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Reviews by Dan Fabulich

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Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Unfair, January 7, 2019
I'm not at all sure that Anchorhead has any "fair" puzzles in Emily Short's sense. https://xyzzyawards.org/?p=386

I played Anchorhead about four-ish years ago, but I gave up on it and used the "Guided Tour" walkthrough linked from IFDB. I never felt like I could trust that I was actually solving a puzzle. For many of the puzzles I "solved" by following the Guided Tour, I never understood the solutions at all.

Even for Anchorhead's relatively accessible puzzles, the vast majority of them only make sense in "adventure-game logic" (e.g. the very first puzzle of the game, (Spoiler - click to show)breaking into the real-estate office), but those puzzles are surrounded by red-herring "you can't solve this yet for no known reason" puzzles, so it's unfair to expect the player to apply adventure-game logic to just that puzzle and not any of the other red-herring puzzles.

Good puzzle solutions need to make sense in hindsight. Why does it make sense to break into the (Spoiler - click to show)real-estate office, and not the (Spoiler - click to show)asylum, or the slaughterhouse, or the church, or whatever? Why can I break in on Day 3 but not on Day 2? It just never makes sense.

I'd give Anchorhead one star, but its prose and story are pretty good. So, do as I did: follow mjhayes' Guided Tour. Don't worry one second over the puzzles. Just enjoy the ride. (Note that the Guided Tour hasn't been updated for the 2018 re-release; you'll have to use the 1998 original release, instead.)

Unnamed Google Easter Egg, by Google

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A cute little text adventure in an unexpected place, September 29, 2018
For an easter egg, this is a pretty substantial game. It has dozens of rooms and half a dozen puzzles.

The game uses a restricted verb-only parser. "grab" to pick up objects, "use" to use one of your inventory items. I think this undermines a little bit of the fun of puzzle solving; if you reach a puzzle and you have the right inventory item, you can usually auto-solve the puzzle just by typing "use." If "use" doesn't work, you just have to fully explore all of the rooms, "grab" everything that isn't nailed down, and come back and "use" again.

(It also includes a "why" command that just prints random cute messages.)

The game includes a built-in ASCII map, but I found the map illegible, not least because it's full of symbols that aren't defined in the legend. (It doesn't help at all that the game starts by giving you a partial map, then briefly reveals a full map, and immediately takes it away. What's the point of that?)

For the record, the full legend should include:

(Spoiler - click to show)//, \\, and = means a walkway or bridge.
^ means a skybridge, which connects to another ^
~ means a body of water (impassible)
< means a room containing an elevator going up or down

Perfectly Ordinary Ghosts, by Victoria Smith
A delicious snack, July 6, 2018
This is a short but very rich piece, like a dark chocolate lavender ganache. I loved the use of additional documents, which appeared suddenly in contrast to the fading in text.

The House of Mystery, by James G. Lynch (Jimmy Joe)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting; needs work, July 6, 2018
In the current 1.0 version, the zip includes full source and a Vorple website AND a gblorb. I couldn't get the Vorple website to display images, even when I ran it on a localhost server, but the gblorb displayed images just fine, so just use that. It's in "Project New Media.materials/Release/The House of Mystery.gblorb".

The puzzles I encountered were interesting, but eventually I got stuck. The game doesn't offer a walkthrough or in-game hints. The game doesn't credit beta testers and has a lot of "You can't see any such thing" errors.

I look forward to a future version of this game.

The Man Who Calls The Shots, by Ola Hansson
Short but sweet, July 6, 2018
I don't think the choices make much/any impact on the ending. (Spoiler - click to show)The twist ending was cute, but implausible.

Diviner, by Josh Labelle
Give me more actions; give me restore points, July 6, 2018
The game has an interesting setting. I didn't like that the game only allowed three actions per day. Since one of which pretty much has to be praying, it allows effectively two actions per day.

This was aggravated by the fact that some of the actions involved randomness, e.g. the (Spoiler - click to show)pace the room action can randomly have a good effect, or it can take days to activate.

(Spoiler - click to show)Especially when you find the hidden journal, it seems ridiculous that it takes five actions—spread out over three days—to read it.

Last, especially since the game includes a lot of right/wrong answers (especially during prayer), it would have been nice to have a more convenient way to replay options, instead of just restarting the whole game from scratch and replaying. Randomness makes replaying all the more tedious if I just want to see the "good" options.

American Angst, by m3g1dd0

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Unsatisfying, May 29, 2018
You win American Angst by winning fights. But the fights are just grinds: keep clicking the "hit" button until you randomly win or lose. If you lose, you'll have to go back to the last checkpoint, click through to the combat, and try your luck again. Eventually, you'll succeed.

But the result of this is that none of the combat options mean anything. There's no puzzle, no risk/reward tradeoff, no meaningful tactical situation. Once you grind through the combat, the game runs on rails, with a few arbitrary "left or right?" choices and a few "how brutal do you want to be?" choices.

As for the story, it's an amnesia game, which means that we know nothing about the player character. As a result, it's difficult to care about this character, even when the "surprise twist" is revealed. There are several endings, apparently selected at random based on earlier choices, including one where the bad guy inexplicably explains everything, with hundreds of words of non-interactive exposition, and then (Spoiler - click to show)kills you.

This game was nominated for XYZZY awards for Best Game, Best Writing, and Best Story. I don't see it.

Read This First, by Jessica Creane

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Cute, limited, April 1, 2018
I'm pretty sure there aren't any "instructions" to read. Just click around and enjoy the ambiance.

In Good Company, by A.M.

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Cute but buggy, January 3, 2017
This is a cute puzzle game, but there are a number of bugs in its implementation that detracted from my enjoyment of the game so much that, by the end, I resorted to just following the hints.

1) Almost every room has important objects in it that are not visible in the initial room description, forcing the player to examine everything in every room. That's fine in so far as it goes, but in that case the game needs to Bracket Every Notable Thing to ensure that objects in the description are actually examinable. http://lacunagame.blogspot.com/2010/08/best-practices-in-if.html

When examination of scenery objects failed at first, I gave up on examining scenery objects, which then got me solidly stuck.

2) There are parser bugs, e.g. right in the first room, there's no way to examine the right fireplace.

>x right fireplace
I only understood you as far as wanting to examine the right overmantel.

You also can't examine important objects like: (Spoiler - click to show)"puzzle" in the office ("crossword" works), "resin" in the studio (you can only directly refer to the cans, so you can't "pour resin in mould"), "controls" in the lab. You also can't examine the "statue" on the bookcase in the Sitting Room until you examine "oddments" (most of which cannot be examined), even if you examine the bookcase.

3) Flipping switches is totally buggy.

>flip switch a1
You flip on Switch A1 on. It makes a satisfying "ca-CLING"!

>flip switch a1
You flip on Switch A1 on. It makes a satisfying "ca-CLING"!

>flip switch a1
You flip on Switch A1 on. It makes a satisfying "ca-CLING"!

>flip switch a1 on
You can't see any such thing.

>flip switch a1 off
You flip off Switch A1. It makes a satisfying "ka-CHUNK"!

>flip switch a1 on
You flip on Switch A1 on. It makes a satisfying "ca-CLING"!

If the user doesn't explicitly say "off," the game assumes that "flip" means to flip ON, and then shows a "ca-CLING" message even if the switch is already on. I incorrectly thought I was flipping the switches correctly and that the switches did nothing until I realized the problem.

4) (Spoiler - click to show)The controls in the lab are not correctly described in the text.

>x cage
At first glance, the cage appears to be quite ordinary, if old-fashioned, but on closer inspection, you realize that it does not appear to have any sort of door or access hatch.

>x dish
The small kibble dish is attached to the outside of the cage by way of a motorized hinge, which you presume is operated with the tiny controls inside the cage.

>x controls
You can't see any such thing.

IMO, this ruins the hamster puzzle. The player has to realize that the controls correspond to controls in the utility room, but since the game never describes the hamster's controls directly, the only way to solve this puzzle is to hit the hints.

Those are my most serious complaints. Other minor bugs follow:

5) (Spoiler - click to show)
>get a tile
(tile Z)

You have to "get tile a" instead.

6) (Spoiler - click to show)I don't know why the game lets me stand on a stepstool to reach the skull but won't let me stand on the bar to reach the skull. Maybe use a stepladder instead?

7) (Spoiler - click to show)The game won't let me handle the resin while wearing the respirator unless I'm also wearing the latex gloves. But it gives the same message as if I wasn't even wearing the respirator, "Safety first!" It made me think I had to turn on the respirator in some way. Instead it should tell me that my hands aren't protected or something.

8) (Spoiler - click to show)
>close ledger
You close the tall ledger book, which makes a "THUD" the way only proper big books can. Beneath it, you discover a small, empty-looking jar.

>open ledger
It isn't something you can open.

9) Finally, I feel like the hints aren't structured very naturally.

(Spoiler - click to show)
Why can I not leave? Considering that you start in a locked room, this should be explaining how to find the west exit.
Should I be interested in the walls here? "Yes!" A misleading answer for anyone who's not a subscriber.

Planetfall, by Steve Meretzky

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Doesn't hold up, January 4, 2016
As I write this, Planetfall is #7 on the IFDB top 100, narrowly beating out Trinity and Blue Lacuna. No doubt it was one of Infocom's best, but now it has to be judged against the best games of the 21st century; it just doesn't hold up.

The sprawling map full of empty rooms with nothing interesting in them, the simplistic NPC conversation mechanism (wouldn't it be cool if you could "ask floyd about achilles"?), but above all the gotcha-game cruelty, where you're never sure if you just permanently locked yourself out of solving a puzzle.

We used to think this was just part of what IF had to be like. This game was an important historical milestone, but now, we've moved beyond it.

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