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.

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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

IFComp 2016: Stone Harbor, by Liza Daly

Third game of fifty-something. More or less on track, although I should pick up the pace. Might have to forego this week’s Bibble Wibble at this rate.

Blurb: You’re good at what you do: tell tourists pretty lies about love, money, and life after death. That’s what people want from a boardwalk psychic, and you deliver. It’s not the future you imagined for yourself, though, and sometimes you think you’re waiting for your real life to start. That wait ends today.
The curtain is opening, and it’s got something it needs you to see.

System: Uncredited, possibly homebrew (HTML)

Pretty linear. Ran into one small bug and a handful of typos. All in all there are few ways to influence the story and no substantive ways, which leads one to wonder why this qualifies as IF; yes, there’s a certain amount of agency involved in clicking the links to call up the next block of text, but thats a pretty minimal level of agency.

In every respect except for the structural design, though, this is a good work. It would make a fantastic second-person novella. It’s well-written and exciting. But it’s only very minimally what I think of as IF. Coming up with a good rating for something like this is hard for that reason: it succeeds very well at its apparent purposes but those purposes do not seem to be directed towards the creation of a work I’m comfortable labeling as exemplary IF.

Rating: 7 (I guess?)

IFComp 2016: Take, by Amelia Pinnolla

Keeping it moving with my second game of the ‘comp!

Blurb: You are battle-weary. Your armor is scanty and your countenance is loathsome; you tire of the swords flicking at your neck. But you have a duty. There is nothing you can’t take.
(Content warning: Violence, implied adult themes, fameballs.)

System: Inform 7 (Glulx)

Not quite sure what the point of this one is. It’s kind of on rails, and it seems to be using the word “take” in an idiomatic way I don’t really get at all. It’s meant to be some sort of social satire, I guess, but unless you’re onboard with its basic worldview, it’s going to fall flat, as it did for me.

So, I dunno, try again.

Rating: 4