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

IFComp 2016: The Queen’s Menagerie, by Chandler Groover

My first game of IFComp ’16! Let’s get this show on the road.

Blurb: These beasts won’t feed themselves.
A puzzleless exhibition. Ten to fifteen minutes.

System: Texture (HTML)

This one’s kind of an experience delivery system rather than an interactive work. It’s highly linear but with certain elements of user agency. For those reasons it’s kind of hard to judge alongside other, more open works: in terms of technical excellence, it’s pretty limited by its own lack of ambition, and this madlibs-style presentation doesn’t call for a lot of care in technical details the way a parser driven or even more open hypertext work would. That having been said, within its limits it does a pretty good job of presenting a text which, in any given incarnation, would be a pretty good moodpiece short story. It’s a trifle purple, but that’s a matter of taste I suppose. There is some interest to be seen in the interactive elements, how the pool of choices seems to become constrained from the first set of assignments down to the second-to-last where there is literally no choice, and then opens back up for the last one but in a way which is completely uninformed; there’s a decision, but not one which the reader is at all equipped to make. So on the “making use of user agency” front this work is at least going somewhere interesting. Really, it’s quite satisfactory for what it is, but what it is might not measure up to expectations for the Comp.

Rating: 6 or 7, depending on the rest of the field.