Calliope by Jason McIntosh(1999)

The Little Evil, Ugly Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: Remember, only lusers use Macintosh. I just wanted to mention that.

The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: I like the game, but I think all interactive fiction writers should be forbidden from making classical allusions in their work from this point forward. It's overdone, and the gratuitous use of these allusions only showcases the writer's insecurity about his/her true ability to write a worthwhile, original adventure game. Clearly, such writers who sprinkle their works with such ridiculous mythological references are by this only seeking to be recognized as an intelligent and knowledgeable person by others inside this community, hoping that this new found respect will somehow compensate for the love that their mothers never gave them. That's it exactly.

My Verdict:It's too darned hard.

The Review...

If all text adventures were short'n'easy, it would be a pretty dull world. A dull hobby, at least. Part of the joy of text adventuring is spending a little time with a game that really catches your fancy - somehow, the experience just isn't the same when you complete a game in fifteen minutes. However, we must be grateful that so many games in the comp are short'n'easy because when we see the easy alternative to that sort of game, we realize that this alternative is ten times worse than the norm. Jason McIntosh's game Calliope is short and hard...a truly deadly combination. I am not in favor of placing difficult obstacles in a player's way right at the start of the game; rather, I feel that the player should be allowed to become wrapped into the game he's playing before the difficulty level is raised up a notch. Let him get into it! Give him a reason to want to play the game to the end! With this game, though, it's all quite difficult and frustrating from the start. You play an adventure game writer who is attempting to finish his game in time for the world famous Interactive Fiction Competition. The hour is late, and you are extremely tired - can you somehow manage to stay awake and fix the numerous bugs which now riddle thy creation? Can you find the energy and the inspiration to make this game a success? The plot, naturally, was inspired by Jason's own travails experienced while struggling to write a game in time for the competition this year. By the way Jason explains it, it's a wonder that so many people write games for the competition - my God, is it truly worth all these late nights, these headaches...all this blood, sweat, and tears? For Art, naturally, it's all worth it, but one has to wonder why one doesn't just write an adventure game on one's own time and screw the competition, thus serving one's art better and avoiding all this pain and misery? One blows the chance at greater recognition, perhaps, but is that what this is all about?

The game is very well written. Not only does Jason use big words, and use them well, in fact, but he's also very thorough. Most everything mentioned in the room text has a nice, hefty description to go along with it, even the things that don't matter too much. Thus, as you might expect, the parser is generally responsive too. The real problem with the game is that there are very few hints for the player contained in these massive descriptions. It's tough to know where to go after trying a few basic things. The game doesn't encourage the player along the right path at all - he's simply got to stumble across it himself. Now, there's really just one "puzzle", but it's terribly, terribly hard. Oh, how hard. The player doesn't even know that it's a puzzle - he just finds himself in a situation where there doesn't seem to be any way out. He doesn't know if there is more to this game or not. It's extremely frustrating - how is it that so many game authors are so completely out of touch with game players? All that good writing is wasted because the playability is so low, sad to say - goes to show that interactive fiction and fiction are indeed very different things, and that when you are writing the former it is necessary to adapt your writing to fit it. If you want somebody to finish your game, you've got to help him along with it...not leave him stranded in the wildnerness, defenseless and confused!

On the other hand, I've got to hand it to Mr. McIntosh: he can write, and he can come with a pretty interesting plot as well. His use of hallucinations to advance the story is novel and intriguing - Calliope, one of the Muses, does make a little appearance herself in addition to giving the game its name. So if you want to read a well written work of interactive fiction("read" as opposed to "play"), then you should be pleased with this. You can use the walkthrough to pass the one puzzle, after all. I hope, however, that the lack of playability in this game is only a result of McIntosh's inexperience - hopefully, in future efforts he will try to improve this, and when and if he does this, I do believe he could cause a grand stir. Let's hope that he includes some more hints and writes more than two rooms next time.

Simple Rating: 7/10

Complicated Rating: 25/50

Writing: 8/10

Story: 8/10

Playability: 4/10

Puzzle Quality: 1/10

Parser Responsiveness: 6/10

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