Futz Mutz by Tim Simmons [Comp00]

IFDB page: Futz Mutz
Final placement: 25th place (of 53) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition

For my first 45 minutes of playing Futz Mutz, I thought it was delightful. It’s got a whimsical premise (you’re a 9-year-old who has been inexplicably transformed into a puppy and trapped in a pet store). It’s got lots of fun multimedia stuff, like appropriate dog sounds, a little biscuit up by the score on the status line, jazzy background music, a cool title sequence, that kind of thing. The code and the writing, while a bit error-riddled, mostly did their jobs well. It was well on its way to a high rating.

Then something happened that was a bit like a splash of cold water in the face. I looked at a TV in the game and got this description:

A commercial for some new movie is now showing on the TV.

"Don't miss 'Curses of the Skcus Mrofni' - starring G. Nelson. Tonight at 9 on HDO!"

Oh, ha ha. “Inform Sucks” spelled backwards. Gee, how clever. I though this game was supposed to be about a 9-year-old, not written by one. I was a little disappointed by this, but I shrugged and went on. After all, there had been a few IF references before this, a friendly nod to Mike Roberts and a more-or-less genial poke at Stephen Granade. Then, about five minutes later, something else happened. This was less like a splash of cold water and more like a kick in the teeth.

I won’t reprint it here — it was a personal insult to Suzanne Britton, basically calling her a whore in a couple of different ways. Now look, Suzanne is a friend of mine, so I got very, very angry when I saw this. But even if she wasn’t a friend, I’d think that this is way, way out of line. I do not understand the point of lashing out at specific members of the IF community like this. To work within the dog metaphor, it seems like biting the hand that feeds you.

I tried to continue playing, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. So I turned to the walkthrough and finished the game. Then it was rating time. I sat there for a minute, trying to figure out what to do. Should I ignore the insults and try to rate FM as a game notwithstanding its snide jabs? I ruled that one out pretty quickly. Should I abstain from rating it at all on the grounds that because I had such a strong emotional response to it, I’m not fit to judge it? Hell no, I decided. I’m going to rate it exactly the same way as I have all the other comp games: based on how much I enjoyed the overall experience. Then I’ll write a review telling just what I thought of it, exactly as I have for the other comp games. And that’s what I did.

Rating: 2.0

Ralph by Miron Schmidt [Comp96]

IFDB page: Ralph
Final placement: 12th place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

The concept of Ralph is great fun — the idea of nosing around as a dog gives the author the ability to take advantage of some of the most fun aspects of the text-based interface, putting the player into the canine mindset with dog’s-eye-view room and object descriptions and action responses. Consequently, Ralph gives a hilarious rendition of the canine experience, and the little moments this provides (for example, the reactions to “examine me”, “bite blamant”, and “dig hole”) are the best parts of the game. On the negative side, however, the game’s puzzles are fairly illogical (perhaps I would understand them better if I were a dog, but I don’t think so), and one particular problem was poorly coded enough to give it a real “guess-the-verb” feeling. Ralph was fun for the first hour I played it, but I was frustrated with having to turn to the walkthrough and find that I had already thought of the solution to the problem that was stumping me, but hadn’t phrased it in exactly the way the author demanded.

Prose: The prose in Ralph is unquestionably its best feature. Lots of really clever, funny touches make the game a real joy to read, and I found myself trying all kinds of things because I knew that I would more often than not get a chuckle out of the answer. Of particular note are the reactions to “dog-specific” verbs like “scratch”, “bark”, and “wag”, which give great context-specific responses.

Difficulty: Unfortunately, I found it impossible to progress beyond 0 points without the help of the walkthrough. Even more unfortunately, this was because I had chosen the syntax “put sheet in hole” rather than “block hole with sheet” — this is the type of difficulty I don’t enjoy.

Technical (coding): Apart from the above-mentioned problem, I found the coding quite competent. Especially noteworthy was the simulated dynamic creation of objects (when holes are dug). The author smoothly created the impression of being able to dig an infinite number of holes by a combination of smart coding and a cleverly worded cap on the number of holes dug.

Technical (writing): The prose was technically very strong. I found no errors in grammar or spelling.

Plot: While the plot was quite simple, I didn’t find this to be a problem, since the viewpoint character was a very simple creature himself. The experience of commanding a dog to do random things provided a very funny perspective on animal behavior.

Puzzles: This was the weakest part of Ralph. I found the puzzles quite baffling, especially the “guess-the-verb” one but the others as well. For example, why would a human scrabbling in the ground for ten seconds be able to find a bone which had already eluded a more efficient canine nose?

OVERALL — An 8.4