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Roody Yogurt Reviews Interactive Fiction
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Flack



Joined: 18 Nov 2008
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Location: Oklahoma

PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 10:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is why I asked someone else -- someone with a general concept of how text adventures work -- to review the game.

This is why I specifically did not ask you to review the game. Examining the visible objects in a room should be the first logical step any person attempting to actually play a text adventure would perform. The fact that you didn't look at the objects in the room and then came here and posted that as a problem with the game tells me that you are either intentionally trolling and trying to get a rise out of me, or that you don't understand how to play a text adventure. Either way, I have no interest in continuing the exchange.

Commander, let me save you some time. My game is nowhere near as good as Cryptozookeeper, which you hated. You will hate my game even more. I am asking -- no, begging -- you to stop playing it.
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Roody_Yogurt



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 1:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tdarcos wrote:

One thing I don't like about Inform that Hugo does is that you can capture prior text for the purpose of quoting it, which I've done in reporting other games. This means to make a report here I have to type it in instead of copying and pasting it.


The ability to copy and paste is an interpreter feature, not a problem specific to Inform. Tdarcos, I forget what OS you use, but for instance, in Windows Frotz (http://www.davidkinder.co.uk/frotz.html), hitting CTRL-L will bring up the scrollback window, at which point you can copy output to your heart's content. Lots of interpreters have similar features.

Anyhow, since last posting, I have beaten the game and will try to write something up later today (Thursday).
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Roody_Yogurt



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 1:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

First off, it is only fitting that, in a review of a game that makes no claim to greatness, I also point out that my reviewing style is not particularly refined. Judging by RFTK (Reviews from Trotting Krips) numbers alone, you'd be better off asking for a review from Jonsey, Ben, or, gods willing, Bryan (if someone could find him).

Hangar 22-

When I first opened up “Hangar 22” months ago, the nice set-up of the intro text was ruined when it got to the part where anyone complains about a high five-figure income. Even the text referring to this attitude as “spoiled” didn't lessen my rage. I did the metaphorical equivalent of ripping the game out of my interpreter and throwing it against a wall.

So, months later, when asked to review this game, I was a bit curious whether this bit would incite the same feelings. Either the text has been touched-up or I have mellowed out in my old age (I suspect mostly the latter), but it did not bother me as much this time. Pleasantly, I was also reminded that the rest of the intro text is very clever and funny.

This can actually be said about much of the game. The fact that there are a bunch of useless objects (game-purpose wise) is not a hindrance as interacting with almost all of them gives custom responses (with some even shedding light on our character or his history) , allowing for some nice world exploration. The tone of the game walks a fine line that is usually funny but occasionally falters.

(Jokes that did not stick well with me- “legal alien” and resembling an “unemployed jackass” when you sit on your front porch chair. I mean, they're not particularly offensive, but they are easy jokes and bring an unlikeable superiority complex to our likeable self-deprecating PC.)

Going back to the game's implementation, I was highly satisfied, save for a couple instances. For one, there's the hook (or tack or whatever) in the kitchen that we are told we hang our keys on, yet we can't >HANG KEYS ON HOOK. This isn't super-important as, in the game's course, we only need to pick up our keys, but it is good game design to be aware of what commands your text will compel people to try. Also, despite the COMMANDS command, I'd suggest informing the player that the proper way to interact with it is to >USE REMOTE. I didn't figure that out myself until coming across the >PUSH BUTTON response.

The >USE command is not entirely successful. I'm perfectly fine with it being used for the remote control (especially with proper prompting), but as the game stands, players such as myself will repeatedly use >USE for some of the red-herring-seeming items such as the keycard. I feel like the keycard's purpose, if any, should be more transparent, so this issue doesn't come up.

It is funny/interesting that “Hangar 22” identifies itself as a “text adventure” and not as “interactive fiction.” While I am one who appreciates the distinction (some people don't), the game doesn't really do much to fit in the former category for me. The only things that really supported that case, in my opinion (and this is totally an opinions-are-subjective thing) are the all-caps exit listings (which, if moved to the status line, wouldn't make any interactive fiction “purist” blink) and the usage of the >USE command (previously discussed). I mean, the game has character development, backstory, and even a narrative arc- all sorts of things that you would not expect from a “text adventure.” Sure, the puzzles have a “text adventure” sensibility to them, but if anything, I think “Hangar 22” shows how hazy the distinction can be.

I would also like to point out that the car GPS was a clever handling of the how-to-make-it-convenient-to-get-around problem. Very good.

Anyhow, my final verdict-

“Hangar 22” is like the epitome of lower-to-mid-range IF competition games, except done well. It is a shame that time can't be turned back to a point where this could be submitted to the competition, as it feels like it'd almost feel at home there. Sure, some people would roll their eyes when they see yet another game that begins in a home or apartment with some kind of everyman problem to overcome, but they'd finally get to see a game that pushes the envelope of that genre and shows the amount of quality writing and pacing that can be applied to the simplest of IF concepts.

All in all, Flack, I'd say it's a good game. My two hopes for your next game is that you maintain the clever prose and that you start the game off with a situation that hardened-IF-players won't find so easy to dismiss.
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Ice Cream Jonsey



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 3:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I should note that Tdarcos found a number of very real issues in A Crimson Spring, that are on my list to fix if I ever put out a new version of the game. I don't know if I ever thanked you, Commander.

Commander?

Thank you for being there.
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Tdarcos



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 4:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ice Cream Jonsey wrote:

Thank you for being there.

You're welcome. I just liked the fact Crimson Spring wasn't so "(expletive deleted) the player within 10 minutes" the way CZ was. "Expletive deleted" means insert any nasty thing to do to someone just to piss them off, from fucking them in the ass (with no lube) to killing them with extreme prejudice. "I'm sorry, but the dog has bitten off your dick. It was delicious, and he goes for more tender parts. You bled to death from that injury before the dog even got to the more interesting parts. You have died."
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pantomime is the game I did before CZ, Commander, and I don't think the player is in major danger anywhere near the beginning. Its page is here!
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Flack



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 7:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I told my daughter about the Commander's experience and it made her so sad that she wrote this note:


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 7:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

OOOOH-HAHHAHAHAHAHHAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!


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Flack



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 7:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow! Thank you so much for playing all the way through Hangar 22 and writing your review. I really appreciate the time you spent on both.

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
When I first opened up “Hangar 22” months ago, the nice set-up of the intro text was ruined when it got to the part where anyone complains about a high five-figure income. Even the text referring to this attitude as “spoiled” didn't lessen my rage. I did the metaphorical equivalent of ripping the game out of my interpreter and throwing it against a wall.

So, months later, when asked to review this game, I was a bit curious whether this bit would incite the same feelings. Either the text has been touched-up or I have mellowed out in my old age (I suspect mostly the latter), but it did not bother me as much this time. Pleasantly, I was also reminded that the rest of the intro text is very clever and funny.

I think this is probably the first (of many) example(s) where a joke didn't work perfectly and could have used some more wordsmithing. The point of the joke is that the guy (our protagonist) used to have a high-paying job, but would now settle for just about anything. In an early draft I mentioned that the player "used to pull down six-figures," but the house didn't match that fact and so I dropped it down to five. I could have just as easily said, "You once dined regularly on steak; today, a McRib sounds divine."

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
This can actually be said about much of the game. The fact that there are a bunch of useless objects (game-purpose wise) is not a hindrance as interacting with almost all of them gives custom responses (with some even shedding light on our character or his history) , allowing for some nice world exploration. The tone of the game walks a fine line that is usually funny but occasionally falters.

As a first time TA/IF author, I found this was an easy rabbit hole to fall down into. It was difficult to draw the line between what objects to include and which to get rid of. Robb and I even discussed this at one point. I mean, if you're building a virtual house, it should have a kitchen, right? And a kitchen has appliances, silverware, and a sink, right? I had a hard time deciding which was worse -- a microwave that does nothing, or a kitchen that doesn't have a microwave. In the end I decided that if I had to put an object into the game, I might as well reward the player with a joke for checking it out.

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
(Jokes that did not stick well with me- “legal alien” and resembling an “unemployed jackass” when you sit on your front porch chair. I mean, they're not particularly offensive, but they are easy jokes and bring an unlikeable superiority complex to our likeable self-deprecating PC.)

I'm not sure which you're referring to on the first -- either the legal status of the girl in drive-thru (which borders on tasteless, I'll give you that) or the "illegal alien" joke about the "actual" alien, which was a bad Phil Collins reference. The second one ... I just went back and, you're right, it's not that funny.

Looking back at the game with a little distance between me and it, I can see how it suffers from "first time programming syndrome". In other words, as I was discovering things you could do in Inform (make a container) I would implement it in the game (build a mailbox). At one point something more significant was going to happen on the front porch which is why the chair and the mailbox and all those things were put in, but it never developed and so, you're right, there are a lot of things out there that don't really do anything.

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
Going back to the game's implementation, I was highly satisfied, save for a couple instances. For one, there's the hook (or tack or whatever) in the kitchen that we are told we hang our keys on, yet we can't >HANG KEYS ON HOOK. This isn't super-important as, in the game's course, we only need to pick up our keys, but it is good game design to be aware of what commands your text will compel people to try. Also, despite the COMMANDS command, I'd suggest informing the player that the proper way to interact with it is to >USE REMOTE. I didn't figure that out myself until coming across the >PUSH BUTTON response.

The >USE command is not entirely successful. I'm perfectly fine with it being used for the remote control (especially with proper prompting), but as the game stands, players such as myself will repeatedly use >USE for some of the red-herring-seeming items such as the keycard. I feel like the keycard's purpose, if any, should be more transparent, so this issue doesn't come up.

I can't remember, but I think I implemented the "USE" command for the remote because that's what all my beta testers kept typing. In the end I tried to make the two commands interchangeable (USE REMOTE and PRESS/PUSH BUTTONS) but they might not be.

The keycard isn't a red-herring. Without it, none of the other doors in the hangar will open. I should have made that more clear. The point of the card was two-fold. I both (a) wanted to reward the player for searching the desk, and (b) had to do something to explain why a new employee would have access to top secret rooms. I probably should have had the game mention that each time one of those doors opened. ("Normally this door is locked, but while holding the keycard, it automatically opens!") By the way that whole keycard thing is based on the keycard that I carry around at work.

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
It is funny/interesting that “Hangar 22” identifies itself as a “text adventure” and not as “interactive fiction.” While I am one who appreciates the distinction (some people don't), the game doesn't really do much to fit in the former category for me. The only things that really supported that case, in my opinion (and this is totally an opinions-are-subjective thing) are the all-caps exit listings (which, if moved to the status line, wouldn't make any interactive fiction “purist” blink) and the usage of the >USE command (previously discussed). I mean, the game has character development, backstory, and even a narrative arc- all sorts of things that you would not expect from a “text adventure.” Sure, the puzzles have a “text adventure” sensibility to them, but if anything, I think “Hangar 22” shows how hazy the distinction can be.

Perhaps it stems from my misunderstanding of the two labels. For me, a text adventure is a game on rails -- you start, you go where the programmer meant for you to go, you solve the puzzles, and you make it to the end (hopefully without dying). Interactive Fiction to me means a lot of things. I know that a lot of IF is "smoke and mirrors" and the illusion of choice, but a work of IF (again, to "me") has to give the player at least the illusion of character development and choices. Hangar 22 is linear in design; you can't get to "day two" before you accomplish all the goals of "day one", and that was by design. I didn't want a massive game where people would have a million options and choices and destinations. I've played a few games like that, and frankly, I rarely finish them.

I probably don't understand all the nuances between text adventures and interactive fiction. To me, text adventures are fun little romps while works of interactive fiction are more serious works of art (even if light-hearted in subject). I suppose the main reason I labeled my game a text adventure is because I didn't want to offend anyone by labeling it anything else.

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
I would also like to point out that the car GPS was a clever handling of the how-to-make-it-convenient-to-get-around problem. Very good.

It was more a desperate solution by a novice programmer. And again, if I had to put the object in the game (the GPS), I decided to try and make it humorous. I think I had just heard "Baby Got Back" on the radio when I began work on the game, which is where all that came from.

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
“Hangar 22” is like the epitome of lower-to-mid-range IF competition games, except done well. It is a shame that time can't be turned back to a point where this could be submitted to the competition, as it feels like it'd almost feel at home there. Sure, some people would roll their eyes when they see yet another game that begins in a home or apartment with some kind of everyman problem to overcome, but they'd finally get to see a game that pushes the envelope of that genre and shows the amount of quality writing and pacing that can be applied to the simplest of IF concepts.

Wow man, I really appreciate that. I hadn't played many modern IF games when I started working on H22. When I was halfway through it I read a review of someone else's game (I think from the 2010 IF comp) that started with "OH NO, NOT ANOTHER I'M-STUCK-IN-MY-HOUSE GAME" and my heart sank. I didn't realize that it was such a cliche, although I suppose it's only natural that I (as a first time game writer) would come up with a plot and location that many other first time game writers before me came up with as well.

I think your analysis is fair and accurate. I'm a better writer than programmer and/or game developer. I'm hoping to come up with a great story line for the next one and then spend more time streamlining things. This time around I was so excited every time I got something to work that I burned my beta testers out pretty quick, long before I was anywhere near release.

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
All in all, Flack, I'd say it's a good game. My two hopes for your next game is that you maintain the clever prose and that you start the game off with a situation that hardened-IF-players won't find so easy to dismiss.

Done and done. Thanks again for your time and feedback.
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Roody_Yogurt



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 7:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually, yeah, the legal alien line that bugged me was the line about the fast food lady. I didn't get the logic there that being illegal would remove one's romantic interest (might make things more of a hassle, sure).

Anyhow, even if the review concentrated on the writing, I have to say that I am impressed with the coding, too. I didn't run into any bugs, and as I was telling Robb earlier, when I look at Inform 6 code now, I can't imagine going back. Very good job in tackling that.

Plus, I know the guy who wrote the conversation library that you used, so it was fun to tell him that I knew somebody who had semi-recently used it (after all of these years).
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Flack



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 8:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

They say that writers make the worst editors, because they think every one of their words is valuable and none of them should or could be cut. (That's one of the reasons they say you should never edit your own work.) When I worked on "A Game of Chance" (my first semi-attempt at a text adventure) I spent literally weeks coming up with witty responses to conversational topics ("Ask guy about x") that none of my beta testers ever discovered. And I mean, I wrote some good one-liners in there!

So anyway, I thought that conversational system was perfect because it allowed you to get people to the point of the conversation and make sure they didn't miss anything important.

When I was a kid my dad taught me this magic trick called "the Magician's Choice". It's a really simple trick. Basically you deal out four piles of four cards each in front of a person and explain to them that the point of the trick is to not end up with the four Aces. It doesn't matter which pile the aces are in, as long as you know where they are.

So let's say the aces are in stack #1. You ask the person to pick two stacks. If he points to, say, 1 and 2, then you say "okay, don't move your hands" and you take away 3 and 4. If the person had pointed to 3 and 4 you say, "ok, let's get rid of those," and you pick up 3 and 4. The beauty of the trick is that the person THINKS that they just picked two piles, when they didn't. With piles 1 and 2 left, you tell them to pick one. If they point at #2 you say, "okay, another pile eliminated" or something and pick it up. If they point at #1 I tell them to put their finger on the pile and not to move it as I pick up #2. No matter what they picked, they end up with the aces, and they will be convinced that they did the picking!

The point of that is, with a conversation system like that, you can duplicate information that you need to pass to the player in both positive and negative responses. The player feels like they actually made a choice, and they did, but you are still able to get them the information needed.

Again, it was a decision coming from a novice programmer. I know those types of systems destroy the illusion of a free and open world, but I was more worried about getting the information to the player that they needed in order to advance in the game. I might experiment with other systems in the future. I have to say, I loved the way the conversations in Cryptozookeeper were done with the highlighted words in Hugo, although in some of the longer passages I found myself starting to skim through them and just look for the key words (sorry ICJ).
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Flack



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 8:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
Actually, yeah, the legal alien line that bugged me was the line about the fast food lady. I didn't get the logic there that being illegal would remove one's romantic interest (might make things more of a hassle, sure).

I think the idea was that it was a double joke, in that she was both illegal (as in residency) and illegal (as in underage). In fact, I think I made her underage specifically for that joke to work, which, in hindsight ... eh. I think at one point I had text that referred to her as an illegal alien which was supposed to be a subliminal hint of what was to come, but it got cut out at some point.

Back to what you said before about text adventures vs. interactive fiction ... in my view of things, in a text adventure you can just kind of make up characters and objects and things and salt and pepper them into situations where needed, whereas in a work of interactive fiction, I would expect actual characters, like ones from a novel. The girl in the "Taco Flaco" (my dad's phrase for any generic taco stand) might as well have been a cardboard cutout, propped up against the drive-thru window.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 8:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I missed that she was underage. I am not always the most critical of readers.
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Tdarcos



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PostPosted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 6:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Flack wrote:
They say that writers make the worst editors, because they think every one of their words is valuable and none of them should or could be cut. (That's one of the reasons they say you should never edit your own work.)

I never felt that way. I routinely go back to a work and cut things from time-to-time. My thought is every word that is there should be there for a reason. Sometimes you rewrite to hide the reveal to increase suspense.

I do have a problem with overwriting sometimes, because I realize you need to cut, and if it's not long enough you'd have to pad to make up for the shortage, always a bad idea.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 5:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
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Roody_Yogurt



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PostPosted: Sun Nov 06, 2011 12:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hallow Eve by Michael Wayne Phipps Jr.-

Mr. MWPJ had a call for a second round of betatesters for Hallow Eve, his Spring Comp entry from earlier this year. I was one of the people to answer the call. Since then, he has released the final product although it's unclear how much is different from the version I tested. For instance, this exhange is still in it:

Quote:

A ghostly skeletal hand creeps out of the black curtain which is shortly followed by a long arm, draped in black cloth. A hooded skull then emerges. What stands before you now is some tall and strange skeletal spectre that you can't explain. You are stunned to see this macabre entity, but it shows no sign of seeing you. Perhaps due to a lack of eyeballs.

It then walks to the center of the room and stands there, and slowly points to a large plastic cauldron filled with assorted candies sitting on the floor by the front door. You are in a state of disbelief. What the hell is going on here?

>get candies
You can't see any such thing.

(It only accepts >GET CANDY)

I think, if somebody is going to enjoy this game, they have to be accepting of uneven games where some aspects are better-honed than others. Let's discuss the things it does well. Well, it's kind of a fun romp. It has a couple different backstories going on. Most of the puzzles are pretty fair, parser-battling aside.

One of the things I like most is that the game isn't deviously fatal. Most of the 'bad guys' (yeah, there are several) are of the Transylvania variety, where you can stand around them indefinitely without receiving any harm (that comparison is a little unfair as some Transylvania enemies were definitely timed). The game ends up being more fun than scary.

Personally, the map is a tad larger than I would like. There's a forest just large enough to hide a couple items and make trekking through it somewhat annoying (but not impossible without a map).

"Hallow Eve" won't go on my must-play lists, but I think that people that open it should stick with it long enough to solve at least a couple of its puzzles. To that extent, it is successful popcorn fluff just like the '80s slasher films it draws its inspiration from.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 2:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Trading Punches by "Sidney Merk" for the 2004 IF Competition

I've been meaning to play this game for some years now. I probably tried to play it during the competition it was written for, but I have a serious aversion to people-have-weird-names fantasy (and sci fi). This game, unfortunately, pushed those buttons, and I was never able to get past the first scene.

Since its first release, the game was updated and its source was made public. These days, when I use my text-searching program to see if any of the Hugo game sources I have downloaded have examples of a function or routine I need help with, a Trading Punches file has as good a chance as any of popping up with an occurrence, yet I can't say this possibility-of-looking-at-its-innards gave me much familiarity when I finally pushed myself further into the game.

Implementation-wise, Trading Punches is interestingly mixed. I was impressed with verb implementation, but the game's narrative mainly is driven by its mechanics. For instance, in the first scene, despite being in the proximity of three NPCs, the only way to get them to say anything of note is to skip stones across a stream. NPC interaction mainly stays like this throughout the game but only becomes a problem when the player is especially stuck. That said, the mechanic at hand is usually fairly clear; it just may not be instantly clear to the player how important it is.

The hint system only looks at hints for the current section you are in. At one point, I opened it up, wondering if the hint system had more insight or explanation for a previous section. Based on the inaccessibility, I assume not. Still, a game that seems to pride itself on its world-building could have probably used the menu to help out with that purpose a bit more.

The multimedia is another mixed bag. I thought the graphics were a nice touch and that the game had a good look (especially after changed my interpreter's default colors to match those of the "title screens"). The songs, on the other hand, were pretty distracting and did not add much to the game. I forced myself to keep the sound on for much of it, just in case the next song ended up being great and helped develop a transitory moment, but that optimism was all for naught.

Some individual scenes had really nice pacing, and there are some memorable and fun settings. The plot isn't entirely successful, though. Reading the author's notes (http://www.sidneymerk.com/comp04/punches.shtml), one can see that he put a lot of thought into designing the game world, but he doesn't do as great a job on selling its logic to us. One character's wacky antics is explained that she joined a religion that has some sort of weird-ass tenant that you are supposed to seduce your fiance's sibling before getting married. I don't see what use any religion would have for such a tradition, but maybe if the author had described the religion as more of a cult, I might have given more leeway. Also, the protagonist becomes President or something at some point, but that doesn't stop him at all from going on all sorts of adventures all alone. I mean, it works in some kind of pulp comic book logic, but it's still rather weird. The game ends with a nice scene, but the game's oddities at all of its junctures distances the player from a real sense of continuity.

Design-wise, I thought a couple of the chapters had more rooms than they needed to but not distractingly so. The worst of them ended up having an enchanted wobblefiend (an object that helps you navigate a maze) that I wish I had found a tad earlier.

There are a couple things I like about Trading Punches that are specific to its being Hugo (besides its use of multimedia). For one thing, I admire the indentation on this thing. Hugo inherits from the awkward Inform 6 and TADS 2 era of indenting room descriptions and content listings (both Inform 7 and TADS 3 no longer seem to do this) but nothing else, which always comes across as a bit schizophrenic to me (in that incorrect-usage-of-"schizophrenic" way). As a Hugo author myself, I still haven't decided the way I want to handle this. Trading Punches, interestingly enough, goes the way of indent-everything-except-for-certain-parser-responses:

I mean, it's likely that I will stay on the no-indentations-at-all path (like I am doing with my WIP) as it is a headache to determine which responses you want to be indented and which you don't, but I respect TP (and Merk's later game, Tales of the Traveling Swordsman) for trying to make good on indentations.

Besides that, Trading Punches dives head-first into the headache of coding a dozen cups and four different liquids for filling them. Once you give one cup to an NPC, you can then refer to that cup as "NPC's cup" (and s/he won't accept a different cup from then on) or still by its color or by its contents, even. All in all, well-coded stuff.

Trading Punches bills itself as part four in a five part series. Early into the game, I thought that was a shame (that we may never see those other parts), but as I got further into it, I became more appreciative that Merk has left it for other waters. There are good ideas, but I think the next game would have to be more narratively concise- if he were to return to it- to pick up for the slack of this first game. Traveling Swordsman was a nice self-contained story, so if that's the direction he is moving in (and I do hope he writes more games), it may be all for the best.
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Roody_Yogurt



Joined: 29 Apr 2002
Posts: 1993
Location: Milwaukee

PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 1:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm trying to get in the habit of writing reviews for the IF Database ( http://ifdb.tads.org/ ) more often. Here is one I wrote for Nick Montfort's game, Book and Volume:
http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=timl7wld6zp9otsf&review=13467
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Tdarcos



Joined: 16 May 2008
Posts: 4388
Location: University Park, Maryland

PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 10:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Roody_Yogurt wrote:
Tdarcos, I forget what OS you use,

Windows XP Home, Professional; Windows 7 Home Premium

I have 3 machines running on my KVM. I ran out of electrical connections or I'd probably have all 4 running.
_________________
The lessons of history teach us - if they teach us anything - that no one learns the lessons of history.
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Roody_Yogurt



Joined: 29 Apr 2002
Posts: 1993
Location: Milwaukee

PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2012 11:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The first Doom trilogy

In 1999, Graham Nelson announced the release of several games ported to Inform. He described the original games with this:
Quote:

The central computer of Cambridge University, England, an IBM mainframe usually called "Phoenix" after its operating system, was one of those to receive "Advent" (a.k.a. "Colossal Cave") and "Zork" (a.k.a. "Dungeon") in the late 1970s. Two graduate students, Jon Thackray and David Seal, began a game called "Acheton" in 1978-9: with the aid of Jonathan Partington it expanded for another two years. Possibly the first game written outside America, by 1981 it seems likely that it was also the largest in the world (it has 403 locations). "Acheton" was written with a game assembler contemporary with Infocom's proprietory "ZIL": unlike ZIL, Seal and Thackray's game assembler was available for public use, the public in question being all users of Phoenix c. 1980-95. "Acheton" and a number of other titles migrated to commercial releases: some by Acornsoft for the BBC Micro, the local Cambridge-built microcomputer; some later by Topologika for a wide range of systems, so that these games are often called "the Topologika games". However, not all the Phoenix games had a Topologika release, nor vice versa.

So, Cambridge University had a cohesive, active hobbyist scene, fondly remembered by many, long before the rest of the world. It could be said that without Phoenix stoking Mr. Nelson’s enthusiasm for the medium, he would not have gone on to write Inform; I have no idea if that’s true, but it could be said.

Anyhow, one of these “Phoenix” games was one called Brand X, cowritten by a fellow named Peter Killworth. Killworth actually released a book on IF Theory in 1984 called “How To Write Adventure Games” (although I have yet to read it). Later on, he released a “Doom trilogy” for that previously-mentioned company, Topologika (the first game in the series, Countdown to Doom, had been previously released for the BBC Micro).

Around 1999 and 2000, unlike most IF authors from earlier eras, Killworth was very enthusiastic to partake in the (then) current IF community. He even hand-ported his own Doom games to Inform 6. Personally, I thought his commitment to the medium was incredibly admirable and was happy to have him with us. At the time, though, I only got far enough in Countdown to Doom to appreciate the few puzzles I could solve, eventually putting it down.

Years passed. At some point, I was saddened to hear that Killworth, aged 61, had passed away in 2008 from an ongoing battle with motor neurone disease.

I did eventually play the games, though. These are my thoughts.

Introducing the whole trilogy-
Years before “Doom” was associated with a hell-gate on a Martian moon, it stood for Doomawangara, a remote, dangerous planet that has been the final resting place of adventures foolish enough to seek out its treasures. Of course, in the Doom trilogy, you play just another fool in that queue, but you have advantages over those previous visitors- namely: game restarts, game saves, and unlimited UNDOs (depending on your interpreter).

The Doom trilogy is not fair by today’s standards. You will not beat the games on the first playthrough (nor the 30th, most likely), and each of the games has at least one puzzle edging on “completely insane”. Still, if you are okay with insta-deaths, mapping (including some mazes), and don’t get too ornery when you have to hit up a walkthrough (luckily, there is one for each game on the IF archive written by Richard Bos), there are enough nice, satisfying moments that I’d still recommend it to people looking for a fun, old-school distraction.

Still, it’d probably be best to give some advice on how to play these games-

1. These games continue the Phoenix tradition of not using “EXAMINE” (or any variation thereof) for looking at objects. Everything you need to know about an object is listed in its room or inventory listing.

2. Map everything, even when it costs you life to do so. The games are very much designed for trial-by-error.

3. “Rods” are supposed to be wands, I guess, and as such, they are meant to be waved.

4. There are several chemistry-related puzzles, so keep that in mind.

5. Read closely. Sometimes your one hint concerning something will be some throwaway bit of text that is printed and never mentioned again.

6. Figuring out the order of doing things is often part of the puzzle.

7. Type “HELP” early on to get an overview of any game-specific notes or commands.

Ok, let’s go into the games themselves.

Countdown to Doom-

Countdown to Doom has its share of issues working against it. Of the three, it’s the only game with an actual timer (400 moves, I think), adding an extra bit of pressure where there is enough already. The timer doesn’t end up being a huge deal, as one spends most of his or her time figuring out how to solve individual puzzles, and figuring out the most efficient order is a kind of fun last puzzle (and the timer isn’t so strict that I felt like my order-planning was even all that necessary).

There are two mazes, but all mazes in the series have a logic to them so figuring out that logic can be satisfying. Still, they will require mapping.

Speaking of mapping, CtD does the thing where exits to one location are not always the opposite direction to get back. That alone can drive me crazy, and in this case, it is exacerbated by the fact that “can’t go” messages often take up a turn (besides the aforementioned mazes, there are several areas that you only visit for a limited amount of turns, and there is annoying trial-and-error as you discover which exits are even available).

Still, the animal life (which, throughout the series, is often comprised of dinosaur-like species or other well-known tropes) and the variety of locales are interesting and imaginative enough to keep one going. There is also some usage of “action sequences” (my term, not the game’s) that are used to even better effect later in the series.

My rating-
I feel like I should only give at least three stars to games that I can recommend to any player. As such, I can only give two stars to Countdown to Doom, as I think its difficulties make it largely inaccessible to the modern IF gamer. That said, though, I’d recommend it to people looking for an engaging but challenging distraction.


Notes on this version-
I personally had to cheat at a couple points, and more so than the other games, I found variations in walkthroughs (from different versions) on the net, so if anyone would like a hint or nudge, feel free to send me an e-mail at roody.yogurt at gmail .

Maps-
For anyone who wants to cut down on the mapping (or get an idea on the amount of mapping involved), I’ve uploaded my own map, made in GUEmap 2. You can download the GUEmap version here or as a PDF here. Be warned that the map *is* spoilery, though, and it doesn’t even cover the most devious maze in the game.

Return to Doom-
Return to Doom, as one might expect, continues our adventures on Doomawangara. This time, though, it’s a rescue mission. Early on, the game is injected with death- and not just deaths of our fair protagonist- which successfully ratchets up the sense of dread. Getting to the midgame is quite an ordeal in itself.

Once there, there’s a nice Wishbringer-esque mechanic that allows the player to get past puzzles he or she otherwise can’t, but that mechanic can only be used once (and in most case, shouldn’t be used at all). Still, it’s an interesting way to inform the player of normally-inaccessible areas.

The game *must* be played with a transcript on, or at least, keep certain info available in your scrollback, as several puzzles (some horribly obscure) hinge on several facts given in one infodump (a repeatable infodump, but still). Also, there are a lot of options to explore when one gets to the midgame, and finding the areas to solve first takes a somewhat unfair amount of floundering.

On the plus side, this game has even more dinosaurs and even <spoiler>EVIL ROBOTS</spoiler>. There’s even some quite exciting action sequences, given you have the right objects to survive them. Without saying too much about it, Return to Doom adds a Floyd-like character that brings its own usefulness and personality to the table. Despite the lack of direction in the midgame, lost time spent exploring the wrong area is still decently enjoyable.

Still, Return to Doom has probably the most unforgiveable puzzles. I’ll take some time here to list the worst to save future players the trouble:

1. I seesaw what you did there. For a game series that has a fair amount of chemistry and physics (although admittedly, it doesn’t take either very seriously), I was particularly annoyed by a seesaw mechanic where you have to throw a heavy rock to the other end of the seesaw, where this rock is supposedly heavy enough to force the seesaw to propel you across a gap.

2. Oh, look, another rod! It’s not a big spoiler to say that in this game, waving the magic rod produces some oily black smoke. At least one of the locations you use it was fairly nonsensical, I thought.

3. No you tornadon’t! There is one scene where you are walking among poisonous, thorny bushes while a cyclone is approaching. Somehow, walking in the right direction protects you from getting pushed into poisonous thorns. Even with a walkthrough in hand, I couldn’t understand the logic of the scene and it was largely trial-and-error.

4. Unfair weather fiend. There is a machine with several unmarked buttons. Pushing each button will cause a weather phenomenon X turns later. Of course, this is only visible in outside locations, of which the weather-machine is not among. Worse yet, each button can only be used once.

5. Pterribly unclued. At another part, you are being attacked by a pterodactyl-esque dinosaur. The correct way to survive this encounter is to >THROW a glass disc, which is basically a CD-ROM in the game world. Completely unintuitive.

6. The Daffodil maze - At one point, you are traversing a maze of giant plants. Stay in any room for longer than a turn and you die, and there’s basically no logic as to which direction you can successfully go in. Luckily, it’s not a very large grid, but it’s still a pretty dumb part that can only be solved by trial-and-error.

7. Passwords - There are a couple passwords in the game. How one is used is adequately clued, but the other just seems to be “use on a random forcefield 20 rooms away.” If there was a clue, I missed it.

This list ended up being longer than I initially thought it would be. That said, I’d still say that, for the most part, they didn’t detract from my enjoyment too much.

Notes about the port-
Not being familiar with the original, there *were* some messages that seemed a bit like porting mistakes, including one important bit of text that was missing completely (judging by what happens afterwards, it’s easy to guess what the missing text was about). If one cared, they could play the original (which is also available for free on the IF Archive) in DOSbox. That said, I doubt it’d be worth it to be deprived of various z-code interpreters’ unlimited UNDO capabilities.

My rating-
As I did with Countdown to Doom, I can’t give this game more than two stars as I think it’ll only appeal to a certain type of player. Still, despite its weaknesses, I’d say the high points are even better than the previous game.

Mapping-
This time around, I used Trizbort to map the game. Trizbort allows for writing objects on the map and generally makes prettier maps. You can download the Trizbort file itself here or a PDF of it here. Warning: the map will contain spoilers.

Last Days of Doom-
Here we are at the final chapter of the Doomawangara trilogy. The help text describes the game as the darkest chapter yet. Maybe fittingly, the story moves the focus away from the wilds and towards Doomawangara’s civilization. Like the previous game, the intro has a fair amount of frustration but nothing that a bit of exploration and perseverance won’t solve, and exploration is a bit more lax in the midgame. Overall, this game is, by far, the fairest of the three.

It is always interesting to see narrative and characterization explored in old games, and in this case, it is done to good effect. Not only that, but there’s a nice range of puzzles and adventurous, action-packed scenes. There is not a shortage of imagination. All in all, it’s a good payoff for sticking with a difficult series.

I imagine Killworth already saw his game as making steps towards interactive-fiction-as-literature. Even the original 1990 version doesn’t keep a game score for the first time in the series. Honestly, I found myself missing scoring points when solving puzzles, but one has to respect the ambition just the same.

Gripes-
There were only a couple things that really stuck in my craw this time, like the glass enclosure that you have to >BREAK (but can’t >HIT) or some mysterious objects whose utility are only discovered by dropping.

Mapping-
Now, I mapped Countdown to Doom in GUEmap and Return to Doom in Trizbort. This time around, I made a map of LDoD in each, so people can get a idea of how the two programs compare. Personally, I think maps are quicker to throw together in GUEmap, and if you are looking to print out your maps, GUEmap will print your map out on fewer sheets of paper (it is possible to compress the PDF that Trizbort makes to use fewer sheets- at decreasing quality, of course). Trizbort, on the other hand, is somewhat more useful in its ability to list objects, and being able to have different sized shapes for rooms helps lend itself towards art-ier maps. I can’t say that I am ready to commit to one or the other. Anyhow, we have the Trizbort version (Trizbort file, Trizbort PDF )and the GUEmap version (GUEmap file, GUEmap PDF). As always, the maps contain spoilers.

Final verdict-
This last entry of the series nudges its way up to three-star territory. It still has a lot of the trial-by-error design that would prevent me from recommending it to someone with little patience, but given it largely lacks the screamingly-unfair aspects of its predecessors, I feel content to bump it up to three stars. Of course, ideally, one would have played through the earlier games to fully appreciate the overall development of the story, but I wouldn’t say it’s even particularly necessary.

Final verdict for the series itself-
As someone who enjoys both Phoenix-game-style puzzles and storytelling in IF, I am happy to have finally played through this series and seen the fine mix that it is. There were frustrations, sure, but the distraction was enjoyable enough to merit the time spent on it. Personally, I’d recommend the games to anyone who enjoys sci-fi and exploration in their IF, as long as they are ok with dying a lot. For the times that they were written, they show great foresight and are highly ambitious. I can’t imagine many people today would stick all the way through them, but I feel that those that do will be glad they did. Good job, Mr. Killworth.
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