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.


Rippled Flesh by Ryan Stevens as Rybread Celsius [Comp96]

IFDB page: Rippled Flesh
Final placement: 24th place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

Having already played the author’s other competition entry, I sincerely dreaded playing this one. Probably my low expectations contributed to my feeling that this game was actually slightly better than Punkirita Quest. Sure, the writing is still riddled with errors, and sure, the plot and premise still make absolutely no sense, and yes, the coding is very poor and the design even more so, but at least this time I had some faint grasp of what was supposed to be happening. Perhaps this derives from the fact that Flesh takes a more realistic setting and thus less needs to be explained by the author’s inadequate verbal skills. Of course, that doesn’t mean I liked it — just that it was less painful than the other game. Progress? Perhaps — I’ll just try to judge the game on an objective basis rather than on its dubious achievement of being a better piece of work than Punkiritia.

Prose: The descriptions were weak, and the overall feel of the game evoked walking through the brain of a mental patient — a series of non sequiturs, loosely tied together by an irrational framework. The writing suffered under so many errors that they seriously occluded the author’s ability to communicate, and this problem was compounded by the fact that many (most, actually) of the objects and rooms in the game seemed to have no real purpose or function.

Difficulty: I found it possible to move through the game without much trouble, which is a good sign; at least the language problems didn’t render the game so opaque that it was simply impossible to complete without a walkthrough. Mainly the point of the game simply seemed to be finding one’s way through a maze of rooms — the one real puzzle (the wardrobes) had its effect spoiled by the fact that one didn’t really gain much of anything by solving it.

Technical (coding): Coding problems abounded. Nothing fatal, but certainly plenty of the nonsensical and downright baffling. For example, how about those lights that get turned on so brightly that they blind the character, yet in the next turn the room is still dark?

Technical (writing): Really quite terrible. My only hypothesis is that the author is a student (rather than a speaker) of English, and a rather poor one at that. A dictionary and a spell-checker would improve things immensely — then the proofreading can begin.

Plot: No, there wasn’t one. A bunch of random events tied together by a whacked-out ending does not a plot make.

Puzzles: I mentioned the game’s only real puzzle above. Other than that, the game’s “puzzle” was just walking through the exit in each room until finally arriving at the “win game” room. Nothing much made sense, and so the whole experience ended up being unsatisfying. The real brain-twister is why the author chose to enter this piece into the competition in the first place.


Punkirita Quest One: Liquid by Ryan Stevens as Rybread Celsius [Comp96]

IFDB page: Punkirita Quest 1: Liquid
Final placement: 25th place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

Well, this is without question the worst writing I’ve ever seen in a piece of interactive fiction. The only thing I can think is that the author is 1) not a native English speaker and 2) incapable of or unwilling to find a fluent speaker to proof his work. The result is a piece of work which is only barely understandable. The piece also had a number of other weaknesses including incomprehensible in-jokes, a confusing magic system which drives the game’s sole puzzle, and the fact that the majority of the world’s features are unexplained except in the solution file.

Prose: The mangled grammar and spelling in the writing are so severe in this game that they are nearly inseparable from the content. The author’s inability to write clearly in English obscures whatever good ideas he may have. This is a work that could only have been published on the Internet — any medium in which editors keep the gate for published work would have sent this prose back for major revision — even a spell-check would have done a world of good.

Difficulty: The most difficult thing was discerning meaning from the tortured writing. After that, the greatest difficulty arose from deciphering the logic behind the game’s baffling magic system and world rules. I went for the hint file right away, but I confess I didn’t try very hard on the puzzle before doing so; at that point I felt quite sure that the writing was bad enough that it would block my ability to figure things out on my own.

Technical (coding): The game was small enough that not much coding would have been required. There were very few objects to interact with each other. In the portions I played, the coding was creditable. (One exception was the fact that the game referred to footnotes without providing them — there should have been a response to the verb “footnote” or “note” which explains that the notes are to be found in the solution file.)

Technical (writing): As I said earlier, the only word is atrocious. Unbelievably poor spelling and grammar — so bad that it made the work almost totally incomprehensible. Apparently the author either didn’t have a spell checker or an English dictionary available, or had them available but didn’t care to use them.

Plot: From what I could make out, the plot was fairly minimal. However, there may have been more than I could figure out from the writing.

Puzzles The only real puzzle didn’t make any sense to me, but then again that could also have been the writing. The solution requires a knowledge of the “glow” power of the hero (which apparently generates not only light but heat as well) which may have been conveyed by the text in a part I skipped over as unreadable.