Adoo’s Stinky Story by B. Perry [Comp03]

IFDB page: Adoo’s Stinky Story
Final placement: 17th place (of 30) in the 2003 Interactive Fiction Competition

Here’s the premise of Adoo’s Stinky Story: you’re a college student, returning home for the summer to find that your parents have decided to sell the house you grew up in. Because of your sentimental attachment to the house, you decide to… sabotage the sale by making a big ol’ stink bomb. So even before the first prompt, we’re out of the realm of realism and being asked to swallow a fairly ridiculous set of assumptions. By itself, this isn’t a bad thing, if the concept or the ensuing plot is funny, but what humor there is in Adoo’s wasn’t particularly my cup of tea.

Silliness infests the game, but not in a particularly lighthearted way — it’s more a matter of nonsensical plot elements piling up on each other like a freeway crash. These elements were absurd, but not really amusing, at least not to me. The stinkbomb idea, for instance, isn’t so much a joke as just a random direction. With it, as with many of its subcomponents, all I could do was shrug and say, “okay, whatever.” When the game isn’t trying to be silly, it couldn’t be more plain — it’s set in the dreaded Ordinary Suburban House, with Mom, Dad, brother, and dog all going about their fairly dull lifestyles. Adoo himself seems less like a college student than a wayward 10-year-old, Bart Simpson without the style or wit.

Now, having said that, Adoo’s doesn’t do such a bad job with the materials it chooses. The ideas behind many of the puzzles may be arbitrary or meaningless, but their basic structure is sound, and some parts of the recipe that provides the game’s backbone are rather clever. Certain puzzles would have benefited from having more solutions implemented; the fur puzzle is a prime example. I thought of three different ways of solving it, none of which the game addressed, before finally giving up and looking at the hints.

The scoring system does a great job of providing a sense of progress and of indicating the relative importance (or lack thereof) of Adoo’s various tasks. In addition, though the game can be made unwinnable, hefty point deductions are assessed for doing so, which is enough motivation to restore or undo instead of continuing down a futile path. The coding is more or less solid, and I found no flagrant bugs, though the game felt underimplemented in some areas. For example, the crux of the plot is Adoo’s unhappiness about the upcoming sale of the house, but when he asks his parents about the house, rather than offering excuses or explanations, they say, “Um… we live here. Say, are you bored or something?”

Also, the dog can’t be petted. Listen up, designers: if you put a pet in your game, let players pet it. On the other hand, NPCs wander around the landscape in a convincing manner, going about their own lives and even interacting with each other, rather than sitting and waiting to be activated by the PC. They have randomly varied “I don’t know that topic” responses, which greatly helps the illusion that they’re more than chunks of code.

As for the writing, it’s fairly undistinguished. Problems are distressingly common: comma splices (“Welcome home, Adoo, time for a relaxing Summer!”), redundancy (“you return home to the familiar surroundings of Texas, home sweet home”), and spelling woes (“so imfamous, and so stupid”) among them. And that’s just in the first two paragraphs! Still, after a round or two of proofreading, the prose will do a competent enough job of setting the scene and describing objects. It’ll take a lot more than that to make it entertaining, though.

I guess that’s my main problem with Adoo’s Stinky Story: the whole game is just rather flat. It doesn’t ever summon much excitement, humor, or panache; it just sort of sits there. That’s why this review has been hard to write. It’s a lot easier when a game is really great or really terrible, because I find myself with a lot of things to say about those situations. This one is simply mediocre, and I’m not coming up with a lot of great ways to improve it, except perhaps to raze it entirely and start over with a little more experience. And aim higher next time; that will result in either an interesting failure or a dynamite success. This game is neither.

Rating: 6.8

MythTale by Temari Seikaiha [Comp02]

IFDB page: MythTale
Final placement: 11th place (of 38) in the 2002 Interactive Fiction Competition

MythTale is a mixed bag, with weaknesses alongside its strengths in every area. The writing, for instance, can be effective — the opening scene, of a PC struggling up a freezing cold mountainside, works well, involving the senses and evoking the feeling of numbed exhaustion. There are a number of good jokes, and several places where well-chosen words made me smile in appreciation.

In other areas, the prose is far worse. Punctuation seems to be a particular problem, with comma splices rampant and periods frequently missing from the ends of sentences. There are plenty of other mechanical errors, too. Then there are those troubles that may be cultural, but are quite confusing nonetheless. Foremost in my mind among these is this sequence, found outside the PC’s house in a vegetable patch.:

You can see a bonfire and a metal barrel here.

>x bonfire
A tumbled pile of hawthorn branches. Odd though, in the middle of the
bonfire is something that appears to be your coolbox!

Now, for me, a bonfire is a big, raging fire, used to burn lots of items or to light up the night in a celebration of some sort. Consequently, I was quite surprised that the PC left a huge fire burning just outside his house. Then I read the description, and figured that the “coolbox” was either a freezer or an air-conditioner of some sort, and that it had shorted out and set fire to the pile of branches. Strangely, though, even though the metal barrel is full of water, pouring water on the fire doesn’t seem to put it out, just dampen the branches.

After a while, I finally figured out that when the game says “bonfire”, what it actually means is “pile of fuel for a bonfire, not actually burning.” For me, it was one of those instances when a game’s language is so opaque that figuring out what the heck the words meant became a puzzle in itself. I don’t really enjoy those sorts of puzzles too much.

The coding was similarly uneven. For one thing, the game is full of cats, but it doesn’t understand the command PET. This may be another cultural difference, because it does understand STROKE. Nevertheless, I hereby serve notice that I am officially sick of games that offer dogs and cats that can’t be petted. Game authors, if you’re going to give us a cute, fuzzy animal, let us pet the animal. Thank you.

Also, just a little reminder here to Inform authors: turn off the debugging verbs. To do this, compile with -~S -~X -~D set. Otherwise, your game will do things like this:

What do you want to tie?

[game lists out every single fricking object it contains]

Speaking of tying, if you implement a rope that you want me to use to tie something to something else, please implement the syntax “TIE <object> TO <object>.” This seems only sensible, especially compared to MythTale‘s method, “TIE ROPE TO <object>. TIE ROPE TO <other object>.”

Glitches like this aside, the game seemed pretty well-tested, and there was a good hint system for the inevitable times I got stuck. I didn’t find anything that was just broken, and lots of nicely judged custom responses were present, especially when dealing with the cats.

Those cats provided some of the game’s best design moments. There were a couple of puzzles that were both logical and entertaining, and the entire conceit of searching the house for items hidden by the cats was one I enjoyed quite a bit. Also, some of the re-enactments of Greek myths were good IF vignettes, bringing the stories to life in an exciting way. I liked the concept of the multiple endings, too, though the game’s implementation underwhelmed me enough that I wasn’t interested in exploring them.

Predictably, alongside these good design choices, there were some pretty bad ones too. One puzzle is just excruciating, a fiddly device whose workings are not only boring to test and extremely tedious to solve, but which also requires some pretty farfetched guesswork to even arrive at the correct answer. You’ll know the one I mean when you get to it — I recommend turning to the hints without hesitation. Also, some of the puzzles require fairly unmotivated actions, forcing the player to get in a text-adventurey frame of mind rather than acting in character. Overall, despite the fact that it has some fun moments, MythTale is pretty much hit or (must… resist… cheesy… pun…) miss.

Rating: 6.3