I’ve been playing some of the games from the 2009 IF Comp. These are text-adventure games, arty to various degrees, meant to be be judged in under two hours of play. The games can be found here. My reviews will be categorized under “IFComp.”
This entry contains short reviews of a lot of games. That I’m giving them short reviews shouldn’t be taken as a judgment on their quality, and in fact I’m being blatantly unfair to one of them. It’s just that I don’t necessarily have that much to say about them, and one of the other reviewers has probably said most of what I want to. Also that I realized it was silly to write a review that took more time to write than the game took to play and was longer than the game transcript. Though to be fair (to me), the filler text was longer than the transcript and took more time to write than the game took to play.
All these games can be played online. They are Spelunker’s Quest, The Grand Quest, Eruption, Condemned, Beta Tester, and The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man. There will be some less spoilery comments before a spoiler space, some more spoilery ones after.
“Condemned” is the one I was blatantly unfair to. I had read some reviews (the less spoily bits) that made me look forward to it apprehensively, the game came on very over-the-top, which admittedly can be cool in a kind of Bulwer-Lyttony way (though you almost never need to describe something as “eerie” and “frightening,” and definitely not in the same paragraph), and then…
(continued below spoiler space)
“Beta Tester”: The writing was compulsively wacky and the gimmick of making you repeatedly hit “space” to get to the next bit of text grew old real fast. There were some funny wacky bits, like the hamster’s reactions and your bunny costume, but I didn’t want to keep playing. It didn’t help that the first puzzle was an excessively complex try everything-with-everything sort of deal; I understand subsequent rooms may be better. The author shouldn’t quit working though, just tone down the zany.
“The Grand Quest”: At first I thought, “Hey, most things aren’t implemented (like the chairs you can’t sit on), but that might just focus you on what’s needed for the puzzle. I’m OK with just a timewasting puzzlefest, right?” And the first puzzle was actually kind of cool, except [see below spoiler space]. Then the next real puzzle depended on something where it was hard to figure out what you needed to examine. (Perhaps because of the lack of implementation of other objects.) Pretty soon after that I gave up.
“Eruption”: An innocuous timewaster, I guess. I finished it without getting frustrated; the author should’ve given some clue that when you went north from one place on the path you arrived the next place by the east, which helped me spend a lot of turns wandering aimlessly, but at least it wasn’t (I don’t think) a timed puzzle, so I didn’t get killed. The snide tone of some of the descriptions and the note on the boat was grating.
“Believable Adventures”: I was pretty sure that the PC’s hatefulness was deliberate, and sometimes it was o funny over-the-top. But after doing some problems with help from hints, I realized that the puzzles would be too fiddly for me. This seems like a pretty long game, and that’s a lot of time to spend with this character. Also, the author seems to have an explicit moral in mind, but that moral, “Don’t be an invisible misanthrope, because they never accomplish much,” doesn’t seem very widely applicable.
“Spelunker’s Quest”: Go around, get items, use items. Up to a point this was another reasonable timewaster; there’s a guess-the-right-path-or-die problem at the beginning, and it’s one that takes two turns to kill you so you can’t fix it with UNDO, but it’s so close to the beginning that I didn’t mind starting over much. But eventually I ran into a pretty much unclued problem, and after hitting the walkthrough for that I got the game into an unwinnable state and didn’t want to start over. Also, making unsuccessful commands and even inventory take a turn on timed puzzles is a recipe for lots of UNDOing. (Have I mentioned that I don’t like timed puzzles?)
Condemned: …I died on the first actual move of the flashback. And I’m like, how do you die during a flashback? Shouldn’t that go back in time and erase the intro text? Or is it forward in time? OK, I was just talking about that (spoilers for “Duel in the Snow”), but still. Anyway, I decided this didn’t look like my cup of tea. (This is a game that killed me on the first turn and made me like it. That’s a completely unfair comparison, again.)
Grand Quest: I wish the answer to the riddle had been a real word, like “Libra” instead of “Labra.” Also, I wasn’t that fond of the room where you have to run through the gate right away (as I said before, I don’t like timing puzzles), but it seems fair — you go into a room with a swiftly closing gate, you go under the gate. And the puzzle I was just complaining about doesn’t seem so unfair to me now; all you need to do is “x floor” and go from there. But I do think the sparse description made it harder to figure out you needed to look at the floor. Also, handling the coins was clunky.
Things seem to get worse from there; the puzzle where you have to say nothing in response to “What is an incorrect answer to this question?” is actually kind of clever, but there should be some indication that the answer you gave is wrong.
Eruption: I spent a while solving the last puzzle because I forgot that I’d started with a knife in my inventory. That was embarrassing. And all the things in the trash heap do point to a little bit of backstory, except by then I think I’d got most of the backstory. Oh, and there’s some controversy about the author’s artist statement, which I don’t want to talk about.
Believable Adventures: Crashing the sun into the earth was pretty cool though. And isn’t that an accomplishment?
Spelunker’s Quest: I actually didn’t mind the first couple cruel puzzle (if you go down the hole without the machine gun you’re toast), because I figured that in this kind of game you’d better search for everything before you go anywhere you haven’t been. Which meant that puzzle didn’t kill me. This is a rare enough pleasure that my experience was overall positive.
The unclued problem was the stone — first of all, after getting killed in the lake a few times I didn’t realize that I could search the lake without dying. (I missed the part of the text which suggests that you don’t get killed until the middle of the lake, but still.) And then… “rub stone” teleports you? Who knew? After that I suppose I should’ve tested the stone more to see how it worked, and I wouldn’t have screwed up the dynamite puzzle, but that’s when I quit…. and just now I played through it, and at the end my friends are in a hole that’s 1′ in diameter but 10′ deep? I’m sure they’re happy to see me, but they’re still screwed. And skinny. And short.