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Interactive Fiction Competition 2000
Reviews by Greg D'Avis

These aren't all the games I played, but just a few that brought out a particularly strong reaction or made me think. A Crimson Spring isn't covered here, since I beta tested it, although I will express shock and dismay that no reviewer yet has commented on Robb's phrase, "semen-sipping jackhole." If I would've bet on any part of that game to produce angst in r*if, that would've been it (other than the AIDS Archer, of course).

Anyway (in, roughly, descending order of enjoyment):

My Angel -- I'm still shocked that this piece didn't win; after I played it, then played it again, I more or less figured it was a lock. Creative, well-written and beautiful. I didn't particularly like Mulldoon, which I found sorta sloppy, so to see the same author produce something like this was inspiring. The only quibble is that My Angel works far better in novel mode; which, unfortunately, is a bitch to read. But along with ACS, this was my favorite of the comp.

Prodly the Puffin -- I've never read "Pokey", so the references are lost on me, but who cares? I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. I'm hard-pressed to think of a funnier game.

And the Waves Choke the Wind -- This has been compared to a movie preview, which is apt. I often like the previews more than the actual movies, so that didn't really bother me. Yes, I'd like to see more, but what's here is atmospheric and unsettling, and by God, the hobby needs more good horror games.

Being Andrew Plotkin -- I haven't seen "Being John Malkovich", I don't hang out on ifMUD, and I haven't even played all of Plotkin's games. So this is another one where the in-jokes are zipping right by. But it's also another one that kept me interested through most of the game.

The End Means Escape -- The first game I played, and I'll have to go back to it with more time and a clearer head. I was absolutely taken with the first scene, and I think that perhaps carried over a bit too much; at this point I don't remember much of the remainder of the game (one of the ones I did finish). But, hell, that's one great first scene.

Punk Points -- This is my idea of a good teenage angst game. Yeah, there's some sloppy programming and impossible-to-even-know-what-you're-doing puzzles, but the whole attitude of "Yeah! I'm punk! Don't fuck with me! You don't think I look stupid, do you?" reminds me of, well, me at age 14.

Rameses -- Initially, I thought of this as this year's A Moment of Hope. Then I decided that was simplifying it too much. But, the two games have a lot in common, and while I wouldn't really say I enjoyed either, both provoked similar reactions.

Rameses gets points for ultimately acknowledging that the PC's hatred is, above all, self-directed. But it still could've been much more penetrating, if the writer ever acknowledged that the other characters throughout the piece are human. As it is, except for Claire and possibly Paddy, they're just broad caricatures. If the PC really sees everyone as so wholly bad, then he's about one step away from being the PC in 1-2-3. Everyone's fucked up when they're a teenager. It's easy to get the audience's sympathy when you're writing about the lonely, shy kid; a greater achievement would be to write from the perspective of the football star who deals with his insecurities by banging every cheerleader he can, and make us feel for him.

Also, I'm pretty much over the whole "ignoring the player's input" thing. The first five times, yeah, it's an effective way of showing us that Rameses would like to say/do these things, but can't. After that, it's just irritating.

I've been more negative here than my reaction really justifies. This game probably made me think more than any other, no small achievement. It certainly was well-written, and I'd like to see more from the author.

Kaged -- I always feel guilty because Ian Finley puts more effort into each of his pieces than I put into large portions of my life .... and I still don't like them. "Kaged" is another game set in a future dystopia, which I'm always a sucker for -- put the next "lonely teenager" piece in a dystopia, and it'll get high marks from me!

Kaged is decently-plotted, fairly well-programmed, ambitous, and attractive, but the writing just ... thud. Right at the beginning, we're told that the woman the PC shared an office with recently killed herself. It's obvious we're supposed to feel a twinge of horror here, but I didn't feel anything more than I would have if I were told the woman was off on a camping trip. That lack of real emotion runs through the game.

Jarod's Journey -- Is there any other game that was more doomed to lose? I don't have the inherent bias others do against JJ; I believe in God, though I'm likely not near as close as the author of JJ would like, and if IF is a medium for people to express their loneliness, their interest in S&M, or whatnot, then I have no problem with someone expressing their Christianity.

That said, this didn't inspire me at all. Many months ago, I came down kind of hard on LASH for being too heavy-handed in its message. LASH, I apologize profusely, because compared to JJ, you were one hell of a subtle game. Regarding "message" games: work it in to a decent story. Because if the "story" takes a back seat to the "message", it's not going to work. Presented as it is, JJ wouldn't have pulled me in any more no matter what its message was. It could've been:
"Jarod's Journey will hopefully make you realize just how great beer is!" or
"Jarod's Journey will hopefully teach you to enjoy hockey!"
Two subjects where, believe me, I'm thoroughly converted. And I still wouldn't have liked it.

The Trip -- This game reminded me of about 700 people I knew during my last stint in Boulder. The only way it could've been more true to life would've been if it asked me for change so it could go see Widespread Panic. As such, I was pretty firmly biased against it from the start.

Asendent -- There are some things I instinctively know not to do. I know not to eat petroleum jelly. I know not to lay my face atop an oven burner. I know not to shampoo with crushed glass. I know not to lay any money down on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, no matter how sure a thing it may seem. And above all, I know that if I ever actually write a game, it shouldn't be a Rybread Celsius parody.

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