Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Switcheroo (review)

"Switcheroo" is a web based story by the Marino family, entered in the 2015 interactive fiction competition.

Switcheroo is a story about a boy's magical transformation. This can be read and enjoyed at two different levels.  If you're a shallow thinking sod like me, you can read it as a goof-ball children's story, and enjoy it quite a lot.  But at another level, it gives the adult reader or older child some deeper symbolism to consider and discuss.

As a goofball children's story, this was a lot of fun.  There are funny bits, an embedded card game, a silly (mostly irrelevant) scoring system and references to other children's stories.  I loved the simulated card game, which parodies both "American Girl Dolls" and collectible card games like "Magic".

At another level, this game is about identity and the difficulty that all children (but especially foster children) have understanding and asserting their own identity.  I say this even though I had initial concerns that this would be JAHPAGI (just another hypertext parable about gender identity).  After playing the game to the end, I concluded that it went much deeper than that.  Sure, it is consistent with the modernist view that gender is a social construct:  one can wear girls clothing or not, play with the other boys or not, act aggressively or not, and none of those choices has any dependency on the others.  But this isn't JUST about gender identity.  Identity is complex, and the story recognizes that complexity.

Lucian Smith has reviewed this game and analyzes its meaning as it relates to foster children in greater depth than I feel qualified to do.  I recommend reading his review, but not until after you've played the game.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

IF comp (almost) 50% done

I just finished writing my 25th review for the 2015 interactive fiction competition, which is more reviews than I've written any other year (almost double what I've written any other year.)  Yet I'm still not even quite half through with this year's competition entries!!!

This really has been a great competition year, both for the number of entries and the quality.

My favorites so far have been
Brain Guzzlers from Beyond
11th Sandman
Life on Mars?

Some others that have improved their standing, upon reflection, because they stuck in my mind are
Baker of Shireton
Forever Meow
Spy Intrigue

I know I won't be able to play all of the games before the end of the competition season.  Indeed, I need to take a break from this, as I have some other obligations piling up.

I have been been inspired this year to start learning Twine and Java script.  I have in mind a slice-of-life story that focuses on character development.  Characters are boys in their late teens, closing shop in the last week of their summer job.

Some of my other goals include:

Realistic modelling of both PC and NPC changes over time.
Realistic modelling of the passage of time in location descriptions.
Use of integrated puzzles to control pacing. (by integrated puzzles, I mean not arbitrary puzzles, but obstacles that contribute to the story arc)
Point and click map navigation

Contact me if you are interested in beta testing later on, though it will be at least six months before I have a testable game.  Contact me if you already write Twine and javascript and are looking for a beta tester yourself.

In the Friend Zone (review)

"in the friend zone" (lower case) is a Twine game by Brendan Vance entered in the 2015 Interactive Fiction competition.

The writing, dream sequences and game design all have a strikingly surreal quality to them.  For me, this worked reasonably well as a surreal horror story.  I was less satisfied, however, by the depth of insights this tried to provide regarding obsessive love and failed relationships.

More after the spoiler.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Crossroads (review)

"Crossroads" is a multiply branching story by Cat Manning, written in Twine for the 2015 interactive fiction competition.

In the past two days I have set about learning Twine and javascript for myself.  This new knowledge changes rather fundamentally the way I look at Twine games, sometimes becoming more distracted away from the story, while I imagine the structure of the code.

The story is about a planned encounter with a witch at the edge of the woods.  The text suggests that this witch may not be entirely good-natured.  The writing here starts out strong, which is good, because the beginning is the only part of the story that every player will necessarily see.  The narrative then branches off rather quickly, depending on what reason the player has chosen for seeing the witch, and what herbs they've brought along to help her with her spells.  I played several times, to check that the alternate story pathways lead to fundamentally different conclusions.  They do,.but with this many different endings, I didn't think the ones I played were written to the same high quality as the opening passages.

In past IFcomp years, against weaker competition, this story might have been in the top third.  But this year will be especially challenging, and this story (thematically) didn't light my fire.  I would recommend this game to players who like this particular game design. (hypertext interface, multiply branching CYOA).  I would not expect it to finish in the top thirtieth percentile.

A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood (review)

"A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood" is a web based interactive fiction by Michael Thomet entered in the 2015 Interactive Fiction Competition.

The PC is a vagabond, asked to make a series of choices during his journey through the woods, prior to an encounter with the figure described in the title and blurb.  I played three times, and then began to develop some new understanding of the meaning of the blurb.

The writing was good enough to hold my interest through what was only about a fifteen minute game (depending on how many times you replay, your times may differ).  The vagabond character is described in what I thought were self-consciously gender neutral pronouns.  I guess that's the trend in writing now, but I thought the prose would have read more smoothly with "he" or "she" rather than repeatedly "they".  There appeared to be some minor bugs in tracking the players choices.  But the players choices are tracked, which makes this a more sophisticated programming effort than many of the Twine games I've played.

Major Spoilers after the break.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box (a review)

"Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box" is an interactive fiction by Arthur DiBianca, entered in the 2015 Interactive Fiction competition.  Weirdly enjoyable, in the way that listening to any well-told shaggy dog story can be.  Demonstrates how many clever puzzles can be introduced with only a limited selection of verbs.

The King and the Crown (a review)

"The King and the Crown" is an interactive fiction written in z-code by Wes Lesley for the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  In a lot of ways this felt like a programming exercise: short, simple and under-developed.  It felt like the author put more effort into customizing standard error messages, than building a world model which is robust enough prevent the player from experiencing parser errors.

I reached two quite different endings before turning to the external hints file.  Turns out there are lots of hidden Easter eggs, but many of them so obscure that nobody is ever likely to find them without the walk through.  Better game design requires that an author focuses their energy on writing responses to likely actions (examining details on the stained glass, for example) not on commands the player would never think to type without the walk through.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Forever Meow (a review)

"Forever Meow" is a short web-based interactive fiction by Moe Zilla entered in the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  The PC is a cat. The story is very linear, but there are some choice points that allow you to delay the story advancement while role-playing other cat-like behaviors. I don't want to say too much, because the best parts of this game are the unexpected twists that happen along the way.  There is going to be zero Venn overlap between players who connect with the PC in this story, and players who connected with the PC in Chandler Groover's competition entry "Taghairm".

Duel (a review

"Duel" is a web based interactive fiction by Piato, entered in the 2015 interactive fiction competition.

The PC is a wizard, in a duel against another wizard.  You have a short list of spells to choose from, though you can use each one only once.  Through a series of failures and restarts I was able to figure out which spells were more or less effective.  I managed to make it to the third test before consulting the walk through for a complete solution.

Spells and their effects are described in verbose prose, some nicely written, some almost incomprehensible.  In all, I think this is too densely written to convey a sense of danger or urgency which I would think should be the desired mood in this type of story.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Taghairm (a review)

"Taghairm" is an interactive fiction by Chandler Groover, entered in the 2015 Interactive Fiction competition.

The violence warnings on the blurb are not without purpose.  Not a story for cat lovers. If you don't know the meaning of "Taghairm" you might want to look that up before playing.  This is a simulation of a Taghairm ceremony.  I am not a cat lover, but it was not for me either.

Well simulated though.  And has something to say about human cruelty, if you can bear to play it long enough. A likely intentional bid for Golden Banana of Discord.

Life on Mars? (a review)

"Life on Mars?" is an interactive fiction written with Inform by Hugo Labrande for the 2015 Interactive Fiction competition.

This game won a French IF comp previously.  I haven't played the original, but the translation seemed very well executed.  I experienced no grammatical errors, and only one minor typo.

More after the break.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cape (a review)

"Cape" is a superhero origins story, written by Bruno Dias with the Undum Engine for the 2015 interactive fiction competition.

I am not normally a big fan of the superhero genre, but this is really well written prose and dialogue, at an appropriate length for the competition.  This dystopic urban setting shares more in common with "The Dark Knight" than camp-1960's "Batman", although nothing I read would lower it below a PG13 rating.

More after the page break (not too spoilery this time...mostly my reflections on the various purposes of "choice-points" in a hypertext game)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Baker of Shireton, revisited (a second review)

"The Baker of Shireton" is a parser type game writen by Hannon Ondricek for the 2015 annual interactive fiction competition.  After posting my initial review of this game, another judge advised me to check the walk through for content I may have missed.  I'm glad I did, although some of my impressions haven't changed.  This revised review is going to be very spoilery, so don't jump after the break unless you want key game points revealed.

The Problems Compound (a review)

"The Problems Compound" is a parser-style interactive fiction written by Andrew Schultz for the 2015 Interactive Fiction Competition.

The "credits" in this game lists as one inspiration "In a Manor of Speaking" (Hulk Handsome, 2012 IF comp 10th place).  That game, in turn, has been compared with "Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It" (Jeff O'Neill, 1987). "The Problems Compound" also makes reference to a classic children's book "The Phantom Tollbooth" (Norton Juster, 1961).

What all of these games (and book) have in common is a passion for word-play...puns, homonyms, spoonerisms and figures of speech.  The principle mechanism in "The Problems Compound" is compound word reversal.  You'll meet lots of strange people in this strange world with names like "Uncle Dutch", "Turk Young" and "Buddy Best". (Now reread the title "Compound Problems").  The game shoehorns in a lot of different types of puzzles in a way that made me think of the 1999 competition winner "The Winter Wonderland" (Laura Knauth).

More after the spoiler break.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Kane County (a review)

"Kane County" is a choice-based text game for the web, written by Michael Sterling and Tia Orisney for the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  I chose to play this next because I was drawn in by the blurb, which suggests I'm in for a nail-biting survivalist adventure yarn.

The blurb provides all the backstory there is.  You've crashed your jeep in the desert during a rainstorm.  Now you'll need to use all your wits and strength to escape.  The first choice you're given allows you to decide whether you are the type of person who will rely primarily on your "wits" or on your "strength".  I played both ways, and saw some of the differences this made on the outcome of my later choices... whether or not I could successfully build a fire without matches, whether or not I could safely scale down a sheer rock face.

The game design felt like a cross between one of those old RA Montgomery CYOA paperbacks, and a role playing game featuring "saving throws" and such.  The game has a high degree of genuine interactivity.  Each choice you make has a consequence:  moving you closer to the goal of civilization or slowing you down.  Discovering new material resources, or using them as tools. Increasing or decreasing your stamina and hydration level.  Sometimes the results of a particular choice were predictable, such as expecting that I would not be able to successfully scale a cliff without a rope.  In other cases, the results of my choice seemed somewhat random: whether to go left or right along a path.  As a player and reader, I preferred making choices which seemed less random.

The game is effective at creating a nail biting adventure in which the player has some genuine agency over their own survival.  However I would have liked more back-story.  Why was I driving across the desert in the first place?  What was I running away from?  Who (or what) do I miss the most back home?  In other words, what is my motivation for survival, and what are the inner demons which might be holding me back?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Brain Guzzlers from Beyond (review)

"Brain Guzzlers from Beyond" is a parser style interactive fiction written by Steph Cherrywell for the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  I chose to play this game because I so thoroughly enjoyed Cherrywell's 2014 entry "Jacqueline, Jungle Queen".  I was naturally eager to see what she had written this year.

In my formative years of playing the IF comp, roughly a decade ago, I had an elaborate algorithm for judging entries.  This required ranking games on multiple scales before calculating a rounded average.  I scored games on writing quality, story telling, novel programming tricks, simulation depth.... half a dozen scales in all.  But in the end, if I wasn't happy with a game's calculated score, I would throw away all those other numbers and assign whatever value I'd already decided in the category of "overall enjoyment".  That experience describes how I feel about "Brain Guzzlers from Beyond."  This game misses the "exceptional" mark on several of my fussy little metrics, but I had more FUN with this entry than anything else I've played this season.

More after the page break.

Monday, October 12, 2015

"Arcane Intern (Unpaid)" (review)

 "Arcane Intern (Unpaid)" is Twine game by Astrid Dalmady, entered in the 2015 Interactive Fiction competition.  This was the next game served to me from a randomized list.

Most of us who are now in professional positions remember at one time working in a low-pay or no-pay internship.  This game, though set in a fantasy world, effectively evokes the spirit and tribulations of that first starter job.  I remember bosses (it seemed like everybody was my boss back then) who nurtured me and I remember others who cut me down.  I remember feeling sometimes rewarded and sometimes misused.  The most important knowledge I gained from my internships was the wisdom I came by unexpectedly... but perhaps never so much as the character in this story manages to gain knowledge which her employers did not intend for her to acquire.  (At least that was how it worked out the first time I played).

More after the spoiler break

Saturday, October 10, 2015

IF comp 20% done.

Ten days into the 2015 IF comp, and I've finished reviewing my 11th game.  Holy Cow, I never imagined I'd get through this many games in the entire competition season, let alone the first week.  With 44 games remaining to review, I doubt I'll get through all of them by the end of the judging period.  But maybe it will be a worthy goal to review all 55 games (54, with one removed) by the end of the year?  I'll try.  Let me know if you are reading this.

Capsule II - The 11th Sandman (review)

"Capsule II - The 11th Sandman" is a web-based interactive fiction by PaperBlurt, entered in the 2015 Interactive fiction competition. This game had all the cards stacked against it, but my initial impression was wrong.  You must play this.

It had all the cards stacked against it.  I had played PaperBlurt's "Dad vs. Unicorn" game in 2013 and didn't like it.  I thought the title and blurb of "Capsule II" were kind of lame.  I had read a review of "Capsule II" by Juhana Leinonen, which was largely unfavorable.  Worse, in the opening pages of "Capsule II" I agreed with the main points of Leinonen's review.  The alternate universe imagined here is unbelievable and internally inconsistent.

But after playing this story long enough you will suspend disbelief.  The writing quality is compelling.  The graphics and text animations are carefully designed.  The imagined universe might be fake, but the human behavior described here is real. I won't say any more.  You must play this without any spoilers.

The Man Who Killed Time (review)

"The Man Who Killed Time" is a web-based fiction by Claudia Doppioslash entered in the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  I picked this from the list because the blurb intrigued me, and because I hadn't seen it mentioned in any other blogs.

I called it "web-based fiction" rather than "interactive-fiction" because there were really only two branch points in the entire story.  Because of the lack of interactivity, I think this story (about a time travelling detective) would have been more appropriately entered in a short story competition.  Many players will judge it harshly for being off-category in this competition.

I read through the whole story, which took about twenty minutes.  Then I read again, to all the possible endings (there were only two).  More after the spoiler break.

Ether (review)

"Ether" is an interactive fiction by Brian Rushton (Mathbrush) entered in the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  I chose this game because it was served to me near the top of a randomized list.  No spoilers in this review.

Before playing, I'd been a little concerned by this line in the blurb:

uses a 9x9x9 cubical grid. Navigate the world in 26 directions

In the wrong authorial hands, that navigation system might be used to design torturous mazes and other onerously mapped environments.  But Brian does it right.  This environment requires no mapping at all, which leads to a genuine sense of freedom in navigation.  That, together with Brian's effectively poetic writing help simulate the feeling of flight in a text game.  Assuming that was his goal, he achieved it.

Although the parser is written in Glulx, the game design is simple enough that it can be enjoyed by novice players or others who would normally feel frustrated by parsers.  I became so immersed in the world that I didn't even think to test the limits of the parser until late in the game.  When I did, I was delighted to see the author had written customized responses to most of the standard library of actions.

Before playing this, I had just finished playing and reviewing a series of short comic IF puzzlers.  "Ether" was a pleasant diversion from those, falling more squarely in the category of "Interactive Art."

Friday, October 9, 2015

5 minutes to burn something (review)

"5 minutes to burn something" is parser style interactive fiction written by Alex Butterfield in Z-code for the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  This game appears first in alphabetical order.  Therefore it has been screaming at me to play it every time I log in.  I will remember this when I next enter the competition and title my game "1.1 Aardvark".

Veteran players of IF may remember other games set in someone's low rent crappy apartment.  Veteran players may remember other games where the object was to solve a series of absurdist puzzles in order to escape a small location, even a single room.  For some veteran players, that familiarity may breed contempt.  But I did not wish to prejudge this game just because it falls back on some much-loved cliches.  Jeremy Freese included many of the same features in "Violet" a one room puzzler in a familiar location which went on to win first place.  I thought that maybe "5 minutes to burn" took some of its inspiration from "Violet", but whereas the backstory in "Violet" is about an obsession based on love, the backstory in "5 minutes" is an obsession of hatred.  When choosing which emotions to infuse into your comic one-room puzzler, Love is the better choice.  "Violet" was a better game in many ways.  Which is not to say that "5 minutes" is horrible.  It has some admirable features, which I'll mention after the page break.  But this game is imperfect in some critical ways.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Growbotics (review)

"Growbotics" is a web-based interactive fiction written by Cha Holland, entered in the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  It features an attractive interface and some up-beat introductory text (with some clever interactive features that allow the player to "design" their own lab).  But when it came to the central game element, testing a machine which is allegedly capable of manufacturing "anything," I found the navigation links were buggy and most of the essence combinations I tried failed to produce anything.  The things I did discover made me happy and were presented with cute schematic graphics and pleasant tones.  I hope the author will continue to post updates to this game, to make the experience more robust.

Midnight. Swordfight. (a review)

"Midnight. Swordfight" is a parser-style interactive fiction by Chandler Groover for the 2015 annual interactive fiction competition.

One of my favorite things about the IF comp season is the opportunity to play so many different styles of games with limited preconceptions about what I'll experience.  Sometimes I jump straight into a game without reading the blurb.  During my first fifteen minutes with this one, I mistakenly thought I was playing an "Adrift" entry.  ("Midnight. Swordfight" is actually written with Glulx).  I'm glad I double checked that before writing this review.  That would have been an embarrassing mistake to go uncorrected.

Nothing Spoilery until after the page break.

"Midnight. Swordfight" is a fable, set on the grounds of a castle or manor house, in some alternate fairy tale universe.  Depending on the choices a player makes, the story could either be an absurd fantasy or a bloody horror tale.  In that sense, it is a proper tribute to the classical fairy tales (Grimm Brothers tales, or one from any number of other European or non-European sources).  The contrast of horror and comedy makes for good story telling.  It builds tension, then releases, and back again.  My favorite TV shows are, in the modern venacular, "dramedies".

As a game, this one has some interesting features.  Traditional compass directions are replaced with clock themed directions (future, past, clockwise, counterclockwise).  The difference, however, is mostly superficial.  Time has stopped for all but the player and a few NPCs.  There are no time-dependent puzzles, no puzzles at all, really.  Multiple endings are available, depending in part on which props the PC carries at the end-game.  Each game is short and the player is encouraged to try again.

Object implementation is strong.  There was scarcely a thing mentioned in the story which couldn't be examined or offered as a conversation topic to the one NPC who will talk to you.  I liked the way the conversation system was handled.  While in conversation mode, the player simply has to mention conversation topics.  No need to repeatedly type "ask NPC about ..."  The verbs in this game are implemented less well, but player expectations are managed carefully.  The player has been instructed what verbs are allowed through an in-story mechanism, and the player quickly learns not to test the limits of the parser.

Nice game, not too long or fancy or philosophical.  My spoilers follow the break.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Why review?

A running theme in several IF comp blogs currently is a discussion of why and how people review interactive fiction.  We haven't quite come to a point of seeing reviews of individual reviewers, but since this is a community that enjoys writing and giving feedback (a community which is overall very good at those things) it wouldn't surprise me to read even more meta-analysis of meta-analyzers in the future.

These are blogs of note I've read on the topic of reviewing interactive fiction.

Wade challenges IF comp bloggers to articulate their motives.  He points out that mis-matched adgendas (between authors and reviewers) can lead to miscommunication and hurt feelings.  That's a great challenge Wade presents, but an embarrassing one, because it starts out by admitting that a core motivation for bloggers of all topics is narcissism.  I think I'm super-clever and I want other people to read me.  I could, after all, keep my writings private, or email my more constructive comments directly to the author.

Racing past that embarrassing truth to the more noble goals of writing.  I've written two works of IF (remarkably, both published in the same year).  I really enjoyed reading the reviews that my beta testers sent me, and later reviews shared publicly during the competition.  I even enjoyed the bad reviews.  I appreciated the feedback, and I liked knowing that someone who had played my game was interested enough to write about it.  That's one reason I review.  To pay respect to the authors.

I don't write just to announce "this is what score I'm giving to this game".  In most cases I don't post a number.  I don't want the author of a game to fixate on that number and overlook the specific feedback I've given.  I don't ever want to eviscerate an author just for sport, but I do sometimes post reviews of games I didn't overall enjoy.

I write for future authors as much as current ones, to share my philosophy of game design.  Prior to publishing my first game(s), I had already been reading rec.arts.int-fiction for years, so even on my first game I knew what to expect.  The Spring Thing and IF comp do not have to be (should not be) a testing ground to discover what other players like and what they find irritating.  I hope that my reviews can help some future author avoid common traps.  I suspect that some authors don't care if their games will be popular (again, those mis-matched agendas).  I write for authors who want their games to be well received by a majority.

I write for people who have already played a game, so we can compare thoughts.  I don't write so much for people who haven't yet played the game, because my reviews contain spoilers.

Thanks to Wade for inspiring this self reflection.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

SPY INTRIGUE (a review)

"SPY INTRIGUE" (all caps) is a web based interactive fiction by furkle (no caps) entered in the 2015 annual interactive fiction competition.  I chose this game because it was served near the top of randomized list of games and because it appeared to be less of a malware threat than the two games listed above it.

This game, for a while, felt like it was channeling Philip K. Dick.  If you're into that, you might enjoy it.  More review after the break

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Baker of Shireton (review)

"The Baker of Shireton" is a parser type game in glulx, written by Hannon Ondricek for the 2015 annual interactive fiction competition.  I chose to play this one next for two reasons:

1)  Hanon Ondricek wrote "Final Girl", which I loved, and judged to be the best non-parser game I've seen in the last several years of this competition (which is all the time that non-parser games have held a place of importance in this competition).  Final Girl also won "The Golden Banana if Discord" in 2013, which means that about half the judges that year agree with me, and half thought exactly the opposite.  I want to see what Hanon can do with a parser system.
2) Jenni Polodna is blogging about this Game.  Jenni is the funniest writer in the IF blogosphere.  Her writing is laced with profanity, but ultimately good-spirited and kind to the authors.   But I can't let myself read what she's written until I've played for myself.

My review follows the break

Untold Riches (review)

"Untold Riches" by Jason Ermer is a traditional parser style game written in Glulxe, for the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  I chose this game because it is the last game to appear alphabetically, and because I was eager to play on a traditional parser.  Glulxe provides a platform which can support integrated text, graphics, sound and mapping tools.  But of course a lot of those details are up to the author.  More after the break.

Friday, October 2, 2015

blogging the blurbs

Everybody's doing it!  A review of the blurbs, that is.  For the 2015 interactive fiction competition, that is.  I was too excited to just start playing to read and write about the blurbs.  But I guess I'm going to have to read through that entire list of 55 games at some point...so here are my impressions.

5 Minutes to Burn Something!   By Alex Butterfield.
It has become quite popular to insert exclamation points at the end of the game titles.  I'm not sure that is a good idea.  The urgency indicated by that punctuation raises my expectations to a level that the game may not be prepared to fulfill.  To be fair, I began playing on-line last night (only for half  minute, not long enough to judge) and I am sort of looking forward to this.

A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood.  My Michael Thomet.
Cover art is series of Tarot cards.  Blurb suggests a ghost story set in fictional Europe.  I don't know the author.  Hard to know what to expect.

Arcane Intern (Unpaid) by Astrid Dalmady
These stories about underemployed college graduates are often written by underemployed college graduates with a fair bit of time on their hands and an MFA in creative writing on the resume.  It could be good.

Birdland by Brendan Patrick Hennessy.
This I've already played and reviewed

Brain Guzzlers from Beyond by Steph Cherrywell.
The author's name is familiar, as someone experienced in her craft.  And yet I've just finished playing another game in which I roleplayed a teenager, and I'd rather not go through that experience again right away.

Cape, an interactive origin.  Bruno Dias
"Cape is a superhero origin story for the cyberpunk dystopia we're all living in."
That blurb just depresses me, and I don't like the superhero genre.  And its a Web Game.

Capsule II- The 11th Sandman.  By PaperBlurt.
If this story spawns two more sequels, will the final episode be called "Capsule II-The 11th Sandman-The third"?
PaperBlurt is another author whose name sounds familiar, but without the comforting positive associations I felt for Steph Cherrywell.  I wrote somewhere else recently that I didn't like stories set on space ships, or those where the first command is "get out of bed".  Should I regard a cryotube the same as a bed?

Cat Scratch.  Multiple authors.  No cover art.
The blurb reads like a journal abstract.  This is no way to sell a story.

Crossroads by Cat Manning
Dark cover art, dark blurb, possible depressive tragedy.  I wonder how this will compare with this year's "A figure met in a shaded woods"?

Darkiss- Chapter 1: the Awakening.  Marco Vallarino
This sounds like a modernist take on the Vampire legend, about the un-undead.  Z-code suggests a full parser.  I'll reserve my judgement until I play.

Duel by piato.
In 2009, there were two separate games that had "Duel" in the title.  Duels have become their own subgenre of interactive fiction.

Emily is Away.  Sign in Again.
A game about social networking, that wants me to download untested software in order to play.  I'll see what McAfee has to say about that.

Ether by Mathbrush
A little bit artsy... a little bit puzzly... a little bit pushing the envelope of Glulx.  I'll be interested to try this.

Final Exam by jack Whitham
Games starting out from a dream state, and those set in university, are already cliche.  I want to know what sets this one apart.

That's fourteen games.  Only a third of the total.  I'll have to come back and blog the rest later.  Maybe after playing a few more in the meantime.

Birdland (a review)

"Birdland" is a web based interactive fiction by Brendan Patrick Hennessy, entered in the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  

The cover art is a distant flock of birds and block letter title against a red sunset.  The blurb is short:  

“Fourteen-year-old Bridget's summer camp experience takes a turn for the bizarre when her otherworldly bird dreams start bleeding into reality.”

I chose to play this game out of my own nostalgia for summer camp.  More about this after the break

Past IF comp reviews

In the past, I've recorded my reviews in a lot of different forums and under several different aliases.  Looking forward, I plan to make this my home.  "Doug Egan" isn't my real name either, but I've been using it long enough to write about IF or publish my own that I regard this as my legal pseudonym for fiction and hobby writing.

Here are links to my past IF comp reviews:

2015 reviews:  right here
2014 reviews:  I didn't write many.  You can find a few notes in a message I wrote on Emily Short's blog.
2013 reviews:  right here
2012 reviews:  I may not have written any reviews that year
2010 reviews: That year I published some fairly lengthy reviews under the alias "Cup of Joe".  I really like that blog title.  I should have kept it.
2009 reviews: I published a few reviews under the alias George Penrose.
2008 reviews: I was an author in 2008, and recorded my fairly comprehensive reviews on the author's discussion page.  That page has since been removed.  Never fear, the internet wayback machine remembers everything. (on the other hand, maybe the internet wayback machine is something we should fear).
2007 reviews: I posted reviews on a google groups forum

I started playing the ifcomp in 2003.  Blogging was not as common back then, and prior to 2007 there was still a "no discussion" rule in place during the competition.  If I wrote anything about the games between 2003-2006, it would have been only a few brief notes on one of the listservs.  I would not know where to find those comments now.

Looking back at those old games, I should mention, "Primrose Path", 2nd place winner of the 2006 competition, ranked as one of my favorite games of that decade.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

TOMBs of Reschette (Review)

"TOMBs of Reschette" is a web based hyper-link style game by Richard Goodness entered in the 2015 Interactive Fiction Competition.

(Following, from the 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!

The blurb and cheesy cover art suggests an 80's style cave crawl.  This might not have been my first choice based on first impressions, but it was the first game that was served to me in random order.  Review after the break

IF Comp 2015 predictions

The IF comp 2015 entries were posted earlier today, so anyone is free to doubt that I wrote these predictions before the posting.  But I did.  I will be posting reviews this year, as I play them, but lets start with the predictions.

There will be 45 games this year.  Fewer than 20 of them will be traditional parser type games.

I anticipate a wider range in the quality of Twine games this year, both better and worse.

The lowest scoring entry will be a Twine game, something that looks like it was written in under two minutes.

The highest scoring entry will be a parser game, with a light comic subject matter, written by a seasoned author who has already scored in the top five of this competition with one of their earlier games.

But there will also be at lest one CYOA game in the top five this year, a game which really pushes the limits of the medium.  I'm looking for a CYOA game that offers the player as much choice and agency as a well written parser game, without the headache of having to interact with a parser.  I'm looking for a CYOA game which remembers what the player has done in the past, what they've picked up, who they've spoken to and who they've pissed off.  I'm looking for a CYOA game which could not have been presented in book form.

There will be at least six entries this year that deal with gender non-conformity.  The best of these will be by Porpentine.

There will be at least two games in each of the following themes:  amnesia, cave crawl, drug use, empty apartment, space opera, school, zombie planet.   At least one game will incorporate three or more of these themes within the same game.