Reviews: IF Competition 2006

I only got partway through the game list this year. This means that I am not awarding 1s or 10s. No, there's no logical connection there, but it fits the mood.

(It's a theoretical question anyway -- I'm an entrant, so I'm not submitting these scores.)

The games I played divide quite tidily into "This was really interesting and cool", "this was a good idea but could have carried it off better", and "feh." So, three score clusters. (Although "Carmen Devine" would certainly have moved to the top cluster if I'd been able to finish it.)

I had trouble ordering each cluster, though. The cool games were all cool in different ways.

Commentaries, in the order that I played the games:

(Note that I wrote all these reviews as I played. Bugs and interpreter incompatibilities may have been fixed in post-competition releases.)


J.D. Clemens

Temporal puzzles are clearly a winning maneuver. This one isn't as baroque as All Things Devours in 2004, but it's clever and just as impeccably implemented. I didn't quite solve it (whereas I did solve ATD), so it's either harder or more complicated. Or simpler (as in, I missed just one idea, but that was enough to keep me from winning).

My only quibble is that the game forbids "get all" as a way to save moves, but it allows implicit take.


Sami Preuninger

Major bug: the Nim game early on doesn't work right under Zoom or Spatterlight. (I was able to play under Frotz.) It's a bad design anyway; the game uses a special prompt for game moves, so you can't undo, quit, save, or even walk away. A scene like this should be implemented with ordinary commands.

That aside...

This is in the "sequence of pure puzzles" category, and is fine for what it is. Throwing in your wife as a lure was more of an eye-roller than a motivator, but what do I know.

Aunts and Butlers

Robin Johnson

Doesn't work in Safari. (The text fails to scroll, so as soon as you have more than a window-height's-worth, it starts overlapping the input area.)

The Apocalypse Clock


This manages to get stuck in fixed-width text at the beginning. Fix that, please.

If you're going to have a one-room (start-of-) game, it would be good to implement the few scenery objects mentioned. (Clothes, carpet, drywall.) Oh, wait... it's not a one-room game; the first room merely forgot to mention that it had an exit. Sigh.

Other bugs: A second critical door in the game is also completely unmentioned in its room description. You can't return from the tunnel to your house. If you put the tape in the PC before turning the PC on, the game says "the door is unlocked" but it's lying -- the game becomes unwinnable.

At this point I reach a fake "you have died" message. I'm finished with this game. There is a sense of whimsy in the world creation, and the clock is a nice hook, but it needs a lot more testing -- well, it needs any testing. First piece of user feedback: the fake death needs to go.

Ballymun Adventure

Brendan Cribbin

Just in the first room, I see basic IF mistakes. Punctuation is haphazard and weirdly spaced. Events are shoved into the room description.

This is more or less "implementing my house" except by a teacher, so it's a school. This means it still has the house problem -- lots of areas which are uninteresting to everybody who hasn't been there, including (I assume) everybody judging the IFComp games. It also has a vaguely creepy, preachy tone: "Mastering the art of making pots is a very enjoyable activity for many pupils." After going through a bunch of rooms, the only game-relevant thing I've found is a key (to a room I can't find), and I am not inspired to continue.

Carmen Devine: Supernatural Troubleshooter

Rob Myall

I like the scene-setting in the opening. Focus on smell, mention of "your natural weaponry" in the "x me" text, references to "the pack" as something you're familiar with. And the file folder. Good introduction.

Unfortunately the game gets a little thin on implementation after that. "Smell", a crucial verb, produces generic responses much more often than it should -- often with a wrongly-capitalized room or object name: "The Village Well smells pretty generic."

More generally, the game doesn't provide a lot of hinting about what to do; it mostly seems to involve detailed searching of the scenery. I may have missed something, or there may be a command I missed, but I got stuck after I called the pack in. The provided walkthrough was not actually a walkthrough, and did not allow me to finish the game.

Design problem: if you change and drop all your stuff in a dark room, you can't pick it up again.


Theo Koutz

I love the setup. "Also, you're dead and in Hades."

However, the game is lacking in any... er... means of doing anything other than pushing the boulder up the hill. (Again.) I am therefore going to assume that the joke is that the gods hate you and there is no solution. Not a great joke.

Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game

Riff Conner

In fact I have a weakness for Flash escape-the-room mini-adventures, so this was a pleasing setup. The author isn't going for fancy room descriptions -- nearly all the objects are basic "... is here" lines -- but that's fine; it's solid and there is a well-distributed undercurrent of humor.

The puzzles are not all well-clued enough for an IF game. Finding the safe combo was okay; the waiting puzzle, not so okay. Similarly, the repetition gag worked (and was funny) for the cans, but not for the aspirin.

The ending was sort of off-key, also. The gimmick (sorry, I'm getting spoilery here) is that after you succeed in leaving the room, you die. This could work (as an ironic commentary on the whole silly genre), but the way it's presented here doesn't have enough closure to work that way -- it feels like you failed to solve a puzzle, but there are no more puzzles. So I was left unsatisfied.

Then the hints explain that there is another puzzle -- just not one that can remotely be discovered or solved without looking at the hints. (Yes, I'm waiting for someone to post that they figured it out without the hints.) Again, the idea of this structure is good, but the game doesn't do enough to lead you into it.

(The author avers that the story is ridiculous, but he's wrong. The story makes sense, and the game structure -- an escape-the-room game which leads you to uncover why you're amnesiac and locked in a room -- also makes sense. What is ridiculous is the series of logical leaps you need to reach the "good ending".)

Random things I wish had been implemented: diagonal directions ("nw" to go from the south side of the room to the west side, etc.); "get down" (when standing on something); "turn dial to X".

Madam Spider's Web

Sara Dee

This is an old-fashioned surreal mini-drama... by "old-fashioned" I mean "influenced by Adam Cadre and (ahem) me." Don't take that as a knock, please. It is excellently atmospheric -- lots of little emotionally-resonant elements. Very cleanly implemented, too. Not large, but there's just enough stuff to convey what it wants to convey and get out.

If I have a specific complaint, it's that the real-world layer is an IF trope that has been done way, way too many times. I picked up on it early, and groaned. But it turned out that this game does that trope well.

Xen: The Hunt

Ian Shlasko

This is part 2 of a story that I missed part 1 of, so I found it hard to get into. The background didn't seem to be well presented -- yes, it comes with a synopsis of part 1, but the game didn't give any sense of being in this enormous alien-dominated world. It was your college, except some some of your friends are aliens in disguise.

The gameplay was a bare series of events. It wasn't very interactive, is what I mean. There isn't much opportunity to try different things and discover what the world lets you do. In each scene, you look around until you find the way to the next scene. Or, possibly, you miss a cue and have to look at the hints. I wound up playing from the walkthrough for the last half of the game.

At the end, the writing gets really, really bad. Sorry.

PS: if the gun has enough power to "kill almost anyone", it's not a stun gun. And if you give me a magic wand, either "wave wand" or "point wand at..." should be valid commands. Given the conventions of IF as we know it, "use wand" is the last thing I would have thought of.


Zack Wood

Homebrew, sigh. Yes, I know it started as a homework assignment. This doesn't make me happier about the lack of standard IF stuff like "undo", "verbose", "it", font preferences, decent paragraph spacing, or a prompt.

I see I have used up a one-shot item, uselessly, in a game without "undo" or "restore". I think that about wraps it up for this game.

The Tower of the Elephant

Tor Andersson

I love the writing. I realize this is not as much of a compliment to the author as it could be, because "The Tower of the Elephant" is a Robert E. Howard sword-and-sorcery story. But the game author chose a great story, adapted the text to IF narration, and smoothly filled in all the gaps that player exploration can uncover in a narrative. He gets plenty of credit.

Tower makes an interesting comparison to Xen: The Hunt, because it also has a structure -- at least in the first half -- where you're being led through a series of events. I liked Tower much more than Xen. I have two explanations for this:

First, you are literally being led -- an NPC takes the lead. This gives you a reasonable in-story motivation to play that way, for as long as that part of the game lasts.

And it does end, which is another good thing; in the second part of the game, you get to be active.

And thirdly: you're Conan. Dude! It's awesome. I was surprised at how different it felt. I think I've gotten used to IF where you're a fairly frail, timorous person. That makes your triumphs over obstacles more dramatic, but it also implies a certain style of play. When you're Conan, you've got a big honking sword, and you've got a reasonable expectation that using the sword will be an effective strategy.

(No Conan Kill Everything jokes, please.)

In fact you do not kill everything; a large part of the game's second half is a long dialogue scene. I have mixed feelings about this. It fit the game (and the story), but the immersion fell apart for me -- I was typing "topics" every other turn so that I could hit all the available dialogue threads. And the fact that I could follow them in my own order made the narrative feel disjointed, not interactive. I think I would have preferred some other way to present that scene -- perhaps a series of visions, narrated by the NPC.

Star City

Mark Sachs

Nice story, but the implementation is a series of hoops without a lot of consideration about what would make the player jump through them. Too many new commands, not enough learning curve.

The final puzzle outweighs the rest of the game, which is not great. Also, that puzzle needs more feedback to be manageable. I wound up typing "x panel. undo" every few turns, which is a bad symptom.

Strange Geometries

Phillip Chambers

Nice story... did I just say that? The big flaw here is the writing, which is generally awkward. Good imagery, but the style isn't strong enough to hold it up -- it doesn't have impact where the plot needs it. Also, the game needs a good going-over for grammar, apostrophes, and spelling.

Also, it needs more work on reasonable synonyms. "Give X to Y" and probably "put X on Y" should work for "show X to Y". Filling the ring was also unnecessarily guess-the-verb-y.

The gimmick is cute. I was skeptical at first -- it seemed like, well, just a gimmick -- but it's maintained consistently throughout the game. On the other hand, I'm not sure what it contributes. The story would be identical without it, and the touch of alienness doesn't contribute to horror the way it would to SF. And while the idea does impact gameplay at one point, I don't feel that's enough to justify its presence.


Steven Richards

This would be the surreal-world puzzle game genre that I've heard so much about. Sly back-references do not make a story, however. And you can ignore most of the surreal stuff in your stumble to the ending, which leaves me without any desire to go back and look at it again.


what you seek

Got stuck on the second step. (The keypad.) The walkthrough gives the correct command, but no hint as to how I was supposed to know that, so I'm tossing this in the "broken" bin.


Ian Anderson

This is this year's "I am going to mess with the conventions of IF interaction" entry. It is an excellent one of those. The beginning is completely mysterious, but it still flows naturally along until you have a clue about what's going on.

There are enough endings and variations that I think everybody will find something, even though some of the paths are more of a stretch than others. I never quite get into the groove of trying every game object. But I still got to an ending without much trouble. (Ok, I looked at hints too.)

Last updated November 30, 2006.

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