Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

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IFComp 2014 Review: Tower / Origins

Posted by Reiko on November 9, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Tower
Author: Simon Deimel
Format: Inform

It advertises being surreal, and it’s right. But the first problem is that the first puzzle is a very mundane sort of puzzle (find a key hidden in a room) that’s at odds with the atmosphere. It would be easy to overlook some of the oddities of the first room, except that the key is hidden in a difficult way that requires examining everything in multiple ways. Adding to the surreality is the prose itself, because the author seems not to be fluent in English. There are some typos, and he uses some odd prepositions. For example: “The brick walls are lit in a blue glow” and “A wooden door (closed) is visible in the north”.

I used the hints several times due to things changing in inexplicable ways. It’s one thing to call a piece surreal and then show a mysterious atmosphere or a place that isn’t physically possible. It’s another to call your piece surreal so that you can get away with things that don’t make sense in an otherwise fairly realistic place. An item in inventory changes without notice; items appear from nowhere when a place is re-examined; an item does something unintuitive at a common action.

Overall, it’s a weak piece. One puzzle leads directly to the next, and most have to be hinted at explicitly with inexplicable notes; otherwise the player would never know what the next intended action is. The endgame sequence is completely railroaded, saying “you act instinctively”. And the ending is a complete non-sequitor scene shift that mostly propagates the “this was a dream” trope.

Score: 4
Scoring: base 7, -1 for unedited prose, -1 for inexplicable puzzles, -1 for shortness

Origins
Authors: Vincent Zeng and Chris Martens
Format: Web

This is a short piece that has only a few choice-points, any of which seem to be able to spiral the ending off in different directions. The twist is that there are actually two viewpoints; the player can choose to follow just one of them through the story, or be able to switch back and forth. Either way, at each choice-point, the result of the other viewpoint is also shown, with the convergence of the two stories shown at the end.

The divergent results are interesting. However, because the identities of the viewpoint characters actually seem to be different in some of the endings, the results are not particularly predictable from the choices made. It’s more of a toy than a game, as a result. But it’s short enough to be easily replayable, so it’s worth playing through a few times to see some of the different endings. And it’s somewhat possible in dual mode to tweak the outcome so that the two characters converge or don’t converge at the end.

The prose was descriptive, without any noticeable errors, so the end result feels fairly well-polished. It’s not deep, but a serviceable vignette.

Score: 6
Scoring: base 7, -1 for shortness, -1 for meaningless choices, +1 for the dual viewpoint mechanic

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One Response to “IFComp 2014 Review: Tower / Origins”

  1. […] IFComp Review: Various Web Entries (Part 2) IFComp 2014 Review: Tower / Origins […]

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