Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

IFComp 2016 Review: 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds

Posted by Reiko on November 25, 2016

This is a review of a game from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds
Author: Abigail Corfman
Format: Web – Twine

Now this is Twine interactive fiction done right. None of the fiddly guess the verb issues of parser IF, but the same kind of geographic inventory-based puzzles that you might find in most parser IF. (I guess I favor the interactive part more than the fiction part of IF.) It’s really one major puzzle (kill the vampire, of course), so each playthrough is fairly bite-sized. But there are a dozen different solutions, some with variations, some that can even intersect. My favorite scenario was rigging a bucket of holy water over the door and then driving the vampire out with running water from a jammed-up toilet. Splash! Wicked vampire of the west goes poof. Many items have multiple uses, too, particularly things like the paper towels or the holly wreath. There’s also a time-limit, and some actions can only be taken early on, and some can only be done later.

It’s a very polished piece, particularly in terms of puzzle solutions, which must have required a lot of testing. I wondered why driving the vampire out with running water counted as a separate solution when driving it out with scripture doesn’t (you have to seal the vampire into the building and kill it with scripture to make that solution count). That’s why I wanted to see if the extra twist of rigging the bucket of holy water would also work (the time limit was tighter for getting all that done). But throwing the holy water on the vampire directly (at the right time) is how I originally achieved the holy water ending, so you don’t need to be that clever with it. It’s a testament to the depth of the implementation that you can, though.

The writing is clever and amusing throughout. The PC’s defensiveness about smoking cigarettes and resignation about being vampire bait, the homeless woman’s prickliness if you offend her, the “adorable cashier” and the smarmy vampire: all the characters are well-realized. I did see a few typos: the text could have used one more proofreading, but only the “boddy-pinned up” bit was enough to annoy me because I kept seeing that every time I first looked at my hairdo in a playthrough.

Clearly someone’s done a lot of research about vampires. In the “Unlockables” section at the end (which indicates there are even *more* than 16 endings once you’ve completed enough of them), there’s a link to display nearly every known historical belief about vampires, including what they do, how to kill them, etc. Plus references for further reading.

Time: 30 min (2 hours+ to find all endings)
Scoring: base 7, +1 for multiple endings (at least 16), +1 for depth of implementation, +1 for realistic characters, -1 for typos
Score: 9

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IFComp 2016 Reviews: Various Web Entries (part 2)

Posted by Reiko on November 24, 2016

These are mini reviews of games from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here. All of these games were produced in web-based systems.

The Skyscraper and the Scar
Author: Diego Freire, Ruber Eaglenest

Maybe this one is better in Spanish. Both English and Spanish are offered at the beginning, and given the first author’s name, I’m guessing the native language is Spanish. The English translation is rough and choppy, with many awkward phrases. Descriptions seem blurry, like a photo that’s just out of focus.

Even beyond the prose issues, though, this is a short, bloody tale of zombies and revenge. The tagline sums it up pretty well: “violence, vengeance and futility.” It’s not very much fun. The PC is barely characterized beyond desperate. There’s a lot of running around following people or away from zombies, and not much point to any of it.

Time: 10 minutes
Scoring: base 7, -1 for shortness, -1 for grammar and spelling, -1 for unclear writing
Score: 4

Author: Chet Rocketfrak

As far as I can tell, this is either a joke entry or an entry by someone who really doesn’t understand how Inform doors and objects work. Some quotes from actual room text:

“tehre’s a big toilet here. looks like you should jump in the big toilet.
You can see SecondToiletDoorOne here.”

(You can “enter secondtoiletdoorone” to go to another room. “enter toilet” and “x toilet” give error responses. So does “flush”.)

“p.s. in case the name doesnt show up when you do the >x thing its SecondToiletFirstToiletDoorOne. thanks”

(This time the room only says “You can see two doors here” but “x door” doesn’t work.)

I can’t find any point to any of this, nor anything to do besides wander between poorly implemented toilet-rooms.

Time: 5 minutes
Scoring: base 4, -1 for shortness, -1 for lack of any sensible responses, -1 for spelling errors
Score: 1

500 Apocalypses
Author: Phantom Williams

This piece is a fictional memorial of the destruction of five hundred extraterrestrial civilizations. As such, it’s an interesting concept, but there’s no plot and no real interaction. The dots that represent the individual entries are arranged all on one page in ascii art, and many have hyperlinks to other entries, but each entry is a brief description of a totally separate scenario. As such, it’s more of a writing exercise than anything else. Prompt: write 100-500 words about the death of a civilization. Repeat 500 times. If there’s anything more to it than that, I didn’t discover it after reading through a couple dozen entries. Some are clever. Some are grotesque. There are a lot of words here, but very little organization. I don’t feel compelled to read any more. It’s mostly rather depressing since they’re all about endings.

Time: 20 min
Scoring: base 7, -1 for lack of plot, -1 for shortness, -1 for body horror
Score: 4

Quest for the Traitor Saint
Author: Owlor

This is a cute piece, with lots of rough hand-drawn artwork of alien horses. Although the story seems to be trying to deal with deep themes like diplomacy and cultural differences, the horse companion never feels very alien. The text is also full of typos, mismatched tenses, and awkward wordings. Then I got to an ending and it was very unsatisfying. There’s even an author’s postscript more or less apologizing for the nature of the ending. If you feel the need to apologize for the ending, that probably means it should be revised.

Time: 30 minutes
Scoring: base 7, -1 for typos, -1 for unsatisfying ending
Score: 5

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IFComp 2016 Review: To the Wolves

Posted by Reiko on November 24, 2016

This is a review of a game from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

To the Wolves
Author: Els White
Format: Web

I rather liked this one. It starts out as a survival story of a girl who was intended to be a sacrifice but managed to escape into the forest instead. Later it turns rather more surreal as a spirit saves her life and gives her a task in order to set at rest the spirits of all the girls who were sacrificed before her. The game offers three different endings and five achievements. I played through four times and found only two of each, although one of the achievements just says “Achievement 1 – You did a thing!” I am not sure if that’s a glitch or sarcasm. The others all have names and, once unlocked, descriptions.

I found the text to be evocative and blessedly free of any noticeable typos or errors. Most of the story is similar on every playthrough, especially because some choices seem to make no difference to the immediate outcome. But many choices have subtle repercussions based on two hidden traits, so it’s difficult to determine what might make a difference later. In general, choices favoring attacking and strength favor one trait, while choices favoring stealth and problem-solving favor the other trait. In addition to whatever trait effects they might have, a few choices have cosmetic effects, such as how the girl decorates the hut she lives in and how she tracks time. Those choices are remembered and carried forward to any relevant descriptions later.

It’s worth replaying a few times to see the different plot branches, but finding every achievement is not easy, and I have no idea where the third ending is. I got the general “Victorious” ending three different ways, and the other ending I found was only a failure leading to death, which was actually a deliberate choice. I’d be interested to see a walkthrough later to see what I missed, as there isn’t one offered with the competition release.

Time: 45 min
Scoring: base 7, +1 for multiple endings
Score: 8

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IFComp 2016 Review: Rite of Passage

Posted by Reiko on November 23, 2016

This is a review of a game from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Rite of Passage
Author: Arno von Borries
Format: Web

It’s written like a diary of a middleschooler, except with better prose. The slice of life story is split into vignettes taking place over four school years, and any time a person is mentioned, there’s a link to notes about all the people encountered so far, which update as the PC sees them do more things over time.

It’s reasonably polished, but the story just isn’t very interesting, as you watch the PC’s schoolmates grow more and more crude and cruel as time goes on. You can choose to let the PC join them, or keep him from participating as much as possible. The story shifts a little bit in response to these choices, but not a lot. For instance, when I tried to help one girl, her fate fell to a different girl instead. It’s a rather realistic portrayal of the cruelty of children, but that doesn’t make it fun.

I played through a second time and made some different choices, and found that some of the vignettes were different. There’s a fair amount of material behind the scenes, as the descriptions of people in the notes are different if your actions lead to different results for them. For instance, one girl might end up quitting the hockey team if you participate in scaring her, but if not, she’ll stay on the team. Sometimes certain choices were visible but unavailable, and I usually couldn’t tell what I would have had to do differently earlier to make those choices.

Sometimes only one choice is allowed, so you don’t get to make a decision. I suppose it’s character-defining to do that, but I didn’t really like it. I wondered if some of those actions are never available regardless of what you’ve done. Maybe the point was that the PC knows there are better options, but can’t make himself take those options? It’s plausible, since many are moral issues, but if so, I’m not sure that’s the best way to illustrate it. Some sort of reasoning for crossing out the unavailable choices would have helped.

Time: 30 min
Scoring: base 7, -1 for random cruelty, -1 for railroaded choices
Score: 5

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IFComp 2016 Review: The Skull Embroidery

Posted by Reiko on November 23, 2016

This is a review of a game from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

The Skull Embroidery
Author: Jeron Paraiso
Format: Ruby

This is a homebrew text RPG in Ruby that had some considerable complexity but, unfortunately, also the amateurish nature of most homebrews. Beginning with amnesia, the story was very basic, and I noticed several spelling errors in the text (“waste” instead of “waist”, numerous it’s/its errors, etc) as well as outright bugs.

Most egregiously, I seemed to be able to generate as much roast insect meat as I wanted because the first time, the game took the green mushroom from me instead of the raw insect meat, and after that, it didn’t take anything at all. Resting was also supposed to increase hunger in addition to restoring health and applying experience, but I didn’t see any hunger increase. When I was fighting the spider and it bit me, I got a message saying “#<AR::Game::Player:0x2d42990> can feel the venom being injected.” Looks like a typo in the code, although I’m not familiar with Ruby so I can’t suggest what exactly might cause that.

I also couldn’t find any way to restore a save. I used the journal function that sounded like it was a save, but there was no restore option in the main menu, so I don’t know what good that did. Later I died in the cave from spider venom. I suspect green mushrooms might have been intended for making cure poison potions, but my mushroom was taken so I never found out.

The battle system, and indeed, the whole interface, is rather clunky, with numerous bits of information separated by “press enter to continue” prompts. Combat is randomized and turn based, but very slow, as you have to enter a letter to select a type of action and then a number to select a specific action.

After I died in the cave, I didn’t really have any particular desire to replay from the beginning again. I think I’ve seen enough. This could have used a lot more testing and editing before release.

Time: 20 min
Scoring: base 4, -1 for numerous bugs, -1 for numerous typos
Score: 2

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IFComp 2016 Review: Manlandia

Posted by Reiko on November 22, 2016

This is a review of a game from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Author: Rob Chateau
Format: Web

The game follows three explorers as they discover a hidden utopia populated entirely by men who somehow manage to reproduce asexually. The writing and plot felt exactly like an old pulp fiction novel, and after I finished it, I found out why: the author links to the wikipedia article for a book called Herland, written in 1915 by a feminist called Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The plot of the book is exactly the same as the story, except that the genders are switched, as you might imagine by the titles. In fact, it’s a complete rip-off, down to the names of the characters and specific plot events, and I suspect even whole sentences of the text. Although I couldn’t find much of the actual text online to check, the “Arab saying” sentence was quoted verbatim on Goodreads, for instance.

The point of the original novel was feminism, trying to postulate that women could build a utopia with no need for men, and exploring the effect of reintroducing men to this society. I’m not sure what the point of this story is supposed to be. Is the author (surely a man, by the name) the male equivalent of a feminist? Do people like that even exist? Why propose a feminized male society? That’s what a male society with no aggression or sexual desire would be. Men with low testosterone have little drive or energy to do anything, so they certainly wouldn’t work at building a society.

At any rate, I’m not sure many people today really believe that either men or women could create a utopia on their own. I certainly don’t think so. Human nature doesn’t work that way, and never mind the biological impossibility of an asexual human society. (In theory, if women had a source of sperm, they could sustain a society for awhile, but men certainly couldn’t.)

Time: 30 min
Scoring: base 7, -1 for plot rip-off that became even more implausible, -3 for text rip-off with no attribution up front
Score: 3

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IFComp 2016 Review: The Game of Worlds TOURNAMENT!

Posted by Reiko on November 22, 2016

This is a review of a game from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

The Game of Worlds TOURNAMENT!
Author: Ade McT
Format: Glulx

I was somewhat surprised to see this. It appears to be some kind of spin-off game set in the universe of the commercially published Worldsmith. I played through the demo of Worldsmith fairly recently because of Emily Short’s coverage of the game, and I may well buy the full game at some point. The interface is just like Worldsmith, which means that it’s polished and beautiful. It’s parser-based, but many objects are presented as clickable hyperlinks that trigger their examine commands.

Gameplay takes the form of a strategy card-based game (implemented in text, of course) where the object is to conquer the world and wipe out the opponent’s civilization. Cards are modeled after the Arcana, illustrated in black and white, and have various effects from reducing the opponent’s population over time, starting battles, changing characteristics of the lifeform, the world, or the star, etc. It seems that one often starts at a slight disadvantage and must use careful play to make up the difference. It’s pretty tricky, as there are a lot of factors. Becoming familiar with the cards in the deck helps a lot.

While there aren’t multiple endings, as either you win the tournament or you don’t, each match is a fresh scenario, so the game is very replayable. The entire piece consists simply of five sequential matches of the strategy game. There’s nobody to talk to, not even your opponents (it’s against the rules of the game). Well, you do talk to Diffan, but only to indicate that you’re ready for the next match. Still, I really enjoyed this one, although I would have liked to see a bit more plot or lore in the tantalizingly detailed setting.

Time: 2 hrs+
Scoring: base 7, +1 for subtle strategy, +1 for polished interface, -1 for lack of plot or conversation
Score: 8

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IFComp 2016 Review: A Time of Tungsten

Posted by Reiko on November 21, 2016

This is a review of a game from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

A Time of Tungsten
Author: Devin Raposo
Format: Web – Twine

It’s a science fiction story set several centuries in the future, after humanity has dispersed into the universe. There’s a framing story of two techs who seem to be scanning a recording for glitches, and the recording itself tells the story of a materials scavenger on board an exploration and mining ship as part of an official government team. The scavenger has been injured during a mission and goes through memories while waiting for rescue.

I found the story interesting, but really overwritten, often with words misused. I’m not sure how much of that is deliberate; one of the techs comments about a phrase that’s wrong. But there’s a lot of waiting and random details in the story, as well as other details, like news articles, that help flesh out the setting a bit. An example of the overwritten style, when rain “begins to pour heavier [sic]”: “My MEA uniform, at first a proud and even bold statement of my stature as an agent of this most dangerous and riveting government agency, is now fully drenched in what I can only assume to be perfectly sanitary rainwater.” In other words, “my uniform is now soaked.”

There’s kind of an explanation late in the story – the recording has been sort of constructed from the raw memory data by running it through an algorithm that uses techniques of classic literature to write a narrative. It’s essentially computer-generated text from an experimental process, so naturally it’s not going to be very well written. The frame story is mostly dialogue, and the epilogue is so short that it’s hard to tell if the style is really the same as the recording text, but I think it is. In other words, is this an in-universe explanation for deliberately florid text?

The ending is somewhat abrupt, as well. I’m not really sure what the point was, other than to examine the memories of an agent lost on an illegal mission. The actions of the captain at the end weren’t really explained, either. Maybe it would help to replay, but there were just so many waiting scenes and irrelevant details that pad out what’s actually a rather short story, that I don’t have much desire to reread it all.

Time: 1 hr
Scoring: base 7, -1 for florid text, -1 for too many waiting scenes
Score: 5

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IFComp 2016 Reviews: Various Web Entries (part 1)

Posted by Reiko on November 21, 2016

These are mini reviews of games from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here. All of these games were produced in web-based systems.

All I Do Is Dream
Author: Megan Stevens

This is a short vignette about someone who seems very depressed and tired and can’t manage to get anything done, even a bit of cleaning. I’ve had days like this, but this is really extreme. The only ending is negative, and it just wasn’t any fun to read. The last link invites the player to play again, but it doesn’t even work. Which is just as well, as there’s nothing else to do. It reminds me of Seeking Ataraxia from last year. To echo my conclusion about that one: ultimately, while it explores the headspace of someone with depression, it isn’t much of a game.

Time: 10 min
Scoring: base 7, -1 for shortness, -1 for depressing material, -1 for broken replay link, -1 for lack of gameplay
Score: 3

Stone Harbor
Author: Liza Daly

The PC works as a psychic, like his mother did, apparently having a talent for cold-reading people. But when someone is murdered and a detective comes to him, he discovers a real power to read certain objects connected to the crime.

I found the story in this piece to be compelling. I’m generally a fan of murder mysteries, so that helps, but the PC’s character arc is also realistic. The banner pictures that appear whenever the PC triggers a vision add a fair amount to the immersion of the piece as well.

That said, it really wasn’t very interactive. Sometimes I had a minor choice of which feature to focus on, and sometimes I could click multiple features or objects for more information, but there was no plot divergence or really much agency to the story. It would have been nearly the same if written as static fiction.

Time: 1 hr
Scoring: base 7, +1 for good murder mystery, -1 for little interactivity
Score: 7

Thaxted Havershill and the Golden Wombat
Author: Andrew Brown

First impression: amateurish. There’s no cover art, and the blurb even admits it’s not very exciting. The game opens with a disclaimer about random outcomes and an option to turn them off. Then the game itself has all the awkwardness of a first attempt and very little of the promised humor.

Many choices lead directly to death. The random outcomes appear in the form of combat. And, before the final choice, both the villain and the PC awkwardly break the fourth wall to talk to the player, and furthermore, the writer uses this conversation to admit that the piece was written at the last minute. I also saw a number of typos and spelling errors in the text.

It’s just completely shoddy work. About all I can say about this one that’s positive is that it’s finishable.

Time: 20 min
Scoring: base 7, -1 for pointless random combat, -1 for fourth-wall breaking, -1 for admission of low quality, -1 for shortness, -1 for spelling errors
Score: 2

Fallen 落葉 Leaves
Authors: Adam Bredenberg, Danial Mohammed Khan-Yousufzai

I fail to see the point of this, other than combinatorial mad-libs, maybe. It’s not particularly interactive, and it’s not particularly fictional, either. You pick a verb and an adverb, and then based on that, the piece generates a sonnet with some of the words varying based on the choice. And then you can do it again. That’s it. Strangely, there’s a “walkthrough” link from the comp page, but this is all it says:

If you receive especially adverse results,
you may not be resting enough.
Try moving more slowly
and varying your responses
or resting several times consecutively.

What? I don’t even know what it means by “adverse results.” “Rest” is one of the verbs, but I don’t see why I should care about the result at all since probably half the poem is exactly the same every time. The poetry is mostly flowery and impenetrable and I’ve already written more text in this review than in the whole sonnet.

I probably just don’t appreciate poetry enough to appreciate this, but whatever it is, it’s not IF.

Time: 5 minutes
Scoring: base 4, -1 for shortness, -1 for lack of interaction
Score: 2

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IFComp 2016 Review: Zigamus: Zombies at Vigamus

Posted by Reiko on November 20, 2016

This is a review of a game from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Zigamus: Zombies at Vigamus
Author: Marco Vallarino
Format: Z-code

This has been translated from Italian and it shows. I saw a number of odd grammatical constructions, word usages, occasional spelling errors, and even words that weren’t really translated. For instance, a lollipop tastes like “grappa.” I had to look this up and found that it’s an Italian kind of brandy. It would have made a lot more sense to English-speakers to simply say that the lollipop tastes like brandy, even if the taste isn’t exactly the same. After all, brandy is something you might give someone who’s had a shock, and that’s exactly the point of the object. And the game kept talking about “gadgets” when it really meant something like memorabilia or merchandise.

The puzzles are generally pretty obvious; in fact, the game goes out of its way to tell you when you can open a certain door or take certain actions. It doesn’t act like it has more than a two-word parser, though, which is somewhat unforgivable for standard Z-code. I kept trying to attack zombies with something, but I found if you’ve picked up a weapon or have the right key, the game will automatically carry out “attack zombie” or “open door” commands.

A puzzle near the end was somewhat misleading, though. You have to have the power-up to be able to win the final battle. But the power-up is in a case that’s not breakable until you’re stronger. I thought I needed the power-up to get stronger in order to get the hammer, but no, you have to do something completely unrelated that was previously even discouraged in order to be strong enough to get the hammer, which can then be used to smash the case. So the puzzles were usually too easy but occasionally too much like reading the author’s mind.

Time: 20 minutes
Scoring: base 7, -1 for shortness, -1 for poor translation, -1 for poor puzzles
Score: 4

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