Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

IFComp 2014 Review: Various Inform Entries (Part 1)

Posted by Reiko on November 13, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here. All the games in this post are Inform games.

Tea Ceremony
Author: Naomi Hinchen

This is a silly alien etiquette simulator that manages to be funny but also fiddly. You’re an envoy who has to make a good impression on an alien aristocrat by serving their equivalent of tea and biscuits. The best part is using the dictionary to look up what the alien words mean. I thought it was going to be more of a guessing game of doing things and using the alien’s feedback to figure out what the right sequence is. But the etiquette book spells out the ceremony for you pretty exactly, and you just have to follow the steps. There’s another layer of complexity when making the alien biscuits in that the measuring cups don’t give the right amounts, so you have to pour back and forth to get the amount for the recipe. It’s a classic math puzzle. But it breaks the feel of the game by introducing this slightly fiddly puzzle in the midst of doing this silly ceremony.

The ending offers a list of amusing things to try, but the humor really falls a bit flat here. If you think to try them on your own and get a clever response instead of a generic parser response, it’s one thing, but to be told that these are amusing things to try, well, the responses just aren’t amusing enough for that. It’s more like the author was saying, “hey, look at all these extra things I coded”.

Score: 6
Scoring: base 7, -1 for shortness, +1 for amusing alien terminology, -1 for explicit puzzle solution

Ugly Oafs
Author: Perry Creel

This is another old-school puzzler, of the wordplay subgenre. Like others, the implementation is very thin and wacky, because these kinds of word-manipulation methods produce very unrelated words. So the puzzle just throws lots of unrelated objects into an artificial area, and sends you into it to have at the wordplay, with little or no justification for the whole thing.

This one is more obscure and zany than most. Once the actual manipulation method clicks, it’s obvious what it’s doing, although it’s still not obvious what the right answer is for the various words that need to be manipulated. This one is a particularly headache-inducing variety (at least for me), and I didn’t bother going through all the permutations to figure it out. For someone who likes this kind of thing more, or who wants to write a script to expand out the possibilities, this would be more fun. As it is, it’s just kind of arbitrary. I played along with it up to the point where I encountered a threat that followed me around, presumably until I figured out the right way to manipulate it, but if you do anything other than move away from it for a few turns, it kills you. I didn’t feel much reason to go back into it after that.

Also, I just noticed that the title in the game list says the author is Perry Creel (which fits the manipulation pattern), but the cover art says Percy Creel (which does not).

Score: 4
Scoring: base 4, +1 for unusual manipulation mechanic, -1 for bland and arbitrary setting

Hunger Daemon
Author: Sean M. Shore

Like Zest, this game is not at all what it seemed like based on the blurb. It sounded like it would primarily be a quest for food (which would be boring), but it’s actually a quest to retrieve something for a Cthulu-cult ritual (which isn’t my thing but also isn’t boring). I’m clearly not the intended audience for this, but I played along for awhile because the writing was snappy and the puzzles were clever. However, when it got to the point of crashing a synagogue service on one of the High Holy Days by stealing a ticket and then stealing the ritual thing back, I drew the line. (Especially because the IFComp always takes place during or right after the Fall Holy Days – really bad timing, there.)

In short, excellent execution, terrible subject material. Other people will likely score it much higher, and perhaps it will be a contender for the Banana of Discord.

Score: 5
Scoring: base 4, +1 for good puzzles, +1 for snappy and responsive writing, -1 for uncomfortable religious material

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