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Reviews by Wade Clarke

IFComp 2013

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1-9 of 9

Autumn's Daughter, by Devolution Games
Aims ambitiously with social commentary on Pakistan., July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Undum, IFComp 2013
(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

The lyrically titled Autumn's Daughter is an Undum hyperlink story taking the form of a series of social encounters in the life of a young Pakistani woman named Areesha, played by yourself. Though you apparently hail from an okay-to-do family, various threats to your future independence and happiness are looming quickly, and their sources are not always obvious.

This game seeks to educate about the difficulties faced by women in Pakistan by engaging the player in a story with outward touches of romance and intrigue. This is a good strategy, given that some of the obvious alternative ones – like involving the player in a story which is grim and didactic – might just turn players off or bore them. Thus Autumn's opening scene seeks to get folks onboard immediately and build up the heroine's happiness. When you greet your visiting friend Samina, the tone heads towards conspicuously exuberant soap opera with lots of squeals and exclamation marks. The writing is broad in its exposition and a bit ripe, but the situation is inviting. The challenge for the game, then, is to be able to convincingly take the drama to the bleaker places it wants to go in a short span of time, and I don't think the challenge is fully met.

The overall design of mostly binary choices, all tied to single pieces of dialogue or action, is pretty good, especially in retrospect; the dynamic between that first happy scene and any of the endings tends to be a smooth but swift slope. But I think the game as a whole is lacking the kind of subtlety which could better convey its message. The characters have the specificity of types (earnest heroine, complicit girlfriend, potential shining knight boyfriend) but don't have the specificity which would illuminate them as individuals. And specificity is really needed to imbue obvious binary choice pairs, like whether to gush at the handsome lad or forget how to speak in his presence, with much meaning. This becomes a bigger problem in the sticky ends of the game when some extreme choices are presented. So while I don't doubt that most of the situations here can and have happened to people, I found the portrayal of them too broad to feel them deeply.

Autumn's Daughter exhibits some good design for its aims over its relatively short playtime, but it is shooting for a lot and would have benefited from stronger characterisation, from which would grow some less generic feeling choices, or at least less generic iterations of them.

Reels, by Tyler Zahnke

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
If you can get it to work, it's still not very good., July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: browser-based, IFComp 2013
(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Reels is a hypertext game posing 8 mathematical and trivia-based questions. Get them right and perhaps a gang of thieves will return the precious archival reel-to-reel tapes (!) they stole. At least they didn't also steal the ovens we'll need in the future to bake the decaying tapes before making crappy second generation copies of them in order to vaguely preserve the sweet knowledge contained therein.

I bailed out on this quest, without too much regret, after verifying that it didn't function properly in either Chrome or Firefox on my OS X Mac. Those are the two browsers the game's "how to play Reels" file recommends for those without access to Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Before I ran into the technical wall, my instinctive response to the game's proposition was: "Game, you're asking me to do stuff too closely resembling work." The tasks ahead, the first one involving base 36, looked unappealing and potentially trollish, but my bloody-mindedness kicked in and so I broke out a piece of paper and a calculator, and got solving. This in spite of the base 36 question being worded pretty badly, and the explanation of it in the how-to-play (when I checked in there later) being awful.

So, when I typed in my first answer to Reels's first question and found it apparently rejected – and when I say rejected, I mean that I clicked a button labelled "Check the number" and that nothing happened – I had a read of the how-to-play file. I decided I had indeed been doing what the game wanted me to do but had simply made a couple of mistakes in my working. After another pass, I entered what I believed to be the correct answer more confidently, only to find it rejected/ignored again.

This was the moment when I became suspicious as to whether the game was really checking my answer. So using TextEdit, I just opened up the html file (follow.html) which delivers the first challenge and looked at the code. The correct answer was sitting right there, unhidden from the eye, and it was what I had typed, and therefore I concluded that the game was not running correctly in Chrome. I tried playing in Firefox with the same result.

Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life, by Truthcraze
An indie text Indie., July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, IFComp 2013
(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life (or TBATTOTWOL… or maybe just TBAT) is a likeable and rather difficult to solve off your own back Indiana Jones-styled adventure. Tex is less competent and cool than Indy but he's no klutz, and the game doesn't play up his goofiness at the expense of dangerous puzzles or basic seriousness of adventuring. TBAT is chock full of traps, fast deaths and adventure movie quotes, the latter often appearing in the form of achievement-like score boosts. TBAT is a little short of the programming or prose polish that would really get it glowing, but it does have a good sense of danger and suspense.

The basic adventuring schtick of examining one thing, then examining something revealed by the first thing, then examining something revealed by the second thing, etc., is well executed on many occasions in TBAT, and this is complementary to the suspense of time-limit traps, like when a spiked ceiling is descending towards your head. Some wisecracks which happen to hit the mark and a plethora of wacky/gory deaths round out a tone which is recognisable from plenty of adventure films and games.

Since the game is named for its hero, I would have liked to see his personality shine through more clearly in the prose. The nature of some of the humour used is such that it can feel like the narrator is trying to be funny in general, rather than that I've got a window to Tex's thoughts and that they are funny, or illuminating of him. The game is a good romp through a dangerous temple in any case.

I had to visit the hint menus and walkthrough file with increasing frequency throughout TBAT. Games which lead me to cleave to the walkthrough have been known to aggravate me on multiple fronts, but this one held my attention to the end. Part of that is because even though I can't imagine coming up with some of the solutions myself, they were generally quick to execute and fairly self-contained. This is not a game where you'll get stuck, check the help file and discover you need to retreat 50 moves to fix your situation.

Moquette, by Alex Warren
Good parts but a vague whole in existential tale of traingoing., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Quest
(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Moquette is a Quest hypertext game in which you play a hungover security guard who begins to feel the weariness of his lot too heavily during one morning commute on the London Underground, and who then begins to wander the network in some kind of attempt to do anything differently.

This was the first Quest game by the author of the Quest engine, Alex Warren, and I think it made sufficiently good on views expressed in his blog over time about trying out different things in IF. It's not going for radically different, but it has its own feel and structure, and text effects which are novel enough to make me say that the author walked some of his talk. I found the game fascinating at times, well written as often, though in a way which underutilises (or just doesn't utilise) experiences the protagonist has had earlier in the game. Another problem is that no specific background emerges for the character. And I found the ending to be very querulous; it seems really hard to end existential IFs in a way that is equally or more satisfying than the game content.

There is a fair bit of content in Moquette, and its attention to geographical and other details of the London Underground give it the smell of the real. But overall it's a mix of good elements amongst others which don't work so well.

The run of decisions you make during the game consists of looking at various strangers who get on and off the trains, deciding when to switch train lines, when to stay on a train and when to get off. There are a lot of strangers and a lot of lines to switch between, so eventually the player is likely to start wondering: Does this game have a trajectory or an end, and if it has an end, how deep into my travels will that end be? I wondered all of these things.

The protagonist's view of both himself and others as unthinking cogs in the machine of life is one of the classic concerns of modernity, a concern emphasised in this game by the fact that the whole thing occurs on trains, those classic symbols of the Industrial Revolution. With all this in mind, it seemed to me the game could have gone on forever, making a conceptual point of pointlessness while annoying a lot of players in the process. Thus I was glad of a random encounter on the trains with a character whose presence opened up the possibility of throwing a spanner into the cogs. Still, the protagonist's narration around this event didn't change to reflect the passage of the day, his wobbly health, things that had happened earlier or anything that might happen later. The lack of connectedness of the parts renders the game's finale probably more ambiguous than was intended.

The Cardew House, by Andrew Brown
Decent but unremarkable first game about a haunted house., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, IFComp 2013, horror
(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

The Cardew House is a short parser adventure of typical mechanical puzzling in a haunted house. It could be said to be of Ectocomp style and hasty Ectocomp or slightly-better-than-speed-IF quality, and it doesn't have any surprises up its sleeve that would warrant anyone already uninterested in the basic premise from trying it. As the author's declared first or equal first Inform game, it's simple and rough and wasn't tested, but at least it has focus and a degree of technical soundness.* (* excepting its habit of just killing the interpreter where it stands whenever the game ends, which strikes me as unsound.) If you play, save the game before taking any particularly exciting actions; there's no undo from a game over.

The introduction tells of cruel Old Man Cardew, he who so aggravated all his neighbours and kin that somebody eventually shotgunned him in the head. Cardew's daughter disappeared, too, but nobody really knows the whole story. Enter you, foolhardy explorer of... The Cardew House. Note that I am going to arrogantly say that I've expressed this in a more exciting fashion than the game does.

Something you'll notice once you enter the house, and which you'll be aware of before you enter the house because the author mentions it in his introductory spiel, is that the lights in the rooms randomly turn on and off. I actually found that the reports about the flickering from adjacent rooms, and the business of me turning things back on, was quite atmospheric. I'm still relieved the author set things up so that the PC will turn lights on by default (an option you can deactivate) because, as he correctly anticipated, it would have made the game super fiddly if you had to do it all manually. The lighting atmos, in tandem with other random sounds and moans, makes the game a tiny bit bumps-in-the-night creepy.

One prop has a good attention-drawing schtick but mostly there's a lot of implementation oversight. Some props, like the kitchen cupboard, have fairly classic guess-the-verb issues attached to them. On the plus side, the hint system gives hints for the room you're in, so it tends not to spoil too much, and you can toggle it off again before you move to the next room.

The denouement doesn't really explain all of the implications of the game's introduction. (Spoiler - click to show)So Betty was buried under the house, but who shot Cardew? Did Cardew shoot Cardew? What about all the black magic stuff and the pentagrams? Fortunately this game is short enough that I wasn't tremendously bothered that I didn't find out the answer to all of these things. I enjoyed my 15 minutes or so in this house enough.

Vulse, by Rob Parker

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
?, November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Twine, choice-based
(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Vulse is a hypertext. I would say what I think it is about but I don't know what it's about. I wasn't sufficiently engaged by it to play through it more than once, and that first play eventually began to feel like a chore. The protagonist sloughs about in an apartment with a collection of abstract and angry thoughts and perceptions. These are rendered with deliberately crafted language, a sort of free verse stream of consciousness. The prose wore on me over time, not inherently, but because it didn't seem to take me anywhere. There was little sign of the literal stuff mentioned in the game's blurb, of the Twin Peaksy corpse which floats into the town. Perhaps it was down other paths.

My primary beef with Vulse is that I could find no point of interest that would stimulate me to engage with its prose. There was no sense of a character, or inner or outer reality, or of a plot or story or mystery or something else to compel. This left just a series of links leading to different strands of language. Ability with the language needs to be in service of something, but I'm afraid I couldn't find Vulse's something.

Blood on the Heather, by Tia Orisney
Longwindedness is both the pro and the con., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Twine, choice-based, fantasy
(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Blood on the Heather (BOTH) is a wack-seeking CYOA adventure about three young Americans who take a vacation in Scotland and get mixed up with petulant feuding vampires and their scenery-destroying vampiric offspring. The author says it was inspired by the vampire B-movies of their youth. For me, this raised disturbing questions about how old the author might be… Twelve?! Facetiousness aside, the game's combination of bloodsuckers who act like the rabid zombies of the cinema of the 2000s, Underworldish vampire clans and a splat of Twilighty romanticism pointed to pretty recent stuff. And after I'd done all that thought, someone who watched the TV show Buffy the Vampier Slayer told me with great confidence that that was probably the primary influence.

BOTH gives off a strongly goofy vibe through its predilection for one-liner gags and funny/cool character behaviour, but it's also a work of quite driven prose. It was probably the biggest CYOA game I'd ever played when I first encountered it, and also the one with the longest passages between each moment of player choice. I was curious about what a text game which was confident enough to use this much unbroken prose would be like. As I'd expected and hoped, it was able to build up a lot of momentum. I also felt that it was capable of instilling each choice with more context, potentially making the whole thing more character-centric.

While I'm grateful to BOTH for demonstrating all of this to me in a big, real world case, I did find it an effort to get through a lot of it because I just wasn't interested in the petulant vampires or their moderately complicated mythology. In this respect, the game definitely reminds me of my experience with most of Hollywood's recent films about supernatural clans.

If the writing and characterisation of BOTH were both excellent, that would obviously do a lot for player interest. The trouble with the former is that it's erratic. I wouldn't underestimate the feat of achieving consistent propulsion of a story this big, which BOTH's writing pulls off comfortably, but it is the length of the thing which also throws the jumpy proofreading into relief. Some pages are in great shape while others are rife with typos and mistakes of tense. The characters tend to make the same kind of opportunistic jokes as each other, spreading a fuzzy zaniness across the game at the cost of character individuality. And I found the feuding vampire characters really annoying. They have a kind of Flash Gordon / Prince Barin rivalry going on, except that both of them are Prince Barin. The heroine (us), who unfortunately spends nearly all her time as an unwilling sidekick to one of the vampires, does develop over the game, mustering a tenacity which is underestimated by all the baddies. Her emerging resolve was a source of humour and tension which sucked me back into the second half of the game, but in the main I found too much of BOTH tiring or insufficiently involving. It would take more preparatory work than was done here, or more idiosyncratic characters, to get me interested in all these feuding vampires and the spectacle of their rampage.

Further, by Will Hines

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Clarity in the afterlife., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, IFComp 2013, fantasy
(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Further is a short, parser-driven Z-Code adventure set in the afterlife, or at least after your death.

In my relatively short experience of IFComp prior to playing Further (2010+) I'd observed that afterlife games were a mainstay of the competition. They'd appeared in forms as various as the cerebral puzzlefest, the religious sampler, the existential angst generator and the poser of ethical and moral dilemmas. Further's approach is less complicated. It uses simple puzzles to dramatise the process of remembering your life as you head for the light. The result is a modest game which didn't stir my emotions as much as I think it might have liked to, but whose concept is clear.

In Further you start out as an insubstantial form lost in the haze. Exploration reveals a small map composed of elemental terrain: grass, a sandstorm, snow. Little objects from your life are lying around, and by FOCUSing ON them in the appropriately coloured locations you can revivify your memories, transforming the locations into clearer recollections of your life. The colours are also used to paint the relevant pieces of text and to clue you in to suitable locations.

The delivery of these mechanisms is simple. Only a handful of commands are required across the whole game and not much is implemented beyond the vital objects, but the lack of extra detail happens to suit the overall idea that only really important stuff from your life is of value to your ghostly or insubstantial self now, and that only that stuff can help you move on. The descriptions of the memories themselves may suffer a bit from the game's sparseness, at least in terms of their power, but they're in keeping with the whole. I also like the minimal prose used in the final room and the lack of a game over message – even though I admit I then went and peeked at the solution to make sure I really had reached the end.

I found Further's simplicity satisfying. At the level it pitches at, its idea plays out well.

(A tech anecdote: During IFComp 2013, I played this game online using an iPhone 5. While it responded instantly to most commands, it would typically pause for up to 25 seconds each time a Player Experience Upgrade response was invoked... Ouch! Player Experience Upgrade was Aaron Reed's suite of code for Inform 6G60 games which sought to supply more accessible than average responses when players typed stuff that wasn't understood. Obviously it was a CPU-crippler for some combination of Z-Code games and/or online play and/or the iPhone 5.)

The Challenge, by ViRALiTY
Incomplete tech demo., November 17, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013
(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

The Challenge is a one and a half room demo with graphics which are stills from a simple 3-D modelling exercise. You can turn to face in different directions. There's a knife. And that's about it. If IFComp had a qualifying round, The Challenge would have been eliminated at that stage because the competition is not a venue for incomplete tech demos.

1-9 of 9