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IF COMP 2004 - Ruined Robots

Game #28: Ruined Robots, by nanag_d (N and G Dudek)
Played On: 10/20/04 (8:20 PM to 9:50 PM)
Unofficial Score: 4.0 (3.0 base with +1.0 skew)

     First, the good. It's science fiction, and there are robots. It has the potential to be a really interesting, entertaining story. The authors put quite a bit of work into the game -- it's a large game, with several places to visit and many things to see.

     Now, the bad. Before I launch into this, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to discourage the Dudeks from further efforts. In some games, the text is iffy but the game is solid -- probably written by someone who's native language isn't English. I think you have to give some slack for that. After all, I couldn't write passable text in any other language. However, it isn't just the text, in "Ruined Robots." The game starts out pretty solid, but it goes downhill quickly. Parsing is a problem (which is a surprise -- TADS is a major IF tool, after all). Grammar and typos are problems. Movement is a problem. Logic is a problem. I suspect the authors are pretty young, not foreign.

     I visited the Dudek website mentioned in the "about" text (just now, in fact), and I think I understand now. That would also explain about the robots. I think the game was written by "N" with inspiration from "G", and with the support and encouragement of the whole family. I think that's great. Having a family that seemed proud of my games, as a kid, is what helped me to improve, study programming, and make a career of it. I imagine they're all wishing you luck in the competition. You spent a lot of time on your game, and you're anxious for the results. I only wish the results were more positive than they're likely to be. Your game is probably going to rank low, but I hope it doesn't discourage you from improving "Ruined Robots". My page is crammed full of notes about your game, and hopefully you'll find it useful for an updated version.

     After about an hour of play, I started over with the walkthrough. I spent about thirty minutes using the walkthrough, and what stands out is that you didn't edit it. Several times, the walkthrough takes a wrong turn, or enters an incorrect command which has to be corrected. It looks like you turned on the logging feature in TADS, played through it, but didn't clean up the log file once you finished. I actually wasn't able to finish, even with the walkthrough. I got stuck in the shopping district. It wasn't for lack of trying. I really wanted to reach the end. Something with the dog and the memory stick, and then I couldn't get the walkthrough to follow the game.

     I'll list general bugs shortly, but first, a few specific ones. The map for the first portion of the game (the cabins around the lake) is difficult to follow. What I mean is, you can go down from the lake-view to the beach, but when you go back up, you're on the balcony. You can go southeast from the living room, but to return, you have to go west. North from the parking lot leads to the forest, but you can't return south, you have to go west. I would recommend plotting the map out logically. With a grid of circle, connect lines in any of the eight directions, and make sure (for instance) if a line north actually represents "up", that you allow for "down" to return from the upper room. You can usually fit your game into a logical map, without losing any realism.

     Some of the puzzles in the game seem too difficult. I don't think this was intentional -- there are times when the answer is actually shown ("liffie, follow me" or "diamand marks by the keyhole" -- these things are clued well enough). Other times, though, it doesn't seem logical at all. The red spherical robot will kill you (because it explodes) if you hit it with the hammer -- it even warns that it's explosive -- yet you have to put it into the fireplace to solve the puzzle. If a hint was available for this, I completely missed it. I never would have thought to try it. I did well at first, getting the glue off my hands after taking the glue stick, but that didn't seem to lead anywhere. It was the makings of a clever puzzle, but it just wasn't taken any further.

     Some kind of problem with the robotic beaver causes him to add one message to his chatter, instead of saying a different message each time. After a few attempts at interaction with him, and by leaving the room and coming back a few times, you'll find that the little guy just spouts off long lists of things. This makes it difficult to read the room description, and see whatever else might be happening there.

     In the intro to the game, the player is looking for relaxation. This quickly turns into the desire to go adventuring, as the game gets started. The help text (possibly only after reaching a certain point, but I'm not sure) says your goal is to take over the world. It doesn't seem like an intuitive goal based on the PC's original motives.

     Now, here is a very long list of other quirks, ranging from typos to unimplemented objects to just plain weird (and possibly unintentional) features. When my inventory was full, I only needed to eat one cookie in order to pick up the sledge hammer. The beaver examines a tree, but when I tried, it says no such thing exists. The artwork is a nice addition, but it's random and inconsistent -- just a few scenes of varying styles (some large, some small, some color, some black & white), and only in a few places. It isn't winter, but there is a snowman. Perhaps it was a robotic snowman? I wasn't quite sure. The beaver comments on the weather, and he also comments that nobody asks him anything. Guess what I tried. Guess what didn't work. Why is "Hearth" capitalized? Why are the directions (North, etc) capitalized? Those things don't need to be. Why is there a Christmas tree icon showing on the balcony? You might want to add "sack" as a synonym for "knapsack". The line "one the side..." should be "on the side..." The game refers to "your The hands" when warming off the glue. Should "...with risk of having trees cut down" be "without" instead? I tried to get and look at the sign in the forest, but it doesn't really exist. Why was the auto-vac sucking up dust on the beach? I was confused by the line "...but it just such a tradition..." It might be more fitting to change the description of the clothes in the bedrooms (sometimes self-referencing text in a game can be clever, but my recommendation is to avoid it in your game). You can hit the robot with the hammer (this, right from the walkthrough), even though you don't pick up the hammer. "In an mouth" should use the article "a" instead. The graphic of the living room is a little difficult to see (black and white, small, and kind of dark). "His glace" should be "glance." Referencing the fireplace will ask "which fireplace do you mean? The Hearth or the merry fire?" Oddly enough, you can't answer "merry" because the word is unrecognized. I think you have a stray "s" and possibly a missing word or two in "...wind makes s difficult..." What are "parts robots"? The hole in the floor (living room, start of the game) seems to serve no purpose, and can't even be referenced. I scored 133 out of 501, and was classified "expert adventurer" -- was that right? After "...with effort, you paddle along..." the next room title seems to drop right in without a gap and without standard bolding. At one point, I was asked "did you call her by whistling?" On a whim, I tried whistling at the "her" this was regarding, and it isn't a supported verb. Once the roboelf start following me (as per the walkthrough), he wouldn't stop. He actually followed me around in the shopping district until I got stuck and ultimately gave up. I believe if you eat the "old" sandwich before the "spinich" sandwich, you'll be stuck inside Standy's with no way out other than to UNDO. I was able to take the tuna sandwich with me, but after dropping it and trying to get it again, the game said I would have to buy it (I was out on the street with it, by then). In the bedrooms, the line "...an some old clothes in it..." doesn't seem right (plus, I think you meant "and" instead of "an"). At the rental, the line "It seems like it's been lost..." appears, without actual any actual reference to the robot. The following text, explaining how to get her to follow, makes it clear, but I think a line is missing somewhere up above. Trying to reference the keyhole (probably the one with diamonds) says it doesn't exist. I tried to climb onto the table in the dining room. The game didn't "recognize that sentence." Using the walkthrough, I arrive at a place called "gapwest". It sounds like the internal reference for a room name, but if not, shouldn't the "g" be capitalized (as the name of a place)? Although I didn't make it to the ending, I did find the note, and it mentions cleaning the telescope lends. I saw nothing of the sort in the walkthrough, beyond the part where I was stuck. The "s" is missing on "serves" in the line "...robot animal serve to remind you..." Putting the battery into the flashlight should add a space before "Done" (it runs right after the period in the previous sentence). Start "A open messy glue stick..." with "an" instead, and maybe add a comma after "open" (I'm horrible at the proper usage of commas, but that one stands out at me). A word is repeated (I think the second instance should probably have been "was") in "...once once a fancy model..." At the lakeview cottage, it seems the door and even the cottage itself aren't objects that can be referenced.

     When I had my initial peek at the game, back on October 1st, I didn't give the writing much consideration. It simply seemed like an interesting story, and one I expected to finish with high marks. Even though I have to give the author credit for writing such a large game, I think a better option would have been to write a smaller game. Then, the time and talent might not have been spread so thinly. Also, bugs may make it into a game despite the best efforts of all involved, but I'm not sure this entry was beta tested at all. Next year (you should definitely try again, but practice first by improving "Ruined Robots"), I'd recommend that you write a game that covers a smaller area. Be sure to have friends or family (or anybody willing to help) test it for you, so the large number of problems I found just in an hour and a half of play are less likely to cause low marks. I based the game at 3.0 on my scale, but because I liked the premise (and I think the author has talent just waiting to grow), I have added a +1.0 skew to the unofficial score.

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