absinth (or whatever—apparently the recipe is a professional secret known only to the guild of SF-writers), you fancy yourself Paul Atreides, Messiah of the Fremen of Dune, Luke Skywalker, the Last Jedi, and Kevin Flynn of Tron fame, all at the same time.

The player, then, has to guide Lescroc around in his native world, to achieve the goals of some one of his alter egos in their parallel worlds. This includes entering several commands telling Lescroc to do things in and to his world that he himself is prevented from doing and that can only be carried out in his world via corresponding actions of his famous alter egos in theirs. (The previous sentence may actually make sense, once you’ve tried the game.)

Unsurprisingly, this gets Lescroc into trouble. Apparently, there are limits to how weird you may behave even at an SF-convention (though the security guard at the convention really goes to some extremes to constrain poor Lescroc in the ordinary, ‘mundane’ world).

Before his troubles are anything but over, Lescroc make a bad joke about David Lynch, whereupon Orson Welles makes a cameo appearance, and after that things get really strange and messy, with Lescroc jumping back and forth between worlds in a way not unlike the protagonist of Dual Transform and with another dozen or so of pop culture references thrown in for good measure.

In the latter part of the game, the player may well feel quite at a loss as to what he’s supposed to do (as does Lescroc, to be sure). Actually, the first part, too, is somewhat underclued and underimplemented. Navigation between rooms often uses IN and OUT instead of compass directions (which frustrated me a bit before I found that out). And, yes, you can see plainly at times that English isn’t JB’s native tongue.

And then there’s the problem with making the story file work with the interpreter you run on your operating system. The author says, at the game’s web page, that Linux and Mac users may meet with varying success. Well, on the Mac the game wouldn’t even open with Zoom under OS X.4. Unexpectedly, the best result (though not perfectly successful) was to be had with Spatterlight under OS X.3.9! I haven’t tried the Windows version, but it seems that it is the preferred one.

Yet, in spite of these nuisances, I’d still say the game is most definitely worth a play.

The Duel in the Snow, by Utkonos

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Literary IF with Atmosphere, May 17, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: literary, [7]
This piece is an almost purely literary IF short story, to be read mainly for the mood it evokes.

It’s set in a wintry czarist Russia, in the kind of aristocratic milieu you find in Tolstoy’s novels.
The PC is a gentle soul—one of those nice guys that really weren’t made for duels at dawn, at all—who has lost everything that made his life worth living. The main NPC is his much more cheerful good friend, both of them fairly convincingly portrayed, short as the work is.

There are no actual puzzles in the work, though it can end happy or unhappy. However, the unhappy ending is certainly the most satisfying one (artistically speaking),giving the whole work a suitable and very nice closure, while the happy ending leaves things pretty much hanging in the air.

Nevertheless, the piece is worth some replay (or re-reading), even if you’re not hunting for the happy end. After you finish the game, the author suggests some amusing things to try on replay. Actually, though, replay offers more than just a little extra amusement, since the small IF world of this work proved richer than at least I first thought. Also, poking around a little in it can reveal aspects of the plot that may not have been obvious on the first reading.

Since I called the work “literary”, it may be as well to stress that it achieves its artistic effects by means specific to interactive fiction: a transcript of a play-through of the work would not have the same literary qualities as the work has in (inter)action.)
The author tries to tell a very definite story without puzzles, but with full interactivity preserved—even in the flashback scene! Since there are no puzzles to lead you on through the plot, you can, if you wish, obstruct and prevent the story from proceeding for as long as you wish.
In this particular piece I didn’t find this possibility a problem. Why should the player/reader of a (good) work of IF want to be deliberately un-cooperative? Perhaps an IF-author has a right to assume som edegree of “willing suspension of disobligingness” on the part of players, just as an author of non-interactive fiction can assume suspension of disbelief on the part of readers?

The Endling Archive, by Kazuki Mishima

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Ode to Things Lost, May 14, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: literary, [8]
Technically this is a hypertext hack of the Z-machine rather than interactive fiction in a strict sense. The work simulates a database—“The Endling Archive”—that you (in the role of fictional reader) work your way through. However, such a description does no justice to the poetical nature (and value) of this short work.

The contents of the Archive is a melancholy reminder of things lost to neglect, to natural disasters, to violence and to hunger for profit. What we lost may not have been Paradise, yet it might have been worth preserving and may still be worth remembering.

(Spoiler - click to show)According to Norse mythology, Líf and Lífþrasir will be the only survivors of the Ragnarök catastrophe at the End of the World. Their names mean ‘Life’ and ‘Life Champion’.

Suprematism in IF, by Andrey Grankin

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Somewhat cheap experiment, May 12, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
This sounded more interesting than it turned out to be. The work (it’s certainly not a game) belongs to a group of experiments in IF—or at least in the use of IF interpreters—that one way or other test the limits of playability, the most infamous one possibly being Pick up the Phone Booth and Die.

This particular work consists of two pieces that belong together. Each piece of the pair is said to represent one extreme of interactivity.

So, one of them promises absolute interactive freedom for the player to control just about every aspect of both game world and game play. That’s quite a tall order. If you believe any game that makes such a claim, you’re certainly bound to be disappointed. But even if you do not believe it, you might have been less disappointed by a work that failed in interesting way than in a work that, like this one, actually achieves that very goal but in such a trivial way.
(Spoiler - click to show)This piece lets you do anything. But it does so by not heeding to anything you do. The program does not model any world whatsoever: instead, as player, you are supposed to imagine any world you like, and whatever you wish to do in that world is fine to the parser. The program doesn’t have to keep track of what you do in a world it doesn’t model, so it can let you do anything. The idea is kind of good, but it’s not very exciting reading.

The other piece of the pair, then, should represent the other extreme of interactivity. Well – it does.
(Spoiler - click to show)Whatever you try, you get the same response from the parser—at least until you decide to quit (or ask the game forhelp). Actually, the surprise effect of that part made it the most rewarding aspect of the whole diptyk.

Stink or Swim, by Renee Choba

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Making short work of a skunk , May 7, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: gambol, [6]
The author of Snack Time! puts herself under Speed IF restrictions (“I’ve got three hours to write a game about … an olympic medalist, a public bath and a skunk), and this is the result. Like most any Speed IF the result is, I suppose, a trifle; but this one is a pleasurable trifle to while away a few minutes.

You play a former olympic medalist, now swimming instructor, who has to get a skunk out of the pool. Removing the skunk is the one puzzle of the game. I guess it will not present many difficulties even to an absolute beginner. But the writing is pleasing, the skunk is cute, there are footnotes to the text (and I love footnotes), and there’s even a certain amount of psychological development on the part of the protagonist who comes to grips with certain aspects of her olympic past.

Snack Time!, by Hardy the Bulldog and Renee Choba

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
A charming dog’s eye view on having a snack, April 23, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: truce, [8]
A truly delightful little game!

You are a dog and you’re hungry. It’s not dinner time in many hours, so you need a snack. Unfortunately, you’re not very good at making sandwiches, so you must get your human pet to make one for you.

The puzzles are quite easy, but it’s not the challenges that make this game but the consistent dog’s eye view of and on everything. Dog is the measure of all things in this game: canine interests permeates every single description of the game world. What makes the game so charming is the way Choba (the author) exploits the fact that Hardy (the dog-PC) has a set of concepts that doesn’t quite match the human player’s. For that purpose, a dozen words are worth a thousand perfect 3D-renderings.

(By the way, the same thing was done—to the same charming effect—by Admiral Jota in Lost Pig … and to a totally different but equally great effect in Shiovitz’s Bad Machine and even in Granade’s IF version of Pong!)

More actions are implemented. I missed most of them first time playing the game. So, if you manage your snack too quickly, chances are that you can have some replay value for dessert.

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