Amnesia by Dustin Rhodes as crazydwarf [Comp03]

IFDB page: Amnesia
Final placement: 27th place (of 30) in the 2003 Interactive Fiction Competition

Wow. Well. This one was… painful. Just abysmal. Really, really bad. When I played Curse Of Manorland, I kept having the urge to MST it in my comments, but my comments for this one mostly just looked like, “Aaaahhhh! The PAIN!” I mean, I don’t even know where to begin. It seemed almost like one of those joke games, you know, the ones where the joke is, “Look how bad this game is! Isn’t that hilarious?” I never really thought those joke games were very funny, but I don’t think this one is even joking. Here’s the first room:

A cool beach where you should have washed ashore and not have been
able to remember anything because you where supposed to have amnesia,
which you didn't, which completly ruins the whole storyline this game
was going to have, so now the auther will have to make a game up on
the spot, enjoy. By the way if you want to learn about me just type
about. Their is a huge rock sitting here innocently.

See what I mean about not knowing where to begin? The author says he’s in high school, and in fact writes, “I might I win the award for youngest IF writer, maybe that will get me a couple of points from the voters.” Sorry, dude. David Glasser wrote VirtuaTech at 14, and it’s miles better than this. Hell, Ian Finley wrote Babel at 17. Besides, my reaction to this game wasn’t “Oh, it’s pretty good for a high schooler,” but rather, “Holy crap, something this subliterate came from somebody who’s made it all the way to high school??”

Here are some things this game needs: Spell-check. Proofreading (to catch things like “Their is a huge rock,” which spell-check will miss.) Descriptions that care enough to actually, y’know, describe, and to write out their words instead of “the center of the town with houses NE, NW. To the W is a volcano, to the N is a mountain, and to the E is a jungle.” Even the game itself knows it sucks, because it mentions the fact every couple of rooms. Well, games that suck… suck. They shouldn’t be released. Show a little self-respect, and a little respect for the people you’re asking to spend time on your work. Damn.

Rating: 1.6

The Test by Matt, Dark Baron [Comp01]

IFDB page: The Test
Final placement: 47th place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition

The Comp01 blurb for The Test includes the following words of warning:

Warning: This game is hard and requires large amount of thinking power, do not attempt if you expect to complete it in 5 minutes. Hints are available, and for the faint hearted a walk through.

Warnings like this are a big red flag for me (even when they aren’t run-on sentences), because they very frequently lead to games whose puzzles require authorial telepathy to solve. In addition, they carry a most unwelcome undertone of condescension, as if the author is sneering, Wile E. Coyote style, “Who among you has the brainpower to solve a game created by such a Sooper Genius as myself?” This implication of superior intelligence is especially hard to credit when the very sentences that express it are improperly punctuated and lack crucial articles (“requires large amount”?). So I went into The Test with my hackles raised, and my expectations low.

But, whoa! Apparently they were not anywhere near low enough. I don’t mean to be harsh, but this game is just awful. The writing alone is enough to sink the game by itself. A sample room description:

You don’t want to be here unless running on conveir belts is your kind of thing. You’re in some kind of factory, in a think passage way standing on a conveyer belt, which is going backwards into a big machine which crushes stuff between giantic steel teeth.

Okay, first of all: “conveyer”; “gigantic”. Game, meet Dictionary. Dictionary, meet Game. Second of all, “a think passage way”? What the hell is that? There are some things even spell check can’t save. Finally, how about mentioning some of the crucial items in the room? Like, say, maybe the exit door.

As it turns out, the puzzles don’t so much require authorial telepathy as they demand an almost insatiable appetite for tedium. The solution to one combination lock puzzle requires that the player try every number, starting from 1, in sequence and try to observe a pattern in the lock’s reactions. Oh yeah, sounds like fun. And they get worse from there. I can’t think what would motivate someone to even attempt the game’s last puzzle — what possible reward could it have to offer? Maybe that’s what the title really refers to — it’s a test of just how much you can put up with before you quit. I hope I passed, but I have a feeling most other judges will have caught on much quicker than I did.

Rating: 1.8

What-IF? by David Ledgard [Comp00]

IFDB page: What-IF?
Final placement: 52nd place (of 53) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition

What-IF? is an excellent name for this zcode file. The only one I can think of that would fit as well would be “Where’s the IF?” Here’s what happens when you run this file: you get a menu, asking you to select an “alternatate” history from a list of seven choices. When you make a selection, What-IF? spits out several screensful of text and then brings you back to the menu. That’s it. No prompt (other than the menu prompt), no PC, no locations, no objects, really no game at all. Talk about your puzzleless IF!

Twisting the knife even further is the fact that all of these paragraphs are very, very badly written. Missing commas, misspellings, incorrect words, sentence fragments, misplaced modifiers, and many more errors make appearances over and over and over again. Here, I’ll choose an example at random: “If knowledge of how the Chinese navigated had reached the West research in this field may not have preceded.” Even if we ignore the fact that there should definitely be a comma between “West” and “research”, we are still left with the question: preceded what?

This file has nothing to offer as IF. Its writing is difficult, sometimes impossible, to understand. It might make an interesting pamphlet, if somebody who is fluent in English gave it a major editorial overhaul. What it’s doing in an interactive fiction competition remains an unanswered question.

Rating: 1.1

Comp00ter Game by Brendan Barnwell as Austin Thorvald [Comp00]

IFDB page: Comp00ter Game
Final placement: 49th place (of 53) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition

I’m pretty sure that Comp00ter Game wants to be a parody of bad games, or bad authors, or something. At least, let me put it this way: I really really really hope that’s what it wants. It is (again, I hope) far too bad not to be intentionally bad. You know, misspelled words, broken code, leaving debug mode on, that kind of thing.

Here’s the thing about satire, though: you can’t satirize stupidity just by acting stupid yourself. You’ve got to have something, somewhere, that indicates that you and your target are separate things. Otherwise, it’s kind of like the prose equivalent of imitating somebody’s words in a high, nasally voice. That’s not satire. It’s not even funny. It’s just sort of irritating. Even if you make a few offhand references to Joyce or something.

That’s the deal with Comp00ter Game. It made me laugh a couple of times, but as far as I can tell, it is as awful a game as has ever been produced. Now, this being interactive fiction, it’s entirely possible that I missed some proper action or magic word or something that puts the whole terrible part into some clever perspective. The file is 150K, after all, and I spent a fair bit of time trying to figure out what could possibly be taking up all that space. I finally concluded that it must be the Infix stuff, which the author left in — I haven’t started a new Inform project since Infix was introduced, so I’m not sure how much it bloats a file, but it seems logical that it would add a fair amount.

I did type “tree”, and managed to crash the whole game with a fatal error, so that left me pretty convinced that the game isn’t clever, just very very broken. It certainly didn’t come with any walkthrough, and I don’t have access to the net at the moment (to check Deja for rgif postings), nor to txd, so that’s the conclusion I’m resting with. The upside is that I didn’t spend much time playing it, nor writing this review, which brings me that much closer to my goal of actually finishing all the games by the deadline. That’s worth something, at least.

Rating: 1.1