IFComp 2014: Jacqueline, Jungle Queen!, by Steph Cherrywell

The 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition is on, at ifcomp.org. This is my sixth and probably last game this year.

Blurb: You are Jacqueline McBean, modern woman for the Thirties and intrepid international correspondent for the Fresno Bee. The good news is that you’re on your way to a plum assignment among the glitzy spires and glamorous nightclubs of beautiful Golanaland. The bad news is that the plane only makes it ninety-nine percent of the way to Gola City and that last one percent is a real doozy. Alone in the heart of the Golanese jungle and armed only with the powers granted by the ancient jungle shrines, can you learn the ways of the animals, wield torrential rains and searing heat, and become at last the mighty Jungle Queen?

Of course you can! You’re a modern woman for the Thirties!

There was a lot in here which actually worked out pretty well. It’s got a pretty well-constructed broad-farce style, with mostly pretty comprehensible puzzles and a handful or alternative solutions. It has a reasonable amount of gonzo style and I pretty much never felt at loose ends or confused. I also managed to not stumble across any bugs or mechanical errors. All in all, the basic design is promising.

However, I found a bit I was unhappy with. The blurb and opening actually led me to expect a certain pulpy style, and the content kind of didn’t deliver for the most part. It’s a bit hard to put my finger on just what didn’t gel for me, but too much of the time I didn’t really feel immersed in the time and place, and this totally deserved (and led me to believe it would get) a more highly defined sense of setting and character. The writing’s mostly mechanically descriptive rather than really milking this style.

The puzzles maybe were a mite on the easy side, but I can’t complain too much, other than about a guess-the-verb issue I encountered at the very end.

On a tangentially related note, I am pleasantly surprised to see how usable Quest has become. There was a bit of lag playing online, but the interface and parser are pretty good these days.

Rating: 7

IFComp 2014: The Black Lily, by Hannes Schueller

The 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition is on; details at ifcomp.org. This is my fifth game. (Yay! I can vote!)

Blurb: If you think you are being watched while playing this game, keep telling yourself that it’s all in your mind.

I get this in the opening text:

The delicate fingers pressing against the indestructible window pane which was supposed to keep evil out. The superior attitude suddenly giving way to despair. The widening eyes in the moment of cognition.

My pretention-dar is pinging. I hope to God this overwriting is either not representative of the work as a whole or is going to be brutally taken down. Certainly the narrator comes across as intolerably smug, but that may be the point. There is a pretty heavy veneer of too-awesome-for-you in the protagonist’s vignettes, as they stroll around a dance floor and dance better than everyone, or go to a boutique and buy the most expensive and exceptionally tailored pants on the floor. So I’m not sure what I’m really supposed to think of the protagonist, as regards his character: clearly by the end I am no longer supposed to regard him as a good person (although it’s very easy to miss an awful lot of details), but is his impeccable tailoring and trim body and flash style supposed to be enviable or flagged up as being as pretentious as it looks?

One problem is that we never actually get a real feel for what makes our protagonist tick other than smug self-satisfaction. By the end we’ve learned a major character trait and have absolutely no idea what motivates it. That’s kind of frustrating.

The text is littered with modest grammatical and stylistic errors. None of them impede comprehension, but particularly in a text trying so hard for a proper and correct voice like this, it’s irksome. Also, evidence of insufficient beta.

Rating: 5

IFComp 2014: Ugly Oafs, by Perry Creel

The 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition is on! Details at ifcomp.org. This is the fourth game I’m judging. Yeah, I’m not getting through the whole thing this year. Shit, if I’m lucky I’ll judge enough to have my votes counted.

Blurb: Push back the Wrath Pulse–or find the Fry Gun to destroy it for good!
A wordplay game with several ways to lose deliberately. Source code included.

OK. Apparently it’s a wordplay game. But there’s not a whole hell of a lot of context to figure out the nature of the wordplay: tons of phrases but absolutely no hinting as to what to _do_ with the damn phrases. I tried to do anagrams but came up short. Have I mentioned I’m not very good at these things? I feel like I’m back in the Mystery Hunt. I’ve figured out that the map is symmetric under rotation and that the numbers are from northwest to southeast in a pretty straightforward way. This is surprisingly unhelpful.

A little walkthrough-reading gives me the Big Reveal. And, well, now it feels like so much busywork. I dunno, I like my crosswords leavened with a bit more of the narrative, and I spent enough mental energy trying to figure out the conceit that I don’t have much energy left to take it to its conclusion. In honesty, the clues totally were there, but as I said, I’m not actually good at this sort of thing, and I felt like there may have been too much information and not enough focus, maybe.

There are a couple of bugs around the punctuation. That might be the fault of the screenreader-friendliness coding, but still, it’s the sort of thing I expect to be purged in beta.

This is an interesting idea. It might be fun for a certain type of reader, but it is Not My Thing. I concede this may be my fault and my problem.

Rating: 6