Ninja v1.30 by Paul Allen Panks [Comp04]

IFDB page: Ninja
Final placement: 36th place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition

You know, for all the newsgroup fuss and furor that Paul Allen Panks has created over the years with his obsessive marketing and subsequent defenses thereof, I’ve never actually played one of his games. I’ve been wishing for years that somebody would review Westfront PC for SPAG, but so far, no takers. Of course, what I’ve gleaned about that game is that it contains hundreds of fairly samey rooms and a bunch of randomized combat, so I can’t say I’m terribly surprised not to have received a review. Heck, the SPAG standards say that reviewers must finish a game before reviewing it, so maybe somebody started in on it the first time I made the request (in 2000) and still hasn’t gotten through it yet.

At any rate, Ninja v1.30 is Panks’s first comp game, so I was interested to see how well he presented himself. The answer: not very well. It’s bad. Really bad. For one thing, it is so primitive as to lack almost any IF conveniences. There’s no “X” command, no “L” command, and no “I” command. It goes without saying that there’s no SCRIPT or UNDO or anything handy like that. Despite the fact that it contains only four rooms and one puzzle (which is so heavily clued it can hardly be called a puzzle at all), to detail all its failings would be a pretty mammoth undertaking. So let me just pick a few choice ones:

  • The sudden-death endings, which frequently hit out of nowhere. Note that these are particularly annoying in an environment without UNDO.
  • The utterly arbitrary restrictions. For instance, this:
    You are within the shinto shrine. The room is lit by only the light from a nearby window. All else is darkness. You may 'exit shrine' to the south, or head west out the window.

    ? s
    Your path is blocked. Try 'exit shrine' instead.


  • The maximum score, different every time the game ends. (Well, I guess the second number in the score might not be the maximum, but if so it’s left completely unexplained.)
  • Terrible writing. For a game that probably has less than 300 words, it’s amazingly well-populated with comma splices, redundancy, and awkward phrasing.
  • Bugginess. For instance, at one point the game started printing “>20” after every command, inexplicably.

Okay, enough of that. It’s just really not good at all. But there is a way to enjoy it, at least for me. See, I like to think that there exists a tiny sliver of possibility that Panks is actually just a satirist with a very, very, very dry wit. I mean, really — if IF were a Christopher Guest movie, Panks would just have to be a character. It’s almost as if he’s playing a character all the time in his postings, and this game works perfectly as reductio ad absurdum interactive fiction. Look at it as a parody, as perfectly straight-faced and utterly ridiculous all at once, and it may provide a moment’s entertainment. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’d give it a high score in the comp or anything.

Rating: 2.4

Rape, Pillage, Galore! by Kristian Kirsfeldt [Comp03]

IFDB page: Rape, Pillage, Galore!
Final placement: 30th place (of 30) in the 2003 Interactive Fiction Competition

Only the most generous of spirits could call this interactive fiction. I’m not one of those. I call it a random text generator, which only responds to two (or maybe three) commands.

The text it generates, in mock-medieval style, is one account after another of the adventures of “Sir Algebrah”, who wanders around killing some things and having sex with other things. That’s why the two commands RPG responds to are SLAY and LAY. If you enter any other command, or indeed no command at all, the program interprets your input as a “battle-cry” and then proceeds to print whatever it wants to.

It’s a reasonable, though wafer-thin, parody of fantasy CRPGs, and as such it’s entertaining for about 60 to 90 seconds. After that, it’s dull, and at no point is it any sort of interactive fiction.

Rating: 1.4

Blade Sentinel by Mihalis Georgostathis [Comp02]

IFDB page: Identity Thief
Final placement: 38th place (of 38) in the 2002 Interactive Fiction Competition

On the plus side, this is a superhero game. I like superheroes. On the minus side, well, everything else. Quest is just about the same as it was the last time I played a Quest game, which was last year. I talked about its shortcomings in my review of Comp01’s Lovesong, so I won’t rehash that.

I will, however, complain about the fact that apparently Quest savegame files have the directory path of the original game file hardcoded into them. Consequently, when I played the first half of Blade Sentinel on my lunch hour at work and then took the save file with me to finish the game at home, the restore failed miserably, since it was looking for my work machine’s directory structure.

So I loaded the savegame file into a text editor, found the directory path and changed it, and managed to do my restore, only to discover that Quest is terminally broken under Windows XP, showing no input line. You would think that the “handful-of-verbs, mouse-interface” problem might cancel out the “no input line” problem, but apparently only most of the game’s verbs are available via mouseclick. Two or three must be typed in, which is tough to do without an input line. So I took it to my WinME machine, got it working, and discovered that the game is fatally bugged and unfinishable. So that makes rating it easy. Oh, and the English is really, really terrible.

Rating: 1.0

You Were Doomed From The Start by Jeremy Carey-Dressler as Noob [Comp01]

IFDB page: You Were Doomed From the Start
Final placement: 51st place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition

I hate to say it, but once I saw the author’s name, I knew the title couldn’t be more appropriate. Doomed is like a very stripped down, simplified version of The Last Just Cause, and is put forth by the author as “more of a ‘Example work’ to teach programmers how to program a Text-based game more that [sic] a full game.” This is too easy a target, so I’ll just say this: people interested in writing a text game should evaluate a few different games, perhaps sampling among the systems used in this competition, and decide which ones they’d most like their game to resemble.

In some ways, the fact that this game is even more primitive (amazing as that is) than TLJC, is actually a good thing. For one thing, the supremely irritating combat engine is absent, as are the zillions of rooms and nonsensical puzzles. On the other hand, they haven’t really been replaced with anything much. There are a few rooms to go through, a key in each one. Unlock the last room with all the keys, get the key from that room, and that’s it. The ending of this game is just as mocking and irritating as anything from TLJC, but at least it’s over quickly.

This game also shares with TLJC the hallmarks of nonsensical world design and in-jokey object descriptions. The fact that there are fewer of them counts for a little, but only a little.

Rating: 2.5