Reviews by Frater

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howling dogs, by Porpentine

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Dense and somewhat haunting., August 19, 2016

It's difficult to know what to make of howling dogs. It is written well, the imagery it evokes is poetic, almost to the detriment of story, but it is certainly affecting.

I've played through it twice now, and gotten both endings, and to be honest I still can't tell you exactly what it is about, not fully. It is not a story, so much as it is a semi-interactive piece of art, and as that it succeeds very well... I suspect that I will still be thinking about this game long after, something that I can't say for a lot of games that I enjoyed a lot more than this one.

Many other reviews talk about how much this game has to say about women, and looking back that is definitely a theme running strong within the disjointed scenes. Equally fascinating though, as with much Art, is how much of what you see is what you brought with you. In my first play through, it never occurred to me the protagonist might be female. It also never occurred to me that the prophet was a "joan of arc" figure, as in my mind they were also male.

Reading it the second time, I projected a female PC, and a Joan of Arc figure, and it worked equally well - the writing is beautifully designed that way, to magnify your own prejudices and allow you to see your own reflection.

I play for enjoyment, and I didn't enjoy this a great deal, hence the 3 stars. It was confusing, it was confronting, and as Art it succeeded in unbalancing me. It was quite well done.

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Destination Unknown, by Mark Mihalko

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Mediocre writing, terrible pacing., August 18, 2016

This was a disappointment after recently playing The Axolotl Project, and to be honest this is the sort of thing I was more expecting from a twine game.

The writing is.. readable. The story is a bit of a mess, jumping in places without explanation (for instance, when you reach what I assume is a "death" end scene, you immediately jump back to the previous decision, allowing you to enter an infinite loops of choosing the same option if you like) and at one point apparently either all the way to the beginning of the entry into the triangle, or randomly into a completely different vessel doing the same thing... I couldn't tell, which to be honest says a lot about how evocative the writing is of the setting.

Worse than that though is the pacing. There is no finesse to the pacing in this story - it starts at full throttle (Oh my god, fog! We're entering the triangle!) and just stays there (Turn right "Oh my god, it's a hatch!"). The whole reading experience then feels like a rush, there's no time to build up any atmosphere beyond annoyance, and consequently very little engagement with the game itself.

To be fair, it might get better. I didn't play all the way to the end, it just didn't appeal enough. Your mileage may vary.

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The Axolotl Project, by Samantha Vick

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Changed my mind about Twine, August 17, 2016

I haven't given Twine, or ChoiceScript or similar systems, much of a look. I've been vaguely aware of their existence and looked briefly at a couple of twine games, a little more closely at a couple of choice-of games, but for the most part they weren't my cup of tea.

They never seemed capable of the same level of interactivity and richness as parser-based IF, and seemed wholly unsuited to the types of IF I have previously enjoyed the most - story-based exploratory IF.

The Axolotl project has changed my mind on that. Whilst I still prefer parser-based IF, this game did a wonderful job of exactly that sort of game I thought it was ill-suited for, with an interesting mystery, exploration and an engaging story.

The writing was quite good, neither too wordy or purple nor sparse enough to be without character. The implementation was smooth and did a good job of replicating the feel of parser-based exploration with links to noun descriptions and exit directions. I only came across one implementation bug, and that was the the announcement that cleaning has finished and the apartments were open was replayed later in the game when returning to the area from inside the dorms.

The characters, though quite few in number, were well developed and three dimensional. Tropes were used here but to good effect, and the descriptions and internal monologues did a good job of characterising the protagonist. The world wasn't huge but it was logical and interesting, and the story was entertaining enough that when I sat down "to have a quick look", I ended up playing it all the way through to see how it would end.

Overall, it was a pleasant surprise, an excellent game, and highly recommended.

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PTGOOD 8*10^23, by Sartre Malvolio

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Why bother?, August 16, 2016

There's something almost beautifully ironic about writing a bad game which is supposed to be about stopping people from making bad games. I really wish I could believe that this game is badly written on purpose, that the empty locations, direction bugs and early guess-the-verb puzzle that I wasted a good half-hour on before deciding this game had taken enough time, was written badly on purpose as an ironic joke.

At least then there would be some purpose to it. Even still, a joke like that belongs as an independent release, not in a competition where it takes valuable time away from games that actually have substance. This game is just bad. There is nothing else to it. Not to mention the whole Slan Xorax idea, which was lost on me, sounds like an attempt at a juvenile in-joke plot. I can only guess that Slan is an author of games that Sartre, at least, thinks are bad and this is some sort of poor homage to him.

As mentioned in the capsule, the locations lacked description. In one case, where exits actually were described, they were described wrong (the lab was said to be south-east, it was actually west), and I ran into a wall quite fast. That might be in some parts related to me poor problem solving ability, but nothing about this game gave me any desire to try harder, so I guess it doesn’t matter in the end.
This is the kind of game I wish i’d bought, so I could self-righteously demand my money back.

If you’re not judging, don't play it. There are so many good games out there.
Originally Published at Silicon Dreams during the 2006 Interactive Fiction Competition

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Requiem, by David Whyld
A good game and a worthy addition to the genre., August 16, 2016

I’ve always had a soft spot for noir – hard bitten detectives and troublesome, though beautiful, dames. That said, its a genre with a well-earned reputation for pulp and cliches, and more than one author has stumbled into the genre and managed to offend anyone who’s even pretended to like noir in the past. Thankfully, this is not one of those.

The story is the focus of this particular game, as it tries to be a puzzleless IF. I have to say I applaud his efforts in this direction – as one of the many puzzle-challenged IF aficionados I quite appreciate not having to worry about forgetting to pick up an object at the start of the game that I’ll need for the endgame. I played that way anyway, out of habit, but its nice to know that it wasn’t necessary.

Its also good to see we’re finally making advances with multi-threaded stories. Often a “multiple-endings” story, is just that. A story where the ending is a result of something you do during the game (such as score.) For many games this is merely cosmetic, another way to tell you your score. In Requiem, several decisions change not only the story’s end, but your place in it. This might be as simple as your job – the events that took place still took place, but who you were in them changed – but it was well executed. A true “multiple ending” story, though I’m not sure if I would count a lot of the lesser ending. “And everything stopped.” whilst clever, given the plot, isn’t a satisfying ending.

The main problem I found with the plot lies in the first scene. The story opened with the main character in trouble. This is a common literary device and can be quite effective. However, depending on how you act in the game, you might never get to that point. This is important as its a scene that’s happened, you showed it to us already, and by having a character die or fail to reach that point it’s a breach of causality. You’re telling a story from the point you started (it even refers to that point by referring to time as “Seven days earlier”), so the character should, from a good plot sense, always reach that point.

I also found the characterisation a little flat, particularly the female lead. We’re told quite often that the main character thinks she’s insane, and even shown her diary which would seem to confirm the fact, but she never actually feels insane. The antagonist does, but even so he never feels as frightening as he should.

Overall its a good game, well worth a go. Not a lot of games get me to play through multiple times but I did with this, to try and get the optimal ending. The plot was nicely convoluted and, as I said before, I like how it splits into separate threads.
Review originally published on Silicon Dreams during the 2006 Interactive Fiction Competition

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The Sisters, by revgiblet
A great ifcomp game., August 16, 2016

I seem to be picking up the attempted spooky games straight off the bat, which is interesting since it is not a genre I normally take for my own. The Sisters attempts to be a different sort of horror game however than Requiem. Whilst Requiem felt quite Cthulic supernatural, The Sisters is scary dead girls running about a haunted house. Very Japanese horror and I’m going to blame games and movies like this if I end up a bad father. Little girls creep me out now.

The game starts with a car accident and you’re not long playing when you realise you’re trapped in a haunted house and it appears one of the ghosts is responsible for your accident. Investigation of the house and solving the puzzles within feed you, piece by piece, the story of what happened to the current ghostly occupants and, in the end, why you have attracted their attention.

The ending is of a type seen in just about every creative writing class ever given since the dawn of time – with every author believing themselves the first to do it. Not since (Spoiler - click to show)Agatha Christie wrote a first-person murder mystery where the narrator was also the villain has this sort of twist been original by any stretch of the word. It does work however, the ending is both satisfying and logically complete and even the fact that there is only one possible ending doesn’t detract from the game or the story in my opinion. This sort of ending is often used as a gimmick and is often rightly shunned because of that, however I think in this case it is both valid and entertaining.

I did find one bug that caused me to finish my first run through of the game early, without ever progressing outside to the lake. This was disappointing, since without the lake scene and (Spoiler - click to show)retrieving the music box for the two children, the main theme (Spoiler - click to show)(as written in the girl’s journal) of the game isn’t as powerful. (Spoiler - click to show)“What you do in death can’t make up for what you did in life.” Is both a clue to the nature of our character, his predicament, and the hopeless nature of the story – (Spoiler - click to show)there is no way to make up for what the character did before we came along, thus, no way to avert the end that is coming. Lack of choice, or agency, can be just as compelling as full choice, when used for a proper narrative purpose as it is here.

The bug in question was that typing “S” or “South” in the kitchen, enabled me to walk straight through the locked metal doors without opening them. Normally you would have to (Spoiler - click to show)get the music box from the lake, and bring it back into the house for the ghost children. The story is far more powerful for the addition of this small part.

On the whole, a remarkable story-based game, with a few simple, logically local puzzles. Definitely the standard I will be holding the other games I review up against this year.
Review was originally published on Silicon Dreams during the 2006 Interactive Fiction Contest.

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Unauthorized Termination, by Richard Otter

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An ok game, though not a good representative of the Orwellian genre., August 16, 2016

I must admit, I may be scoring this game a bit harsher than I normally would mainly because the author’s description of the game as a near-Orwellian dystopia setting excited me. 1984 remains, to this day, stuck in my mind as the most depressing, frightening and realistic science fiction novel I have ever read. Given what is currently happening in the US and here in Aus, it should perhaps be required reading for citizens so we can see what we’ve got to look forward to. The biggest failing of this game, in my opinion, is its failure to deliver on this potential. The idea of totalitarianism is used as a backdrop in the most literal way possible – it is assumed as a background then not really interacted with at all for the rest of the game.

Despite the fact that your character repeatedly disobeys orders from his superior, who is, from the start, obviously involved in a secret conspiracy, doesn’t hold water with the supposed background. By the time you are first targeted for assassination its really too little too late. This follows later when, in the end, (Spoiler - click to show)your superior (the traitor) has a sudden change of heart, inspired by your mindless devotion to the law, and has himself and his associates terminated.

Say what?

I have to admit one of the biggest problems the author has with this story is the fact that all the characters are robots of different kinds. It seems though that a decision was never really whether to treat them as robots – computerised, logical, etc – or to anthropomorphise them and treat them as humans. Instead, we are left with an awkward half and half. Our character spends most of the game as a classic robot – reciting laws by number and only interested in pursuing his duty. Most other robots we meet act the same, particularly the ones that help you.

Whilst we’re faced with mostly-computer robots, we’re then asked to believe that elsewhere other robots are gambling in illegal clubs and enjoying themselves in debauchery common only to humans, as well as starting and participating in religious cults. As well as this, our superior and his superior are (Spoiler - click to show)traitors who seek to bring robots with weapons into the colony, the reason for which is not entirely obvious. I assume it benefits them in some way, because they are not at all worried about breaking the law and killing people/robots to get their way.

In the end you save the day, but you’re not really 100% sure what it is you saved, if it was worth saving, or why we should care. I didn’t find it particularly engaging or logical. Technically speaking, the game ran well with no obvious bugs I could see. The puzzles that had to be overcome fit with the story well and didn’t feel contrived or out of place. Except for as mentioned earlier, the characters were well characterised in that they were consistent.

Worth playing, but not brilliant.
Review originally published on Silicon dreams during the 2006 Interactive Fiction Contest

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The Absolute Worst IF Game in History, by Dean Menezes

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Apt title. I only wish I could give it a lower score., August 16, 2016

I really was asking for trouble when I added this game to the list wasn’t I. As I said in the introduction post, I really couldn’t resist the title, and even though I was going in expecting a terrible game – I was still disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, the title makes no promise it doesn’t live up to. This is a truly bad.. thing. I hesitate to even call it a game. I have a question for the community at large – what exactly is the appeal of the “this is a horrible game” genre of games that crop up from time to time. This is the second year I’ve sat down to review the IFComp and the second time that the first game off the block is this type of self-referential ‘bad’ game. (The first was PTGood, which scored a respectable dead last in IFComp06. Don’t look for it.)

The reason I keep picking these up is simple. They should be funny. Really and truly they should, there is a place for satire in every art form and the Interactive Fiction community has existed long enough for many many tropes, cliches and mistakes to become common knowledge and indeed cultural jokes – the maze of twisty passages being one such example. Satire mocking an art-form is, at the heart, indicative of a rich and thriving artistic foundation and should be cause for celebration; instead, I despair each time I pick up one of these games.

How is it that after so many tries, with so much talent in this community, we have so far been unable to master this particular art? With the Emily Shorts and Adam Cadres expanding the boundaries of what we can accomplish, why does a simple satire fall short? This game is short, pointless and utterly boring. It -is- what it set out to be, a bad game, simply because it is utterly unmemorable. It took all of 2 minutes to play, which I suspect was a minute longer than it took to program, and simply reproduced a stupid maze puzzle that was a tiny, though memorable, portion of a classic of the genre.

The game itself wasn’t even that bad. PTGood at least was that, so utterly horrible that even the parser seemed broken – and with the blurb associated with it there was an irony almost beautiful in the sheer bile it evinced. This game just offends with is sheer blandness.

I do look forward to the day I pick up one of these so called “Bad games” and find what I am actually looking to find, that elusive thing that keeps me coming back to them like a masochist nuzzling the whipping post. A true satire – a good game that is merely pretending to be a bad one.

For that is the point at the heart of this art-form. No matter what direction it takes, with the toys, annoyances and artistic experiments, we can’t forget where we started. These were, and are, games; and games are meant to be entertaining.

The Absolute Worst IF Game in History is not entertaining, and I have done myself a disservice wasting so much time and words on it. Do yourself a favour and think of it nevermore.

Review originally published on Silicon Dreams during the 2008 Interactive Fiction Competition.

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Ananachronist, by Joseph Strom

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A good idea marred by boring execution., August 16, 2016

The words used in my short summaries above really say most of what I have to say about this title. “Bland”, “Monotonous”, “Boring” are all great adjectives to describe it. Which is a shame as it had a fair amount of potential in its small and polished frame.

To begin, this game was never going to get huge marks from me. As i’ve said before, I am a story gamer. I love stories and that's the thing I love most about interactive fiction. Ananachronist has the seeds of a particularly interesting story in it, which I think was the biggest disappointment for me. The setting is actually quite interesting; a sort of blend between science fiction and fantasy. Time travel in this world is achieved primarily through some sort of magic but the time travel itself would introduce the society capable of it to a wide variety of technological achievements. Add to this the fact that the magic -looks- like technology, with the portal connected to a glowing pedestal and a magic rune tracer that held shades of Star Trek tricorders, and you have some fertile soil for a deep, involved interesting setting and story.

Unfortunately as anyone who has ever visited a farm, particularly in a drought, will know, a patch of dirt with nothing growing in it looks like any other patch of dirt you’ve ever looked at. That's what it feels was made of this nicely conceived setting that was just begging for a rollicking tale of action, adventure and time-tampering. Sod all.

I think i’m also a bit disappointed by the mixing up of ideas here as well, you see this isn’t actually about time travel at all. In order for the a story to be about time travel it doesn’t just require the different locations to have different technological settings, as we have here, but actual temporal dislocation. That is to say, these places need to be separated by a period of time, not just feel. This isn’t used in this game at all. For an example of a way to use this kind of mechanic, imagine being able to travel to the same place but at two different times separated by say two hundred years. You go to the first time period and plant an apple seed, then you go forward in time two hundred years and pick apples from the tree that has been growing since you planted it two hundred years earlier.

This scenario really doesn’t mesh well with the philosophy of time travel, but it’s interesting and was used to good effect in games such as “Day of the Tentacle” by Lucasarts. That is the sort of thing I expected from a time travel puzzle game.

What we actually get in this puzzle is more of a “interlinked dimensions” game, rather than actual time travel. We are given three different compounds, each of which are set in a different technological era but are otherwise close to identical, featuring different versions of similar buildings in the same places in each era – so a stable becomes a garage and that sort of thing. These dimensions are linked in such a way that changes you make in one are reflected in the others. Rip a curtain used for privacy in the low tech version and the door will be destroyed in the later tech version. Pick up a screwdriver in on world and drop it somewhere and the corresponding tool in the other tech world will have been moved.

This quite an interesting mechanic for a puzzle game and is used to great advantage, but it is not what is being advertised. It bears no relation to any sort of temporal puzzle. If you destroy a curtain in a building one hundred years ago, that bears no resemblance to the state of a door now. Why would moving a shield a couple of feet cause a weird tube 400 years later to be left somewhere different? There is no logical connection here – it is all for the sake of the puzzle. There is nothing wrong with that of course, but I felt my expectations were let down somewhat.

Which leads us to the puzzle itself. Any game of this sort is going to be compared, without fail, to the classic of the type – Lock and Key. In this comparison, unfortunately, Ananachronist falls short. This has little to do with the puzzle itself. Like I said it was well conceived and thought out, and despite the contextual inconsistencies I mentioned the logic of the world was consistent and fair. The problem occurs in the fact that it is as boring as an accountants convention on the uses and abuses of the number zero.

What made Lock and Key come alive even for me, a story gamer, was the context in which the puzzle took place. It was exciting even when you lost to see how your traps would be defeated and how the observers would react. You would set up the pieces for your puzzle and watch a narrative unfold around them to explain how you did, and it made it fun and interesting. Ananachronist has none of this. The story ends the second the game starts, there is no explanation for why these ensorcelled objects should take you to these particular places, no explanation for what evil spells have been put on them, no explanation of where these places are, when they are, or even, and this I think is quite important, -where all the people are!-.

The places feel bland and exist for no reason other than to serve the puzzle. They are movie sets, not actual places, and no world exists apart from the faceless player character and the task assigned to him. The backstory is completely unexplored and every opportunity to make this game interesting seems to have be purposefully ignored.

The real tragedy here is that the puzzle mechanic was clever and well thought out and if placed into context could easily have made this game a contender. Even without NPC’s – if, for example, the game author is allergic to them – you could weave an interesting story about these spookily similar places separated by time and connected by three otherwise innocuous objects. Think about how Babel managed to draw us in to a story that occurred well before we arrived; through the judicious use of journals, computer entries and lets not forget -MAGIC- we could easily have puzzled our way through the game, solving the dimensional puzzle while simultaneously learning about this evil wizard, his plot for destroying the universe, why these three places were important and why these timepieces were enchanted.

It was a game that could have been great, unfortunately it feels rushed. It seems like the author had a great idea for a puzzle, rushed to implement it, then couldn’t be bothered putting any more effort in so released it half done. This feeling is amplified by the only major gameplay issue I found and that was missing nouns. Quite often in the game things were described and never implemented, so if you went to examine them further they didn’t actually exist. This is a small gripe, but one that could have been easily fixed with a cursory reading of place descriptions and a little extra implementation. The rest of the game was robust and bug free as best I could tell.

I really hope Joseph gives IF another shot because there is obvious coding aptitude shown here, clean if somewhat uninspired writing, and a definite imagination waiting to be unleashed. I think, and quietly hope, that we will see bigger and better in his next release.

Until then, 3/10 is as high as I can go, for a game that – implemented well or not – bored me so.

Review originally published on Silicon Dreams during the 2008 Interactive Fiction competition.

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Cry Wolf, by Clare Parker

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
There is quality story here that could do with a bit more of a polish., August 16, 2016

This is the first of the games i’ve tried so far this competition that I can truly say I enjoyed, wholeheartedly. It wasn’t perfect, or anything even close – it caught me in a bit of a picky mood i’m afraid. In anycase, I was irritated right from the start by the intro which really dropped the ball as far as writing quality goes. It was terse when it should have been setting the scene. I found this particularly odd given the attention shown to detail – like a reasonable covert art submission which is something you don’t often see in ifcomp games. I think this may have been an oversight as it got far smoother later in the game.

Good attention was paid to the environment, which is something I always look for early on in a game. Searching the early rooms in the game just about every noun was implemented with something. Not always perfectly, some things that stick out are you can open and search the dresser without getting out of bed, if you take Celia’s clothes out you can examine the dresser and see it overflowing with your clothes, then search it and be told it is empty. Also, if you have searched the room and taken Celia’s clothes (or even merely opened the dresser) then you cannot take your own clothes and get dressed, something that can be quite confusing. One other thing about the first room, I think far too many things in the room directly mention Celia and how she’s gone now. Sure its backstory and goes to state of mind, and obviously he misses her very much, but it belaboured the point a bit I feel. By the time the character crawled out of bed I was well and truly sick of Celia and thought he was probably lucky to be rid of her.

A few other small things stand out. At one point attempting to read a book points out that it’s too late, rather than points out that there is a giant wolf on your porch making that ill-advised. Also, lets be honest. How dense does the main character have to be (Spoiler - click to show)– it’s a full moon, it’s a wolf in the middle of town who you splint, and you wake up with a naked woman in your bed, with splint, and…. what? Not even the inkling, crazy as it is?

That leads into the operation scene and the following interactions where the main character is told about (Spoiler - click to show)Merissa being a werewolf which further points to the immeasurable denseness of the main character. There are almost shades of Lovecraft in this story as the character’s mind is described and being close to snapping – a very Lovecraftian twist that but unfortunately inexpertly described. When the operation is complete and the (Spoiler - click to show)babies are described, definitely the highlight of the game and quite original, and the main character’s perspective… shifts… this is quite well written. However the panic he experiences when talking to Marissa and she claims (Spoiler - click to show)to be a werewolf was unrealistic, flat and inappropriate. Lovecraftian panic and madness is brought on by -seeing- things, experiencing things impossible and beyond the norm. Not simply being told things, it’s easy to laugh off and disbelieve simple words. Not to mention that the idea of her being (Spoiler - click to show)a werewolf shouldn’t have been quite -that- much of a shock really, not after the moon, the split, the (Spoiler - click to show)half-wolf-half-human puppies. It’s not like there wasn’t warning that something strange was coming up now was it.

The ending was fairly obvious in the lead up and I must admit I played towards being (Spoiler - click to show)furry at the finish. I didn’t go back for any of the other endings, but it tied up the plot nicely and the character interactions were interesting. I’ve always liked character conversations driving plot branches as a gameplay mechanic, but as i’ve mentioned before i’ve always preferred story to puzzles.

On the whole a decent little game that, with a little polish, could be quite recommendable. Well done Clare.
This review was originally published on Silicon Dreams during the 2008 Interactive Fiction Contest.

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