Reviews by Tracy Poff

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View this member's reviews by tag: ChickenComp IF Competition 1995 IF Competition 2000 IF Competition 2007 IF Competition 2014 IF Competition 2016 Shufflecomp 2014 SmoochieComp Speed-IF 7 Speed-IF 8 Spring Thing 2014 XYZZY Awards 1997 Xyzzy Awards 2001
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Adventures of a Hexagon, by Tyler Zahnke

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Not worth playing, November 17, 2016
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2014

The Adventures of a Hexagon is a CYOA-style story, implemented as a set of HTML files, about a day in the life of a hexagon. Geometrical shapes, we learn, can escape from textbooks when no one is looking and go off to have their own adventures.

Hexagon is very short. There are only 38 pages, each containing at most a few short paragraphs of text, some of which are extremely similar. I completed every path in about five minutes.

The story is also extremely lacking. Essentially, the PC, a hexagon, can choose to go to either the Museum of Geometry or the Polygon Village, either with his friends, Pentagon, Heptagon, and Octagon, or, in the latter case, alone. Ultimately, if you choose any option other than (Spoiler - click to show)joining with a group of other hexagons, the PC is killed. If you try visiting the village with your friends, the only path to a good ending is (Spoiler - click to show)for the PC to abandon his friends to the tender mercies of a gang of polygons, and find a group of other hexagons to join with. If there is a theme to this story, it is that one must seek out others like oneself--that those who are different are not to be trusted, and one cannot be happy among them.

But I fear I'm giving the game too much credit, saying that. A sample of the game's text should illustrate it better. (Spoiler - click to show)If the PC goes to the museum and, through a series of pages which basically amount to 'specify your path', chooses to look at the triangle exhibit, you are presented with:

You take a closer look, and you realize that the triangle has a little needle point sticking out of it. But it's too late! BLZZZT! It sticks the needle in you, leaving a great big hole in you. Game over! I guess you can never trust a triangle!

That's it. The end. Pick the pentagon exhibit, and you get:
You get your six sides together and hop up on the ledge. The five pentagons say, "You have one side more than all of us! Har, har, har!" You hear a sound like that of a broken record as you are dragged to the wave-pool. Broken record sounds are always a bad sign in a dramatic scene. You are now being dragged underwater by the fierce five-siders. You have been drowned by the pentagons!

Other choices end with the hexagon killed similarly suddenly. Only choosing to view the hexagon exhibit doesn't end in the PC's death:
You approach the hexagons, and they all say, "Hello, Sixling!" The other five hexagons then open the door, and you enter the building just as they do. A late 1990s dance song starts to play as the hexagons hit the dance floor. You join them in a disco-style up-beat dance.
Congratulations! You got to dance with some polygons! You finally found a path that wouldn't get you smashed to pieces by other polygons! You won!

The other 'good' endings are almost exactly the same, having the PC dancing with other hexagons.

The whole game is just a set of menus leading to the PC either being killed or joining other hexagons and dancing. It's a story, generously speaking, but the non-ending parts of the story would probably fill less than half a page.

The Adventures of a Hexagon is not worth the few minutes it takes to complete.

Play time: about 5 minutes.


Nova Heart or Donít Be Standing Around While the Earth Dies Screaming, or: Who Is To Blame When the Owls Leave Candy Jail?, by Zenith J Clangor

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting as an experiment, if not as a game, November 17, 2016
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)

A bit of background: for Shufflecomp, prospective authors submitted a list of songs, which the organizer shuffled and sent back out. Authors were then to write a game inspired by (at least) one of the songs they were assigned (details). Nova Heart is inspired by seven songs.

I found Nova Heart's story to have a disjointed feel. There are sudden transitions and shifts in perspective, and the whole thing is rather bizarre. Intentionally, I assume.

Interesting language and vivid imagery are Nova Heart's strongest points.

You are in a woman's clean white utopic apartment, one hundred floors above the city.

The wailing sirens of the deathpaddywagons are drawing closer. You have to run.

Run now.

There's something forceful and immediate about this that I like. Between each paragraph, the game pauses, requiring a click (or press of the enter key) to proceed. I was more impressed by this before I saw the next line: "To run, type 'run' in the command box." Indeed, typing 'run' is the only way to proceed from that point.

Nova Heart uses (what seems to me to be) a purpose-built javascript engine, and is played using a web browser (NB: the accompanying music doesn't seem to play unless the game is played online). This engine allows the game to use both a text parser and mouse-based interaction. This would seem to allow for some very interesting modes of interaction, and the game does have a fairly nice bit where the PC is editing a news story, but that's the high point.

The interactivity in Nova Heart is, for the most part, false. In the situation I described above, only typing 'run' allows the game to proceed, and no other command has any effect. This is generally true: at each moment, if any command is possible, only one command is possible. Nova Heart does not simulate a world; it just uses customized 'continue' commands. There are a couple of times in the game when the player may input a command sooner or later to get slightly different text, but the only real choice in the game is at the very end. There are, I think, six possible endings, though each is only a few paragraphs of text.

I think I'd like to play a game that has something of the style of Nova Heart, but more developed. Nova Heart is interesting as an experiment, but I wouldn't generally recommend it as a game.


Sparkle, by Juhana Leinonen (as Karly Di Caprio)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Entertaining, with a unique mechanic and optional puzzles, November 17, 2016
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)
Related reviews: Shufflecomp 2014

Compared to Nova Heart, the last game I played, Sparkle is a much more traditional piece of interactive fiction. Not merely because it's parser-based and written in Inform--it has very much the traditional feel of interactive fiction. The introduction ends with "The road ends here at an abandoned cable car platform. The cableway leads directly to my destination. I must get it running, somehow.", and inspecting the cable car reveals that it is locked to the platform with an iron bar, which is attached to the platform with bolts. I will need a wrench!

With this as motivation, I explored the surroundings, coming to a gate guarded by a dog. Then the game instructed me to "Find a quiet place to MEDITATE." I'd just seen such a place, so I did as instructed, and the game revealed a piece of information--"dog equals flute"--and a new mechanic: "With this information I can CHANGE things INTO their counterpart identities. I can also THINK to recall previously learned information."

I was fairly excited by the possibilities, at this point, but I'm afraid that Sparkle didn't quite live up to my expectations. The rest of the game involves solving some pretty standard puzzles with the aid of the new mechanic. That's all pretty solid, but the only way to learn which objects can be changed into which others is to inspect some objects, and then meditate. Some of the objects you've examined may work with the new command. Or maybe not.

My biggest disappointment with this game is that the changing-things-into-things mechanic (Spoiler - click to show)turns out not to actually be a puzzle. The game tells you, of this mechanic, that "the key to true enlightenment is to observe the Pattern and to understand it," but that's a red herring. The pattern is that there is no pattern--according to the game, anything can be changed into anything. That's not actually true, though: objects can only actually be turned into the counterparts the game specifies, and only after the game tells you that you can, too--nothing clever happens on repeated playthroughs.

Despite my disappointment with the game's unique mechanic, Sparkle does have a few things to recommend it. There are a number of optional puzzles, listed by the game as achievements. I didn't get all of them, but they seem to be well-integrated into the game. For example, during one event, you're told that your clothes get wet, and later you discover an umbrella--the obvious thing is to (on a subsequent playthrough) get the umbrella first, and protect your clothes. And, indeed, this yields an achievement--nice. The achievement system does seem to be†a little buggy, though--I got some achievements that I didn't actually complete, and I think it didn't always notify me when I got one.

Also, Sparkle is written in first person, but can optionally be put into second person, which is a neat gimmick.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with this game. If it gets a post-comp release fixing the trouble with the achievements system, I might like to go back and try to complete some of the optional puzzles.

Play time: about 45 minutes.


Hill 160, by Mike Gerwat

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Tedious, unfriendly, and buggy, November 17, 2016
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)
Related reviews: IF Competition 2014

Sadly, this game is one I couldn't finish. The author indicates that this game has been made easier to comply with the comp rules (the two-hour rule, I suppose), but I sincerely doubt that anyone will finish the game, because the walkthrough is a bit over 700 commands long. To complete the game you'd need to execute one (correct!) command every ten seconds. Judging by the walkthrough, in 48 minutes I got through about a sixth of the game.

If the game were only too long, I would have continued to play for the full two hours games are allotted. Unfortunately, the game has three crippling flaws: first, it is tedious; second, it is unfriendly (more on this later); third, it is buggy.

The tedium is, I presume, intentional: it's intended to reflect the tedium of war. To that end, the game involves plenty of actions that are boring, repetitive, or both. The walkthrough contains (from about 700 turns) 57 turns of waiting, 19 turns of sleeping, and 16 turns of 'again', which are mostly sleeping or waiting. When you are acting, you are often doing something like drop pants / crap in trench / pull up pants.

The unfriendliness is the main reason I gave up. Any little thing you do that isn't according to script will generally end the game. Leave the latrine without using it? "You didn't take your shite! GAME OVER MATEY!". Walk onto the battlefield without cleaning your rifle? "You didn't clean your rifle! GAME OVER MATEY!". Try to take the supplies you're after, rather than asking for them? "GAME OVER MATEY!".

It's not generally obvious what you're meant to do until you've already failed. How was I to know I had to clean the rifle? Its description didn't mention anything. For that matter, how was I to know I had to attach the bayonet myself? The game over message tells me that "Your rifle is missing a critical part.", but attempting to examine it again gives me "You've already examined the rifle.". The game won't let you examine anything twice, or talk to anyone twice. If you don't have a transcript, you'd better have remembered the names of the members of your platoon--you won't be seeing them again!

It's not always obvious how to accomplish things, either. When you're sent for supplies, trying to simply take them from the supply party gets you killed, but talk to party gives "You can't talk to the supply party." In fact, you must ask party for supplies. But talk to grant worked, earlier. The requirements are inconsistent. Once, when talking to Grant, you must salute (or game over!), but later, saluting isn't necessary.

Finally, the game is buggy. If you talk to Grant in the Main Trench before going out on the recon mission, he gives the speech that he gave earlier about you needing to go pick up supplies. Waiting repeatedly will repeatedly give the text about Grant arriving. Sometimes waiting will just do nothing with no message at all. And it's not strictly a bug, but take all should not open up every container and fill my inventory with several screens worth of cigarettes and grenades and things. It should just pick up the items I dropped. Very irritating!

All that said, the game does have its good points. The author indicates that it's intended to be fairly realistic, based on his over 40 years of study, and there are plenty of interesting details. There are some detailed descriptions of certain items, and the language and situation are (apparently--the first World War is not my forte) also intended to be realistic. For my part, I'd enjoy it more simply exploring the environment than having the game nag at me about every minor detail (and the author promises that "When it goes up on the archive, it will be much harder with Release 2." Not necessary!).

Hill 160 has potential, but I won't be returning to the current release.

Play time: 48 minutes.


One Night Stand, by Giannis G. Georgiou

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Probably more at home in the first ifcomp than the twentieth, November 17, 2016
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)
Related reviews: IF Competition 2014

ONS is a short comedy game with one puzzle sequence. I spent about 35 minutes prodding everything in the game before I finished, but I imagine 10 minutes would more than suffice, if you just proceed toward the goal--and particularly if you aren't using the rather slow web-based interpreter.

I appreciate the customized responses to trying to take various objects, and the randomly chosen sections of text (e.g. when knocking on Mara's door) are a nice touch. The ending, though not entirely unexpected, is a good enough payoff for the few minutes the game takes to complete.

On the other hand, you don't have any real options--either you proceed linearly through the story, or you don't proceed at all. I wanted to try tricking the dude into saying his name. To break down in tears to avoid the situation. To call him Rumpelstiltskin, if his name is so important. Anything to have some choice--but I had none. More mundanely, there are few objects implemented, and no real, interactive NPCs. The parser is a little obtuse, too: you've got to knock door or use bottle on floor, which aren't exactly the first commands that came to mind.

Overall, an average-quality game, which would probably be more at home in the first ifcomp than the twentieth.

Post-review pre-posting note: Okay, I think this review needs an addendum. Other reviewers seem to be unanimous in despising this game. It was my assumption throughout the game that it was a work of parody--the several-inches deep layer of grease on the kitchen floor not a greater exaggeration than the PC's absurd internal monologue. Surely the game is so stupid exactly because it's undermining its nominal position. Of course, while writing the review, I was under the impression that the author was a woman (Wrong! Giannis is a Greek name which is the masculine form Gianna. The more you know.), and that therefore the PC must be a parody of the ridiculous caricatures of women we see in games and other media (maybe not?).

It's against my policy to change my judgment after reading other reviews, so I'll let this review stand as-is. I'd rather be too generous in my assumptions about other people than too harsh. In retrospect, though, if you take seriously the bits that I assumed to be failed comedy, then the game really does become rather unpalatable... so take this review with a grain of salt.


Undo, by Neil deMause

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting ideas, poorly executed, November 17, 2016
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)
Related reviews: IF Competition 1995

The game is very brief--I spent about ten minutes beating it, exploring everything as thoroughly as possible--but it has a few entertaining bits. For example, if you check your inventory, you're told that "You have everything that you need.", and in the Binary Room you can take 0 (or take nothing) and your inventory will change to "You have nothing." If you take other objects, e.g. take 1, then "You have nothing and a 1." You can drop nothing and then "You have a 1 and everything that you need." Inspired by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, if I'm not mistaken, quite appropriate for a piece of IF which is about a piece of IF.

The game's solution more or less makes sense, though you're more likely to stumble across it than to reason it out. I've written some invisiclues-style hints for the game, if you're stuck.

Undo has a few neat ideas and an interesting premise, but it doesn't really do anything with them, and feels more like Speed-IF than a real game. It can safely remain a relic of the past.


Ventilator, by Peregrine Wade

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The comedy falls flat, November 17, 2016
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)
Related reviews: IF Competition 2016

This game aims for humor through absurdity and exaggeration, and it's hit or miss--mostly miss. The game tells you in the introduction that "There are no flies in the air, but that is only because they have all passed out on the floor.", and indeed when the game starts there are flies on the floor (which "look highly dehydrated")--a nice touch. I was amused, too, that when the cat flies onto your face, your inventory describes it as "a cat (being worn)". On the other hand, the description of the bar as "A minibar. Just a minibar. Not a spaceship. Not a portal to another world. Not... well, you get the idea." falls a bit flat, as do most of the other jokes in the game.

When you leave the room, you encounter a "left-right corridor" (and can, indeed, go left or right) rather than the usual compass directions. That's weird--what other directions would the corridor run? Up and down? I guess it's an objection on the part of the author to the use of compass directions in IF; trying to move south at one point gives "You don't have a compass." It's not consistent on this, though. Sometimes compass directions are accepted, and trying to run gives "You'll have to say which compass direction to go in."

On this point, I don't think it's a problem for IF to use compass directions. They are, after all, descriptions for the player, not the player character. I'd be much less happy if an IF game more 'realistically' forced me to move around by manually turning and walking forward. Tank controls in IF! Is it an idea whose time has come?

The puzzles, such as they are, aren't very hard. There's a timed 'puzzle' at the beginning--you must turn the fan on before you lose consciousness--and some of the later ones are probably timed as well, but the game is basically just railroading you into progressing through the game. There's little enough to see and do, so I don't suppose this really detracts from it.

After I got my bearings I examined myself and my inventory. The description of the shirt ((Spoiler - click to show)"...just like Stephanie, before that stupid argument messed up everything.") made me think of Adam Cadre's 9:05 and I momentarily hoped that the events of the game might belie the tone, but it was not to be.

After beating the game, you're presented with a list of suggested amusing things you can try, and I poked at a couple of them, but didn't have any motivation to try them all.

Ventilator isn't entirely bad. The implementation is generally competent with some attention to detail (e.g. the flies are gone after you turn on the ventilator--blown away, I presume), and there are a number of endings and optional actions. It just didn't entertain me. Not recommended.

This review is based on 2016-10-20 version.

Play time: 18 minutes.


Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Greg Hassett

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Of historical interest only, April 13, 2014
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure is a 1978 text adventure by Greg Hassett (who was, as I understand it, only 12 years old at the time) for the TRS-80. I played the Commodore PET version, ported by S. Prenzel.

When the game begins, you find yourself in a ship which has crashed. A computer screen informs us that ship's "fribulating gonkulator is burned out." I hate it when that happens.

What follows is a rather standard exercise in exploration and treasure-gathering. The game's map contains about three dozen rooms, including two--thankfully very small--mazes (with a reference to the Colossal Cave Adventure: "I'm in a maze of twisty little passages."). The game uses a two word parser, with only the first three letters of a word being significant.

Wandering randomly around in the game are bugs. If you encounter one before you have found the sword (which is very likely), you'll be killed, and have to load a saved game. Bad luck for you if you saved in a place where you'll inevitably be killed.

The game is completed when you have found both a replacement fribulating gonkulator and the tools with which to install, but there are over a dozen treasure to collect, some of which are necessary to progress, and others which only add to your final score. I managed 170/175 points, and I cannot imagine what I must do to get the last five points.

The world is a bit incoherent. You're apparently deep underground, so rooms like the ice cavern or cobblestone hallway make sense, but others, like the Arabian Room or Al's diner (!) just don't fit. In addition, the game is very poorly written, with many spelling and usage errors ("I can here chirping nearby.", "and fall into the lava ??? Fat chanche !"). On the positive side, the game does include some unique responses for flavor. For example, attempting to eat ruby results in "I think that a large ruby would give me indigestion, and I don't have any Pepto-Bismol."

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure doesn't measure up to many of its contemporaries, and it certainly can't compare to modern interactive fiction, but it's still an interesting part of the history of interactive fiction.


All Quiet on the Library Front, by Michael S. Phillips

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Unmemorable, April 12, 2014
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)
Related reviews: IF Competition 1995

All Quiet on the Library Front by Michael S. Phillips is a 1995 interactive fiction game, entered in the first annual interactive fiction competition. The premise is that the PC is a student enrolled in CS 441 - Interactive Fiction who has been slacking off for the entire term. To save his grade, the PC must navigate the university library to acquire a biography of Graham Nelson, to use as a source for a term paper.

Phillips's first (and, to date, only) contribution to interactive fiction, Library has the hallmarks of a first game: it is set in a fictionalized version of the author's workplace; it contains many references to the IF community; it has a rather thin premise. That said, it's competently implemented and reasonably well written.

Library's main sin is that it's too simple. Its puzzles are very straightforward, its NPCs don't seem to do anything but serve their very limited purposes, and there's little else to do but what's required. I only finished with 26/30 points, and I have no idea what the other points could be for, but I don't have any particular urge to get the rest.

Most of Library's scenery is implemented, though some actions, like x me, give default responses. On the other hand, you can (Spoiler - click to show)kiss alan for a response that's both humorous and useful as a hint--well done.

Overall, Library is just mediocre, and there are too many better works of interactive fiction for me to recommend it. If I were rating it for the ifcomp, I'd give it about a 4/10.

Play time: 30 minutes to win, plus about 10 more of exploration.

This review is based on Release 2.


Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die, by Rob Noyes

8 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
Disappointing, April 21, 2008
by Tracy Poff (Hamlin, West Virginia, United States)
Related reviews: XYZZY Awards 1997

There's just not enough here to satisfy. One does not expect a joke game to be a great work of art, but does expect (or rather hope) that it should be funny. PUTPBAD isn't very funny to begin with, and I don't particularly like the style of 'humour' that relies on insulting the player, as PUTPBAD does when you lose. Winning, too, is unsatisfying, and the humour is similarly unamusing, though not abusive.

In short, the only thing this game has to recommend it is that it is well-known. It is not worth playing for its own sake.



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