Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

Archive for November 16th, 2015

IFComp 2015 Review: Pilgrimage

Posted by Reiko on November 16, 2015

This is a review of a game from the 2015 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Pilgrimage
Author: Victor Ojuel
Format: Glulx

This is oddly evocative while simultaneously a bit rough. It’s a journey on a macro scale: taking a step may send you halfway across a continent. The prose is often beautifully descriptive, but occasionally sounds like the writer isn’t fluent in English, as there are numerous little grammatical errors and a few odd turns of phrase. The journey is told in a series of short vignettes set in different places.

The early puzzles are very reasonable, but eventually they just aren’t well-cued and I turned to the walkthrough for the second half of the game. Exits to the next area are rarely given, and while mostly the journey goes forward, there are a few places where you have to return to the previous area, which isn’t well-cued either. By the end, I can tell I never would have thought to do some of the required actions.

I think this may have made a rather good short story (at one point you even retell some of your adventures to the sultan, who immensely enjoys hearing the tale) but as interactive fiction it just doesn’t have enough agency. Either you follow the railroaded plot to get to the ending (which takes a rather odd metaphysical turn), or you go home early and fail. There’s unfortunately not much opportunity to explore the medieval cultures you’re journeying through. I wanted to like it more than I did.

Time: 50 min
Scoring: base 7, +1 for evocative journey, -1 for grammar/wording issues, -1 for unclued exits and railroaded plot
Score: 6

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IFComp 2015 Review: Untold Riches

Posted by Reiko on November 16, 2015

This is a review of a game from the 2015 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Untold Riches
Author: Jason Ermer
Format: Glulx

Clever little piece that pokes fun at the absentminded archaeologist trope, with constant references to past escapades (that rarely turned out as intended). It’s relatively simple and well-implemented. I only got stuck at one point because I failed to notice and examine the furniture in the workshop after already having done everything with the water wheel. There’s a critical item buried in the furniture, unfortunately, but it’s mentioned off-handedly in the middle of the room description, so it’s awfully easy to miss.

Other than that, the puzzles are straightforward. The water wheel/electrical setup and the turning head are rather Myst-like, actually, but simpler. The implementation is clean, if rather short, and getting stuck gave me the opportunity to check out the hint menu. Plus, there’s a great xyzzy response! The game ends with an amusing reference to the original Adventure as well.

Time: 30 min
Scoring: base 7, +1 for clever Adventure references, +1 for trope humor, -1 for important furniture buried in room description amid fully straightforward puzzles
Score: 7

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IFComp 2015 Overview

Posted by Reiko on November 16, 2015

I am again posting my small reviews of some of the games from the 2015 IFComp. There were just so many pieces this year (53 that I saw; I believe 55 originally, but a couple were withdrawn for various reasons). First, an overview, and then I’ll post the individual reviews over the next two weeks, a few per day, and eventually they’ll all be linked to this post. [Edit: All reviews are scheduled and will be published by the end of November.]

This is the largest comp year to date, as far as I know, and also (from what I can tell) probably the highest quality year. Gone (fortunately) are the days where half the entries are programming exercises or trolling attempts. A handful might be not quite as polished or in-depth, but overall, the level of quality shown this year is quite high. It’s not even due to the inclusion of choice-based games, either (which arguably are technically easier to produce than parser games). Even the parser games are generally quite good. Not to open a can of worms here, but I believe that the best parser games are still more engaging and more fun than the best choice-based games. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if a choice-based game actually won the competition at some point, because making really good parser games is difficult. Making good choice-based games isn’t exactly easy either, but the tools are easier to learn, in general.

That said, my favorite games this year aren’t always the ones using the standard tools (Inform/Glulx for parser, Twine for hypertext, or Choicescript for choice-based). One of my top three was written in Alan (Onaar). More than that, one of my top ten was written in a homebrew Windows system (I Think The Waves Are Watching Me), which is usually the easiest way to lose a few points right off the bat. The interface didn’t do it any favors, but it was good enough in spite of that to score well.

In total, I played and rated 33 of the 53 games available, only five of which I scored below a 6, and ten of which I scored at 8 or 9. (I would only give a 10 if I honestly couldn’t think of anything to improve about a game, or if I played all the games and decided at the end that one game was the best, but I didn’t play all the games. More about scoring here.) So the average quality this year was quite a bit better than previous years. What that also says is that I need to spread out my scoring a bit more to distinguish the best games from the flawed games.

Top three (scored 9): Onaar, Scarlet Sails, The Baker of Shireton

Highly recommended (scored 8): Cape, Final Exam, Gotomomi, I Think The Waves Are Watching Me, Kane County, Koustrea’s Contentment, Sub Rosa

Also worth playing (scored 7): Birdland, Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!, Life on Mars?, Pit of the Condemned, TOMBs of Reschette, Untold Riches

Unfortunately, I think I missed a few of the best games since I was playing in random order and didn’t get through the whole list. I’m not going to discuss the final results here yet, but it looks like I didn’t play three of the top ten.

Here are all the games I played in alphabetical order (I played them in random order though), with my scores, and linked to their reviews once I post them:

5 Minutes to Burn Something! – Alex Butterfield (Z-code): 6
Arcane Intern (Unpaid) – Astrid Dalmady (Web – Twine): 6
Birdland – Brendan Patrick Hennessey (Web – Twine): 7
Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! – Steph Cherrywell (Glulx): 7
Cape – Bruno Dias (Web – Umdum): 8
Capsule II – The 11th Sandman – PaperBlurt (Web): 6
Crossroads – Cat Manning (Web – Twine?): 6
Duel – piato (Web): 6
Final Exam – Jack Witham (Z-code): 8
Gotomomi – Arno von Borries (Glulx): 8
Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box – Arthur DiBianca (Z-code): 6
I Think the Waves Are Watching Me – Bob McCabe (Windows): 8
Kane County – Michael Sterling, Tia Orisney (Web): 8
Koustrea’s Contentment – Jeremy Pflasterer (TADS): 8
Laid Off from the Synaesthesia Factory – Katherine Morayati (Glulx): 5
Life on Mars? – Hugo Labrande (Z-code): 7
Onaar – Robert DeFord (Alan): 9
Pilgrimage – Victor Ojuel (Glulx): 6
Pit of the Condemned – Matthew Holland (Zcode): 7
Recorded – Nick Junius (Glulx): 4
Questor’s Quest – Mark Stahl (Windows): 5
Scarlet Sails – Felicity Banks (Web – Choice of Games): 9
Second Story – Fred Snyder (Web): 6
Seeking Ataraxia – Glass Rat Media (Web): 5
SPY INTRIGUE – furkle (Web): 2
Sub Rosa – Joey Jones & Melvin Rangasamy (Glulx): 8
Summit – Phantom Williams (Web – Twine): 6
The Baker of Shireton – Hanon Ondricek (Glulx): 9
The Speaker – Norbez (Web – Twine): 6
The Sueno – Marshall Tenner Winter (Glulx): 5
To Burn in Memory – Orihaus (Web): 6
TOMBs of Reschette – Richard Goodness (Web – Twine): 7
Untold Riches – Jason Ermer (Glulx): 7

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