Reviews by Sam Kabo Ashwell


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The Quidditch Final of 1954, by Joseph Miller

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A Single Pensieve Strand, October 24, 2012

As is made very clear by the title, this is a sports-sim game set in the Harry Potter universe, many years before the events of the novels. Very short, it relies heavily on fairly obscure knowledge of its oeuvre, and makes little effort to supply it to outsiders. While the player has more influence on the match than in most recent sports-based IF works, the game-like elements are not deep, and non-enthusiasts are unlikely to find very much here. (As someone with only glancing knowledge or interest, I can't speak to how it treats its subject matter.)

The game shows pretty strong evidence of being written by someone without a strong familiarity with IF. Almost no descriptions are written, so EXAMINE is near-useless. The verb-set is limited to a small number of mostly specialist verbs during a short intro sequence, then even further limited during the game itself. The events in the game itself are heavily random. As the Gryffindor Seeker, you're responsible for catching the Snitch and ending the game; but victory in the tournament requires that you wait until your team is ahead by 30 points first. A few commands allow you to disrupt the opposing team, with random success, or avoid being disrupted. Otherwise, it's a matter of waiting until the right moment as the match plays out, then using the SEARCH FOR SNITCH command and hoping it works. With a little application of UNDO, victory is not difficult.

Much of the action takes place independent of what you're doing, and is not always very clearly explained. (Someone familiar with IF conventions would probably have included the game's score in the status bar, and made SCORE work as well as X BOARD.) Quidditch involves a lot of aerial acrobatics, so the interaction necessarily takes place at a fairly abstract level; thus also the description of events, and I never got a very strong sense of the physical state of the game; and character-wise, it relies upon the reader having a good established sense of who most of these people are, or who they will become. So I suspect that the game may be fairly unsatisfying even for Potter fen; as Emily Short has written of Ron Weasley and the Quest for Hermione, and as I've experienced with some of the movie-based Harry Potter videogames, a lot of the appeal of this kind of thing is about immersion in a familiar fictional environment. This is the sort of thing that IF is really well-suited for; instead, Quidditch Final brushes past environment exploration and character interaction, and aims straight for something that IF is traditionally very weak at: a complicated action sequence. So, while the author has definitely done their homework -- the thing bristles with throwaway references -- I'm not sure that it's employed to best effect.

Given the narrow verb set, I had the strong sense that this would work better without a parser interface... except that most CYOA systems wouldn't offer enough control over complex random events. (Undum could do it with enough Javascript on top, but that would be really challenging for a casual coder; I7 + Vorple may turn out to be a better prospect.)

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Run for the Oregon Legislature!, by Eva Schweber

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Your Campaign Finance Director Has Died of Dysentery, July 13, 2011
by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)
Related reviews: educational, simulation, political

Conventional wisdom holds that educational games suck. Conventional wisdom is unlikely to be shaken to its foundations by Run for the Oregon Legislature!

It's apparently targeted at an audience wholly unfamiliar with IF; indeed, there seems to be no good reason why it's using a parser-based system at all, since it lists all the possible commands at every stage. And IF is not the easiest platform for novices -- particularly so when it's minimal, buggy and not designed to take advantage of any of the medium's strengths. Choicescript, Undum or Flash would have been more natural choices.

Even if you transferred the existing structure into something more appropriate, it would probably still not be a good game. Most of it involves textdumps about how the election process works, after which you sometimes can make a choice, more often just walk north to continue. (Yes, this is sort of awkward.) It bills itself as simulation, and it seems probable that some simulation is going on; but it doesn't do so in a very transparent way, and the few things that do happen as the result of your actions give little feedback about why. There's an implication, for instance, that you're spending resources -- money and time -- but you are given no idea about how much of these you have. There's a general lack of polish; where you'd expect the game to end, you're instead moved to a darkened room. Possibly it's an Oregonian tradition to feed unpopular political candidates to the grues.

A great deal's missing from the simulation: any idea of the general political climate, any idea about your opponent, anything much about your policy positions or the concerns of your constituents. The impression it gives -- probably not the intended one -- is that electoral success is almost entirely about running an efficient campaign. A side-effect is that the subject matter is rendered pretty boring and lifeless.

The thing that this most closely resembles is a particular kind of interactive museum exhibit -- the one where, rather than reading some text on a board, you press a button to illuminate a box that contains some text on a board. This isn't as pointless as it looks -- crap interactivity is actually quite good at engaging interest. But if you're going to do this, at least make sure the button doesn't stick, or throw off alarming sparks.

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