Thoughts on the One Room Game Competition

This is the first year I'd even ever heard of the One Room Game Competition, an appropriately-named comp with but one rule: all game entries must have only one location.

I like the concept of this competition because I think it provides a really great opportunity for really deep implementation and thorough beta-testing. In theory, anyway; this turned out to be the case in only about half the entries I played.

Anyway, should you be interested in how I assign the numerical ratings for each game, I'm using the same scale I use to rate IFcomp games, and those methods can be found here.

Clicking on a title will direct you toward more information about that game. If you're new to interactive fiction, I would recommend a visit to A Beginner's Guide to Playing Interactive Fiction before you download anything.

Games reviewed:

Cabin Fever | Marika the Offering | The Puzzle Box | Suveh Nux | Urban Conflict 
[ Why I didn't play the other four games ]

Cabin Fever
A Quest game by Michael "Dr. Froth" Millsap

You've decided to get away for the weekend to escape your frantic, corporate lifestyle. You rent a little cabin in the Rockies. You drive six hours to get there, go to sleep, and wake the next morning to find that there's several feet of snow and it's still coming down. Your car is blocked in, and it looks like you're stuck here.

Hm. Not necessarily an interesting premise... unless we're about to descend into insanity like Jack Torrence in The Shining. Then again, it's the One Room Game Competition, and we need some reason to restrict the player's movement, don't we?

There are a few typographical errors here and there, but most are minor, and I really don't have it in my heart to fault Millsap for not realizing that the Whiz in Cheez Whiz has but one Z*** (for some reason, I felt compelled to check the spelling by visiting Kraft's rather scary web site. That's right, kids, try to refrain from licking your computer screen).

As for implementation and ease of play, I have mixed feelings. Sometimes this game was nothing short of brilliant in how it anticipated how I wanted to solve a puzzle - to the point where one command was all that was needed to automatically set into motion the series of actions I desired. At other times, however, I found myself really, supremely frustrated...

>light match
You only have to save it.

>light fire
You strike the single match that remains and carefully go about setting the nice, dry wood on fire. Within a few moments the entire fireplace erupts into a warm, flickering glow.
This is a pretty tame example, but I used it because it was the least spoilery of the lot. There were at least two other instances where I really had to work too hard to get the puzzle solved, despite knowing exactly what needed to be done. This could have been overcome, I think, with more beta testing.

As for the overall game, I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say, there was indeed a bit of a descent into insanity, but in a very original way. It felt pretty predictable at points, but I loved the twist at the end that I had totally failed to anticipate.

In short, I enjoyed playing it, and if Millsap does a second release to clear up a few glitches here and there, I could really recommend it to people. I wanted to give this an 8, or possibly even a low 9 because I loved the ending, but with the aforementioned frustrations I think I have to go with a 7.

*** After e-mailing this review to the author, I was informed that Cheez Whizz is different from Cheez Whiz, the former being the really, really generic version of the latter. Now how scary is that, kids?

Rating: 7

Marika the Offering
An ADRIFT game by James Webb

This is a great game, plain and simple.

It starts off with a character who's believable, or at least she was for me. I anticipate that a lot of the men who vote will say that Marika's character is written a bit over the top, but (being a girl myself) I'd say she's just... being a girl. Before I was told who the PC was, I already knew she was female just from the way she narrated the story; I was impressed by this, as it came from a male author.

We're gradually provided with snippits of information: a well-crafted trickle of enticing hints with the option to request the full backstory. I held off on asking for the backstory for a bit, and was glad that I did - I enjoyed the mystery that came from not immediately knowing how I'd ended up in this predicament, and even without the backstory, I thought the game's goal became clear soon enough. That's not to say that I wasn't appreciative of the available backstory - it was a great way to flesh out what had happened to bring us to this point without violating the Main Rule of the competition.

I want to go into more detail, but I won't, because this is a game I highly recommend and I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't played it, but I'll say this: I'm generally not the sort that really enjoys a big - puzzle - learn - where - you - went - wrong - by - dying sort of game, but this one was well done, and integrated very well with the story. There were some alternative puzzle solutions that really should have either (a) worked or (b) had sensible reasons as to why they won't work, but I've written Webb about these issues and he thinks they'd all be easy enough to work into a second release. I hope he's able to make that happen. In the meantime, however, this first release is well worth your time.

I was sort of on the fence with what to rate this one. According to my criteria, it's probably a high eight... but I enjoyed it enough that even with the issues mentioned above I'm going to give it a low 9.

Rating: 9

The Puzzle Box
An ADRIFT game by Richard Otter

I'll 'fess up from the start that I'm not a fan of puzzle games. And I'll also concede that the title The Puzzle Box, which has the word puzzle right there in it, did not fill me with hope. But I fired up the ol' ADRIFT Runner anyway...

The first thing I'm struck by is that there's no real hook. Who am I? Why am I here? Am I here wearing my best casual chinos and favorite t-shirt, locked in this room with no windows, working with a puzzle box simply because it's One Room Game Comp and that's a good enough excuse? Sorry, no. Not good enough. There was only the slightest hint at a possible backstory. Later, reading the readme.txt, I discovered there was a bit more backstory, but it wasn't included in the actual game. It seems that this could have been included in the prologue, but for whatever reason it was not.

Perhaps I just didn't stick with the game long enough to discover its charms. While the writing was technically fine, the coding left something to be desired, and I quit rather quickly after running into an extremely frustrating issue right out of the gate. Even the walkthrough didn't help me. I'll share the issue with you, because given the title of the game, I don't think I'll be spoiling anything by telling you that there's (surprise!) a puzzle box:

On the top [of the puzzle box are] five switches, each can be set in one of three positions. On the right of the switches is a single red button. The positions can be changed by pushing or pulling the appropriate switch.

The five switches are set: centred, centred, centred, centred and centred.

>pull switch
The positions can be changed by pushing or pulling the appropriate switch.

>push third switch
The positions can be changed by pushing or pulling the appropriate switch.

>pull third switch
The positions can be changed by pushing or pulling the appropriate switch.

>push third
You push, but nothing happens.

>push third
You push, but nothing happens.

>x switches
[...]The five switches are set: centred, centred, centred, centred and centred.
Now, maybe this is a glitch that has to do with ADRIFT. If so, then ADRIFT wasn't the language of choice for writing this game. I was supremely frustrated, immediately, with what seemed to be the central focus of the entire game.

So I quit.

*** I've since heard back from the author, who days that indeed it's an unintentional guess the verb bug that should have been caught before release, but wasn't. Turns out that >push switch three is the proper syntax.

Rating: 2

Suveh Nux
A Z-Code game by David Fisher

David Fisher, eh? Fisher's name carries some weight, and for good reason. Just knowing I was about to play a David Fisher game led me to expect something polished with attention to detail. And in that respect I was not disappointed... but there were some very elegant bits to this game that really impressed me well beyond my expectations.

The nature of this game is such that taking notes is useful. You could, of course, pull out a pencil and paper and do it the old fashioned way, but Fisher has implemented a meta-game notebook. It's easy to write in and easy to edit; I've never seen anything like this before and found it to be very useful indeed. I'd like to see this feature implemented into more games in the future.

While there were some repetitive elements that annoyed me slightly, overall this is a really wonderful game. Well designed, expertly coded, and a joy to play. Highly recommended. Saying much more would give too much away, so just go play it and hopefully you'll see what I mean. I wanted to give this a very high nine... but I never round up to 10, so we'll just have to keep it at a nine.

Rating: 9

Urban Conflict
A Z-code game by Sam Gordon

Well, I'm not sure what to say. Without sharing too much about this piece (it's probably intended to be less of a game and more of a story, so I'll call it a 'piece'), the author's intent is good. He's trying to tell a story that needs to be told in a new way, because the events that unfold in the story seem to be happening so often in the news that we tune it out as commonplace and yet do nothing about it, probably because we feel that there's nothing we can do.

Unfortunately, the piece turned out to be too tricky for me to play without resorting to the walkthrough. I'm all for conversational games, and I got the impression fairly early on that this would be a conversational game, but I found it impossible to get a conversation started; all my 'companion' would do was shrug or grunt at the things I tried to ask. So I resorted to the walkthrough, and then found myself wading monotonously through conversation topics that were pretty much on rails: stick to precisely what the author wanted you to discuss and things progress, deviate from it much and the situation becomes frustrating. I'd like to take a look at the code, to see how fleshed out the conversation system really is; it feels as though Gordon did just enough (in his estimation) and not much more.

The ending left me feeling... well, it's hard to put into words. I suppose I appreciated the author's attempt but this piece just didn't feel real enough. The conversation was stilted, the explosions and gunfire outside felt non-threatening, the characters felt flat. I knew nothing of the protagonist, and couldn't get him to tell the NPC who he was. I was placed in a situation where I needed to befriend someone who has reason to hate me and doesn't trust me, and yet when I ask a bunch of personal questions suddenly the NPC is telling me their life's story. It just... didn't work me, unfortunately.

And maybe I'm just splitting hairs at this point, but I don't think you can tell how full a rifle magazine is just by glancing at it, but then, I'm more familiar with Colt's M16/AR-15 and have never even touched a Kalashnikov, so.

To wrap this up, it feels like I should give this a 3, but I really do appreciate what the author was trying to accomplish, and I applaud him for that with an extra point.

Rating: 4

Why I didn't play the other four games
Because I don't speak Italian, unfortunately.

So, being well-intentioned and having a holiday weekend at my disposal, I thought I might try to play all nine of the games in the competition. Unfortunately, the other four games are in Italian - but that's the only Romance language I've never taken, so how hard can it be? In the immortal words of Admiral Jota, "all Romance languages are the same but with different moustaches..." Right?

Wrong. I was able to guess about one out of every ten or so words. Words like donna and casa and avventura. Not enough to have a very good playing experience, unfortunately.

But hey! What about using an online translator? Well, not only is it a pain to copy and paste text, especially from WinFrotz, but, well, see for yourself... here is a Google Language Tools translation from A Dream Imprint, by Fabrizio Pallotti:


Ti ritrovi nel tuo ufficio, dentro il negozio di cui sei gestore. Era stato un colpo di sonno momentaneo.


We are back in your office, inside the shop manager in six. It had been a coup momentary sleep.

Apri la porta e raggiungi la cassa, appena in tempo perché Valentina ti segnali un nuovo articolo; la persona che l'ha venduto é appena uscita. "Grazie", rispondi, "lo scrivo io sul registro".

Open the door and get the cash, just in time for you Valentina signals a new article, the person who has just sold out. "Thank you," reply, "I am writing on the register.

Si torna al lavoro...

You go to work ...

Um, yeah. So that's why I only played five of the nine entries. Mi dispiace...