Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

IFComp 2014 Review: Contortionist / Venus / Building

Posted by Reiko on November 12, 2014

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

The Contortionist
Author: Nicholas Stillman
Format: Web

This piece is another good example of the variety that’s possible with Twine. Most of the Twine pieces I’ve seen have been pretty default-looking, regular text on a black background, with a vertical sidebar on the left with the title. While this piece doesn’t do anything fancy with the text colors, it uses a white background and a horizontal bar on the top with the title, and it also maintains a set of menu links at the bottom of the main text. This makes it feel a lot more like a regular parser game than most Twine pieces. The story, too, is a lot more like a parser game, being a timed-action escape puzzle.

The setting is a sort of dystopia where a small percentage of the population is conscripted into forced labor prisons for 20-year sentences. And the main character has some sort of genetic defect that’s like the extreme end of doublejointedness: he can literally squish his body, even his skull, so that he can fit through the bars. Convenient for escaping a high-security prison, that. The guard makes rounds at set intervals, so you have to exit the prison cell, talk to the other inmates, gather useful items, and make and execute an escape plan. It’s pretty standard IF stuff, really, but the fact that it’s done all in Twine is fairly impressive.

The text is descriptive, but clearly no one went through it with a spellchecker, as there are several obvious typos. Other than that, it’s a solid piece.

Score: 7
Scoring: base 7, +1 for action menu in Twine, -1 for typos

Venus Meets Venus
Author: kaleidofish
Format: Web

I didn’t read all of this piece. It’s got very explicit content that is a kind I prefer not to experience. Plus there was no gameplay to speak of and very little in the way of choices. The first section talks about trying to decide where the turning point was that led to the outcome that happened, but this doesn’t seem to end up being a story where you can actually affect that outcome. Perhaps by the end it is; I don’t know because I didn’t finish it, but as of the seventh section, I hadn’t seen anything that looked like an actual choice. Most pages are linear, with only one link to the next page, but even the ones that have multiple links seem to have only one that moves the story along. The others just fill in additional details. It’s interactive fiction only in the simplest sense of clicking a link to show the next bit of text.

Score: 3
Scoring: base 4, -1 for linearity

Building the Right Stuff
Author: Laura Mitchell
Format: Windows executable

People keep saying that making a custom homebrew application for IF is a bad idea, and every year there’s at least one in the competition anyway. It’s still a bad idea.

This particular one looked vaguely interesting. You’ve got a deep space surveying job, and there’s a bit of a mystery about why that particular area needs surveying. Unfortunately, the execution is extremely limited and possibly buggy. Most of the links do very little, and the basic gameplay seems to boil down to being put in stasis to jump to the next planet, run a quick survey, talk to the computer to avoid going insane, rinse and repeat. All of these are performed only through awkward hyperlinks. This might be fine for a few cycles or until something more interesting shows up, but the second time I tried to enter stasis, the Y/N buttons didn’t show up, so I was essentially stuck, because the rest of the interface disappears on that prompt.

Score: 2
Scoring: base 4, -1 for broken stasis prompt, -1 for boring gameplay


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