Saturday, November 11, 2017

not quite long enough for reviews

Following is a partial list of games I opened from the 2017 interactive fiction competition, but did not play long enough to justify a full review.

"a partial list of things for which i am grateful" is a Twine game by Devon Guinn. A sort of interactive art. Player clicks on individual letters in a word to bring up something else (starting with the same letter) for which the author is grateful. Contains hundreds of different words. A pleasant reading, but could only hold my interest for so long. Guinn also wrote "Bookmoss" another competition entry I reviewed earlier.

"The Fifth Sunday" by Tom Broccoli is one of several competition entries submitted by Chinese authors this year. The story (a murder mystery) seems to have some potential. But to advance the story requires multiple successive clicks through short lines of static text. Infuriating. The translation is imperfect, resulting in some curious choices of grammar and vocabulary.

"What Once Was" by Luke Jones is a traditional parser game set on a sprawling but weakly described university campus. Put on your pun-protective eye wear before attempting this. I love a good time-travel yarn (and the puns are amusing) but didn't have the patience for a parser game with such shallow implementation. I might come back to it though.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"Absence of Law" (review)

"Absence of Law" is a parser game written by Brian Rushton for the 2017 Interactive Fiction competition. I enjoyed Rushton's previous competition entries "Color the Truth" and "Ether".
I waited until late in the competition to play "Absence" because I suspected it would be a good one and I wanted to end the 2017 season with a good experience. I was not disappointed.

Mild spoilers may follow

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Wizard Sniffer" (review)

"Wizard Sniffer" is a parser game written in Inform by Buster Hudson for the 2017 Interactive Fiction Competition. This game was not on my initial "must play" list. The cover art and title didn't seem that interesting..another genre fantasy in a field of entries which already seems overfull with castle and cave adventures. But by mid-competion I'd read enough positive buzz about the "Wizard Sniffer" to suppose it was worth my time. And wow, I'm glad I played.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"Q in P" (review)

"Queer in Public" is an essay written in Twine by Naomi Norbez for the 2017 interactive fiction competition. I feel kind of bad reviewing an entry where the author's motive is so misaligned with this judge's criteria. The author has submitted a heartfelt but conventionally written essay trying to reconcile the queer experience with the Christian experience. I'm a secular humanist who came here to read interactive fiction. I'll lead with my criticisms and follow with my supportive comments on the author's goals.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"The skinny one" (review)

"The skinny one" is a Twine game written by Annie Zinnen for the 2017 interactive fiction competition. According to the author's notes this game was written for a University funded summer research project. Together with "Bookmoss" that makes at least two competition authors who received university grants to write interactive fiction. Interesting development.

"The skinny one" caught my attention early in the competition. Prior to a mid-life career change I worked in university food service as a management dietitian. I did not provide direct treatment to students with eating disorders but I worked closely with others who did. It can be an emotionally wrenching subject and this was not the first game I wanted to play.

The "about" section describes the author's goals.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"Bookmoss" (review)

"Bookmoss" is a hypertext style interactive fiction written by Devon Guinn for the 2017 interactive fiction competition.

The first thing which caught my attention were the "instructions" linked to the title page. I have never seen instructions with a hypertext game before. These provided an interactive introduction to beginning players. These gave me some sense that the author cared about me, the player. That sense of confidence in author carried me through the first two chapters, but waned as I began to fear this was just a mundane account of a father-daughter trip to the Harvard library. Fortunately by the third chapter some elements of magical realism are introduced. By the fifth or sixth chapter there is even a compelling goal. But it was a little slow to start.

I noticed three distinct writing styles: detailed descriptions of place, scripted dialogue, and excerpts from classic books. I'll describe these one at a time.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Guttersnipe" and "Behind the Door". A review of two Quest games

"Guttersnipe: St Hesper's Asylum for the Criminally Mischievous" by Bitter Karella and "Behind the Door" by eejitlikeme are both Quest games written for the 2017 Interactive Fiction competition.

These are two of the three games written for this year's competition in Quest. Despite the somewhat limited popularity of this platform, there are a lot of good things to say about it from the player's perspective. I like the automatic mapping that shows up in "Guttersnipe" and in Bitter Karella's previous entry "Night House". I like the hybrid of typed input and menu driven input that seems to be the default in Quest games. "Behind the Door" allows no typed input but even without that, "Behind the Door" gives the player an illusion of having a wider freedom of choices than the standard CYOA hyper-link game will offer.

What I don't like about Quest is the instability of on-line play. There is a time limit for online play, which feels even more onerous if the player has not logged in with a Quest account. The games tend to stop or crash at the most inopportune moments. In one case the Quest interpreter crashed while I was reading the final paragraph of the end game for "Guttersnipe". Fortunately I had a recently saved backup and was able to return to the same end fairly quickly.

Individual game reviews following the break.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"1958: Dancing With Fear" (review)

One way to get your IF competition entry posted near the top is to title it with a number. But with more entrants cottoning on to this (three this year), it is still no guarantee you'll be listed first.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"The Adventure of Esmeralda and Ruby on Magical Island" (review)

We had a conflict over the computer last night. My daughter (eight year old Addy) wanted to play ABCya! and I wanted to play interactive fiction. Reminding her how much she loved last year's "16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonald's" I cajoled her off her game site to the IF competition page. My window was already opened to "Eat Me". Addy was intrigued by the cover art. I thought she might enjoy that one, but I'd already played it.

"The Adventures of Esmeralda and Ruby on Magical Island" by Marco "Eric108"Anastasio is the first in the alphabetic series which says "made up for children" so we launched that one.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Eat Me" (review)

"Eat Me" is a parser game with a tightly constrained verb set, written by Chandler Groover for the 2017 interactive fiction competition. Chandler Groover is one of the most poetic voices in modern IF. A sentence or two from his keyboard generates an entire landscape of macabre surrealism. That's not just a writer-ly skill he employs in the opening paragraphs, but one he applies with equal vigor in every single passage. On the down side, it can be a little overwhelming if the reader doesn't enjoy the style of fairy-book horror which is Groover's specialty. I sort of enjoy the genre.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Nightbound (Review)

"Nightbound" by ProP is a text based RPG launched for the 2017 IF comp. I played this next because it appeared near the top of my randomized list.

This is a solidly coded RPG set in a traditional, but not entirely cliched, Tolkein-esque environment. The player can choose from one of three classes to start (fighter, rogue, magic user) and can partner with a diverse selection of travelling companions met during the game. Near the start of the game the sun has "gone out", casting the world into permanent night. The player is recruited to solve this mystery and dispel the curse.

"Nightbound" is complex enough to require nearly two hours for completion, and may have some additional replay value. The player interacts by clicking on a text menu near the bottom of the screen. Additional click-options might appear by hovering over significant words in the room description, which simulates a more careful location search.

More about my personal experience after the break.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Grue (review)

"Grue" is a parser game, written in Z-code by Charles Mangin for the 2017 Interacive Fiction competition. More after the break

Domestic Elementalism (review)

"Domestic Elementalism" is a point and click text game by "Emma@fireisnormal". Drawn in by the blurb and cover art, I had peeked at this game the very first day it was launched for the 2017 IF competion. Later I came back to finish it when it appeared near the top of my randomized list.

Review after the break

Friday, October 6, 2017

"Will Not Let Me Go" and "Hexeteria Skaxis Qiameth" (reviews)

"Will Not Let Me Go" is a Twine story by Stephen Granade

"Hexeteria Skaxis Quiameth" may or may not have been written in Twine, but has a similar mechanic for player interaction. Hexeteria was written by Gabriel Floriano

Both works have been entered in the 2017 interactive fiction competition. Both are reviewed after the cut break.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Redstone" and "Ultimate Escape Room" game reviews

These comments are regarding the 2017 interactive fiction competition, going on right now!

I used to live in Seattle, where I enjoyed visiting the Ballard locks. A fish ladder has been constructed to allow migrating fish to bypass the locks. Tens of thousands of fish swim up the narrow fish ladder each year. There is a colony of seals living nearby and that has created sort of a problem. With such a high concentration of fish swimming up the narrow passage, there is little incentive for the seals to finish a meal. They grab a fish, take a single bite, throw it onto the grass to decay, then grab another.

With 80 games in this year's competition, I feel like one of those seals. Overwhelmed with options, I open a game, dabble, then move on without having formed any opinion.

There are two games I have finished already and that alone speaks well for them. A finished game is finishable, and also engaging enough to be finished, which are both desirable attributes.

"Redstone" by Fred Snyder is a web based story, with some menu driven interaction. The graphics and interface are both old-school. Descriptions are short and simple. This would have fit in nicely amongst the graphic text adventures of the early 80s. A murder has taken place at a rural casino, and the player has been called in to sort things out before the FBI arrives. A simple but engaging work of IF noir. Maybe it felt even darker, to me, in relation to the Las Vegas tragedy that had just taken place.

"Ultimate Escape Room: IF city" by Mark Stahl is a glulx game, with parser based interactivity. I chose to play this game from the description, because I have plans to visit a recreational "escape room" for my birthday later this month.

Players who want their puzzles integrated into a complex narrative may be disappointed. These are puzzles for their own sake, varied and just the right difficulty. The parser vocabulary is constrained to the standard verbs (as far as I could tell) which keeps it both simple and satisfying. I was able to complete the game in under an hour without any hints or clues. The end featured a little twist, which bumped it in the narrative complexity I mentioned earlier.