IFComp 2018: Space Punk Moon Tour, by “J_J”

First game in the Comp! So excited!

Blurb: You are nineteen-year-old Tina Tessler: missing father, dead mother, and plagued by nightmares of things you can’t quite remember. You just won a ticket to see your favorite band. So, pack your bags and catch your space flight. You’re on your way to the Space Punk Moon Tour.

System: Quest 5.5

Well, the online system is sluggish, as promised, but I dn’t have much of a choice since building QSP from source under Linux is apparently an inscrutable mystery written mostly in Russian. Ignoring the particular klunkiness of the web-interface. I find the Quest system generally a bit frustrating, and it doesn’t seem robust enough to avoid guess-the-verb at times: taking the sleeping pills seemed impossible unless you used the exact phrasing in the game’s text, and in the kiosk buying tickets, for instance, “PUSH BUTTON” didn’t work when “PRESS START BUTTON” did. The game seems to be structured so as to not let me leave one setpiece until everything to be done there is done, which keeps one from getting stuck but encourages a fairly mechanical approach to the material. Particularly since so many of the obstructions are human, there’s a need to lawnmower my way through conversations. I got stuck trying to charm a ticket agent into giving me a cut-rate pet inspection, and then ran into a game crash. On replay I got to space and kept running into odd implementation bugs: “BUY CREDITS” didn’t work in the bathroom, although “BUY BATHROOM CREDITS” did, and I couldn’t figure out any way to actually put the secret keeper into the sink and didn’t get useful feedback. At this point between the janky online play and the frustrating parser I ended up giving up. It’s a pity, because it seems like there are relevant choices to be made (remembering to throw out recalled food, giving or not giving Sam’s phone number to TJ, etc.), but I didn’t get far enough for those things to really seem to have narrative influence.

Rating: 4

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IFComp 2018 Intro post

It’s October, and time for the Twenty-Fourth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition! This year there are 77 entries (!), so even playing one a day wouldn’t suffice to finish by deadline; I’ll do what I can, though. Anyone can judge, and if you want to judge, you might not want to read my reviews until you’ve played a game for yourself. However, if you do want to follow my reviews, then the rough interpretation of my numeric ratings is below.

  • 1: Entirely inappropriate. For a game to receive a rating of “1”, it has to be completely inappropriate for entry into the IF Competition, either through drastic failure of scope or implementation, massive incompleteness, or not actually being IF at all. I wish I could claim this judgment was rare.
  • 2: Awful. Ratings of “2” are for games which, while ostensibly appropriate for the Comp, fail to rise to even a minimal level of craft. A game with massive underimplementation, poor writing, and uninspiring premise will receive a “2”. Also, any game which is intentionally annoying, unless the annoyance actually serves an artistically worthwhile goal, gets a “2” regardless of its craftsmanship.
  • 3: Highly flawed. A game with a “3” may well have a decent idea lurking in it, but is bogged down massively by writing and technical skills not up to scratch, by extremely buggy gameplay, or by poor design choices.
  • 4: Weak. A “4” shows evidence of coherent craft and design, but is plagued by one or more major problems in execution.
  • 5: Acceptable. A grade of “5” is a minimally acceptable game: writing is technically sound and there is a reasonable level of world-craft detail. Bugs, ideally, are peripheral and reasonably uncommon. Presumably a game with a “5” will have major imperfections, but not be actually incompetently written.
  • 6: Promising. Games with scores of “6” induce a modicum of respect, either through implementation depth, writing, or premise. These games have certain stand-out features showing promise on a revised version of the game.
  • 7: Well-crafted. A “7” suggests a game whose play proceeds smoothly and hitchlessly: writing is descriptive with a consistent style; implementation is deep enough to consider all reasonable actions, player’s goals are clear, and the story is moderately engaging. Bugs are, if present, rare or minor.
  • 8: Good. An “8” is a well-crafted game with some sort of surprise. Above and beyond the competent craft mentioned above, an “8” must have some realized ambition or hook that makes it either enjoyable or emotionally engaging to play.
  • 9: Excellent. To get a “9”, a game must possess a strong narrative style, a sufficiently clued and well-paced plot, minor bugs if any, high depth of implementation and richness of detail, interesting and well-constructed characters, and overall informed and consistent design. In other words, 9s are near-perfect.
  • 10:Extraordinary. A “10” is just a “9” which knocks my socks off. I realize this is completely subjective.

Other notable details about my judging protocol: when possible, I am playing on a Linux machine. I use the several gargoyle meta-interpreter binaries from version 2011.1b-1 for most standard IF file types, and using Chrome 65.0.3325.181 for web-interface games. I downloaded the full Comp package on October 7th and I use only that version for judging; I don’t download post-deadline bug fixes.

IFComp 2017: 10pm by “litrouke”

The Twenty-third Annual Interactive Fiction Competition is on, and anyone can play, participate, and judge. There are nearly 80 games this year, and there is no way I’m getting through all of them, but I’ll do my best. This is the first game according to my randomized ballot.

Blurb: 10pm, and dinner is still sitting in the oven.
The TV is droning. The front door is closed.
You look at the clock.
You look at the door.
You wait.

Content warning: Profanity, allusions to sex and violence, unhealthy parenting.
Estimated playtime: half an hour
Format: Web (Twine 1.4.2)

Well, I played through twice, to see what different kind of endings come out. The structure and interface of the game reflects the protagonist’s atypical state: you’re a boy who doesn’t speak, and all of your interactions through the game are by selecting the broad meaning of your hand signs. You’re living with a man (probably your father?) who doesn’t use apostrophes, and things are kind of stressful but depending on the choices during the game they might by either getting by or really fraught. On my first playthrough things were pretty good, and even on the second playthrough the basic premise that these people like and care about each other came through. It’s more or less a vignette, and to some extent you can decide for yourself what the shades of meaning within specific signs you choose to use are.

Apropos of the sign system, one thing which disappointed me is that there seemed to be a more or less ignored complexity in the system: I’d often get two or three signs in different colors to form a sentence with color constraints out of, and the design of the interface suggested that a mix-and-match wold work, but the response suggested that in almost all cases only the first sign determined how what I said was interpreted, and in that case just having one big block to drag and drop seems like it would make a lot more sense and not pretend to a complexit where there wasn’t one.

All in all, though, from a narrative standpoint it basically works and doesn’t outstay its welcome. At times it seems a mite sentimental (on some narrative paths) but never tips over the edge. The narrative leaves a lot of the premise beyond the basic history a bit nebulous: what Ty does, how they live on days other than this one, and what happened to make Bird so troubled. But this is largely a broadstroke work, and curious as I am about the backstory, I get why it’s not really immediately germane to the work and would most likely dilute its emotional force.

IFComp 2016: The God Device, by Andy Joel

Game number 7! Maybe I can get halfway through if I hustle.

Blurb: What is in the blood-soaked envelope the archaeologist gave Tanya just before she died?

System: Twine (HTML)

I’m troubled by that blurb, particularly by the pronoun with an ambiguous antecedent.

It’s a pretty linear adventure story, with workmanlike prose. There’s very little in the way of actual branching as far as I can tell, and our character is just barely fleshed out. There is an awful lot of lightly-exposited backstory about the world and its lore and suchlike, and I guess the light touch there is appreciated, but, on the other hand, the complete lack of character for the protagonist is somewhat less welcome.

All in all, a kind of middling work from most perspectives. There’s not much ambition in the structure or the prose or the technology. It meets a satisfactory standard of competence but brings very little to the table beyond that.

Rating: 5

IFComp 2016: Mirror and Queen, by Chandler Groover

Game number 6! More than 10% of the way through the ‘comp, but I have delayed so long I will definitely not finish.

Blurb: Your mirror never lies.
A puzzleless reflection. Fifteen to forty minutes.

System: Inform 7 (Glulx)

First thought: this is clearly a companion piece to The Queen’s Menagerie, what with having the same author and the repetition of the word “Queen”. Second thought: is this going to be a take on Snow White?

A few questions in: yup, it’s Snow White. The game appears responsive, but I’m wondering how much of that is actually picking up on my keywords versus merely walking through a sequence of responses which more or less follows the set of things I’m likely to ask about. It’s tricky to figure out what’s going on under the hood; I have a feeling it’s much more linear than it looks, although any obvious repetition or nonsense phrases seem to be picked up. But alternating between two words, for instance, advances the story in ways unrelated to the two words. It’s a trick, but a reasobably convincing trick, and definitely there are keywords to which it responds specifically at least once.

The text itself is pretty solid, quite comparable to Groover’s other entry, and the visual layout of the HTML frame around the interpreter is elegant and effective. He clearly has established an effective, interesting style and built an interesting narrative arund it, ith just enough technical chops to make that narrative seem dynamic and organic.

Rating: 7

IFComp 2016: Thaxted Havershill And the Golden Wombat, by Andrew Brown

Fifth game! The blurb fills me with trepidation.

Blurb: An attempt to write a humorous TWINE IF game… The walk through is included… (Hmmm… This isn’t a very exciting blurb, is it?)

System: Twine (HTML)

Ah, the venerable Wacky Game with a Wacky Title. And an author who apparently has never met a sentence he doesn’t want to end with an ellipsis. The path to victory is reasonably narrow, and involves a Fighting-Fantasy-style random battle. The textis kind of middling at best, and the ending is ultimately metatextual but not in a way that’s actually very interesting (i.e. more MST3K than Italo Calvino).

There’s not much here that we haven’t seen before. The main saving grace is that hypertext is more navigable than parser-based IF and it’s pretty easy to be certain one has seen all there is to see.

Rating: 3

IFComp 2016: Letters, by Madison Evans

Fourth game. Bit behind schedule; better pick up the pace.

Blurb: A twine game where the reader explores a stack of letters left on their desk from someone they cared about. She has hidden herself inside her words, and all you can do is read between the lines. Can you find her?

System: Twine (HTML)

Not quite sure what to make of this. It feels in some sense like the hypertext of a bygone era, where there’s not a story so much as a bunch of hotlinked text pieces and the specific hotlinks aren’t all that obvious. It was the big hotness a decade or so ago,it seems, but it feels like the modern trend in hypertext fiction is straight narrative.

As for the text itself, it’s an OK epistolary creation: most of the items are dated, and I assume that you could build a cohesive beginning-to-end narrative by putting them in order. The endpoints of runthroughs seem to be at random points, however. Some clickthroughs never reach anything akin to a conclusion. AFAICT they’re all snapshots of the same story, though—it’s not like choosing a different path radically changes the story you uncover, although some branches can fail to divulge the most significant aspect of the story.

If there was meant to be something deeper here than a simple exploration of the extent of a relationship between two people in very different life circumstances, with different values, but with significant shared experiences, I kinda missed it.

Rating: 6