Every word of this tiny game evokes pre-historic mystery, painting a dark and grim vision of the mythic quest. The writing is terse but poetic, and above all, pointed. Alliterative phrases, vast imagery, and clever but easy-to-understand wordplay elevates the tone and style to that of the epic. The personification and wordplay remind me of For a Change by Dan Schmidt.
This is a dark epic, a gothic tragedy. The story is unclear. I wish I could report that I had figured out what really happens, but I failed to understand. The protagonist is searching for something that means everything to him. Given the atmosphere of the ancient epic, I would think the object of the Quest must be something of great metaphorical significance. Figuring out the plot is by far the most difficult part of the game. Except for one easy puzzle, the game consists of choosing from conversation menus and advancing through stages by repeating the same action. The parallelism of these stages gives the game a sort of poetic construction that works well with the writing style.
The TADS 2 gamefile is named "darksong.gam"; this caused some confusion for me when I was looking for this game after downloading the SpeedIF zip archive. (I want to note that the conversation system doesn't display correctly in Gargoyle.)
I realized that something like "Darksong" or "The Dark Song" could have made a good enough title for this game. Instead, it is named after a figure that appears more or less as a background object, a character that has no bearing on the plot and no effect on the game simulation. The Yellow Dog could have been omitted with no objective loss. But this game is driven by atmosphere more than anything else, and the mystery conjured by the figure of the Yellow Dog, and the importance that is attributed to it by its place in the title, makes the epic style deeper and more real. Even the setting ultimately doesn't need to be taken all that seriously; the setting is just real enough to preserve the mood. There is some attempt to cast the player character as a real person from a real mythological world, but there is also the anachronism of mentioning a "cigarette." I felt that the ending text was a little weak and anti-climatic, but it may have been more effective for me had I figured out what the story was all about.
As a SpeedIF entry, this game is under-implemented. There would have been a lot of room for more messages to reinforce the tone. Only the actions and objects that are absolutely necessary are implemented. However, the implementation is strong enough for the sparseness of the game world. Although I'm confused about the plot, and I'm not even sure if the game is entirely successful in producing a sense of horror (if that was its goal), the haunting sense of mythic grimness that flows from every delightful phrase is very satisfying. I don't think I've seen any other IF work accomplish so much with so little.
The immediately remarkable thing about First Times is its use of sound, synchronized cleverly with parser input. The effect may border on cheesiness occasionally, but the grimness of the horrific element and the detail with which the game is implemented prevent it from feeling half-baked in any way.
The implementation is fully up to the standards of typical parser-based interactive fiction. Almost everything is described thoroughly, and every door (of the many mentioned in the game map) is implemented and described separately. The standard quest GUI system does not spoil the puzzles, and the GUI seems to be well attuned with world model. At times, clicking seemed more efficient for me than typing, while other commands seemed much more natural and intuitive using the command prompt. The result was that I alternated, going for long stretches with one or the other before switching when I needed to input a command that was more efficient with the other method. The biggest flaw in implementation is that non-standard but relevant verbs do not seem to be implemented (at least not consistently).
The horror element is a combination of gory slasher stuff with paranormal terror. The game is disturbing at times, but the tone of prose, specifically of the protagonist's responses, is such that I have faith that the author has an artistic purpose beyond glorifying blood and guts. The setting feels like a particularly grim Twilight Zone episode, with plenty of dark paranormal phenomena lurking behind the closed doors that you haven't been able to open yet.
Unfortunately, I may never get to discover the point of all the madness, because I didn't finish the game. I solved many puzzles, and enjoyed the pacing. The game is very traditional in its design. Many of the puzzles were decently clued. However, I eventually got stuck, and after giving it a rest, found that I had no idea where to start in order to get back to the puzzles. There are no hints and no scoring system, making it is difficult to tell how you are progressing.
First Times is well designed and evocative. I wish I could have given it a higher rating, but being stuck with no way to go forward makes an objective analysis of the theme and story impossible and also is a negative mark in the whole experience.
The purpose of this game is to demonstrate how a teleportation system can be implemented in Hugo, a coding topic that has been discussed for years on a thread on the Hugo discussion board. Yet, Teleporter Test does still fully deserve to be called a game in its own right, and not only a programming exercise.
As a game, Teleporter Test presents a moderately challenging puzzle. A large part of the solution involves wandering around a (literally) nondescript grid, which I found to be neither very interesting nor very tedious. There are two more varied regions accessible from the grid; the separation of these two areas is part of the puzzle. The grid serves a similar function to mazes in classic IF, except that this grid is not random and does not require much of a method to solve. Finding the two other regions did produce a slight sense of explorative adventure. Interestingly, there is also an outdoor area with an infinite (self-looping) exit, much like the classic Adventure opening.
Unfortunately, the Adventure-like outdoor area is not where the game begins. In service of the experiment, Teleporter Test starts in a deliberately incongruous demonstration area where three room showcase the capabilities of the teleportation system. These room have nothing to do with the puzzle in the main area in the game, but they can be used to teleport into any of the rooms of the grid and surrounding areas. Doing so seems more like a feature than like cheating, since a mechanism is in in place that kills the player for teleporting into the one room where premature entry could break the puzzle. Studying the teleportation system provides insight into the puzzle, making the two incongruous elements of game vs. experiment seem at least a little unified.
Although Teleporter Test does deserve to be called a game, it is not a story. There is no story at all, not even an implied one behind the setting. The main "game" portion has some atmosphere, but no real development or world-building. Even the mechanic of teleportation, so important to the whole work, has no explanation in terms of the setting, so that the game really can't justify calling itself science fiction.
Still, Teleporter Test is short and basically satisfying. I believe that players who enjoy classic puzzle-based text adventures and dungeon crawls could enjoy this project as a game, apart from its purpose as an experiment and demonstration.
When we think of one of the oldest traditions of text adventures, treasure collecting, we probably envision subterranean cave crawls or dungeons, difficult timers, instant death traps, and anachronistic worldbuilding. Scavenger Hunt, which commences with the premise of searching for a few miscellaneous items in order for the player character to win a bet, is not anachronistic, and it certainly isn't a cave crawl. However, the other conventions very much apply.
The experience of playing Gilles Duchesne's Hugo tutorial game is not one of frustration, as might be expected of a game belonging to such an old-fashioned class of interactive fiction that was also written at least partly with the purpose of being a programming example. The game is not ambitious, but it is very well designed within its simple framework. Although its primary value is that of an example and tutorial for people interested in learning the Hugo programming language and authoring system, Scavenger Hunt is far from worthless, even to players. Its value as a game is not divorced from its value as a tutorial, either. I believe that in order for a demonstration program to serve as a good tutorial for teaching an IF authoring system, the example game must be fully-developed (though likely very simple) and enjoyable in its own right.
Many traditional-style IF games contain some amount of wry, sarcastic humor at the player's expense; the smart-aleck parser knows better than the person at the keyboard. The sparing prose of Scavenger Hunt is always colloquial and often witty, but it doesn't seem to make fun of the player at all, except in a couple cases in response to particularly mischievous (or perhaps desperate) commands. There is little to be praised about the writing on a technical level. Explicit narration is glaringly present in the first room description, a pet-peeve of myself and, I imagine, many IF players. However, I don't fault the casual writing too much. It creates a light-hearted tone appropriate for this work. The atmosphere is enhanced by the tasteful cartoon pictures, and to a lesser degree, by the occasional sound effects.
The puzzles are logical and probably fairly easy. Two or three puzzles are built upon each other, but that's as far as the hierarchy of obstructions goes. All of the rooms of the very small map are available for exploration at the beginning of the game. The map and puzzles operate within the framework of a master-puzzle, a restrictive time limit that commences at the very first turn. It's quite likely that players will lose to the time limit at least once, but for some reason this is not so upsetting in practice as it sounds. The game is small enough that retracing your steps is a simple matter. The puzzles are the entire point of gameplay in such a traditional and simple work as this, but solving the puzzles would be less rewarding without the time limit.
There is little background to the game in either story or setting. Typically, for a puzzlefest, the only function of the premise is to send the player off solving puzzles and collecting treasures. Unfortunately, the setting of Scavenger Hunt is not nearly developed enough to make up for the lack of plot. The PC is completely undescribed but assumed to be male. The main NPC is only described as the PC's "friend," as if the PC doesn't even care to think about the name of his best friend with whom he has been "through thick and thin, good and bad." Strangely, there are more injected opinions about a couple of the other NPCs, which are significantly less important to the vague shell of a story. Similarly, the setting of the game is so normal and nondescript as to be universal. Of course, I highly doubt any symbolic universality was intended.
To be honest, I would never have played this game if I hadn't been studying Hugo. I am glad that I played it through before examining its source code, because I found Scavenger Hunt to be mildly satisfying as an easy puzzle game. It could not have taken me much more than half an hour to complete (including reading the author's notes after winning) despite having had to start over twice. Therefore, I feel justified in recommending Scavenger Hunt as a short but reasonably polished text adventure to those who can appreciate traditional puzzlefests. Although the segment of the IF community that could enjoy playing Scavenger Hunt may be fairly small, I think whatever amount of genuine value as a game that this coding tutorial may posses deserves to be recognized.