IF Comp 2012 – Sealed Room

It took some experimentation for me to get this ALAN game to run on my Mac running OS X Mountain Lion. Spatterlight 0.5 exited with an error code. I was also not successful using an older version of Gargoyle under Parallels/Windows XP. The game did work just fine, however, when I downloaded the most recent version of Gargoyle for Mac (http://code.google.com/p/garglk/downloads/list).

If you are expecting an escape-the-room game, this isn’t one in the traditional sense. There is a single room, and there is a way out, but the bulk of this game involves conversation. Unfortunately, the conversation system is limited and the game play is very linear.

More after the cut

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IF Comp 2012 – Murphy’s Law

This is the story of an unlucky, overworked, and mentally exhausted salesman, who is just a single installment shy of paying off a mortgage. The story begins in an apartment scenario, where he needs to write that check, and at first I thought that this might be a three move game. When that turned out not to be the case, I assumed that this would be a game in which minor errors would snowball towards a calamitous end. That’s not quite what happened either.

More after the spoiler cut

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IF Comp 2012 – Irvine Quik and the Search for the Fish of Traglea

It is worth making a special effort to play Irvine Quik and the Search for the Fish of Traglea. For me, it meant downloading the Adrift 4 player and running it under Parallels on my Mac. This story is on par with the best of the parser-based games that I’ve played in this year’s IFcomp, although humor doesn’t always work across broad audience, and this might not suit everyone’s taste. In this story, your back story is impossible,the characters you encounter are strange and your mission ridiculous, but somehow it all works.

All joking aside, there is a lot of structure to this piece. There is a quick bit of exposition at the start: enough to set the tone, but not screen dumps of back story. The game is broken into five chapters, which play seamlessly if you run through them in sequence, but could allow a player to skip around, for instance, to replay a specific chapter.

More after the spoiler break

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IF Comp 2012 – Andromeda Apocalypse

Last week was a tough one for IF: I’d played through a few underimplemented games in a row, and I was getting grumpy. I’d rather write positive reviews than rant on about poor grammar and unexciting plots, so the good news is that I just played Andromeda Apocalpyse and Irvine Quik and the Search for the Fish of Traglea, and both have restored my faith in IFdom.

Both stories were fun. Yeah, game theory is great, but when you come down to, as much as interactive fiction is an art form, I don’t really appreciate it unless it moves me in some way. One of the most effective ways to move me is for me to have fun and really get interested in the plot. Then, I’m not just plowing through screens spotting typos, but actually engaged in the story and looking forward to seeing what will happen on the next screen. It’s the difference between reading a novel through to the end because it cost $11.95, and dammit, you’re going to get your money’s worth, versus that feeling of regret when you hit the last page of an engrossing novel all too soon and know that there’s no sequel.

Starting with Andromeda Apocalypse, I guess the good news is that there may be a sequel, because Andromeda itself is written in a shared universe that builds on prior works. I’ll admit that I didn’t play the earlier games, but I did read their reviews on IFDb. The backstory is helpful to know, but I thought it was reasonably laid out in the current work, so it would be fine to just jump into it directly. The other good news about Andromeda Apocalpyse is that there is no mention of Kevin Sorbo.

More Apocalyptic Comments after the spoiler break

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IF Comp 2012 – Castle Adventure

Well, at least you know where you stand with Castle Adventure. It’s an adventure, and there’s a castle. At least, I am given to understand that there is eventually a castle if you playing, but I don’t have the patience to put that to the test.

After a couple exchanges with the parser, I think I can see where this is going. I’m in the middle of a forest that lacks description. Examining myself, I find that I lack a description other than the default. Predictably, if I go in any direction but the intended one, I hit barriers. Finally, a hut. It’s locked. A bit more to the east, alligators (in a moat (surrounding a castle (containing the princess))). Now we have plot – find the key to the hut, figure out a way into the castle, and wing it from there.

Sure, this plot has been done before in every form of game and story, and it’ll be done again, and with the right treatment and new spin, it could still be the basis for a fine game. However, this piece does not make the effort to find a new angle or at least create a work that is so well implemented that it is a pleasure to retread the old plot.

Nothing annoys me more than having my time wasted, and wandering in a bland forest makes me see red. I did peek at the hints after playing the game, and I see that I would eventually have found a way to find the key to get to the hut to get to castle to rescue the princess, etc., but I could not work up the interest to try to play this one out.

If the author wants to revise this game, I’d suggest first playing a boat load of recent interactive fiction to get a sense of where the field has gone since Adventure International days. Then, I’d read through Aaron Reed’s book just to get an idea of what can be done. At that point, the author might want to ditch this plot or at least come at it from a different angle, but that’s entirely up to his taste. Whatever the plot, the next steps are implement deep, beta test extensively, and and learn what you can from reviews that come back after releasing them game. I, for instance, will never ever ever attempt to incorporate robo-rally into a work of interactive fiction again. I promise.

I just wrote a cranky review of Valkyrie, and I don’t want to slip into full curmudgeon mode, so I’ll give the author thumbs up for perseverance in realizing a game that he had originally written in 2002; that’s some dedication.

Story:  2

At least it was clear what the story was and I didn’t wake up disoriented and amnesiac, wondering what I was supposed to do.

Voice: 2

The bare bones voice of the parser, not much else.

Play: 2

There isn’t much to say about the portion of the game that I played. I moved around, I hit barriers, and I recognized puzzles that needed solving.

Polish: 2

Implementation is minimal, but I didn’t catch any spelling or grammatical issues in the sparse text. The game does provide a help function for those new to IF commands, which is a nice touch.

Technical: 3

The portion of the game that I played does not use advanced techniques, but as far as I can tell nothing was broken. Writing even a minimal game in Inform requires some effort, so the baseline in this category is around a 2.

Average: 2.2

IF Comp 2012: Note added in proof – Valkyrie

As a rule, I don’t read other people’s reviews of a work before I write mine because I like to come at each work fresh. After posting Valkyrie, I saw that several other reviews mention that the blurb on the IF comp site provides some background for Valkyrie that is not present in the game itself.

When this year’s flock of games were initially released, I downloaded the zip and didn’t look back, so I never read the blurbs. It’s not that I was trying to keep myself completely uncontaminated by material outside the game itself; it’s just that I tend not to go back to the IF comp website until it’s time to vote.

Since I hadn’t read the blurb and hadn’t seen reviews that summarized the blurb, I didn’t realize that this work was submitted as part of a Development English Course. Had I realized that this was a first effort and done as part of a course, I would have been somewhat more sympathetic, but I don’t think it would have changed my rating.

I don’t know the specifics of their assignment, but I do give either them or their instructor credit for using interactive fiction as a vehicle for language instruction. I wish their instructor had been more involved in pre-reviewing the work and helping them with both high level organization and down in the trenches grammar — maybe that was the intention, but they ran out of time (which we all know is easy to do, particularly the first time around).

My criticisms stand, but I’d encourage the authors to try again: either polishing this work for resubmission to the post comp-comp or working on another one for next year (and perhaps starting with IntroComp). Depending on the level of support the authors are receiving from their institution, they might also want to reach out to the IF community at large for help with their next work. I, and I’m sure most of the community, would be happy to beta (or alpha) test for them, as long the piece was circulated far enough ahead of the submission deadline for them to take comments into consideration.

IF Comp 2012 – Valkyrie

Alarm bells went off in my head as soon as the first screen of Valkyrie had loaded into my browser. Where the story title normally appears in the upper left hand corner, my screen read, in bold characters, “Untitled Story.” My brief hope that this was an intentional stab at irony was deflated immediately as I waded through the first paragraph. The sentences were seemed awkward and short, perhaps indicating lack of language fluency on behalf of the author. This in itself is not a show stopper. Plenty of non-native authors express themselves in English much better than I’d be able to in their mother tongue, and with some helpful beta-testers and a good plot, they can produce some excellent works.

This is not one.

The first page is full of minor grammatical annoyances, poor word choice and unnecessary abbreviations. Why write “approx” rather than “approximately” in the introductory paragraph? The first paragraph, above all others, is the one you have to get right in IF to draw the reader in and make a good first impression. The more I read, the more I realized that the problem is just lazy writing. There is not a hint of proofreading, not even by the author.

I got two more screens into this story before I crumped. I’m willing to try playing through anything: parser-based, CYOA, steam-driven machine code, whatever, and I’ll even try out games that don’t explicitly list beta-testers, but I have to draw the line with this game.  It is disapppointing that this author put in so little effort, even when relieved of the programming overhead that a more tradition IF engine would require.

The fat lady has sung: my rating for this work is 1.5 (on a scale of 1-10). I’ll reserve 1.0 for works that intentionally troll the comp. I don’t have the sense that poor writing was the goal here.

IF Comp 2012 – Signos

Signos is a story written in Quest, another web-based platform. It’s the only quest-based story in IFcomp2012, so a word or two on the platform before delving into the game.

I haven’t formally read through documentation from the platform, but I can at least remark on the features implemented in Signos: display of pictures, sounds, a text-based parser that includes hyperlinks, side windows that list inventory, status, and places and objects in view.  Clicking hyperlinks brings up a context-menu of available actions, so readers who prefer clicking to typing are not at much of a disadvantage.

There are some downsides to being web-based. I did back out of the game entirely by hitting the browser’s back button. Refresh wipes the current game and starts over. Also, I noticed a lot of latency playing the game on an internet-exposed server (http://play.textadventures.co.uk/v5/Play.aspx?id=756). I’m not sure if this reflects load on that server or is an intrinsic part of the engine behind the game.

This platform does keep track of the state of objects, e.g., inventory, items in the location, etc., but at one point I managed to create inconsistencies in the items diplayed in the inventory list and those listed by typing an “i” command into the parser.

More after the spoiler cut

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IF Comp 2012 – Lunar Base 1

The opening of Lunar Base 1 sounded promising: a manned mission to the moon in the relatively near future. Instead of teleports and warp drives, these astronauts used recognizable technology and had made the trip in an old-school multistage craft.

All the prosaic elements of space travel were there: space suits and life support equipment, radios to contact mission control, astro-food for astro-nutrition. Even the banter with mission control sounded good: lots of acronyms. This opening establishes some credibility, and I was looking forward to a hard sci-fi story in which the main characters would need to think their way out of some environment-related situations — seeking shelter from a solar storm, dealing with a breakdown of the air handling system, contamination of the water supply, etc.

Unfortunately, after investing in this believable set up, the story takes on fantastic elements. To the story’s credit, resolution of the situation does require manipulating story elements that were adequately foreshadowed.

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