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Reviews by Juhana

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Everything We Do Is Games, by Doug Orleans

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Everything we do is art, May 26, 2015
About 15 years ago I visited an exhibition in the local museum of modern art. One of the art pieces was a solid white square on the floor, about one square meter in size. It didn't seem like art at all. It was just a white square; "I could make that too."

The museum guide then explained that the square was actually a plastic frame filled with milk. Every evening when the museum closed the milk was drained and in the morning someone filled the frame with fresh milk. The actual art piece was not the physical object itself but the ritual of replacing the milk every day.

This is what Everything We Do Is Games is. As a computer program and as a game it barely exists. Its only function is to do nothing, it has no visible content at all. For something that does nothing it's still carefully planned and executed. Its value is in the act of creating it, not in the resulting program.

Therefore Everything We Do Is Games is art -- or is it? Is it a game? Is a null program a program at all? These are some of the questions it raises but leaves the answers for the audience to ponder.

Unscientific Fiction, by Tom Tervoort

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Silly and surreal, December 13, 2009
If this game would have to be reviewed with only one word, the word would be "silly". This is a game that takes nothing seriously, not even itself. Unscientific Fiction draws its inspiration from Douglas Adams, Portal, and Super Mario, among others.

Unscientific Fiction has its poor protagonist go through surreal virtual worlds and a spaceship controlled by an insane computer. The puzzles follow the cartoon logic of the world and the key to solving many of them is to remember that some real-world restraints aren't always a hinderance in this game.

It's unfortunate that there are some annoying bugs and bad spelling throughout, even though the typos aren't as distracting here as they would be in a work that has a more serious tone. Only when you're required to mistype your commands for them to be understood it really starts to get on your nerves. There are also annoying rituals you have to go over and over again when moving around (doors closing and locking themselves after you've gone through, but no implicit open and unlock actions).

If the game had a bit more polish and went through proofreading it would be even more enjoyable, but even as it is now it's good times. It does require a sense of humor that's attuned to this kind of silliness and an ability to suspend truckloads of disbelief.

We played this game at ClubFloyd as a group, which was a lot of fun. If you have the possibility to play with a friend or two you'll probably get a lot more out of the experience. The key is to try everything and with a group it's easier to come up with ideas.

(By the way, you can't design for not having guess-the-verb problems (this game has its fair share of them) and item based puzzles are not immune, quite the contrary. The only way to avoid it is playtesting.)

Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter, by Mike Gentry and David Cornelson

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Great for newcomers, nothing special for experienced players, July 24, 2009
So here we have Textfyre's first finished product, the first serious attempt at commercial interactive fiction in a long while. The story is of a street urchin who is destined for greater things in life in a generic non-magical medieval world. This is part 1 of 3 and the story ends in a cliffhanger, so expect to pay for the whole trilogy if you want to see a full story.

The custom-made FyreVM interpreter imitates a book spread where the text is on the left page and illustrations on the right page. Mostly the picture page shows just the main character and occasionally locale pictures, and most of them are what look like halfway-done sketches. At the moment the illustrations are not much more than a waste of half the screen. Apparently Textfyre is adding more pictures for the upcoming versions so this is likely to change. The map spread is nice though, it's like a built-in virtual feelie. I was hoping it could be printed out to make it a real physical feelie too.

The puzzles are mostly trivial and the solutions are usually spelled out by the story or accompanying NPCs. The player is left to type commands given more or less explicitly in the previous paragraph. This is arguably more interactive than "press enter to continue" but not much. From this naturally follows that the story is not only so easy that it could even be called puzzleless, but also heavily railroaded. Locations are mostly void of anything else than the one thing you need for the plot to continue and in many places there's nothing else to do than the glaringly obvious action that advances the script.

The main character is suffering slightly from a lack of personality other than the ability to be nervous of everything. The (Spoiler - click to show)cross-dressing aspect has potential to say something meaningful, but unfortunately the narrative never leaves the comforts of reinforcing gender stereotypes (and this game has no "heteronormativity off" command!). This is of course understandable when considered that Textfyre intends to market the game to schools and libraries, but that doesn't make the underlying attitudes any less annoying.

That's a lot of nitpicking for a game that's still far better than the large bulk of amateur work, but if you're aiming high, you'll be judged against higher standards. For a commercial venue there's a surprising amount of rough edges, for example standard "You see nothing special about x" replies to examining many things.

There's a silver lining here: easy puzzles, handholding from start to finish, and flashy interface make this a perfect game to introduce someone to interactive fiction. I would not hesitate to recommend it to someone new to the medium if they are willing to pay for it. The only minus in this plan is that the most freeform non-railroaded gameplay is right at the beginning which might put off some people.

The existing IF community is not the target audience of The Secret Letter and it shows. Last time I wished for a version made for children - now I find myself wishing for a version made for adults. It's hard to predict how Textfyre's potential customers will react to the game. The expectations of a greater audience are often not the same as a niche group's so there's a good chance that it will find fans from outside the current IF community. It'll be interesting to see how the company and its products evolve over time. The next publication is supposed to be more to the tastes of current IF players, so I'm looking forward to that.

Madam Spider's Web, by Sara Dee

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Solid piece with disappointing ending, June 26, 2009
Madam Spider's Web is another "fractured fairytale". You are a housemaiden in a giant spider's house, but you can't remember where the cleaning supplies are or what your tasks are or how you even ended up there. (Amnesia must be pandemic among IF player characters.)

The puzzles are easy and interesting and there's a sense of exploration, even though the area to explore is quite small. It won't take long to get through to the ending. The puzzles are well clued and I didn't have to look at the walkthrough or use hints even once when I played. That does not happen very often. For hardcore puzzle fans this might be a disappointment but for me it's important that the puzzles don't interrupt a good story. The implementation is thorough and I didn't run into any bugs.

The ending is somewhat unfortunate because (Spoiler - click to show)a) it's been done many times before (and it's been done better) - the player's reaction is not "oh, clever!" but "oh, this again." and b) the connection with the preceding game is not that obvious. If you're going to make a dream world (a dream within the fictional world, that is) you should take extra care to make sure that the allusions to the real world are there, otherwise the dream world, and the entire work, loses its meaning for the reader completely. (To be fair I might have just missed the point entirely.)

On the plus side the ending you see is based upon your actions during the game, not just the final move; on the minus side without looking at the walkthrough it's not immediately obvious which actions affect the ending or even that there are multiple endings.

If you only look at the basic setting, the gameplay and the length, this would be a perfect game for children. Unfortunately (Spoiler - click to show)gruesome imagery in the end and some scary characters make this unsuitable for that purpose. It would be nice to see a version made especially for children where selected parts of the game would be changed or left out.

Borrowed Time, by Activision

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Old-school detective game, January 16, 2009
You play Sam Harlow, a private investigator. The game begins in your office where you receive a phone call and you must escape thugs who want you dead.

The problem with the game is that scenes seem to be tied to locations, not to each other. If you visit the locations in the order the game expects you to, then everything works fine, but if you explore the city in wrong order you miraculously stumble into places you should not be aware of yet and get scenes that would belong to later parts of the story. This makes following the plot a bit like watching Memento.

True to its era there are also random sudden deaths and places where doing anything other than the right action will end the game in death. Another annoyance is that the exits are not described anywhere. Presumably the game came originally with a printed map.

There are some fun parts too in the game. I especially liked a chase scene in the beginning that has speed and action. There's a graphics window that depicts the surroundings in relatively accurate details instead of being just a static location image and the parser is a bit more sophisticated than a simple two-word parser. It recognizes left, right, forward and back (in relation to the graphics shown).

Annoyingly the parser pretends to be smarter than it is: examining a word that the game doesn't know always says "You see nothing special" which suggests that the word was right but it doesn't have a description. Only examine seems to do this, other commands reply correctly "I don't know the word x."

Eric the Unready, by Bob Bates

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Fantasy parody in the spirit of Monty Python, January 11, 2009
Eric the Unready chronicles the adventures of a fumbling knight, a laughing stock of his peers, who accidentally gets assigned the task of saving the princess. Eric is not a very imaginative choice for the protagonist but the game fortunately manages to keep him in the "lovable loser" category as opposed to the "annoying twit" category that are very very close to each other.

The interface has several windows that are, among others, a compass rose, a picture of the location, an automap, a list of available commands and a list of objects in the location. The lists are not of much use to experienced players and can at times even be considered minor spoilers but they can be hidden from the view giving the text area more room.

The jokes vary between hit and miss, fortunately there are more hits than misses. References to popular culture and other games of the era abound. The humor and the game's world in its absurdness resembles Monty Python very much; influence from The Holy Grail is obvious.

Resemblance to Monty Python doesn't end with the humor. The gameplay is very episodic and after the player has finished with one set of puzzles in one location, he is transported into new location with a new set of puzzles. There's not much to tie the scenes together. While this is usually not considered the best design choice, it works here for the same reason it works for TV's sketch shows: the jokes don't have a chance to get old.

As the game was published in 1993 and has been out of print for many years now it might be hard to get your hands on it, but if you can find a copy it's definitely worth playing.

Slouching Towards Bedlam, by Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
Forgotten masterpiece, January 10, 2009
Slouching Towards Bedlam was the game that introduced me to modern IF so I might not be the most objective person to review the game. Still I am probably not far off saying that the game is too often forgotten when we are talking about the modern classics.

The game is about exploration and finding out what has happened in the asylum where the protagonist works. Assisting him is Triage, a hearwarmingly steampunky computer/dictation machine, that can give details and information of the surroundings. While it doesn't actually do anything other than follow the protagonist around and show information on request it is an important part of the whole and the game would be seriously lacking without it.

What brings Slouching Towards Bedlam above others is the way it builds and sustains the atmosphere and mood. The only other game that accomplishes the same is Anchorhead and I would be hardpressed to choose which one does a better job. Another nice touch is how meta-game commands (UNDO, SAVE, RESTORE etc) have been given an in-game explanation. They fit seamlessly into the story, not feeling like artificial additions.

The game is not entirely without flaws, of course. Some gameplay mechanics are unnecessarily awkward (for example making the player type long strings of numbers to a machine one at a time) but my main quibble is that some puzzles feel like they are there only because "IF must have puzzles". They break the mood and yank the player out of the game's world. The authors could have trusted their creation to work as a game without locked doors and hidden items.

The Phoenix Move, by Daniele Giardini

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Phony one-move, August 23, 2008
Despite what the author says, The Phoenix Move is not a one-move game. The game does put the player back on top of the pole after every turn, but any changes made to the world do not reset. In this sense the game resembles not Aisle but Sam Barlow's other game The City. This got me stuck for a while when I tried to find the one winning move when in fact you need a series of moves to win.

The game gradually reveals a nice story and the prose is fun to read. Influences from Aisle and Pick Up the Phone Booth and Aisle can be seen in the writing style as well. Unfortunately the ending doesn't work that well - the final textdump explains the background too much leaving nothing for the player to work out. (Spoiler - click to show)The final choice presented to the player both contradicts the story and is altogether unnecessary. It would have been more satisfying and more consistent if the game would have made the choice automatically based on the player's actions during the game.

A Day in Life, by John Goettle

3 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Another programming exercise, June 7, 2008
Announcement to all aspiring authors: please, please don't release the "game" you made while going through the first five chapters of the I7 tutorial. Thank you for your attention.

You Have To BURN ROPE WITH TORCH, by Michael Cook

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Lost in translation, April 9, 2008
When I was a kid I read a novelization of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It was a huge disappointment: the book was essentially the entire script written in complete sentences, nothing added or removed. I was once again reminded of it when I played this game. You Have To Burn The Rope is a clever, funny and meaningful little Flash game, and this is its literal novelization.

As it now is, it doesn't work. The commentary of the original game is completely lost when the medium changes. The original parodies the aspects of modern online platformers, but that joke doesn't work if the medium isn't a modern online platformer and the author of this version clearly has no insight of this genre to make a similar commentary on the aspects of modern IF games.

Besides, if the game is called You Have To Burn The Rope and the command BURN THE ROPE is a "dangerous act that would achieve little", something has really gone wrong. (You have to BURN ROPE WITH TORCH.)
(UPDATE: The author realized this himself and changed the game's title. That's funny enough to earn an extra star.)

Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom, by S. John Ross

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
IF or Nethack?, February 27, 2008
I might not be the best person to review this game since I have no experience of the retro-hack'n'slash RPG scene the game apparently parodies. Some people might enjoy playing this more than I did.

Calling the game interactive fiction could perhaps be questioned. The Z-code parser has been reduced to six commands; gameplay consists mainly of primitive randomized combats and moving around the map; the story is nearly non-existent; items have rarely any descriptions (on the plus side there are many library messages so the items look like they were described). It felt more like playing a low-end Nethack clone than a work of IF.

Humor is absurd, even surreal (try talking to your bag) - mostly I didn't get it but as I said before, people with RPG experience might be laughing their guts out. The accompanying material is extensive and at a glance looks exquisitely made so an additional star for that. One might ask if the material was made to support the game or is it the other way around?

When Beer Isn't Enough, by Matt Dark Baron

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Random, February 26, 2008
You play a kangaroo that has broken its pouch and has to find a new one. The gameplay consists of wandering around a small Australian town. Why the game is called When Beer Isn't Enough is never explained.

The game has many random elements. Not absurd or illogical but... random. There seems to be some model of viewing the world here that quite doesn't fit the norm. At times you have to read the sentences a couple of times through before seeing their intended meaning. The cause is often followed by a non sequitur effect and this is probably unintentional. In gameplay this means you can't have even a short term plan ("if I do X, I can then do Y", or even "I should now do Z") because solving a puzzle results in the game advancing completely unpredictably.

I could probably make a decent guess at what the author's age was when the game was written. The humor relies on urine, fat people and body parts exploding or catching fire. The prose is blunt and conveys a sense that the author has a vivid imagination but lacks the skill to express it in writing.

On the plus side the game has some strange appeal to it that kept me playing until I ended up in a deadlock (but not enough to restart and play again). Maybe it's because every time you do something right the game advances significantly, which makes solving puzzles very rewarding.

Limelight, by Justin Lowmaster

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A good start, February 20, 2008
The game is a good start for a beginning author. That being said, it has its fair share of problems, beginning with the story that resembles a bad fanfic of a B-class action movie. The locations have very shallow implementations and the prose is sloppy. The chase scene finale fails to convey any sense of danger or speed and is broken in quite many ways.

After all these faults, why do I then call the game a good start? The game is released with source code and it contains a section with several paragraphs of author brainstorming and analyzing the game. The final game has very little left from what seems to be the initial plan - with a bit more time and devotion (and beta testing!) the author has the potential do a lot better.

rendition, by nespresso

7 of 19 people found the following review helpful:
Repulsive, January 10, 2008
A repulsive, sadistic game where the only puzzle is to find different methods of torturing a prisoner. A game with similar themes might be succesful, exploring the dark side of human nature and philosophical and ethical side of modern day torture, but this game is as far from that as north pole is from antarctica. On the other hand, for those who take pleasure in snuff and similar "entertainment" this is just the right game.

Marika the Offering, by revgiblet

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Refreshingly different one-room game, January 9, 2008
Contrary to almost all other one-room games, the goal is not to escape but to secure the room so that the bad guy doesn't get in. This is a refreshing new look at the genre and the game handles the setting quite well.

There's a time limit but it serves a purpose: every time when the time runs out and the room is not secure enough the game tells what part of the room you missed. This is infinitely better than getting a general "you died"-message without a clue how to improve the next time. It's not even annoying to die several times because each time you are making progress.

Some minor design and parser problems keep this from being a five-star game. Objects can be examined exactly once, then you get the generic "nothing special"-message. At least in one point the story suggests that an item is essential to solve the game (it is not) but recovering it is not possible and there's no indication later that it's not necessary.

Spodgeville Murphy and the Jewelled Eye of Wossname, by David Fillmore

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Shortness ruins it, December 29, 2007
This game is way too good to be so short. The one puzzle it has is excellent and then - it ends. It's like watching 5 minutes of Indiana Jones or getting a plate of delicious dessert with one spoonful left. The author twists the knife by making the game deliberately look like the last puzzle of a grand adventure.

I like to think that during the last 8 years after the publication of SMatJEoW (yikes!) the author has been expanding it to a full-blown game and just waits for the right moment to publish it. One has to have dreams, right...?

Urban Conflict, by Sam Gordon

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Ambitious project but falls somewhat short, December 26, 2007
Urban Conflict is an ambitious project - the entire game consists of talking to a single NPC. Because of their nature, conversational games with little or no other content require that they are polished to almost perfection or they break the illusion and fall on their faces. Unfortunately this game does not quite reach the former group.

The protagonist is a peacekeeper trapped in a ruined building with an insurgent from one side of the warring parties. "Your challenge is to survive in the company of your companion long enough for the current battle to die down, so that you can leave the building," says the author. This is somewhat controversial, since (Spoiler - click to show)at first I tried to do exactly as the instructions said and got nowhere. Some topics made the insurgent considerably angry and ended the game very quickly so I avoided those and tried to stay on her good side as long as possible, but after a run of about 120 turns I had to resort to the walkthrough. Turns out you have to get her in a good enough mood, then bring up a topic that previously would have gotten the player shot in a matter of turns. That's just about impossible to figure out unless you happen to get the right sequence of questions on the first go.

The insurgent is deeply implemented as a conversational NPC but the character itself remains distant and is hard to relate emotionally. Part of the problem might be that the war itself is never identified. When the insurgent talks about it with vague terms like "the enemy" and "the conflict" and refuses to tell about the warring sides' political and religious motives, it gives the impression of them having a light debate over wars in general at the university café.

Personally I don't think conversation makes a good game or a puzzle by itself. If this NPC were a part of a larger game it would be very impressive but alone it's not enough. I did not enjoy Galatea that much either and this is very similar in comparison so those who liked Galatea will probably get more out of Urban Conflict as well.

Hotel Noir, by Eva Vikström

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Sloppy, underdeveloped game, December 26, 2007
This piece of IF is in Swedish. When non-English IF is as rare as it currently is, it's a shame that quality non-English IF is even rarer.

The game is seriously underimplemented (a bathroom has three items mentioned in the room description, none of them are implemented) and the player is never quite aware what their goal is. The plot advances when the player triggers something through an unrelated action (for example (Spoiler - click to show)to get a room key you must drink a cup of coffee) so the player is left to try everything possible they can think of with no sense of purpose. To be fair I didn't have the endurance to play very far so there's a possibility that the plot picks up later in the game.

The author leads the player on a too tight rope: the commands are interpreted way too far. Examining a television makes the protagonist to turn it on, put a video in, watch it for an hour and then go to sleep - but the player just wanted a description of the television! And commanding watch video, turn tv on, sleep etc. doesn't work so the gameplay is mostly guessing which illogical action advances the game this time.

The City, by Sam Barlow

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A nice philosophical sci-fi story, December 5, 2007
I wouldn't call the game "experimental". It has a peculiar thought-provoking story and very cosmetic changes to the standard look and feel of the parser, but that's about it. UNDO, SAVE and RESTORE are disabled for some reason but they are not needed either.

The puzzles are quite hard and I had to resort to the walkthrough several times, mostly because of guess-the-verb problems or general lack of knowing what the goal was. The game does get better on a replay. The nyances of the story and the depth of implementation are more noticeable on the second go. The story is easily worth 4 stars but guess-the-verb, hard puzzles and shortness drop the rating a notch.

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