Dan's Cranky 1999 IF Competition Reviews

The web page of the competition, including all the games, is here.

Here is my basic scale:
10 Wow
9 Excellent
8 Very good
7 Quite good; no complaints
6 Decent but has some issues
5 Okay, but very little ambition
4 Fundamental problems with implementation or design
3 Broken, or a joke
2 Really broken
1 Really really broken

The following notes are not really reviews; they're mostly condensations of notes I took as I played the games. I did try to put a little more thought into summing up my opinions on the top ones.

For a while, I was considering not releasing these notes. I feel that they're pretty cranky, and consist largely of complaints. But I tried to decrankify them a bit, and I know that as an author, I'm desperate for feedback of any sort, so I'm hoping the other authors feel the same way.

The notes are in order from best to, uh, least best. I left out For A Change (because I wrote it), and Lunatix (because it crashes my machine). Regrettably, the notes tend to get crankier and terser as the scores get lower, but I thought I should say at least something about every game.

As an author, I only got to vote on my top three games for the Ms Congeniality prize. My 1-10 ratings, therefore, have absolutely no effect on anything; I was just trying to decide how I would have voted if I were a judge.

Hunter, In Darkness

I thought this game stood head and shoulders above the crowd, though from talking to others and seeing some reviews, I can see that my opinion isn't universally shared.

Why did I think it was so great?

People have complained about the maze. I didn't even know there was a maze. As soon as I got to the beginning of the maze, I immediately tried the action that turned out to be the key to solving it, and it worked. So that unfortunately gives me less sympathy for the people who groused about it. I think mazes with a shortcut are perfectly fine in contemporary IF, and the shortcut was a good puzzle, and was well hinted. Would you have been less annoyed if not following the correct path gave the message "You immediately get lost, and soon die."?

My original notes say, "The game is locally optimal; I don't see any way to improve it without making it a different game."

Rating: 10

Winter Wonderland

Well, I have to admit to not finishing it; the ice floe puzzle just stopped my enthusiasm dead in its tracks (even after looking at the hints). But it was very professionally put together, both the writing and the coding; the ASCII art worked great; the puzzles were good; and the atmosphere was great. I was thinking it was 9 material before I got to those damn floes.

Rating: 8

On The Farm

On The Farm is a sweet little perfectly-comp-sized game. The writing is a little sloppy ('Grandpa greets you with a wave of his bony hand, "Hello there whippersnapper it's good to see you!"'), which usually bugs me a lot, but here I didn't mind so much. The puzzles were all pretty fair, it was fun talking to Grandma and Grandpa, and in general it was just pretty damn enjoyable.

I didn't think of it as a top-three game when I played it, but nothing ended up passing it. I wish very much that this were an average comp entry, which is probably a jerky thing to say, but let me put the positive spin on it: I think most people in the IF community are capable of writing a game this good. Please do so. Playing through a comp whose entries were generally of this quality would be a pleasure; playing through this year's comp was often a bit of a slog.

Would have been an 8 if not for the writing sloppiness.

Rating: 7

Only After Dark

The opening puzzle was weird:

As you gather up the clothes in a ball...

(huh?) but once I got that, it was fun. It was small and simple, but cleanly written and coded, and with a good sense of atmosphere.

Would have been an 8 if it took me more than half an hour to play and weren't so linear.

Rating: 7


The text is flawless, as far as I can tell. Even "minuscule" is spelled correctly. Oops, one "belive".

Well, it succeeds very well at what it wanted to do. I don't personally like works like this that much, though, that just lay a bunch of stuff out there without a plot and expect you to browse through them (Perec's Life: A User's Manual comes to mind, which is a brilliant and critically acclaimed novel that I just could not enjoy). I guess a 9 for execution and a 5 for enjoyment average out to:

Rating: 7

Six Stories

I was really of two minds (at least) about where to place this game. I ended up sort of averaging my minds out, as I did with Exhibition. On the one hand, it's really professionally put together - the graphics are just great. On the other hand, I didn't actually enjoy it that much. There was exactly one puzzle, and it was really hard. The entire point of the game (the stories) wasn't interactive at all. I personally don't like hearing stories told out loud - I had trouble concentrating through all of them for the fifteen minutes or whatever it took to get through them all. There were some syntax problems (PUT LEAF IN WATER rather than ON; tried twice to start the car at the end of the game and then assumed I couldn't (TURN ON CAR, PUT KEYS IN IGNITION)).

It's very nicely put together, and I'm glad that someone is pushing the genre in this direction, but it's not for me. I also didn't feel like there was an author sitting above it, knowing exactly what he was doing, pulling everything together masterfully, making lots of little connections (as in Photopia). The scenes in which everyone went home, for example, didn't resonate at all; they were just pretty pictures.

I put this below Exhibition because I got the feeling that Exhibition's author totally nailed what he was trying to do (although it wasn't really my thing), while Six Stories, while more ambitious, didn't quite succeed with everything it was aiming for.

Lots of little things, responses to tries that don't work. Those make a big difference in the polish of a game, so I'm glad to see them.

Rating: 7


The puzzles were fine. Writing was good. The world was rather sparse - all the objects and characters existed only for the purpose of puzzles - but implemented cleanly. I got pretty tired of KILL X WITH KNIFE (I used it six times, if I remember correctly).

I thought the real-world stuff was kind of weird; because of the limited nature of the game, there wasn't much time to give a context to it. But though it didn't work for me, I'm glad that he tried to do something different.

Rating: 6

A Day For Soft Food

Lots of cool ideas, nice rich world, sloppy coding, too-difficult puzzles. EXAMINE ME was like the second command I typed, and it gave me an empty response. Timed hunger puzzle, gimme a break.

The writing is very good, despite some weird spelling and grammar. Things are pretty richly implemented (I can look at lots of things from the window, for example).

A good puzzle should make me say "Oh, I should have thought of that" after I see the solution. These did not. I played around a third of the way through (judging from the hints) and then couldn't be bothered to continue.

I am embarrassed to admit that for most of the time I spent playing this game, I thought I was a dog, not a cat. Maybe if EXAMINE ME had worked...

Rating: 6

Beat The Devil

OK in every way. Writing's kind of sloppy (e.g., tons of bad "it's"), but it's fun, and the puzzles are good.

Snide reply to HINT and HELP is no fun.

Rating: 6

Jacks Or Better To Murder, Aces To Win

Text is quite well written. The random speech rules. I started out being really psyched about this game (I thought it was going to be at least an 8), and then my opinion slowly went down.

I felt like the author had a plan and then ran out of time, so by the end you're getting page-long descriptions of everything you're thinking and doing, instead of actually thinking and doing it yourself. I felt myself disassociating myself from the character more and more as the game went on, until by the very end, I had no idea what my character was thinking any more.

There's tons of potential here, and I think Berry can put together a really good game next time (is this his first?).

Rating: 6

Life On Beal Street

Well, it's another case where the author accomplished what s/he wanted to, and I didn't enjoy it much.

Rating: 6


I only got around halfway through. I felt like it had all these postmodern trappings without having a soul inside. I've seen too much of these fictions where the author interacts his characters and travels through time in a parallel world and stuff. It felt like a bad John Barth story.

It was implemented well, though. Maybe if I got to the end it would all tie together and I would like it more. But I don't really have much motivation to do so.

Rating: 5

Death To My Enemies

Lots of fun, short, sloppy.

Rating: 5

King Arthur's Night Out

I was supposed to know to SEARCH ARMOR?

Well, it works okay. Why did it have to be King Arthur? I'd rather it was just an ordinary king than to have it set up to be Arthurian and then have no references to Arthur at all except for names.

But the puzzles were generally fine, and the implementation, while not that deep, was solid.

Rating: 5


Oh god please no not an "author is sitting at his computer with writer's block" game.

The game feels like a dry run for a real game (and I think the info text might have said so), and as such, it's fine. McIntosh can write and code, and I'm looking forward to the next game he writes.

Rating: 5

The HeBGB Horror!

Kind of rough around the edges, and some guess-the-verb problems, exacerbated a bit by ALAN probably, so I had to hit the walkthrough pretty early. The genre was pretty cool.

Rating: 5

Music Education

Some random notes:

The insta-death when I took the scissors is a bad sign... the insta-death when I asked about the scissors is an even worse one.

The map is way too big.

How was I supposed to know that Tim wanted beverages?

I actually prefer sparse games to wordy ones (there's something about IF that attracts logorrheics, I think), but this goes way too far in the other direction.

Rating: 5


Text is fine. The third-person narration is an interesting idea. Having Chaos talk out loud all the time is rather weird, though.

Tons and tons of instances of me typing in reasonable things and getting non-helpful responses. Lots of bugs.

Fine little game that I would have given a 6 if it weren't for the bugs.

Rating: 5


Writing is good. I like 'opaquing' as an antonym of 'clearing'. Locations often don't mention all exits.

I can't tell if the overuse of the word 'abruptly' is a joke or not. The description of the Waterfall location, for example.

Um, I don't get it. The opening text implies there's nothing to get.

(I found out later that because of a problem with the hints, it appears that the game is over way before it actually is. But from what I had seen so far, I wasn't motivated to go back and continue.)

Rating: 5


Opening page of text is good. Then I'm immediately stuck. Benny keeps asking me if I can read, and I don't know how to tell him that I do. I guess it's time to hit the walkthrough.

The writing is good. The 'puzzles' are too hard to guess, and give no helpful information in response to bad guesses.

Rating: 4

Stone Cell

I'm not really much for this kind of text:

Heavily boned with limbs that have a nearly graceful arch to them, she has stood her ground for untold seasons as the heralds of change would lead another upheaval that charged across the lands. Her grey blouse and floor-length wool skirt hang upon her like she was a statue not yet unveiled.

Raising your eyes to the cloud-flocked sky, the world inverts vertiginously

his pushcart ladened with debris

I feel like the author is not far away from being an excellent writer (s/he's certainly closer than I am), but s/he needs to take a writing class with a teacher who's really liberal with the red ink. There's lots of really good imagery that's struggling to get out of these sentences.

And then when the game actually starts, it's just incredibly hard. I looked at the walkthrough and my eyes bugged out at what I was supposed to think of doing.

Rating: 4

Chicks Dig Jerks

Incredibly buggy. A lot of the writing is funny.

Rating: 4

A Moment Of Hope

It's written competently enough, but eeeagh, this is really disturbing. I did not enjoy being forced into the brain of the protagonist. I was just fairly uncomfortable through the whole thing.

Rating: 4


Way too long. Town was incredibly deserted. Writing is fine. The mazes are REALLY ANNOYING. The mathematical puzzles were probably fun to code, and they're kind of interesting in theory, but they're no fun to play. It was a total guess-the-author's-intent fest. I almost ran out of time, despite resorting to the walkthrough with 90 minutes to go.

I'm reluctant to give this a horrible rating, since it's functional and the writing is okay, but I really didn't enjoy it at all.

Rating: 4

Thorfinn's Realm

This isn't really my cup of tea. There are a bunch of puzzles, and most of them work okay, and the text is servicable, but it's one of those Big Random Adventures.

Rating: 4

Strangers In The Night

Two spelling errors in the first paragraph is a bad sign.

Most locations have no objects, even though they look like they should. Can't perform many actions I'd like to perform, like DANCE in the club. No puzzles, as far as I could tell. I just wandered around and bit people when I was alone with them.

I won in half an hour, and had no desire to go looking for other victims.

Rating: 4

Spodgeville Murphy And The Jeweled Eye Of Wossname

A couple of puzzles, one of them broken (I couldn't find the 'ledge'). Otherwise fine.

Rating: 4


Eeeagh, 120 lines of introductory text. Lots of annoying puzzles that seem calculated to frustrate.

Rating: 4

Pass The Banana

If there's anything more to it than the obvious, I don't get it.

Rating: 3

Four Seconds

Grammar mistake in the first sentence is a bad sign.

Has potential, but filled with bugs and spelling and grammar errors. As soon as I stepped off the walkthrough, everything fell apart. Unplayable as written.

Rating: 3

The Water Bird

Has a lot of potential, but it's obviously unfinished (some descriptions even include text similar to 'insert text here'), and unwinnable. Plus I get a TADS error every time I try to go in an invalid direction.

Rating: 3


I can't deal with this amount of verbal and coding sloppiness. There might have been some good ideas in there.

Rating: 2


Frequent spelling problems. EXAMINE MACHINE, EXAMINE RACK gave me blank lines. I can't get any keys from the key rack. The debris looks like a pole.

Lloyd is 'ready to spill out his technical knowledge' but I can't find the syntax to ask him about anything. I couldn't get out of the first area.

Rating: 2

Guard Duty

It crashes when I type INVENTORY.

Rating: 1


Four empty rooms, and a bug that puts me in an unwinnable state when I try to enter the door.

Rating: 1