Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

IFComp Review: Various Web Entries (Part 1)

Posted by Reiko on November 1, 2013

This is a review of games from the 2013 Interactive Fiction Competition. (Posted in 2014 and backdated.) Scoring criteria can be found here.

Trapped in Time
Author: Simon Christiansen

First of all, we are taking “interactive fiction” way too literally now. This is the second “game” that’s basically just a CYOA-type story, except this one is literally just a PDF. The readme even says you’re supposed to print it out. No. This competition is for games. Computer games. There’s nothing wrong with CYOA, but that’s not what I see IF as, and I can’t rate CYOA very high in an IF competition because it isn’t comparable in technical achievement to an IF game. Even something like Twine is borderline, but because it’s a javascript browser page, it has the capability of doing interesting things with text, like what porpentine has accomplished, and so it can be more easily compared to “standard” parser-based IF. But a PDF is just a story, even if it’s broken into sections. You read a certain number of them in a certain order, but it’s still only plain, unchanging text. There’s only so much you can do without the technical features of the various computer-based systems.

Now, to be fair, this story does do something innovative with the choice numberings because it’s about time travel loops. But it’s nothing that a computer-based simulation couldn’t do much more easily, and in this format, it’s more of a gimmick than a true innovation because it wouldn’t work for most kinds of stories.

Score: 4
Scoring: base 4, +1 for the innovative time travel loop, -1 for the instruction to print out the story

Machine of Death
Author: Hulk Handsome

This is advertised as a collection of three stories based on the Machine of Death concept (couldn’t it have been called something more original then?), but it’s really just one story in three sections, and I think I found one choice path in the first section that would end up skipping the second section entirely.

There’s nothing wrong with using a non-original concept if it’s with permission and done well, but this is pretty lightweight for a Machine of Death story. I’ve read most of the first two anthologies of stories, and most of them offer an intriguing look at how the Machine of Death could impact various kinds of societies or situations in various ways, if it actually existed. This story uses the concept, but doesn’t take it anywhere, so I would say even as a static short story, it wouldn’t be very good.

Adding player agency doesn’t make it any better, particularly because in none of the choice paths I found are you actually told what your death slip said, which is something that the PC would know, given that you have the option to tell someone else in the story what it said. But you as the player aren’t told! That means it can’t inform your later choices, and therefore those choices are made less meaningful.

Score: 4
Scoring: base 4

Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House
Author: Mark Marino

This is a good start, but this is not a complete story. When I got to an ending, it said: “Here ends the Preview of Mrs. Wobbles & the Tangerine House”. But see, this isn’t IntroComp. This is supposed to be for finished stories. The concept started with a magic book, so it allows for a lot of stories to be added piecemeal. Good concept, but not for this competition. The “ending” left the characters in apparently quite a bit of danger still, so it wasn’t a complete narrative arc.

That said, it’s a reasonably polished bit of interactive fiction using the Umdum platform. There are hand-drawn illustrations for many bits of the story, and it tracks how thoroughly you read and how many poems you find. Supposedly you get “poem powers” from reading poems, but I didn’t find anywhere to use anything like that, not explicitly anyway. It’s possible that it just opens up more choices, but it’s less fun if you don’t know if the “powers” are doing anything for you.

Score: 4
Scoring: base 4, +1 for polished interface with illustrations, -1 for being unfinished


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