Every year, authors of computer text adventures submit their efforts to the celebrated Interactive Fiction Competition, and the entire IF community rejoices. Although gamebooks are my first love, these computer games are close relatives to the gamebook and well worth investigating. In any case, although I've played IF-comp entries before, 2001 was the first year that I actually managed to enjoy the competition entries during the official judging period, and I'm proud to have been able to contribute to the contest results by voting. It's been a lot of fun, and I figured it would be worth sharing my opinions of the games I experienced.... Thus the following reviews, presented in the order in which I first played the games.
If you have any questions or comments, I can be contacted, as always, at email@example.com.
by Chris Mudd
I want into this one apprehensively, since the author's entry last year (1-2-3...) was not among my favorites. This is a dramatic improvement, being much more playable and having cleaner-looking text. Despite being better than 1-2-3..., though, it's not wonderful. It's extremely short and extremely linear, it has lots of unimplemented objects (what window? what silhouette? what mourners?) and the plot, while not nearly as cliched as its predecessor, felt unfinished to me. Still, a definite sign of progress -- hopefully the author's next entry will be even better.
An Apple from Nowhere
by Steven Carbone
This is pretty weird. Sort of Photopia-like, but less effective (to be expected -- few things are as effective as Photopia). I liked it, but I didn't really get it, and though it had some novel features (the movie-script-format scenes were a nice touch), it wasn't very thoroughly programmed -- if it had been a bit less linear or had at least responded to a wider variety of inputs (perhaps I missed some, but there didn't seem to be many options in most places), I think I would have liked it considerably more.
Bane of the Builders
by Bogdan Baliuc
A fairly traditional puzzle-filled sci-fi adventure, this is brief but enjoyable. It doesn't explore new territory, but it's a pleasant enough diversion, with a minimalistic but useful built-in hint system. My biggest complaint is that the game requires that you find a hidden item that you really have no particular motivation to look for. Beyond that, the puzzles are all reasonable, and most of my problems had to do with failing to notice exits from certain rooms. Worth a look, and it took me less than an hour to complete.
Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country
by One of the Bruces
This is kind of alarming: a sequel to a pornographic game that was horrifically bad enough to be turned into a Mystery Science Theater 3000 parody. It's remarkably offensive, of course, but it made me laugh a few times. The first segment contains some pretty funny in-joke references to the original, and this is followed by another bit which contains further amusing moments which are non-pornographic in nature. After that, though, it went downhill for me. In any case, if you've played its predecessor and lived, you'll probably be able to get a few laughs out of it. Whether or not this justifies the horror of it all really depends on how depraved you are, I suppose.
by Paul DeWitt
This is a very traditional adventure game. Too traditional for my tastes, in fact. After being dumped into the game without any context, I wandered around picking up treasures for a while, discovered that there's an inventory limit, and began to wonder if anything interesting was going to happen. Eventually I turned to the walkthrough to see if it was worth playing further. For me, it wasn't. There's really not much plot here, and I'm not good enough at puzzle-solving to enjoy this sort of thing without the motivating factor of an interesting story. Other players' results may vary.
Earth and Sky
by Lee Kirby
This is an entertaining, story-oriented game that, despite its linearity, allows the player to do some fun experimentation along the way. My only complaints are that it's a bit too brief (it only took me half an hour to finish) and that it ends with a plug for a sequel. There's nothing wrong with a cliffhanger in theory, and I look forward to the appearance of the sequel, but I can't help being worried by the fact that such follow-up games frequently fail to appear. I'd certainly be disappointed if this storyline remained eternally unresolved.
by James A. Mitchlehill
This is rather interesting -- it has a common goal with Stiffy Makane, of all things, but its style is infinitely different. It tries to be more high-brow, though I'm not sure that's really possible in a game like this. In any case, the bulk of the adventure revolves around a conversation system that replaces the traditional IF nightmare of "guess the verb" with a new dilemma: "guess the noun." If you can make your way past this, you're treated to some graphic sex followed by a cryptic ending. Didn't do much for me, really, but perhaps if I'd figured out exactly what the whole thing was supposed to be about I'd have been more appreciative.
by Norman Perlmutter
Like Bane of the Builders, this is a short, fairly traditional adventure. I found it a pleasant enough diversion, though it's entirely unspectacular. The plot is loose, the puzzles are simple, there's too much time spent on mundane activities like eating and sleeping, and there are quite a few non-critical bugs and typos (for example, the letter "x" frequently appears at the end of sentences, and it's impossible to pick up your suitcase once you've dropped it). I was pleased, I must say, by the game's unique (to the best of my knowledge) hint system. Ultimately, there are better ways to spend your time, but there are also worse.
Film at Eleven
by Bowen Greenwood
In this game, you're a small-town reporter trying to get your first big scoop. It's a very well-implemented game, responding to more actions than you might expect and containing decent writing. I did find at least one bug, though -- try typing "follow truck" at Main Street. Anyway, despite being largely technically solid, I didn't find it terribly amusing or challenging, which is a shame. If this had been a bit more humorous or otherwise engaging, it would probably have been one of the strongest entries in the comp (or at very least the best I've played so far). As it is, it's above average, but not exceptional.
by Dionysius Porcupine
I'm troubled by this game. On the one hand, it's funny, original, different and unexpected. On the other, it's full of typos, inconsistencies and interpreter-crashing bugs which get worse as the story progresses. If its flaws were properly dealt with, it would be wonderful. Not necessarily groundbreaking or brilliant, but highly entertaining nonetheless. As it is, it has some great moments, but it's frustrating and difficult for all the wrong reasons. I couldn't finish it due to its bugginess, even using the provided walkthrough. It's too bad you can't just enjoy the story as the author presumably intended -- I certainly would have rated this higher had it been more playable. Hopefully a bug-fixed version of the game will show up after the competition is over.
by Matthew Lowe
This isn't a terribly impressive entry, though it's the author's first game and as such deserves a bit of extra credit -- if you look at it as a first try at creating a simple but playable text adventure, it's certainly a success. If you take a wider view, though, there's not much to recommend it. The parser isn't very sophisticated, lots of nouns that should be implemented aren't, and it's not as surreal as it probably could have been. It's also rather aimless -- you wander around, solving a couple of simple puzzles and uncovering tidbits of plot that don't really seem to have much significance, and then it ends. Still, I don't mean to come off as overly harsh -- it's an adequate start, and I hope to see the author's skills grow over time.
by Rich Cummings
Last year's competition also featured a game in which you are stranded far from home. It was rather tedious since there were tons of nearly identical locations and seemingly very little to do. This game is somewhat similar in that respect, but it adds some multimedia features to make things a bit more tolerable. I still wasn't terribly impressed -- while the photographs included with the area descriptions did help differentiate one place from another, I think artwork might have been more atmospheric than photography (though I understand that this probably wasn't an option for the author). The game might have also seemed less tedious without locations that kill you when you try to leave them and rather strict inventory limits. Bugs further damage the atmosphere -- weird things happen if, for example, you tie rope to something in your inventory and then drop it and walk away; there are also a few mildly distracting typos. Anyway, it didn't take too long for me to resort to reading the walkthrough, and this revealed that there's no way I could have finished the game on my own -- too many actions require the player to be telepathic and search things that aren't really hinted at in the area descriptions. This isn't really my kind of game, and its flaws don't do much to improve my opinion of it; it certainly could have been worse, but there are better ways to spend your time.
by James Willson
This is more of a toy than a game -- it drops you into a strange environment and encourages you to experiment. I like this sort of thing in theory, but I tend to get impatient quickly when I have no set goal to aim for other than comprehension. As a result, I never quite connected with the game, and I'm still not exactly sure what's going on in it, even after looking at the hints. Perhaps I'll gain a better appreciation of it once I read some other people's reviews after the competition is over.
To Otherwhere and Back
by Gregory Ewing
This game was designed for a different competition in which all of the games have to be based on the same pre-written walkthrough; it missed that competition's deadline, however, and ended up in this one. I like the idea of WalkthroughComp, but it's sort of hard to judge this game outside the context of that competition. The problem is that the most clever thing about the game is the way that it plays with the predetermined course of actions specified by its walkthrough. Without having played the other WalkthroughComp entries, I can't say whether or not this take on the walkthrough is more clever than any other might have been, and if I view this simply as interactive fiction outside of the WalkthroughComp context, it's pretty lousy, being full of illogical actions and thus completely unsolvable without the author's documentation. I can't blame the author for not wanting his work to go to waste, but I don't expect this game to be terribly well-received; it's not quite amusing or interesting enough to survive outside of the environment for which it was created.
by Steev Hilderbrand
This game is based on the Paranoia RPG, which I haven't played but which is amusing by all accounts. I found it fairly enjoyable, apparently bug-free and occasionally chuckle-inducing. I wouldn't say it's brilliant (it's kind of short and pointless, and I would never have figured out how to finish it without the walkthrough, probably due to my unfamiliarity with the game's world), but it's definitely a fun way to kill half an hour or so, and one of the better entries thus far.
The Beetmonger's Journal
by Aubrey Foil
This is easily the best entry that I've seen thus far in the competition. It's interestingly constructed and well-written, and its puzzles are hard enough to require some thought but generally not too frustrating (I didn't need hints or the walkthrough to win for the first time). As an added bonus, there are two distinct paths to follow through the story and multiple endings to reach, making the whole thing worth playing at least twice. I have only a few complaints. On a technical level, there are a few minor but slightly annoying bugs (some text ended up being inexplicably repeated, for example). On a story level, the only real problem is that the whole thing could be viewed as a bit preachy, though this didn't offend me unduly. In any case, if you're looking to play the highlights of the competition, I'd count this as one of them -- it's worth a look.
Stick it to the Man
by H. Joshua Field
This is a somewhat interesting (but seriously flawed) story-oriented game. For one thing, it's rather buggy. There several distinct paths through the story, but I suspect that at least one of them is completely inaccessible, since attempting to follow certain lines of dialogue which might change the player's location causes the interpreter to crash. Other problems include characters who repeat themselves to a ludicrous extent and occasional messages about scripting problems. A more serious problem, perhaps, is the story itself. It starts off very promisingly, with a variety of characters in a situation that could lead just about anywhere. Unfortunately, in the paths I followed at least, the story never really developed. It's about characters who are angry at their world, and I had hoped that this would lead to a message about the world, or anger, or something thought-provoking. Instead, it seems that, to some extent, the author shares the characters' anger and is simply shouting along with them; in the end, the whole thing lacks subtlety, which is a shame.
by John Evans
This is a nice puzzle-oriented fantasy game with a few interesting original features (most notably the ability to customize your character with tattoos, and a book in which you can collect hints as you explore the world). I enjoyed playing it quite a bit, though it does have a few flaws: some alternate puzzle solutions that should work don't, and not everything seemed logical to me. These problems forced me to check the hints (which is normal for me), but the hints themselves are rather sloppily implemented -- they all show up at once, and you have to wade through them to find what you want, seeing unwanted spoilers along the way. If the author had implemented Invisiclues-style hints, I would have been happier with the game. Still, even with this problem, this is an above-average entry and worth playing if you're looking for a traditional (but still original) quest.
by Daniel T. Freas
This is a fairly simple puzzle game. It's very competently designed, both in terms of writing and programming, but it nonetheless seems to be missing something. Despite the technical quality of its room descriptions and coding, the whole of the game doesn't quite hold together. The plot is too little too late, the puzzles are mostly too obvious (more or less amounting to "find the key that fits the keyhole" over and over), and the scenery, with a few notable exceptions, is bland (too many gratuitous corridors!). The game did hold my attention long enough for me to finish it with only minimal hints-peeking, but I probably would have quickly gotten frustrated and given up had the puzzles not been as easy as they were. In the end, I felt like I had almost played a good game, but not quite -- one of the better mediocre games (or worst best games, if you prefer) that I've played in a while.
You Were Doomed from the Start
by Jeremy Carey Dressler
Why? Why? Why? That's all that comes to mind, really. The game is pointless (and not in a funny way, though it tries a little), and the provided source code is an abomination (well, maybe I'm overstating things a little here... but it's not very useful). If this was a joke, it wasn't very funny; if it wasn't a joke, it was misguided at best. On a positive note, it wasted less than ten minutes of my life.
Journey from an Islet
by Mario Becroft
This was the author's first major piece of interactive fiction, and it's a decent one. It's competently designed and written, though it wasn't entirely to my taste, being more interested in being pretty than anything else and completely lacking humor. Of course, these criticisms are more a matter of personal taste than of quality -- if you have a greater love for abstract, dream-like fantasy than I do, you may really enjoy this.
by J. Robinson Wheeler
This game seems to be endeavoring to be a weird abstract puzzle game like the classic Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It or last year's Ad Verbum. Although the writing and programming are both mostly good, it lacks the wit and humor of those two aforementioned adventures, and its puzzles are far, far too obscure. I can't imagine anyone completing this without the walkthrough, and even with the walkthrough it's confusing. Things are made worse by the fact that rooms disappear when you solve them, eventually leaving a maze of empty rooms that all look alike -- finding new puzzles to work on soon becomes incredibly tedious. Ultimately, I didn't end up finishing the game, either because a bug prevented me from reaching an essential room or because I just couldn't find it in the mess; I'm not sure which. In any case, this was a well-intentioned effort, but not a very successful one. Maybe next year!
by Jason Love
I didn't play this one for very long. First of all, it has a short time limit after which you are killed. This might be acceptable but for two things: first of all, there's a weird bug which makes one area of the game inaccessible (the room description trails off, and a later attached room says simply "$$$"). Secondly, there are no hints, so I don't know if the game's solution requires me to visit this inaccessible area. After noticing these two facts, I decided not to waste any further time on the game. The writing looked decent enough, so this might have been a good game had it worked, but I wasn't up to the frustration of trying to find out.
A Night Guest
by Dr. Inkalot
This brief, semi-interactive humorous poem isn't the greatest work of interactive fiction yet revealed to humanity, but it is pretty amusing and fun to play with. It only took me about fifteen minutes to fully explore all the options, but they were a very enjoyable fifteen minutes.
The Cave of Morpheus
by Mark Silcox
Last year's competition gave me a healthy disdain for the ADRIFT system; both of that year's entries based on the engine were decidedly weak games. This game does nothing to improve my opinion of ADRIFT. Its parser seems awfully limited, and the technical side of things just seems weak overall. Despite this, though, it's the best ADRIFT game I've yet encountered -- it's linear, simplistic and sometimes frustratingly unresponsive, but it's also a nice little feel-good story about adventure games. Not brilliant, but cute.
by Sean Barrett
This is a fairly intricate game, with an interesting "variations on a theme" feel and some fun roles to play. However, despite it being a sophisticated adventure, I didn't really enjoy it all that much. The challenge level was too high for my tastes and it just got tedious after a while. I have a feeling that a lot of people will love this one, but I never quite warmed to it. Strange, really.
Invasion of the Angora-fetish Transvestites from the Graveyards of Jupiter
by Morten Rasmussen
Upon seeing the title of this one, I hoped it had something to do with Ed Wood, and to my delight it does -- there are lots of cute b-movie references in here. Unfortunately, in spite of this, I couldn't really get into the game. The game is Windows-based rather than interpreted, and this allows it to have some interesting features: real-time character movement, a full MP3 soundtrack, pop-up graphics and a multi-windowed look. These are all interesting features, but they weren't put to the best possible use here. When playing the game, I actually felt that I had too much freedom -- there was so much territory to explore and so many constantly-moving characters to track down and talk to that I was intimidated and gave up fairly quickly. It was a lot of work to find anything to do, and whenever I did find a new person to talk to, I was faced with a rather unresponsive conversation engine. This game might actually have been better off had it been released outside of the competition -- it looks long enough to be considered full-length, and I can see myself really enjoying a slightly more polished revision; not having the competition's two-hour judging time limit looming over me would probably help a bit too.
by Dark Baron Matt
It's another ADRIFT game, it's mildly amusing, it has a fully-implemented calculator, and it proved to me that morse code is harder than you might expect to figure out. Beyond that, I wasn't overly impressed.
Begegnung am Fluss
by Florian Edlbauer
Alas, I can't read German. At least I can recognize it....
Moments Out of Time
by L. Ross Raszewski
This is an amazing piece of work, the best entry I've played so far in this year's competition and stronger than anything in last year's contest. The story is compelling, the attention to detail is impressive, the replay value is high and the overall effect is highly involving. It's obvious that a lot of work went into making this an effective game, and it is definitely worth playing a few times over!
The Isolato Incident
by Alan DeNiro
Often, interactive fiction attempts to be poetic and ends up merely being incoherent or pretentious. This is one of the rare exceptions, an interesting story shown through an unusual perspective. My biggest complaint is simply that it's rather on the short side.
This is a fairly familiar horror story -- the broken-down car, the haunted house, the thunderstorm.... Fortunately, I like these cliches, so I found the game somewhat enjoyable, for a while at least. Still, it's far from wonderful -- the writing, in addition to being thoroughly cliched and obvious, is pretty weak and incoherent much of the time, and the game itself is ludicrously short despite having a large amount of territory to explore. To make matters worse, the ADRIFT interpreter once again draws my wrath: I was stuck at one point because for some reason an action didn't work when I used the "x" abbreviation but did work when I used the full word "examine." The abbreviation normally works just fine, so I'm not sure what was going on here! If not for the very useful automap, I'd be tempted to say that ADRIFT has no redeeming features. I'd almost certainly have ended up rating this game higher if it had been written in, say, TADS or Inform.
by Jack Maet
This is an interesting feat of programming -- an Inform game that seems to play Chess quite well (though I'm not hard to beat, so I can't evaluate the game's intelligence too effectively). I had fun playing with this, but I didn't ultimately rate it too highly simply because it doesn't fit into the competition very well -- although the fictional framework for the Chess game is cute, it's also rather minimal. Outside of that, it's pretty much impossible to compare a game of Chess to a text adventure. This is a nice toy, but it's not really interactive fiction (unless I missed something, which I admit is possible).
by Kathleen M. Fischer
This game was fairly reminiscent of the author's entry in last year's competition, Masquerade. Like that game, it wasn't really to my taste, being a bit romance-novel-flavored, so I couldn't really get myself into it. It also suffers from a number of typos and at least one bug (though I'm sure the author will fix that for a post-competition re-release). Still, if you liked Masquerade or if you enjoy historical romances more than I do, this is definitely worth a look.
by John Gorenfeld
Last year's competition included an entry called Jarod's Journey, a rather silly attempt at preaching Christianity in text adventure software. Some were offended, some laughed, most just ignored it. I can't help but wonder if this entry was inspired by Jarod's Journey in some way. It will certainly have some of the same reactions (offense or amusement), though for very different reasons -- this is meant as nothing more or less than a parody, and it's a very funny one at that. Although the game suffers from some rather serious bugs, I did manage to finish it successfully, enjoying the ride immensely. If you can see the humor in Monty Python's Life of Brian, you'll appreciate this game.
by The Wanna-Be Writer
This multimedia game is all about punctuation. I wasn't terribly impressed with it -- I couldn't tell if it was actually trying to be educational or if it was merely trying (with only limited success) to be funny. The art was cute, but for the most part I didn't find this very enjoyable.
by Mike Duncan
This would be my second-favorite entry so far, after Moments Out of Time. It doesn't have quite the cohesion and effectiveness of my chosen favorite, but it comes pretty close and is a remarkable piece of work. The diversity of characters and locations is amazing, the lack of an inventory or compass directions is bold, the length of the piece is satisfying, and the original MIDI soundtrack works better than one might expect (though it's not perfect). I was hoping for a more spectacular conclusion, and a little more interactivity might have been nice, but I really can't complain much -- this is quite a ride, and one well worth taking.
by Mihalis Georgostathis
This is a disaster. I've never seen the Quest interpreter before, but this game hasn't given me a favorable impression of it. Its vocabulary is very slim, its graphical interface is clunky, and there must be some bugs somewhere because sometimes commands work and sometimes they don't. This problem was so bad that I couldn't finish the game -- although most actions were obvious, I couldn't perform many because the interpreter just wouldn't let me. Even some of the commands in the walkthrough wouldn't work when I tried them! Considering that this interpreter is shareware and asks for money whenever you start it up, I'd expect it to at least work properly! Of course, some of the game's hopelessness may be the fault of its author rather than the interpreter's programmer -- it's a first game, after all. It's also worth mentioning that the author's English isn't wonderful, which doesn't make the game any more playable.
This is a nice piece of work. I wasn't too impressed by it at first, as it initially seems rather cliched and familiar. However, as the game unfolds, it reveals a lot more depth than you might at first expect -- there are multiple endings, interesting possibilities and quite a few things to try. It's not perfect; there are a few bugs (some books which the walkthrough says you can read seem to be inaccessible in the actual game, for example) and things do get a bit too melodramatic at times, but the game has a message or two and it's worth checking out. Be sure to try the walkthrough after you've experimented on your own for a while -- it's a very interesting experience.
Best of Three
by Emily Short
I'm impressed with this -- an interactive conversation which reveals an interesting story as it unfolds. There are lots of possibilities, and replay is more or less essential; I found out all sorts of things on the second play that I didn't realize on the first (though the first play was in itself a satisfying experience). My only real complaint is the ending, which is somewhat predictable and not as powerful as it could be. Still, despite ending on a bit of a thud, this is a great piece of work.
by Jon Ingold
This wasn't my favorite entry in the comp, mainly because I got off on the wrong foot and kept getting stuck because I failed to notice things. Despite apparently being on a slightly different wavelength from the author, I did find myself enjoying the story once I got into it. It's well-constructed and comes together nicely by the end. Not a classic, but a solid piece nonetheless, and more enjoyable (in my opinion) than the author's work from last year's competition, My Angel.
by Carl Muckenhoupt
Well, while playing through these games, I was thinking about what final conclusions I might draw about this year's competition. I was thinking that I'd probably say something to the effect of "while the competition contained quite a few excellent games, its strengths were mainly in depth of story rather than innovative game design." It turns out that I was thinking too soon for my own good, as this game has enough cleverness in it to go around. It's sort of like an interactive version of Jabberwocky, and it's lots of fun to play with. A must-see, though you may tire of it quickly depending on your attention span and sense of humor.
The Evil Sorcerer
by Gren Remoz
This is a fairly traditional fantasy-with-puzzles game, similar to "The Cruise" but slightly more entertaining. It is a bit flawed, though -- even after seeing the walkthrough, I couldn't figure out the logic of one major puzzle (you try something, it doesn't work, you talk to somebody about something unrelated, then you try the same thing you tried earlier, only it works this time. Huh!?) My other biggest complaint is that the game has a fairly strict inventory limit. While this makes things more realistic, it's also a pain -- all the inventory-juggling detracts from the important parts of gameplay. The author could at least have included a bag of holding or some other excuse to lug lots of different items around. Oh well; I still enjoyed myself, though I didn't feel I was experiencing anything even remotely original.
You Are Here
by Roy Fisher
This is rather interesting -- an interactive fiction simulation of an online multi-user dungeon which is also a promotional piece for a play that itself deals with the MUD being simulated. Can't say I've seen too many of those. The game works pretty well by itself, though it's not as much fun as playing a real MUD. I was admittedly a bit annoyed that no walkthrough was included -- no matter how easy a game is, a walkthrough is useful; it's easy to overlook things in the text format. I eventually got stuck, probably because I simply failed to notice some item or other, and I had nowhere to turn. This prevented me from finishing the game which in turn may well have stopped me from seeing something that would have improved my general impression of the adventure. This problem aside, I also imagine that the whole thing seems considerably more meaningful if you've seen the play (which I haven't, though I'd certainly like to).
The Coast House
by Stephen Newton and Dan Newton
This is a fairly average-seeming game. It balances story with puzzles well enough, but the puzzles are easy and the story isn't all that enthralling. I had fun with it, but I'm not really all that impressed.
by Ricardo Dague
This game is written in Java, and it's a pretty nice piece of work considering that it was done without the help of an adventure design system. The vocabulary is limited but workable, and there are some fairly sophisticated objects in the game. Unfortunately, though, the objects are sophisticated enough that I couldn't figure out what the heck to do with them after a certain point, and there's no walkthrough. Eventually I gave up in frustration. If you're going to make a game this complicated (or apparently complicated -- maybe I missed something obvious), you really should include hints!
2112 - A Field Trip
by George K. George
This game motivated me to work through just about all that preceded it. You see, 2112 is the title of a song by the band Rush, which I happen to be quite fond of. It was previously adapted into a rather dreary text adventure. I hoped that this game would be one of two things: a better adaptation of the song, or a Mystery Science Theater remake of the original lousy game. Alas, when I actually played it, my hopes were dashed. It seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with Canadian progressive rock music. It's not a bad game, though, being a mildly amusing sci-fi adventure with a decent parser written in Visual Basic and featuring sound and graphics. Perhaps because of my disappointment, though, I couldn't really get into it. I guess you shouldn't judge a game by its title.
I'm thankful that a walkthrough was posted for this game shortly after the competition started, because I otherwise would never have finished it. Of course, if I hadn't finished it, I wouldn't really have missed much. The game is decidedly predictable, and its English is rather weak, which doesn't give it any extra credibility. There are one or two interesting moments (the last few moments are more effective than all the rest of the story), but you can probably safely skip this one.
The Last Just Cause
by Jeremy Carey Dressler
Aargh! Another one from the twisted creator of You Were Doomed from the Start!! This one apparently has slightly more of a plot, but it also adds an incredibly irritating random monster combat system. The hand-coded interpreter remains clunky as ever. It's truly remarkable that one individual could be responsible for the two worst entries in this entire competition!
by Anssi Raisanen
In this adventure, the player must retrieve seven escaped horses. It would make a good beginner's game since the puzzles are all quite easy and there's no overcomplicated inventory juggling, but it doesn't stand out for the experienced player -- there's no innovative puzzle design, and the story and characters aren't particularly distinctive. It's a solid game, but rather generic.
No Time to Squeal
by Mike Sousa and Robb Sherwin
This is yet another game that brings Photopia to mind without entirely recapturing the effectiveness of that classic. The game does have some nice design elements (which I won't elaborate on for fear of giving away an interesting surprise), and its story is engaging to a point, but in the end I wasn't entirely satisfied. Too many parts of the story that should have been expanded upon were ignored, and the more surreal aspects of the game didn't do much for me. A good try, though, and worth looking at if you like this sort of thing (which I do).
by Simon Mark
Not a bad note to end the comp on -- a fairly good balance of story and puzzles with some originality to it. It gets a bit repetitive if you're slow to catch on to certain things, but it's an interesting design nonetheless. I wasn't entirely satisfied by it, but it's a respectable piece of work.
This was a pretty good year for the competition. Clearly, story won out over puzzles; there was very little that felt like traditional Infocom this year. Because of this lack of puzzles, a lot of the games were pretty quick, though the best of the story-oriented games (Moments Out of Time, Fusillade and Best of Three, most notably) provided quite lengthy gameplay. Moments Out of Time was the clear overall winner for me, and it will be interesting to see if others agree. The Gostak wins my "most original" award, though -- good stuff! Strangely missing this year were the pointless humor games that are usually present (last year's Stupid Kittens and Prodly the Puffin come to mind). While these games are usually awful, they are occasionally funny, and I sort of missed them. Crusade gets my "funniest game of the year" designation, but there really wasn't much competition. Overall, I think this was a pretty strong year, but not as surprising as some past competitions. I look forward to seeing what happens next time....