IFComp 2014 – Reviews – And yet it moves

Next up is “And yet it moves” by Orion.  Again, be aware that I may have spoilers in this post, so read at your own risk.

This is the first parser game I’ve played out of this years batch and as I typically gravitate towards those, I was excited to see what this would bring.  When I start a new parser game, I usually do a few things right off that can quickly give me a feel for the quality and depth of the game.  They are simple things that while not universally true, in my experience, there tends to be some validity to them.  First I checked the credits looking for testers.   This game had two, which I’m glad it had some, but they were listed as “my Dad and my Brother”.  Ok…perhaps Orion’s dad and brother are good testers, but whenever I’ve had a family member test my game, I usually don’t get the best of feedback.  It’s family, it’s tough to be truthful with a family member, when you need to be tough…..but who am I to judge the quality of their testing this early on.

Next I tend to try out some simple commands, just to see if they respond with the standard responses or if some effort went into customizing them a bit to add to the atmosphere of the game.  I try “xyzzy” which in this case led to a standard response (no big deal, a lot of good games have gotten away from providing a response, but I like to try anyways).  Then I try going in a direction that is not valid…again standard response (this is just a great opportunity to add to story and atmosphere, instead of thinking, “well why can’t I go north” and the parser responds, “because I said so”)…OK, not a deal breaker, but would have been nice.  At this point I just dive into the game and see what I get.

Well right from the first sentence describing the starting location, I see a small error that sometimes I can overlook.  The first letter of the sentence was not capitalized.  The problem was, it was the very first sentence you see in the very first location you are in.  Something that during testing and development, was probably seen thousands of times.  I’m surprised no one before myself had seen that.  The second problem is that it wasn’t an isolated incident.  This happens throughout the game.

The other big grammatical issue that was everywhere, was improper capitalization of items.  For example, when listing the contents of a location, the game often lists the items with capital letter when it is not a proper-named item.  For example, when in the kitchen:

You can see Virginia, Kitchen Table, benches (on which are geese and vegetables), a cupboard (empty) and ramp here.

That is just awkwardly worded and can be fixed quite easily in code.

I also had a problem with lack of synonyms.  One example is when you are in the Chamber in the initial house, there is some Holy water (again odd capitalization)

Here is a list of commands that I tried:

>drink water
There's nothing suitable to drink here.

>x water
the bottle reads:

Holy water
Bottled in Venice by Holius Waterus Inc.

>open bottle
You can't see any such thing.

>take bottle
You can't see any such thing.

>take water

It’s described as a bottle, I should be able to use bottle as a synonym. I never did find a usage for the holy water, so perhaps it was just some scenery that wasn’t that important so didn’t get the attention that other critical items might have received.

What about the story?

Well enough nit-picking on the technical issues, let me talk about the story a bit.  I actually found the premise, at least in the beginning, somewhat intriguing.  Here we are playing a contemporary of Galileo, trying to help him get his book published without the church finding out.  Some rich historical context here to use and this could have been great.  In fact, the first and second scene were actually decently done (despite the above mentioned technical issues).  There were some minor puzzles that needed solved, nothing too difficult, but I felt like perhaps I was being eased into it.

However, once you get past that, the game devolves into a simple, talk to someone, they tell you to go somewhere else, where you have to talk to someone else or pick up an object (pretty much in plain sight) and then take that to someone else.  A simple A to B to C type of linear game.  In fact at the end of I think Scene 4, it had me gather up different food stuffs for a journey which the journey was entirely in a cut scene, but when I got to the end of my long journey….all those food-stuffs were still in my inventory….I guess I wasn’t so hungry after all.

The final scene was not much more than move a location or two.  Give someone something and watch a cut scene.  So the ending was a bit of a let down and had a rushed feel to it….almost as if time was running out and the author just wanted to get it down in time.

Now, perhaps this review sounds overly negative, so I want to point out some positives. The story and setting has a lot of potential.  I think with a bit of work this author could turn this, perhaps in a  post-comp release, into something much better.  I think it could use some more testing and some attention to little details as there were plenty of areas where the little things were bothersome while playing.  The author tackled some more advanced things, it multiple numbers of similar items, a money system and multiple scenes, that may seem easy, but can throw a lot of gotchas at you if you’re not careful.

Final thoughts

Final thoughts on this….it’s not ready for prime-time yet.  Needs more testing, more polish on the little things which give a richer and fuller feel to the world.  I feel that the story could be expanded on and especially in the later scenes more attention to the puzzles.  While I won’t be scoring this real high in it’s current state, I would look forward to a post-comp release as I did enjoy the historical minded story and would enjoy seeing this expanded and fixed.

IFComp 2014 – Reviews – Missive

My next game played was Missive by Joey Fu another web based Twine game (SPOILERS AHEAD).  Upon opening this up, my first impressions were not positive.  I tend to enjoy Twine games that change up the look and feel of the game from the standard look.  While not necessary, it just adds something to the game and makes me feel the author went a little extra to make their game stand out from the rest.  This one didn’t.

However, moving past that, I actually enjoyed this one.  The story was intriguing and while not overly complicated, I felt it drawing me in just enough.  There were plenty of choices to make, most of which were a straight path to the next set of choices without any way of going back (in the natural play of the game anyways).  I like that, it felt like an adventure, like I was really working on solving the mystery behind those letters.  With the tension building throughout the story, not only between the mysterious person behind the phone calls, but between you and Emily and to another degree between you and yourself, I was looking forward to a big reveal, big ending, so I was slightly let down by the final choice of basically, “Choose the killer”, and game over.  What did intrigue me about the ending however, was reveal of which “puzzles” I had solved and which I hadn’t….also the addition of the “hint mode” which promised certain highlighted clues in the text of the letters.  So seeing that, I had to replay.

So starting over, I found myself choosing different options and heading down slightly different paths, but usually coming back to a single decision point before ending the day.  Technically, the text throughout in later days, did change slightly based on earlier choices, so that was nice to see that time was spent including those type of subtleties.  However, I never did see any hints that I thought were to be highlighted.  Nothing appeared to be highlighted and the process of solving a puzzle, seemed to devolve to a random choice at the end of each day.  Now I must say there were probably hints in the letters that would have led me to the correct solution, but I didn’t pick up on what those clues may have been.  I played through a few times and I had solved different puzzles but I’m not sure I ever really figured out what those puzzles were or how they were solved save for the last one.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I really did enjoy this one.  The story was clear, though perhaps lacking in hints.  The obsession with drinking seemed to play little roll, other than to give a sense of the depression the main character has falling into with the leaving of his girlfriend, but it seemed unneeded.  I felt the writing was concise and to the point, the letters were written in what I felt was a realistic voice.  I was drawn into the story, though I felt it could be better clued.  I may have missed the point on this one in quite a few places, but after a few playthroughs some of those “holes” in the clues and hinting were not being filled in for me so it was time to call it a day.

I feel this is a solid entry from a supposedly first-time author, there were a lot of testers listed and I really didn’t see many issues in grammar.  Well done.