Today a morning at tooth's lady. Got me scared on the possibility of a third root canal. Laziness. Gotta brush more often. Today a tongue weirded out from anesthesia. That part is fun. But my tooths never ache. "Really?", she asks, "giving the fucked up dental situation you have, I find it hard to believe." But truth nonetheless, dear tooth lady, not one tooth ache in my life. This has nothing to do with ninjas.

Ninja's Fate by Hannes Schueller
I have two childhood ninja related memories: Shinobi, that I played for hours in a ZX Spectrum, my first computer; and that asian ninja movies plague that infested everything back in the 80's. The white ninja being the good ninja, the black ninjas being the dont-they-die-easily ninjas, and the red ninja being the boss ninja. Good ol'days.

Ninj'as Fate is nothing of the sort. It is an homage to a deceased (and, according to the info in the about section, a very misunderstood) IF author who I know nothing about. Nin'jas Fate turned out to be the hardest story to rate so far.

Spoilery ninja stars after this awesome ninja trailer.
Let's talk about Ed Wood before the review, shall we?

Let's sketch a temporary definition of tribute film, as opposed to a film about: let a tribute film be one that pays tribute to someone by emulating that someone's style, aesthetics, vision, themes - whatever - in a new project. Tim Burton directed a film about Ed Wood, but, by this ad hoc definition of ours, not a tribute film to Ed Wood. How would a tribute film to Ed Wood be? A bad film, of course. So how would one rate a good tribute film to Ed Wood? We have ourselves a paradox: the better the film, the worst the film. But shall we rate it as being good because being bad was the point? And how about the reverse situation, in which a tribute film turns out to be a good film? Is it a bad film because it was good, hence missing the point?

That's my difficulty with this entry. It is a tribute to someone by the name of Paul Allen Panks who has always made awful, incoherent, blunted - whatever - IF stories - or so they tell me, since I never played one. Obviously, Ni'njas Fate turns out to be, of course, a bad game. You play a ninja that breaks into a museum to retrieve an idol stolen from your village. The museum turns out to be a temple to Panks, displaying his games, his characters, his puzzles. It is illogical at times, boring at others, it has you fight random characters (such as - yourself!), it even has a maze. So how do I rate this one? It is what it wants to be, but that means it is a bad game, but if it were a good one, it would be bad. God! My head is about to explode!

Calm dow, think it through, yes, that's it, I'll rate N'injas Fate somewhere in the above five spectrum. First, the weirdness of it all got to me, I loved the twin ninja rooms, the paint that didn't stick on the walls, the fight with yourself, and etc; second, some of the bad writing actually had very solid and good moments in it; third, the Competitions Hall touched me, that's right, the 35th/35, 29th/30, 31th/31, 26th/29, that feverish belief in something, in spite of everyone against it, it stroke a nerve, it almost got a real tear out of me.

But wait, I just gave birth to another dilemma: isn't giving this one a somewhat high score going against it's purpose? And, besides, isn't it wrong - unfair? - to rate this one high, since I would probably rate the tributed material low?

Oh... you know what? Fuck you, 'Ninjas Fate! Fuck you right in the first instead rule, I'm giving you a ten.

Post-comp letter to the author:
(added November 19

For the record, your entry was one of those few my thought wagon kept taking me to after reading.

And for another page of the same record, a discussion is going on upstairs, in the "Moral Premise" thread, that, I think, adresses some of the questions Ninja's Fate puts on the IF world. I tend to take IF more as a literary medium on steroids, and less as a platform for entertaining games. In such way, I value when an author takes chances writing his stories, when (s)he goes for weird interactions or settings or moods, I value creative prose over creative puzzles, a sentence that kicks my guts in over a well written one, I vibrate with unsettling imagery over polished gaming experience; so what recently brought me to IF was the idea of putting it beside Beckett and Kubrick, not beside Blizzard Entertainment. Ninja's Fate takes chances, it risks alot, it unsettled me many times - like a good work of a creative something should. But because of that it will naturally fail within the ones who take IF more as a gaming platform.

And now I think I'll have to go and add this up to the review. Darn...
This will be the shortest review I'll write. I hope.

The Chronicler by John Evans

You know Kafka? You know that book of his, Der Process? He never finished that book. A sad sad thing.

Incomplete spoilers after the incomplete photo montage.
>(doing almost anything)
You can't see any such thing.

This game is incomplete. Sorry about that.

I'm not sad at all.
Ok, so I wanted to write both these reviews today, but I'm running out of time, so I'm imposing something concerning this last one: I'll write until S. rings at my door. Not a letter more. When that happens, I'll stop writing and I won't review it afterword. It should be fun, I guess.

Oxygen by Benjamin Sokal

Important things first: Oxygen cover art is ugly.

Less important things second: I liked Oxygen.

Spoiler elements abound after this randomly chosen picture of my trip to Azores.
So, I liked this one. I liked the way a moral question was turned into a playable game. The story didn't drowned us in the morality of it all in text form, making us put up with the player's internal monologue or something. It just made us play through it in any way we wanted. The first time you'll have to mess it up, because you still don't know the mechanics involved. The second time you can actually make a choice and fight for it. A short game, but with high replay value.


A big but, to be honest, mainly because we're talking about a serious candidate here, and there is plenty of stuff to spoil it. The big BUT is - it doesn't work as the moral wrench to the gut it wants to work. Two reasons. I'll list them down with random letters:

G) The game is short, which is good in the way we can easily replay it, but also bad in another important point. Since we can play it again in no time to check other endings, our choices matter less. In a two hour game, I tend to choose my paths very well, because I'm going to live with the choices to the end of it, with little to no chance of replay - at least for the competition. Such makes those choices feel heavier on me. In such a short game, I ended up not caring and just wanting to find out what happens if I choose this instead of that.

Y) The moral dilemma is an illusion. And I'm very sad for saying this, because I wanted it not to be an illusion. I'll explain: once you go through most (all?) of the endings, you realize one of them will turn out well to everyone. That sucks, because from that moment on you have no moral dilemma, and the game isn't a game of hard choices any longer, just a game of finding the "right" ending. A simple math exercise.

Ell, But don't get me wrong. This one will get a high score from me, but I wanted it to rip an even higher one from me.

And look at that, I've ended the review before S. rang on my bell. I think I even have time to rea
Time isn't much at the moment, due to professional stuff, so I can't write the reviews I want, but I have been playing. Three games, to be exact. One of them I even re-played (Oxygen); other I won't bother to review (A Quiet Night At Home); I'll start with Gigantomania, which marked a turning point in this first IF Comp experience of mine.

Gigantomania by Michelle Tirto and Mike Ciul

I want to start this one by stating that I do like when something other than a z-file or a blorb file or a XYZ-file comes with the package. I'm talking cover-art, hand bills, feelies, etc. I've been finding a lot of covers in IFDB, but the lazy me wants them in the nice zip thing, inside its own folder. How nice that would be, right? The thing is, without the cover, I was thinking Gigantomania would be a alternate-universe-fantasy-tale about a guy who wants to build the coolest and biggest theme-park ever. With the cover, I could have guessed differently: Gigantomia is a this-universe-historic-tale about a guy who wants to build the coolest and biggest theme-park ever. See the difference?

Spoilers are watching you right after this important request.
This was a turning point for me because I liked it. Well, not that much, but I did ended it with a feeling of something well done.

Gigantomania is about fascism. Soviet, Stalin fascism, to be exact. It is sliced into four sections. The first section is, as far as I'm concerned, the best one. You're a hungry peasant in a soviet commune farm. You respect the regime, but you also need to think about your wife. This section tells you very little, but shows you alot - and it makes you feel that alot. Comrades are taken away in blood, a beggar blackmails you, you have to work, you have to feed yourself, your wife and the regime. The feeling of it all is dark, heavy, and well assembled.

Then comes the second section, and most of what I liked in the previous one falls here, where you are a blind Stalin-lover factory worker. The political and social subject is addressed in such an exaggerated tone, that it feels cartoonish and over-simplistic.

The third part starts out fine, mostly like the first one: a simple task and the heavy consequences of failing it - at least until the interrogation scene, where the cartoonish feel comes back. The scene had potential: it putted you in the shoes of a delator, with nothing else to do other than die or turning someone close, but the conversation falls very easily into the "look how stupid fascism is, and how insane these people are for believing the Soviet regime."

The last section is a curious one. It's not interactive at all: you almost just press enter - but it puts you inside Stalin as he thinks about his social and political views, and plays a chess game, a complete chess game. A very big part of this section are plain chess moves, and that stroke me as interesting (Stalin was an avid chess player, so I'm thinking those were probably real chess moves - author? are you there?) The complete lost of agency also left me with a strange (strange-good) feel - but, again, the cartoonish and over-simplistic social and political writing came and left me sad and bereaved.

So I'm thinking this could be more with less. It is a tough subject. It is a tough piece of history. What the game does in low-tone, it does well. The problem is the high-pitched tone of the rest, constantly screaming at us.
There (are) is* a lot to like in the super-hero universe. Well, at least I find a lot to like in the super-hero universe. I've read them when I was a kid. Spiderman was a favorite. Batman came second. I wasn't fond of X-Men, but I liked the Wolverine dark saga. But today, what I like in the masked avenger genre is how it can be twisted, turned and burned in such clever, sarcastic, and dark ways. Who's to say Alan More's Watchmen isn't a master piece?

Flight of the Hummingbird by Michael Martin

Hummingbird is a masked super-powered fella, and I can't say I'm not hoping for one of those dark takes on the genre. Or one of those clever takes on the genre. Or one of those sarcastic takes on the genre. Or one of those takes on the genre. Well, anything but the plain genre, to be honest.

Super-spoilers fly under the super-swedish-dream-boy.
But the plain genre I got. Hummingbird has powers. He has a nemesis. He is not a very high-ranked super-hero, but he gets the job done. He is not funny, but he is not dark either. The characters gave me nothing, so I was left with playtime.

I said about Divis Mortis that it almost felt like an FPS turned into text. Well, Hummingbird feels like a platform game turned into text. It is a very well done platform game, I'll give you that. But let's see: you go around, you fly around, you find ways to deal with obstacles that get in your way, you end up saving the world, you go home. And how about the writing? It is, unsurprisingly, very much like those text boxes that show up in - platform games! Don't get me wrong: it is a competent writing, given the nature of the game, it's so competent that I will go on record saying the text in Flight of the Hummingbird get's out of the way. But if I wanted text to get out of the way, I wouldn't be playing IF.

Flight of the Hummingbird is well made and solid implemented, but it bored me because it was just a game, and I don't mind much for just games when it comes to IF. Whoever does like it will probably rate this one higher, I'm sure.

* Eat your vegetables. Study your english.
A while back, a bloke by the name of Zack Snyder directed a little thing called Dawn of the Dead. It had an utterly jaw dropping opening sequence, but the rest of the movie went to the forgot-in-15-minutes Universe, but it brought Shaun of the Dead to my attention, which was mildly funny, but it made me conscious of Edgar Wright's existence, which by turn presented me Hot Fuzz, sheer genius of a film, that I saw with friends while getting drunk, on the day I pissed off someone of importance, that told me to go fuck myself, which I did not, but I went home play flash video-games, one of which was The Llama Adventure, by John Cooney, which is an IF short funny thing . This just goes to tell you everything is connected.

Divis Mortis by Lynnea Dally

So, a zombie apocalypse survival IF. Let's talk about that.

Spoiler monsters after the spook.
First stop: the about section: on into the author's intentions, shall we?

"The inspiration for Divis Mortis comes from my own life. I am rather fearful of a zombie attack, to the point where upon entering rooms I think about how to best barricade them, I make sure to stock up on blunt objects and canned food, and I always am running through scenarios in my head. Many of the details have come from my worst nightmares."

Now, ain't this a sweet sweet confession? I truly wish someone will make a Lynnea Dally doll, with a button in the back, that once pushed would say, in a sweet seet voice, [one of]Let's Barricade![or]Don't Forget Your Canned Foods![or]Have You Checked The Gun For Bullets?[at random].

But then the game begins and everything is just plain... vulgar. Some typos, yes, but the problem is the blank prose, filled with “yous” at the beginning of every paragraph (You see this... You are that... You noticed such... You are afraid, you are very afraid...), the vulgar “you are amnesiac” starting position,

(speaking of which, let's get a RADIOHEAD soundtrack here... there, much better)

the zombie that slowly comes to get you, and I'm here thinking to myself Real boring real soon this will be; but then, something happens.

A zombie approaches me with hunger, but I wait, and the zombie does nothing, so I look, and the zombie is not in the room's description, but I try to examine the zombie anyway, and it is there and it is a crossdresser, and I laugh, then I leave the room, go somewhere else, find a skillet, go back to the room and bash the crossdresser's head with the skillet, which was still there waiting. A darn funny bug, I tell you, and it ended up switching the fun trigger in my head, to my surprise.

So, I won't remember the game for the prose (which is a big thing for me in IF) or the setting, and it does feel like a shoot-him-up thing turned text, but it is well built and implemented, the puzzles felt natural, it unfolds with a nice flow, and the ending is... as sweet as Dally's confession, with a True Blood – The Zombie Version tone. Yes, I had fun with this one and I'm not ashamed.

Well, maybe just a little.
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.
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.
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.