Saturday, October 12, 2013

IFComp 2013 Reviews-- Moquette

IFComp is an annual competition for short works of interactive fiction. "Moquette" is a story by Alex Warren. The blurb says "Tuesday morning. London Underground.Hangover. Journey begins." Blurb gives just enough hint of location and character to intrigue the reader. Will it be a spy story, a mystery, a self-discovery...or something else.

"Moquette" describes a trip through the London Underground, told by a moody, hung-over man on his way to work. As a text-only, CYOA simulation of the Tube and its denizens, this is pretty well done.  As a character study of the protagonist, also well written. 

Unless you are intimately familiar with the London Underground, it helps to have an external PDF map for reference. I wish that one had been provided along with this game, but such maps are easy enough to find on your own. With that as a guide, I was able to ride the subway, get on and off, transfer to other tracks and watch my fellow passengers. After a while I began to tire of that. Even with such quality writing, I wished there was more story development.

Depending on how long you play or where you go, you may eventually meet another character with whom you can try to have a conversation.  That event is slow to appear. Some players will likely give up before they ever reach that point. I think I may have given up prematurely, as I never reached a proper end-game state. I can only bear to ride the London Underground for so long.

Other IF bloggers have written about the lack of player agency in CYOA stories (compared to parser-based games). If a story is exciting I can overlook my lack of agency, much as I do when I read a good novel. But with "Moquette" (in particular, of all the non-parser games I've played this comp season) I felt a desperate frustration at not being able to do more. I found the Hyde Park Corner stop, but couldn't elect to go above ground. I could examine many other people on the subway, but could not examine myself. I could not take myself out of the game world with meta commands like "About" or "Hint" or "undo".

Eventually I took myself out of the game to read the author's website. I learned that Alex Warren is also the creator of "Quest", the CYOA platform upon which this story is written.  Though Quest has been used by other authors in past IF Competitions, this is the first time Warren has entered the competition himself.  What most impressed me about the platform was the range creative scene transitions: fade-outs, slide-aways and screen-fills.  I haven't seen these sorts of text effects put to use in other games. The font also looked very nice, Some kind of crisp serif against the white background. My only complaint about the system was its surprising slowness at times. I'd click a link and have to wait several seconds to get a response.

This game was worth my look, but I expect it will only finish near the fiftieth percentile as a competition entry.

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