Some 2006 IF Comp reviews

Here are some of the games I managed to play from the 2006 annual IF competition.

The Sisters by James Webb (ADRIFT)

If you’ve ever heard any of those urban ghost tales about seeing a “white lady” cross the street during those wee hours and causing numerous accidents, then The Sisters is an interactive version.

This was one of the first games I had played among the IF competition entries. I was silently hoping more Adrift games would someday really show off the capabilities of the syststrong, not just in the multimedia aspect, but also in its own parser.

Fortunately, other aspects of The Sisters more than compensated for its minor parser issues.

I found the game engrossing enough, as I pretty much got into the whole “follow-the-little-girl” scenario. Here, I thought, was a situation where I could actually think like the story’s protagonist – someone with a bleeding head and nowhere to go – and trust my instincts through the situation.

The author used short, choppy sentences that contributed in some parts to the feeling of suspense, though in others I found it a bit jarring:

>X KNIFE
A small but surprisingly sharp penknife. Your mother gave it to you for your sixteenth birthday. It has a blade and a corkscrew. Handy if you’re an alcoholic serial killer. Your penknife is closed.

The only time I got stumped was when I was trying to get out of the Guest Room during my first time. Without consulting the walkthrough provided, I did what needed to be done, but was met with strange behavior:

>I
You are carrying a small key, an old flannel, some metal wire and a doorkey.

>OPEN DOOR
You have the key. You can unlock the door.

>UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY
You unlock the door with the doorkey.

>OPEN DOOR
You have the key. You can unlock the door.

>SOUTH
You have the key. You can unlock the door.

>UNLOCK DOOR
The door is not locked!

Of course, after looking at the walkthrough, everything else went forward smoothly.

In spite of that, I continued playing The Sisters outside the 2-hour limit. I was hooked, and for that at least, the game deserves to be within the top 15. We’ll see what happens.

———

Tentellian Island by Zack Wood (Java)

The game was made in Java as a homework assignment for a CS class, and grew as the author “worked obsessively” on it. Need I say more?

Homebrewed IF pieces like these usually don’t follow the conventions set forth by most modern IF such as statuslines, command prompts, verbose descriptions, etc. They usually make up for it either with the game’s plot or with the puzzles. However, the room descriptions and the parser behavior were fairly decent, and these sestrong to be the aspects of Tentellian that the author worked hard on.

My initial impression was it was inspired by Isle of the Cult, given the opening that consisted of the player with a note from his professor hinting about a “handsome reward” for whatever it was he was asking you to find. The game also begins at the dock, and the player has to explore the surroundings inside the new location.

That’s where the similarity ends, though. Most of the game’s locations and objects appeared to me as if they had been all strung together by a thin plot, and that the game was designed “as [the ideas] came along.” There were no signs of anyone having tested the game, nor did the author mention having done any himself in the notes.

I stopped playing Tentellian after about half an hour when I saw this. If there had been more time for the author, perhaps, this might have gone better testing and produced a much better adventure than the one we’re playing now.

———

Lawn of Love by Tilli Productions (TADS 2)

I’d usually be kind enough not to rate a game anymore if I found one or more aspects of it to be just plain unacceptable. For example, if I simply can’t understand what the author’s trying to say due to a language barrier (he speaks in German or Spanish or some other dialect), I mark it as NR. If I can’t run the damned game on my machine despite my best efforts, I give it the same mark. The game doesn’t necessarily suck – it’s just wired a different way.

Lawn of Love is just different. Sure, there are nice decorative effects with the pictures and all, but when you can’t go farther along the story for one reason or another…

“After all, tradition is tradition.” Truer words were never spoken.

———

A Broken Man by Geoff Fortytwo (TADS 3)

WTF? Everytime I’m near my goal, the blood rushes to my damned head and I skip reality for a second. And what’s up with the Excalibur thing?

Seriously though, the game’s pacing is really tight. The goal and the path is clear; all it needs is someone to play the part. Several helpful clues were scattered throughout the game, though I did reach the unwinnable position the author had warned about. On another playthrough I was able to get past it without any problems.

There are barely any difficult puzzles in this game, though I would still not recommend this as an introductory game. Somehow, I got the feeling it was all inspired by Cadre’s 9:05, but this was way too serious.

A couple of things I would have liked to see, but didn’t: the wife’s reaction to the murder (the guy screamed in the lavatory, for chrissakes); and the option to kill the maid. Why not? Why not make it a perfect one, after all?

But then, that would’ve ruined the whole sword-in-the-stone bit. Right.

———

Aunts and Butlers by Robin Johnson (HTML/Javascript)

A nearly impoverished aristocrat of the early 20th century desperately sought ways of bringing back the family fortune. But before that, he has to attend to the needs of his Aunt Cedilla and keep an eye on his gun-toting American cousin Virgule (I feel sorry for the guy already). So the question remains: what is to be done?

Here, I thought, was a good contender for the top positions, or at the very least, it should rank somewhere within the top 15. The game play was actually good, and despite the lack of niceties that non-browser-based interpreters had (such as pressing the up arrow to repeat the last command, etc.), it was engaging and fun.

Most of the puzzles weren’t that difficult to solve, and though the game does contain a small maze, the author chose not to make it too complicated to baffle off possible players. The latter part of the game featured several “mini-puzzles” that were easy to solve by themselves, though some who are not really familiar with the English (or is it American?) culture might need to consult the walkthrough for one or two particular puzzles.

The game also features a lot of light-hearted moments which contributed to its overall fun factor. Add to that a clean, polished interface, and you have one excellent game.

FYI: the game is also available on the Web.

———

Sisyphus by Theo Koutz (Z-Code)

Yes, the player will act as the pitiful Sisyphus, sentenced by the gods to push a huge boulder up the hill for eternity. Now the game hints that there might be a way out of it – that’s the entire story. There are better things to do than solve somebody’s god-given punishment, so…

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