Praise for All Things Devours:

'Sneaky, satisfying, perfect.'
            -- Andrew Plotkin
'ATD will remain a standard to study for quite some time for authors who are trying to execute a single brilliant concept as flawlessly as possible.'
            --  Pete Jasper
'All in all, absolutely fantastic.'
            -- Michael Martin
'This game blew my mind. BLEW MY FRIGGIN MIND!! I loved it. Once I understood the premise of the game and what the challenge was about, I was giddy and happy and jumped up and down in my chair.'
            -- Jennifer Maddox

Damnation for All Things Devours:

'The premise is hokey beyond the bounds of all reason.'
           -- Nathan Eady
'Highly flowery writing; it's not adjective-poisoning, but a subtler
form of overwriting.'

            -- Jake Wildstrom

'Somebody really liked Spider and Web, but instead of coming up with some sweepingly original narrative techniques and deeply clever puzzles, they just nicked the basic story.'
            -- Sam Kabo Ashwell

Damnation with faint praise for All Things Devours:

'How did a game with such an over-clichéd plot and a rather nondescript setting turn out to be so exciting?'
            -- Valentine Koptelsev
'While the plot doesn't actually literally make sense, I can forgive that because I enjoyed the game.'
            -- Andrew Krywaniuk
'It *was* original, and I actually *did* enjoy it.'
            -- Avrom Faderman

Full Reviews:

Well, as you can see, the IF Comp reviews are fairly wild and, well... perhaps I have quoted some of the above out context. Here is the complete text of all the reviews that I have found, but be warned that many spoilers lurk within and that you will get much more out of them if you play the game first. I respond to some of the criticisms and comments here.

Andrew Plotkin

10 / 10
Remember when I said "Technically that makes this the dreaded 'learn by dying' game"? *This* is the dreaded "learn by dying" game. It's even better this time. It's exactly big enough that replaying it is *interesting* -- you know you're going to do better this time. On each retry, doing everything right is neither too easy (boring) nor too hard (complicated).

(In fact, I'm not sure the promised "more difficult" post-comp release is a good idea. I really like the game at this size. Maybe the author should offer a choice between "standard" and "expert" modes.)

Sneaky, satisfying, perfect.

Very solid implementation. Author has thought of everything I tried. Oh, one exception: a "wait N seconds" or "wait until 4:25:00" command would be pleasant.

Only a nitpicker would point out that the self-description reads like someone *else's* description of the protagonist -- not like something she would say herself.

Avrom Faderman

10 / 10
I'd worry about the too-easy Tolkein reference in the title, but the blurb admits to an "all-too-familiar" paradigm and promises something new. So I'll try to keep this from biasing me.

Not much like a six-minute time limit to get the adrenaline pumping. This will work if done well (and isn't, for example, nigh-impossible).

Minor quibble: I should know exactly where my lab is. In a timed game, it makes no sense for me to have to hunt around for it. It's a minor quibble because the lab is, in fact, easy to find. But I should be able to get directions, either because they're in the room descriptions or by using a command like "Where is" or "find".

The prototype puzzle is neat. Although it's defintiely "learn by dying", as the about text warns.

Oh wow. OK, I think I see what I have to do to get through that second door. Let's give it a try. That whole "six-minute" time limit, though relevant, is only the tenth of it.

Woah. That was a lot of fun. That's usually not the sort of puzzle I like...lots of note-taking and timing. But it *was* original, and I actually *did* enjoy it--enough that I kept at it until I won (well, I had to go to the hints to get the optimal ending, but I got the second-best ending without them).

Writing? Gosh, I didn't even notice the writing. I was too involved in the puzzle. That's fine.

Actually, in retrospect, I should have had a map of the whole place...although also in retrospect, it wouldn't have been that important.

Strengths: The main puzzle--and there's really only one puzzle, although it has some sub-parts, is very impressive, very well thought-out, very complex. Weaknesses: It is just this one puzzle. And it's kind of an efficiency puzzle (not entirely, but still), which is not, I think, the best sort. You really have to be in the mood for some tactics to get much out of this. Overall: A very worthwhile play. Biggest suggestion: From the intro text--"A second, more difficult, version will be released after the competition closes." You've *got* to be kidding. A version with with new and different stuff, sure. A version with more puzzles, OK. But one where the primary puzzle is *harder* than this? No way. I enjoyed this, but I wouldn't play one with a harder version of the time puzzle. There's a fine line between challenge and masochism. Oh, and lose the Tolkein. It contributes nothing.

Michael Martin

10 / 10
I am filled with dread by the title, until I end the game in one move and then see where the title comes from. OK, I can live with this. Let's see...

Nice, simple goal. Obvious failure condition. Nested failure conditions. Maybe this isn't such a simple goal after all. The primary widget is awesome, sez I, as is the mechanic. It's almost too complex for the competition, but there's just enough there to keep me busy for the judging period.

All in all, absolutely fantastic. The notes indicate a new version will come out with extra puzzles and more unforgiving timing. I can't wait.

It appears that there was a crash bug involving the lab doors, but I didn't run into it during my judging period.

This was my favorite game of the competition.

Greg Boettcher

10 / 10
This was my favorite, the one I was hoping would win. In fact, I actually thought it would win, based on what I read of the game reviews before the comp results became available. But oh well, third place isn't bad.


10 / 10
This was easily my favorite game out of the 2004 competition entries, comprising one of the most satisfying and elegantly implemented puzzles I've ever encountered in IF. While there's not much to the game other than that central puzzle, there really doesn't need to be: all the fat is trimmed, and yet what is there in terms of backstory and environment is rendered with loving attention to detail. A shear joy, my only disappointment in playing ATD was that it didn't last longer.


10 / 10
The game is basically a single puzzle, but oh what a puzzle. Within a few moves, it becomes apparent that the road to success will require exquisite timing, with every move optimized, and you feel the character's tension as you try to carry it out. Whereas is most games, each failure leads to frustration, here, each one draws you in closer, and makes for a little more tension the next time around. A textbook case of how to break all the rules, but do it perfectly.

Sidney Merk

9.5 / 10
In "All Things Devours" (not a typo, as it turns out), the author manages to target a sub-genre of sci-fi that I find especially appealing. Despite a few minor problems (including some frustrations with the time-based rush), it's a solid 9.0. I like the story, and I think it makes great use of the concept (+1.0 skew), but I did get a little frustrated at times (-0.5 skew). That's still an amazing 9.5, making it one of my favorites from the competition. I especially liked the opening line: "You're in." I expected "...a room with..." to follow, then I got it. Clever, clever.

The author was concerned that the game might not be winnable in two hours, but I managed it well enough (without going to the website for hints, until after I had won). The clues given when you die make it possible to try, try again. In any other setting, this might be a problem -- a game should be winnable without relying on post mortem clues, right? However, even though it doesn't directly tie into the story, it's easy to make it fit, with a little imagination. I also liked that "undo" works (as always), but isn't necessarily a cure-all to puzzle-solving. It's difficult to cite examples without spoiling the game.

In this game, it is possible to get stuck. It's possible to save in any number of unwinnable situations. It's possible to die -- repeatedly. But, aside from the frustration of it (which simply serves as motivation, at least for this game), it works. I had to restart four times, and I reloaded even more prior saves. The author does a good job of making logical puzzles, although much of it does rely on the experience of prior attempts.

The author's website mentions the "enter door" missing object bug, so I won't go into detail about that ("undo" fixes it). I was able to lock the Deutsch lab door with the key found inside, even though I didn't have to unlock it to begin with (this will make more sense when you play to that point). The "get all" commands seems to cycle through everything -- I see this quite a bit in other games, too. The word "is" is missing from "...prototype itself a six foot..." When I'm racing the clock, it would be nice if certain commands didn't count against me (for instance, "about" takes up time) -- Hugo calls these "xverbs". When putting batteries into the flashlight, it seems they're loaded into the one on the bench instead of the one in your inventory (again, you have to get there to understand it) -- easily worked around by leaving the room first, or (probably) by taking the other with you. One situation that wasn't handled is that I left the light on in the first floor maintenance room, and presumably it would have been noticed during my lengthy wait at the balcony window (I'm positive the light was switched on before the alarm).

My solution was a little different than the walkthrough. I actually made the alarm work to my advantage, and it made for a long wait followed by a quick follow-up with no time at all to spare. I should have started a transcript on it -- it's an interesting alternative.

With some of the entries, I have tried to predict how well the game will do overall. I really enjoyed "All Things Devours", but my suspicion is that it's going to frustrate many of the real judges. I hope enough of them are able to stick it out and think it through, because I believe this game deserves a high ranking in the results.

FOLLOW-UP: I emailed the author, and he pointed out that some of the problems I found weren't really problems. In particular, I didn't need to turn out the light in the first floor maintenance room, because I didn't turn it on the second time. Also, I confused one key for the other, forgetting that the key to the lab was already in my inventory at the start of the game. It's a complex game, and I fault myself for making these errors.

Jennifer Maddox

9 / 10

This game blew my mind. BLEW MY FRIGGIN MIND!! I loved it. Once I understood the premise of the game and what the challenge was about, I was giddy and happy and jumped up and down in my chair. I haven't finished the game yet, but merely thinking about how the game might be solved is, well, one dilly of a pickle! This is the most creative and innovative puzzle I've seen in IF in, well, I've ever seen! To try and go back in time and coordinate all your actions so that the continuity of the timeline can be preserved while all the time being in multiple places at the same time... whew! Yes, I'll grant that it's hard. It's no compound puzzle, but it is a creative and unexpected one. It's also one of those challenges that I've come across in my life where I can't possibly see how it could be solved, and yet I know it can be solved, so if I just think about it long enough and juggle the components long enough I know that I'll figure out to solve it. I love that process!! I love tricky puzzles, and man, is this one tricky. I can't tell you how many times I've destroyed Boston in this game, or how many crumpled up pieces of paper now line my trash can as I make time tables on my actions and then throw then away as I realize I forgot one key component. And I love it! (Have I said that I love it yet?) In fact, I don't think I want to finish this game just so I can savor this taste in my mouth: this wonderful feeling of excitement and anticipation wondering how and when I'll solve this puzzle. I tried to think of the last time I felt this way, to give a good example, and I couldn't. I could only think of a time I felt this way, and this was when I was first introduced to the Towers of Hanoi. I thought to myself, 'it can't be done. Impossible.' But people who knew the trick told me that yes, it could be done, so I sat and I thought. I thought about it and played with it until I figured out what the method was. All that time while I was working on it my brain was on cloud nine. Now that I know the method, however, I can still appreciate the puzzle but it will no longer bring me the joy and wonder that it first did. That's why I think I'll wait a few weeks at least before I solve Devours. (If you don't understand any of that, well then, you'll probably disagree with most of the things I have to say anyways.)


Umm... I hate to say this, but I can't think of any. Like I said, I haven't finished the game, so I haven't experienced it all and there might be cons I don't know about. I'll give you that. I don't do a thorough bug testing when I play these games (just try a couple things here and there) so there could be some problems in that regard. And also I've been known to love something so much that I'm blind to any downfalls it might have, i.e. the Simpsons, Outland comics by Berkeley Breathed, my niece, etc, so I could just be missing a big thing here that the majority of those reading this (if they bothered to get this far) could name and probably will name in a reply post, but as I sit here in front of my computer I can't think of anything to list under the Cons for this game. I love it. Oh, and I don't think Toby Ord is the author's real name. Perhaps it is, and perhaps I'm just going to be so embarrassed that I'll continue to hide from the IF community for the rest of my life, but I'm looking at the pseudonym and I'm familiar with Tennyson's poetry, and I can see the metaphor that might lie there. And if we're dealing with someone clever enough to code such a twisted game as Devours, then they could be clever enough to create a fake website to cover their fake identity. ;)

Paul O'Brian

9 / 10
I must admit, I got a little nervous when I saw this game's title, which appears at first blush to be grammatically incorrect. As it turns out, the title isn't in error -- it's excerpted from one of the riddle-poems in The Hobbit, the one that begins "This thing all things devours." I still think that it's a weak title -- the entire line would be much better -- but I was relieved to know I was in the hands of a competent writer. In fact, my fears about the entire game were groundless; it's very good. It has a plot, but by the author's own admission, ATS is much more game than story, an intricate puzzle-box, with a couple of puzzles I found very satisfying indeed. The setup is complex, requiring the same sort of lateral thinking as that featured in Sorcerer's famous time-travel puzzle. Due to its convoluted nature, the game had to be quite a chore to implement, and while its coding isn't perfect, I was impressed with how thoroughly and skillfully it covered a very wide range of permutations. Moreover, ATD does a wonderful job of automating mundane actions, the very thing I was moaning about in my review of The Great Xavio. I can't tell you how pleased I was to see something like this:

>n (first opening the door to the Deutsch lab) (first unlocking the door to the Deutsch lab)

The Deutsch Laboratory

Every first-level object interaction I tried was handled gracefully, and the automation even did one or two cool tricks to keep track of player knowledge. Anyway, I'm about to raise a couple of points criticizing ATD, so I want to make it clear that I really did like the game. I liked it a lot.

That being said, there are a couple of flaws I'd like to discuss. The first is that I don't think this game plays fair with the concept of the accretive PC. If you don't recognize the term, that's because I recently made it up, while reviewing Adam Cadre's Lock & Key for IF-Review. ( In that review, I made the case that games like Lock & Key and Varicella have a unique sort of PC, one whose knowledge and/or cunning must by acquired by the player herself in order to successfully complete the game. Primo Varicella, for instance, has a devious plan to take over the regency. At the beginning of any session with Varicella, the PC knows what this plan is, but the player may or may not. It's only through experiencing multiple iterations of the game, and thereby learning all the things that Primo already knows, that the player can hope to embody Primo successfully enough to win the game. I call this sort of PC "accretive" because the player's accreting knowledge allows the PC to become more and more himself on each playthrough, and once the player's ingenuity matches that of the PC, she can successfully complete a game. When that happens, it's as if the real story is finally revealed, and all those other failed attempts exist only in shadowy parallel universes. In my opinion, this sort of game is a brilliant refutation of the idea that IF games should be winnable without experience of "past lives." After all, if the PC's knowledge must match the player's at the outset of the game, the PC must know very little, which is why we see so many amnesiac PCs in IF. An accretive PC allows the player to catch up with the PC through the device of past lives, and as long as the PC is established as already having all the knowledge that the player is able to gain, it all works swimmingly. At first, ATD appears to be exactly this sort of game. It certainly requires quite a few iterations to win (or even to understand, really), and the PC is shown to have much more specific knowledge of the surrounding area and of her specific task than a player will on the first time through. However, partway through, something happens that the game clearly specifies as a surprise to the PC, something not included in her original plan. Consequently, she has to think on her feet in order to recover and still succeed at her goal. The only problem is, she can't reasonably do that without knowledge of past lives. A successful traversal of ATD requires not only knowledge of the circumstances and the setting, but advance knowledge of something that the game itself definitively states that the PC does not know in advance. Here, I cry foul. I'm not complaining that the game is unfair -- it does an admirable job of warning players upfront that it's going to be unfair, and I'm fine with that. However, it's constructed in such a way that its story cannot make sense. The puzzles still work, but the unbelievability of the PC's actions causes the story essentially to self-destruct.

There's another problem too, one that causes the logic of the central puzzle to fall apart. Unfortunately, it's terribly difficult to discuss without revealing spoilers. About the best I can muster at the moment is that if I follow the solution as laid out in the walkthrough, it seems to me that one of the central problems presented by the game remains unsolved, though the game does not acknowledge that this is the case. Because I was crafting my puzzle solutions to avoid this unsolved state (and having a hell of a time solving the puzzle as a result), I was rather flummoxed when I finally broke down and looked at the walkthrough. It was unsatisfying to end the game feeling as if it hadn't played by its own rules. Now, as I said initially, the environment in this game is really quite complex, and it's possible (likely, even) that my objections stem from a careless or incomplete understanding of how the game is actually working. If that's the case, I look forward to withdrawing my complaints once somebody explains how I'm being dense. Even if not, the game is eminently worth playing just for its clever premise and a couple of excellent puzzles. It may play a bit fast and loose with its concept, and its ending may be a bit anticlimactic, but I highly recommend it nonetheless.

Joao Mendes

9 / 10
Whohoa! I think we have another winner here. After playing though 24 games, and for the second time in this competition, I am duly impressed. You are a saboteur, armed with a timed explosive device, on a mission to destroy a research prototype, hopefully without killing anyone. Nothing new so far, and the story itself really doesn't go that much beyond it. However, the way events unfold as you play through this game make for a plot that is simply brilliantly delivered, if a bit on the short side. I won't go into many more details here, so as not to spoil it, but trust me, you won't be disappointed.

To be fair, shortness of plot is just about the only way this game would work. The whole thing has a time limit, and indeed, in the ABOUT text, the author claims that the game might be unfair, since there are way too may ways to make it unwinnable. However, because it is so short, there really is no problem in playing through it quite a number of times, in search of an adequate solution.

You might wonder if this might not be boring. The answer is no. It's not boring because it is so cleverly written. Yes, the style is rather terse, but it is in just the right tone to bring about a sense of hurriedness, which actually combines rather well with the game's time constraints, creating a feeling of impending doom. It's almost like you can't type fast enough to see if you've got it this time.

The technical aspect is where the game really shines. As both a player and an author, it was easy for me to see the intricate ballet that the various pieces of code have to participate in, in order to create the desired effects, and the author pulls it off impeccably. Also, there are no spelling or grammar errors of any kind, which I could spot. I should note that the supporting website mentions a known bug, but I didn't come across it in about an hour's worth of playing and possibly 30 restarts, so I'm not going to take it into account.

And finally, there are the puzzles. For the first time in this competition, I have found puzzles that are hard and yet fair. They are all rather deductive in nature. I did have to go to the hints twice, but I only because I was getting a bit tired of trying so many things in so many games. If this had been the first game I played, I would not have needed hints. Also, for the first time in a long while, this is a game where knowing the solutions is one thing, but pulling them off successfully is another. And I'm not talking about guess-the-verb, here; I'm talking about the need for careful planning and detailed execution. Again, the ABOUT text mentions unfairness, but I have to disagree. The solutions are plainly there, and no, they are not based on knowledge from previous lives, they are based on pure deductive reasoning. Kudos.

Story: 3 (a basic premise, with a bonus point for a brilliant delivery)

Writing: 2 (terse, but very well done, nonetheless; combines well with the game's puzzles)

Technical: 2 (and it would still be a 2, even with the mentioned known bug)

Puzzles: 2 (hard but fair; very imaginative)

Andrew Krywaniuk

9 / 10
First impression: This game starts with a lot of opening of doors. Some of them open easily, others don't. And some of them can't be disambiguated from each other because there's 5 doors in the same room! I'm not expecting to like this game.

>x me Dark hair frames a warm face. Despite the anxiety written now in your tense brow, the confidence of youth and vibrancy of intellect are clear. There is a depth in your clear green eyes.

On one hand, that's one of the more interesting responses I've seen to "x me", but on the other hand, how can I tell all that stuff? Do I have a mirror?

>i You are carrying: a bright steel key an ID card a timed explosive device

Nope. Maybe I'm looking at my reflection in the bright steel key. :-)

Anyway, I'm intrigued by the puzzles in this game, although they seem very difficult. There is a hint site that I had to consult once or twice. So far, I didn't use it to find out *how* to do anything, although I did need some help with *what* I should be trying to do. While the plot doesn't actually literally make sense, I can forgive that because I enjoyed the game. My one main complaint is that in a game that relies heavily on precise timing, the author didn't implement "wait until".

I didn't begin with high hopes for this game, but the longer I played it, the more I want to figure it out. Maybe the idea isn't completely original (it certainly owes a nod to Spider and Web or Moments out of Time, as well as several popular movies), but it was an interesting enough game to make me spend a lot of time (well beyond 2 hours) trying to get the whole thing right.

If there is a weakness to ATD, it is the spartan nature of the game. There are no extraneous objects or locations. This is understandable. ATD is unabashedly a puzzle game, and any extraneous objects could introduce unforeseen complications. Still, for readers looking for a challenge, this has the markings of the best pure puzzle game of the comp.

Novelty: high
Interest: high
Fun: high
Polish: medium
Score: 9

Shih Tzu

9 / 10
You are a scientist. You have six minutes to infiltrate your former lab and destroy your own creation. But nothing is as easy as it seems... A wickedly ingenious timed puzzle.


9 / 10
A charming puzzle game, beautifully written and expertly coded. It does take a few restarts to get the hang of it - messing up the main puzzle results in death - but it is a short game and so well coded that playing it through a few times is not much of a burden. Obviously conscious of its potential to annoy people, in all aspects other than those of player death and completability, the game goes well out of its way to provide a hassle-free experience: doors, keys and weapons are implemented so politely that it is impossible to stay mad at this game.


9 / 10
The time travel plot is nice and very well done. But the real fun is figuring out the puzzle. Although frustrating at times it as a real joy solving it.

Jimmy Maher

A game built around a single puzzle, but an amazing puzzle it is, involving high technology and time travel. Virtually any way the player works out to solve the central problem works. An incredibly rich implementation, and an immensely rewarding experience for the player.

Pete Jasper

8.5 / 10
Genre: Science Fiction

Storyline: The story is about an MIT graduate student whose science project has been mysteriously taken over by the military. Recognizing the project as extremely dangerous in the wrong hands, she is sneaking back into the lab from which she was ousted to destroy the project. As the player, you have exactly 6 minutes (in game, not real time) and an improvised explosive device in which to find and destroy the project, thereby delivering the world from a seriously dangerous form of science.

Criterion 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm so effectively that no map is required to play the game? If not, does the story itself have elements that actually focus the PC on geography, so that a map is necessary to the story itself, not just to the gameplay? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

This game virtually requires you to make a physical map or room list of some sort. Not because the geography is too large to remember or the world too confusing to keep track of, but because the actions of the PC - where she is and, especially, when - are absolutely critical to success in the game. The map, the story, and the gameplay are inextricably linked. This is a perfect example of how a story can both use and even demand the strictest of player attention to understanding of the world map. So despite the mapping requirement, it gets a thumbs up.

Criterion 2: Does the author make game-related choices or plot-advancing consequences inherent in the majority of actions the player takes? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

Every move - even the meta commands - matters in ATD, though you don't necessarily realize the extent of this as you begin the gameplay. Suffice it to say that the game will soon have you considering the optimum move or command for every single step of the game. There are consequences on consequences, and the results are frequently fatal for you and/or the city of Boston. Thumbs up.

Criterion 3: Does game play and choices made as a result advance the player to multiple endings, with multiple paths to reach those endings, in ways that are both supported by and supportive of the main story trying to be told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

The endings in this game are binary -- you either succeed, or you blow yourself or at least the city of Boston up - which makes perfect sense in the context of the game. However, there are multiple ways to solve the game within the architecture established. Once you figure out what's going on, you have relative freedom to choose how you are going to implement the solution. It's hard to see how another effective ending could be grafted onto this story without writing another, much larger game. So, multiple paths to a single ending results in at best a thumbs sideways.

Criterion 4: Is the story itself actually worth telling? Does it have a narrative dynamic that would be worth relating in other media, so that it is not purely a technical exercise? And is that dynamic sustained throughout the course of the game so that the player essentially *knows* the story, even if he/she doesn't fully understand it or all its implications, on the first playthrough? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

The plot and focus of this story are somewhat old hat (at least to me). What is interesting about it is how the game design made you *want* to solve it despite the relatively well-trodden aspect of the story. There was an urgency and an intellectual interest in how to make things come out right that invited you to play over and over until the only acceptable ending was reached. Your definitely new the story by the end of the game. Nevertheless, for a widely-read sci-fi fan, though, the story itself was fairly vanilla. And because the writing is somewhat sparse, with the back story and the epilogue only sketched, you never really attach yourself to the character's motivations except at the most superficial level (don't blow up). The gameplay is dynamic throughout the story arc, but the story is thin. A tough call, perhaps, but another thumbs sideways here.

Criterion 5: Do commands -- including movement commands -- really support the story, i.e., if you are using compass directions, is the player using a compass to navigate with at the time? If not, do the commands truly enhance the mimetic effect being achieved in the game? Are uncommon commands natural to the story and the responses to incorrect commands helpful? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

The author spent some time on enabling auto-opening doors, but most of the commands were obvious and got the obvious results. As I said earlier, the effect of the timing and the mission you are on make *every* command important, but there were a few obvious things that could have been automated to make gameplay at certain points less monotonous ("wait until ...." being the principal one). That was a missed opportunity on the part of the author. Some other commands had results such as "there is no obvious effect" which are, too gamers, too indicative that looking around will probably find some type of effect. For myself, where the author missed was on the sound element that could have been associated with some commands as clues. In a darkened lab at night, when you are sneaking around, every sound could have been not only heard, but relevant. On the other hand, not much beyond the normal/obvious commands would really have been necessary in this circumstance. Thumbs sideways again on this.

Criterion 6: Does the author have sufficient control of the pacing, the narrative, the hints, other authorial mechanisms such as flashbacks, memories, event intrusion, etc., so that the player can't ever really get stuck and therefore fail to finish the game? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

In this one, the game is the pacing is the story is the narrative is the gameplay is the puzzles, etc. The author expects you to get stuck (even killed) in order to restart with a better idea of how to do the right thing (learn by dying). It would have been nice to have a meta-explanation related to the game theme that explained all the failures and "accounted for" restarts, a la Slouching Towards Bedlam, but the degree of difficulty would have been high and it would have made the game even more complicated. The author's placing of a time limit on the game ensures that every attempt at the game is mercilessly controlled within the parameters of the game. Nevertheless, it is up to the *player* to understand the challenges and make the correct outcome happen, so freedom to succeed or fail is totally in your hands. Each failed iteration is thankfully fairly brief, encouraging you to go back and keep struggling through to the desired endgame. Thumbs up.

Criterion 7: Does the author use timing or turn-related events or scene-cuts that give the player the appropriate forward momentum necessary to move from scene to scene and complete the game? If not, is a slow pace and relatively open player "wandering" reflective of the story and how it is being told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

The game has a time counter and is literally all about timing. You have six minutes (in game time) to save Boston (and possibly the world). This pressure colors the whole game, as every move counts off time from your six minutes. The larger puzzle, in essence, requires you to figure out a "4th dimensional" thought process to defeat the time constraints. I can't think of another game that uses a timing device so centrally and effectively. Another definite thumbs up.

Criterion 8: If puzzles are included, are they natural byproducts of the world model or the interactions of the PC/NPCs? Are the puzzles absolutely necessary to advance the story being told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

This game really is one giant puzzle. The story behind the PCs actions, the flow of the gameplay, and the actions required to solve the overall puzzle are so tightly related that they cannot be unwound from each other. The smaller puzzles advance the story, and the actions taken by the PC to perform the puzzles then become part of the larger story and the larger puzzle you must solve. A brilliant game concept, executed very, very well. A hearty thumbs up on this one.

Criterion 9: Does the game take risks in switching viewpoints (varying the PC view between one or more of the game characters), using different voice at different times (applying 1st, 2nd, 3rd and/or stream of consciousness, perhaps all in one game), and/or breaking with any other standard PC/NPC conventions (look, inventory, x me, etc.)? Are those risks successful in the context of the game? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

The game does not switch viewpoints or apply any real tricks to the conventions of standard IF. It makes superb use of most of those conventions, but in a mostly conventional fashion. There are no NPCs in the game, and the standard commands give you a pretty standard response. The game is primarily focused on the PC's mission, which is complicated, so I can understand the author not cluttering the game up with what could be seen as esoterica, but I think the author missed a chance to make this more of a "stream of consciousness" exercise with the PC, particularly in the long intervals where the player must "wait" repeatedly for certain events to happen. Consequently, a thumbs down here.

Criterion 10: Is it well-written, well-told, well-edited, well-tested? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

This game is well-written, but rather sparse. No real complaints about it, but the story development relied primarily on the player's individual puzzle solving to both "make" and "tell" the story. The game seemed to be edited appropriately and to be well-tested. I only encountered one bug, relating to the automated doors, but the solution, once found, ensured that the bug was meaningless. A thumbs up, even if the desired depth of the story is not there.

Extra Credit Criteria: Does the game break new ground in the story being told, new genres, new plots, new structures, etc.? Does it avoid complete cliches (amnesia, underground empires, etc.)? If yes, extra credit. If no, then no extra credit.

While the story was not entirely new to me, I think ATD really shines in the brilliance and integration of the game concept. It's as perfect an integration of the overall theme, the story, the game play, the puzzle-solving, and the possible endings as you can realistically expect from IF. Even Slouching Towards Bedlam, which I thought was tops in that department, wandered off the point to some fun, but inconsistent puzzle-solving exercises. It will be hard to top this thematic integration in the future. ATD will remain a standard to study for quite some time for authors who are trying to execute a single brilliant concept as flawlessly as possible. An extra thumbs up for that.

Total Score
Thumbs Up: 6 out of 10.
Thumbs Sideways: 3 out of 10.
Thumbs Down: 1 out of 10.
Extra Credit: 1.
Net Score 8.5 thumbs up out of 10.

Final Comments:

Since my standards are meant to be the minimum criteria for a modern, high-quality IF story, this would suggest that ATD has a little way to go to meet the minimum standard. In some sense, it is probably one of the best "adventure" games you could find in such a short format, which is perhaps why it didn't max out this more literary-focused set of criteria. But I do think there were place where the author could have used more backstory - either flashbacks, or scientific discourse, or whatever - to flesh out the story. The gameplay is dynamic and captivating, but the story itself is a little mundane. To get to the next level for the criteria I am grading, the author would have to address that issue. However, it *was* my favorite game of the Comp in terms of actually just playing the game, though I think Blue Chairs was definitely stronger overall and more deserving of a win. Of course, the irony is that neither of those games won. EAS3:LH took the top spot. Just goes to show you, even the critics can't always decide between "popular" and "artistic" when the choices are this close, and even then, what they think should be popular isn't necessarily the same as what the public actually picks. But the bottom line for ATD is straightforward: a great game executed very, very well. But more story, please.


8 / 10
.... well, that's ONE way to get me a motive fast! Okay, the door closes before I can get up here to go through it. So should I have something to hold it down? Hrm, can get to the basement ok. I suspect trickery here. First runthrough - set the bomb, there was a big boom. Oops. Thought there would be more to it when the prototype was described that way... Wait. Second runthrough, just going south, had the same effect. Did I have to do something else to set the bomb properly? Aha, didn't set the timer. Okay, trying that now. Okay, I need to find my papers. See? See? This is me having fun! This is me knowing my motivations! .... Of course, I'm not sure what to do now. :) (examines online help) Not puzzle-specific. Sigh. That's not so useful. Well, the most obvious thing to do next was to mess with the prototype, and that seems to be what they say I should do anyway... 'take/remove battery from flashlight' fails to work. Okay, I get the general idea. The battery bit is particularly clever. I'm slightly annoyed that there is no response to the idea of trying to hold down the button, which would surely occur to many people in this situation... It doesn't have to *work*, but it would be nice if it acknowledged my attempt. Did I mention that I kept frantically starting over to make sure I was doing things as quickly as possible in the first bit? :) Did go to walkthrough, though. How was I supposed to know where the papers were? I can't see through the window.

Actual review - An Abandoned Science Station game. Sort of. Well-motivated (since that's my biggest complaint this season) and with an interesting central puzzle. I'm not enough of a puzzle-twiddler to sit and play with this to its full potential, but I'm interested to see what the more tweak-minded did to it. A post-comp harder version is promised; probably a good one to watch out for if you haven't played it yet.

Cleanliness: Known bug with doors. Some other confusions with distinguishing unimportant doors. 4/5

Completeness: Problem - the equipment room doors are not mentioned in the room descriptions of the halls. This is confusing. Also, my complaint about the button. However, good world-building, and assumably lots of testing on silly time things. :) 4/5

Coolness: Pretty fun. 4/5

Victor Gijsbers

8 / 10
"All things devours" by 'half sick of shadows' is a very good piece of interactive fiction. Located towards the 'game' side of the IF spectrum, the player must carefully deduce the sequence of actions that will lead to victory. In order to succeed at this task, one must first learn to understand the inner logic of the game's universe, and then to come to understand how this insight can be used to overcome the existing obstacles. I found it very pleasing that no puzzle in "All things devours" is merely decoration: all of them reflect aspects of the game's central theme. Once you understand how the world works - the informative messages that accompany your many failed attempts are a real help here - the rules of solving the game are clear and unambiguous. The resulting puzzle is of satisfying difficulty, leading to a real sense of accomplishment for every obstacle you succeed in overcoming. "All things devours" is a beautifully crafted, very coherent intellectual challenge, with added suspense because of the time limits.

Unfortunately, the game is not as polished as it could have been. I encountered several bugs, one of which leaves you trapped in a room you are not supposed to enter. Worse, there is a bug which makes a crucial item disappear for no reason at all. I found this last one very frustrating, as it put me off the right track for some time. Also, some meta-actions such as 'ABOUT' actually take 5 seconds to perform, which is not good. If the author fixes these minor and major bugs, "All things devour" will become an outstanding example of transforming an interesting idea into a great puzzle, worthy of a rating of 9 out of 10. In its present state it is still very good, and I give it 8 out of 10. [This is the highest score I gave, although ATD was not the only game to get it. I will mail the author a more detailed bug report.]


8 / 10
Superbly paced research station game, with the most ingenious IF puzzle since Spider and Web.

Valentine Kopteltsev

7.4 / 10
After completing All Things Devours, I was sitting for a while, wondering: how did a game with such an over-cliched plot and a rather nondescript setting turn out to be so exciting? But let's deal with things one at a time.

You play a young scientist who had been working on a world-shattering project, but was kicked out of it as the military took it over. Sensing the fatal consequences the continuation of those explorations might have, she decides to put an end to them by infiltrating her former lab and blowing it up with all its contents. Sure, all this sounds (and actually *is*) fairly generic, although the author hasn't left his main character entirely without background; he tried really hard to flesh her out (for instance, I liked the description of the photo on the PC's ID card). The thing is, the game format doesn't offer much space for that. The same goes for the room descriptions: although they are by no means sloppy, a secret research complex consisting mostly of almost identical (and rather dull) hallways just doesn't give one much of an opportunity to be elaborate, especially considering how the viewpoint character is extremely short on time.

Another complaint regards the stretching points in the implementation of the complex's security system: two of them were so obvious one just couldn't pass by without stumbling over them, and on second thought, a few more came up. (On the third thought, however, I have to admit I hardly encountered any IF games depicting fully plausible top-secret establishments. On yet another thought (the fourth in succession), this is quite understandable -- detailed information on access control and protection system organization for such facilities isn't in the public domain for obvious reasons, and I suspect that in reality, successful infiltrations occur much less often than we're shown in films, told in books and, yeah, in works of interactive fiction. Even *if* an incident of this kind happens, the authorities in charge try to hush up the very fact of it, let alone its circumstances and the vulnerabilities the infiltrator(s) used, never leaving IF-authors any material to learn from in this respect... Uhm, sorry, I got carried away. ;)

Anyway, after a while, all these issues didn't seem to matter. The reason for that was, well, let's call it the puzzle framework of the game. It's mostly based on the idea of time-travelling; sure, there are enough text adventures using this concept (beginning with the classic Sorcerer by Infocom), but scarcely any implementing it as consistent and consequent. And I use the term "framework" on purpose: the whole game is built around and determined by constructing a sequence of actions leading to success. (There are multiple paths to victory, by the way.) While doing that, the player has to account for a number of time-travel side effects and paradoxes, some of which he can use to his benefit, while others are to avoid. It was a real thrill.

In fact, it was so much of a thrill that another feature some IF-purists might consider to be a drawback almost escaped my attention: in order to reach the winning ending, you'd need a few restarts -- a rather typical case of "learning from dying". Well, personally, I don't have anything against such a game device, but since modern IF-standards (whoever wrote 'em ;) generally don't countenance it I've had to mention it here.

Initially, I also was going to nag at the fact that the protagonist hadn't got a single chance to succeed in such a situation unless she was a clairvoyant, because a few strategic choices in the early stages of the game had to be made based on information she only would acquire later. However, a couple additional test playthroughs convinced me I had been wrong about it; there actually exists a way to victory that doesn't require the gift of foresight -- our PC merely has to be blessed with such abilities as ultra-fast acting and decision-making, an extraordinary analytical mind capable of calculating several moves ahead, and a memory as precise as that of a computer, all that combined with nerves of steel, as well as a thorough knowledge of the research complex. Of course, this all strains things a bit; still, there's nothing supernatural about the talents listed above. A more detailed discussion of the matter would automatically put this review in the SPAG Specifics section, which hasn't been my intention; thus, I'd just like to say that, in my opinion, the very existence of such a "non-contradicting" way to victory represents another proof for the vast amount of thought and efforts that have flown into All Things Devours.

To sum up, this is a great game constructed around a very well thought-out and carefully implemented puzzle skeleton; the combination with the very original use of time-travelling effects makes it unique and therefore an absolute must to play.

The SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard):

PLOT: Not very original (1.0)
ATMOSPHERE: Tense (1.4)
WRITING: Terse, but effective (1.4)
GAMEPLAY: Exciting race with the time (1.6)
BONUSES: Now, what do you do about a game you've liked a lot but can't give it a decent score, because it's focusing on puzzles, and puzzles aren't counted in the total rating? Correct -- you rate the BONUSES a 2;) (2.0)
TOTAL: 7.4

CHARACTERS: None present
PUZZLES: One of the strongest in this Comp (1.8)
DIFFICULTY: (7 out of 10)

Mike Russo

7 / 10
I'm usually not a particular fan of games which are just one big puzzle (see "Typo", above), nor do I have any special affection for "old-school" games which can be rendered unwinnable by sneezing at the wrong place, but I liked All Things Devours quite a lot nonetheless. Part of this is surely due to the documentation the game plays fair, and states up-front in the ABOUT text exactly what the ground rules are. This is definitely the right approach rather than belatedly realizing that my saved game is useless and cursing the author, I was able to engage to game on its own terms.

Greatly aiding my enjoyment of ATD was the prose, which possesses a bit more flair than is really required to pull off an abstract, meta-puzzley game such as this one. The PC description admittedly made me roll my eyes a bit, both because it's slightly extravagant and because the gorgeous female MIT grad student seems like a bit of a wish-fulfillment character, although of course such do exist I certainly met more than a few during my time at Caltech. And portraying her as dowdy and asexual would have annoyed me as well, for buying in too strongly to the stereotype. Perhaps I just find the depiction of female sciencey characters somewhat problematic in general; it's hard to sail the ship of characterization between the poles of stereotype and pandering. Regardless, despite this one early issue, the writing is of high quality, and effectively plays up the tension by relying on terse, declarative sentences fraught with threat.

The puzzle itself is well-implemented and well-designed; I had the "aha!" moment when I figured out what was going on, and after that, I was able to sit down and figure out the solution both through trial-and-error and deduction. It's neither too arcane to be solveable, nor so trivial that once one twigs to the concept, it's basically over. This is puzzle design at its best and most satisfying.

The scope of the game is of necessity somewhat limited, and if you're looking for plot or characterization, you're barking up the wrong tree. But it's hard to imagine a better implementation of an abstract, brainy thriller than All Things Devours.

Jake Wildstrom 

7 / 10
Highly flowery writing; it's not adjective-poisoning, but a subtler form of overwriting. Perhaps it's the personification of everything that does it. There are weird disambiguation issues which make this difficult to play at points. However, the basic device is devilish, must have been hell to code, and is a tour de force of a puzzle. Unfortunately, I'm not up to the challenge of figuring out how to avoid myself. Being able to hear where the former me was would help. Nonetheless, I have to rate it well, because of the absolute niftiness of the device, even if it is, in practice, awfully frustrating. I think part of it was my getting into the act. I had 6 minutes, so it was going to be a quick in and out job. Not pausing made life _hell_ when I tried to evade my other self. This is an absurdly difficult puzzle, but a completely logical one, and I must admit to being impressed.

Joshua Houk

7 / 10
Wow. This is simple. Plant a bomb to destroy some scientific thingamajig, and call it a night. But then...

Pretty cute, and engaging as well. There’s some lovely construction here which I enjoyed. The main puzzle will do a good job of flexing your brain, but won't have you quit in frustration either.

On the bad side, there were errors, both game-crashing ones that you will run into (argh!) and ones in implementation, ranging from clumsy door opening to picking up the wrong object. Still, the rough edges didn’t prevent me from getting a good kick out of this.

Lord Craxton

7 / 10
A clever little puzzle. The implementation is well done, which must have been difficult considering all the stuff to keep track of. I managaed to get the best ending after a few tries.


7 / 10
A one-big-puzzle game. Nothing ground-breaking but it's well-implemented.

Dan Shiovitz

Top 5
Like the author says, All Things Devours is not a particularly new premise: you invented a time machine, and now you have to get rid of it because in the future it blows up the world. You know, the usual deal with time machines. Wisely, though, the author ignores the angst and the what-is-the-moral-philosophy-of-science stuff and cuts straight to the good bit: zipping through time to solve puzzles and fight paradoxes. There's one extremely tedious bit (c'mon, no >WAIT UNTIL?), and the whole thing ends up feeling a little slight -- the author mentions plans to release a harder version post-comp, but I think what's required is something with a few more puzzles, not harder as such. On the whole, though, All Things Devours is a fun little puzzle game with one great thing to play with.


Top 6
A clever and funny time-travel puzzle game where you are a scientist trying to save the world from her own invention. A coherent setting, a genuine sense of urgency, but a bit confusing at times. I'll get back to it, just to look for the optimal ending.

David Chess A neat little piece of interactive fiction (i.e. a "text adventure" in this case). Memorable in tone, and novel in having two puzzles that require careful time-travelling to solve. The "careful" part, though, hints of the thing that I don't like so much about the game: it fails what might be called the "fair play", or maybe the "perfect play", test.

In games like this I like it best when there are hints and clues and signposts leading from the starting state to the most successful end (or to a most successful end), such that when I'm finally done with the thing I can say to myself that, had I only been watching carefully enough and not overlooked or misinterpreted anything, I could have gotten through it on the first attempt. That is, that the protagonist really could have succeeded by virtue of intense skill and cleverness, without requiring any dumb luck or help from previous plays of the game (because of course the protagonist hasn't had any previous plays).

That old Doom level where there is a fork in the cavern, and if you go into the left one you fall into an inescapable lava pit and die whereas if you go into the right one you continue bashing the monsters, fails this test. "All Things Devours" fails this test also, mostly because the tight timing constraints make it impossible, as far as I can see, for the protagonist to explore enough to figure out the right course of action without losing; the only way to win is to have played the game N times before and to have taken careful notes. The story of the successful run involves the protagonist doing at least a couple of things for no discernable reason except that winning requires it.

But it was fun anyway. Not that I didn't get impatient and use the hints and so on at all... *8)

Miranda Gaw Incredible concept sci-fi text adventure All Things Devours (I explored all the floors and then did the walkthrough because I'm not patient enough to do time travel arithmetic).

Jacek Pudlo
I liked the response to X ME. Good writing, a fiendish puzzle and solid design. This is what text adventures are all about. I haven't finished it, but I will.

Robert Menke

6 / 10
Technical: 8
Puzzles: 5
Story: 6

Another single-file game. From the title, I’m expecting Lovecraft-style horror, but who knows?

Nope, it’s raw science fiction.

Ah, a special ‘competition only’ version. Good idea.

The author admits up front that it is easy to put the game in an unwinnable state. Nevermore’s winnable command never came into vogue, unfortunately.

OK, there’s a logical dissociation here: if I have only a few minutes before I get arrested, why would I even be able to go anywhere else but my lab? Going up should have resulted in the message ‘But your lab is in the basement!’ rather than allowing me to waste precious seconds exploring a dead-end.

Whoa, major Crichton-esque infodump! With quantum physics gobbledygook!

Bah, online hints. Not everybody has Internet-on-demand.

OK, doing the ‘obvious’ kills millions. There’s a timer on the bomb but no obvious way to turn it on or off.

Ah, it’s set timer to <seconds>. Not exactly obvious; this should have been included as meta-information in the bomb’s description.

Man. All right, I cannot be in the same place as my prior self or catastrophe results. Which means... I have to track my position at every moment in this game and avoid any possible paradoxes. EVERY DAMN MOMENT. Do I really want to do that much bookkeeping?

This is the mine puzzle in Sorcerer over and over again...

Nope, this is too awkward to be fun. Maybe it has appeal to the anal-retentive D&D types that don’t mind spending an entire evening rolling up a character, but this is too much for me. Mapping and the occasional note is about as far as I would go. It’s a strong concept, and reasonably well-executed as far as I got, but overall the game does not appeal to me. Paradoxically, it gets a decent score on its strong technical, story, and puzzle merit. Puzzles are rated low not because they were lacking, but because of their inherent difficulty.

Timofei Shatrov

6 / 10
There is some interesting stuff going in this game which looks like a Vicious Cycles clone. The absence of walkthrough actually prevented me from finishing it first time, but after I found the walkthrough I found that there're too much z-ing on a place and no sane man would ever solve it himself. I thought that after your first failure there is no clear goal and I don't like when that happens (that's when I start using the walkthrough).


6 / 10
Puzzle box. Seems to be well done but I couldn’t figure it out.


6 / 10
The fiddliness of the main puzzle didn't really appeal to start with, and then there were some implementation problems that left me too impatient to go on.

David Welbourn 

5 / 10
I decided to try this game on the last day of the comp, thinking I'll just quickly try to squeeze one last game into my rankings. However, after playing a half hour of this one, I realized I would not solve it quickly, if at all. I also realized by this time what much of the puzzle would be and what I'd have to do to work it out but, um, I just couldn't be bothered. I did download the walkthru, renamed it to "devour.rec" and used "replay" to see if I was right in my assumptions (I was). And I did appreciate the sheer cleverness of it all. I can only begin to imagine what the code must look like.

However. I couldn't help but think of other puzzle box games like Lock & Key, Varicella, and Rematch, and I wanted to play those games a lot more than I wanted to play this. Y'know why? Because manipulating weird people, bizarre death traps, etc. that interact with each other in various combinations that give interesting results is a heck of a lot more compelling than micromanaging the location of a flashlight battery in space-time. Those other games had cool stuff that could surprise you; this did not. I could bring up other minor gripes (e.g.: how to use the darned bomb; "light bomb" and "turn on bomb" did not help), but that was main one. So, points for cleverness, but ehn. How fun is bookkeeping, really?


5 / 10
Don't know, why it finished so high, the main puzzle could be implemented much better. Some people liked it, but this game is definetely not for everyone.

Nathan Eady

3 / 10
The intro makes this sound like a time-based puzzle. I sure hope that's an inaccurate misgiving... I *hate* time-based puzzles... The buttons... a normal real-world solution to the "it needs to be down when I'm not here" problem is to set something on the button. But putting things on these buttons "would achieve nothing". Oh, that's herring anyway (at least for now). Okay. The premise is hokey beyond the bounds of all reason, like a bad ST:TOS episode. I get the distinct impression that the prototype probably looks like it's made from cardboard and spray paint -- or would if it weren't made purely from text. OTOH, the prose is pretty okay, nothing at all like the bad dialog in ST:TOS. There's a switch, but "flip" isn't a verb I recognize. Okay, I did what the intro said my plan was, but the catastrophe still occurred -- with no indication about why, or what went wrong. There were no integrated hints, so I had to go to the website. The epilogue, contrary to the first hint there, does *not* give any clue what went wrong; it is exactly the same as if I don't plant the bomb at all. Some of the other hints don't even make sense, as if I haven't gotten far enough for them to make sense. It's true that there's quite a lot of this game I haven't explored... but if I try to explore any of it, my six minutes runs out pretty much immediately. I'm tired of restarting. Just when I *start* to get into the game, it's over and has to be restarted, so I never really get fully immersed in the game's world. This completely ruins the game for me. At this point I debated going for the walkthrough, but honestly, I haven't even had a chance to explore the game. The author's probably going to get talked into releasing a version with the time limit bumped up several orders of magnitude, after the competition, so I think I'll wait for that, rather than spoiling it with the walkthrough. One point for holding my interest past five minutes, plus the point for decent prose, and a bonus point because I fully intend to play this game again later, after the author fixes up some of the worse technical problems, such as the draconian time limit. That's three, which is about how many minutes I was able to go between restarts.

Sam Kabo Ashwell

3 / 10
First thoughts: my, somebody really liked Spider and Web, but instead of coming up with some sweepingly original narrative techniques and deeply clever puzzles, they just nicked the basic story (and ganked a title from the frickin' Hobbit, which is never a good way to earn my respect). Sadly, rather early on I hit a puzzle that involved finding batteries, and I couldn't take any more.