Outsided by Chad Elliott [Comp99]

IFDB page: Outsided
Final placement: 34th place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition

OK, I’m starting to get a little discouraged. Maybe Comp99 has just set me up for a really bad stretch, but I have to admit I’m starting to wonder what is going on with all these substandard games. Outsided had the misfortune of coming up in my game list after five other games that I scored as a 5 or below. It couldn’t help that, so I’ll try not to let it affect my judgement. However, it also had the misfortune of being loaded with spelling, grammar, and coding errors. It could have helped that, and you can bet the house it’s going to affect my judgement. Take, for example, the first paragraph:

A pretty, young woman walks quickly towards the far end of the
resteraunt. Soon she dissapears behind two brass elevator doors. Your
stare drops downward to the small note you had written for yourself,
then back at your own reflection in the elevator doors. People
momenteraly chuckle and mutter to eachother, then continue on with
another important dinner...

That’s one sentence out of four without a spelling error. That is not a good ratio. (For those of you keeping score at home: “restaurant”, “disappears”, “momentarily”, “each other”.) I just don’t understand this sort of thing. It’s not as if spell-checkers are hard to find. Compile your game so that Inform outputs the game text, then run it through a spell-checker. Hell, you don’t even have to get that high-tech; run a transcript of your game through a spell-checker. This is a text adventure; all we get from the program are words. When the words have basic mistakes in them, those mistakes wreck any chance we have at immersion in your game! Don’t you even care about that? Aaargh! [Starting… to… rant. Must… get off… soapbox. Wipe froth from mouth. Continue with review.]

As far as I can determine, Outsided (and no, even after playing the game, I still have no idea what its title means) wants to be sort of a science-fictional high-tech thriller thing about a guy whose memories keep getting downloaded into new bodies, and some shadowy syndicate that wants to kill the bodies off. Or something like that. It wasn’t really all that easy to figure out what the hell was going on most of the time. The game’s use of these concepts is kind of cool, but it would be a lot cooler if it were more coherent. Many, many things just don’t make a lot of sense. For example, early on in the game, the PC is given his briefcase. It’s closed and locked. For some inexplicable reason, the PC doesn’t know how to unlock his own briefcase. In fact, he never figures it out. The briefcase is never useful for anything. Why does he get it? Who knows? There are lots of little things like this. Save-and-restore puzzles abound. In fact, the game reminded me of many of the more maligned members of the IF Archive, such as Detective and Space Aliens Laughed At My Cardigan. It might make a good candidate for a MiSTing, but it sure isn’t a good game on its own.

Aw, here I am being all harsh and I didn’t even mention one of the game’s main redeeming features: its author apologizes for it right up front. Before the first prompt of the game even arrives, we see this:

Hi, first I would like to say 'sorry.' Good! Now that I have gotten
that out of the way, Please 'enjoy' the game.

I laughed when I saw that, especially following as it did on the heels of the error-riddled opening paragraphs. And I appreciated it too, I really did. But I have to say it confused me a little as well. Obviously the author knows that the game isn’t up to par. So instead of releasing it with an apology, why not instead fix it, then release a good version that he wouldn’t have to apologize for? I would have appreciated that a lot more.

Rating: 2.9

[Postscript from 2020: I ended my review of A Day For Soft Food with a joke, saying “See, I have a great idea for the 2000 comp: you play this pet goldfish…” In response, Eric Mayer asked, “What’s the title? ‘Jump and Die?'”, to which I said: “No, that’s what Outsided should have been named. (Actually, ‘Jump and Die and Die and Die and Die and Die and Then Die Some More and Then Consult The Walkthrough.’)” That about sums up my feelings on this game.]

Coming Home by Andrew Katz [Comp97]

IFDB page: Coming Home
Final placement: 34th place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition

Coming Home is an unremittingly awful game, one which never should have been released publicly. It’s hard to think of it even as an exercise for the author to learn Inform, so buggy and illogical are its basic design and implementation. Perhaps it could be considered a first step toward learning the language; in my opinion, such bumbling, poor initial efforts have no place in a public forum, let alone a competition. It’s not much fun wandering through somebody’s ill-conceived, cobbled-together, inside-joke universe. In fact, playing Coming Home is a kind of Zen torture, an experiment in just how unpleasant interactive fiction can possibly be. Perhaps it’s what IF is like in Hell.

Frankly, I don’t feel like putting much effort into this review, since the author obviously put so little effort into creating a quality game for the competition. I know it wasn’t a personal affront, but I felt insulted that he thought this jerry-built piecework was worthy of anyone’s time. It certainly was a wasted 15 minutes for me before I turned to the hints, and another wasted 15 minutes before I decided to just let the recording show me the rest of the game.

I want to encourage anyone who is interested in IF to contribute to the medium by writing a good game. But please, until it’s good (Lord, at least until it works)… keep it to yourself.

Prose: Coming Home doesn’t waste much time on prose. Which is unfortunate, since it’s supposed to be a text game and all. What’s there is really bad — not fun bad or silly bad like Detective, just bad. I think even the MST3K crew would get bored with this one.

Plot: Like the rest of the game, the plot is unclear, and what can be discerned doesn’t seem to make much sense. Apparently you’re a very small person (a child?) who has been away from home for a long time, can’t survive without eating and going to the bathroom every few minutes, and lives in a haunted house where doors close and lock of their own accord, people behave like furniture in some rooms and mysterious forces in others, and the bathrooms are smeared with urine and feces until you tell Mom to clean them up to a nice sparkle.

Puzzles: Puzzles? How to interact with the parser. How to move from place to place as directions randomly disappear. Why people appear and vanish, apparently magically.

Technical (writing): The writing didn’t have terrible mechanics (nothing like Punkirita from the 1996 competition, for example), but it sure wasn’t good either.

Technical (coding): To even try to summarize all the problems with the coding would take more time than I’m willing to give to this game. If you’ve read this far, you probably have a basic idea.