Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for the ‘Decent’ Category

IFComp 2012: J’dal

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 10, 2012

J’dal by Ryan Kinsman is an entry in the 2012 ifcomp, in which the player is on a quest to retrieve an artifact from a mine.

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

J’dal, unlike most modern IF, recalls the appellation ‘text adventure’. The PC, J’dal, is, if I understand correctly, a drow in some fantasy world. She and her adoptive father, Wendal, together with two others, Stolas and Roderick, have been tasked with collecting a magical artifact from a nearby mine. After a meal and a good night’s sleep, the party sets off, led by J’dal, whose ability to see in the dark is very useful in the unlit mine.

The game is pretty much on rails. A couple of situations admit multiple solutions, but the possiblities are very limited, and I can only find two endings–either the PC dies, or she is successful, and either way the game ends quickly. The puzzles are pretty straightforward, although it did take me a few tries to work out exactly how to word my solutions.

The game could really benefit from a little more depth of implementation. There are missing objects, and some of the descriptions are rather lacking. The characters don’t have much to say, either, so we can’t really get a very good picture of their motivations, except in broad strokes. There are also some bugs–the dead beart’s body is inaccessible, for some reason, and the behavior when the PC is wearing her blindfold isn’t good, for two examples that caught my attention.

J’dal is pretty short and pretty sparse, but it’s not bad. If it were cleaned up, and fleshed out a bit, it could be a nice, if short, little fantasy adventure. I can imagine recommending something like this to new players of IF.

I struggled with what score to assign this one. It’s unpolished, short, and easy, but I did enjoy it, which is more important. I’m giving it 5/10, which is actually on the higher end of my ratings this year. I may be rating this year’s games a little harshly. Perhaps a revision of my scores will be in order, before the competition ends, but I’ll wait until I’ve played a few more to make that judgment.

Play time: 38 minutes.

Posted in 2012, Decent, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

IFComp 2012: Body Bargain

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 7, 2012

Body Bargain by Amanda Lange is an entry in the 2012 ifcomp about transhumanism.

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

You wake up cold and naked, with an IV stuck in your arms.

But this is all as it should be. The PC has gone to a black market doctor for a replacement body, and the surgery appears to have been a success. There’s just one difficulty: she couldn’t afford the surgery, so she’ll be working off her debt, assisting the doctor, Doctor Overclock. Body Bargain is a work of horror, and in the process of assisting the doctor, you will probably do and see some horrible things. But the ends justify the means, right?

Body Bargain is fairly straightforward. One thing that struck me was that the game was clearly designed to be played more than once. Since you’re just starting out as an assistant to Doctor Overclock when the game opens, he doesn’t expect you to know what you’re doing, so you’re given explicit instructions about what to do. If you follow his instructions, you’ll complete the game, though you might not much like the ending. During the course of the game, though you learn some things that you can investigate on further playthroughs. I think this worked quite well. I am sometimes bothered a little by using knowledge that the player character shouldn’t have yet in order to change the course of games, but I also kind of like it; it makes me think “what could have happened, if only the PC had known?”

This is the first game I’ve played from this year’s competition that I really enjoyed. The setting is interesting, the puzzles are fairly logical, and the horror theme works. Unfortunately, the game does suffer from a few problems.

First, the game is a little underimplemented. For example, the PC can pick up her old clothes in the beginning, and it’s mentioned that they include jeans, a shirt, socks, a bra, and panties. However, none of these individual items exist, even as synonyms for the whole pile of clothes. For another, there’s a stool in the initial room, which has a nice description, but:

>sit on stool
That’s not something you can sit down on.

The lack of depth of implementation isn’t really a problem–it doesn’t hamper solving the puzzles, except in one case, which I’ll describe shortly. I kind of feel like I’m unfairly in a beta-testing mindset when I complain about this, but I do enjoy games that are very thoroughly implemented. I wanted to sit on the swiveling stool and spin around, enjoying my new body. I wanted to be able to flip every switch and smell every table, or whatever. Well, it wasn’t to be.

There was, as I mentioned, one time when the lack of synonyms caused me difficulty. Near the end of the game, the PC’s sister is strapped to an operating table, and it may transpire that you wish to free her. I tried all sorts of things to accomplish this. I tried to release straps and just get straps. I tried to cut straps with various things. No luck. It turns out I needed to untie savannah. You mean she’s tied down with the straps? Not what I expected, and I didn’t figure it out without using a walkthrough.

As unfortunate as the underimplementation was, I was more annoyed by some bugs I encountered. Particularly, upon incapacitating the doctor, the game helpfully informs me (every turn, and sometimes twice a turn) that “–> The scene change machinery is stuck.”. Spectacular. There were a few other, more minor bugs, too, including one that wouldn’t let me get the scrubs at the beginning, so I couldn’t even leave the starting room on one attempt.

Despite the game’s problems, I did enjoy it, and I think that it has the potential to be really great if it gets a post-comp release cleaning it up a bit. Body Bargain gets a 6/10 from me, the highest score so far. I’d like to rate it higher, but the bugs are severe enough that I can’t justify it. I’d be happy to play it again, if it’s updated, though!

Play time: 78 minutes for six playthroughs.

Posted in 2012, Decent, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

IFComp 2012: Kicker

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 6, 2012

Kicker by Pippin Barr is an entry in the 2012 ifcomp in which the player takes on the role of a kicker on an American football team.

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

This is another fairly on-rails game. The PC has a defined role to play in the game, so the player’s options are somewhat limited. You can choose to walk out on your team, but the game ends when you do. If you choose to play your role, you spend most of your time on the sidelines, occasionally interrupted when you’re needed on the field. Then, you run onto the field, give the signal, kick the ball, and once again run off the field. Your options there are pretty limited, too–you can’t actually do much other than what you’re supposed to. You can waste some time by failing to give a signal, or waiting around rather than kicking the ball, but eventually you have to either do what you’re supposed to or the game ends.

So, the only real options you have, as a player, are how you will spend your time while you’re on the sidelines. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to do. You can watch the crowd, or watch the game, or try (and fail) to talk to the various NPCs. You can practice kicking. You can drink a cup of sports drink. You can stretch or jump or sigh. You can smell things. Ultimately, all this means that you can’t do much of anything. It’s pretty much a game about not having anything to do.

Some of the responses the game gives are funny, and there are quite a few of them. If you choose to inspect the crowd, for example, it might say “Right at the back of the stands you seem to see the figure of death, with cowl, scythe and all. Was that fancy dress or your imagination or what?” or “You see a guy clad only in a g-string shaped like a football helmet. How did he even get in?”, for example. It’s a nice detail.

There are a number of puzzleless games that let you fill time however you can in a constraining situation. Aisle by Sam Barlow is a great example, and Galatea by Emily Short is another. I suppose that Kicker was aiming to be this sort of game, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. Kicker seems to be about trying, and failing, to avoid boredom in a boring situation. The game is very competently done, but it just didn’t manage to keep my interest. If I could do more, or interact with the NPCs more, it could have been quite fun, but I think that would miss the point of the game.

Kicker is probably better, as an IF game, than The Test is Now READY, but I got bored with it more quickly. Overall, I figure Kicker, too, merits about a 5/10. Not enough fun to make me want to play it again, but not too bad.

Play time: 25 minutes for seven playthroughs.

Posted in 2012, American Football, Decent, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

IFComp 2012: The Test is Now READY

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 6, 2012

The Test is Now READY by Jim Warrenfeltz is an entry in the 2012 ifcomp in which the player is presented with a series of moral choices.

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

The game began on a fairly strong note. In the opening sequence, the player has no choice but to run and hide from a group of zombies, which feels right for the situation. After a few turns, control is turned over to the player, along with a pressing problem: both the player and an NPC, Frank, have been infected by the zombies. You have a gun, with a single bullet. Frank has a single dose of the antidote. What will you do?

I initially thought that I was playing a game about a zombie apocalypse, but completing the first scene disabused me of that notion. Upon choosing how to deal with the zombie problem, you find yourself in a concrete interrogation room, with a prisoner before you, who you are told has information about an upcoming terrorist attack. It is your job to torture the prisoner in order to get the information you need to save thousands of lives. But the game hints very strongly that the prisoner is just an innocent person, and any information you get is just whatever the prisoner made up to stop the torture. How far will you go to get the information your superiors want?

The rest of the game follows the same formula. The player is presented with a series of well-known moral dilemmas, and is left to choose how to deal with them. The titular ‘test’, then, is a test of the moral opinions of the player (or, as it turns out, the AI which is the player character). After you’ve completed five tests, you are presented with a brief description of what your choices meant (for example, “When presented with the opportunity to live a life of meaningless pleasure, the testee chose to ignore temptation.”), and it is explained that the player character is an artificial intelligence, which has had it morals investigated to determine what sort of job it might be suitable for.

I’m of two minds about the game. On the one hand, putting these moral questions into an interactive fiction game makes the what-would-you-do question much more personal. I think this is a great success. On the other hand, the game isn’t that interesting. I was already familiar with the scenarios, so I wasn’t being presented with new and exciting moral questions, and the game is very much on rails. You can’t do much else than make a decision, and then you’re whisked off to the next scene. The game would have been stronger if the player had more options. The depth of the implementation was also unsatisfying–it didn’t know what a floor was, and ‘wall’ didn’t work as a synonym for ‘walls’, for example. A minor detail, but I enjoy being able to investigate absolutely everything in a game.

I’ve got to rate this one 5 out of 10 (subject to change as I review more games, I suppose). From the standpoint of ethical thought experiments, The Test is Now READY is a pretty good use of medium, but from the standpoint of interactive fiction, it lacks interactivity and depth of implementation. I played through three times, to make sure I’d seen all the game had to offer, but I don’t see myself revisiting it, in the future.

Total play time: about 40 minutes.

Posted in 2012, Decent, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 8, 2012

I played an hour or so of the demo for Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. I think it’s a fairly good conversion of the game, but severely lacking in customizability.

Without the ability to build unique decks from the available cards, mixing and matching as desired, it’s just not the same–half the game, at least, is building a deck, but DotP 2013 just lets you swap cards between a deck and its sideboard, AFAICT, which is very limiting.

There’s also a fairly small number of cards available–a sixty card deck and a 30 card sideboard, but a third of the deck is land and there are many cards that appear three or four times in the decks. I guess each of the ten decks has perhaps 30 distinct cards, counting the sideboard, so there are only about 300 cards total, assuming each deck has entirely unique cards, and since you can’t swap cards between decks (I think), you can’t be too creative.

Other than that, it was pretty good–it took a little getting used to the game before I was sure when I needed to stop the timer to play instants–the game shows which phase you’re on, but not which step, so I missed playing an instant after blockers were declared once. It’s not too confusing, though. The animations are a little slow, and I think that I may have toggled an option which made the game stop during damage resolution during combat, which was a pain, but probably my fault.

One thing I didn’t care for was the Planechase mode. It’s a multiplayer (up to four players) mode, which is fine, but the use of the plane cards just made the game confusing–I saw a card that made players mill seven cards at the end of each turn, then draw one of them randomly back out of the graveyard, and another that made non-werewolf creatures deal no damage, plus some ability that sometimes made creatures into werewolves, and yet another that had some other odd combat ability which benefited one player dramatically more than the others. Honestly, I’m not totally sure how the plane cards work–they seem to act like global enchantments, and there’s some die rolling mechanic that goes with them. They just seemed to complicate and slow down the game. I gave up after many minutes and only three turns of play in that mode. I’ll stick to the more traditional game, thanks.

Well, DotP 2013 won’t replace the real game, but I think it’s not a bad buy at $10, and if I can get it for half off some time, I might pick it up.

Posted in 2012, Card Game, Decent, First Impressions, Strategy, Windows | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Guns of Fort Defiance

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 6, 2012

The Guns of Fort Defiance is a 1981 game reminiscent of Artillery, published by Avalon Hill. I’m playing the 1982 Commodore 64 port.

Fort Defiance, according to the game, is an incomplete fort, and you must defend its unfinished eastern wall against an invading army, by ordering that your artillery be loaded with certain ammunition, raised to a certain elevation, and fired at a certain deflection, in order to strike at the enemy.

The enemy may attack with infantry, cavalry, or artillery, and you must choose the most appropriate way to defend against each attack. The game may be set to any handicap from 1 to 64, with 1 being the easiest game, and 64 the hardest. If you successfully repel the enemy, the game will suggest which handicap you ought to use on your next game–perhaps higher, or perhaps lower.


The Guns of Fort Defiance is pretty fun. Each game is fairly short, and the ability to finely adjust the difficulty is very welcome. Unfortunately, the controls are not perfectly responsive. The instructions mention that it can be difficult to set the deflection, since the gun is so heavy, but I wonder if they’re just covering for poor implementation. I guess it doesn’t matter too much which; either it’s poor implementation, and thus blameworthy, or a poor design choice, and thus blameworthy. You may decide which is worse for yourself.

The Apple II port of this game looks a little prettier–it’s got color, for one thing. I’ll put it on my list of games to review. Perhaps it’s got better controls. Though, as I recall, plenty of Apple II games had unresponsive controls, so perhaps not.

Incidentally, it looks like there was an actual Fort Defiance during the War of 1812, now called Fort Morris, which was never completed, so The Guns of Fort Defiance actually is ‘an historical adventure game’, as it claims.

Posted in 1982, Artillery, Commodore 64, Decent, Full Review, Strategy | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Die Türme von Hanoi

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 2, 2012

Die Türme von Hanoi is a 1989 Tower of Hanoi game by Nikolaus Heusler, published in 64’er Sonderheft #42.


This one is pretty good looking, and has quite a different style, with the dark coloration, than the others I’ve played. The animation is quick, and the pulsing from light to dark of the discs looked rather nice.

I did have one difficulty with it: GB64 lists it as controlled by keyboard, but it is really controlled by joystick in port 2. It took me some time to figure this out–I’d tried every key on the keyboard and used two different emulators before I realized that GB64’s metadata was wrong. Let the player beware.

I really prefer using the keyboard to play these games; it’s quicker to type the numbers than to select stacks with a joystick. The joystick controls in this one are much better than in Pyramidon, however, so it’s not too bad. Die Türme von Hanoi gets points for its unique visual style, too, and I note that it has an automatic solver that can be used at any time to complete the puzzle.

Die Türme von Hanoi ranks along with Pharao’s Super Nadeln as one of the best ‘pure’ (i.e. no plot or anything like that) implementations of the Tower of Hanoi puzzle. Still not something you’ll want to spend much time on, but a worthy piece of software, all the same.

Posted in 1989, Commodore 64, Decent, Full Review, Tower of Hanoi | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Towers of Hanoi (1987)

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 2, 2012

Towers of Hanoi by Daniel Miller is a 1987 update of his 1985 Tower of Hanoi game of the same name.


While substantially the same, this game is much improved compared to its predecessor. The animation of the discs is much quicker, which cures the major problem with the previous game, and it also registers when you’ve won, rather than just going on forever. The game also beeps when moving discs, though that sound effect is quite primitive for 1987.


Towers of Hanoi was published in Loadstar #39, as well as Best of Loadstar #4. Hard to imagine a simple game like this being included in any kind of ‘best of’ compilation, but there it was.

Posted in 1987, Commodore 64, Decent, Full Review, Tower of Hanoi | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Pharao’s Super Nadeln!

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 31, 2012

Pharao’s Super Nadeln! by Logicre is a 1985 Tower of Hanoi game.


This one’s another simple Tower of Hanoi game, but it’s got some nice features–a timer, selectable number of discs between two and nine, pretty colors, animation, and simple sound effects.


This one takes the crown from Pharaoh’s Needles–the best Tower of Hanoi game so far. Of course, its title is ‘Pharaoh’s Super Needles’, so that’s to be expected, isn’t it?

I realize that, by this point, I’ve been doing little more than briefly comparing games to earlier games, but there’s only so many times I can review the Tower of Hanoi puzzle without simply repeating myself, so please forgive the less-than-self-contained reviews.

Posted in 1985, Commodore 64, Decent, Full Review, Tower of Hanoi | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Hanoi (1984)

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 30, 2012

In 1984, a final (to my knowledge) update to Glen Fisher’s Hanoi was released, also called Hanoi.


The gameplay is identical to its predecessors from 1978 and 1980. The only difference is that this 1984 version includes color–quite a bit more than the 1980 version, and in contrast to the monochromatic 1978 version.


I suppose that this version is the best of this lineage, which isn’t really saying much. Of course, for a Tower of Hanoi game, there isn’t much to say.

This version was released as a type-in game in Commodore 64 Fun and Games by Jeffries, Fisher, and Sawyer.

Posted in 1984, Commodore 64, Decent, Full Review, Tower of Hanoi | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »