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IF COMP 2004 - Zero

Game #20: Zero, by William A. Tilli (Santoonie Corp)
Played On: 10/14/04 (8:45 PM to 10:15 PM and 10:30 PM to 10:40 PM)
Unofficial Score: 6.0 (6.5 base with -0.5 skew)

     More and more, it seems that I'm second-guessing my own ranking guidelines. In considering an appropriate score, I ask myself why one game should rank lower than a less solid game, or higher than one with a better story. I also consider what the other authors will think, perhaps seeing their game rank higher than one they themselves believe to be superior, or more likely, scoring lower than another game they strongly disliked. Judges with more experience may find it easier to dish out criticism, and to rank such a large set of games in order from best to worst. My goals aren't as complicated. Each game stands alone. Each game is considered on its own merit. Each score, while unavoidably influenced by idle comparison to prior games, is my attempt to provide an honest and immediate opinion. All I can do is go by instinct: what works for me in a game, and what doesn't.

     "Zero" begins well. The setup is entertaining. It isn't especially difficult once you follow the tips in the help screen. Each success opens another option, and you only need to retrace your steps to obtain the next piece, and the next, and the next. The writing is good, but at times, it seemed the author may have been attempting to write above his own proficiency level. I could be mistaken, but from a few misused phrases and obvious sentence fragments, that was my impression. Even so, the story was entertaining, and I appreciated the humor.

     As always, skip this paragraph to avoid the bug report. A "fowl" is a bird; something "foul" is offensive or revolting. A black "suit" is on the stone? If that was intentional, I admit I've never heard the term used that way. The king's portrait was very dark on my monitor. In fact, all but a small splotch appeared black, until I clipped it into PSP and brightened it. "...like a bit farce..." -- should this be "like a big farce" or maybe "a bit farcical?" In "day end and day out", did you mean "day in..." instead? A web search shows results for either, but the latter is the form I'm familiar with. The northern ending doesn't actually end -- no score is printed after "The End", and the endgame options list does not appear.

     Numerous objects are simply unimplemented. It's easy to overlook a few, or miss every possible reference, but in "Zero" it seemed more noticeable throughout (bunkbeds, headboard, etc). This became especially evident in the northern and southern endings -- the northern ending in particular, where it seems impossible to interact with the guard at all. For that matter, I couldn't seem to interact with Zero's comrade, either. I realize and appreciate that these are just paths to the endings, but it took an interactive game and made it two-dimensional. In a way, I'm glad that a large new world didn't open up, but still, more interaction along these paths would have been welcomed. It sort of felt like the author just gave up. Prior to leaving, it's a little unclear on what you have to do. I was told to leave, yet couldn't, despite having cleaned up the place. It worked only after I took what RatFac brought and/or when I wore the three pieces of armor. I was further confused because Lambert seemed not to exist at all. "Zero" skews down a half-point because it seemed like the author lost interest in his own game.

     Then again, it could have been a rush to finish by the deadline. I definitely know the feeling, because I went through it myself. "Zero" isn't as strong as some of the other competition entries, but it isn't a bad game either. The use of graphics (love the guestbook), fonts and colors are a plus, but not enough to bump the score.

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