In the order I played ’em:
A Matter of Importance: too eager to comment on itself. Objects are described as “irrelevant-looking,” and you’re unable to tell a boy about a ball because of “parser limitations.” You’re a thief, going about your business, and in such a mundane collection of rooms it does feel like work. Asking to see the footnotes is not my idea of interaction. The author explains at the end it was a parody.
Across the Stars: a Tek Jansen adventure. The authors describe withholding the game from last year’s competition for another year’s worth of polish. I could have put up with a few bugs last year if it meant I’d be playing another game now. Instead I’m working through an impeccable trifle that’s not even that impeccable, an incredibly straight treatment of the straightest imaginable material. The sixteen-chapter creation myth made me embarrassed to be taking part in the comp. But hey, how about those feelies?
An Act of Murder was my favorite this year. Since I have nothing but good to say about it, let’s move on.
Lost Pig deserves distinction for its deep reservoir of responses. Take away the sterling implementation and you’re basically playing Temple of the Gnome-Mage.
Fox, Fowl and Feed turns you against a classic puzzle by making you perform the solution. In the sequel, you’re a construction worker faced with heavy stone disks of varying sizes. Can you fix the crane in time to make the three cairns your client has requested?
A Fine Day for Reaping: a broad, lazy comedy that makes The Sisters look demure.
Lord Bellwater’s Secret was none too carefully concealed in a series of hidden compartments, all of which we’ve discovered before in other, better games. Or so I thought, until Elsie’s letter won me over.
Having read the intro, I wasn’t looking forward to Ferrous Ring. I’m not interested in new ways of playing IF — well, I sort of am, but I’m way more interested in stories, settings, and situations that make IF worth playing. The story here captures the feeling of being swept along in a wide, raging river. It isn’t surreal; it just feels that way because you can’t get a handle on your surroundings, especially when all you get for a room description are lists of what’s good and bad. It’s Children of Men meets the Scott Adams games.
The author of Eduard the Seminarist carefully avoids giving too much of the game away, so you don’t have to worry about spoilers like what you’re trying to accomplish, what objects are in the room with you, or where you can steer the [redacted].
Varkana appeals to the reader’s imagination — but, too much of the time, only to fill in the blanks. It’s torn in half by an identity swap late in the game, and the plot line, hurriedly unraveled at the end, isn’t enough to sew the pieces together.
Press Escape to Save? I prefer Ctrl-C.
Where Madam Spider’s Web concludes by dismantling its fantasy world, Wish takes another approach, suggesting, on the island at the end, that maybe this fantasy isn’t just a coping mechanism, that maybe your actions do have some bearing on reality. Unfortunately the game is less interested in exploring this idea than in wrapping things up into a tidy, ribbon-topped Christmas package.
My Mind’s Mishmash weaves its story through overlaid settings so well apportioned they belie the game’s title. Structure, however, isn’t everything, and in Mishmash it’s not even the main thing. You’ve got mechs to pilot; you’ve got gadgets that let you phase through time and space; and you’ve got an elaborate backstory — or is it the forestory? Which game is it that’s within the other? I guess it is kind of confusing. A bigger problem is that it’s also very dry, both literally — the game takes place in and around an industrial compound in an icy expanse of rock — and figuratively, as the high emotion of civil war is leached away in detached exposition that reads like a history text. Sibling rivalry has never felt so cold.
In the Mind of the Master is a Bermuda Triangle of identities: the player (who, beginning the game, recognizes nothing) assumes the identity of the Master (whose curse it is to be recognized by everyone), as related by a narrator who can’t decide where best to direct your attention:
The Master was in his apartment which, while not large, gave the impression of being so. There was a lot in here, fitted in in such a way as to make the apartment seem many times its actual size, though at the same time there was, strangely enough, ample free space.
The writing, like a magician’s patter, so perfectly matches the themes — disguise, misdirection, obstruction — that when you finally discover there isn’t much underneath, when even the author admits he hasn’t fully thought the story through, it’s a disappointment.
What I don’t like about The Chinese Room (aside from its grotesque length, which I feel obliged to count off for, even though I don’t begrudge the authors for entering it in what’s become the main venue for new IF) is that so many of the puzzles require you to bring some magical item, obtained elsewhere, to the scene, whence the puzzle is solved. The game recognizes this and accordingly mocks itself — but other faults, like the object handling bugs, are left for the player to discover and mock.
Orevore Courier’s central image — a shipful of pirate zombies converging on a giant brain — hooked me right in. I wanted to create havoc, then sit back and watch as the pirates got their comeuppance. Instead, having misunderstood the COPY, PLAY, and XMIT buttons, I spent the rest of my time wriggling ineffectually.
What I wish I had known of Beneath at the outset: the objective is to finish the book by finding enough light to read by. But even that wouldn’t have helped — the light sources are random, magical, resulting from other courses of action.
My CPA is one bad-ass Reconciling Mother. Oh, the game? Someone else’s mind’s mishmash.
My Name is Jack Mills: vegetarian noir.
Packrat really impressed me for the first ten minutes — “post-Prince closure clause”; beer stein intervention; the Great Hall full of sleeping nobles “yawns” — but after that I couldn’t figure out what to do. Trying anything I could think of, I fell off the map into a room called “Class” full of programming errors. Confidence gone, I turned to the walkthrough only to see satire give way to lame jokes about someone’s Aunt Urba.
Deadline Enchanter: too eager to comment on itself. An object “seems like it can fit in your hand (without putting too fine a point on it),” and you’re unable to explore because of “the deadline I am facing.” Asking to see the footnotes is not my idea of interaction. The author explains at the end it was a love story.