IFComp 2014: Raik, by Harry Giles

The 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition is on! Get your judge on for yourself over at ifcomp.org. This is the third game I’m judging in the competition.

Blurb: A scots fantasia about anxiety. Battle kelpies, watch TV, avoid your emails and find the magical Staff of the Salmon.

OK. I’ve read But n Ben a Go-Go. I can do this. I think.

Near as I can tell, the same decision tree (in a Twine adventure, which is basically hypertext), has been laid on two completely different texts: a story about a highly anxious woman trying to get through her day, and a story of a Scots warrior questing to save his clan. More notably, the first story is in Scots and the second in standard English.

There are some interesting bits and a deeply confusing maze, and some places where the story jumps between the two parallel strands unasked. The overall plan isn’t clear to me though—it’s not wholly rocket science to map two different stories onto the same structure, and the parallelism is not always clear. It’d be nice to be able to say I learned a valuable lesson about anxiety, but the presentation is a bit murky at times. Switching between the storylines was a somewhat useful mechanism: when a wise choice wasn’t obvious in one story, the other story was often illminating.

It’s an intriguing experiment, although I’d hesitate to call it fully successful. It certainly set a very distinctive tone, and I imagine it’ll be polarizing, although probably for the wrong reasons (the Scots dialect, rather than the parallel gameplay).

Rating: 7

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IFComp 2014: Enigma, by Simon Deimel

The 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition is on! Get your judge on for yourself over at ifcomp.org. This is the second game I’m judging in the competition. Why, yes, I am way behind.

Blurb: Eyes can see, and a mind can think. Insanity is just one step away. You are in a room. That’s where you are, and you know exactly what is going on. But the truth is hard to take.

This game is an interesting experiment, but somehow it fell flat for me. Some of it might be pacing, with the elements coming out in what feels like the wrong order. I mean, fine, I figure out early that I’m pointing a gun at my best friend. That’s pretty obviously a bad situation. And I’m only about 4 steps down the daisy-chain before I (as the reader) have figured out that he did something horrible to my sister. Smart money on rape, decent odds on murder. It would be interesting if it weren’t any sort of violation at all and that I was actually the bad guy but I’m not really counting on that. By the time I actually examine and think about exactly the right objects to notice her dead body, it kind of feels anticlimactic. And if discoveriing your sister’s corpse is anticlimactic, then you may be doing tension wrong.

Besides pacing issues, there’s a level-of-abstraction problem. I got hung up on “think about doubts”, because those weren’t exactly obvious the way physical objects and the more concrete ideas (like the relationship and the phone call) were. The writing is awfully affectless, and I can’t tell if that’s intentional. The PC comes across as stiff and mechanical, but it’s not clear whether that’s his character, a moment of shock, or just poor writing. Certainly the other two figures in the story don’t come out any less mechanical: Tim’s only utterances are glazed-eyes happy craziness, and Gina seems to have absolutely no character other than being angelic. We don’t even know what they like/don’t like about each other, or why Tim is sounding like a suicide-cult member.

So, while there are some interesting ways of conveying a state of mind in this story, they ultimately needed to be in service of something less generic and better paced.

Rating: 6

Thibble Thursday: Return of the Exile (2 Samuel 1–2)

We begin a new book: 2 Samuel is the story of David’s executive power over Israel, while 1 Samuel was Saul-focused. The dividing point is of course the death of Saul, which we saw in our last installment. Incidentally, the division of the book into two parts is largely arbitrary; AFAICT, it’s an innovation of the Septuagint, and in prior versions of the text Samuel was one big book.

Short snarky summary: David learns that Saul’s dead. He’s sad that the king is dead but glad to come home. His sorrow might be a bit difficult to credit as his first act is to go to war with Saul’s heirs.

You’d think the Saul narrative would be over by now

IFComp 2014: Transparent, by Hanon Ondricek

The 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition is on! Get your judge on for yourself over at . This is the first game I’m judging in the competition.

Blurb: There is a house.
There is a room in the house.
There is a door in the room. The door is locked.
Some people are in the room.
Some people are transparent.

Well, the blurb leads me to expect something metatextual, since that is a chunk of Inform 7 code right there. But the initial impressions of the game proper are much more ambiguous, seeming a more traditional and polished (if a trifle over-written) a work. The encouragement to photograph everything makes me move very slowly towards the actual plot. The game goes out of its way to make actually progressing difficult: lights that turn off automatically, a photo flash that needs constant recharging, a tiny inventory limit: even when you’ve figured out how to do things, these obstructions make things rather tedious. And then both my batteries are stolen. My impetus to continue has been annoyed into oblivion.

There are bizarre effects which seem to be bugs: the rooms upstairs aren’t referencable with cardinal directions, and don’t seem to quite link up properly; sometimes when I try to pick something up, I’m told “that seems to belong to Someone”. I sense a game whose ambition outstrips its ability. And there is a fair bit of realized ambition here: a large amount of locations, a high implementation depth, some autonomous actors and tracking of the battery statuses. Unfortunately, many of these technical achievements are dubious in terms of craft, because they’re more irritating than immersive.

And then there’s the “your beta-testers totally should have caught this” list: I get the line “bulbs or [sic] burnt out” when flipping a switch; “paintings” isn’t recognized as a synonym for the portraits. I photographed “a the air”, and I’m told on departure that I ‘lost my camera’, even if I didn’t. Trying to use “light” as a noun seems to always think it should be plural.

There’s enough clunkiness that I really can’t recommend this work. The author has some pretty good craft, but needs to temper the ambitiousness and distinguish between ideas that are interesting to code and those that are fun to play.

Rating: 5