Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gnome-Inform 7 on Ubuntu 9.04

I don't know whether it is a bug in Ubuntu or not, but the current version of Gnome Inform 7 will not run on Ubuntu 9.04 (jaunty jackalope). There'll probably be a new version soon, but in the meantime, just type this in a command shell:
cd /usr/lib
sudo ln -s libossp-uuid.so.16 libossp-uuid.so.15
That will make a symbolic link to the new libossp-uuid library, which Gnome Inform can then call. Seems to work fine.

Friday, April 17, 2009

[Spring Thing] Vague

This is a review of the Spring Thing 2009 game Vague. So before going any further, here is some spoiler space for RSS feeds. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. It's time to kick ass and chew bubble gum. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. And I'm all out of gum. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space.

This time, the game is Vague by Richard Otter. Which is a weird game, since it apparently consists of rooms taken from all Otter's other games. You have to find items with the name of a Richard Otter game on them, then give those items to people in the corresponding location. In the meantime, you must solve some other puzzles of the "give the cloak to the shivering beggar" variety.

I only played one Richard Otter game before (Unauthorised Termination), but you don't need to be familiar with his work in order to play Vague: all locations contain clear hints about what game they are from. This is good, I suppose: forcing people to play all your fifteen games in order to vote in the Spring Thing would have been... presumptuous.

However. Walking through a game world that consists of totally different rooms which mean nothing to you, conversing with characters who say little more than "Identify this game!", and hunting down pieces of paper with titles written on them is not fun. There is no story. The puzzles aren't clever. The pieces of the diverse games are not united into a coherent and surprising whole. (At least not as far as I can see, though true Otter devotees may find meanings I miss.)

Vague plays a lot like a failed commercial for the author's other games. It is not itself an interesting game experience.

On top of that, the implementation is far from perfect. Please never write something like this:
> wear coat

"For some reason you are unable to do that. It isn't that the coat does not fit, you do not want to wear it."
I don't understand how this parser error is even possible:
> get dart
You pull the dart from the board.

> throw dart at colin
You are not carrying the knife.
And beta-testing should reveal stuff like this:
> open wallet
You can't open the wallet!
People might be better off playing another Richard Otter game. I seem to remember that Unauthorised Termination was a lot better than Vague.

[Spring Thing] The Milk of Paradise

This is a review of the Spring Thing 2009 game The Milk of Paradise. So before going any further, here is some spoiler space for RSS feeds. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. About Forged Alliance--I guess this is the first time I'm seriously playing a game online. Some spoiler space. It's a lot of fun, but you need a game where you can learn from your mistakes and get better. Like FA, with is incredible learning curve. Incredibly steep. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space.

That should be enough.

The Milk of Paradise is too small and short, unituitive, and underimplemented. This is a shame, because the game is actualy trying to do something interesting: there is a narrator who is a character in the story and has a complicated relationship with the player character, and the game is about revealing this relationship and using it to make a point about... about what exactly? Adventure? Identity? Dreams? I don't know, because the game was over so quickly and told me so little that it didn't in the end really say anything.

In a sense, The Milk of Paradise is the opposite of Realm of Obsidian. The latter is large and carefully implemented (just think of the work that went into the sounds), but suffers from extreme retro gameplay. The former, on the other hand, is puzzleless and focused on story, but it small and sloppily implemented. I have more sympathy for Realm of Obsidian, because if you do something, do it well--even if it's something that other people might not think worth doing.

On the other hand, I'd rather see Josh Graboff make a new version of The Milk of Paradise than see Amy Kerns make a new version of Realm of Obsidian (because she'd do better starting with something fresh and more player friendly). A new version of this game ought to be:
  • Extremely polished. The shorter your game is, the more polished it must be. Implement lots of nouns. Lots of synonyms. Lots of conversation topics. In order to make this happen, have a lot of beta testers play your game, and then implement (almost) everything they tried to do.
  • More explorable. Make sure that the player can do more stuff. Also, try to reveal the situation slowly through the players actions, rather than simply telling him what is the case in big chunks of conversation that do not really seem to follow from my actions.
  • More tightly focused. What is the game about? The political consequences of hero worship? The impossibility of being yourself when you play a major role on the historical stage? Especially in a game of this size, everything should have the single purpose of reinforcing the theme. (Or undercutting it, displacing it, taking a well-known theme and putting it slightly askew so as to reveal another... but then this other is the theme which everything must reinforce.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

[Spring Thing] Realm of Obsidian

This is a review of the Spring Thing 2009 game Realm of Obsidian. So before going any further, here is some spoiler space for RSS feeds. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. I have been playing way too much Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance lately. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space.

Right, here we go.

First thing we notice is that this is a Windows executable, which is not good. Luckily, it ran almost perfectly in Wine, but unluckily, there was a bug (in Wine, obviously) which turned all text black. That may seem like a minor problem, until you realise that the background colour was also black. However, with some help of the author, I managed to turn the background white and I could play the game.

Realm of Obsidian is a weird mix of the outdated and the newfangled. It is apparently made using a new IF authoring system that is not finished, but already works pretty well. (Although, for instance, "blue" was not recognised as referring to the "blue token", which could either be a fault of the game author or of the development system.) It also comes with sound and music, which is interesting, although I quickly turned off the music because it was not to my liking. I also turned off the sound, because the game was not willing to share my sound card with other programs, and I did want the play some of my own music--but this unwillingness to share the sound card might well have been a result of me running it in Wine.

On the outdated side, however, we have:
  • Little characterisation and almost non-existent story.
  • Lots of puzzles of the "find object X and then use object X against monster Y" variety.
  • Spells which you can only cast after collecting an entire list of seemingly random items.
  • Monsters which kill you if you don't solve the corresponding puzzle quickly enough.
  • Very sparse descriptions.
  • Unwinnable situations.
  • Lots of empty rooms (that really should have been removed from the game).
So that doesn't sound very good, and in fact, it is true that Realm of Obsidian is not a very good game. It's not just that puzzle-based, deadly dungeon crawls are out of fashion; it is also that if you do make a puzzle-based, deadly dungeon crawl, we now expect you to minimise what is boring (for instance, walking through lots of empty rooms), to ensure that we never get in an unwinnable situation (at least not without some warning), to write good prose, to create a believable environment, to have puzzles that are a bit more complicated and fun to solve.

Also, is releasing non-finished games a new trend?

Still, I did enjoy playing Realm of Obsidian. Despite its failings, it just bubbles with enthusiasm. I like being able to carry around a tape recorder playing really bad death metal. (It inspired me to listen to Death's The Sound of Perseverance almost my entire play-through, though that is of course a great album.) And while I don't like being killed ten times by the first monster I meet (and having to go through the complicated reloading process), I do appreciate that this monster is a skeleton carrying a buzz saw and riding a wheelchair.

There is a real difference between being killed by a skeleton with a rust sword and a wooden shield, and being killed by a skeleton with a buzz saw in a wheelchair. The first tells you that the author is lazy and unimaginative; the second that she was actually having fun thinking this up and writing it. That makes me have more fun as well.

All in all, a first effort with many weaknesses, but with an amount of enthusiasm and care that gives me high hopes for future games by this author.

Monday, April 06, 2009

[IF] Blue Lacuna

I finally finished Blue Lacuna.

Which is, I think, the best piece of interactive fiction I have ever played. Some of the reviews I saw (like the--bizarre, from my current point of view--review in SPAG) made me think that it might disappoint in the end, but it didn't.

Now I'll have to go back in and try to understand how it works; and those who expect me to write something more about it than the blog post will not be disappointed. (Deo volente, of course.)

One question I want to ask right now, though, is this: both SPAG en Emily Short talk about a maze. What did I miss? I didn't encounter a maze in the entire game, and I apparently visited 131 out of 129 locations. (Maybe it only exists in puzzle mode?)