L.U.D.I.T.E by Rybread Celsius, 1999 (Rating: *)
Pass the Banana, by Admiral Jota, 1999 (Rating: 0)

But first, ten pages of disclaimers...

As much as I bitch and moan and self-deprecate and ridicule, I really do love IF.  I mean, one day I built a game which consisted of nothing but one room, a Nerfoop(R), and a Nerf Ball(R), and spent way too much time just standing in that one nondescript room, shooting a nerf ball into a hoop, enjoying the simple purity of the moment.  IF, I think, is the only art form left in which a word really is worth a thousand pictures, because it's not some author's version of a character, no matter how complex, waltzing through the scenery he's devised...  It's you.  And you can read, "Bob stood in an empty room,"  four hundred times, and it will never mean dick, but the first time you're told, "You're standing in an empty room," the memory dam breaks open, and sights, sounds, smells of that empty room cloud, coexist, and almost nearly replace your immediate perceptions.  You are there, man, whether you like it or not, until you type "QUIT".

It's because of all this that I truly believe that every scrap of new IF is a drop of nectar to be savored in whatever way possible.  Get the most out of everything that gets made, because there really ain't a lot getting made, and it's only those with the dedication and vision to keep making it that keeps us all in business here at Trotting Krips.  I mean, would you come here if all you got to read was a bunch of wise-asses talking about Robotron 2084?  Well, so would I, but that's not my point.

Just keep all this in mind, that in my heart of hearts, whether I liked the games or not, I really appreciate them, when it comes down to it.  Show me a new .z5 file on GMD, and before I've even played it, or even looked at the rest of the filename, I'll tell you, that's a damn good thing.  And if I met, in person, the authors of either of the games I'm about to review, I'd shake their hands, look them right in the eyes, and say, "Thanks, man."

But these reviews are not about my philosophical feelings towards the work. If I come on here and tell you about a game, I have a sworn duty (if sworn only to myself, and not even that, but bear with me) to critique IF as I would any other art form. I'm not going to go on Mr. Cranky and tell everyone I thought "Halloween 12" was a great movie just because "movies are my passion, and every little bit helps!" It's not personal, it's business, Mikey.

That's not all either, though.  In fact, I'm going to be harder on IF than I might be on anything else, because goddammit, I still really, really want something to come of all this.  It's painfully obvious that it never will, but I'm so infatuated, I'm going to press on through the post-apocalyptic desert like Vegas is still straight up ahead.  As Hicks told that ragtag bunch of futuristic wise-cracking Marines in Aliens, "C'mon people, let's move like we've got a purpose."  So don't come to me and say, here, here's some shit I threw together because what the hell does it matter anyway, we're doomed anyhow," because I'm gonna shove that shit right back up your nose.

But it's not personal, it's business.  I still love ya.

And with that, let's get to the reviews, and I swear, I swear to you people, I will never do this again.
The road to Hell is paved with these games.

I know that as the author's were packaging these puppies up for the Competition, they were not doing so with any sort of malicious intent, and both probably held (and hold) the same sort of affection for the hobby that I've expressed to you today.  Admiral Jota, in fact, I've spoken to many times on the ifMud, and has helped me out of programming jams (for games that will never see the light of day) countless times, so I know he's down.  And Rybread, whoever or whatever he may be, obviously doesn't do it for the accolades.  So I know they're we're all together in this, when it comes right down to it, and that is the only thing which hangs heavy in my mind as I prepare to absolutely rip these games, most deservedly so, into shreds, right in front of you.

L.U.D.I.T.E. and Pass the Banana are monumental, towering failures.  The irony (or if not irony, at least curiosity) is that they are monumental, towering failures for almost completely different reasons.  That seems only to add to the frustration.

L.U.D.I.T.E. (heretofore referred to as "Ludite", because the other thing is way too hard to type) is the latest offering from shadowy IF icon Rybread Celsius, creator of several previous offerings immortal if only for their almost otherworldly combination of fit-inducing misuse of the English language, ridiculously ill-conceived puzzles and production values which would embarrass Ed Wood.  The argument as to whether he is a talentless maniac or a true genius rages on.  Personally, I could make a case for the "genius" argument, if only because his games are so unintentionally funny, that one begins to wonder if they are intentionally unintentionally funny, which would be a comedic coup so grand and brilliant in scope that I would bow to him for all eternity, and, if he asked nicely, bear his children.

But none of this matters when we're talking about the IF Competition, because if nothing else, the purpose of the Competition (of which I'm not that big a fan to begin with, for other reasons which I've probably make clear over the months) should be to further the art.  Did you hear me out there?  Further the goddamn art!

Ludite does not further the goddamn art.  It essentially (or in fact, completely) consists of an unintelligible introduction, and four rooms with surreal descriptions, which range from briefly evocative to unmistakably "Rybready".  There's that unintentional humor again, but this time the game is so short that there's not even time to get the beer and popcorn and start falling out of your chair.  Within five minutes, you'll arrive at the Door, the only portal to the rest of the game that lies beyond these four oddly-capitalized rooms.  I swear, I really tried to get past the door.  I took a whole lunch hour at work to get past that door.  I couldn't get past the door. I could "ENTER" the door, resulting in lots of entertaining Inform errors and whatnot, but I doubt that was the author's intention.  Eventually I resorted to reading other people's reviews of this game, and they all basically said, "That's it, homes, nothin' more to the door."

You've gotta be kidding me.

This competition has been going five years, and we're still getting entries which are four unevenly written rooms and a door you can't get past?  If you want to upload this shit to GMD in your spare time, I got no problem with that. I did it myself a few times, if I remember correctly.  But this is the Competition.  This is where you show what you've got!  Lay it all on the line!  Four rooms and a door?!  You've gotta be fuc-

So, this wasn't my favorite game.

Three days ago, when I played Ludite, I decided that it was not only not my favorite game, but my least favorite game of the Competition, edging out for the bottom spot even the trivial, meaningless Pass the Banana (heretofore referred to as PTB, because the other thing takes too long to type), which offended me from the beginning if only for its apparent lack of purpose, other than being a goofy, well-implemented little Inform exercise.

But then I learned the gruesome truth.  This game was not without purpose. Behind its whimsical, simple facade of a simple toy where the player and three wacky NPC's spend time passing bananas to each other, it is actually a compendium of inside-jokes known only to those who frequent the ifMud, on which I stopped hanging out long ago, because it seemed that the entire raison d'etre of the place was to generate and exchange inside-jokes.

You know what?  Last year, one of the best games of the year (so voted) was written under a nom de plume, because the guy didn't want to know that he was the same guy that had written a well-received game from the year before. Likewise, turns out that Hunter, in Darkness, one of the finest from this year, was written under an alias by arguably the best in the business today, ostensibly for similar reasons.  The same ten or so people populate the newsgroups day in and day out.  Five guys sit on the ifMud all day and night. The Trotting Krips message board seemingly exists so that Bryan, Robb and I can trade barbs, pithy quotes and whimsical one-liners...

What this hobby does not need to be is any more incestuous than it already is.

So write all the in-joke games that you want, and have your little fun, but if you even think about putting this stuff into the IF Competition -- purportedly the annual focal point of all the creativity and artistic expression that we can muster for our beloved art -- then do what I've already suggested, and shut that fuckin' thing down immediately if not sooner, before it becomes a cancer in our community, and a death knell for the very thing it's trying to save.

No, it's really not that bad.  None of this bothers me nearly as much as a stubbed toe, or a smudged wine glass.  I think a little lack of perspective is important now and then.  I'd still rather play Pass the Banana than watch Love Connection reruns.

But don't do it again.

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