Monday, October 14, 2013

IFComp 2013 Reviews-- Final Girl

IFComp is an annual competition for short works of interactive fiction. "Final Girl" is a work by Hanon Ondricek written for the Storynexus engine. I have lots of good things to say about this work, all of it after the page break.

Now this is how you write interactive fiction! "Final Girl" has a professional feel to it. The writing evokes an alternating sense of fear and dark humor, both appropriate for the slasher-genre this game represents. There is a well-crafted story within this game- a mystery to solve and danger to escape. The game even provides a meaningful degree of player agency, something regrettably missing from many of the other CYOA games I've played this competition season. The length and scope of "Final Girl" is huge for a competition entry. In the two hours I played, I got a sense that I had only just scratched the surface. "Final Girl" sets a high quality standard not just for CYOA, but for all varieties of interactive story telling.

My primary irritations with this game had more to do with Storynexus, than with "Final Girl".  Storynexus crashed my browser multiple times during play. I was fortunately able to recover my place in the story each time. The battle scene felt particularly tedious. I was forced to repeat the same escape maneuver over and over again, each time with less than 10% chance of success while the villain whittled away at my "health" status.

This game confirms my long held belief that CYOA should not be treated as an easy alternative for writers who do not like to program. Yes, short linear stories without much player agency will be easier to code in hypertext than in Inform. But such games rarely win competitions. "Photopia" the 1998 competition winner comes to mind as a possible exception. Complex stories with meaningful player interaction have to keep track of multiple in game variables, regardless of the platform. A peculiar characteristic of Storynexus is that it makes many of those variables "visible" as flags or banners within the game. This is sometimes used as a source of campy-humor in "Final Girl" such as the shapely dress-maker's dummy that represents the items I can wear.

I expect "Final Girl" will finish in the top five of the competition.

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