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Reviews by Wade Clarke

IFComp 2012

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Body Bargain, by Amanda Lange

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
If by bargain you mean "drenched in blood", it's definitely a bargain., December 4, 2012
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: horror, IFComp 2012, Inform
(I originally published this review on 7 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 10th of 26 games I reviewed and it has been updated at least once since the review was written.)

Body Bargain is a horror game set in a near future world of cybernetic body modification. It reminds me of the film The Human Centipede in its aesthetics and ideas, and while none of the characters here get sewn together, I will echo the consumer advice displayed by the game on startup, that if you're squeamish of gore or violence or clinical disturbing-ness, this game will probably squeam you. It also deals with something that remains challenging to successfully negotiate in IF, the continuum of moral and ethical boundaries between the actions a PC might be likely to take based on his or her personality and the in-game situation, and the actions different players might be prepared to take based on their out-of-game personality. Body Bargain doesn't evade all these complications, but even as raggedly implemented as it currently is, I found it morbidly engrossing and definitely interesting. For horror fans, a must play.

The PC wakes up after surgery she has opted for to transform her whole body from that of an overweight human to that of a toned blue elven woman. The story suggests, through the tone of its conversations and the thoughts of the PC, that such fantastic transformations are now contextually acceptable in society, maybe even common. You have paid for your own surgery by becoming the new assistant nurse at the illegal practice which performed it, presided over by the more-machine-than-man Doctor Overclock. However, a big early problem in this game was that it was not clear to me that I had made such a deal. Why some robot doctor was expecting me to help him perform surgery on a stranger just because I had walked into his operating room baffled me. It caused me to fob off his request and look around other areas in the game. In those areas I found information to fill in the gaps, but I don't think it was the author's intent to let this point slip.

The first episode of surgery is a good litmus test for whether or not any particular player will have the taste or stomach for what is to come. You have to scalpel shoulders, handle severed limbs and put up with the spray of gore from the doctor's sawing, but the result appears to be what the patient requested. (Spoiler - click to show)Not so for the next patient. His grotesque fantasy drawing of the giant-schlonged dragon he wants to become prompts the doctor to euthanase him as a "pervert". It's this moment that is likely to mobilise the player, especially when they discover that the next patient is their own sister. She already has a punk hairdo and piercings. Will she attract the pervert label?

You can now continue to follow the doctor's orders or start to do otherwise. The game is ready for many permutations of what can happen, impressively so in retrospect, but some of its positions are significantly weakened (Spoiler - click to show)in the first place by the sketchy implementation of the sister character. She is attended by numerous bugs, gives the impression of being asleep even though she is awake and has nothing of use to say to the player. Surely my character is likely to alert her to the murder of the second patient that just took place? My character does not, creating a blank stage for action in which the player can choose to blithely butcher the sister character or not. This is simply an unrealistic presentation of the situation, stealing power from the choice the player makes and what results from it. The PC has demonstrated that she is not a blank canvas upon many previous occasions; with her thoughts on the grossness of her old body and the grossness of the second patient's dragon fantasies, and with her shock at the murder of the second patient. But she seems to become a moral vacuum, as far as the prose is concerned, after that murder. I believe these kinds of inconsistencies can be incredibly difficult to deal with for any author. They have often stumped me just at the stage of thinking about creating a game in which the player might be called on to perform actions generally considered repulsive. Body Bargain has not overcome all of these problems, but that doesn't mean it's not an interesting game for playing with them.

There are a lot of technical troubles with the game, ranging from duplicate and erroneous messages (automatic doors are always opening and closing, sometimes more than they should) to under-helpful implementation (typing "cut X" always asks "With what?" in a game about surgery and stabby violence), verb guessing (the keycard reader I'd never have thought to type AUTHORISE) and synonym weakness ("card" and "key card" are not accepted for "keycard"). There's also an unfinished feel to some of the emptier locations in the southern vicinity of the hospital. Nevertheless, I found the core design of Body Bargain to be clear, distinctive and effective. I like the way the operating rooms are laid out diagonally from the hallway, the device of the doctor leading the player from one operation to the next and the grisly but clinical depiction of the operations. Again with The Human Centipede, the incident with the dragon patient's fantasy sketch reminded me of the opening scene of that film in which Doctor Heiter gazes with fascination at the photo of the three dogs he has sewn together.

Body Bargain is novel and has all the ingredients to be a really high quality piece of horror gaming, but technically it needs a lot of work and it faces conceptual challenges, too. These factors make for rough play and work against the game's ultimate effects. I'm glad to have played what's here already and would certainly designate this as a must play for horror fans.

Castle Adventure!, by Ben Chenoweth

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Tough and thorough old school princess rescue, November 3, 2012
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2012, Inform, fantasy
(I originally published this review on 8 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 11th of 26 games I reviewed.)

Thou shouldst save and save often in Castle Adventure! for thou art without UNDO capability and opportunities for thine stuckening abound. This is a solidly executed rescue-the-princess toughy delivered in a simple 1980s style. None of Castle's puzzles are too tricky individually, but the overall difficulty is multiplied by the combination of the game's large map (I would estimate 100 rooms) and the fact that you can wreck your game in various ways. If Castle Adventure hadn't shipped with its Invisiclue hints, I imagine I would have been in danger of giving up on several occasions, and to make use of the clues still requires a good familiarity with the gameworld. However, I think anyone who gets into this game will enjoy acquiring that familiarity, as the map design is really excellent. Even with so many rooms, and so many of them being empty, they have a distinct style of logical arrangement and clear description that makes them easy to navigate. The empty rooms also add a sense of scale which helps give the game its atmosphere. By the time I completed Castle Adventure, I had its whole world in my head.

This is a game about the good old joys of unfettered fantasy adventuring. Forests, castles, secret passages, creatures to help and hinder, bare bones descriptions and anachronistic jokes when you look at things. Your goal of rescuing the princess isn't accompanied by a bunch of mythology, it's just self-evidently what the hero does in a world like this. And Castle Adventure is very polished. I don't recall seeing any typos or encountering any bugs I could guarantee were bugs. That is to say that there were some slightly cumbersome command moments, but the game has the spirit of a two word parser game, even if it isn't one literally, and it's possible that moments of inflexibility are just a part of the style.

A handful of puzzles seem to slyly comment on the great anti-intuitive difficulty which sometimes accompanies old school games. (Spoiler - click to show)I especially liked the part where I had to keep typing GET TORCH in a darkened room until I did manage to find the thing. Once I had it, I wondered how I was going to light it, and spent several turns trying to do so until I examined it and discovered it was an electric torch, the only such modern appliance in this otherwise ye olde game. Another potentially daunting moment was when the Princess, whom I was escorting home, fled upon seeing the ghost. If I'd been more rational at the time, I would have thought the situation through and realised that the minor maze of an area into which she'd fled was closed in. This suggests the entirely logical solution to the puzzle: You just go up into that area and check each room until you find her. But I was briefly having visions of having to explore all of the game's 100ish rooms again looking for her.

The condition for getting the game's super happy ending is probably its sneakiest feature, pretty much guaranteeing nobody will achieve it without replaying the whole thing from the start. (Spoiler - click to show)That condition is that the player must give the gold key back to the thieving magpie before entering the castle. Just reading this information in the hints brought a smile to my minor failure face. Overall, Castle Adventure was very happy-making for me. It may feel too standard for some players and its old school spirit will deter others (in fact it plainly repelled many, based on reviews I read) but in its chosen field of uncomplicated two-wordish princess rescue it is finely designed, technically polished and subtly idiosyncratic.

Changes, by David Given

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The planet is magnificent but the game is too difficult on numerous fronts., January 12, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2012, Inform, science fiction
(I originally published this review on 12 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 16th of 26 games I reviewed.)

In many ways, I found sci-fi adventure Changes to be the highest quality game amongst the IFComp 2012 entries. Its prose flows transparently and conveys the vivid, natural beauty of an earth-like planet. It presents the point of view of many different lifeforms in original ways, even from within the point of view of other lifeforms. Its animal cast are realistic and finely programmed, reacting to each other in interesting ways and demonstrating instinctive, independent behaviour.

Unfortunately I also found this game to be incredibly difficult. It worked me into a state of significant frustration on many occasions and eventually I gave up. The difficulty operates mostly at a subtle level, except in the case of one marauding animal, but it is thoroughly persistent in nature, and I stopped when I could no longer make progress even with the walkthrough. There are adaptive hints in the game but they operate on such a large scale as to be of little use in helping with any specific problems. If you find yourself hesitant or struggling in Changes, I recommend examining the walkthrough much sooner rather than later.

After acknowledging at game start that I was a human trapped in the body of an extra terrestrial rabbit, spawned by some weird organic cocoon to boot, I began to explore the planet I found myself on. Other rabbits sniffed and browsed about their burrows and a flock of deer sought out food. A fox pursued me and the other deer, but we were able to outrun him, and he shied away from the beavers trying to plug up their dam. The interplay of all these creatures is so well programmed and fascinating to behold that I ran around exploring and experimenting with them all for a long but unspecifiable amount of time. Eventually, once I had thoroughly surveyed the land and staked out my (Spoiler - click to show)crashed human spaceship, my attention began to turn to the ever marauding fox and the plight of being a rabbit in general.

I think the first important steps the player must take in this game are gargantuan ones in terms of the demand on the player to come up with the ideas required and to then progress from assessing their feasibility to actually working out how to execute them. Many spoilers on this topic: (Spoiler - click to show)Once you have witnessed other animals dragging corpses into the cocoons, you must then decide that you want to obtain an animal corpse yourself. This is obviously a major challenge if you are a rabbit and every other non-rabbit land animal in the game is larger or more powerful than you. The only fatal animal encounter you are likely to have witnessed at this point would be your own death at the hands of the fox. So while you might have decided that you want to kill something, you have seen next to no killing.

The first material step on the path to murdering a bigger animal is to attack a fish flopping about in a pool. The flopping about behaviour is what may give you a clue that the fish is vulnerable and that this is possible, but attacking fish is not behaviour I associate with rabbits, nor have I seen any of the other animals in the game doing anything similar. And the fish is still just a prop for a greater abstract murder plot targeting the otter. Taken individually, I consider many of these steps to be difficult to conceive of on the player end, and they form a chain in a fairly elusive scheme which will eventually involve burying a fish in a hole as bait to trap another animal.

The subtle difficulty I spoke of earlier is that there isn't much feedback from the game that any particular step is bringing you closer to a goal, and you may not even realise what your goal is. There are also moments in the game which give misdirective feedback. There was a stick I saw and wanted to pick up, prompting the response, "There's nothing there worth having." In IF games, that's about as clear a fob off as I've ever seen. I was mad when I later discovered from the walkthrough that the stick is vital for progress but can only be collected after you have examined it.

The final problem I had with the game's first major puzzle ((Spoiler - click to show)kill the otter) was that it took me perhaps twenty or more attempts to just pull off the feat of (Spoiler - click to show)leading the otter to my fish trap without encountering the fox on the way. The fox forces a plan abort, since it is necessary to wait with the otter for a turn to activate the trap, and waiting results in death if the fox is present. Each time I encountered the fox I would retreat, hide from it, emerge and then restart the whole plot from the first step of catching the fish once again, taking it north, dropping it for the otter, waiting, leading the otter away... I couldn't believe how hard this was, but at least the fox's behaviour during this section of the game should be easy to tweak for the author.

So in various dimensions, the game's first puzzle is the hardest one. Having survived it, the player must now (Spoiler - click to show)evolve through a series of other animals by killing them and/or dragging them into the life cocoons to eventually become the drug-addicted lemur whose fingers are long enough to work the numeric keypad on your broken shuttle. These puzzles are all very clever, but the game just keeps missing out on giving the bits of direction and feedback necessary for most people to be able to have a shot at clearing them without cleaving to the walkthrough. In the end I did cleave to the walkthrough, but the game insisted I was not tall enough to reach the spaceship hatch, though both the sticks and the branch were in place, so I'm unsure if I hit a bug or missed something important, but I felt too drained to attempt to play on at that point.

I have barely touched on the human elements of the game's plot here, and while they're obviously important overall, they didn't factor in either the massive difficulties I had in playing Changes, nor in its wonderful presentation of a believable alien planet teeming with life. The game has the overall quality of something exceptional, but it's too hard to play at the moment.

Escape From Summerland, by Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
So a dandy, a monkey and a robot walk into an amusement park -, November 17, 2012
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2012, Inform
(I originally published this review on 21 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 21st of 26 games I reviewed, and it had already been updated once during the competition before I reviewed it.)

Adventure games have consistently demonstrated that trying to stop people escaping from stuff, at least literal stuff, is a futile goal. Joining this rich tradition concerning the flight from the literal is switchable protagonist adventure Escape from Summerland. Summerland is an amusement park, and when the game begins, it get hits by a bomb. The adventure which follows demonstrates fun and inventive puzzle engineering but could stand to help the player more with those puzzles.

The dapper nature of the first of three playable PCs made me feel like the introductory bomb had fallen during the London Blitz, but information in the game's blurb, which appeared only on the IFComp website during competition time, specifies the setting of the game as a future in which drones are fighting all our wars for us; presumably they dropped the bomb. The explosion results in the inconvenient death and ghostification of dapper gent Amadan and the entrapment of monkey performer Jacquotte. Amadan's ghost can't do much for dead Amadan, but it can try to liberate Jacquotte from Summerland, and it will seek to do so with the help of a busted up robot found along the way. The player gets to control all three of these characters and can switch between them at will to coordinate the escape effort. This brings a lot of neat features to the game's table: multiple PCs, unique viewpoints and a tweaked parser. The game design brief is extensive, demanding in some idealised form even more work on Escape from Summerland than has already gone into it, as difficulties remain.

The core puzzle mechanic is that each of the three characters has their own way of perceiving the environment, and their own physical pros and cons. Amadan, a human until very recently, delivers regular descriptions of the locations, but being a ghost he can't manipulate anything, though he can walk through walls. Jacquotte is a high achieving monkey and able to report on the world in her simplified terms which emphasise things she finds shiny and exciting over things she finds boring. Every statement she makes is accompanied by a monkey emoticon. I thought these might bug me at first, but I got used to them over time and was even charmed by them. The damaged robot turns out to be the most difficult character to wield. It distils what it sees and experiences into a high tech series of itemised lists. The elusive meaning of some of the robot's output turned out to be the cause of most of my trips to the game's walkthrough, but transparent or not, the lists themselves are fascinating.

There is little to complain about in Amadan's implementation when it comes to the puzzles, but the game doesn't explain his evident fervour to liberate the monkey. Perhaps she was the only animal in the carnival? The capricious monkey is the source of most of the game's humour, but also seems to be the PC with the least tolerance for varied commands. This isn't illogical she's a monkey after all but her monkeyfied rejections of most of what you might type can be wearing. The catch with the robot is that while it has many useful abilities, they're hard to access, or perhaps to even discern in the first place. After I picked up one of the robot's detached arms, I didn't realise that I needed to (Spoiler - click to show)INSTALL it before it would work. Other attachments were hard to identify, and a couple of other robot-based solutions seemed too abstract to guess at without more explicit clueing from the game.

I found Escape from Summerland to be of an essentially high quality but it didn't operate with a smoothness to match that quality, resulting in me keeping the walkthrough close at hand. Apart from the game needing to be more helpful in general where the robot is concerned, probably the main thing I think would help is a greater sharing of feedback amongst its characters. That is to say that when the player changes from one character to another, even in the same room, it's currently very rare to receive feedback on significant changes which have been wrought by other characters. The three of them could almost be living in separate worlds as they barely acknowledge each other's actions. I could understand such behaviour from an unemotional robot, but Amadan came back to save the monkey and the monkey is just observant and reactive in general.

Escape from Summerland also has a few curious elements which seem to be underdeveloped; the drone warfare which is never specifically mentioned in the game, Amadan's history with the monkey and some interesting attractions in the park which go unused. Perhaps development time ran short before the competition? These elements might have aroused more curiosity had the game gone on much longer than it did. The heart of the adventure is its novel choice of differently abled protagonists, the contrasts amongst them and the brief but clever run of puzzles they have to solve, with most of the game's atmosphere established by Amadan's initial walk through Summerland.

Eurydice, by Anonymous

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Grief via Virgil., July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2012, Inform, fantasy
(I originally published this review on 6 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 9th of 26 games I reviewed.)

When I was in high school, the music students (not me) put on a production of Orpheus in the Underworld. I found this embarrassing because the cool school where my dad taught would put on normal shows like Grease and Dracula Spectacular. Anyway, I didn't go to see Orpheus then and I didn't read his story at any time in the intervening period, leaving me in a theoretically weaker than ideal position for playing Eurydice, an adventure about bereavement named for Orpheus's wife. The game is initially character focused and entirely realistic, showing some very strong writing in this area. It then takes an unexpected turn into more fable-like territory. My preference that the game had stayed entirely in the first mode is irrelevant; it has many fine qualities.

Before the game opens, the male PC's dear friend, maybe love, Celine, has died. The circumstances of her death are sketched in over the length of the game. The PC and his flatmates are having a wake-like gathering of some friends and acquaintances when play begins. This first part of the game is essentially puzzle free, and sees you wandering around the house reminiscing, feeling strange and self-conscious and finding it agonising to interact socially. The quick elucidation of the PC's relationship with each of the friends is superb. Talking to each person for the first time produces at least one paragraph of sentiment free appraisal of their role in your life and in Celine's life. The sharp observations make the cast and situation feel real.

I've been keen and am keen to play a game that works well in this fashion for its duration, and which is also not just a short story on rails. I thought this game might be it, so I had to admit my disappointment to myself when, after strolling out of the game house, I came across a character who was clearly a Charon the Ferryman type ready to paddle me to some fantasyland. Perhaps the prevalence of afterlife games in IF in general weighed into my reaction here.

Transported to the underworld, the player's goal is now to (Spoiler - click to show)find and retrieve Celine from a mental hospital staffed by incarnations of the characters from Virgil's Eurydice tale. This is nowhere near as Ingmar Bergmanesque as it sounds. It's not like you walk in and meet a chap who says, "I am Hades." That chap is a doctor in this game, and some of the parser's responses to your actions describe him as Hades, but he never mentions that name himself that I noticed, nor do any of the characters mention any of the Greek names. I didn't study the tale of Eurydice until after I had played, and the technically subtle approach of the game to the twinning of the hospital residents and the Greek characters is clever.

Eurydice the game may become more traditionally puzzley in style in this section, but it was a bit disingenuous of me to draw a blunt line through the midpoint of the game, as the PC's recollections of events and time spent in Celine's room maintain the realistic and sometimes poignant outlook established in the early scenes. It's just that now additional ways to move forward may include (Spoiler - click to show)playing the lyre.

There are minor proofreading issues and implementation gaps scattered consistently across the game. The only ones which actually disrupted my play were the fact that the hospital doorbell was not described as a button, making me wonder why I couldn't pull or ring it, and that the hospital ground descriptions gave the impression that there were many more enterable buildings than there were. These are typical minor mistakes for what appears to be a first game, and all of the game's important elements are solid: its clear setup and (unexpected) trajectory, some well considered endings and brief but very good character writing. The overall combination of elements is novel and there are human truths in here.

Fish Bowl, by Ethan Rupp and Joshua Rupp
Short'n'effective sea'n'character horror., July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: horror, IFComp 2012, Inform
(I originally published this review on 22 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 25th of 26 games I reviewed.)

Fish Bowl is a short and effective horror piece in which you play sozzled beachcomber Larry Wyndham, a man who wakes up in his shack one day to find that a dusty fishbowl has materialised atop his three-legged dresser. The game is atmospheric with the whiff of sea horrors and sticky dead things, and it's quite a good character piece as well, evoking your awareness of Larry's constant fatigue and salty decrepitude. There are some bugs and oversights about but none that really impeded my play.

Larry's opening narration suggests that he's a guy who stumbles around in something like a semipermanent hangover. When he can't remember the previous night or recognise the fishbowl, these are immediate motivations for the player to start investigating Larry's surroundings. Doing so induces weird intrusions of memory and flashes of conversational static, though I wasn't crazy about the presentation of the latter. On the topic of presentation, the games sports some indented paragraphs. They look quite nice and I'm surprised IF games/authors don't think about this style more often, but I suppose the tradition that it is more helpful to leave an entire blank line between different chunks of information is well established for good functional reasons.

I read other reviews of Fish Bowl which reported over-awareness of its linear nature, or of its mechanism of containing the player to the present location until they perform certain tasks. The game is basically linear and it does contain the player to make sure they get everything they need from each of its few locations, but I didn't perceive either of these qualities in a negative light. The more character-based and naturalistic a game becomes, the more I fear that it will let me do something stupid like walk right down the beach when all the important things I need to attend to are back at my shack. I think Larry is written clearly enough that his thoughts can direct player effort to where it needs to go, and that some of the blocking in general is pretty natural. For instance, Larry's mini-rant to himself which prevents him from leaving the area in front of the shack without (Spoiler - click to show)burying the dead cat. I also don't mind repeating entry of a command when it very clear that the same action is the one that needs to be performed again for instance, typing GET BOTTLE, seeing the bottle float further out of reach in response, then entering GET BOTTLE again. I think Fish Bowl is consistently good with this kind of thing.

Thoughts on the finale: (Spoiler - click to show)After you trigger a weird and unpleasant series of memories and images, and try and fail to retrieve the bottle from the ocean, you end up back in your shack, ready to wake to a day which is much worse. The revelation about your situation, confirmed by your supernatural answering machine, arrives all at once, and contains some elements that you might have vaguely guessed at by now as well as unexpected background information about you actually being a spaceship pilot infected by some kind of sea monster. Your various memories now make sense and the props you have been dealing with for the past two days are revealed as masking hallucinations. It's a creepy outcome, a bit Ray Bradbury and a bit H.P. Lovecraft, especially the final image of Larry slithering back into the ocean. And I was able to reach it without too much trouble. Fish Bowl's story plays pretty well now, and could play even better if the text output was tidied up, the feedback messages were coralled so that they don't sometimes appear in the wrong order, and missing nouns were implemented.

Guilded Youth, by Jim Munroe

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
I'm a tweet little youth in a guilded BBS., June 22, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, IFComp 2012
(I published the first version of this review on 3 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. Guilded Youth was the 3rd of 26 games I reviewed. The review has since been revised to address updates to the game.)

Guilded Youth is a smooth playing and charmingly presented story about the suburban adventures of teenaged Tony. Tony is preoccupied with the cool local manor which is soon to be demolished, and he sneaks in there each night in search of treasure. The game is set in the 1980s and delivered through the prism of the imaginative life shared by Tony and his friends on their local Dungeons & Dragons BBS game, where he's Tony the Thief.

Guilded Youth is linear, but not "I don't feel like I'm doing anything" linear, and its production values, including some graphics and sounds, are impeccable. Its atmosphere works on a couple of levels, that of the world of teenagers in general, and also with a degree of specific nostalgia or period feel for folks who grew up in the 80s or like 80s things, and for the entertainment from that time. The original IFComp version of the game had a disappointing ending (I wasn't the only person to say so) but Jim Munroe revised the tail completely in response, and it's now as good as everything else.

The BBS world is presented in pretty green monochrome which makes way for a contemporary online style when you take Tony out on one of his nightly jaunts. Character portraits of your friends and inventory images surround the screen, and there are cool discrete sound effects if you play with the Chrome web browser. The game is also very simple to control, letting you know that there are only a handful of commands which are actually required for play, though others will work. On each of your trips to the manor at night you are accompanied by different friends from the BBS whom you attract to your party with loot from the previous night. I should make it clear that there is no actual RPG engine in play. Each object only persuades a certain friend to come with you, and only on a particular night, so the linearity extends to all areas of the game.

Guilded Youth recalled for me the atmosphere of many 1980s movies about gangs of adventurous teenagers. The characters in the game are excited that they're getting to have such adventures, and hope to enjoy and prolong this feeling as much as they can before the manor is torn down, symbolically ending the fun and ushering them further towards adulthood. The characters are only as open to us as Tony's point of view allows, and la their BBS characters (or the cast of The Goonies) each teen demonstrates a knack for a particular skill or way of doing things that fits neatly with the structure of going out with a different one or two of them each night. Tony even gets to (Spoiler - click to show)smooch the cool girl, which was the romance every boy liked to imagine himself in when he watched something like The Goonies. At least I assume the other boys were thinking the same things as me but that we all just never spoke about it. What's funny about the NPCs in the game (or just jealous-making) is that even though they don't say a tremendous amount of stuff or stay onscreen long enough to do a tremendous amount of stuff, they manage to leave a great impression of their liveliness, individual foibles and relationships in a way that's both fun and realistic.

howling dogs, by Porpentine

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Bold, weird dreaming through hypertext innovations, July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, IFComp 2012, Twine
(I originally published this review on 1 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 1st of 26 games I reviewed.)

I thought that kicking off my IFComp 2012 quest with a hyperlink powered game la howling dogs might somehow ease my brain into the gear required for the more typically strenuous parser fare to come. I was wrong; howling dogs brought the strenuous straight away. This piece is an ominous and often perplexing journey through poetic language, virtual reality-ish dreaming and shifting female roles. Beyond its subject matter, it also forced me to immediately confront a bunch of issues concerning different kinds of interactivity in text games I'd rather have put off until later. howling dogs is dynamically beautiful and writerly, but I would point out now for consumers that it is essentially not a game-state game. It's a text with many digressions and some strong aesthetic tricks. It's also pretty weird. To learn more, you may read beyond this paragraph into my more content (but not puzzle) spoiling territory.

The player's initial situation is sparse and sparsely depicted. You're trapped in some kind of quarters with a shower, food, a room whose nature screen keeps you sane, and the 'activity' room where you can go to have virtual reality experiences that aren't of your choice. By the bed is a photo of a woman you once knew. Ultimately the only thing you can do to escape each day's monotony is plug yourself into the activity room. In each of the ensuing virtual realities you seem to be a different person in a different situation, and at the conclusion of each dream you wake up back in your quarters.

The scope of the dreams (and I use the term loosely there's no certainty that they are dreams) is wide ranging, to say the least. There's a gory phantasmagorical war produced by some entity which bends slightly to your resistance or lack thereof to its choice of material. There's a Zen experience involving describing a garden viewed through a paper slot. The ultimate, lavish scenario follows the growth of a prophesied empress with a bone foot.

The series of shorter dreams which come first and flit about in subject matter seem pretty resistant to interpretation on a first play, but the later and longer scenarios start to draw out a theme of the persistent and constricting roles for women which have been laid down over the ages. In one story you're Joan of Arc waiting to be burned. By the game's end you're an empress, arguably powerful but still bound to various aesthetic and behavioural expectations, deciding which masks to wear and which of various predetermined actions to take. The empress story reminded me of some of Tanith Lee's books; Vivia (about an impotent vampire princess) and Law of the Wolf Tower (the adventures of a harried quasi-princess teen). The game's final quote from John Wesley about the indefatigable evil of angels also reminded me of Lars Von Trier's film Antichrist and its concerns with myths of the perpetual evil of women.

These are my ideas and not stone, for this is plainly a game open to wide interpretation. I describe it as dynamically beautiful as it demonstrates a perfect sense of timing and flow in its aesthetics. Not just in the language but in the visual delivery of the game; the pace at which the text appears, the moments the game chooses to repeat things. Some tricks it has which are minimally visceral, like lines which fade or flicker like a broken light, weird links hidden in punctuation, deliberately blurred text. This is some of the most interesting use of this hyperlink format I've seen to date. However, I rarely found much use for the 'Rewind' link, having much more luck with my browser's 'Back' button, and occasionally the need to drag the mouse back and forth over links became laborious particularly on one rather amazing screen which apparently leads to an alternate ending. I was unable to find that ending, but the need to repeatedly move between links in the text and the 'Back' link which kept reappearing in the corner was more than my RSI could stand.

howling dogs was a very interesting and promising introduction to this year's competition for me, and also demonstrates further innovation in the area of hyperlink pieces. The writing is fine, the dynamics excellent, the imagery clear and strange.

In a Manor of Speaking, by Hulk Handsome

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Smooth-playing sprightly punning, July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2012, Inform, comedy
(I originally published this review on 21 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 23rd of 26 games I reviewed.)

I don't claim to have played many wordplay focused IF games before, but I loved this one. In a Manor of Speaking is an adventure beyond the Bermuda Triangle through a world ruled by puns. Lord Dashney is the evil figurehead who needs to be overthrown and you are the person who needs to do it, using only colloquial expressions and a bit of lateral thinking as your weapons.

The game's implementation in Release 3, the one I played, is very strong. Its puzzles are numerous, amusing and served by an excellent contextual hints system. The game's humourous tone and aesthetic are entirely coherent and the prose is hiccup free. In short, this level of quality is what I ideally want from every adventure in the comp. The immersion which results when every part of a game is working smoothly and the flow of words and actions is unbroken is hard to beat, and with only a few games left for me to review now, I can say that In a Manor of Speaking is the only game to have achieved such frictionless immersion for me in this competition. Therefore unless you hate wordplay (and this is a pretty user friendly version of it) I advise you, and all and sundry, to try In a Manor of Speaking.

Paradoxically, I find that this game's accessible comedy style makes it hard to discuss at length. Its meanings are consistently transparent, whether they are silly sight gags (metalheads whose heads are made out of metal), riffs on timeworn sayings (Spoiler - click to show)(the pudding which contains the proof) or misdirections (the game is full of bars, but only the first one is a metal rod). To write about the game's jokes like this makes them sound only groany, but puns are fascinating because while they do often prompt groaning or cries of "I hate puns," almost nobody genuinely hates a pun, except for people whose souls are broken and ugly as pitch. You know, people who are to be pitied. In fact most people enjoy being the opportunistic revealers of puns in conversation once in awhile. In a Manor of Speaking takes you into a world and mode of writing where the puns are so numerous that they are the source of all the meaning. This pushes them beyond the context of goofy pleasure and shame which often accompanies isolated real-life punning into a place where anyone is likely to enjoy them more freely.

I only encountered a couple of tiny bugs in the game and both were related to the object "a piece of your mind" and the kangarude. The solidity of implementation also extends to the majority of the parser's blocking messages, with idiosyncratic jokes on hand for most kinds of command rejection. The numerous instant deaths (which you can instantly back out of, as well) become something that you can easily anticipate, as a good number are attached to invitingly stupid actions, but you're likely to find that you still enjoy trying each one.

In a Manor of Speaking is a funny and engaging adventure with a lot of personality and a near seamless delivery. That last point is a clincher for me, whether a game is light, profound, transparent or opaque.

Irvine Quik & the Search for the Fish of Traglea, by Duncan Bowsman

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Coherent space zaniness in a cat universe, though buggy., November 11, 2012
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: ADRIFT, ADRIFT 4, IFComp 2012, comedy, science fiction
(I originally published this review on 10 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 13th of 26 games I reviewed and the game has been revised at least once since I wrote the review.)

In a competition close shave, I completed Irvine Quik & the Search for the Fish of Traglea in exactly two hours. This absurdist space adventure, whose title causes my mouth to do everything it doesn't want to do at once if I say it aloud, puts the player in the role of its eponymous goofball as he and the Interstellar League of Planetary Advocacy try to save an endangered fish in order to save an endangered planet in a universe mostly populated by cat people. With its distinct aesthetic of cute humour, diverse environments, a big roster of NPCs (including a fully staffed ship) and cat-fu karate sequences, this adventure is potentially one of my favourites this year, but I have to temper that statement with observations of its bugginess and the attendant difficulties. The only ADRIFT-based game I'd previously played with a bigger scope than this one was 2011's mighty Cursed, and perhaps in a similar manner to Cursed, it's the ambitiousness of Irvine Quik which opens it up to a greater range of bug possibilities. I played the game using the aging Mac Spatterlight interpreter, which I've noted is solid for ADRIFT 4 games (ADRIFT 4, Irvine's platform, is now a static development platform) but which was incapable of recording any transcripts in the case of this particular game.

IQ, as I'm now going to call it, makes a strong impression of novelty and helpfulness through its opening screens. Alliterative taglines that would work well on sci-fi B movie posters describe the options available. It is surprising to find that you can start playing from any one of the game's six chapters. If you admit that you don't know how to use a HiRBy (your floating, grabbing robot pal in IQ) the first chapter will begin to play itself, slowly typing out the introductory commands before your eyes to show you what to do. On the other hand, if you answer "No" to the broader "Have you played interactive fiction before?" question, you seem to get almost no additional tuition at all, but the game does offer a VERB command which will list a minimum set of commands needed in the current chapter.

The first significant puzzle, helping the captain land the ship, meow, has an impressive five possible solutions according to the nicely presented PDF walkthrough. At least one of those solutions is a mini game involving quick memorisation and typing of numbers. Offering this much variety is obviously a pretty industrial strength way to start the game. In fact, the presence of a whole explorable spaceship for the good guys to live in is a pretty industrial strength gesture, and could almost be regarded as strange, considering that this ship is not where the bulk of the action takes place except that this gesture is (a) neat, and (b) will probably be of use for any sequels, EG the one promised by the game's outro.

IQ is written in the third person, an interesting choice which seems to amplify the clumsiness of the hero and of the game's humour in general, as if Irvine is being viewed omnisciently and pitilessly from a distance above. My own playing troubles really began in Chapter 3, in which Irvine explores the jungly planet of Tragear with the broad purpose of trying to solve the case of the missing fish. The puzzle involving the coat-stealing tree monkey had all kinds of bugs in it. (Spoiler - click to show)One time the solution didn't work, so I thought I was stuck. After restoring a game, the solution did work but I didn't know that it had because the game still said "The monkey refuses to give Irvine the tiger coat!" A fruit I had previously taken from the monkey was also capable of teleporting back into the monkey's hands. Before I broke out the walkthrough for the first time, and as I continued to wring my hands at my troubles, I went back to the ship to talk to other characters in hopes of getting some help from them. Here I found that the captain was still talking about my chance to pilot the ship, the story from the previous chapter. In summary, it's apparent that IQ has many different states and events whose interrelationships it needs to keep track of, but it currently isn't on top of a lot of them.

After Irvine acquires karate in a sensei sequence he can bust it out as required. It's a fun system combining a bit of random damage with the not overtly stressful demand that you learn which of the moves particular opponents are immune to. Chapter 5 is a 100% combat chapter set in a tunnel, and pretty exciting for it, though I swear there was a moment when I was reduced to 0 hit points but still alive and kicking. Also, (Spoiler - click to show) regarding the passcode which got me through the locked door into this area in the first place, I don't know where that number actually occurs in the game. After I learned of it from the walkthrough, I went looking for it but failed to find it. Running out of time to clear this game in under two hours, I caved in and just typed in the code which-I-still-don't-know-where-it-came-from. This typing wasn't easy, either. I accept in retrospect that the game did define the PRESS command for pressing buttons, but none of PRESS KEYPAD, UNLOCK KEYPAD, (the number itself) or PRESS NUMBERS worked.

In spite of all its bumps, which kept making me worse and worse at the game as I approached its finale, what IQ possesses is a very charming and coherent aesthetic which seems to extend beyond the already decent chunk of universe presented in this game. Even though communication with the other characters could be better programmed, each character seems to have his or her own concerns and purpose, and there are a good number of characters. And while the cat people are highly capable in their roles, it is left to the human outsider, Irvine, to falteringly observe the silliness of this world which is invisible to them. That the highly sought after fish is asleep nearly all of the time, that the characters who claim to be giving instruction barely give any, or that the villain's rant explaining his motivations doesn't make a lot of sense.

I found the funniest and cutest scene to be the one where Irvine helps a kitten which is fishing(!) in a brook. Given the general absurdity of this game, I really thought that the fish I was looking for might turn out to be the one in the water here, since its description said it was. But it turned out to be a Red Herring instead. This moment sums up the feel of the game for me.

In some ways Irvine is my favourite game so far at the halfway point of the comp, but its bugs did slow me up and hamper my experience of it. A lot of me struggling to finish this in under two hours was due to me rewinding to earlier points because of uncertainty about the game state. But the world of this game is a wonderful creation, and I will line up for a more polished version of this game or a sequel.

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