Okay: after some discussion with various folks, I’ve decided to go ahead with blogging about IF Comp 2008 games. The consensus from people who weighed in was that they prefer reading reviews spread out over a long time than seeing a big splat of new material right after the comp ends, and that they felt the distributed discussion was better, especially if the full review set was combined in one place at the end.
Therefore: I will follow the same format as last year, which is to say, there is a cut tag before I say anything at all about a game, positive or negative; after the cut tag will be comments without spoilers; after the general comments there will be additional spoiler space, followed by more particular commentary.
In the interests of not accidentally spoiling people via feed-aggregation sites, I have temporarily set my RSS feed to “summary” rather than “full” mode, so that (with any luck) it won’t just splat all this stuff onto Planet-IF willy-nilly. To those people who can’t stand summary-mode RSS feeds, I apologize, and I’ll set it back to the regular format when the comp is over.
We will start with “Riverside”.
This looks to be a murder mystery game, but I didn’t finish it: the story didn’t compel me, and the implementation is shaky in places. Guess-the-verb problems are frequent.
It seems as though most competitions have a mystery or two, but the vast majority of them turn out not to be that great. Mystery IF can be loads of fun when done right (“Deadline”, “Act of Murder”), but I think mysteries may require more than the usual dexterity with plotting and puzzle planning; they also tend to require lots of NPC interaction, which is difficult territory.
Lots of flaws in the opening of this made me nervous about how the rest of it would go. The opening narration is fairly generic; I winced in particular at the “thunderbolt” description of the news of your friend’s death.
The implementation of the funeral scene is also fairly weak. I tried throwing some dirt on my friend’s coffin but this wasn’t accounted for; more seriously, I couldn’t look at any of the family members of the victim individually, even though they are all mentioned there by name.
Then we come to the incident with the car. How plausible is it that a car would almost hit us, then *pause* beside us for long enough that we can read something on a notepad inside the car, then speed off again (but not so speedily that we can’t read the license plate two turns later)?
Okay, so that is stretching credibility, but it’s not until the next scene that I actually want to quit the game. I arrive home with a license plate and the memory of a guy who seemed familiar. It seems like I’d want to use one or both those pieces of information as soon as possible. I might, for instance, call the police? But there’s no phone around, and CALL POLICE isn’t recognized. Or I might want to try to do some research on the license plate online, but USE LAPTOP doesn’t help me right now. (I personally in real life have no access to ways to look up license plates, but maybe my character does; I’m pretty sketchy on what the PC does.) Or I might want to look through my photo album to see if I can recognize the stranger — but the game insists that that would take me hours. (Hours? Really? I can flip through a bunch of pages of photos fairly quickly, I would think — it only takes a fraction of a second to eliminate an image that definitely doesn’t have the desired figure in it. So how big is this photo album, anyway?)
Matters don’t get better when my girlfriend comes home and tells me to look up the wedding in the album. >X ALBUM still doesn’t work. >LOOK AT WEDDING, >LOOK UP WEDDING, >LOOK UP WEDDING IN ALBUM: no, no, and no. Finally I get lucky with >READ ALBUM (is that really the right word with photo albums?).
And then after I’ve done that, then I’m allowed to use the phone, but only if I type USE PHONE. CALL POLICE is still not recognized, nor does there seem to be a phone object (and I wandered all over the house looking for one). I’m afraid I’m at a point where I am struggling too much with the game to be having fun.
Anyway: this isn’t profoundly awful, but it lacks polish and the writing is not making me feel really engaged in the protagonist’s problem. So I’m content to leave the murder unsolved.