IFComp2017: All Games Considered

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.

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IFcomp 2017: Extended taxonomy

This year’s crop of games is large enough to be divided up into any number of categories by subject, e.g., RPGs, sci-fi, murder mysteries, or structurally, e.g., parser-based, limited-parser, hypertext, CYOA, etc. I’d like to propose a number of new and entirely arbitrary categories based on this year’s submissions. Please let me know in comments if I’ve gotten any of these wrong or missed some.


…mentioning cheese in some capacity (including in the context of Macaroni and Cheese): Eat Me, What Once Was, Absence of Law, Run Of The Place, Nightbound, A Castle of Thread, The Skinny One, The Castle of Vourtram.

….involving conversation with birds: 10 pm, Harbinger, Eat Me, Alice Aforethought, The Dragon Will Tell Your Future Now, Goodbye Cruel Squirrel, The Adventure of Esleralda and Ruby on the Magical Island, The Wand, What Once Was, A Castle of Thread, and kind of, The Owl Consults.

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IFcomp 2017: Preliminary Scores

I just posted my 79th review for this IFcomp, which means that I’ve now commented on every entry. I tried to get through them quickly to provide feedback early enough in the competition to be useful to both authors and players.

I’ve sorted every game according to my scoring rubric, which may or may not reflect how other people feel about these games. But first, I wanted to flag the about 15% of games that I awarded a “Je ne sais quoi” point. Probably the best way to define that undefinable point is to say that there is something in these works that I wish I could capture when I’m writing IF:

* Absence of Law
* Eat Me
* Guttersnipe
* Harmonia
* Sea Monkey
* The Owl Consults
* Unit 322
* The Very Old Witch
* Charlie The Robot
* One Way Out
* Swigian
* VR Gambler

I tend to score these games highly, but other games with good writing and high production quality have scored higher than some of these, even without the JNSQ tacked on to their score.

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Review – What Once Was

This Quest game is spread out in four dimensions. It is set on a university campus, and the protagonist is an OWUPSOABD (over worked, underpaid, stressed-out graduate student), who discovers that his mentor is missing and suspects that it has something to do with their experimental time travel project.

For those that haven’t played, I have some advice to offer: first, check out the help command. The response is short, but note that this game includes the verb “use”. Most of the time, the game is looking for a more specific verb and when a non-standard verb is required, it is usually clear from context or suggested in the wording of a prompt, but if nothing else seems to work, the game might be looking for “use”.

I was stuck for quite a while at one point because I forgot about “use” — the walkthrough is more conceptual than procedural, so it doesn’t help with specific phrasing. I only managed to keep going by watching Lynnea play through that part of the game on her twitch stream.

The other piece of advice: wear physical protection from the puns in this game. I prefer sharp wit, but puns are almost by definition bludgeoning.

There are a lot of puzzles in this game and many are people-centric, i.e., they revolve around finding the right person to help with a specific item and then figuring out what motivates that person or what you need to give that person to get the job done.

If I recall correctly every NPC encountered has some relevance to the game, so it behooves players to examine everyone they come across and to take in their surroundings. Talking to NPCs is also helpful in some situations, but only if you nail the topic exactly. Otherwise, responses will be unhelpfully generic or you will just be ignored.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – VR Gambler

I like role playing games, but I am not a big fan of simulations of role playing games. Ironically, I found this simulation of a simulation of a role playing game fun. This was not the highest-end RPG in the comp this year in terms of production quality, mechanics, or implementation depth, but it really played well and I found it strangely addictive.

In this parser-based game, the player visits a near-future casino in which one of the attractions is a virtual reality role playing game, along the lines of a holodeck. It is a veneer, but the running gag sprinkles flavor throughout the story. For example, complimentary drinks continue to be served to the player even while he carries on slaying and pillaging his way through the adventure.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Temperamentum

This is a lightly implemented parser game written in Adrift. I found gameplay impossible without the walkthrough, and the walkthrough itself contains errors. I bailed after about fifteen minutes, so my evaluation is limited. This is one of those games that I think a lot of reviewers would have summarily skipped: no instructions to players, about, credits, help, or hints. Standard responses. Minimal Descriptions. Lack of Proofing.

There is the briefest frame story around what I suppose are a series of dream sequences, each taking as a theme one of the four humors. Just an observation: why does IF so frequently make sets like this a central theme? The seven colors of the rainbow (Rainbow Bridge, The Wand, The Cube In The Cavern), the four elements (Domestic Elementalism, The Cube In The Cavern), and the four humors (Temperamentum)?

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Word Of The Day

This is an obsessively detailed parser-based sci-fi story that took me the full two hours to play, albeit not all in one sitting. The richness of the game’s background, character backstories, and the number of rooms and detailed objects in them more than makes up for however many stories I have criticized as under implemented in this IFcomp.

The amount of detail is at first overwhelming, but I am sure it is only a fraction of the world that this author has generated. I don’t doubt that in creating this game, the author generated extensive histories of each alien world and extensive character sketches for each character, but had to make some tough choices about how much of this material to hold back on in order to condense the story to two hours of playing time.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – TextCraft: Alpha Island

Finally, after years of being harassed by the java updater, something that needs java to run!

This program wins my own personal Banana of Discord. On one hand, a tremendous amount of work has gone into its production and it goes the extra mile to get some things just right. On the other hand, I don’t think most people with play with it for more than a couple minutes.

The overall objective is neat: to give the player a toolkit and parts and see what they build. From the title, I infer that the player is supposed to build things from text objects in the same way that a Minecraft player creates items out of raw materials. Both games require exploration and combination of found items to produce novel things. In Minecraft, an individual player would have to discover what resources are needed to build new things (or hear about them from other players), but it should be even easier to figure out how to combine items described in text to achieve specific objectives.

When I fired up the game, I was pleased to see a number of play testers credited, and certainly having an ASCII artist as part of the game design team was icing on the cake. In addition to the game itself, the author has created a number of detailed resources including an online wiki. The wiki provides a walkthrough and explanation of the various solutions possible, and also goes into some detail regarding game background and design considerations.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Nyna Lives

The story opens in a familiar setting: a witch and her cat.

This is a short twine story premised on the commonly accepted wisdom that cats have nine lives. In this story, Nyna the cat is sent on a mission and must make a few choices along the way. In contrast to many twine games full of non consequential choices, almost all of them in this story are life and death decisions. Luckily, as we are playing a cat, there are lives to spare. Every the player chooses poorly, the story rewinds up to the fateful decision and Nyna has an opportunity to take another path.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Redstone

A screen capture showing background image and text and choices in the foreground.

Redstone is a murder mystery set in a casino on a american tribal reservation. The game was written using Gamefic and is played online in a web-browser. The game interface consists of a number of locations, each of which has a background image and presents the player with a number of clickable actions and objects. The actions are a subset of typical parser commands, like “go”, “examine”, “take”, and there are no more than a handful of objects in each location.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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