I played through all of the entries in this year’s IFcomp during the first month, so it’s been at least a couple weeks since the last game. I’d like to share a few thoughts about some of the entries now that the dust has settled and I can look back on them as a whole.
In general, I am happy to stick with my initial ratings, even for those games that I played early in the competition, as my scale is based on several years of IFcomp. I do think that my scale will need some weighting next year to put the average game closer to midscale, though.
The Top End
I still think the top three games this year are Harmonia, Eat Me, and The Owl Consults. I initially put Harmonia above Eat Me in terms of scoring, but would probably reverse that having had some time to consider the greater degree of interactivity in Eat Me. Immediately after playing Harmonia, I was in a state of shock that IF could look so elegant on the page. It could really go either way in terms of strength of writing, though. Ultimately, I think it is a matter of my personal taste, which leans towards more game-like works. I would put both a notch above The Owl Consults, but of the three, I would say that The Owl Consults was the most fun. I was surprised to see how many people were turned off by the visceral nature of Eat Me, so The Owl Consults may be a better game to recommend to a general crowd. In any event, with three days left in the comp, if you haven’t played these, you might want to bump them to the top of your list.
I ranked Charlie the Robot as fourth, but realize that I’m probably an outlier in that regard. It is a mixed bag, both in terms of story and presentation, but I enjoyed its frantic, absurdist nature. I would move The Wizard Sniffer up in the rankings towards the top of the second tier, and expect that many would put it in the top tier. I do think that it will be one of the most widely remembered games in this competition. I am not sure how Will Not Let Me Go will do in the competition. On one hand, the heavy theme probably turned off some players, but on the other hand those players probably didn’t take a look at it and wouldn’t (shouldn’t) rate it. I think that those that did play it would appreciate how well it addressed a delicate topic and how well it made use of hypertext as a medium.
Second Tier – Short form
I don’t distinguish in my rating system based on size or complexity of the work, but I don’t really think long and short works can be easily compared to each other. I would consider Swigian to be the top contender as a short game, and although less interactive, also include Unit 322: Disambiguation, which I thought was a clever use of the medium.
I gave a lot of games a score in the range of six to nine (out of eleven) and even though they did not scrape the upper end of the scale, I felt all of them were worth my time. Many of these could have scored higher with better proofing — I don’t understand why authors put in so much work, but don’t at least run a spell check of some sort. Even better would be a couple manual proofing passes and/or play testing to smooth out the rough edges. I don’t have a discrete category for “fun”, but if I did, The Wand and VR Gambler would rate highly. Finally, I think a revised version of Tuuli could come in towards the top of this tier, or even make it into my second tier.
The Bottom Half
Frankly, I only a give a “1” to games that are intentional trolls. Run of the Place may even fit that category, but I thought it was kind of interesting as a technical demo of the floo interpreter.
Some of the games that fell below five were the results of first efforts, like Grue. My rating system can be punishing for new authors, as I tend to focus on implementation and player experience more than writing. As I read through a work, I can’t help but see the game as a beta-tester might, pushing at the boundary conditions and trying to get in the author’s head about why they chose one design option over another for a given authoring system. Hopefully, some of my comments will get rolled into revisions of these games, or perhaps benefit the author in future projects.
Other games at the lower end of the scale are there because they are more experimental or overly ambitious. TextCraft: Alpha Island is both, as the author flags with the “alpha” in the title. Escape From Terra looks like it was a ton of work and full of fun ideas, but was probably too sprawling to adequate proof and test in time for this year’s competition. It could be buffed into a playable game, but would take a lot of additional effort (maybe the best approach would be to pare it down to one of the four tracks now in the game, and polish just that one, with subsequent tracks released in periodic updates).
There were an encouraging number of games in this year’s competition by authors whose first language is not English. This was barely noticeable for Tuuli and 1958: Dancing With Fear (both of which I assume were written from the start in English), but a more prominent issue with A Common Enemy and The Adventure of Esmeralda and Ruby on the Magical Island. My Night had implementation issues that went beyond translation, but even it had run smoothly, the writing would have been hard to follow. The three games submitted by Chinese authors (The Murder In The Fog, The Fifth Sunday, and The Living Puppet) also lost a lot in translation. In the future, it would be helpful if IFcomp could accept an original language version as well as an English version, if authors produce both. Not everyone will be able to play the original versions, but some could — and it might expand IFcomp’s player base. In addition, for the English translation, I hope authors seek out native speakers to proofread their games for next year’s competition. It means that they will have to start early — it would not be efficient to hone the language before the game is in a relatively final state programmatically.
Aside from rating short and long form games on the same scale, the hardest works to rate in this comp were the non-fiction essay, Queer In Public: A Brief Essay and the PDF-format CYOA, The Silver Gauntlets. In both cases, I don’t think the authors were gunning for top slots in the competition, but wanted to use the comp as a venue to get eyeballs on their works, which seems perfectly legitimate to me. It is not inconceivable that a nonfiction work could rate highly — it would just need be very innovative in terms of interactivity. As for non-electronic interactive fiction, I am not sure that putting it into IFcomp accomplishes the goal of having a lot of people play it. I had set a goal of playing every last game, but that’s not how most people approach the comp. As other reviewers have remarked, a pdf entry would get more play if it at least incorporated hyperlinks to aid navigation.
Looking forward to seeing how all this plays out when the votes are tallied in a few days!