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Showing posts from 2010

[IF Comp] Under, in Erebus

I had a hard time getting into this game, for two reasons. First, it was set in an apparently illogical after- or underworld, and recent experiences made me unenthusiastic about such a setting. But really, are underworlds the new dungeons and mansion, places where you can just put whatever you think of without having to respect any narrative logic? Second, the game gave very little direction, which wasn;t exactly encouraging. I started up and then quickly quitted Under, in Erebus three or four times.

But, when I finally persevered, I found a game that wasn't bad. I'm not sure I would have figured out how to use those booths without using some help, but once I understood how they worked, the game started to be fun. Or rather, the game started to be fun once I had understood how the booths worked and I had found out that my ideas about how to pronounce "ewe" were completely wrong. English pronunciation is evil.

So, I quickly made a couple of useful objects, and solved …

[IF Comp] A Quiet Evening at Home

If you want to impress me, make sure my first exchange with the game is not:
> enter house
That’s not something you can enter.

you’ve got to use the restroom!My second exchange was me discovering that "about" was not implemented. One then soon finds out that the author didn't bother to describe the directions of exits, and that we are not given any clear goal either.

Right. I'm not going to play this game. That also means I'm not going to rate it. I believe judges should aim to give as objective an assessment of a game's overall quality as possible in their rating, and you simply cannot do that if you don't play the game quite a bit longer than I have played this game.

[IF Comp] Death off the Cuff

Poirot. He may be called differently, but this is in fact Poirot; and I seem to recall that something close to this game's situation was used at one time in a Poirot book or movie... I might be mistaken, though. Perhaps this situation, where you are the detective who doesn't really know anything but just bluffs his way through the case and gets everyone to confess, is just so natural given the genre that one has the feeling that is must always already have been part of it.

Which brings me to my first pronouncement: Death off the Cuff gets very high points for situation. Very well done. Just the kind of situation you would want a good detective game to explore.

But is it a good detective game? Here I am less impressed. One proceeds by examining everything and talking about absolutely everything. Fair enough. But then some descriptions may change, and you need to examine everything again. And again. And again. And once more. And another time. This is boring. It is also really we…

[IF Comp] Oxygen

Oxygen is a compact puzzle game set in a space station that is, even galactically speaking, in the middle of nowhere. The intro talks about the Galactic Empire, which made me think first of Asimov and then of Star Wars -- so it was a relief to find that this was not a piece of fanfic featuring Hari Seldon or Jabba the Hutt. (That Spaceballs joke about Pizza the Hutt was just too easy, wasn't it?)

Rather, Oxygen puts you into a situation where, as the on-duty technician of the space station, you must regulate the airflow from the leaking central oxygen tank to two smaller oxygen tanks. Doing this isn't terribly difficult, because the console has only four possible states, and you are provided with a useful chart detailing the effects of these states. But things are spiced up by the fact that the two oxygen tanks are attached to different parts of the space station, one of which is taken over by striking miners; and those miners also control part of the air flow regulation syste…

[IF Comp] Rogue of the Multiverse

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Having played eight games, approximately 30 percent of all entries, I am positive about this competition. Five of them were different shades of good, one has the distinct possibility of becoming good in a future release, and the other two, while not good, were far from disastrous. The game I'm going to review now is one of the five good ones.

Rogue of the Multiverse -- it sounds like a randomised fighting game. And in a sense, it is, but the ties with Rogue are very thin indeed. Since the player character doesn't seem to be much of a rogue either (more an unwilling thief), one wonders where the title comes from. Anyway, let's go on to more important things.

This game is fun. From the zany interview to the running banana joke, from the motorbike action sequence to the weird array of useless junk you can buy to liven up your prison cell, everything has been put together to entertain the player. The game is very polished (although I would "enter" and "get in&quo…

[IF Comp] Divis Mortis

There are three joys in playing the IF Comp. Joy one: playing a game. Joy two: reading a new review of a game you have already played. Joy three: reading all the reviews already published of the game you have just finished playing. Of course, that first joy depends on the quality of the games, and the other two upon either the wit or the wisdom of the reviewers -- but I'm not complaining.

I'm not going to complain (much) about Divis Mortis either. What was the probability of me playing two zombie games in a row? And yet, they could hardly be more different. Where that other game (name omitted because I wouldn't want to spoil it) steered clear of the dominant zombie genre, Divis Mortis embraces its genre roots. There is some narrative here, including a Plot Twist and a Ridiculously Tacked On Romance, but in the end the game is mostly what you get when you turn Left4Dead into an adventure game. A lonely hospital filled with zombies that must be shot down, with food, drink an…

[IF Comp] The 12:54 to Asgard

"The 12:54 to Asgard" -- that could have been a Viking-themed version of Harry Potter, but luckily, it is not. The player character is a grumpy studio technician who is called in the middle of the night to fix a leaking roof before all the expensive equipment short-circuits. Sounds like a bad job? It is a bad job.

The first thing I noticed when I started playing this game was the incredible amount of objects scattered around the studio. I felt my enthusiasm for the game diminish very rapidly. Solving puzzles is OK, but I want to be introduced to the game gently. Do not give me twenty objects and four puzzles in the first five minutes, because this discourages me.

Anyway, as I went on playing it slowly dawned on me that I had misunderstood the game. Most of these objects were just there for me to be grumpy about, and all I had to do with them was put them away. I found a roof tile, some nails, a hammer -- this was going to be easy. And the title of the game combined with the …

[IF Comp] Gris et Jaune

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After looking at the title of the game and the "handbill" that it comes with, I had a pretty good idea of what Gris et Jaune was going to be about: a fair, probably in London, lots of variety artists with weird names, perhaps a Blavatsky-like medium, and of course the approaching horrors of the Second World War.

But when I started playing the game, these expectations were quickly changed. Was I a pig, being fattened for the slaughter? No, wait, this was an interactive fiction adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau! But -- perhaps, after all, it was a zombie slasher?

As you can see, it took me quite a while to understand that this was a game set in New Orleans and concerned with Voodoo. If you know a little about Voodoo, I'm sure the names of the handbill would have tipped you off immediately, but I didn't, so they did not me. (I wonder whether that sentence is grammatically incorrect or only pragmatically awkward.) From that point on, I spent a lot of time reading Wi…

[IF Comp] East Grove Hills

A socially awkward male teenager in the company of a somewhat less socially awkward girl he probably secretly likes? Right, let's choose MC Frontalot's Goth Girls as background music... and let's then become aware of the obvious truth that you cannot listen to rap music and play interactive fiction at the same time. "I avail myself of the local cafe, light a clove up, / thumb through Camus (in French, which I can’t read, but so what)." Okay, song over, I put on some instrumental music (Vivaldi), and finish this spoiler space paragraph. How informative!

Ahem. East Grove Hills is a game about a socially awkward male teenager who experience a school shooting -- which reminds me of another rap song, even though I am not into rap all that much... "When a dude's gettin bullied and shoots up his school / And they blame it on Marilyn". (You know that rapper. He's a tiny bit more famous than Frontalot.)

Uh, anyway. A socially awkward male teenager who ex…

[IF Comp] Sons of the Cherry

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Sons of the Cherry is a multiple-choice game. (Let's all agree that that is a better name than "Choose Your Own Adventure", shall we? It's more descriptive, and less tied to a specific series of game books from already half-forgotten history.) It is set during the U.S. war of independence, and casts the player as a young occultist who quickly gets into trouble with the Christian authorities for being a witch. Perhaps I am mistaken, but this seems to me to conflate two parts of history that are separated by almost a century: the witch hunts in the second half of the seventeenth century, and the war of independence in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Whatever the historical accuracy of the narrative, Alex Livingston quickly moves us forward from scene to scene, with every few paragraphs being followed by a multiple-choice question that allows you to choose what you want to do next. Points for good narrative flow.

Unfortunately, this interactivity is a fa├žade …

[IF Comp] The 12:54 to Asgard - help needed

Okay, this is not a review, it is a call for help. It does contain some spoilers, so only read it if you have played this game.

Which means that I do have to put some spoiler space here, I guess. Which means that I do have to put some spoiler space here, I guess. Which means that I do have to put some spoiler space here, I guess. Which means that I do have to put some spoiler space here, I guess.

I haven't timed it very exactly, but I suspect that I am already nearing the two-hour time limit for this game. I played through the first part at my leisure. I understood it. I enjoyed it, especially once I figured out that I could just fool around, try some things, and then have it all escalate.

But after that -- WTF? I have absolutely no idea what I am supposed to be doing. I get into a couple of weird worlds where I cannot really do anything. I escaped from the world with the grain, but I seem to have lost Polly on the way. The quizmaster gave me a list of objects to look for, but I d…

[IF Comp] Flight of the Hummingbird

Flight of the Hummingbird is a super heroes game. Now you should know that I hate superheroes. Not that I've ever read any super hero comics (these seem to be a predominantly American phenomenon), but I have seen some super hero movies. I tried two of those recent Spiderman movies, but stopped both long before the end. A couple of years ago, friends made me watch all of X-men 2, which gets a respectable 7.8 at the IMDB. I found it incomprehensible and utterly boring.*

Does that mean I hate Flight of the Hummingbird? No. Sure, it has a really bad story, as predictable as possible with characters made out of the thinnest cardboard the author could buy. But while this would be fatal to a movie (although as far as I could tell X-men 2 didn't even have a plot), it isn't much of a problem when you are playing a short and polished puzzle game. That is what this game is, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else. The story and the characters are so obviously only there to pro…

[IF Comp] The Blind House

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It's that time of the year again: the interactive fiction competition has arrived. Two announcements. First, all my reviews contain as many spoilers as I want to use. Second, no first paragraph contains any spoilers -- it can therefore serve as "spoiler space" for the blog aggregates and so on.

The Blind House by Maude Overton is named after a song by Porcupine Tree, the author tells us. Since I had just gotten some Porcupine Tree albums to check out from a friend, I put The Incident (which contains the song in question) on repeat while I played this game. Not exactly the soundtrack I would have chosen for it, I think -- it's all relatively sane -- but good music nevertheless. It sounds a bit like Dream Theater meets Opeth, if somewhat softer. (If this comparison makes the Porcupine Tree fans angry, feel free to complain.)

The game itself, then, is mad, and not mad in a funny "mad hatter" way, but mad in an unpleasant, disturbing way. It's not quite Jack…

[ATTACK] New bug-fix build

Get it while it's hot, the new Inform ATTACK (or download the current latest version - it's the same now, but will lead you to any future updates). Changes:

1. The combat states are no longer called "Normal", "Act", "React" and "Reacted", but are now called "at-Normal", "at-Act", "at-React" and "at-Reacted". This was done in order to avoid namespace clashes. (Updating any existing code should be trivial: just search for "combat state".)

2. Several bugs and unintended aspects of the reloading system are fixed.

3. A few other very minor fixes.

The manual and the example game have been updated to reflect these changes.

You need this new version of ATTACK to compile "'Mid the Sagebrush and the cactus"!

[Announce] "'Mid the Sagebrush and the Cactus", version 1

'Mid the Sagebrush and the Cactus is a relatively small game based on a combination of Inform ATTACK and several custom conversation commands. In it, the player character will have to interact both verbally and physically with David, the son of the man you have just killed. Will you be able to survive the encounter, and if so, how?

(This game is certainly not what I believe a typical game using ATTACK will look like, so it should not be seen as a poster child of the extension. Rather, it is a project in its own right which more or less happens to use the extension.)

Find out more at the IFDB.

Oh, and for those who are wondering: I'm not planning to release even more games in the next couple of weeks. ;) The next plan is the Spring Thing... but that's still going to be a vast amount of work.

[Announce] "The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode", version 1

I once wrote a game called Hidden Nazi Mode to make a point about the difference between closed and open software. This was not a success, as discussion with my testers showed me that the game was making lots of points, but not the one I wanted it to make. (I explain this at more length in a short essay that accompanies the current game.) So I decided not to release Hidden Nazi Mode.

But there was still a playable, perhaps even a cute, perhaps even a slightly unsettling game left if you took out the hidden Nazi mode. Which is what I did, thus creating The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode. It is small, it is not necessarily intended for adults, it is not ambitious. But there were those who enjoyed it.

Get if at the IFDB.

[Announce] "The Art of Fugue", version 1

A game currently comprising eight puzzles, The Art of Fugue turns a musical form into a logical challenge. Can you get four player characters to do what you wish, given that every command you type will be performed by each of them... but with increasing delays?

Find out more at the IFDB.

[Announce] "Figaro", version 2

In 2007, I released a small example game called Figaro as part of my entry in Innovation Comp. The main aim was to show that even within traditional IF systems, you can give the player a lot of authorial control. (Of course, it doesn't tackle the problem of how to do this in a larger game.) The secondary aim was to create a fun little diversion.

But Figaro was plagued with some nasty guess-the-verb problems that made it not so accessible and not so fun. Also, I was bugged by this sentence from the IFWiki: "Since the game is only an example, it isn't fully implemented. You cannot, for example, kiss your wife."

So I revisited the game and give you Figaro, version 2. Now with more synonyms, more kissing, more endings, more beta-testing, more cover art, and a source code that has been commented to make it accessible to beginning Inform 7 authors. Of course, everyone is invited to add to the game; it is released under the GPL version 3 or any later version.

These links ar…

[Announce] New Inform 7 extension "Permadeath"

The Inform 7 site now hosts a new extension of mine, Permadeath. This extension implements rogue-like saving. What does that mean? It means that (1) the player can save the game whenever he or she wants, but saving immediately results in quitting the game; (2) every saved game can only be restored once; and (3) when the player dies, his previous save game becomes unusable. In other words, you can only save to "pause" and then "resume" the game, but you can never use it to undo something that has happened. This makes for very tense games, as (to name one obvious example from which the extension gets its name) death is final.

Obviously, this extension is not to be used lightly. Think long and hard whether your game will become more fun by adding this feature, or whether it will only become more frustrating.


The extension also allows the author to switch at will between "normal" and "permadeath" saves. As a somewhat classic example, you can have…

Thoughts on "Twisty Little Passages", part 2

It's not long, but for completeness:

http://lilith.cc/~victor/?q=content/nick-montfort-twisty-little-passages-chapters-5-8

Thoughts on "Twisty Little Passages", part 1

Posted on my regular reading blog:

http://lilith.cc/~victor/?q=content/nick-montfort-twisty-little-passages-chapters-1-4

(This is normally in Dutch, but I've made an exception for this IF-related book.)

The Parser, No. 1

If you can read German and somehow missed it, check out the new online IF journal The Parser, which is something of a German-language SPAG. (I recommend the PDF-version, because it has stellar production values for a free internet magazine.) This first issue is mostly focused on GerX, the German translation of Inform 7.

It's good to see that the German IF scene is coming back to life!

Special conditions, elemental damage, and resistance I

In this post, I continue thinking about combat systems. As you can guess, this is part of the design phase of a larger game using Inform ATTACK. Today those staples of the RPG genre: poison, diseases, curses, fire damage, and so on.

This topic really falls into two: on the one hand there are attacks that deal something else than damage; on the other hand, there are attacks that deal special types of damage. We will deal with them in turn, focussing on the first in this first post.


Here are some of the special conditions that successful monster attacks can inflict on the player in D&D3: poisoned, diseased, cursed, level drained, ability drained, blinded, deafened, confused, dazed, dazzled, exhausted, frightened, nauseated, paralyzed, petrified, stunned -- and this list is not exhaustive. Apparently, giving monsters such powers was felt to be very important. Why? What's wrong with monsters just doing damage?

The answer is: because damage is either too dangerous or not dangerous …

Beta-testers for small combat/conversation game

My post on rec.games.int-fiction didn't exactly lead to a huge number of responses, so let's try again here. I'm looking for a few testers for a small game called 'Mid the sagebrush and the cactus that explores the possibilities of combining combat and conversation. (It is also a test game for ATTACK.) If you would be interested in testing, please send an email to [my first name]@lilith.cc.

(Quite a lot of people mailed be about this, so I now have more than enough testers. Thanks!)

Tension, Exploration and IF

I stated in my previous post on NetHack that the game mechanic in Rogue-likes where dying is final, and loses you your character, is a great mechanic to make combat tense. I also stated that part of the fun of the game is to explore the game, learn how everything works, slowly identify all items, and so on.

These two things are partly opposed. The greater the tension, the greater the temptation to look up what every monster, item and dungeon feature does before you interact with it. This opposition can be resolved, or at least lessened, in three ways:
By making the game less deadly, we make exploration more viable.By randomising that which needs to be explored, we make it impossible to spoil it.We accept that part of the exploration is done through reading the internet rather than through playing the game.NetHack chooses the latter two options. The game is quite deadly, and unless you are willing to spend years with it, out-of-game exploration is necessary. But not everything can be ex…

Engines and Combat (and D&D)

In an interesting series of columns on rogue-likes (such as NetHack and, in this particular case, Crawl), John Harris talks about "engines":
A character with no skill in anything would be quite hard to play. The numbers are stacked against such a character; starting stats and skills tend to be just enough that most players will need to rely on class-specific abilities to get a leg-up on the monsters. These skills make possible the character’s engine, the system by which he kills monsters and earns experience within acceptable levels of risk. Having an engine is not strictly necessary, and for some race/class combinations is as simple as walking up to monsters and hitting them with stuff, but without one the player will have to resort to making use of random items and extreme tactics more often, strategies that bring with them necessary dangers.(Italics mine.) This idea of an engine is an excellent piece of terminology when we think about the design of tactical games. As soon …

Some thoughts on Nethack

I once again made the mistake of installing NetHack. This is a mistake because the game is incredibly addictive, easily rivalling, perhaps even surpassing, current big budget RPGs. Not bad for a bunch of ASCII-characters, is it? (Let me immediately admit that I play the graphical version.)

So, what is the secret of this game? What are the design principles that make it such a success? I suspect they are four (or three, depending on how you count):
Tension. In NetHack, your character will often be in a dangerous situation, a situation that could easily lead to his or her demise. These situations can come into existence pretty suddenly. (My character, having gone further than any of my previous ones, met a "quantum mechanic" this evening. Ought to have been no problem... except that this guy had a wand of monster creation, zapped it half a dozen times, and out-of-the-blue I was surrounded by a horde from which I could not escape... another death.) And, even more importantly, th…

Inform ATTACK - initial release

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I'm pleased to finally publish my Inform 7 combat extension, "Inform ATTACK".

* What is Inform ATTACK?
Inform Advanced TActical Combat Kit is a large (10.000+ word) extension for Inform 7 that allows authors to implement tactical combat in their interactive fiction. The system is powerful out-of-the-box, and very easily extendible. But please read the introductory section of the manual for more information.
* What is the development status of Inform ATTACK?
There are no known bugs and no known missing crucial features. However, ATTACK has only be used by me, and only in two small test games. Thus, there undoubtedly ARE many bugs and missing crucial features. This software should be consider as being beta quality right now, and may be expected to go through non-conservative changes in the near future.
* Where can I get Inform ATTACK?
Download the zip-file at: http://lilith.cc/~victor/temp/ATTACK-21-08-2010.zip
* What's in that zip-file?
1. ATTACK-Manual.pdf is…

PC Gamer Top 100 of all times

Did I miss this? Or is this news? PC Gamer's top 100 PC Games of all times contains an interactive fiction game at spot 97. And the good news is: it's not Zork. It's not even Trinity or A Mind Forever Voyaging or anything else by Infocom.

It's Anchorhead. And so it should be. Congratulations, Michael Gentry!

My own favourite PC game of all time is at number 8, which shows that the people at PC Games have excellent taste. (Hm.) Half the top ten are RPGs, by the way (including the number 10, Fallout 3, which has been misleadingly labelled as a FPS).

XYZZY Awards 2010, first round

Don't forget to vote for the first round XYZZY Awards, people! Here is the link.

The two categories I found hardest were "Best individual PC", because there was no one PC which really grabbed me; and "Best individual puzzle", because there were too many individual puzzles which did.

I decided to go for an underdog in the latter case (Tower of Hanoi in The Bryant Collection), but even that meant slighting another underdog (truly defeating the monster in The Ascot).

As a result, I didn't vote for a single game from the IF Comp... will this be a new trend? (And this too makes me feel a little bad, because there were several very worthy games in the IF Comp. Well!) The competition was just too stiff, and I gave four votes to a game set on an island, two to a game set in a dark wood, two to a game involving whisky, and one to a game involving tentacles. You know what I'm talking about.