Archive for the ‘IFComp 2015’ Tag

IFComp 2015: The Problems Compound   1 comment

By Andrew Schultz. Played to completion on desktop with Gargoyle.


Confession: I originally put off reviewing this game because I wanted to give it a longer-than-2-hour treatment (judging time during IF Comp is normally limited at 2 hours). I then found out from the author that there was going to be a second release. When the second release came out, I heard about some bugs (with the alternate endings, apparently) and waited a bit longer for version 3, which still isn’t out. However, with IFComp 2016 fast approaching I decided to check the GitHub for the game which has something called “release 3.” I went with that.

The main character, Alec Smart, has just finished rereading The Phantom Tollbooth when he finds a mysterious ticket inside leading to somewhere called “The Problems Compound”. Thus kicks off a surreal series of vignettes with a main objective to find the “Baiter Master”.

Second confession: I also put reviewing this game off because it is slippery. My brain just can’t seem to catch a hold of the prose, descriptions, or most of the characters.

Tension Surface
While there’s nothing here other than an arch dancing sideways to the north, you’re still worried the land is going to spill out over itself, or something. You can go east or west to relieve the, uh, tension. Any other way, it’s crazy, but you feel like you might fall off.

Some mush burbles in front of the arch, conjuring up condescending facial expressions.

Well. You start to feel good about figuring the way out of Round Lounge, then you realize that, logically, there was only one. You remember the times you heard you had no common sense, and you realize…you didn’t really show THEM, whoever THEY are. “Not enough common sense.”

What does a dancing arch look like? How does the land spill out over itself? What do you visualize when you see “mush” with “condescending facial expressions”? What does that third paragraph even mean?

I’ve played other Schultz games without this kind of stress and what feels like roughly equivalent prose. I think what pushed me over the edge here was the wordplay is more of a world feature than a gameplay mechanic; specifically, there are many “transposed word” phrases like “Meal Square” and “Vision Tunnel” that serve as places, people, and things rather than puzzle elements. Strip away all the verbal dressings and there are some very ordinary applications of objects to other objects to solve puzzles, and the language felt more like a burden than a legitimate obstacle.

Speaking of the puzzles: an early part I enjoyed involved collecting 4 “boo tickety” pieces for deviant behavior. There was room for creativity (spoiler example in rot13: Lbh pna trg n obb gvpxrgl sbe gelvat gb qebc lbhe obb gvpxrgvrf) and the overall design advanced the feeling of the world being a coherent whole. Unfortunately, most of the puzzles after veered between too easy and absurdly hard. This may have resulted from the lack of a central consistent puzzle idea. Many involved simply giving the right item to the right person. On the other hand, I wonder if anyone defeated the “thoughts idol” without resorting to the hints.

There was a character that I liked; it is the main character, Alec Smart, who might be the strongest I’ve seen in an Andrew Schultz game.

You’re reminded of the day you didn’t get a permission slip signed to go to the roller coaster park at science class’s year end. You wondered if you really deserved it, since you didn’t do as well as you felt you could’ve.

Small bits of attitude here and there permeate the game. Alec is nervous and smart and socially awkward in ways that feel natural and real.

[1] Boy howdy! This sure is an interesting place!
[2] For such an interesting guy, you sure have nothing better to do than stand here and block people going north.
[3] Can you let me north? Please?
[4] Um, later.

> 2
You’d like to say that, and someone with more courage can, but you can’t right now.

This is made doubly stark by the presence of a “cheater section” of foods Alec can eat that will change his personality. For example, “greater cheese” makes him bolder…

You manage to appreciate the cheese and feel superior to those who don’t. You have a new outlook on life! No longer will you feel bowled over!

…and you can just stroll to the “ending” from here, but this isn’t the most positive outcome. Despite small tweaks in personality making things easier, it’s clear Alec should be able to succeed just as he is. I think this game’s problems with rampant surrealism might have been mitigated by just letting Alec have a stronger voice, grounding events in ways that reflects the real world.

Third confession: I am fairly certain I am not doing this game justice. There are, according to the documentation, a lot of alternate solutions and branches. There is a command (“BROOK BABBLING” or “BB”) which will let you shorten conversations to just essential facts. As weird as it comes out, there was clearly a lot of thought to the character design. Possibly I am the wrong person to pry open all of this game’s secrets.

Posted September 28, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Sub Rosa: Finishing   5 comments

By Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy. Now finished, using several hints.


(Continued from previous post)

From where I left off I had some pure puzzle solving to do. I had a pretty strong determination to avoid hints but after 7 hours (including an hour and a half of pure flailing) I broke down and checked, and unfortunately the very first thing I caught a hint on was intensely frustrating.

(spoilers)

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The rug I mentioned in my previous post does hide a secret, but the message received from HANG is a pure red herring. Rather the correct thing to do is “look under rug”, which leads to a “magic hole” situation where you can go underground. I’m afraid it led to me nearly quitting entirely in frustration — I had spent an hour with the rug with no effect.

Here is the crux: the motion of peeling the rug up to look underneath is to my visualization exactly the same as the start of picking it up. The only difference is at the end the rug gets lifted off the floor. There is no reason there shouldn’t have been some kind of feedback going on.

I also had bad times with the “syllable puzzle” (lots of details here) where I got hung up because the game reported a song with a different syllable stressed each line but inexplicably did not report where those stresses where. I am still puzzled at this; while there are the parts of the game where the character has information the player does not, this was not an occasion where it made sense for this to happen.

I finally had probably unique problems with the water closet, which I imagined (and the dictionary defined for me) as a flush toilet. However, it is using the alternate definition (I found out after checking the walkthrough) of “a room with a toilet”, and that crucial distinction made me miss an item. It did not help no verb except the correct one gave any information.

However, having invested enough hours playing, I wanted to persist to the end. There certainly are clever parts later. What I liked most of all was the endgame: after you have found all 7 secrets, you have to clean up all the mess you’ve made so the Confessor isn’t aware you’ve been there. It was a brief, almost open world sort of experience, where I went down a checklist only to realize at the end some small thing I forgot (oh!) but the game is good enough to tell you the parts you missed so you can go back again. Some of these parts are as simple as closing doors, but others require more puzzle solving: for instance, during the secret-finding portion of the game you have to de-age a skull to see what it started as, but to cover your tracks you have to re-age it again.

The overall effect was of complete tension and verisimilitude. This made the final ending quite satisfying.

Posted November 23, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Sub Rosa: 5 out of 7 points   8 comments

By Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy. Not yet finished. No hints/walkthrough used.


 

So while Sub Rosa was entered in a competition where playtime is intended to be 2 hours or less, I could tell I was going to exceed that and I decided it was worth it to treat the game as a whole rather than stop in the middle or rush through a walkthrough.

If I’m finding the puzzles solid enough that I don’t want to ruin them, and that’s a good sign. However, now that I’ve passed the 4 hour mark I figured it was worth checking in. This is therefore only a semi-review and I’m going to do some experiential blogging about my play experience rather than just evaluation.

At last you tip-toe into echo-prone confines of the Destine Mansion, each room carved out of what was once a small mountain. You sacrificed three toes to learn how many secrets would bring the Confessor down. Seven. There are seven deceits you know can be found in these halls and you won’t leave until you know them.

Sub Rosa is set in a completely original world in the “Age of Lead”. After a long, long preparation, you infiltrate the residence of Confessor Destine to steal his secrets.

I’m quite serious about “completely original” — I can’t think of anything to compare it to, even by combining together multiple authors. A lot of the appeal and difficulty is getting a grip on the setting.

The prose manages the delicate trick of conveying an epic and alienlike world without being overbearing.

Every secret heard is an awakening to a fresh world both more explicable and more unpleasant than the one you woke to before. The more the secrets allow you to understand, the worse you feel about the world. Each secret is a dose of pleasure and pain in equal proportions. As your mastery grows so does your despondency. The more you learn the more you realise there is so much that you do not yet know that you do not know. The desire for new secrets grows with each awakening. Eventually you awake to a world where your experience is so far removed from that of others that it is like they are sleepwalking. Where others shuffle, you could stride were the weight upon you not so vast. Knowledge without end. This is the Confessor’s Burden.

The position of the Confessor strikes me a little like the philosopher-king of Plato, but instead of stepping out of the world of form and seeing truth, the Confessor takes truth in the form of secrets from others and attains power by doing so.

The overall strangeness unfortunately does mute the impact of some of the puzzle solves. At one point I got an animal to give me a secret, which I *think* is a creature that can repeat past conversations somehow? — and while I found the actual puzzle solving logically cued and satisfying, I had to scratch my chin a few minutes before I had a grip on what happened. This reduced the satisfying impact somewhat.

Another instance of one of the secrets involves a forbidden food item. However, I was not aware the food was forbidden until after the puzzle was solved and the game told me I had found a dire secret. With no idea of the rules or laws or strictures of the universe I just had to nod my head and move on.

Still, I find the immersiveness satisfying, and it is for this reason I am still plodding with no intent yet of checking the walkthrough.

The remainder of this post I’m going to discuss what I’m stuck on, so there will be even more spoilers than usual.

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I’m unfortunately at the scenario I’ve before seen in my All the Adventures jaunt where I need to solve a puzzle but I don’t know where the puzzle is. There are two more secrets of the Confessor I have yet to find. Here are the things I have yet to use:

a rug
a water closet
some beetles in a jar (although I’ve used the jar itself, so the beetles might be nothing)
some books

This isn’t a lot to work with. The rug seems to have the verb ‘ENTER’ attached as well as ‘HANG’ but I have tried to hang the rug on literally every noun I could find in the house with no luck. I was wondering if the rug had some magical property that let me enter a secret.

The water closet is totally unresponsive. I would assume it is just scenery except for the amount of flailing around I’ve done I don’t want to assume anything.

The beetles are so unresponsive (the game seems to keep wanting me to refer to the jar itself) I’d say it’s a bug, but it also means they seem unlikely to be involved in any more secrets.

The game impressively implements a library with 101 books. I’ve already found 2 related secrets, but I haven’t plowed through every book and I return to check a couple every time I feel lost as to what to try next.

I do please ask nobody posts hints in the comments; I’ll ask if I need some but I’m fine for now.

(Part 2 is here)

Posted November 19, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015 Summary   Leave a comment

I am not 100% done with reviews, but Sub Rosa and The Problems Compound need a lot of time to play and I’m going to give them the full rather than the restricted-to-2-hours treatment. Watch for them later this week.

Here’s the rest, though, with links to all my reviews. A star (*) indicates a placement is personal/subjective.

Highly Recommended

Birdland by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! by Steph Cherrywell
Duel by piato
Final Exam by Jack Whitham
Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory by Katherine Morayati
Map by Ade
Midnight. Swordfight. by Chandler Groover
Nowhere Near Single by kaleidofish
Scarlet Sails by Felicity Banks
SPY INTRIGUE by furkle*
Summit by Phantom Williams
TOMBs of Reschette by Richard Goodness

Recommended

Arcane Intern (Unpaid) by Astrid Dalmady
The Baker of Shireton by Hanon Ondricek
Cape by Bruno Dias
Crossroads by Cat Manning
Darkiss – Chapter 1: the Awakening by Marco Vallarino
Ether by Mathbrush
Forever Meow by Moe Zilla
Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box by Arthur DiBianca
I Think The Waves Are Watching Me by Bob McCabe
Kane County by Michael Sterling, Tia Orisney
Onaar by Robert DeFord
Pit of the Condemned by Matthew Holland*
Seeking Ataraxia by Glass Rat Media
The Sueño by Marshal Tenner Winter
Switcheroo by The Marino Family
The King and the Crown by Wes Lesley*
Unbeknown by A. DeNiro
Untold Riches by Jason Ermer

Not Recommended

5 Minutes to Burn Something! by Alex Butterfield
A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood by Michael Thomet
Capsule II – The 11th Sandman by PaperBlurt
Cat Scratch by Allyn (Yilling) Chen, Hannah Turner, Laura Weber, Shirley Park
GROWBOTICS by Cha Holland
In The Friend Zone by Brendan Vance
The Insect Massacre by Tom Delanoy
Gotomomi by Arno von Borries
Grimm’s Godfather by Gabby Wu
Koustrea’s Contentment by Jeremy Pflasterer
The Man Who Killed Time by Claudia Doppioslash
Life On Mars? by Hugo Labrande
Much Love, BJP by Megan Stevens
Pilgrimage by Vi­ctor Ojuel
Recorded by Nick Junius
Second Story by Fred Snyder
The Speaker by Norbez
Taghairm by Chandler Groover
To Burn in Memory by Orihaus
Questor’s Quest by Mark Stahl
The War of the Willows by Adam Bredenberg

I will wait on analysis. The whole competition process has been exhausting.

I shall say, however, to any author down in Not Recommended: please do not be discouraged. In some cases, they were games I found admirable that failed in a way that made it hard for me to recommend; in others while there were lots of problems there were also lots of good concepts and writing going on. This really was an IFComp to be proud of.

If there was any trend at all, it was one towards longer games. I think it’s natural for people to want to tell narratives that need more time, and I think it is a weakness of the IF community to have so much focused on the 2-hours-or-less format. If you entered into this comp, or ever plan to write for a future comp, an IF work that takes longer than 2 hours to play: what do you personally require that would make you satisfied releasing your game outside of IFComp? I feel like certain works on the list above never got played the way they were supposed to be.

Posted November 15, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Midnight. Swordfight.   1 comment

By Chandler Groover. Played to completion.


I can’t really put it more succinctly than the blurb:

A fool receives a challenge from a countess.

More specifically, you start at a scene at midnight where you are about to enter a rapier fight.

How did you ever get into this predicament? A rumor, a glove thrown down onto a dance floor? Now you’re standing in the moonlight and your knees are knocking together, although you hope that no one notices. You’re still dressed for a masquerade and nothing feels quite real. Perhaps it isn’t real.

You have a restricted verb set that you can- read off a “playscript”; this verb set can change as the game goes on. To start, you use inventory, attack, kiss, and examine.

The countess kills you, but the game loops back to the previous move so you can try again. And again. And again, and again, and again, and then a new verb is unlocked (“wake up”) and that’s when things get really interesting.

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“Wake up” seems to take you back about 15 minutes in past, to a ballroom in the frozen moment when the countess first challenges you. At this point (during the frozen moment) you can make your way about the ballroom (either physically or temporally), trying to work out what’s going on and manipulate the past to change your fate in the future.

The writing is really solid and clever and I especially liked the sequence that leads to getting a vorpal blade.

If there’s some sort of Theme or Message or even Anti-Theme, I am not 100% sure what it is. There’s one character (Dmitri) who you can talk to in the Aftermath, and maybe it all has to do with this line:

The problem is I don’t wake up. I go to sleep, and then I go to sleep, and then I go to sleep. Perhaps I’m going in a circle, returning to the same moment over and over. But life seems to flow onward just as usual. I say hello to people on the street, meet them for dinner, come to parties like this one. The years roll on. But then I go to sleep and don’t wake up.

Or maybe not. Midnight. Swordfight. keeps up a wry face.

ADDENDUM: What’s most interesting about this structurally is that while the surface is a one-move find-the-endings game like Aisle, the verb list is heavily restricted and the player is allowed to go behind the scenes and tweak the setting. It’s nearly in the direction of player authorship, letting them change the story to their liking.

Posted November 15, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Onaar   3 comments

By Robert DeFord. Not finished.


Onaar is a fantasy parser adventure. You leave an orphanage to go on a ship, which wrecks on the shore after being attacked.

The prose and plot are bog-standard, but what makes it fascinating is that it tilts heavy on the simulation end of the scale, far heavier than a typical IF game.

onainvent

I’d almost say this plays more like a single-player MUD; there’s a large map with lots of consumable items (unfortunately, yes, hunger is persistent) and after taken an item can reappear later. There’s a “malady” system that different items can cure. There are stats like “Health” and “Mana.” There’s skills like “Speech” and “Thievery”. There’s an alchemy system with 18 different possible ingredients.

Roze Thorn: Wicked-looking thorns that are about two inches long, and needle-sharp.

Tanzy Pod: Small, red pods about the size of your little finger.

Tung Seed: Flat, oval, brown seeds that are about an inch in diameter. They have a shiny, hard outer shell.

It is very large. I was still trying to understand all the game’s systems when my 2 hours of judging time were up.

There are lots of characters to converse with, although they tend to be information dispensers more than nuanced portraits.

– (Available topics) –

APP (apprenticeship)
MAR (marauders)
SAR (Saarina)

> t mar
“After what I saw in the square when I arrived, I am a little worried about the marauders that they say are causing trouble here.”

“I am deeply concerned; I don’t mind telling you. Kasmarii, the founder of Soquim, is the greatest Alchemist that the world has ever seen. He retired shortly after I set up shop, but he still lives in town. After the first attack, he told me that he’d heard of this band of marauders in his travels, and that there is a rogue wizard who is their leader. He then told me that he knows a way to eliminate the rogue wizard. After that, he left to gather the rare ingredients that he said he needed, but that was days ago, and he has not returned. No other Alchemist, myself included, knows what to do in his absence, so it’s up to the Municipal Guard to keep us safe.”
New topic: RAR (rare ingredients)

A lot of my time playing was just trying to stop to gather all the information from the world setting hose.

This is probably most comparable to Gotomomi, but I found it more enjoyable. I think because a.) the game is extrodinarily clear about what objects you can take and which directions you can go, b.) there seems to be a lot of flexibility straight off the bat to accomplish your goals; for instance you need some money to buy an alchemical robe, and I had to pause to think if I wanted to just sell the clothes I had or gather resources outdoors to sell. Gotomomi had similar options but they felt harder to get to.

Posted November 15, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Map   1 comment

By Ade McT. Completed twice using Gargoyle.


Derek calls this your “little patch of wilderness”. That’s his half-joke that isn’t a joke at all, but instead, really it’s a cutting indictment wrapped up in humour – contempt masked with levity.

“You can’t even look after the bloody garden,” Derek snapped at you once, after an argument about something you can’t even remember. “It’s what you wanted. It’s why we moved here for goodness sake.”

When you were first married, gardening had been your passion. You inherited it from your mother, you suppose, whose own garden was, each year, a wondrous mass of colour and life.

Elaine’s children, Brady and Samantha, have left the house. Elaine and Derek are moving. Map is set in the week before they leave, in their large empty house.

Yet, day by day, the house gets larger. Strange new doors appear. A plant starts to grow and fill a room, and more.

There is a creative magic to Map that I hate to ruin with details, and I might suggest simply going and playing it. But if you’d like more (or have played already), keep reading past the map.

map1

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Each day that passes, when the house grows, a door opens which represents possibility — a past event in Elaine’s life. After the scene plays out, Elaine gets to choose; either how she originally chose, or how she wants to change it. The scenes are intense in a way that defy simple analysis, but I can say the echoes of reality were palpable.

“So, Mrs. Paterson, what do you think?” asks Mr. James. “Can Brady keep on playing hockey? I’m sure I can keep him out of any serious harm’s way.”

Do you tell Mr. James “yes” or “no”?
yes

The relief in both Mr. James and Brady is palpable. Before, when you had said no, it was like the life had drained out of Brady. He still attended school, and he was still a good kid, but it seemed as though he didn’t really enjoy anything anymore. You could see it in him, and although it made you question your decision every day, and it broke your heart to see the change in him, you always justified it to yourself, knowing that at least he was safe – he wouldn’t get hurt anymore.

This is, in a way, time travel. Elaine’s choices can literally change reality.

If Map was a simple lesson in changing wrong choices, it would not be unique. However, the choices are not simple “right” or “wrong”. There is no judgement, only results. After the choice is made and a day passes, the house reflects the result. Characters who were previously gone might start to wander the house.

It’s possible to change reality drastically enough to change the original family configuration (Brady, Samantha, Derek, Elaine). Is it moral to make a choice “better” when it causes others to literally not be born?

I will say Map has some technical issues — it almost appears the author did not care how many lines displayed after a particular paragraph because there was 1 or 2 or 3 more or less at random. Some of the characters could use more conversation choices — while the scenes make them vivid, there is an opportunity to ask specific things, but only a small subset of topics get acknowledged.

Even given that, Map accomplished something novel, perhaps unique to me because of the resonant events, but still — the first ending I reached made me cry.

I have heard people denigrate and even mock extreme emotional experience as a criterion for art. Maybe that’s true; maybe it’s not related to art. But I cannot deny something significant happened.

The street is too open. There are too many eyes – all those blank windows reflecting and multiplying the world. Even thinking about passing the end of the driveway makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s as if, unbounded by anything solid, all that space is too big to endure. It might dissipate you entirely.

Posted November 14, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Untold Riches   2 comments

By Jason Ermer. Finished with one hint.


You’ll need to find the professor’s map to help you narrow down your search. Otherwise, you could dig a hundred holes without any success.

It would be like that time you dug for weeks in the Valley of the Benevolent Spirits, only to realize the professor had mistranslated the runes and you should have been digging in the Valley of the Bloodthirsty Spirits, just over the ridge, the whole time.

You seem to be the teenage assistant to some Indiana Jones-type treasure hunter … er, I mean “archaeologist” … and a lifeboat incident has left you alone on an island with a map.

This was a fairly short parser game and took me about 15 minutes to play to completion. It’s good if you’re looking for a snack-sized game and is appropriate for kids.

I enjoyed how the writing interspersed details of past adventures of the professor, giving ordinary actions some vivacity and color.

> get tub
The professor once dangled you by your feet over the La Brea tar pits so that you could pull out a crate filled with twenty-eight pounds of stolen diamonds. You got it just moments before it sank forever into the sea of sticky, black gloop. The grease in the tub looks just like that tar, which you were cleaning out from under your fingernails for weeks.

Anyhow, you pick up the tub of grease.

The puzzles are all straightforward and reasonable, although I did need to use the hints once for what turned out to be a parser issue.

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> x map
The sheet of yellowing parchment shows the outline of an island, hand-drawn in black ink. Most of the terrain is just sketched in, but the northwest region is mapped out in great detail and shows some unusual red symbols.

I had a shovel to dig for treasure, but the game says I need to study the map to find where to dig. I tried various failed attempts like >STUDY MAP, but it turns out the proper thing to do is >X SYMBOLS.

This is a “second-order object” — an object that can be examined in another object. While this sort of thing is technically fair it is not a default ability in IF and needs to be hinted at a little more pointedly than Untold Riches did that it’s possible to do. (Alternately, it could just accept STUDY and assorted variants as doing the same thing as examining the symbols.)

Posted November 14, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Gotomomi   4 comments

By Arno von Borries. Not finished.


Gatan-gatan made the subway train every time it passed over a rail joint as it raced through the tunnel towards freedom. Squashed between commuters in the suffocating heat of the mid-summer night, I was already totally drenched in sweat – theirs and mine. I had opportunely lost my mobile phone half an hour ago in a trash can at Shinjuku station, so my father’s men wouldn’t have quite such an easy time tracking me. Gotomomi was the next stop and all I needed now to make my get-away was a change of trains and clothing.

You’re running away from home and need to scrounge enough money to buy a train ticket.

While in theory I loved the concept and the Japanese setting, in practice the prose felt too purely-functional to convey any of the vastness of the situation.

The square in front of Gotomomi central station doubled as the city’s primary waterfront. In the south a railway bridge spanned the width of a canal that discharged its revolting contents into the bay at this point and in the north the Odakyû line extended towards a wall of sky-high buildings, the street beside it bustling with activity. The main entrance to the station was to the east, and the sheer amount of traffic going in and out of it every second was staggering. To the west stretched the black waters of the sea, intermittently coloured by the position lights of ships far out in the bay.

The strikes me more like a checklist than a room description. (Note how the possible directions are given in boldface, which is generally helpful, except for a problem spot I’ll mention shortly.)

The very first move of the game involves your wallet getting stolen. (There’s no particular description of this; I first thought maybe the status line was broken when the money dropped to 0.) It’s possible to save your ID by just taking it out of the wallet first thing (a maneuver that seems to only be possible with prior knowledge) but it won’t let you take out any money you are forced to start the game at 0 yen.

So with no money the goal seems to be to find a job. The first job I tried to do just ended up with a lot of getting yelled at for no apparent reason.

I could also see a black and a red bucket there.

A fish from the red bucket was squeezed into a tin can.
“Why are you so slow in hauling these buckets? The gutters have nowhere to put the fish! Get a move on, you sloppy snail!” The foreman was fuming.

> drop green bucket
Dropped.

A Rattail from the green bucket found its way into a tin can.
“It can’t be so difficult to get the buckets in and out in time! The gutters have nowhere to put the fish! Move it before I spank your lazy bum!” The foreman was fuming.

> get black bucket
I picked up the black bucket from the ground.

A fish from the green bucket was packed into a tin can.
“Why are you so slow in hauling these buckets? The gutters have nowhere to put the fish! Get a move on, you sloppy snail!” The foreman was fuming.

After about 15 minutes of fruitlessness I restarted the game and checked the walkthrough.

The walkthrough doesn’t even mention the fish-bucket job, it goes straight for a courier job. Fine, let’s try that.

“I’m Kei, yoroshiku. Would you be willing to work for me just for tonight, by any chance?”

[1] “I’m not really interested in working for you.”
[2] “I could do the deliveries for you.”

> 2
“You would? That’s awesome. The night shift gets 32000 yen by the way, they’d be yours as well. To tell you right away though: you’re useless in that get-up. Find something more practical to wear first.”

Clothes seemed like a reasonable quest, but I wandered all over the map multiple times and the only ones I could find in a mall that required money. (Note that the only reason I could enter the mall was the opening-move rescue of the ID; I very much hope it’s still possible to win without doing that.)

Finally I consulted the walkthrough again and found out about a location I missed.

Beside the railway viaduct.
Here, the Odakyû railway viaduct was seemingly swallowed by a huge gaping mouth in one of the skyscrapers. Far below it, a steady stream of battered poor-folk ensured good business for the shabby shops under the railway line. To the west was the entrance to “Martyrium”. To the south was the station. A small passage vanished between the buildings to the north.

You would be forgiven for thinking the only directions you can go are north, south, and west.

> x shops
Dozens of small cardboard shacks that housed the homeless were cramped in with the shops between the pillars of the viaduct. Among them was a particularly decrepit one – advertising for itself with a flickering neon sign that said “Tanaka used goods”.

Yes, it turns out you can go IN to a place that can only be found by checking a small part of a description that in other contexts indicates there’s nothing important.

Okay, let’s keep going. I went in the shop, sold my stuff (horray money!) and found out that the clothes store I saw earlier apparently has nothing worth buying. I guess I need a different clothing store.

Wander wander wander. No luck, guess it’s time for the walkthrough again. Apparently to get to clothes I need to … rent a boat? Okay. Attempted rental:

> 1
“The boat is 950 yen per day. But you’ll have to leave a deposit for the keys as well.”

[1] “What will you accept as a deposit?”
[2] “I’m not interested in renting the boat after all.”

> 1
The sea-bear puffed some smoke from his pipe.

“I don’t think you have anything on you I would accept, I’m sorry”

Wait, I’m doing what the walkthrough says! Going back to check, it looks like I sold too much at the used goods store, I needed to sell only one item.

Yes, I made the game unwinnable. Time for a restart!

After a bit of turn-repeating, I managed to get a boat on the water and find a floating market. A-ha! Get off the boat, check the walkthrough because I’m nervous now, and it says I need to negotiate to buy stuff. Here’s how negotiation goes:

“I want 2730 yen for it.”

[1] “I’m not interested in the working boots.”
[2] “1990 yen seems like a fairer price.”
[3] “OK, here you go: 2730 yen for the working boots.”

> 2
The Woman inspected an article of clothing.

“I want 2350 yen for it.”

[1] “I’m not interested in the working boots.”
[2] “2240 yen seems like a fairer price.”
[3] “OK, here you go: 2350 yen for the working boots.”

> 2
The Woman inspected an article of clothing.

“This way we won’t get anywhere. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

After buying one article of clothing (a boiler suit), I eventually get into an endless loop with the working boots — I tried haggling roughly 10 times — and can’t get them. Probably I spent too much money on the boiler suit.

Time to restore? … no, unfortunately, I lost my patience at this point.

This is a concept I really wanted to work — I love the idea of an open world situation where you’re just trying to scrounge up cash. Having a dynamic cash variable separates puzzles from a lock-key dynamic in a pretty big way. Unfortunately, I ran too quickly into loops or unwinnable situations and the characters and story just weren’t compelling enough for me to try to push through it.

Posted November 14, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Arcane Intern (Unpaid)   1 comment

By Astrid Dalmady. Finished with all three endings using iPhone.


Arcane Intern (Unpaid) is a Twine work with an introduction and three chapters. It took me about 20 minutes to get to the first ending.

You play as an intern at a book company that also happens to use magic. You are set the usual intern tasks of fetching coffee and making copies but with a twist (runes that keep slipping off the page when you try to make copies, for example).

I've had days like this at work.

I’ve had days like this at work.

The prose is well crafted and smooth and while there are moments of comedy, it’s not obtrusive or hackneyed.

There isn’t enough time to get to know any of the characters (even now, with my last replay 10 minutes ago, the only one I remember is the Janitor) but none of them had any grating features, either.

However….

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I had some major issues with the choice structure.

The introduction is linear with a starting room that you can read descriptions out of order. That’s fine.

The first chapter is mostly linear except for one bit which I think is a “do you want to show empathy for this person even though you have no allies in your company right now? y/n” decision; I doubt the choice for most players was anything other than yes.

Still I wasn’t too upset, but then I reached chapter 2. It’s a maze.

arcanelaby

This isn’t even a maze that has any kind of visualizable geography to it. At one point I was supposed to go “left” from a particular location but the links were all abstractions like the above, so I just had to go through every one. In the end I rammed through the entirety via ye olde random clicking (not even bothering to read the text descriptions any more) until I had everything I wanted.

Interestingly enough (although I only discovered this second time through) you can get a “map” such that you can just “go to” the objects you need in the maze (although one of the optional story bits is not possible this way). However, if this is a necessary feature of the game, why have the maze at all?

The third chapter involves making copies. Making… copies … and more copies … and then the player has to decide nothing is going to happen and quit of their own volition. After a short break, more copies! And then the main character gets fired.

There’s one item, if examined at exactly the right time, will let the player leave the company while still being able to wield magic. Hence there are three alternate endings. I didn’t feel clever or satisfied reaching this, however.

There was no active work on foiling the plot of the nominal “villain”, which often might not be a problem, but in this case it makes the overall arc be “come and see some magical effects that are only nominally explained, then leave”. While Arcane Intern is a pleasant enough ride, it needed something more substantial in the mix to be memorable.

Posted November 14, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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