Archive for the ‘IFComp 2015’ Tag

IFComp 2015: Grimm’s Godfather   1 comment

By Gabby Wu and the Grimm Brothers. Played to completion ten times.


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In Grimm’s Godfather, a man chooses between God, the Devil, and Death as a godfather for his son.

The godson becomes a physician and is confronted by a series of deaths. Their godfather has opinions on who should live or die, and then godson can either follow their wishes or go against them.

I felt like this was too slight a piece to get across anything useful, but I’m putting the rest of my thoughts after spoiler space.

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The only path I wasn’t completely disappointed by is Death’s.

Both God and the Devil have very straightforward stories which never hit rising action — there’s the setup, the climax, and the conclusion, with none of the buildup in between.

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Death’s story has a bit of ledge to hang on. If you choose to defy Death and try to save someone who he has already claimed, he gets angry and takes you to his realm, but there’s still further conversation from there.

It’s a very short conversation with one choice that does not help stem Death’s wrath, but you at least get the *hint* of a story-mountain being built. This was the only path I felt like I was dealing with characters rather than abstractions.

Also, this is a good line!

Also, this is a good line!

The force of fables is that the things in the story are universal representations that comment on larger social lessons. The simplicity and raw choices might seem to make them optimal for interactive treatment, but in reality interaction makes it more likely for the player to care if they are dealing with empty vessels. When elevating possible branches to a choice, they fall flat if they don’t have either the revelation of character or the sting of true consequence.

Posted November 13, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Life on Mars?   2 comments

By Hugo Labrande. Started on Android tablet using Son of Hunky Punk, finished on computer using Gargoyle.


It’s warm in here, almost too warm. The Martian soil is cold, harsh, and the plants that are trying to grow here need to always be humid enough, which is accomplished with the drip irrigation system, constantly monitored by the central computer. The handful of plants and the few vegetables you’re supposed to eat try their best to survive under those conditions, far away from their natural ecosystem. They look weak and tired, almost depressed; you wonder if, despite all the computer’s efforts, they will last for much longer. You can exit the greenhouse by going west.

Life on Mars? is a short parser game about Charlotte, a survivor of an expedition to Mars where an accident kills all the rest of the crew.

Charlotte blames herself for the accident, and one of the significant open questions is she is imagining this responsibility or not.

A lot of the gameplay is dominated by an email interface I have mixed feelings about. Rather than straight up displaying all the text, it gets displayed on a time delay of the player’s choice, and the main character’s thoughts sometimes respond in italics off to the side. I unfortunately need to report that the email system completely fails on an Android tablet. Rather than a timed advance the interpreter only moves on when hitting a key. I needed to tap my screen repeatedly like I was playing Track & Field one character at a time. Eventually (after doing an inventory of food) returning to the email just led to an interpreter crash.

When I eventually replayed on a computer I cranked the speed up to maximum but it led for reading the email-response to be a disconcerting experience, since the layout is confusing if everything gets displayed at once. Still, I preferred the max-speed option much to waiting for text, which has been one of my big nemeses of the competition.

I liked the interplay of text and Charlotte’s internal thoughts, and I liked the feeling of dread near the latter part of the story, but things cut off too early to explain any of the open mysteries. I can understand leaving one thing open, but nothing at all is resolved and the impression I got was more of a narrative with a cleaver applied than a careful use of ambiguity.

It isn’t even clear that Charlotte is suffering delusions. Based on the subtext of the emails it is equally likely the military are lying to Charlotte — that she actually was responsible for what happened — and they’re trying their best to salvage the situation without their only person on the scene totally getting unwound.

The final scene (implied by the “Life” in the title) again could just as easily have been a delusion as not. It’s like the last page of a book which reveals all the events just witnessed were a dream in the head of an autistic boy … or were they? (Question mark decorations follow.)

Posted November 12, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Seeking Ataraxia   1 comment

By Glass Rat Media. Played to completion on iPhone.


There’s a habit I picked up with an old car of mine that I still carry to this day when I park at work. I circle the car and check all the doors to make sure they are locked; I check the inside to make sure there isn’t a light still on; I check the headlights to make sure I haven’t left them on. This is true even though my new car has both auto-locks and a very loud beep if I leave the lights on. But it’s habit and I persist. Sometimes I get so nervous about it that even after checking the doors I will walk around and check them again; or, I’ll be walking away, be slightly uncertain if I checked them (even though I probably did) and do the whole circle the car ritual again.

What I’m saying is I have some emphathy for the main character in Seeking Ataraxia.

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In the opening, the unnamed protagonist (played by “you”) is at a therapy session where he is diagnosed with OCD. (“unwanted ideas, images, or impulses that seem silly, nasty, or horrible?”; “constantly worried that something bad will happen because you forgot something important?”)

You then, in a series of small choices, lead the main character through their weekend where they have to brave a pharmacy for medication and really ought to study for a test except his roommate Chris left a mess from a party.

It’s pretty short and I feel like the intent is to just give the perspective of being inside the OCD mind. Given that, Seeking Ataraxia nailed its target: the part where the main character panics trying to find Chris’s hiding cat and imagines it dead or the part where a study session is foiled by the looming mess outside strike me as some of the most realistic scenes of this competition.

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However, I’ve got some issue with the choice structure. The game is short but the small moments are crafted into an epilogue which represents big effects. If you don’t call the otherwise-unmentioned Alice at the right time (even if you left a voice message earlier) she will stop being your friend. If you postpone going to the therapist you just will never go. If you don’t confront your mother she’ll remain domineering. But remember this is based on choices of a single weekend, and it seems like the game is sending the message that if the choices aren’t done right the first time they will never be done now and forever.

It’s almost as if, Quantum Leap style, you as a player have the chance to inhabit someone’s body for a short time and steer them in good ways; if things aren’t righted by the end of the story, the character’s life falls apart once they regain agency. Assuming Seeking Ataraxia is partly a public service announcement, it’s good to encourage action right now, but bad to suggest once the opportunity is past you might as well give up.

Posted November 11, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Pilgrimage   2 comments

By Víctor Ojuel. Finished with heavy use of the walkthrough.


Sometime about halfway through the competition I loaded up each of the games for about 5 minutes to see what I was getting into and if I needed anything special (make sure game X I do when I have a lot of time, make sure I have paper for game Y).

At this time, the first part of Pilgrimage held pretty well. You play a woman travelling across Medieval Europe in search of a manuscript, and there’s a set piece with a plague doctor and promising writing.

The Eternal City
You wake up on the third night, on the dawn of departure. The children have been put to sleep, the tears to dry. The parting-moon is risen. The wandering days are come. The road awaits, feet-hungry. One restless night you leave behind the glimmering domes of Rome and their stupid majesty, and head north, never looking back.

A plague doctor drives slowly ahead, his black carriage brimful with a macabre harvest.

On the old Roman road towards the west, you come across a small group of pilgrims, wearing wide hats decorated with scallop shells.

“Stupid majesty” seems an odd choice of phrasing, but I can work with it, especially given a followup of “carriage brimful with a macabre harvest”.

At the time I looked around at the environment and myself, solved the first puzzle (getting by the doctor) and shut my program down, content it would be smooth sailing when I came back to play Pilgrimage for real.

After returning a week later, I came across the second room, which included knights fighting:

The silence of the wild lands is broken by the smashing of steel agains steel. Dead ahead, blocking the path to the north, two gallant knights hold a ferocious duel. One’s coat of arms boasts black stars on a red field, the other’s has a field of gules with sable stars. They seem able to fight it out forever.

You can see a gallant knight here.

They blocked my way, and I could speak neither of their languages, so I fruitlessly ran through all the verbs I could think of, until I tried:

> kiss knight
It’s not hard work seducing the gallant knight, and his lips are nice enough. Getting rid of the armour (for greater comfort) is another, trickier business. It also takes him a long time to re-arm. But worth it. Oh yes.

…what?

(Going to be free with early game spoilers from here out.)

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At this point I realized two things:

1.) This game was going to be highly glitchy. The knights go back to fighting after the … scene … above like nothing ever happened.

2.) The NPCs were going to be more like automatons than characters. In this case of the puzzle above, it turns out you just need to give over your glove and the knight will loyally follow you around, like you are the pied piper of men.

Both of these attributes appear in the next scene as well:

From the distance, you can see a small craft appear over the grey, merciless waters. It is a small sailing boat, plying its trade in the fjords.

> x boat
A small sailing boat, manned by a lonely sailor.

In boat is sailor.

The text seems to imply nothing other than the boat is far out in the water, which implied to me you needed to signal and wait for him to come over:

> wave to sailor
You can’t see any such thing.

Hm. Perhaps….

> talk to sailor
Chances are this person does not speak your native Tuscan (or Latin, Greek or Chaldean, in which you are quite fluent). Should you want to try anyway, ASK sailor ABOUT something or TELL sailor ABOUT something.

> ask sailor about boat
He doesn’t speak your language.

Not helpful!

Checking the walkthrough…

> kiss sailor
Much to the scandal of the gallant knight, you consent to the lustful wishes of the sailor. Once satisfied, the seaman motions you onboard. “Come, come, faif lafdy, off to Engflan we muft!”, and his dry cackle resonates in the lonely fjord like the call of a diseased seagull. The ship is ready to depart, due south-west.

How did the boat teleport near us? How did we know the intents of the sailor? Why did we give in to the intents of the sailor? If we don’t speak his language, how did any of this happen? If we don’t speak his language, how did we understand “off to Engflan we muft!”

I played for a little longer, but after I was supposed to order the knight to attack a dragon (even though we don’t speak his language, I guess it was expressive gesture?) I rammed my way to the end solely with a walkthrough. There are nice set pieces here and there…

Was he perhaps a pilgrim once, like you were? Was it hunger, plague or torture at the hands of strangers that twisted his mind? Or perhaps just the solitude and the terrible truth that comes with pilgrimage?

“Ultreia! Et suseia!” he cries over and over, with the anguished tone of someone with a crucial message to deliver. Perhaps you can give him something to refresh his memory.

He is most in need of the blessings of Babylon.

…but I found the implementation too shaky to stray far outside the walkthrough path.

To end on a positive note with a feature I liked: often moving in a direction means travelling for months. So GO EAST attains a much different feel than traditional IF. This gives an epic sense to Pilgrimage’s geography.

Posted November 11, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!   7 comments

By Steph Cherrywell. Finished using Gargoyle with two hints.


brainguzzle

You are a girl (Bonnie) in a generic 50s town (Canyonville) and your boyfriend was just eaten by a monster.

The game is oriented as if the characters are in an actual 50s B-movie, with occasional references in the parser itself.

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(We’re still rolling here!)

> x wall
(That’s not one of the available props in this scene.)

There’s a lavish illustrations and Ms. Cherrywell manages to pull off harder-than-it-looks comedy writing with aplomb.

You hop into the car, which rolls forward into the haunted house. A metal cuff snaps shut around your wrist. What an experience! The laziness and lack of attention to detail on the part of the staff is truly TERRIFYING! The implications of this shoddy workmanship, when you consider the importance of the American work ethic to beating the Russians, are enough to fill you with BONE-CHILLING FRIGHT! However, you don’t actually die. As the car creaks its way past the last cardboard tombstone and into the light, the cuff on your wrist squeezes and a hidden heart monitor beeps. “Ah, a heartbeat! You’ve managed to survive!” a recorded voice chortles tinnily, “…THIS TIME!”

What’s even more rare is that Brain Guzzlers also manages to nail participatory comedy in the puzzles. At multiple points I was laughing at puzzle solutions that I was enacting myself (I especially liked making the spork).

There’s a crazy-science cannon that took me a beat before I realized what it was used for.

> x cannon
A sleek, futuristic gun with three brass barrels. It’s bulky and looks powerful, but it’s light enough to hold in one hand. There’s a dial you can turn on the side under a display. Currently the display is showing an image of a hand with the palm and all five fingers lying flat, like a fascist salute.

> turn dial
You turn the dial until you hear a click. Now the display shows a hand with the index and middle fingers extended.

> turn dial
You turn the dial until you hear a click. Now the display shows a hand curled into a fist.

> turn dial
You turn the dial until you hear a click. Now the display shows a hand with the palm and all five fingers lying flat.

Really, this is terrific and exactly the sort of game I’d toss to a beginner who wants to see what parser IF is like. However, since a critic’s grumpy work is never done, I do want to quibble with two puzzles near the end (after spoiler space).

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Both of these puzzles were where I needed hints.

Issue #1) There’s a bit where you have to talk to plants. I’ve read over the description multiple times and other than being in a weird-science universe I don’t see any motivation for the action whatsoever. Probably it would help if a.) the plants were mentioned more prominently in the room description and b.) there’s some vague hint that talking might help.

Issue #2) There’s a screen at the drive-in from the beginning of the game. The screen is not mentioned at all and the only way to know about it is to remember the scene from the very beginning of the game (and even then, I just assumed it got destroyed or was a bit of scenery I wasn’t supposed to care about).

Both problems are fixable by the author, presuming they are reading this and are accepting my mentally-enhanced telepathic waves ( … you feel them, right?)

Posted November 11, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Crossroads   1 comment

By Cat Manning. Finished three times on iPhone.


In Crossroads you are on your way to see a witch in a forest.

The reason can vary. Based on the choice of gift for the witch, the story seems to split into three different branches. While the branches themselves are relatively linear it is conceivable that three people (presuming they don’t replay) complete Crossroads and gather radically disparate impressions.

Of course, a single person can have the same experience via the magic of temporal fuguing, or perhaps less dramatically by hitting the restart button.

Temporal Me #1 experienced something I would call “touching, but vague”. My character needed absolution for something unnamed, the remedy involved something unsaid, and I left the story unenlightened.

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Temporal Me #2 had reasons for seeing the witch even I was unclear about, participated in a minor philosophical conversation, collaberated in a magical ritual that involved music somehow, and left following a light.

I was still not compelled.

But Temporal Me #3!–

My third avatar was a monster. They wanted to stop being one.

The witch’s method of therapy was to send Me #3 back to memories of atrocities committed. Then when those atrocities occurred, she sent Me back again to try things differently; again and yet again.

It’s the least you can do. You pull a pair of gloves from your jacket pocket. You’re careful, in the ways you still can be. You’ve come to value these small rituals, ways of clinging to your humanity. Always cover the body. Never leave fingerprints. Every once in a while, report a missing person from a pay phone 40 miles out of town, waiting in the booth until your hands stop shaking.

I found this story delicious enough that I wish the author had simply focused on this one, with more expansion and depth, and omitted the other two. It was human and heartfelt and while the prose included some magic and a labyrinth where geometry is no help, there was felt purpose to all the noise.

Posted November 10, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: The Sueño   4 comments

By Marshal Tenner Winter. Not finished at the writing of this review; no hints or walkthrough used.


In The Sueño you are participating in a sleep study with a pill that gives lucid dreams.

The plot is a slow burn. After a fairly ordinary visit to the lab, dreaming starts in a standard-looking house. After leaving the house, drama starts to rise.

You dread heading to the southeast, down the rocky path. Something stops you. Something tells you that dark entities guard it. In your mind, you see large, black rabbits. Strange, yes, but terrifying for some reason. They are in your mind only for now, but something also tells you that you will lose your lucidity and wake up screaming should you head that direction.

I aborted play a bit after 2 hours rather reluctantly, so that’s a good sign. It’s not as tightly-made as I’d like — I hit jarring responses for reasonable commands at frequent intervals, and I found typos here and there, but the puzzles I solved were reasonable and the overarching mystery grabbed me.

There was one really clever idea, which I’ll discuss after some spoiler room.

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Because this is a lucid dream, it’s possible to DREAM OF things that don’t already exist.

> dream of richard
You try to conjure Dr. Lynch into your dream, but you feel as if you don’t have enough power or something to do it yet.

Once I accidentally teleported to an object just by dreaming of it. This seems like a mechanic that oozes puzzle potential, but unfortunately since I am only part of the way through the game I don’t know if there’s a real payoff. At the moment I get the feeling that there are too many “that’s not useful” instances and the mechanic doesn’t reach the real joy of unleashed possibility.

I also liked that while there’s an underlying current of horror, it’s uncertain whether the story will really reach that genre. At one point I “died” in the dream, but rather than the expected bloody mess there was a gentle exit.

You awake, terriffied, but Dr. Lynch assures you everything is fine. You are paid for volunteering in the sleep study and you go your merry way. Too bad you didn’t unlock the mysteries that The Sueño had to offer.

Is something evil happening (other than the typos) or is the intensity simply in the main character’s head?

Posted November 10, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Summit   3 comments

By Phantom Williams. Finished using Firefox.


I never quite landed on a single word to describe Summit. Thesauri did not help.

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Using a minimal Twine interface, you play a traveler who has left their home to travels upward to a summit, having fantastical encounters on the way.

The inhabitants of the world, including yourself, have a fishstomach in addition to a regular stomach. At regular intervals you feel compelled to eat a fish.

You begin to feel the stomachfish swimming around in your fishstomach.

It’s a nagging feeling.

There’s enough alchemy to the experience I kept going even though the choices were often minimal.

Tourists come to the bone cathedral to sit and weep as the wind, blowing through the notches in the bone, constructs possible iterations of his most famous piece, a remembrance of a much-loved ancient scientist.

Your father makes tiny replicas of the cathedral. Children blow through them to hear snatches of the famous music. Your father takes great delight in the minute variations he programs into the souvenirs: the barely-discernible deviations from the harmonic possibilities imagined by the great master, he says, taken all together, in each of the altered souvenirs which rest, now, in far-flung corners of the world, constitute his life’s work.

Unfortunately, because there’s lots of timing effects, a replay to search for alternate timelines is more irksome than enjoyable.

There’s sound, but: I was not a fan. It starts as gentle environmental sound and builds to a droning chord which literally hurt my ears. I had to mute.

summitflower

However, the stark scenery, memorable set-pieces and sharp writing are worth experiencing.

The people who pass on the road are good.

A family built a wooden shelter around me.

Another woman tiled it.

Another man hung a curtain across the front.

Everyone leaves food.

Random theory: the game would be improved by real time. That is, it would be a journey that could be returned to over a span of days, and the next part of mountain would only be traveled after an actual day passes. It would lend the same sort of meditative quality to playing as the protagonist experiences. (Granted, it would also be far out of the playtime bounds of IFComp.)

Posted November 9, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Questor’s Quest   1 comment

By Mark Stahl. Not finished.


questorshot

Questor’s Quest is of the Extremely Old School, with a hand-made parser and an outdoor grid-like map and a series of typical fantasy-cliche encounters (dwarf, stone titan, witch).

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For a hand-made parser, it isn’t the worst I’ve seen from an IFComp entry, but it does lack things like GET as a synonym for TAKE or the ability to use the pronoun IT when referring to the last used noun.

UNDO doesn’t work but I did once reach an auto-undo upon death.

The best part I saw was in a empty house with a sword on a shelf:

COMMAND> take sword
This valuable sword was not offered to you.

You mean I *can’t* take everything that isn’t nailed down? Sacrebleu! (Seriously, I could see an entire game based around an “honor” system where you lose points if you steal too much stuff, and too low a score results in gods smiting you with lightning or some such.)

The main virtue of this sort of game would be the puzzles, but the only aspect of note I’ve found is a fake-out solution on the witch (try throwing a bucket of water at her). While I made a little progress (17 out of 100 points) I think it is fair to say this game is too long for the competition. (Perhaps Spring Thing next time, if there is a next time?)

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[Image by Christian Mohr. Creative Commons attribution license.]

Posted November 8, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2015: Nowhere Near Single   1 comment

By kaleidofish. Played on iPhone to completion.


Nowhere Near Single is a Twine game about a young woman (Jerri) in a polyamorous relationship with three other women (Nayeli, Sarai and Taya), while simultaneously trying to have a successful pop music career.

nowhere

The world universe is slightly adjacent to our own, because there’s an agency (“Estrella Entertainment”) that supports a plethora of solo pop stars and a “Pickford Top 100” chart that rates singers. It has the feel more of J-Pop rivalries than the current system in the US, but it’s certainly plausible.

In the Nowhere Near Single-verse (and to some extent J-Pop), being a pop star means keeping up kayfabe manufactured by the company. In this case, being a lesbian but pretending to be monogamous, causing Jerri the need to hide the poly part of her life in public.

This dynamic is terrific and prevents the story from getting caught entirely in the morass of Jerri’s relationships, which is a good thing because I found the interaction between public and private the most intruiging part. While I felt like the characters were well drawn, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the relationships the same way I did kaleidofish’s previous IFComp entry (Venus Meets Venus). Perhaps because the personal events felt somewhat like a sitcom? (Presuming we lived in a universe where someone could have a polyamorous sitcom.) It also might be the old danger in multi-character stories of losing focus and not painting every brushstroke as solidly as it deserves.

I found the most affecting part of the story to be when Jerri becomes a gay icon but is prescribed what advice to give young gay fans (go back to your parents who threw you out!) even when she feels the advice is false.

What do they think of you now? Are they ashamed that you’re known as Estrella Entertainment’s queer idol? They shunned you for something that’s turned you into a solid star. You’ve risen above them.

Do they ever pick up the phone and think about calling you, just like you’re doing now? Do they wish, do they hope that you’ll be around for the holidays? Have they kept your spot at the table empty?

There’s a lot more choices in this game than in Venus Meets Venus, which is good because there’s stronger implication the viewpoint character is “you” and issues of consent start to arise pretty quickly. Even though there’s long stretches of straight click-ahead narrative, the story is even longer (I hit just under 2 hours) and has plenty of possibilities for decision.

This includes the final choice, which like Switcheroo, was the type where I could easily go back and pick differently but where I felt there was only one right ending for the story. The world convinced me to care.

Posted November 8, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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