The Price of Freedom

Warning — I avoid talking politics most of the time. It upsets people.  This is one of those times that I can’t help myself.  If you’re likely to get upset, paticularly at an outside view of America, then don’t read this post. You’ll just burst a blood vessel or something.

You ever see the movie “Men in Black” ?  There wasn’t an incredible amount of intellectual substance to that movie, but it was entertaining. There was one quote from it however that has stuck with me and proven to be true over and over again.

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky animals and you know it.”

This is true. People can be smart. I work with smart people every day, I went to uni with a lot of smart people.  To say Australians are stupid, or even Americans are stupid, would simply not be true.

But people are dumb. Despite the smart individuals that make up Australia and America, people are dumb. We’ve let John Howard and George Bush into power. Dumb. We let them overtax us (in Aus’ case) and make us look like assholes to the rest of the world. Dumb.

And now, America has shat all over the geneva conventions. Not even honestly, they havnt come out and said “We now condone torture and prisoner of war internment camps.”, instead they redefine what torture actually is.  I’m reminded of the South Park movie, where Canadian’s were rounded up into “Happy Camps”.

I don’t want to go on at length about this Military bill thats been passed into law now, lots of places are making the implications very clear.  We’re not a whole lot better over here, John Howard has expanded ASIO’s allowances until no-one is really sure what they can do. Probably kidnap me in my sleep and hit me with rubber hoses, just like over at Guantanamo.

I had a point.  American’s (as a people, not individuals. Remember, person smart, people dumb) don’t seem to show a lot of respect for other cultures as a whole. The average American is far more interested in what previous Americans had to say than previous or current foreigners – and theres something to be said for that.

Well, it was Thomas Jefferson who said ” The Price of Freedom is eternal Vigilance.”

It occurs to me that George Bush would love that quote, and would tie it up in tales of watching terrorists and being ready for them.  You have to remember though, particularly from the founding fathers point of view.  They all still remembered what happened back in England. They’d seen governments who cared nothing for their people.  Eternal Vigilance has to be against your government as well – or even foremost. For it is your own government, not some mythical terrorist, who will take away -your- freedoms.

Benjamin Franklin said it best, and I think he would cry to see America today.  “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither, and lose both.”

Pragmatic Programmer

I finally finished reading the Pragmatic Programmer last night – i’ve been diving into it, devouring a couple of chapters, then leaving it on my bedside for a month since I bought it.  I do have to say that it is easily the best programming book ever written, hands down.  It doesn’t cover any single technology or language, but if you want to make a career out of professional programming, you need to have read this book.

Also, one section late in the book is titled “It’s just a wafer thin mint…”.  You can’t go wrong with spurious monty-python references.

Seriously though, I can’t rave about this book enough. If I was hiring a programmer, i’d want them to have read this book.  Actually, i’d want them to live by this book, but failing that, at least have read it 😉

It is good.

IF Competition 2006 Review #4: Unauthorised Termination

Name: Unauthorised Termination
Author: Richard Otter
Date: September 2006
Parser: Adrift
Availability: IFComp 2006 Entrant
URL: http://www.ifcomp.com
Version: Competition Version

Plot: 5/10 – Plot felt reasonably weak and cliche in all.
Atmosphere: 5/10 – Supposedly a totalitarian/Orwellian regime but failed to evoke the fear generally associated with the genre.
Writing:  6/10 – Writing was decent. Descriptions, though sparse, were reasonably well written.
Game play: 6/10 – No major bugs found, teleportation system worked reasonably well.
Characters: 6/10 – Machines with human characteristics and apparent feelings.  Author seemed undetermined whether to treat them as people or machines.
Puzzles: 6/10 – Reasonable puzzles. Logical with the story.
Overall: 6/10 – An ok game, though not a good representative of the Orwellian genre. Closer to space opera perhaps.

—–Spoilers

I must admit, I may be scoring this game a bit harsher than I normally would mainly because the author’s description of the game as a near-Orwellian dystopia setting excited me.  1984 remains, to this day, stuck in my mind as the most depressing, frightening and realistic science fiction novel I have ever read. Given what is currently happening in the US and here in Aus, it should perhaps be required reading for citizens so we can see what we’ve got to look forward to.  The biggest failing of this game, in my opinion, is its failure to deliver on this potential. The idea of totalitarianism is used as a backdrop in the most literal way possible – it is assumed as a background then not really interacted with at all for the rest of the game.

Despite the fact that your character repeatedly disobeys orders from his superior, who is, from the start, obviously involved in a secret conspiracy, doesn’t hold water with the supposed background. By the time you are first targeted for assassination its really too little too late. This follows later when, in the end, your superior (the traitor) has a sudden change of heart, inspired by your mindless devotion to the law, and has himself and his associates terminated.

Say what?

I have to admit one of the biggest problems the author has with this story is the fact that all the characters are robots of different kinds. It seems though that a decision was never really whether to treat them as robots – computerised, logical, etc – or to anthropomorphise them and treat them as humans. Instead, we are left with an awkward half and half.  Our character spends most of the game as a classic robot – reciting laws by number and only interested in pursuing his duty. Most other robots we meet act the same, particularly the ones that help you.

Whilst we’re faced with mostly-computer robots, we’re then asked to believe that elsewhere other robots are gambling in illegal clubs and enjoying themselves in debauchery common only to humans, as well as starting and participating in religious cults. As well as this, our superior and his superior are traitors who seek to bring robots with weapons into the colony, the reason for which is not entirely obvious. I assume it benefits them in some way, because they are not at all worried about breaking the law and killing people/robots to get their way.

In the end you save the day, but you’re not really 100% sure what it is you saved, if it was worth saving, or why we should care.  I didn’t find it particularly engaging or logical. Technically speaking, the game ran well with no obvious bugs I could see. The puzzles that had to be overcome fit with the story well and didn’t feel contrived or out of place. Except for as mentioned earlier, the characters were well characterised in that they were consistent.

Worth playing, but not brilliant.

IF Competition 2006 Review #3: The Sisters

Name: The Sisters
Author: revgiblet (James Webb)
Date: 24 August 2006
Parser: Adrift
Availability: IFComp 2006 Entrant
URL: http://www.ifcomp.com
Version: Competition Version

Plot: 9/10 – An interesting plot that manages to enlighten by steps. Final twist was well executed.
Atmosphere: 8/10 – The aim of a spooky haunted house was very well done.
Writing:  8/10 – Description were good, grammar and spelling were good with no major problems.
Game play: 6/10 – Gameplay and puzzles were good, found one major bug however.
Characters: 6/10 – Well characterised an interesting with one exception.
Puzzles:  7/10 – Logical and not too difficult.
Overall:  8/10 – A great ifcomp game.

——Spoiler warning

I seem to be picking up the attempted spooky games straight off the bat, which is interesting since it is not a genre I normally take for my own.  The Sisters attempts to be a different sort of horror game however than Requiem. Whilst Requiem felt quite Cthulic supernatural, The Sisters is scary dead girls running about a haunted house. Very Japanese horror and I’m going to blame games and movies like this if I end up a bad father. Little girls creep me out now.

The game starts with a car accident and you’re not long playing when you realise you’re trapped in a haunted house and it appears one of the ghosts is responsible for your accident. Investigation of the house and solving the puzzles within feed you, piece by piece, the story of what happened to the current ghostly occupants and, in the end, why you have attracted their attention.

The ending is of a type seen in just about every creative writing class ever given since the dawn of time – with every author believing themselves the first to do it.  Not since Agatha Christie wrote a first-person murder mystery where the narrator was also the villain has this sort of twist been original by any stretch of the word. It does work however, the ending is both satisfying and logically complete and even the fact that there is only one possible ending doesn’t detract from the game or the story in my opinion.   This sort of ending is often used as a gimmick and is often rightly shunned because of that, however I think in this case it is both valid and entertaining.

I did find one bug that caused me to finish my first run through of the game early, without ever progressing outside to the lake. This was disappointing, since without the lake scene and retrieving the music box for the two children, the main theme (as written in the girl’s journal) of the game isn’t as powerful. “What you do in death can’t make up for what you did in life.” Is both a clue to the nature of our character, his predicament, and the hopeless nature of the story – there is no way to make up for what the character did before we came along, thus, no way to avert the end that is coming. Lack of choice, or agency, can be just as compelling as full choice, when used for a proper narrative purpose as it is here.

The bug in question was that typing “S” or “South” in the kitchen, enabled me to walk straight through the locked metal doors without opening them.  Normally you would have to get the music box from the lake, and bring it back into the house for the ghost children. The story is far more powerful for the addition of this small part.

On the whole, a remarkable story-based game, with a few simple, logically local puzzles.  Definately the standard I will be holding the other games I review up against this year.

IF Review – On again off again

As per the discussion on rec.games.it-fiction, I’ve decided to re-post the reviews after all and continue producing them.  I must admit I lost a bit of enthusiasm there – seems that people who think ideas are bad tend to shout louder than those who think ideas are good, but it seems like a couple of people are interested, and that’s enough for me.

I haven’t got a new review to post today, as the last few days have been hectic work-wise, but I’ll try to get another one or two done tonight ready.  I have played a few more of the games and there are a couple in particular that I have really enjoyed so far.

Please feel free to comment, but lets keep things civil ok? You can dislike my opinion so much that you hate me and my entire family and wish to kill us, but that’s no reason not to be polite.  😉

Remember, if you find yourself attacking the person, rather than the work or the words, then you’ve lost your point somewhere way back down the line.

IF Competition 2006 Review #2: Requiem

Name: Requiem
Author: David Whyld
Email: dwhyld@gmail.com
Date: May 2006
Parser: Adrift
Availability: IFComp 2006 Entrant
URL: http://www.ifcomp.org
Version: Competition Version

Plot: 6/10 – Hard to understand at times, however if you pay enough attention, all the connecting threads are there.  Your place in the story/world varies depending on the decisions you make. True multi-threaded story. Main complaint is that it opens at a scene that not each game makes it to.
Atmosphere: 8/10 – The writing managed to evoke hard-boiled noir with a lashing of cthulic creepiness.
Writing: 7/10 – Well written, few mistakes.
Game play:  6/10 – Standard Adrift Parser gameplay.
Characters: 6/10 – Characters were more than 2-dimensional, but fall a bit short of full realised.
Puzzles: n/a – Claims to be puzzleless, although several important moments in the game are almost guess-the-verb puzzles.
Overall: 6/10 – A good game and a worthy addition to the genre.

—–
Full Review (Warning Spoilers):
—–
I’ve always had a soft spot for noir – hard bitten detectives and troublesome, though beautiful, dames.  That said, its a genre with a well-earned reputation for pulp and cliche’s, and more than one author has stumbled into the genre and managed to offend anyone who’s even pretended to like noir in the past. Thankfully, this is not one of those.

The story is the focus of this particular game, as it tries to be a puzzleless IF.  I have to say I applaud his efforts in this direction – as one of the many puzzle-challenged IF aficionado’s I quite appreciate not having to worry about forgetting to pick up an object at the start of the game that I’ll need for the endgame.  I played that way anyway, out of habit, but its nice to know that it wasn’t necessary.

Its also good to see we’re finally making advances with multi-threaded stories.  Often a “multiple-endings” story, is just that.  A story where the ending is a result of something you do during the game (such as score.)  For many games this is merely cosmetic, another way to tell you your score.  In Requiem, several decisions change not only the story’s end, but your place in it.  This might be as simple as your job – the events that took place still took place, but who you were in them changed – but it was well executed.  A true “multiple ending” story, though I’m not sure if I would count a lot of the lesser ending. “And everything stopped.” whilst clever, given the plot, isn’t a satisfying ending.

The main problem I found with the plot lies in the first scene.  The story opened with the main character in trouble.  This is a common literary device and can be quite effective. However, depending on how you act in the game, you might never get to that point.  This is important as its a scene that’s happened, you showed it to us already, and by having a character die or fail to reach that point it’s a breach of causality. You’re telling a story from the point you started (it even refers to that point by referring to time as “Seven days earlier”), so the character should, from a good plot sense, always reach that point.

I also found the characterisation a little flat, particularly the female lead.  We’re told quite often that the main character thinks she’s insane, and even shown her diary which would seem to confirm the fact, but she never actually feels insane.  The antagonist does, but even so he never feels as frightening as he should.

Overall its a good game, well worth a go.  Not a lot of games get me to play through multiple times but I did with this, to try and get the optimal ending. The plot was nicely convuluted and, as I said before, I like how it splits into seperate threads.

IF Competition 2006 Review #1: PTGood

Name: PTGOOD
Author: Sartre Malvolio
Email:
Date: 29 Sep 2006
Parser: ADRIFT
Availability: IFComp 2006 Entrant
URL: http://www.ifcomp.org/
Version: Competition Version

Plot: 0/10 – No conceivable plot except for a blurb at the start about preventing Slan Xorax from terrorizing the IF community with terrible games.
Atmosphere: 0/10 – Locations are not described, there are no NPCs that I could find. There is no atmosphere.
Writing:  1/10 – He spelled most words correctly. Other than that, prose seems to be a grade school level.
Game play:  0/10 – Unable to find any.  Stuck on what appeared to be a guess-the-verb question very early on.
Characters:  0/10 – None other than a generic main character with no description.
Puzzles: 0/10 – I hate guess-the-verb.
Overall:  1/10 – Why bother?

—–
Full Review (Warning: Spoilers)
—–

Theres something almost beautifully ironic about writing a bad game which is supposed to be about stopping people from making bad games. I really wish I could believe that this game is badly written on purpose, that the empty locations, direction bugs and early guess-the-verb puzzle that I wasted a good half-hour on before deciding this game had taken enough time, was written badly on purpose as an ironic joke.

At least then there would be some purpose to it.  Even still, a joke like that belongs as an independent release, not in a competition where it takes valuable time away from games that actually have substance. This game is just bad. There is nothing else to it.  Not to mention the whole Slan Xorax idea, which was lost on me, sounds like an attempt at a juvenile in-joke plot.  I can only guess that Slan is an author of games that Sartre, at least, thinks are bad and this is some sort of poor homage to him.

As mentioned in the capsule, the locations lacked description. In one case, where exits actually were described, they were described wrong (the lab was said to be south-east, it was actually west), and I ran into a wall quite fast. That might be in some parts related to me poor problem solving ability, but nothing about this game gave me any desire to try harder, so I guess it doesn’t matter in the end.
This is the kind of game I wish i’d bought, so I could self-righteously demand my money back.

If you’re not judging, dont play it.  There are so many good games out there.