The first thing that caught my eye in the blurb was that the estimated time to complete this work is greater than two hours. I expect that will dissuade many potential players — we will see after IFcomp is tallied how many people voted on this story. It is also a disincentive for judges, since only the first two hours of interaction will count towards the assigned score for the competition. With so many games in this year’s bumper crop, the long ones are likely to sink towards the bottom of people’s playlists unless the author is well known. I read through one iteration of the story top to bottom in about an hour and a half, and I wasn’t pushing hard, so in fact, I think most players will get through this in under two hours and hope it gets played.
The annotation of “headphones recommended” may also turn off some players — me, for example. A more helpful description would say whether sound effects are optional or essential to the story. If there are audio clues that are not rendered alternatively in text, I cannot turn the volume all the way down without fear of missing something. From an accessibility standpoint, if there is important audio content, it would be best practice to make sure that the game could be played without audio as well. In the case of this story, the sound effects are not required, they are just there for background and atmosphere. I turned down my volume and found that they enhanced the game.
Some of the twine stories in this comp incorporate the occasional picture in the flow of text, but this story reverses that: All of the text is displayed over custom-drawn background illustrations. Text is displayed in very small chunks, usually a sentence at a time, and the reader moves through the story by clicking on the text. Each click clears the existing text and prints a new sentence towards the bottom of the screen. Every refresh does not load a new background picture; I can only imagine that if that were the case, this story would have taken a few more years to produce. It also would have been distracting. One illustration stays in place for a few screens of text, and often the same illustration is used later or with slight modification at a later point in the story.
Regarding the need to click on sentence after sentence, at first I found it tedious and felt like I was doing more work than really necessary (the age of the Jetsons has arrived – my button finger got tired), but after a while, I stopped paying attention and just followed the story. I thought it was a curious decision for the author to make until I tried playing the game on a phone. In portrait mode, the image is centered and left and right borders crop in, so not all of the visual information comes through. However, the amount of text displayed is ideal. Any more and the font would begin to get too small for casual reading. Clicking through the text on the phone also felt more natural than left-clicking on my laptop’s touch pad. In landscape mode the whole drawing is visible and the text still looks okay, but I was more comfortable viewing the game in portrait orientation.
The only UI improvement I would suggest would be to make the title of the speaker more distinct from the text that is spoken. To convey dialogue, the name of the speaker appears in bold white font, and then immediately underneath is the spoken text. I agree with the general convention, which avoids quotation marks, but thought it would work better if the speaker title were just a bit more different style, maybe just color, and if there were a fractionally larger vertical space between that title and the dialogue. I’m also aware that in designing content for web browsers, that no design will please everyone.
[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]