Goofy by Ricardo Dague [Comp01]

IFDB page: Goofy
Final placement: 46th place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition

In most competition games, a room that completely lacks a description is a bug. In a Ricardo Dague game, a room that completely lacks a description is… just another descriptionless room. I first encountered this minimalism in his Comp98 game Fifteen, whose main feature was a fifteen-puzzle and a couple of others. Goofy follows in that game’s footsteps by pretty much omitting the entire concept of room descriptions. A typical room looks like this:

First Floor, by desk
An exit is north.

This sort of thing just doesn’t really do it for me. That’s purely a matter of taste, I suppose, since there isn’t anything particularly wrong with omitting the room description, especially since the game isn’t really trying to tell a story. To me, it just feels like wandering around in somebody’s unfinished prototype. Your mileage may vary.

What would be good is if the few words that are present were properly proofread. Even with the dearth of prose in this game, I still ended up finding things like an “electrionic scale” or a mouse that spends its time “examing” the things around it. Prose problems aside, the game is implemented competently enough. The puzzles are mostly rudimentary, but sorta fun. I made the final puzzle harder than it needed to be, because I failed to find a crucial inventory item until I’d spent considerable frustration on the puzzle. After that, I solved the puzzle, though I never did quite figure out how I was supposed to do it without liberal use of UNDO.

The other noteworthy thing about this game is that it is implemented entirely as a Java applet. Consequently, its verb set is very limited, and save/restore is absent due to the lack of file I/O. Because of the nature of the game, these things aren’t as big of a problem as they might be. Goofy is a very small game, so although it was a pain in the neck to have to play it through rather than restoring, the process was relatively quick. Similarly, when the gameworld is as spartan as this one, not many verbs are required. Then again, such a bare-bones experience doesn’t produce much fun, at least not for me.

Rating: 5.0

Strangers In The Night by Rich Pizor [Comp99]

IFDB page: Strangers in the Night
Final placement: 20th place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition

Strangers In The Night starts out with a cool premise: You are a vampire, and you awaken with a terrible thirst for blood. You must feed on at least three different victims (draining each only a little, so as not to arouse undue attention.) However, it’s the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, [The longest day, and therefore the shortest night. Thanks to Daphne Brinkerhoff for helping me through my apparently immense confusion on this issue. –Paul] and so you have only a limited time to slake your desires. Done well, this could be a sort of undead Varicella, where with every iteration of the game you figure out more and more about how to satisfy your needs. Unfortunately, Strangers In The Night turns out to be more of an undead Fifteen. You wander around an extremely minimally described cityscape (most rooms have no description at all) solving rudimentary puzzles, most of which just amount to unlocking a door, then walking in and typing “BITE “. What little writing is present has some nicely gothic moments — I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the PC’s apartment. On the other hand, it is also riddled with a goodly number of errors, including two in the first two sentences. Misspellings, plural/possessive errors, awkward phrasings — they’re all there.

Compounding this problem is a generous serving of bugs. The game credits no beta testers, and the lack of testing definitely shows. Some locations (restaurants and the like) are described as closed when they definitely (at least, according to the information you get from the doorman) should be open. My first time through the game I failed to find any victims before the sun came up, mostly because I was exploring the gridlike map to see if it was really as empty as it seemed, and as the sunrise approached the game started giving me warnings. This is great, although giving them EVERY SINGLE TURN NO MATTER WHAT I DO might be considered a little excessive. In addition, the warnings describe the sky getting pinker, etc., even when I’m inside locations like a dank night club or my own windowless apartment. Anyway, heeding the warnings I returned to my apartment and got back in bed, but when the sun came up, the game told me I was trapped where I didn’t belong. It then helpfully chided me “Pity you never made it home.” In addition, there are lots of spots where the game displays the default response abutting a specialized response. If this were an Inform game, I’d say the problem is a lack of “rtrue”s. I don’t know what causes it in TADS, but I suspect it’s something roughly equivalent. Here’s an example:

>ask bouncer about bouncer
You have no interest in or use for the bouncerThe bouncer is in a rather
public place; that kind of interaction isn't advisable.Surely, you can't
think the bouncer knows anything about it!

After hitting a long stretch of bugs and writing errors, the novelty of the premise wears off pretty quickly.

It’s that much more frustrating, really, because an IF game from the point of view of a vampire is just a really cool idea waiting to be done well. It just seems that nobody quite gets to it. Infocom had one in the planning stages before they folded. (It was to be written by Plundered Hearts author Amy Briggs). A guy named Sam Hulick made a big announcement that he was going to write one — even got a piece of it included as an example in the Inform manual — but it never materialized. Now there’s Strangers In The Night, which definitely has some nice conceptual elements but whose execution (no pun intended) is sorely lacking. The vampire PC is so rife with possibilities — it can have unusual goals and vulnerabilities, as demonstrated in this game. It can have unique modes of travel. It can allow the author to play with all sorts of interesting questions of moral ambiguity and complicity within the player/PC relationship. Even better, it gives the writer access to a wealth of popular and canonical allusions, and allows the kind of rich gothic writing practiced by Anne Rice and any number of Victorian writers. Frankly, I think it would be awesome. Hey, all you IF writers out there: write that great vampire game! I know it doesn’t exist yet, but I very much want it to, because Strangers In The Night really got me itching to play it.

[I just reread this and something in the back of my mind said “Horror of Rylvania.” I haven’t played that game yet, and the only review I’ve ever seen was very brief. Somebody care to review it for SPAG so I know if it’s what I’m looking for?]

Rating: 3.5

Fifteen by Ricardo Dague [Comp98]

IFDB page: Fifteen
Final placement: 25th place (of 27) in the 1998 Interactive Fiction Competition

Is there a genie at work? No sooner did I wish (in my review of In the Spotlight) for a “storyless” game which strung together a number of logic puzzles, than along comes Fifteen. Fifteen takes its name from the traditional slide puzzle, with fifteen tiles arranged in a 4 x 4 grid, with the sixteenth spot left empty for tiles to move into. Fifteen also includes an odd-even puzzle (similar to the sentient stones in Spellbreaker) and a more traditional IF puzzle of rescuing a cat from a tree. All the puzzles are quite well-implemented, and the slide puzzle is done especially well; its interface allows for commands which string a number of moves together quickly and easily. This was much appreciated. In fact, Fifteen is almost the sort of thing I was musing about enjoying in my previous review.

Still, I finished the game feeling like I ought to be more careful what I wish for. See, Spotlight was “storyless IF” in the sense that there was really no plot, just a puzzle. However, what little prose there was in the game was richly written, and often funny. Contrast this with Fifteen, which (according to its author) takes its cue from Scott Adams’ Adventureland. Adams’ games are models of brevity, and Fifteen is just as terse, if not more. Here’s a typical room description: “Kitchen: Exits are south, east and north.” Now that’s brief. Don’t get me wrong — I recognize the nostalgia value of such an atmosphere, especially if you were raised on Scott Adams adventures, but it’s just not my cup of tea. I like to have at least a little feeling of immersion in my IF rather than unadorned puzzles. I find it very telling that even though Fifteen includes many more rooms and several more puzzles than Spotlight, the Inform file for Fifteen is actually 8K smaller than the Inform file for Spotlight. Fifteen is basically raw puzzles; it’s all the way over at the extreme end of the puzzle to story spectrum, and that’s too far for my taste.

Nonetheless, Fifteen is clearly quite well-done, for what it is. I found no bugs in the code, and what little prose there is is error-free. The puzzles, as I said, are implemented well, and the author’s ability to make me feel like I’m playing a Scott Adams game is nothing short of remarkable. But Fifteen is still not that all-puzzle game that I’m looking for — it’s too spare and empty, and because of this it fails to create the interest needed to sustain its intense puzzle-orientation.

Rating: 6.2