Second random thing and I got me a XYZ work. I use XYZ a lot in my classes, but sometimes I need four variables, so I go to the HIJK option. And on a completely related note, Elephant is one of my favorite Gus Van Sant movies.

East Grove Hills by XYZ

So the game starts and I'm thinking Beverly Hills, followed by a big number, which probably represents all the cute and dumb who watch it in the state of California. But the kid is telling me he is a social wreck and the world is about to end in five minutes and a school-Powerpoint-presentation has to happen before it ends.

Spoiler fun after this nice rose.
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This is one of those games I would be better off not reviewing. It has some good stuff in it, like the pace, some of the changes to the parser errors, the time jumps - although such time jumps tell me right from the start I won't be able to change much – and the overall open-honest-heart feeling of it all. It's about a Columbine kind-of-affair, about a guy who looses a sister in a school shooting, bullets, blood, and at some point a revelation:

(...) I tried to make an interactive fiction game. Inform 7 was harder to work with than I thought. Still, I managed to get a basic framework done. Despite being failtasticly bad, it was barely playable, and had a semblance of a plot which had nothing to do with the book. I never did finish it in time for the presentation. After what happened, I turned back to my failure of a game. Jenny and Yue were going to be in it. I was going to be in it, too. It's the game you're playing now.

So, what now? A story with so many things to slap around and it turns out to be a homage to your sister?, a memoir to those departed in a tragic event? How am I suppose to badmouth it and sleep at night? Tell me, for pig's sake! Am I suppose to just point out this isn't interactive at all, since it felt like pressing ENTER the whole time?, to bluntly nag about how the dialog options are very similar and overall inconsequential?, to coldly tell the world how annoying it gets to read line after line that you're socially off-stage?, to cruelly inform you in a blog post that being awkward isn't the only thought inside an awkward skull?

I would never do such for respect, but I do feel manipulated, and I would like it to be registered. The prosecution rests.
 
 
What a great start the god of random things gave me: a Christian tale. God is always planning good things for this atheist of yours.

Lost Sheep by Ben Pennington
When I saw the title in the list I immediately thought “Lost Pig parody?” But then came the ABOUT section. And then I found it to be part of The Bible Retold series. And then the author's email is celestianpower at something. And then I'm scared. And then I thought to myself I really had to try liking this game, because everything in me will try to dislike it, I'm sure. But then I played it.

Spoiler-not-free review follows this nice picture.
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A nice sulfur rich pool in Terra Nostra, Azores, Portugal.
Lost Sheep is an IF take on the Parable of the Lost Sheep, but it doesn't dwell into the realms of evangelism or religion or theology - or anything at all, to be honest. In fact, skip the about section, and you're left with a very basic story about a shepherd who looses a sheep and goes after it. Then he chases the sheep until it can't run anymore. Then he picks it up. Then it's over.

A short game. A linear game. Not a story, a task maybe. The prose is bare and neutral, with a few typos, but nothing to mention it from. No implementation problems because there's almost nothing to implement. The puzzles feel natural, but the solutions don't. The AMUSING suggestions give you some mildly funny situations, at best, but mainly pieces of prose just as neutral as the rest.

In short, Lost Sheep is neither a rotten or a tasty soup, it's a plain glass of water.
 
 
I started to dig into this IF business in May. I never played Zork. I played Monkey Island. I played Myst. At most I played Larry, the one in which the commands were in text. This year I was browsing a list of the most scary games of all time and found one called The Lurking Horror. I tried it, I didn't liked it that much, but I thought to myself that "text adventures", a big thing in the past due to technology constrains, had a huge potential to create amazing things - being part-literature and such.

So I started to search. I found a community. I found stories that I loved and others that I didn't. The first I've played was Violet. I'll never forget Violet. I loved Violet. Lost Pig left this overrated taste in my mouth. Blue Lacuna had this prose that wasn't my cup of tea, but everything else just blew me away. Photopia hooked me up. I didn't care a second for Galatea or her story, but I enjoyed Glass and that deliciously twisted little Snow White. Aisle stroke a chord. Rematch made me pull my hair off. I actually thought Pick Up The Phone Booth and Die was funny, but Pick Up The Phone Booth and Aisle was even funnier. Etcetera.

Then came Inform7 and Hooks and my will to create something. Then came the will to contribute to the community in some other way, so I decided to badmouth and vote in the IntroComp event and actually enjoyed it. Then came beta-testing, which turned out to be a great experience. And now, finally, the IF Annual Comp, my very first.

Twenty Six stories. I've betatested one of them and half of another, so I won't be saying a word about those here. That leaves Twenty Four, which is Forty Two backwards. A sign, I tell you, a true sign. I started teaching in a new school last week, so I don't know how much time I'll have to play the entries, but I'll die trying, I tell you, or at least I'll try, I tell you, or at least I'll think about trying, I tell you.

So, these next posts will be about IF Comp entries. I'll keep the reviews short, not like the IntroComp ones. I'll keep transcripts of all the games I play, so if you're an interested author just ask. These reviews will contain spoilers, but I'll put a picture in the middle to distract whoever reads them.

And that's it. First game that came in the random thingy: Lost Sheep. Here it goes.
 
 
This is your new blog post. Click here and start typing, or drag in elements from the top bar.

That intro is the dummy text I find every time I start a post. Today I decided to leave it so that I can pay homage to the default guys and gals of the world. How nice am I?

So this place has been real quiet for the last few days. The reason is simple: there are no competitions going on and I don't like to badmouth games just because, so I'm waiting for IF Comp; and other than badmouthing games, I really don't have much to say that hasn't been said better by someone else - as far as IF is concerned, at least.

In the meanwhile I've been doing two things: beta-testing (maybe I'll talk about that experience in the near future), playing other games (I'll do a list of my favorites in the near future), and working on my first game (of which I'll write in the very near future - about two minutes in the future, to be exact, so you can wait if you want).

Today I decided to write about Hooks, my first game. So why today? Because I'm very happy with something I did this morning and wanted to share it with the two point five one three million people who daily read this blog. But let me begin at the beginning:

Four Hooks: When I decided to write something in IF format, I started by reading some theory about game design. One of the most common assertions was that a good game needs a strong hook to begin with. I instantly agreed, and so I decided to name my game Hooks; I was also feeling ambitious at the time, so I started the game with a PC whose flesh is pierced by four strong hooks. If one hook is a solid start, with four I cannot possibly go wrong; am I right? Of course I am.

Logic Puzzles: Good games have puzzles that feel natural, not pushed there by the imperative of difficulty. I gave this subject a fair go around in the thought wagon, and decided to include an ironing puzzle. This is a sure shot, since everyone, everywhere, irons clothes. A puzzle regarding ironing shirts cannot possibly be out of place, right? So I took my Taurus iron and placed it near the computer, for inspiration. I've read the instructions, including the chapters about the best temperature for given fabrics, and emulated all of this into a working puzzle. Perfect!

Show, Don't Tell: This is another corner-stone in game design. To respect it, I decided not to create tons of text describing the PC, and his background, and his character. Instead, I've created a faceless-featureless-pastless-nameless-genderless-naked PC, that finds itself in nowhere, in the middle of pure whiteness. That is both easy to show and impossible to tell. Bang! Three-outa-three.

Other Stuff: A good game has that human touch: the NPC; so mine has an NPC also. In a good game, several actions interact with each other to different outcomes, so I also have that: the way you iron affects the way the NPC talks to you, although they don't share the same space, and the NPC knows nothing of the ironing or of the outcomes of the task; but the important is that the interaction exists, and such is taken care of.

So this is some background to Hooks. How about today?

The Purpose of it All: In the beginning Hooks was just a sandbox: a game not to be my first real game, just a place to learn how to code in I7 (I'll have to write a love letter to Graham Nelson and Emily Short about it, BTW), but then I started to like the concept and continued to work on it. At some point, Hooks was a game with four areas that affected each other, but with no point to it, no focused objective. It was even possible to play the game forever - and such be considered a winning state. At first I liked this approach, but it didn't age well on me and I grew tired. So now I had a problem: do I take all of this and twist it around until it's shaped like a coherent something?; or do I drop it and start one of the gazillion ideas I had in the meanwhile (about having more ideas than time, a nice discussion came about right here)?

I decided I like the concept, so in this past week I started to sketch a new future to Hooks, but the finale was still missing and such was bugging me - until today.

The Finale: This morning I was having breakfast with my lovely and patient wife, in the lovely and calm city of Viana do Castelo. We had some bread, some coffee, orange juice, and a delicious Pastel de Nata, a traditional portuguese egg tart, at the end. You'll have to try one before you die, an amazing delicacy, I tell you, and you can have great Pastéis de Nata in any pastry shop in Portugal. I even... wait, I'm getting out of line here. Let me get back to Hooks: so here we are, I'm reading a book, she's reading a book, and I get an epiphany. I dropped my book, got my notebook (a paper one), and started to write - and, my dear friends, I wrote the ending to Hooks. Or better yet: I wrote six endings to Hooks. Now I just have to code them.

And that's it: I have nothing more to say. Hope your expectations weren't too high :)

And Now the Request: I'm a portuguese fella, and I have to sweat alot to write  fluently in english. I ask you that when you spot bad english in my writtings, do tell me about it: even by mocking or insulting me. I don't mind, really.
 
 
Nice day. It rains. Nice rain. It wets. That guy slipped. His head is bleeding. Ah! Damn funny!

Upgraded my computer. Fresh Linux. Fresh Wine. Now Peanut and Cripto both work. Gave both a quick go. Will type quick post for both. Starting. Now.

Peanut is not a text thing. It is a classical point-and-click graphic thing. You click on things in pictures. You choose options from menus. Didn't find the pictures that interesting. Neither the text. Neither the setting.

Criptozookeeper made my eyes bleed. Well, not bleed, just wet themselves. Well, maybe not wet themselves either, just suffer a tiny bit. The conjunction (conjunction... what a word!) of shapes, oversaturated and low resolution photography (something like Phantasmagoria marries Martin Parr), and colorized text and text boxes is just not my cup o' Joes - and I don't even smoke. It distracted me so much I didn't even have a good time playing the text part. So, what I'm trying to say is that the aesthetics of Criptozookeeper don't work for me. Maybe I'll get back to it one day, when I finish covering my monitor with black tape over the pictures section.

Well, am I in a good mood today or what? Maybe It's just post-traveling depression and it will wear out in the next ten or eleven months. I'll post a tiny postcard from Bosnia to cheer the place up. Greetings.
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I just wanted to warn the two point five one three million people who daily read this blog that I'll be going away until September. The Balkans have called for me and told me not to take any laptop, netbook, personal desktop computer or even the portable ENIAC that gathers dust in the top drawer.

The dates of my travelings will take two interesting events away from me: the presentation of the photography book Pilgrims, by Paulo Alegria, a nice friend; and the IntroComp party in the company of mister Floyd.

I hope all goes well with both these events and I'm deeply sorry I'm not there to badmouth everything.

Hugs and kisses,
Leandro
 
 
Been dancing (or trying to) these last few days, at an International Traditional Folk Dances Festival called Andanças. It's held near the beautiful woods of São Pedro do Sul, in the district of Viseu. Camping in the wilderness, bathing in the waterfalls of the Blue Well, learning the Scottish, the tango nuevo and the sevillanas, listening to folk concerts 'til 4 am, sweating like a pig, not showering, eating poorly, drinking badly; Oh, marvelous!

And after that, home. A sofa. Hot outside. Most of my country in flames.

So let's play games. IntroComp. Deadline. Last entry. Urray!

Fang VS Claw, by Oliver Ullmann

All Things Considered...
Once again I didn't write any notes as I played with this one. Not for the same reasons as with Memento, but because it is too damn hot. Even bad for the circuits, I think. So I'll just give it a brief summary of my thoughts.

Thought number one: Fang VS Claw has an awful title and a cuchi cuchi cover art (sorry about that, Martin Oehm).

Thought number two: the writing and implementation is solid and robust.

Thought number three: I did like the way the game was paced and divided. A liked that a lot. Everything was told as in a movie: the intro in the creature's nest; the cut to the ship's approach; the return to the creature's evolution; the jumps in the narrative; etc. It all paced well... but...

Thought number four: ... for me, an ignorant as far as episode one is concerned, most of what was happening was impossible to grasp. This didn't clamped the first story arc (the birth and evolution of the lizard thing), but it clamped the vessel approaching arc, since most of the dialog options depend on me knowing stuff about stuff and I don't know stuff about stuff. Tough luck: I slipped the angry girl a drink and everything went fine.

[+] I really enjoyed the lizard arc, that everything-around-me-destroyed-or-abandoned feel of it all, the feel of past epic events. The writing also impressed me for being solid and the story seems to be well thought.

[-] That title and that cover art*. Other than that, not much, really. The problem with me not being able to connect all the events in this intro is not the author's fault, as far as I can judge, but a result of me not having played the first part of this trilogy. Oh! I almost forgot: as an intro, it felt for me as ending in the wrong place.

So, how bad do I want to play the full-game?
I think that, more than wanting to play the full game, this Fang VS Claw intro (Really, what a title! Geezz...) made me want to play the first game. I also would like to know that this trilogy will see a fulfilling end. Ullmann obviously has a strong worthy story in his fingers. So this obviously scores high in the competition's wishes.

* And yes, I took this game last because the idea of playing something called Fang VS Claw, with that picture representing it, just pushed me away.
 
 
, but then I showed her why prime numbers aren't fit to such tasks, and the conversation ended.

Anyway, I don't think I should bother you with such quarrels any longer. Let's move on to the next IntroComp game.

Closed Circles, by M. M. Kathrel

All Things Considered...
Confession: I like settings with this kind of mood. I know, I know, they're easy intros that can go anywhere. This one doesn't go very far, to be honest. It's a lonely walk on a strange setting. There's a guy with a sliced throat. There's a broken wagon. There's a very broken lighthouse. And all of this gave me no idea of what the game is about.

[+] I liked the initial mood and the detailed descriptions. The random environment  messages gave it a nice touch. I'm also a sucker for lonely, abandoned and broken settings, so this started off fine.

[-] It's buggy like hell and in a way that really clamps the enjoyment. Objects that sometimes are there, and other times are not; rooms that go into the nothingness and won't let you out of it; boots that have something inside, but no obvious way to get it out. It also doesn't even start to sketch a story -- well, as far as I was able to play it, anyway.

So, how bad do I want to play the full-game?
I don't know. A tiny bit. Not much. The truth is that even if the story unfolds into an interesting architecture (a time looped universe? I'm guessing from the title and the dream sequences, but it's only a guess), the intro itself gives no warranty such story will be told in a exciting way.

Notes while dancing at this tune:
[1] After an intro to the general guidelines of how to play the game (which was not as boring as it could be), we flow on edited narrative. We don't get to chose anything, but the [press SPACE bar to continue] technique paced my reading in a plesant way. The writing has good imagery, but sometimes I got lost in the frasing ("comma in the wrong place" sort of thing).

[2] I like the setting so far - lost, beaten up, memoryless guy (so far) in a strage place - but the first oniric intro could be shorter and slowly tucked into the game itself. The implementation seems solid (the moon is there, so are the mountains and the clouds, which is great), the first description was moody and detailed, with some good images, but - again! - confusing sentences. In spite of this, I think I want to know who I am and what do I have to do with that sliced throat, so that should count for something. BUT: I hate wagons. I also hate peacocks. I hope that if a peacock arises in this game, may it be in much the same condition as this wagon: broken, with a weel missing and a dead guy hanging outside. Have you ever seen a dead man hanging outside a peacock? Nasty thing to watch, nasty indeed.

[3] Well, I'm confused. I've entered the coach and left, and now the description changed to include a dead horse, but no body hanging in the window. If I enter and leave the coach again, the body is back, but I see no horse. Bug or feature? And if feature, why?

[4] So, we have a dream sequence after I'm warm and cozy. Speaking of dreams: just went to see Inception the other night. It over explains itself, but otherwise cool and clever stuff.

[5] Strange thing: I can't take the umbrella, I can't take the bag, I actually can't take anything, but I can carry around a chest with a heavy padlock with me. Being able to carry it is about the only clue I have that it means something.

[6] So, the lighthouse. I never did like buggy ligthouses. How can fisherman trust them? And, Oh boy!, is this lighthouse buggy: run-time errors, declarations on repeat, places that do not exist. The story itself is not holding the hook, since is not going anywhere.

[7] Well, this is a joy-stopper bug: I opened a door that goes... nowhere; and once inside this nowhere I can't go... anywhere. The look command gives me a "Nothing obvious happens" response. Trying to go n or s or e or w results in nothing. I'll have to restart. "Just quit it", said an irritating voice on my frontal lobe.

[8] But quiting I didn't do. The astronomy reference did it. I like astronomy. I once read a book about astronomy. I liked it alot. The idea of stars and constellations and the position of planets having such an important role in our personality and our future fascinates me! [sigh]

[9] So: inside the lighthouse I have a stairway up that leads nowhere, two doors that lead to a loop-bug-heaven, and a boot that has something inside and no clue as to how to take it off. I quit. I'm sorry. So sorry. Like in that REM song, The Apologist. I liked Up, by the way. I know, I know, I'm aware of it, but I liked it nonetheless. Sew me, REM purists.
 
 
I don't have Windows. There, I said it.

Not that I'm a freetard-Microsoft-blind-hater or such: the thing is one day I started on Linux and I liked it.

The only way to run Windows apps in my place is either by using Wine or by running the XP Virtual Machine installed on my desktop computer. This last option is a no go at the moment, since I washed my motherboard the other day, with water and soap, then put it to dry on the microwave, minimum power, because I didn't want to cook it. Result: now it doesn't work, so I must have done something wrong. Still don't know what.

I've tried Wine, but both Peanut Orchestra and Creepmemisterzookeeper (or whatever it's called) failed to run on it. This episode made me think about the discussion around the way games are deployed, the pros and cons of interpreter vs stand-alone, about pdf files and mp3 files and flash games, about this and about that. I even thought of writing an intelligent post about it, but gave up on first draft. First, I'm not an intelligent person; second, I am an intelligent person, but I'm lazy, so I use the I'm not an intelligent person excuse to remove myself from the obligation.

Anyway, I now have two games left to play. One is already done and I'll post my opinion about it in the next few minutes or days. The other is forcing me to read a short introduction of one billion pages about the previous installment, so I guess I'll have to play episode two without knowing episode one. Luckily, no one will be around when I do this, and I won't bother a soul constantly asking "Who is that guy? Is that his father? Are they lovers? What did they steal?"

Loneliness is an unlucky guy.
 
 
I'm hungry, so before I begin this post I'll have to do something about it. Which means you'll have to wait a little as I get a yogurt and some cookies. Not home-made. The cookies, I mean. The yogurt neither.

> z
Time passes. A peacock takes a dump nearby. I hate peacocks.

Ok, I'm back. Here it goes.

A Fleeting Case of Self-Possession, or, Memento Moratori, by Lea Albough

Unlike the others before, this game won't have a boring set of playthrough notes for the simple fact that, upon beginning it, I simply wasn't able to pull myself out to write anything else. Yes: I got that hooked.

Memento Moratori is one of the most clever things I've played so far. In it you are a daemonic possession, but you jump into the body of someone who has grown accustomed to such possession episodes, so this "host" of sorts already has a set of defenses against you. Your job is to go around them. You'll have to prove the host that your commands are rational and sane, otherwise him or her won't obey. Clever setting, very well implemented, fine fine writing, and a smart cliffhanger.

There are two more things I would like to address:

The first one is the marvelous way the game manipulates us. As one starts, one is clueless as to what is happening; the host knows more about it than we do. But then things progress: first one discovers that he will play this daemonic possession; then one feels awkward about it; next one finds out how the host can be manipulated; finally one grows into the idea of bringing caos and havoc to the party. Marvelous.

The second one is the nature of this possession. This is not your regular The Exorcist possession, Oh! no it is not: this is the possession of an Interactive Fiction character. This main character represents the frustration of every main characters in the IF world. At the beginning the character writes this in a sheet of paper:

«I know not exactly what has transpired, but recent events have left me experiencing urges – strange urges, as if I suddenly wish to journey in a compass direction when I myself hardly know the magnet’s bearing.  At other moments, I find myself ceaselessly examining previously familiar objects.»

Bloody clever, I'll give you that.

So, how bad do I want to play the full-game?
Bad.