IFComp 2015: Scarlet Sails   2 comments

By Felicity Banks. Played on iPhone to completion.

After many IFComp games which subverted their genre premise, Scarlet Sails was something of a relief. It’s a straight pirate romp in a magical universe. It’s in the ChoiceScript engine, and is the power fantasy you’d expect; it’s possible to end by being captain of the largest pirate fleet on the seas.


Scarlet Sails came at the perfect time; struggling to understand (let alone review) the crazy gimmicks I’ve seen so far came close to draining my sense of fun, but this game was a blast. I cranked my gun fu to maxmimum and sailed off to a happy ending.

The downside of being firmly enmeshed in genre is there weren’t any memorable bits of prose. I would like to spend a moment analyzing structure, though.

The standard ChoiceScript format is delayed branching (I’m not even extrapolating here; this is an official statement by the CEO of the company).


While the “main nodes” reach the same plot points each chapter, decisions in prior chapters can affect later ones. This is done via the use of statistics, and is subtle enough I think the typical “node chart” is underselling the gameplay short.

Here is a straightforward example: early in Scarlet Sails you have a choice between buying certain items (like fresh fruit or a new sword). This drains your selection of gold coins, meaning that if the gold coin count is reduced too much it shuts off options later (like bribery or gambling). Since the options are numerical, it isn’t easy to draw nodes in a cause-effect sense. Maybe there’s enough later to gamble and not bribe, but winning at gambling will allow bribery again.

The items you buy aren’t straight open-a-branch type purchases either; they provide enhancements to various statistics which can make it easier (but not guaranteed) to reach certain plot points.

That is, buying a new sword isn’t necessary to be good at swords, but this decision will need to be compensated for later via sword practice.

Is this sort of numerical adjustment even possible with a straight node chart? If the game was done as a stateless chooose-your-own-adventure book, it would explode into a blizzard of nodes.

Many choices were along the lines of: out of two different choices in chapter one and two different choices in chapter two, if you pick three of them then you’ll have a particular plot point available in chapter five. This sort of dynamism leads to long-term planning and the feeling that each choice has some story effect (rather than, say, the feeling of reading a footnote).

In other words, the combinatorial explosion of choices led more to the feeling of playing a game rather than just reading a story. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the latter (my favorite of the competition so far is very ungamelike), but I’d also rather not pretend two games are equivalent just based on their maps.

Posted November 1, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “IFComp 2015: Scarlet Sails

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  1. Pingback: IFComp 2015 Summary | Renga in Blue

  2. This is a really excellent review (and I’m not just saying that because you liked it, although I certainly don’t MIND…). It’s the only review that looked at structure, and you did it beautifully.

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