Archive for 2007

Myst V: Yeesha vs. Esher

myst5-esherSo, with my faulty video card replaced, I’ve finally got Myst V: End of Ages running at a reasonable framerate. I’ve explored enough of the hub to gain access to all four of the other “ages”, of which I’ve delved into two and completed one.

The story is basically about a struggle between Yeesha and Esher, with the player caught in the middle: for some unexplained reason, I’m the only one who can draw this legendary Tablet from its housing like Excalibur from the stone, and they both have ideas about what I should do with its great but unspecified power once I do so. As a Myst veteran, I know full well that when two people both want me on their side, I shouldn’t trust either of them. But it isn’t as symmetric as Sirrus and Achenar here. For one thing, Esher is actually trying to help me. He knows his way around the quest, having been on it himself at one point, and he comes by to talk more or less every time I’ve made a bit of progress. Yeesha only appeared at the beginning: her point of view is mainy represented through scattered journal entries (a device that’s surely passé by now). And in contrast to Yeesha’s vague and self-absorbed poeticalisms, Esher says practical things like “You will not be able to continue downward without providing fresh air to the tunnels.” Yeesha, at the end of her introductory spiel, actually had the gall to say “What you still don’t understand you have failed to hear or don’t need to know.” She’s actually blaming me for her inability to communicate clearly!

So, yeah, I’d be a lot more sympathetic towards Esher than towards Yeesha if it weren’t for the fact that he’s a jerk. He’s constantly badmouthing Yeesha in a sleazy effort to get me on his side. A lot of what he says is stuff I’ve said myself — complaints about her vagueness and self-importance — but it’s sleazy anyway. Plus he also seems to hate her for her ancestry more than for any other reason, being the great-granddaughter of the woman who destroyed D’ni. Also, he’s contemptuous of the Bahro, the beings I know from Uru as “the Least”. In Uru, there’s a whole plot about how the D’ni enslaved the Least for their inherent ability to “link”, to make the connection to other worlds, and there’s an epiphany moment when it’s made clear that the Least and the apelike creatures that lurk in dark places and make disquieting noises are, in fact, the same thing. Yeesha supports Bahro rights, but Esher thinks they’re primitive, unclean things and that the D’ni had the right idea. In fact, Esher seems to be generally gung-ho about restoring D’ni civilization without learning any lessons from what happened to it.

All of the above is heavy with referenes to Myst continuity, including things from the novels. I assume there’s disagreement on this, but I regard this as a weakness. The more we learn about D’ni history, the easier it is to mentally classify it as just another fantasy world instead of something strange and unique. This series may be ending at just the right time.

IFComp 2007: Overview and promise

So, the comp is well and truly over for the year. The results are up. Lost Pig took first place, followed by An Act of Murder and Lord Bellwater’s Secret, an unusually strong showing for mysteries this year. Last place was taken by Paul Allen Panks, surprising no one, with his sole surviving game: of the three he entered, two were disqualified for violating comp rules. And somewhere in the middle, Deadline Enchanter took the Golden Banana of Discord, the unofficial award for the game whose votes had the largest standard deviation. I take a personal interest in the Banana, because my own 2001 entry, The Gostak, holds the record for highest standard deviation ever. I rated Deadline Enchanter low myself, but it certainly deserves the banana, being hard to understand and breaking convention as it does. I would have been disappointed if the award had gone to its runner-up, Gathered in Darkness, which is relatively normal and seems to have gotten as high a standard deviation as it did simply by only being playable under Windows and thus getting fewer votes than most games.

On the whole, this year’s comp seems substandard to me. Perhaps I’m growing curmudgeonly and difficult to satisfy, but I gave out no tens and an awful lot of threes. I think I lowered my standards as I went along — a few of the earlier games on my list, including Lost Pig, definitely got rated lower than I would have rated them later. This is why it’s important to play the comp games in a random order: to even out effects like that.

If this year’s comp has an overall theme, it’s inadequate testing. Several games were so buggy that I cannot believe that they had been tested at all, and one was acknowledged by the author to be outright impossible to win. This is a shame, and I have to accept part of the blame for it. One of the differences between amateur and professional game development is that professional outfits can be reasonably expected to hire testers. Amateur games have to rely on volunteers, and the sad fact is that finding volunteers with enough IF experience to give your game a meaningful workout is hard, especially as the comp deadline draws near. In the past, there have been some online resources to help authors find testers, but I don’t know if they’re still being maintained.

Writing criticism is always a little arrogant. Creating is hard, finding fault is easy. So it’s particularly shameful that we who criticize fail to do what we can to find fault before release, when it’ll be helpful. So, rather than just gripe, I intend to do something about it. I intend to test some games, and do it thoroughly as I am able. At minimum, I want to be a tester for at least ten of next year’s comp entries, and also as many works not entered in the comp as I can manage. Next summer, I will actively pursue entrants and badger them to give me beta copies of their games. This is my promise, and I make it here in front of everybody so I won’t have any excuse for forgetting it.

IFComp 2007: Slap That Fish

And we come to the last game, a bit of nonsense by Peter Nepstad. Yes, that Peter Nepstad. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: My Mind’s Mishmash

A work by veteran author Robert Street. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Ferrous ring

A sci-fi piece by Carma Ferris. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Gathered in Darkness

Next we have a horror story written in Quest. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Press [Escape] to Save

An experimental effort from first-time author Mark Jones. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Orevore Courier

A spaceship piece by Brian Rapp. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Adventure XT

And here we are at the third Panks game this year. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: The Chinese Room

Harry Giles and Joey Jones present an adventure game based on philosophical metaphors. Spoilers follow the break.
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