Ratings and Reviews by Felix Larsson

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9:05, by Adam Cadre
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Police Bear, by Anna Anthropy

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The 99 % go 70's, January 2, 2012
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: satire

This is a miniature piece of political satire. You play Officer Cubby, the cuddly police bear, whose tolerance is hard tried by anti-capitalist protesters. How much can he bear? Can he stop from going bear-serk?

Though belonging to different ends of the politicial spectrum, "Police Bear" nevertheless has a few things in common with "Burn the Koran and Die": both are very short, on-rails pieces, whose whole raison d'ętre is their respective satirical political points (which are quite clear from the beginning); I guess "Police Bear" can be just as offensive to some who don't agree with the tendency of it as "Burn the Koran and Die" was to everyone who didn't agree with its tendency (after all, people can take offense at anything); I certainly hope "Police Bear" is objectively no less unfair than "Burn the Koran and Die" was (or the future bodes no good for the USA); and -- oddly -- both games feature a policeman as the bad guy (a fact I know not what to make of) ...

Empty Rooms, by Kevin Lovegreen

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Well … not a maze, not a tutorial, April 11, 2011
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)

Empty Rooms is a storyless wandering through a series of nearly empty rooms. The goal of the game is simply to find your way to the next room.

Notwithstanding the game's claims to the contrary, it's neither a maze nor a tutorial, however. The complex of rooms you wander about in are unambiguously mapped, so it's not a maze but a dungeon; and though the author has obviously wanted the game to be very friendly to players new to IF, it won't really serve as a tutorial game.

The tutorial part is actually restricted to the first few rooms, where the game tells you how to pick up things, move to new rooms and examine things (though it tells you nothing else, like how to take inventory). Even after this tutorial introduction the puzzles are very simple, though, and the player is at times guided through them by prompts such as «You should maybe try to “kill” the rat». It is a smooth passage through these empty rooms - at least till you get to a room with a lever high up one wall, which you can and cannot reach: i.e. you can PULL the lever (nothing obvious happens), but if you try to SWITCH it you're told that it is out of reach. ((Spoiler - click to show)You have to SWITCH it, but that won't work till you bring the right thing to the room.) The solution to the following, and last, puzzle is pretty arbitrary as well and not too obviously clued.

For the author's next game I hope for a little more proof reading and lot more beta testing—as it is, things you have taken or eaten appear in room descriptions, though they are no longer there; you're told your backpack can't contain things, although you need it to carry large things around; one room has four doors, but you're not told what door leads in what direction (and the tutorial has only told you how to move in compass directions not that it's possible to ENTER doors); you can't interact with people you meet, because you can only do that to something animate; etc.—that and some modicum of plot, characterization, formal structure or other device to hold your players' interest, especially if the next game is meant to be longer than this very short one.

The Empty Room, by Matthew Alger

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Casual Puzzle Game, August 13, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)

The Empty Room is is a short game, way out at the crossword end of the IF-spectrum. There’s hardly any story to it; indeed, it's a single multi-step puzzle. You find yourself inexplicably imprisoned in a perfectly empty and totally white room, where, at first, you can't even make out where floor and walls meet. You yourself are quite as characterless as the room—but as this is very much a mere game, this doesn’t trouble the NPC very much and need not trouble the player at all.

Your task, obviously, is to get out of that room; your means to that end is, to begin with, to examine whatever may after all be supposed to be examinable in that room. Gradually, your searches will uncover details about your environment and start to reveal hidden contraptions that you have to operate in the right way finally to find a way out of your prison.

As soon as the room is no longer perfectly but only almost empty, the player probably makes fast progress, one thing leading to the other in fairly obvious ways. As the strange devices hidden in the room start to interact with each other, things get less obvious. Make sure that you examine and re-examine everything, reading and re-reading descriptions carefully!

The puzzle of the game is solved in a large number of small independent steps, so the player keeps making progress at a rate that, though decelerating, still suffices to reinforce playing behaviour positively. That helps, for some of the steps to your way out you probable have to stumble upon by chance. I did not find that seriously frustrating, however, since the room is never crowded with things and there is ever only so many actions to try.

Also, the game plays with the ‘counterpart’ idea that you find in several recent games (notably Plotkin’s Dual Transform). The room and its contents has each its counterpart, and sometimes some things can only be made to happen to things in one room by manipulating counterpart things in a counterpart room.

If you need a short game to satisfy a casual puzzle craving, finding your way out of this empty room may well do the trick.

Dual Transform, by Andrew Plotkin
Felix Larsson's Rating:

The Ascot, by Duncan Bowsman
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Being There, by Jordan Magnuson

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Floating impressions of Korea, August 2, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)

As the author makes clear on his website, this is a nongame “about existence and Korea” .

You are presented with a photograph (nice and competent photography by the way) and a written description of ten or so Korean scenes: a street lined by cherry blossom trees, a temple spring, pots full of kimchi, kids playing baseball etc.

The writing ranges and changes (more or less abruptly) from the lyrical through the whimsical to mere statements of facts about the country. Mostly, though, Korea is viewed in this work through a lens of wistful memories that lend the country a magic feel.

The description of each scene usually ends with a couple of suggestions about possible ways to interact with it. These suggestions make it clear that interaction is not limited to the realistic: you can fly, climb into kimchi-pots like some ten inches high Alice, dance in the sky, etc. The possible interaction is, however, not at all limited to the suggested actions, and the author seems to have taken particular care to ensure that the different senses are implemented: you can smell, touch, listen to and taste most anything.

However, there really is nothing you're required or even supposed to do. You just explore the scenes, for as long as you please, trying any commands you can think of. And then, when you feel you have done with a certain scene, you type LEAVE (or any compass direction) and is automatically transported to the next scene in the series.

The sequence of scenes is predetermined, but I don't think there is any intended progress in the series (though peopled scenes come at the end of it).The scenes seem largely independent of and unconnected to each other.

There is a vaguely nostalgic feel to much of the work, and the author’s love for Korea shines through clearly. However, it all lacks a sense of direction. In the end, it really doesn’t say very much about either existence or Korea.

The lack of direction to the piece makes it a little like watching slides of your neighbours’ recent trip to Korea. Only, the pictures are seriously better than your average neighbour’s. And, the way your neighbour talks about them, he’s obviously stoned. And you’re obviously stoned, too, the way you buy what he says. And that certainly makes the whole experience much more enjoyable, but—it’s not enough to make a thoroughly successful piece of IF out of it.

To that end, I think, a more well-defined content would have helped. If the piece had somehow told a story, raised a question, evoked a precise emotion, stated facts, made a point or whatever about Korea (or about existence), it would have been the better for it. No deep or original ideas are necessarily needed, just something to help the player/reader get his bearings. I would say, only a few accomplished stylists (like zen master Mumon or trout fisher Richard Brautigan) ever really make do without something like it.

However, I’m sure the format could be put to excellent literary and/or educational use. And one more thing —
it might well be that, if you come to this nongame with a Korean experience of your own, it is much more compelling and evocative than I realize.

Works of Fiction, by FibreTigre

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Special FX from a Parallel IF Universe, July 3, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: truce, [8]

To those of us who aren't fluent enough in French, German, Italian, or even Spanish to tackle a piece of IF in those languages (every other command turns into a guess-the-verb-issue, unless you know a language well enough)—to us the French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc. IF communities are in effect parallel universes.

There may be all kinds of interesting things going on there that we know nothing about, and only all too seldom do portals open up into those other worlds, as with Montfort’s translation of Peláez’s Olvido Mortal or, now, JB's first (I think) game adressed to an English speaking audience: Works of Fiction.

JB is, judging from the information that does trickle between worlds, one of the fixed stars of the French IF universe (he seems to be best known, perhaps, for Filaments and Ekphrasis). Also, it seems that he has a soft spot for Glulx effects—at least Ekphrasis is said to make extensive (and essential) use of images and sounds.

Works of Fiction certainly relies heavily on Glulx: there is a slideshow, there is music, and there are split windows. Actually, the game is a full scale implementation of the idea found in Zarf’s Glulx-demo Two Columns. The story unfolds largely in several parallel worlds at once, with the game’s window split up to show all the worlds separately and simultaneously.

You play Gerard Lescroc, literary agent of an author about to receive the Philip K. Dick Memorial Prize at an SF-convention (you've bribed the jury to make sure of that). However, due to an overdose of extra strong black French coffe, laced with absinth (or whatever—apparently the recipe is a professional secret known only to the guild of SF-writers), you fancy yourself Paul Atreides, Messiah of the Fremen of Dune, Luke Skywalker, the Last Jedi, and Kevin Flynn of Tron fame, all at the same time.

The player, then, has to guide Lescroc around in his native world, to achieve the goals of some one of his alter egos in their parallel worlds. This includes entering several commands telling Lescroc to do things in and to his world that he himself is prevented from doing and that can only be carried out in his world via corresponding actions of his famous alter egos in theirs. (The previous sentence may actually make sense, once you’ve tried the game.)

Unsurprisingly, this gets Lescroc into trouble. Apparently, there are limits to how weird you may behave even at an SF-convention (though the security guard at the convention really goes to some extremes to constrain poor Lescroc in the ordinary, ‘mundane’ world).

Before his troubles are anything but over, Lescroc make a bad joke about David Lynch, whereupon Orson Welles makes a cameo appearance, and after that things get really strange and messy, with Lescroc jumping back and forth between worlds in a way not unlike the protagonist of Dual Transform and with another dozen or so of pop culture references thrown in for good measure.

In the latter part of the game, the player may well feel quite at a loss as to what he’s supposed to do (as does Lescroc, to be sure). Actually, the first part, too, is somewhat underclued and underimplemented. Navigation between rooms often uses IN and OUT instead of compass directions (which frustrated me a bit before I found that out). And, yes, you can see plainly at times that English isn’t JB’s native tongue.

And then there’s the problem with making the story file work with the interpreter you run on your operating system. The author says, at the game’s web page, that Linux and Mac users may meet with varying success. Well, on the Mac the game wouldn’t even open with Zoom under OS X.4. Unexpectedly, the best result (though not perfectly successful) was to be had with Spatterlight under OS X.3.9! I haven’t tried the Windows version, but it seems that it is the preferred one.

Yet, in spite of these nuisances, I’d still say the game is most definitely worth a play.

The Duel in the Snow, by Utkonos

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Literary IF with Atmosphere, May 17, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: literary, [7]

This piece is an almost purely literary IF short story, to be read mainly for the mood it evokes.

It’s set in a wintry czarist Russia, in the kind of aristocratic milieu you find in Tolstoy’s novels.
The PC is a gentle soul—one of those nice guys that really weren’t made for duels at dawn, at all—who has lost everything that made his life worth living. The main NPC is his much more cheerful good friend, both of them fairly convincingly portrayed, short as the work is.

There are no actual puzzles in the work, though it can end happy or unhappy. However, the unhappy ending is certainly the most satisfying one (artistically speaking),giving the whole work a suitable and very nice closure, while the happy ending leaves things pretty much hanging in the air.

Nevertheless, the piece is worth some replay (or re-reading), even if you’re not hunting for the happy end. After you finish the game, the author suggests some amusing things to try on replay. Actually, though, replay offers more than just a little extra amusement, since the small IF world of this work proved richer than at least I first thought. Also, poking around a little in it can reveal aspects of the plot that may not have been obvious on the first reading.

Since I called the work “literary”, it may be as well to stress that it achieves its artistic effects by means specific to interactive fiction: a transcript of a play-through of the work would not have the same literary qualities as the work has in (inter)action.)
The author tries to tell a very definite story without puzzles, but with full interactivity preserved—even in the flashback scene! Since there are no puzzles to lead you on through the plot, you can, if you wish, obstruct and prevent the story from proceeding for as long as you wish.
In this particular piece I didn’t find this possibility a problem. Why should the player/reader of a (good) work of IF want to be deliberately un-cooperative? Perhaps an IF-author has a right to assume som edegree of “willing suspension of disobligingness” on the part of players, just as an author of non-interactive fiction can assume suspension of disbelief on the part of readers?

The Endling Archive, by Kazuki Mishima

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Ode to Things Lost, May 14, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: literary, [8]

Technically this is a hypertext hack of the Z-machine rather than interactive fiction in a strict sense. The work simulates a database—“The Endling Archive”—that you (in the role of fictional reader) work your way through. However, such a description does no justice to the poetical nature (and value) of this short work.

The contents of the Archive is a melancholy reminder of things lost to neglect, to natural disasters, to violence and to hunger for profit. What we lost may not have been Paradise, yet it might have been worth preserving and may still be worth remembering.

(Spoiler - click to show)According to Norse mythology, Líf and Lífţrasir will be the only survivors of the Ragnarök catastrophe at the End of the World. Their names mean ‘Life’ and ‘Life Champion’.

Magic Travels, by Mister Nose
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Suprematism in IF, by Andrey Grankin

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Somewhat cheap experiment, May 12, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)

This sounded more interesting than it turned out to be. The work (it’s certainly not a game) belongs to a group of experiments in IF—or at least in the use of IF interpreters—that one way or other test the limits of playability, the most infamous one possibly being Pick up the Phone Booth and Die.

This particular work consists of two pieces that belong together. Each piece of the pair is said to represent one extreme of interactivity.

So, one of them promises absolute interactive freedom for the player to control just about every aspect of both game world and game play. That’s quite a tall order. If you believe any game that makes such a claim, you’re certainly bound to be disappointed. But even if you do not believe it, you might have been less disappointed by a work that failed in interesting way than in a work that, like this one, actually achieves that very goal but in such a trivial way.
(Spoiler - click to show)This piece lets you do anything. But it does so by not heeding to anything you do. The program does not model any world whatsoever: instead, as player, you are supposed to imagine any world you like, and whatever you wish to do in that world is fine to the parser. The program doesn’t have to keep track of what you do in a world it doesn’t model, so it can let you do anything. The idea is kind of good, but it’s not very exciting reading.

The other piece of the pair, then, should represent the other extreme of interactivity. Well – it does.
(Spoiler - click to show)Whatever you try, you get the same response from the parser—at least until you decide to quit (or ask the game forhelp). Actually, the surprise effect of that part made it the most rewarding aspect of the whole diptyk.

Stink or Swim, by Renee Choba

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Making short work of a skunk , May 7, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: gambol, [6]

The author of Snack Time! puts herself under Speed IF restrictions (“I’ve got three hours to write a game about … an olympic medalist, a public bath and a skunk), and this is the result. Like most any Speed IF the result is, I suppose, a trifle; but this one is a pleasurable trifle to while away a few minutes.

You play a former olympic medalist, now swimming instructor, who has to get a skunk out of the pool. Removing the skunk is the one puzzle of the game. I guess it will not present many difficulties even to an absolute beginner. But the writing is pleasing, the skunk is cute, there are footnotes to the text (and I love footnotes), and there’s even a certain amount of psychological development on the part of the protagonist who comes to grips with certain aspects of her olympic past.

A Walk in the Park, by Anonymous
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Figaro, by Victor Gijsbers
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Snack Time!, by Hardy the Bulldog and Renee Choba

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
A charming dog’s eye view on having a snack, April 23, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: truce, [8]

A truly delightful little game!

You are a dog and you’re hungry. It’s not dinner time in many hours, so you need a snack. Unfortunately, you’re not very good at making sandwiches, so you must get your human pet to make one for you.

The puzzles are quite easy, but it’s not the challenges that make this game but the consistent dog’s eye view of and on everything. Dog is the measure of all things in this game: canine interests permeates every single description of the game world. What makes the game so charming is the way Choba (the author) exploits the fact that Hardy (the dog-PC) has a set of concepts that doesn’t quite match the human player’s. For that purpose, a dozen words are worth a thousand perfect 3D-renderings.

(By the way, the same thing was done—to the same charming effect—by Admiral Jota in Lost Pig … and to a totally different but equally great effect in Shiovitz’s Bad Machine and even in Granade’s IF version of Pong!)

More actions are implemented. I missed most of them first time playing the game. So, if you manage your snack too quickly, chances are that you can have some replay value for dessert.

Adventure, by William Crowther and Donald Woods
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Six-Chamber Champion, by C.E.J. Pacian

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Instead of fun, March 16, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: literary, [6]

You’re in for an illegal game of Russian Roulette—you leave a millionaire or you don’t leave at all. The referee and the crowd sees to it that you and your opponent play by the rules.
For obvious reasons, even at its longest this game is very short.

Only, I’m not sure that this really is what you would call a game. It is, however, one of a growing number of IF works where you play a character with goals (or motivations or preferences or values etc.) that you, as player, find objectional and are unwilling to promote even in and for the sake of gameplay, works whose value resides in something other than being fun.
Gijsbers’s The Baron and nespresso’s rendition are, perhaps, the most famous and infamous examples, respectively, of this trend (if it be a trend) of IF.

Not being fun presumably has little to do with the objectional character of what (fictional) actions the player needs to let the PC take: you may, e.g., not feel the least tempted by a life like Niko’s in GTA IV but still enjoy the game; or you may honestly disapprove of Lottie’s schemings (and never actually have gone to quite her lengths yourself to secure your career) and still findBroken Legs great fun: rather, I suppose, it has to do with gameplay.

I.e., the author of this kind of IF has to do the opposite of what is usually done in games. He has to make sure that the player will not be so immersed in the gameplay, i.e. so keen to win the game, that he/she starts having fun (which would make the player insensitive to the moral issues of in-game actions). This does not mean that the reader/player can’t be allowed to be interested in the story as told nor identify or sympathize with the PC.
And, of course, even though such a piece of work mustn't be fun it needs other good-making characteristics to make it worth playing.
So, the player needs to be at once (sufficiently) alienated from gameplay but not from the game itself (or he/she would just quit playing it).

One way to achieve this is to make a rather ordinary game but basing it on actual events that still retains a traumatic impact on people’s minds—indie video games such as Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and Operation: Pedopriest tries this. The trauma serves to alienate you, but ordinary gameplay lures you on (with perhaps some social message or satirical lashes added for good measure). The end effect, I guess, is that the player oscillates in and out of an awareness of the abhorrent character of the PC’s actions.

The Baron works quite differently. The estrangement here comes, I think, from a feeling of disappointment in or betrayal by the PC; whereas what makes you keep playing/reading is partly the story (you want to know how it ends) and partly (perhaps mainly) an interest in the exploration of the complex moral issues raised by the … game(?).

In Six-Chamber Champion, as in rendition, the alienation from gameplay is rather more thorough than in the above examples. Even game mechanics serve to alienate you from it, being mostly repetitive or variations on a very limited theme. The rules of russian roulette just don’t allow a vast range of subtle tactics. (And rendition doesn't give you much choice either.) Also, you are given hardly no background at all to what brought the PC into the situation in either of these works.

So what remains? Why play such a game?

Well, in the case of rendition, there is of course the political message, but having a political message is hardly enough as far as good-making characteristics go. Actually I never could bring myself to play very far into rendition. Perhaps it’s an interesting experiment rather than good IF.

Six-Chamber Champion I found worth playing through, though.
The reactions of the blood-thirsty audience, the anguish of your opponent, and the heavy cool of the referee are all very well characterized (I was not equally convinced by the PC), and most actions you are likely to take is appropriately implemented.
I doubt that I would like to play my way through a whole tournament of russian roulette like this—even if fictive. But this piece is wisely confined to a single round. Small, in this case, is beautiful … or at least a virtue. Despite the limited size of the work it contains a number of possible endings, and I replayed the whole thing a couple of times to find them.

Byzantine Perspective, by Lea Albaugh

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Short and Novel Maze, February 5, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: [6], gambol

Why! There was another kind of maze to be had after all!

Here you play the role of an art student gone burglar, eyes set on that gem-studded Byzantine chalice in the museum. The main puzzle of this clever little game consists in figuring out how the maze is constructed (and how to familiarize yourself with the things you carry); after that, gameplay is very straightforward and the mission soon completed.

It’s definitely not a game to try unless you are reasonably familiar with IF conventions, though.

(If you want to prolong the fun or just more of a challenge, I suggest you try make do WITHOUT the map feelie provided by the author.)

Figueres in my Basement, by Kazuki Mishima

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Interactive Poetry, January 19, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: literary, poetry, [6]

Like Michael R. Bacon’s Arid and pale, Figueres in My Basement is actually a hypertext collection of lyrical poetry making use of Bacon’s Interactive Poetry Extension for Inform 7.

The reader is presented with the first lines of an as yet unfinished poem, chooses (i.e. types) one of the words from the last line, and the next line of the poem appears—a different next line depending on what word the reader chose to focus on—and so on till the last line.

Mishima’s works have lyrical qualities even in prose, and he has taken care for each of these poems to work as a poem in its own right—which of course is a challenge, given the formal constraint demanding that any two poems in the collection differ only from a given line down.

This is not to say, however, that this is a bunch of grave or overly serious poems—on the contrary, they are fairly playful.

That Figueres works better (for me, at least) than Arid and Pale is, I think, largely due to the fact that there is a discernible connection between the word the reader chooses to focus upon and the line produced as the result of that choice. In Arid and Pale that connection too often felt lacking or just haphazard, whereas in Figueres you feel there is a reason why the poem continues the way it does given that you focus on the words you do.

Something I believe that most any serious future work of this kind of interactive poetry will need is a good reason for the reader to read such a lot of poems that all begin the same. I.e. there should be some meaning to or unity of the collection of poems as a whole over and above the meaning that each particular poem might have and apart from the mere identical lines. (Aisle, e.g., is much the better for the common theme that unites the short stories in that work.)

Big Red Button, by Mister Nose
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die, by Rob Noyes
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Gleaming the Verb, by Kevin Jackson-Mead
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Resonance, by Matt Scarpino
Felix Larsson's Rating:

The Hangover, by Will Conine
Felix Larsson's Rating:

The Duel That Spanned the Ages, by Oliver Ullmann
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Rover's Day Out, by Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman
Felix Larsson's Rating:

GATOR-ON, Friend to Wetlands!, by Dave Horlick

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Environmental consciousness gone weird!, January 5, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: [2], truce

It all starts with the PC sitting on a tour tram through Everglades National Park, Florida. Except for a few obscure references in the introduction to the game and a mysterious item in your inventory, you have no clue at all to what you‘re supposed to do in the game, and until the first puzzle is solved, the PC’s motivations and identity, too, will remain perfectly concealed to the player (though, presumably, well known to the PC).

The first part of the game is all one puzzle. It’s quite possible to put the game in an unwinnable state here: to work the puzzle you need to know a few things about the game world and you also must take precautions against certain (predictable) future complications. The puzzle is not too bad, if you feel for a bit of old schoolish puzzle-working, but it does involve a lot of extremely tedious wandering about in the (labyrinthine) wetlands of the Park.

Then, all of a sudden, the game changes character totally and in almost all relevant respects. It is revealed that the PC is … well, since the author obvisouly thinks the player should not be aware of it, I guess this calls for a (Spoiler - click to show). It seems that you’re really a pilot in a giant robotic alligator fleet called Gator-On dedicated to environmental protection cheap animated cartoon super-hero style. Specifically, the evil Pyth-Nor Real Estate Development Consortium has constructed a giant robotic python, which you and the rest of Gator-On have to engage in combat...

From there on the game is just as weird as that. This concluding part of the game depends heavily on non-standard commands. However, the text of the story generally (though perhaps not invariably) gives you sufficient clues to them.

Interface, by Ben Vegiard

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
U, Robot!, December 26, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: truce, [6]

An “old-school romp” the author calls it—and one that wisely avoids any flaws of its old sources of inspirations. You (or your mind or soul or consciousness or whatever) happens to be trapped inside a small robot, and you must figure out how to reclaim your body.

The puzzles are fairly easy; the game is polite (in the Zarfian sense—you can’t put it in an unwinnable state, and if you die, simply undo your last move) with a few in-game hints and even a non-spoiler map; writing is straightfoward in style and quite decent in quality, and there are no major bugs (one bad typo in the Competition version, though—the player can only refer to a bunch of property tags as “tage” rather than as “tags”); it’s probably finished in no more than two hours.

There were some nice details in it, too: the way you have to accustom yourself to your robotic body e.g., and (for once!) a perfectly acceptable in-game reason for a four items inventory limit.

All in all I’d say it’s presumably a good game for beginners, also—or even especially—for kids.

Chaos, by John Barker

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal piece with too little story, November 4, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: [1], gambol

This is IF in a surreal setting, as such it exploits the lack of logical and natural constraints typical of dreams: the geography of the fictional world does not respect natural laws; NPCs act irreducibly strange etc.

At his website Barker tells us that «Chaos was meant to be a descriptive and unsettling work». And at times he does succeed in being unsettling in just the surreal way intended, especially, I think, if you happen up in “the Infinite”, which soon becomes full of surreally sinister things.

The characterization of the piece as a ‘descriptive work’ is correct (and the writing, by the way, is quite able) and this, I think, puts the finger on it’s weak spot, viz. the lack of plot. The work is descriptive rather than narrative; actually it’s a nearly plotless puzzle piece. The problem is that the PC never is presented with much in the way of motive for acting at all: no treasure hunt, no monsters to defeat, no mystery to solve. You’re sent out to find food for a starving vulture; but I’m not sure if you do it out of pity or out of fear of being eaten by the bird. In the end, I felt I was doing it simply because there seemed to be very little else to do in that game world.

Barker, at the web site, tells us his piece was influenced by filmmakers working in a surreal vein. Perhaps the kind of surreal sequences of events that work well on the screen simply won’t work in interactive fiction. As a reader of IF it’s (of course) simply not possible to sit back and observe the series of events as they unfold; you have to take active part in it and influence it, or nothing will happen at all. But to do that in any interesting way, you’re pretty much bound both to have an in-fiction purpose to guide you—the kind of purpose that can, perhaps, not be had without a storyline. Again, I think, it’s the lack of plot that seriously marrs Chaos as interactive fiction.

The surrealism of it all even means that you can’t be perfectly sure that things that seem to be puzzles really are. And at the same time the plotlessness makes it hard to know whether you are making any real progress through the game or not. The scoring system didn’t help me much either. What does a negative score mean in this game’s context? That the game is now in an unwinnable state? Or that I am farther from completing it now than when I began?

Besides, the work has its fair share of bugs, underimplementations, inconsistent descriptions and technical flaws that could surely have been avoided with some beta-testing. That said, however, there were also some nice, unexpected details here and there.

Earl Grey, by Rob Dubbin and Allison Parrish

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Language Materialist Games at the Mad Monk’s Tea Party, November 2, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: [4], gambol

There’s a really original idea behind this puzzle piece: you go around transforming things by taking a letter away from its name or by adding one to it. As soon as its name is changed, the thing itself is transformed accordingly: for (non-spoiler) example, if from the hillside you see the imperial fleet approaching, you can take the ‘l’ from it, and instead you will see the imperial feet approaching; you now have an ‘l’, which you can add to the man eating grue that you’re faced with inside the cave, and all of a sudden it’s a man eating gruel you’re faced with in that cave. The puzzles in the game are all of this kind.

The idea, I think, is really great; regrettably, the game doesn’t quite match it. Not that it lacks ‘good-making characteristics’ even apart from the fresh puzzle mechanics: at the bottom of the screen is a nice running commentary to the events of the game in the form of the PC’s silent thoughts (often funny, sometimes helpfully giving hints); it starts with an excellent interactive in-game training sessions that accustoms the player both to its novel kind of puzzles and to the continuing need to talk to NPC:s (when you’re not transforming things, you’re talking to NPC:s. You should do a lot of talking to most anything and keep talking to it till you don’t get any new answers); also, the author manages to make all of these many and extended (linear) dialogues with NPC:s entertaining. However, I still didn’t find the game as a whole as appealing as many of its details.

Obviously, a game built around this kind of puzzles will only work in a very fantastical setting. The problem is that Earl Grey often passes the border from the fantastical into the arbitrary. And this is true in regard to puzzles as well as storyline.

All too often the solutions to puzzles are arbitrary: there simply exists no reason whatsoever to expect certain transformations to solve the problem at hand. Still you perform those transformations—merely because they are possible but without the slightest clue as to why they should be of any help at all—and POOF! you’re told that the transformed objects work some magic that happens to take care of the PC’s present problems.

The story, too, takes a lot of arbitrary turns and unmotivated twists that, as player, you can’t avoid, try as you might. Indeed, in the linear parts of the game even the PC takes actions that not only appears arbitrary and unmotivated at the time but also seem at odds with what he does, thinks, and feels at other times. (Spoiler - click to show)To begin with you’re very flattered to have been invited to a certain monk’s tea garden party and he gives you your magic powers of transformation in order for you to collect varieties of tea down in the village. Then for no reason at all the PC uses these powers to ruin the monk’s precious garden. The monk gets mad and wreaks havoc upon the poor village, then disappears. Now the PC decides to save the village, but, after quite a halfhearted attempt at that, you set off after the monk instead. Before you catch up with the monk, you happen upon an impoverished prince whom you promise to restore to his throne; and when you do find the monk, all wrongs are forgotten and the two of you are readily reconciled. Now, all you have to do is put the rightful king on his throne, then go save the villagers … perhaps.

To me at least the virtues of the game didn’t quite make up for the lack of direction in the story and the lack of foreseeability in the solution of puzzles.

The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man, by Hannes Schueller
Felix Larsson's Rating:

The Grand Quest, by Owen Parish

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A Little Quizshow, October 14, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: gambol, [3]

So you thought you were in for a cave crawl? Actually, it is more like a quiz show, only set in a Steve Jacksonesque fantasy dungeon and presented by a mysterious Guardian of the Goblet.

You wander through a series of rooms, each containing a puzzle. By solving the current puzzle you gain entrance to the next room. In the last room looms the Goblet of your dreams.

The puzzles are varied in character, difficulty, and fairness, but none strikes me as really ingenious; and presented ‘raw’ like this, out of any particular narrative context and without any other in-game motivation, they fail to hold my interest.

The world, sparsely furnished as it is, is only minimally implemented: if, say, the heavy treasure chest in the middle of the room is not needed to solve the puzzle of that room, then, try as you might to open it, “you can’t see any such thing”.

This is most certainly not a game to put in the hands or computers of anyone new to IF.

(And the ending! Is that the sound of the author laughing at me?)

Grounded in Space, by Matt Wigdahl

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Well-Told, Well-Coded Wild Space Adventure, October 12, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: [7], truce

This SF piece is definitely worth reading and playing. The PC is a young boy sent on a mining mission on a spaceship under “punishment regime” by his father to make a man of him. (Settlers are much the same, it would seem, whether in 24th century Space or in 19th century Old West.)

Apparently, Wigdahl is a professional programmer and a veteran Infocom beta-tester, though this is his first work as IF-author. And it’s a very well-told and well-coded story, indeed; actually, the telling and coding is rather better than the story itself—which makes the reading/playing experience a curious mixture of satisfaction and (relative) disappointment.

In particular, I found the central puzzle somewhat disappointing, partly because it sins again the degree of realism already established in the narrative—it’s simply unbelievable that the engine of 24th century spaceships would employ a mechanism anything like this—, partly because (Spoiler - click to show)the puzzle is a quite hard and quite old one that many players will have learned from logic and lateral thinking puzzle books already as kids, probably making it virtually insoluble to some and really trivial to others.

At his web site, Wigdahl states that the whole piece was conceived and realized in three months (in time for the IF Competition), so there simply can’t have been very much time left for story and puzzle design. I do hope he got hooked on writing IF, for I would love a long series of works of his with puzzles and stories to match the execution.

By the way, Grounded in Space also has an interesting formal structure: its level of interactivity increases as the story progresses. The transition between these levels never feel contrived or unmotivated; on the contrary, they correspond well to what might reasonably be required from the PC at different stages of the story (so much so that I suspect this formal structure was not intended by the author but dictated by his material).

The story thus begins in ‘linear’ mode: it will unfold very much the same whatever you do. This linear opening serves as an introduction to the rest of the story, just as the first chapter of a book or the opening scenes of a play or a film normally does. In the case at hand, it introduces the player to the personality of the PC and explains what an inexperienced kid like him is doing all alone aboard a spaceship a long way from home.

The linear section is followed by one in ‘hypertext’ mode: i.e. you choose freely what to read and in what order. This hypertext section allows you (and the PC) to become familiar with the environment (the spaceship Marryat) and with your supposed task aboard.

To my mind, these first sequences very successfully sets the mood and premises of the work. (Perhaps, to a die-hard IF gamer as opposed to a willing IF reader, the may seem too long or irreleant or boring or whatever. I really wouldn’t know, since I am the willing reader. and I enjoyed these sections.)

Then finally you enter the properly ‘interactive’ mode in a section that leads up to the peripety of the story and the central puzzle. And after that there are several ways to bring the story to several distinct, more or less happy conclusions

Beta Tester, by Darren Ingram

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
*Regrettably* lives up to its name, October 11, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: gambol, [5]

‘Objectively’ the game is nothing but a series of easy puzzles set in a silly nonsense environment: you play a beta tester of a virtual reality world called “the Toybox”.

The whole thing lives solely (and well) off it sense of humour and its central gimmick, viz. the long—sometimes very long—and funny descriptions of items and certain actions (spoon)fed to you by your hitting any key after having read so far. This allows a kind of timing of jokes and punchlines that the author uses to very good effect.

However—there’s a first and a second part to this game. The first part is great fun (if you like silly fun) thanks to the witty writing. After solving the 1st puzzle though, things become more buggy and less implemented. Actually, the game seems simply unfinished—at least in the version entered in IF Comp ’09. Suffice it to say that I really do look forward to a final version where Game Dame Hellaine and her Fun&Games-room is anything like implemented and where I can’t put Jorry the famous stand-up comedian in my backpack.

Pac-Man, by Anonymous

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Confessions of an Arcade Dot-Eater, September 28, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: [3]

This very short piece sketches an excentric way of making narrative sense of Pac-Man: (Spoiler - click to show)Pac-Man is a junkie, haunted by ghostly apparitions; he needs a ”power pill” to save his day, drive his ghosts away, and go to junkie heaven. I’m sure the author could have made more of this particular idea; but, as it stands, it’s no more than a mere sketch, with no real choices for Pac-Man to make along the brief way to the ending: you go one way you win, you go another you die. The writing is as good as it comes, though.

Space Invaders!, by Anonymous

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Faithful IF-remake of «Space Invaders», September 25, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: **

A pretty faithful IF-remake of Space Invaders: The aliens drop their intergalactic missiles at you; you fire at them with your gun. As a game in it’s own right, I suppose it would be quite a disaster. But, of course, now, it’s not a game in it’s own right: it’s a rendition in text of an old graphics video game. That makes it kind of corny fun—to players who are familiar with the original game, that is.

I don’t think there’s a way actually to win this one (which is quite fair, since there never was a way to win Space Invaders in the first place, was there?), but I didn’t have the superhuman patience nor the subhuman pigheadedness to keep playing long enough to be sure of this.
Also, at a certain point, the author introduces an original element to the game …

Tilt!, by Mona Wuerz

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Pinball Satori, September 22, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: literary, *

It’s pinball. You’re the ball. The first time you fly off, the experience will likely be as disorienting to you as it must be to the poor ball, and the game is soon over; by the third time, however, you will probably have got the knack of it. The game is replayable, in a sense—the sense in which any game of pinball is replayable: you can always try to score higher than before.

(Wuerz’s writing, a times, hints at pinball as an allegory of life, again with you as the ball. Come to hink of it, there’s obviously a deep buddhist meaning to Tilt!: (Spoiler - click to show)there you are, a ball, trying to make sense of a world you’re thrown out into without a say in the matter and telling yourself you have some control, though in truth you’re at the utter mercy of outside forces—those outside forces, on closer inspection, being you(!), the player, who you actually are (the ball and its world being empty—mere virtual objects devoid of any real existence) and who, moreover, is no real party to the virtual pinball world, except for playing this very game of Tilt! over and over again in the pursuit of ever increasing high-scores in your (i.e. the virtual ball’s) next (virtual) life—until, at last, you suddenly realize the futility of it all, stop clinging to an illusory pinball world and are awakened to the truths of its emptiness and your own power and purity.)

Pong, by Stephen Granade

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Well … better than possible. NOT for IF-rookies, though!, September 22, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: **

You are a paddle. You can move up and down to block the ball.
Making interactive fiction of Pong is a wacky idea that Granade manages to transform into a weird experience, thanks to a writing that is reminiscent, in ways, of the language in For a Change, only more convoluted and presented as a kind of inner monologue of the paddle’s. Some feat, really, since (though there are appropriate responses to other standard commands) the paddle can (did I mention that?) do nothing but move up and down. The novelty of the writing is, however, gone some while before either you or the opponent Non-Player Paddle scores a fifteenth time and the game is at last over.

To anyone who never played or even watched a match of Pong, this game must be terribly confusing; and I suppose it would be quite the worst introduction to interactive fiction that could well be imagined.

Arid and Pale, by Michael R. Bacon

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Poem generator, September 17, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: literary, **

This is a hypertext collection of poems demonstrating the basic functionality of the author’s Interactive Poetry Extension to Inform 7. The poems are all single stanza quatrains. The first line of all the poems reads “Arid and pale”. The reader chooses one of the words of this line and the poem is incremented by one line according to that choice.

As a collection of poetry I didn’t find the work very convincing (though it might well be more to somebody else’s taste); anyway, the collection was probably intended more as a demonstration of the extension than as an attempt to achieve literary immortality.

You are a Chef!, by Dan Shiovitz
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Donkey Kong, by Andrew Plotkin
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Uncle Zebulon's Will, by Magnus Olsson
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Babel, by Ian Finley
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Aisle, by Sam Barlow
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Tetris, by Alexey Pajitnov
Felix Larsson's Rating:

Somewhere, by Kazuki Mishima

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Unassuming experiment in interactive poetry, September 16, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: *, literary

The work tries a curiously traditional IF take on poetry (rather than e.g. a hypertext one like Arid and Pale): There is a PC, who moves around in a two-room world, there are three objects and an NPC, and the basic standard commands are implemented (X, GET, ASK ABOUT, PUT IN). The poem is written from a 1st person perspective, though.

In spite of that mostly traditional IF setting, there is nearly no interactivity: You (i.e. the ”I” of the poem) can examine the few things in the world, but apart from that there is only a single course of action open at any point in the poem. Twice the PC asks himself a yes or no question, but even then the choice doesn’t change the course of events or the point of the poem.

Interactive Fiction can certainly be very poetic. Indeed, Mishima himself has written such works. But I don’t think this particular poem presents an experience or an idea, a truth or a mood, a pun or whim, an image or an approach to language &c. &c. in any poetically compelling way.

All Alone, by Ian Finley

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Short and Creepy Horror Piece, September 13, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: literary, ***

Short and creepy ”literary” horror. You are a young female artist waiting for the break-through and recently moved into your boyfriend’s small, shabby apartment—just big enough that you can’t see all of it from any one place. It’s a dark and stormy night; a serial killer stalks the streets; you’re all alone. The phone rings.

Certainly worth reading … and re-reading! once or twice. The details of the story and even the length of the piece varies a bit depending on what you decide to do (there may be more to do than you think) and in what order. Writing is good, and, playing this all alone on a dark and stormy night, you’d better hope your phone doesn’t ring.

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