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Cursor  Member Reviews - Cursed

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
 
  Review by Matt Wigdahl, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews

OK, so in IF we now have both Curses!, the seminal Inform work by Graham Nelson, and also Cursed, an ADRIFT game by Australian newcomer Nick Rogers. Based on my cursory web search, the only IF work Nick has publicly released previously was an ADRIFT conversion of the classic Adventure, so welcome to the IF world, Nick!

CREDITS is implemented and shows numerous beta testers, which is a good sign. The game also has apparently been tested under both the standard ADRIFT Runner and SCARE, which is what I’m using. That’s a pretty good early indicator that this isn’t going to be a half-baked effort. The intro text is good in that it’s immediately trying to establish a character, less good in that it’s a bit overwrought for what a person condemned to die in an hour or so would likely be thinking.

Spoilers (some pretty major ones at the end) follow…

This is an ambitious work. Although on the surface it’s a desperate quest for justice, it’s really about relationships — family relationships, to be exact — with a strong current of “sins of the father” running through it all and a slight undertow of somewhat genericized religiosity. It feels somewhat inspired by George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series, but that may just be because of the medieval fantasy epic genre of the story. Or maybe because of the frequent violent deaths.
You’re Torrin, the ward of King Rithusar of Rylane (get used to the “alphabet soup” fantasy names — there are plenty), and you’ve apparently been framed for the murder of the king’s son, Prince Alsanter. After being escorted to a quick trial and conviction, you’re to be executed, until Rithusar, who still sees you as a son and secretly doesn’t believe you’re guilty, convinces the court to allow the wizard Rixomas to curse you into the form of an animal instead. Once you leave the throne room, every hand is raised against you, and you have only the whispered advice of Rixomas to guide you in an attempt to get help and discover the true murderer.

You get to choose the animal you’re transformed into, which is a nice touch. The form you choose apparently has a major impact on the puzzles you face, which is another nice feature. I’m not sure how effective it is as a selling point for IFComp, though, since this is a long game as it is and the two-hour limit will likely be up before there’s significant time for replay. I chose the snake, after asking my son what he would pick in this situation.
Your task as a snake is to get to the city of Kathrentia and speak with a wizard there who may be able to help you. To get there, you’ll have to avoid hostile humans and animals, and figure out inventive ways to manipulate your environment to accomplish tasks that you can’t perform in your animal shape. As a snake, I was pretty much limited to pushing things around with my nose, crushing, biting, and hissing, but careful examination of the surroundings and creative use of these limited actions had me catapulting through the air, plopping into carriages from second-story windows, and getting blasted into the air on a burst of water. For the most part, the physical puzzles were fair, fun, reasonably-clued, and tolerant of varied attempts to solve them.

The same cannot be said of the conversations. In particular, a conversation with the wizard Mazrena (or whomever you meet up with as a rat or fox) was so finicky that I actually had to restart the game to get it to complete in an acceptable way (a way that didn’t end up with me immediately getting chomped by a mongoose). Similarly, some state seemed to get messed up during the final conflict scene, requiring me to back to an old save and try again before the game would complete as advertised. Although the author warns about frequent death, this type of totally arbitrary, unclued death is pretty demoralizing.
Mechanically the game is reasonably sound. Occasionally the game would pretend it didn’t understand a verb that it understood perfectly well in another context, which I think is a pretty annoying and misleading problem. Every once in a while it would output something that looked like a debugging state check ([locationhide-Dead=fox]), there were some difficulties with disambiguation that were flagged as a SCARE side effect, and I wished for more verb synonyms at a few points, but overall these are fairly minor issues.

My love-hate relationship with the internal monologue continued throughout the game. I like the idea of it, for the most part, but it seems pretty detached — there’s a whole lot of telling, rather than showing, going on. Much of the time these monologues jarred me out of immersion rather than deepening it.

There’s a lot of waiting in the game. Very often you just have to wait out as a cut-scene plays through, perhaps walking as directed or moving to get it to proceed. The author has quite a bit of backstory to push, and this is one way to make sure you get it, but some of the scenes go on for longer than they should.

One thing I think the author does well is to jump into the persona of different characters for interludes as the story progresses. To my mind, these conversational set-pieces are a much better way of dumping backstory than wait-driven cut scenes, so I was happy to see them used here.

The story loses a bit of force for me simply because the twist at the end is so predictable — I had it pegged before getting out of the courtyard. And despite the large amount of backstory, and the emphasis on the relationships between the King, his two children, and his ward, I never felt the player was given enough information to really understand why things played out as they did. I hope I didn’t miss something as I came down to the wire on time, but I don’t think I did.
It’s tough to rate the first game of the Comp. I like that this was an ambitious, large, earnest game, with clever mechanics and a theme beyond that of a simple fantasy quest. The fun puzzles and copious backstory make me want to rate it pretty highly. It did a good job of leading you to use nonstandard commands in interesting ways. On the other hand, it’s capricious and downright frustrating at some points, the story somehow doesn’t fully satisfy, and there are enough rough edges that I can’t give it a super high score. I’m going to call it a 7 and reserve the right to adjust as I go. Nick, this was a good debut for you. I’ll be watching for your future works!


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
 
Review by Emily Short, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews

Cursed is an epic fantasy story. It’s substantial, on the longer side of comp games, with several possible paths through the narrative.

The opening of Cursed left me apprehensive on two fronts: first, that this game really wanted to be static fiction, and second, that it was going to be a real chore to follow.

The game opens with a long linear section in which the player can’t really do much except wait, move along a preset path, and examine objects (to no particular effect), while the game supplies backstory snippets and descriptions of other people’s actions. Repeatedly the response to the player’s action is a couple of lines, but is followed by a full page or more describing what else happens during the same turn. Names, motives, and family connections come thick and fast.

Moreover, the text that shows up is, shall we say, highly-strung:

And yet it still feels like such a waste. My closest friend is dead – murdered. I still shudder when I remember finding his lifeless body and trying uselessly to will him back to life. And then, as luck or fate would have it, all fingers of blame pointed at me. I fought hard against the charges but to no avail. The evidence was just too persuasive, the motives too clear, at least to everyone else. It must have been, could only have been, me.

This is technically competent prose without being good narrative craftsmanship. It flows smoothly, it’s comprehensible, it conveys emotions and a situation. But it has the slickness of cliché (“lifeless body”, “finger(s) of blame”, “such a waste”), and it tells rather than showing. As viewpoint writing, it falls down because it feels as though the speaker is simultaneously highly emotional about and distant from the events he’s describing. How does this viewpoint character differ from anyone else who might have had a friend murdered? What makes him unique?

The world-building also struck me as implausible. Here we have a pseudo-medieval court with a king and wizards, but it’s apparently got laws and court procedure, including detailed laws about sentencing precedent of a kind that didn’t show up until the 19th century or later.

As for the characters: we’ve got a bunch of lords who look like they want to take the kingdom apart — one of whom secretly killed the heir to the throne, apparently — but the king responds to a difficult situation with a politically naive outburst that makes him look vulnerable and powerless. Might he have felt those things? Perhaps. But I think he would have found a way to take action without sharing his feelings on the matter with the whole court. I doubt very much that the sort of king who behaves this way would have maintained control over a powerful group of ambitious contenders for very long.

Once we’re out of the prologue, the nature of the game changes substantially. Now it’s a puzzler, but one full of sudden death and tight timing. That kind of design can work, but Cursed makes it hard. Actions such as LOOK and LISTEN, which are absolutely critical for detecting enemies and planning actions, consume a turn; it would be easier to plan and navigate these sequences if they didn’t take any time in this portion of the game. (Whereas they pretty much have to take time during the cut-scene-heavy prologue.)

Then, too, room descriptions run on the long side, making it harder to pick out rapidly which items are likely to be interactive and requiring a lot of investigation. Because some of the intended actions require a number of LOOKs and EXAMINEs to work out, it can require repeated dying thanks to time limits before you’ve figured out the solution to the puzzle, which you then have to execute as efficiently as possible.

So I died, and died, and died again, and finally went to the walkthrough, where I found a sequence of instructions that ran fairly counter to my intuition about what a creature like me could possibly do.

The author clearly put a huge amount of effort into this game, and it’s ambitious: it’s going for diverse puzzle options (it looks like there are three completely different midgames, effectively) combined with a complex plot and a rich backstory. The idea that you can choose senses and skills during the midgame is indeed cool.

To have the full intended impact, though, I think it would need non-trivial revision:

– streamlining the opening so that it uses less text and doesn’t constrain the player for so many turns in a row; tightening the characterizations; and giving the player any agency at all (needn’t be a huge amount, but any would be better than this long linear sequence where nothing you do matters much); then

– revising the body sections to be more fluidly playable, perhaps drawing on examples like Gun Mute, Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies, and conceivably (though it’s commercial) Shadow in the Cathedral for ways to describe and clue action set-pieces so that they move fast and pose some kind of puzzle challenge but remain accessible to the player. (This is actually one of the harder things to do well in IF, in my opinion, but it’s not completely impossible.)


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
 
  Absolutely entertaining, Mon 31st Oct 2011
By Po. Prune - See all my reviews

Cursed

Let me start by saying that this review is written from my experience when beta testing the game. So I will not be going into any lengthy mumbo jumbo about the technical quality. I assume that the author has corrected most of the bugs and errors. Also, as a foreigner I’m not going to comment on any spelling or grammar errors. There are plenty of people out there who’ll take care of that.
This review is my personal experience of the game and should be in no way taken as anything else.

The game instantly got the first two points in my book for the way the author managed to combine three games into one. Early in the game you get the choice of three creatures and have to decide which one you want to be. So the approach to solving the game depends on what creature you choose.

Another neat feature is the hint file that comes with the game. The hints are pretty much OK and doesn’t give away the solution. They came in handy in more than one occasion as I played.
My only problem was that the hint file is actually another taf file which means that you must have two runners open at the same time and switch between them. It’s no big thing really, but it would have been neat to have the hints in the game. But it’s probably just me being too lazy to switch between windows.

A little background:
You play the foster son of the king, who took you in when your father got killed in battle. The king raised you along with his own son with whom you tied the bond of sincere friendship.
The game start with you, finding yourself in a prison cell, accused of murdering your foster brother.
The members of the court have already found you guilty and to nobody’s surprise, you’re sentenced to death.
Luckily for you, your foster father, the king, intervenes and instead of facing death you are given the choice to live your life as one of three animals; a fox, a snake or a rat.
It turns out that you have more than one friend in the court. Before you are transformed into whatever creature you have chosen, the magician gives you a piece of advice which leads you on your quest, not only to become human again, but also to find out who killed your foster brother.

Your first task is to get out of the castle, and get out alive, which is not easy. Having chosen to live as one of the three animals, you not only have a miserable existence ahead of you, but everyone who sees you have the right to hunt you down and kill you .
So a sound piece of advice is to save your game often.

When playing the game, I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t playing a human character. Otherwise normal commands as “get object” or “Talk to character” just doesn’t work.
In ordinary IF get object will automatically let the player reach out and pick up whatever object s/he wants. But playing the role of a fox, snake or rat, force you to think differently, which in itself is a puzzle.

The puzzles are well thought, and their solution logical. The challenge often comes when you try to figure out how to accomplish the task needed to be done in order to get a certain door open, or kill an enemy. Not to mention the frustration when you have to communicate with someone without being able to speak.

You can die, and you probably will. But found no sudden deaths. The annoying thing is that you know that within a couple of moves you’re getting to get killed and you can’t figure out how to prevent it 

The locations are well described. They are to the point and without too many confusing details and if you take the time and really read them, you will soon be captured by the atmosphere.
There are pieces of rather lengthy text that some may find unnecessary, and the switch between your thoughts and the descriptions of a location was a bit confusing at times. But I felt that they helped to build the character and helped set the atmosphere of the game.

The game is divided into chapters and is linked together through an interlude where you step out of your character and take over someone else. In one case I suddenly found myself playing the magician and being in a room with the king. This felt a bit strange but it ties the chapters together nicely and best of all, you get a list of topics you can ask about thus being able to get more background info on the game.

From a players point of view I found Cursed an interesting and captivating game. I will absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good game and some mindboggling puzzles.


  Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Campbell - See all my reviews


0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
 
  Review by Yoon Ha Lee, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews

In: 6:00 p.m.
An Adrift game, but Spatterlight will actually run this one. Yay!

And then I hit the intro text.

I can still remember the fear and desperation that surged through me at the time of my arrest. It was like falling into a void that went on forever; tumbling, clutching, gasping, my mind verging on the edge of insanity. To have followed so soon after experiencing such painful loss seems unjust. I suppose justice always sounds good in theory, yet is tragically denied to those that need it most.

I’m sure Alsanter thought something similar when my dagger was plunged into his back by an unknown assassin. His life ended two months ago – mine has only minutes remaining. Today is the day my judgement is decided by the court of the King of Rylane. Today is the day I will die.

I see a lot of games fall down in failing to provide a good hook. I get that I'm supposed to care about this high-stakes situation, and that I've been assured that the player is in fact not guilty (unless there's something wacky going on like hypnotism or fake fantasy versions of dissociative identity disorder), and yet I just can't seem to care.

What doesn't help is the first paragraph (which is, of course, the first thing I see). For one, it's overwritten. "[T]umbling, clutching, gasping, my mind verging on the edge of insanity," really? And yet the description, for all its wordiness, doesn't manage to convey anything but fairly high-level abstracts (fear, desperation). There is little specificity. Triggered by the use of "arrest," my first guess was that we were talking about a modern-day person being arrested by a cop. I personally find it useful to get some sort of specific cue as to the setting/situation so I can start getting into the character's head.

Anyway, I have some vague memory of playing games that managed to be decent despite the handicap of a mediocre (or worse) opening, so let's move on and see what the game offers.

Well, okay one more thing--notice that it's almost always a bad sign if my first reaction to your hook is NOT to frantically type something to get into the game faster, but to sit back and analyze the ways in which your hook isn't hooking me. Just saying.

OH SHINJO NO THE PROTAG IS MONOLOGUING AT ME Soliloquying? What is the proper term here? NO PLEASE STOP OR I WILL FIGURE OUT HOW TO ENGINEER YOUR DEATH. It's one thing if you're doing something fun like Rameses (I do realize not everyone liked Rameses) but if you have a dull character and can't make him/her/it any less dull, AT LEAST keep them from MONOLOGUING AT ME.

Okay, there are beta testers, but that doesn't surprise me. The game is annoying, but doesn't strike me as outright abysmal.

This character is still maundering on about the situation. Listen, I feel like two or three short, sharp sentences--if they were the right short, sharp sentences--could have done the bulk of the setup work for you. IMNSHO err on the side of brevity!

Monologue over for now. Let's hope it stays gone. No, it's back. *sob* What did I ever do to deserve this?

Yes, PC, please be dead soon. Anything to make you shut up.

Hmm. I would have preferred a cut to the throne room unless I'm going to need knowledge of the castle/dungeon layout to get around later? Naturally, I am not mapping, my funeral.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

This game just repaid the aggravation factor, although I sadly suspect it was completely unintentional:
Lord Sulanar, Lord Gaxin, Lady Edukam, Lady Harridan, Lord Vonisor, Lord Reken and Lord Adath

Did the author just name her LADY HARRIDAN??? *snorfle*

Well, that probably kills my ability to take this cod-medieval setting seriously in and of itself, but the other problem is that the setting is...cod-medieval so far. It's McFantasyStandardFare, which, in all fairness, the game broadcasts from paragraph two, but still. Disappointing.

What, I'm not desperate enough to attack the wizard who is my friend? Allrighty then, but don't say I didn't try. Well, at least PRAY admits a response, if not actual divine intervention (but I wouldn't expect that anyway). Also, it is so tempting to read "Alallsia" as "Allansia." (What? I love me some Fighting Fantasy.)

This whole thing where you stand there and wait for everyone to give their verdict is drawn out and tedious.

Oh wow, we just headed straight into WTF. This game is slightly train-wrecky, isn't it? If the pacing issues are bad right now I hate to think of what will transpire later. Anyway, WTF:
Using a slightly less powerful voice, Rixomas speaks again. “Your Majesty, you need to make a judgement.”

“No!” the king cries, jumping up from the throne. Everyone, including you, starts slightly at the sudden sound. The king paces across the dais and continues to speak. “I am sick of all this formality, this ... this ... pompous ritual. Don’t you have any idea what this is doing to me?”

Rixomas looks stunned for a moment. “But, your Majesty,” he says, “this is the law.”

“And this is my family!” the king cries. There is no hiding the tears on his face now. “This youth is my ward. I’ve cared for him for more than ten years. He is like my son.”

“Your true son was murdered, sire,” the wizard replies. “Ward or not, he’s been found guilty and punishment must be carried out. It’s your duty as king to do this.”

“Oh, stop it will you! Just stop it! I know I’m the king, and I don’t need you reminding me of that.”

The king pauses to survey the gathered nobility. “You’re all just sitting there, expecting me to send my ward to his death as if it means nothing to me. But it does! I’ve already lost my son; now I must lose my ward as well, and my daughter loses her fiancé. I have to live with this decision, even if none of you have to.”

“Sire, we understand this is difficult and that you haven’t truly had time to grieve. But the law is the law. It’s what makes you king. It can’t Using a slightly less powerful voice, Rixomas speaks again. “Your Majesty, you need to make a judgement.”

Up till now I had no opinion of the king; now I have concluded that he is a blithering idiot. Thank you so much, game.

Reading some of the nobles' descriptions already convinced me that the king's power was relatively weak anyway. Now I see why!

This whole judgment scene involves me basically doing WAIT-type actions while everyone else talks at me and I don't have any useful agency (attempts to ATTACK people, to zone out by SLEEPing, etc. have all failed). This is a good design decision why?

Okay, time out for a rant. Guys, if you find yourself writing a game where there's this whole long section (I'm not talking about a few turns, I'm talking about a lot of turns) where the game sort of barfs information at the PC that the PC needs to have, but the PC has no agency and can't participate in the scene in a substantive fashion, you need to either:

1. Redesign the scene to reduce the vomitous content. Make it shorter, streamline it, cut stuff, cut lots of stuff, no really cut some more.

2. Resort to an actual cutscene. Note that #1 probably still applies. If you're making me read more than two full screens of text in a cutscene (and it is vastly preferable that a cutscene by limited to a full screen or a few paragraphs wherever possible), cut, cut, cut. Or find some way to space out the cutscenes, but really, cutting is frequently better.

3. Go back to the drawing board and figure out how to convey that information while being interactive. This is interactive fiction. I want to spend most of my time interacting, even if the interaction is on rails; you can do rails and make me like it, but unless you're doing something very unusual (which this game is not), you can't make something non-interactive and make me like it. If I wanted a non-interactive experience, I would be watching physics sit-coms (well, I shout at the screen, but you know) or reading static fiction. Please. Don't do this to me.

Honestly, I just want to stop playing and get on with my life, but I am determined to see if there's a kernel of salvageable gameplay in here. I have just gotten to the part where I am offered the choice of being turned into a rat, fox, or snake. This is where PC-vs.-player separation is very important because I actually like all three creatures. (I say this as a city-dweller who has never substantively had to deal with any of the three as pests.) Now look! This is an important choice (I assume) and with any luck, it will significantly shape the gameplay experience from here on. THIS is where the game should have started.

You hear about the thing writers sometimes do where the "real" beginning of the story is buried five pages (or more) into the manuscript. (This is not one of my more common failure modes, although it has to have happened. I'm more likely just to produce something that's completely incomprehensible.) Well, this is the game equivalent right here.

It feels very weird to have the transformation spell's agony described as "electrical fire." Ditto the use of the word "mutate." I guess it's hard to tell what the sci/tech level is.

Really stupid question, do foxes have color vision? I notice there's color in the Antechamber description, which doesn't appear to have changed. Okay, totally random internet source claims they probably do [edit: fixed that].

Died in the castle. Okay, this is where a map would be handy, but I didn't do it. I still maintain that starting the game here would have been better, though.

Weird buggy message:
>Z
You wait for something to happen.
Your vulpine hearing detects some sounds – movement to the east.
Your vulpine hearing detects some sounds – movement to the east.
Your vulpine hearing detects some sounds – movement to the east.


Okay, walkthrough time. Yay for walkthroughs!

Another display bug:
From the northern end of the courtyard comes the sound of a horse whinnying in distress.

Your vulpine hearing detects some sounds – movement to the south.

From the northern end of the courtyard comes the sound of a horse whinnying in distress.

Hmm, there seem to be puzzles that require a significant amount of waiting. Excessive waiting feels very non-interactive and I'm not a fan of it in puzzles.

There is a sudden flick of the reigns and with a jolt the cart lurches forward.

Reins.

Oh, not another monologue. On the other hand, the mocking apparition was at least interesting. Not greatly interesting, but interesting. Some evil sorcerer with astral projection? Scrying?

Huh, the rake puzzle is cute. I feel like I have done that to myself, too.

More display bugs.

I am even more tired of the protag going on about Tevona than I am about the protag going on.

An...interlude...you have got to be kidding me.

I am so confused by why I need to be in on this conversation. It feels like an extensive infodump about things that I didn't care much about to begin with and am caring even less about the more I have to hear about them. Also, I keep wanting to read Ralyon Warriors as Rayon Warriors.

Oh dear Shinjo there's more "as you know, Bob." *weeps* Okay, look, at 7:30 p.m., unless this game improves dramatically--which I doubt--I call it quits. An hour and a half is plenty.

Aha, I was supposed to look at the tapestry earlier. That's probably where the apparition would've been familiar from.

Master Limos! One limo, two limos. So hard to take some of these fantasy names seriously.

Please make this conversation shorter. My eyes are about to bleed out. And please stop talking about Tevona. I am already determined to hate her. Maybe she will secretly be conspiring with the evil sorcerer or whatever.

Oh I can't do this any longer.

Out: 7:20 p.m. (80 min.) with a saved game

Rating: 4. This game is cursed with mediocre prose, but even that wouldn't have been such a big issue if it hadn't forced me to wade through so much of it. The bigger problems lie in the game design--too much non-interactivity, too many infodumps, starting the game way before the first really significant action the player can take. The author has a fair amount of ambition: three separate play paths (although I'm guessing the differences for replayability purposes are largely cosmetic rather than substantive, I do not have the patience to play this game through with all three walkthroughs), a lot of locations, etc. I hope the author goes on to write more games, better ones. The two big take-away messages I would give the author are: (a) remember to design around player interaction and (b) always, always err on the side of brevity. If you have a lot of cutscenes that go on for pages and pages, ditto non-interactive cutscenes, you're doing it wrong.


0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
 
  Review by Ron Newcomb, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews

Cursed is a game I really want to like. After (partially) reading someone else’s review mentioning the longer passages of text, I knew I immediately had to try it. I like to read, ya know, but much IF asks me to type in about as much as I’m getting back. That’s a state of affairs that has always seemed a bit wonky to me. An occasional forum quip is that there’s more IF authors than players, and that it’s more fun to write an IF than to play one. While I don’t believe that’s true, I do think there’s a reason for the perception, and I think the status quo on quantity has something to do with it.

Anyway, judo chop:

I settled in with Cursed happily reading about a crime I didn’t commit, and that I’ll soon be executed, and that I probably can’t teleport out of this one like in that Jon Ingold game. It did bother me that the writing wasn’t very strong. I mean, it flowed well, it was readable, it was generally inoffensive. But the king didn’t sound like a king, there wasn’t a lot of world-building or character development going on considering the amount of words I was zipping through, and, well, it just didn’t seem to be dense enough. There were some names and relationships introduced, though, so it wasn’t bad enough to make me quit, but I remember wanting to get to juicier parts of the prose.

What I did have difficulty with was the latter-day maze that marks the first bit of serious physical interaction. Today’s mazes have a sensible geographical layout in relatively normal locations, but the moving walls of death patrolling the area make it become a maze. Moreover, these weren’t particularly believeable walls of death, either. Foxhunts do not involve swords for a reason other than the trees getting in the way, I’m just sayin’.

One part of the writing I did enjoy was how it switched to first person within the italics. I’m one of those people who don’t generally like first-person stories (IF or otherwise) but do like interiority, so the format of Cursed worked really well for me.

The game gets harder further along, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up if the early sections gave me trouble, especially if others have problems with it. I came for a story, but Cursed is a work that tries to cater to two different audiences simultaneously — the reader and the puzzle-solver — and ended up pleasing neither.

I give it a 7 of 10. I appreciate what it’s trying to do and enjoyed what time I spent with it, but only because I bailed before it got seriously hard.


0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
 
Review by TempestDash, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews

Cursed is an incredibly well written and surprisingly expansive game that unfortunately cannot remotely be completed within the two hour time limit afforded IFComp judges. Since I probably will not be officially judging any pieces, since I doubt I’ll get through the whole list before the end of the comp, I kept playing through to see the ending and was rewarded with a very cohesive story with a lot of intrigue and surprises. Unfortunately, as a game, I found it to require more than a few leaps of logic that I was not accustomed to.

The game has an interesting mechanic behind it, where you are given a choice in the early prologue of the game and depending on that choice about 25-40% of the game can be completely different. Even the character who eventually arms you with the knowledge and powers to defeat the true villain of the story is different, which surprised me when I took a gander at the other walkthroughs. As of this writing, I’ve only gotten my way through the ‘Fox’ play through, but I have an idea of how the Snake and Rat games play.

As I mentioned above, the writing is incredible in this game: imaginative, grammatically correct, and evocative of living in a medieval fantasy world of intrigue and magic. There were more than a few times I recalled Choice of Games’ ‘Choice of Romance’ because of the various factions an political machinations. The characters in this game all have fairly weird names, which I had difficulty remembering without notes, and frequently mistyped, but this could easily because of the rush I was in to experience as much of the game as possible within two hours.

While I’m not a very experienced IF game player, I did run into a heck of a lot of problems that required me to consult the walkthrough. I’m not sure what is considered the culturally appropriate amount of hunting and poking around in IF games these days, but I often felt that while my overall objective was clear in any given situation, the immediate problem before me was fuzzy. Solutions are not well hinted within the game, I found, often leaving the player to figure out what the author was thinking. While the solution always makes sense, I rarely found myself coming to that conclusion on my own, and frequently consulted the walkthrough.

Part of this, I believe, has to do with the gimmick of being a non-human character for most of the game. Descriptions, I found, don’t appropriate designate what is reachable or intractable when you are a fox and you have to try to mess with every single noun in the room descriptions to determine if it’s too tall to reach or too smooth to climb or too heavy to move. There were several times I made things happen and wasn’t clear on how those things helped me.

Ultimately, this is a game where a great story is being told but the amount of player agency is startlingly lacking. I believe there was only one path and that path was often mired in confusing clues. Using my normal rating scheme, I’d have to side with Not Recommended, because it’s impossible to get through without a walkthrough and within the 2-hour time limit, but that’s unfair, because the writing in this game deserves to be read. Perhaps I’ll go with: Recommended with a Walkthrough Only, and leave it at that.


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  Review by George Dorn, Mon 31st Oct 2011
By Anonymous - See all my reviews

The medieval city of Rylane is experiencing a crisis that threatens to destroy life as currently enjoyed by its residents. The local population of barrels and crates has skyrocketed, and with it the population of their natural predators, the horse-drawn cart and driver.

This is the backdrop against which you have been framed and found guilty of murdering your best friend and sentenced to a nasty, brutal and short life as an animal of your choosing (so long as your choice is a fox, a rat or a snake.) For my >2 hour session, I went with snake. This is an epically long entry for a comp game; I barely made it through part one of three (or 6 if you count the interludes and epilogue). I'm guessing the full play through could take 18 hours.

And what frustrating hours those would be. Physics, map and timing puzzles are hard to get right. They require exceptionally good descriptions so the player is immersed in the environment and can intuitively understand why things behave the way they do. They require ample cues to the variety of actions the player can take in a scene. Instead, descriptions are relatively sparse and cues are buried deep in item descriptions and may not even pertain to a solution you can do as your chosen animal. For example:

>X WAGON
The wagon is covered and currently unhitched, although it seems to be loaded. One corner of the wagon cover has not been secured, though, and some boxes can be seen.

>X BOXES
The boxes are made from wood and stacked in the corner of the covered wagon, although they are currently exposed due to the wagon cover not being secured over them. You can see some writing on one of the boxes.
A harsh, cold wind whistles by.

>X WRITING
The writing says: "Destination: Cayl Mason, Drekas, Sylaph"

But it turns out I don't actually want to get to Sylaph, so that's a red herring. Also, along the way I accidentally tried >X BOKES, and more time passed. This is a common ADRIFT problem, but a pet peeve of mine - time passes for invalid actions or typos. In this game, that can be immediately lethal (bad, but there's always >UNDO) or lethal a few turns from now (much worse).

I'm not someone who immediately goes to hints for help. I want to experience Ifs without aid and judge them on their merit alone. But in addition to several "guess the verb" puzzles, there are also quite a few "guess the puzzle" puzzles, in which is not even clear what puzzle needs solving to proceed. Compounding this was a handful of CYOA-like nonsequitur puzzles, where taking one action leads to success where another leads to failure, but with no cues at all to determine which is which. I don't think this is actually playable without hints, which is why the author also provided a secondary IF build with a custom hint system. But I'm not judging the hint system, I'm judging the IF.

All of this is not to say that this isn't a (potentially) good IF. This is an IF with a great deal of potential. The plot and environment are interesting and deep. The narrative structure (swapping the player into scenes and bodies) was skillful. Even inventing a custom hint system (to replace ADRIFT's fairly inflexible system) took effort. But the end result was hampered by insufficient hands-off beta testing and ADRIFT engine itself.

Rating: 6. Solid (if long) effort, brought down by the verb hunting, huh? puzzles, learning by dying, and some ADRIFT-based player abuse.

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