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Reviews by WriterBob

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Donkey Kong, by Andrew Plotkin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Quaint interpretation of an arcade classic, November 30, 2013
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
I came across this game while randomly browsing through the site. My preconception was that this was going to be another example of Z-machine abuse, an implementation of a more action oriented game (e.g. Super Z-Trek, Freefall, etc.). This is a more liberal interpretation where you take on the role of the title character. There isn't much in the way of character development here, but anyone who enjoys the movie Super Mario Brothers won't mind that in the slightest. The game is in the same vein as Zork: A Troll's Eye View, with a similarly tragic and unavoidable outcome.

If you are looking for a cute 2 minute diversion without having to engage yourself in creative puzzle solutions, or understanding bothersome exposition, this might be exactly your cup of tea.

Wait... Could this be the perfect introduction for raw newcomers to IF? The game has limited interaction and keeps the player on a tightly confined role with clear expectations of their task. Sure, it will become boring and tedious for anyone capable of firing a synapse between two brain cells, but at that point they can take on more challenging and intriguing games. Or they'll turn their backs on IF without ever experiencing the wonder and excitement that the genre has to offer. Some days you just can't win... (Spoiler - click to show) you know, like the title character here.

Zork, by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Ongoing review in progress, September 4, 2013
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
I'm going to try something a bit different with this review. Many pieces of modern IF are brief and can be completed in less than hour. Zork (the one and only, the original) is much larger, so large that it was broken into three parts to make the Zork Trilogy. (Yes, yes, most people reading this review are intimately familiar with Infocom and it's history, and those who aren't, well the story of one of the most successful early video game companies makes for interesting reading. Please, pardon the digression.)

Where was I?

Oh, right. Zork. It's big; too big for me to play through and write a review in a reasonable amount of time. Besides, I've never completed the game, and I'd like to.

Here's the deal. I plan on writing a brief review of my gaming sessions with Zork. My hope is that I'll be able to provide an in depth look at this, the father of IF. Of course Colossal Cave/Adventure is the grandfather of IF, another early work that I've barely scratched the surface of. But I don't find Colossal Cave nearly as intriguing as Zork. Perhaps it goes to my fascination with Infocom and the story of that company. Perhaps it's because Zork spawned such a large library of games. In any event, my focus is on Zork. Let's dive in...

I'm playing the Inform port of Dungeon - zdungeon.z5. This is based on a relatively early version, "...from the original MDL sources created at MIT, dated 22-JUL-1981," according to Ethan Dicks (U.S. News & Dungeon Report found in-game.) There are many other releases available on this site ported to a variety of different interpreters, the latest that I've come across is a version 3.2b for TADs.

I chose to go with the Inform version for a couple of reasons. First, Inform was inspired by the Infocom ZIL interpreter and designed initially to play the original Infocom games. Second, being an older version, this is probably the closest I can get to the version I played briefly back in the early '80's. Third, this was the only version I found that would work with IFMapper, an intriguing auto-mapping program which attempts to generate a map from a live transcript file generated during game play.

When it comes to mapping, I find it tedious. For some it may add depth to game play experience. For me, it takes me out of the story. Having access to a full map though can lead to spoilers. IFMapper takes the chore of mapping out of my hands while retaining mystery of the adventure.

So I've got Windows Frotz fired up (v. 1.17) with Dungeon loaded, and IFMapper up and running with automap turned on.

Right from the first location, the original Zork is slightly different from Zork I. The original "West of House," description reads:

This is an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

In the commercial release of Zork I, the player is emphasized more:

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

It's a small difference, but not a minor one. With the commercial release, the player is an active part of the environment versus being an external observer. Sure, it may be semantics, but good IF relies on how something is said as much as what is said.

I won't go into the details of where I have gone in this game. As River Song would coyly say, "Spoilers." This is a review, not a walkthrough.

My experience in playing this so far is akin to the feeling I had in reading the early drafts of The Star Wars, the script that laid out the bones of the story that would become The Star Wars Trilogy. This comparison is more than a little apt. Both the first draft of Star Wars and Zork were too large for a single release. Both Star Wars and Zork were split up into trilogies that expanded upon the ideas of the initial versions. Both were incredibly successful for their time.

I'm looking forward to continuing my exploration of the Great Underground Empire. In short, between personal nostalgia and curiosity over how the game unfolds this is one game that I'm eager to keep playing.

baby tree, by Lester Galin

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Sparse is the kindest description of this game, September 1, 2013
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
This piece is minimalist and surreal, and is devoid of meaning. It's difficult to determine what the author's intent is. The description calls it a "short horror game," but the only true word in that description is "short." It's hardly horrific; mildly disturbing perhaps but hardly evocative of any visceral, raw emotion. The absolutely linear plot, with one obvious use for the one object in the game hardly counts as interaction. There are only two locations in this game, and no matter which direction you choose, you end up in the other location. In the end, this feels like a poorly coded attempt at learning how to write text adventures.

Antifascista, by Greg Farough

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Potentially powerful story with minimal interaction, November 27, 2012
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
Antifascista is a game with high aspirations, strong ideals, and limited interaction. The strength of this game lies in the linear story, demonstrating one way to resist fascism. It is a worthy message to deliver, but the interactive part of this fiction isn't implemented in a manner which actively engages the player.

The largest flaw in this game isn't so much a "guess the verb" issue as a "guess the action." Most scenes take place in a single location. The one scene that did allow movement kept the player on rails running along a single path toward a confrontation with a predetermined conclusion. There are no items to use in this game. There is only one instance of verbal communication in this game, and that's menu driven. The story moves forward only when taking actions that are not always understandable from the context of the narrative.

Due to the strict linearity of this story and limited effective actions the IF implementation isn't nearly as successful as a story of this nature deserves. Still, it is a worthy effort, and I do encourage the author to continue writing.

9:05, by Adam Cadre

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Short and doubly-sweet, July 2, 2012
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
There isn't much that I can say about this game that hasn't been said before, at least not without revealing the game. Like this review, it's very brief and far more enjoyable than I'd anticipated. One caveat, if you're new to playing IF, know that this isn't a typical game.

69,105 Keys, by David Welbourn

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Simple On Puzzle Game, September 13, 2009
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
I'm not a huge fan of one puzzle games. They can be cute enough for a brief diversion, but once the player figures out the puzzle there's little enough left to the imagination. The key to this game (pun intended) is simple enough. After that it is a tedious matter to type in the variations to determine the unique solution.

Despite the utter tedium, which would normally earn a one star rating, I gave this game two stars simply because it was very well executed.

The author deserves credit for putting together such a clean, lean game. However, I really want more fiction in my IF.

Violet, by Jeremy Freese

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful:
Well crafted, demented, and fun, November 17, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
This game is as rock solid a piece of IF as I've seen in quite a while. It is a single room, single extended puzzle, written clearly. All the objects in the room are capable of being examined and most are, to a great degree capable of being manipulated.

The tone of the game may not appeal to all people. The major conceit of the game is that the narrative is told from the point of view of your girlfriend, Violet. All of the actions you take are commented on by her voice in your head. When you look at the room the game doesn't tell you the description so much as Violet relates the description to you in her own unique voice.

The plot and motivation are developed as the game progresses. There is no need for a lot of background feelies to get the player in the mind-set of the game. As the story developed, the solutions to each situation became increasingly bizarre. Also of note is the status bar in the game which clearly relayed what the next obstacle was in the sequence of this extended puzzle.

Overall, I found this a very satisfying piece of IF.

Hunt the Wumpus, by Gregory Yob, Magnus Olsson, and David Ahl

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The Great-granddaddy of IF, November 13, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
Here it is, restored in all its glory, "Hunt the Wumpus." Before Colossal Cave, there was Hunt the Wumpus. By today's standards it wouldn't even place in any IF competition. But, back in '72 it was the only piece of IF available, the first of its kind.

The interface is very limited. You can only shoot an arrow into an adjacent room, or move to an adjacent room.

The prose non-existent, consisting of the coordinates of the room you occupy and whether you sense a pit or a wumpus nearby.

Beyond the lethal pits and wumpus, there is only one other obstacle, the bat. The bat takes you and deposits you in a random location (which may contain either pit or wumpus.)

There is no exploration; there is no twist of plot; there are no revelations into the human condition. It is a simple game, one in which you either kill the wumpus or die. Still, as the great-granddady of IF, it deserves special consideration. All true adventurers should relish this piece of history.

Shrapnel, by Adam Cadre

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Fragments from an explosion, November 11, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
"Shrapnel," lives up to its name quite beautifully. This game could not have had any other name. Here is another fine example of a game that stretches traditional IF to its boundaries. Things aren't always as they appear.

There were no instances of "guess-the-verb," nor any traditional puzzles. There are no puzzles in the traditional sense. For the most part, the player/character wanders through the game as an observer (in a very literal sense) until the climax is reached.

And that is why I could not give this game a higher rating. As enjoyable as it was, this game really flowed on rails, taking the player from one scene to the next smoothly and easily with minimal interaction.

All in all, this brief game is a pleasure to play, and was executed skillfully. It would perhaps be a good game for newcomers to IF to understand what the medium has to offer.

Ananachronist, by Joseph Strom

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Buggy Contest Entry, November 9, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
“Ananachronist,” is unabashedly a puzzle game. From the readme, “Ananachronist is a single puzzle (and pretty much everything else has been sacrificed for its sake).”

If you’ve read my reviews, you know that I prefer IF that is more story oriented. (In fact as I judge the 2008 Competition, I’m sorely tempted to bypass this game. However, that would not be fair to the author of the game.)

Note: This entry is not without bugs. When trying to unlock several doors I received an error.

>unlock door

*** Run-time problem P11: Although the CO door is allowed to have the property "matching key", no value was ever given, so it can't now be used.

[The noun] requires a key]

In another instance, when I typed “open door,” nothing appeared to happen, another command prompt simply came up. When I typed “open door” again, the response was, “That’s already open.”

Even if the game is winnable in this state, it is not worth the time to find out. I appreciate that it takes a great deal of effort to create a game. I would encourage those who cannot make their games reasonably bug free by the release date should withhold their games and publish them when they are in a reasonably playable state.

the virtual human, by Duncan Bowsman

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A Brief Diversion, November 6, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
After reading the "About the Story," section of "the virtual human," page, I was intrigued. I've experienced other works of IF that have offered personal insights, but this piece is not one of them. The decisions that the player is expected to make are for the most part superficial.

This work is inspired by a Jorgen Leth film. Since I am not familiar with the film, I can't say to what degree this work mimics the film. However, I suspect that this work has the same issues that IF works inspired by non-interactive media suffer from. This work runs as if it were on rails. The decisions made by the player do not affect the outcome of the work.

Still, even with these issues, this work is smooth and polished. It is interesting to play through once.

Photopia, by Adam Cadre

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Colorful Tale, November 5, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
"Photopia," is an intriguing piece that makes great use of color.

The production value of this game is second to none. Typically I am a fan of the elegant simplicity of the plain text interface. I have gone through this work in black and white and in color with the *.z5 file. But by far the best experience is through the blorb file. The use of color is one of the subtle additions to Interactive Fiction.

Through the years, IF has grown beyond mere text. Even in the '80's, Infocom experimented with sound and graphics. Contemporary IF has available high quality graphics, sounds, music, and even colored text.

Without a compelling story, all of the added effects won't make a mediocre game good. The added effects of "Photopia," take an intriguing game and bring it to the next level.

The skill level needed to enjoy this work is minimal. This would be a perfect introduction to IF, especially for those who are coming into the game from a more literary background.

All in all, this is a fine piece of IF that's a pleasure to play.

The Space Under the Window, by Andrew Plotkin

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Quirky & Mysterious, November 5, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
"The Space Under the Window," is a unique piece of Interactive Fiction. It stretches the definition of IF to its very limits.

Is it interactive? Well, yes, it is, but unlike traditional IF in that you do not control the character with actions. The flow of the narrative is triggered by single word input, a word that is already in the narrative on the screen.

Is it fiction? Traditionally fiction is plot oriented, although I am sure there are enough English majors who would argue that there are character driven works. Still, what is lacking in "The Space Under the Window," is a sense of motivation for the central character. What *is* the goal? This is an experimental piece of fiction.

This work is unsettling and surreal. The sense of time seems to fluctuate as certain commands seem to trigger going back in time to previous moments. That is what this piece is, a collection of moments strung together where the player is left to wonder what it was he (used in this context, "he" is meant to be a generic genderless pronoun, which English is sorely lacking) just experienced.

This is a game that is difficult to love, but easy to appreciate for the skill with which it was crafted.

Red Moon, by Jonathan Hay

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Repetitive in the extreme, November 3, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
"Red Moon," is a single room game written in Inform. Single room games can be a joy to play. They are more often focused on the psychological aspects of the character than on puzzles or NPC interactions.

The author makes an attempt at this in "Red Moon." The character does glimpse the underlying reality. But with the dawning awareness that all is not as it seems there is no correlated increase in understanding, just a continuous denial of that reality.

The prose in the game is adequate, but fails to draw the reader in. The single room aspect of the game can be used to great effect, adding texture and layering depth to the limited landscape. In this case, the single room is sparsely furnished offering a very limited range of activities.

The hint system in the game doesn't provide any actual clues, but rather offers encouragement for the player to keep doing what he has been doing.

There is a small degree of replayability in the game. If you fail to achieve the optimal ending the first time around, a second quick play through is all that's need to deliver the preferred ending.

In brief, this game leaves a little to be desired. Other than being repetitive there were no significant flaws. However, for a truly excellent one room adventure, I'd recommend "Shade."

Riverside, by Jeremy Crockett and Victor Janmey

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Incomplete Game, November 3, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
“Riverside” is a traditional Inform text adventure. I am in favour of games that are written in the more standard text adventure formats: Inform, TADs, Glulx.

The plot development of this game is cumbersome. It starts with a bit of a teaser. If you don’t successfully find the correct response that the game is looking for in this teaser, you will lose the game before it even gets going. Like other games this turned into a situation of guessing what the implementer was thinking. This is a difficult line to walk.

There is an instance where a character leaves the room during a conversation. I try to follow the person. The game does not recognize the word, “follow.” I explicitly go the direction the character went. The game then says that I should try talking to the character. I talk to the character and the narrative says that I follow the character into the room I just tried entering. This is very clumsy.

The conversation interface is limited to “Talk to,” a character. There is no real dialogue. This is a step back from the menu driven conversation system. The prose is limp and lifeless, but it is functional.

I feel as if the game is on rails, very linear without much freedom to explore the environment. Even when there are times to explore the environment, the items examined are meaningless to the story line.

If the game is on rails, the train has just crashed. Even using the walk through there is no way to get past a critical step in the plot. The contest version of this game cannot be completed.

In summary, the communication methods are lacking, the plot is painfully linear, the prose is uninspired, and the game itself is unplayable.

Even if it were to be completed and put in a playable state, Riverside is not compelling enough to complete.

Shade, by Andrew Plotkin

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Dark and haunting, November 1, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
Shade exemplifies the best aspects of Interactive Fiction. Shade was written in Inform without relying on any graphics or sound effects. Released in 2000, this game demonstrates the true potential of what IF can be. IF is more than tedious mazes and guessing verbs. IF is about exploring ideas and delivering experiences that cannot be presented in any other medium.

Take a look at other media for story telling. Shade could have been written as a traditional short story. However, it would not nearly have the impact that it has when it's an experience you personally participate in. What about a graphical adventure? Hunting around pointing and clicking on items in an attempt to trigger the next stage wouldn't deliver the same understanding. Without the written word, Shade as a graphical adventure would be meaningless. It is the prose and the interaction that makes IF a truly unique form for delivering profound experiences.

Shade delivers. It is the subtle dawning awareness that comes with the unfolding experience that has the biggest impact in this tale.

Project Delta, by Emilian Kowalewski

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Game system demo, October 27, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2008
First off, I am not fond of home-grown game systems. Typically these systems lack the polish and stability of the off-the shelf systems.

Secondly, I am not fond of “Choose Your Own Adventure,” style IF. I prefer rich environments where objects have a verisimilitude to them. I like to feel that I am a part of the world, not a distant observer. This game in particular feels as if the player is on rails being taken from one section to the next.

This “game” is nothing more than a demo of the first generation of the game system. (At this point you can only hold 2 items at a time, one in your left hand and one in your right.) In learning about the game system a description of additional future functionality is provided. Still, in the end, this is a CYOA adventure system. And as a demo it is unsatisfying in terms of plot or character development.

The prose of the game is unsophisticated. As in most traditional IF games, the player character is a bit of a mystery. Here in the description of the character, the author comments that not knowing more about your player character is part of the mystery. It is ham handed at best.

There is the occasional glitch where an option selection is left blank.

The ending came up quite abruptly and was most unsatisfying.

In the end, if you're actually looking to play a game, and not read an advertisement for future games, look elsewhere.

The Lighthouse, by Eric Hickman and Nathan Chung

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
An exercise in brevity, October 27, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2008
The Lighthouse, submitted for the 2008 IF Competition, is probably the easiest IF game ever created.

The goal as stated in the introduction is to turn on the light in the lighthouse. Beyond the introduction there is very little description. All the places have names, but there is only the most cursory description of each room. Every object, when examined, returns the stock response, "There is nothing special about X."

Technically there were no flaws in the game. There was however, no challenge either. The old Infocom sampler offered more in the way of interaction.

Perhaps, as a previous reviewer surmised this was an exercise on the part of the authors who were trying to learn Inform. I hope this is the case. If the authors read this review, I would encourage them to continue creating IF after this first rather timid step.

Nerd Quest, by Gabor de Mooij

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Nigh unplayable, October 23, 2008
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2008
This game is spectacular in being an exercise in frustration.

The premise is simple enough. Sneak past your manager so you can meet your girlfriend for a date. It is the execution that makes the game unplayable.

Common verbs do not function. "Examine," is not recognized. If you happen to type "Look," with a capital L, the game does not recognize the command. "Inventory," is not recognized, but its abbreviation, "i" works.

There are cases of guess the noun. For example, in one room if you try to "look at the PC," the game fails to understand. However, if you "look at the computer," the game provides a description.

Other fun elements -
You can't save the game.
You can't quit the game.

If the game were playable within the conventions of IF, I would forgive the inability of the game to display an apostrophe correctly. When the game tried to show “eight o’clock,” it came out “eight o ' clock” This was just added salt in the wound.

In the author's defense, he did compose this game using a language that he created himself. However, I suspect the language itself may have a few kinks to be worked out.

The in game puzzles weren't overly complex. Those were overshadowed by the puzzle of trying to guess how the programmer was thinking in order to phrase commands effectively.

I would recommend this game as an example of how not to implement an IF language or game.


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