IFComp 2015: TOMBs of Reschette, by Richard Goodness

So, yeah, I’m not judging everything this year. I am OK with that, really. It’s been One of Those Months.

Blurb: Hello, young adventurer! If you’re looking for the finest treasure, monster, and exploration experience around, why not come on down to the TOMBs of Reschette! Earn XP, Dubloons, and Gems, like any good adventurer! Solve the mysteries in the Crypt of Mysteries! Learn the tragic story of Vanity’s Dowager! Slay various monsters…and eat them! Kick back in the library with a good book! Be careful, young adventurer! The TOMBs are a dangerous place and you have no idea what kind of horrible deaths could lie in store for you!

System: Twine

OK, that was extremely silly. It wasn’t very ambitious, really, and on my first playthrough I found no way to “win” although there are lots of deaths that don’t seem so awful. Honestly, there didn’t seem to be much to say about this work. Lots of broad, camp humor, and a fairly easily traversed world.

But it turns out that there’s a fair bit more depth if you do things in the right order and in the right ways. My first traversal took some straightforward solutions and locked me out of victory. Even a “successful” traversal is somewhat trifling and silly, but at least it tries to deliver a meaningful experience, and I can appreciate that. But it’s awfully easy to miss the correct solutions and come out concluding that this work’s a complete trifle.

Rating: 6

IFComp 2015: To Burn in Memory, by Orihaus

Slowly but surely!

Blurb: To Burn in Memory, an ahistorical and atemporal Interactive Fiction work for IFComp 2015. Explore a city that never existed, and uncover its secret history through the memories of a woman that lived its darkest moments.

System: “Inquisitor”, perhaps a homebrew system?

For some reason this one didn’t work in Chrome at all, so I bounced back to Firefox. It’s a rather exploratory and apparently structurally linear work, which seems to want to have a high, elegant tone. It’s not quite equal to the task and occasional stylistically suspect choices and straight-up grammar errors rather mar the attempt. Generally the structure was a bit offputting too: enormous static spaces, whose geometry wasn’t always apparent from the description of exit options, and little to actually interact with except keys and doors. Not a real good sense of place, either: the refrences to Germans and a vaguely late-19th-century feel were muddled by the somewhat fantastic sense of the unreal.

The crypt entrance, incidentally, has a message which suggests that it’s at the end of the story, and certainly room descriptions after that are somewhat fragmentary.

I would like to be supportive of a work which has a great deal of effort poured into it, but there’s too much here which doesn’t work. The mood feels a bit too flat, in spite of the attempted ornateness. The mystery is mostly irritating instead of compelling (why did touching that mysterious device destroy the gate, say?). And, of course, it’s not actually finished.

Rating: 4

IFComp 2015: Crossroads, by Cat Manning

My first game of the Interactive Fiction Competition! Let’s get this show on the road.

Blurb: They say it’s death to seek the witch. For you, it’s worth the risk. Venture in to the forest in search of relief, but remember that magic is rarely straightforward.

A short psychological game about self-knowledge and its price. Content warning: blood, self-harm, suicidal ideation, violence, death.

System: Twine

The work as a whole feels a bit overwrought and far too fond of dramatic pauses. There’s a particular style of game which seems like it used to come out once per competition, brimming with purple prose and surreal angst. This feels like a somewhat more thoughtfully crafted iteration of the same sort of thing, with nebulous guilt and angst about some ill-described pre-narrative development. This sort of vagueness can work, and can impart a sense of mystery, but I found it, in this particular work, mostly irritating, for reasons I couldn’t entirely articulate. At the end of the day an awful lot of the prompts felt linear, or like they were offering me either meaningless or uninformed choices, and I didn’t get a sense of any sort of agency in the story, for some reason. It is possible that the problem here is me, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this leaves a lot of folks cold for similar reasons.

Technically it’s a pretty sound work, although I feel like the extremely long pauses were a misstep (the short beats are OK). the prose as a whole feels a bit overwrought, as I said, but there are some nice touches with the hyperlinks which are mere modifications on the existing text. It seems like a lot of folks are using Twine for psychological exploration, but I’m not sure this one hit the right style or structure.

Rating: 6

IFComp 2015 Intro post

We are well into the Twenty-First Annual Interactive Fiction Competition! This year the field is enormous, and I’m off to a late start, so I’m dubious about getting through all of them before the November 15th deadline. 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 2011.1a-2 for most standard IF file types (specifically: Frotz v2.50/Glk0.7.0 for Z-code, Glulxe 0.4.7 for Glulx), and using Chrome 45.0.2454 for web-interface games. I downloaded the full Comp package on October 1st and I use only that version for judging; I don’t download post-deadline bug fixes.