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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IF Comp 2012 – Fish Bowl

If you like Lovecraftesque horror chocked full of mounting madness, unspeakable horror beneath the waves, and dreamlike reality that circles the edge of madness, this is for you.

This horror story has a sci-fi spin, but wouldn’t really lose anything if it were set in the 19th century in the South Pacific. Over the course of the story, reality is gradually peeled back, moving from symbolic to concrete, and the player learns incrementally of the horror that has beset the main character and his crew.

More spoilers after the cut, for those who dare risk their sanity

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IF Comp 2012 – Escape From Summerland

I initially tried playing this story towards the beginning of the competition, but hit a couple puzzles that seemed to block any further progress. I perseverated on these points for a while, but ran out of options. There is no built-in help or hint system, but I didn’t want to ruin the experience, so I shot off an email to the author along with a transcript showing where I was stuck. She wrote back with a hint that at least let me know that I had not reached a dead-end position. Even more importantly, she pointed me towards an updated version that not only patched a couple trouble areas, but significantly polished the writing and story elements.

From both a technical and writing standpoint, this is a more ambitious work than I have encountered up to this point in IFcomp 2012, so it’s not surprising that it requires more debugging and tweaking than most. I’d have been surprised if releasing this work to the wild did not produce some bug reports.

With the new version, I got somewhat further, but I still could not complete the game without a peek at the walkthrough. That didn’t detract much from the experience, however, so this story still gets a strong recommendation.

I have to invoke spoiler mode now, so more comments after the break.

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IF Comp 2012 – On Grading

Just a note to point out that my scoring rubric isn’t perfect; I’m aware of that. It’s just a way for me to get my head around features that I don’t want to forget when jotting down impressions about each work. The average scores I report for each are not the scores that I’ll be submitting to IF Comp. I’ll have another pass at the scores a couple weeks from now, after I’ve played all the games. I can see from the first pass that scores are clustering too much, so I’ll have to do something to normalize the scores and achieve better separation, particularly at the high end. Coming back to scoring a couple weeks later makes it easier to pick out the outstanding works. By then, the lesser works will have been forgotten, but there are always a few that have staying power. Sometimes it isn’t obvious which ones will continue to percolate in my brain after I’ve played them, but if they persist, I know they must have had an impact on me consciously or at least subliminally.

IF Comp 2012 – Body Bargain

One of the strengths of IF is that the player can make choices that would be normally be shocking or unthinkable, confront the consequences of those actions, and ponder the outcome. Sure, you could say the same thing about a video game – laying waste to a town or two with rocket propelled grenades is all in a day’s work for some shooters, but the decisions are not as real or as personal as when you literally spell them out in textual IF.

I can’t go much further without spoilerage about this work and “Test is Now Ready”, so more after the cut…

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IF Comp 2012 – In A Manor Of Speaking

Manor is a Glulx game, and the start is promising enough: it looks edited and has a good list of beta testers. After playing for fifteen minutes, though, I have to wonder if the testers were too focused on form rather than content and play.

The game is a series of disjoint locations and events. Unlike Howling Dogs, where this is a strength and contributes to a surreal feel, the lack of connection between scenes gives the player nothing to stitch this game together, aside from the puns, most of which are revealed only upon death. I shouldn’t say that the locations and props are entirely unrelated, as there are several instances of acquiring a key item in one area for use in another, but these connections are very strained.

The puns are the wincing kind, rather than the clever and wincing kind. The cheeky parser voice is instantly annoying – the poke in the ribs when turning around and walking into a wall is just annoying. Getting the parser voice right is a tricky subject, and one that has been done so often that it’s a liability when the game doesn’t manage to do it deftly. The default neutral library responses have been replaced with generally more annoying version. Points, I suppose, for customizing the messages, but the replacement doesn’t make the game expereince better.

There are a lot of ways to die in this game, most ways are not sensical or forewarned, and each rewarded with a pun. I guess that is the point of this game. At least it is easy to undo from this state.

Some spoilers after this point

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IF Comp 2012 – Last Minute

Here’s a piece that intentionally downplays the work that must have gone into it. This is also a Twee/Twiddly game, and maybe I’m getting to the point that I can stop mentioning that. This platform works so nicely that I stop noticing the mechanics of the browser and can focus on the game.

Spoiler warning

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IF Comp 2012 – Transit

Transit is another story written on the Twee/TwiddlyWiki platform. Again, the layout is very pleasing, and now that I’ve experienced a few of these, I am warming to this authoring system. In this instance, I see a few options at the bottom of the screen that functionally serve my need to have an about / help / hints / options menu of some sort.

Spoilers follow

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