Archive for the ‘IFComp 2016’ Tag

IFComp 2016: Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending   Leave a comment

By K.G. Orphanides. Played to completion, and found two different endings.


Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending is a parser game in Quest; it includes a map, just like Night House did, although the play area is much smaller than in that game.

Your medbay AI systems are more than just your trusted personal physician.
Providing full care for mind, body and sprit, a fully functional medbay system is able to assess your mental and physical health and ensure that brain and body retain optimal integration.

In the very latest ships of the line, genetic material tailored to individual crew members is kept in storage in case of serious injury or lethal mishaps.

Please trust medbay examination tables and connected systems to fully care for you, even in degraded AI states. You are a key component of the ship, and redundant systems are in place for your protection and maintenance.

I didn’t have a great first impression; you awake with partial amnesia aboard a spaceship that has lengthy manuals to read. Things quickly turned around for me went I entered “the Archives” and found drawers marked “THE PAST”, “FORGIVENESS”, “DUTY”, and “THE FUTURE”. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I can say it’s quickly revealed what the mission of the ship is and the fact you may not want the mission to be completed.

This ended up being short and fascinating and exactly the sort of game I’d recommend to people who are new to parser; the Quest system where you can click on objects to get a list of actions has its usual user-friendliness, and while you have to use some non-standard actions, they’re hinted at clearly.

My only general criticism is while there is enough backstory to make the important plot-decision, a lot of information is dumped in the end-game text which would have been useful to know beforehand. In a way, though, that’s the point; with a fragmented sense of understanding, the main character needs to put trust in a friend and make do with what they have.

Posted October 14, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD!   Leave a comment

By Xalavier Nelson Jr. Played on desktop, not completed.

SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD! is a fairly linear game in Twine; nearly dynamic fiction but not quite. I am unsure as to length. I was undone by the lack of a bookmark / save game feature when I had to leave the computer, and the Three Issues which I get into shortly made me not desire a replay.

I *really* wanted to like this one, and in fact for the first five minutes or so I did. I mean look at this blurb:

SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD! is a game about puns, rampant drug use, learning to enjoy life despite uncertainty, and elderly women in attack helicopters.

(Disclosure: I don’t read most blurbs in an effort to avoid spoilers, but this one just jumped out at me.)

The opening was indeed glorious, with a bear falling through the sky into a Facility by a volcano. Shortly thereafter you switch from the Bear to some people in the facility, and this happens:

BAILEY: Whoa, wait, what’s going o–




Unfortunately, that’s where the game peaked. Three issues:

Issue One, which we’ll theme appropriately as Ursa Minor, was the there was the occasional dramatic pause where you have to wait for things to continue for no good reason.

Issue Two, which we’ll theme Ursa Major, was that the text and plot got much less interesting from the point I just quoted above. Essentially it follows the people and the bear in alternating sequences. The bear is somewhat interesting (and even has a flashback where the title line is delivered) but the people are not. Their text scans like the weak first draft of a 90s sitcom. If the characters were less flat, perhaps the endless bear puns would have been charming / clever, but here I was just waiting for the laugh track.

Issue Three, also known as the Ursa Please Make It Stop, is that the game often. delivered. text. in. short. bursts. where you. would. have to. click. and. click. and. click. and. click. to. read. further. SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD! seems like it went for a “cinematic” experience with the linking, but there’s only so much that can be done with words.

Posted October 13, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: The Skull Embroidery   Leave a comment

By Jeron Paraiso. Played on desktop, not completed.



The Skull Embroidery is a self-described “dungeon crawl” that includes an interface that reminds me of old BBS door games.

=========[Action Menu | Ap: 3]==========
(w)ait -> End your turn (0ap)
(i)nspect -> Inspect something (1ap)
(t)ravel -> Travel somewhere (2ap)
(g)rab -> Pick something up (1ap)
(c)onsume -> Eat or drink something (1ap)
(st)atus -> Check your current state (0ap)
(j)ournal -> Write down your progress (0ap)
(q)uit -> Quit the game (0ap)
[action menu | ap: 3]>

This is a full, non-abashed combat RPG, with statistics for Strength, Dexterity, and Perception. There’s also hit points, poison/disease status, and a hunger system.

To interact, you type the initial letter (or two letters) of the command you want and hit enter. There was something similar in last year’s I Think the Waves Are Watching Me but somehow it comes off as even more awkward here. For example, rather than picking a direction, travel involves first picking “t” and then choosing a direction off a numbered list. I often would accidentally go the wrong direction and have to loop back again.

All actions have “action points” such that a “round” is over once one’s action points are depleted. This makes sense (somewhat) when dealing with enemies, except enemies did not seem to actually react between turns; occasionally they would attack at the beginning or middle. I cannot see any reason at all for the action point system when combat is not in play. Because travelling takes two action points, for each step I took I had to first “travel” and then “wait” to burn the extra useless action point.

In combat you first pick (a) to attack, then choose who is going to get attacked (even if there’s only one enemy, which there usually is) and then choose what type of attack to me (usually always the same attack). Defending takes another commands. Quite often it would take 20 or more key-presses (all repetitive) to take down a simple beetle. To make matters worse there just aren’t any interesting options. You can “inspect” for weak points to get more powerful hits, and consume healing items, but for the most part it’s just an awkward cycle of attack-defend-attack-defend.

The Old Man: “Now, explain yourself quickly. Where were you headed before your mount fainted and succumbed to treachery?”

Taking a moment to think, you realize you can’t remember anything about where you were going, or who you are.

You: “I can’t seem to remember anything at all.”

There is something a plot, summarized above. You awake in a forest with amnesia, and your objective is to escape. Early on youn meet an old man who conveniently has a cottage nearby you can rest in. He also will take things you’ve looted from enemies (insect meat and the like) and craft it into items for you.

Strength, Dexterity, and Perception all can gain experience points in combat. If they gain enough points, resting at the old’s man house gains them a level.

I got through the first task (finding a scroll with directions) and using it made my way through a forest maze, but I was soundly defeated by some sort of guardian with a poisoned sword. I’m fairly certain getting through would require some experience point grinding, but I was far past the two-hour mark at this point. I have been forgiving of RPG entries in past IFComps (see The Lost Dimension from 2007 or Onaar from 2015) but in its present state I just can’t recommend this one at all. I like the ambitions of its systems, but it needs, at the very least, a saner interface; fast-paced combat and movement might make it tolerable.

Posted October 13, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: The Mouse   Leave a comment

By Norbez. Played twice to completion on desktop.

The Mouse is a work in Twine about the main character, Evelyn, and their abusive roommate, Carrie.


The main character is one of the best-painted of the competition. This turned out to be essential to the structure: there’s a long intro before the first choice, at a central moment in the abuse between Carrie and Evelyn. Carrie offers Evelyn (never before a drinker) some alcohol.

You can choose “no”, but you’ll need to three times. By this point the main character was built up enough the mere act of choosing felt harrowing. There was a felt significance to it. This wasn’t just reading a story out of order, this was participating in a moment of bravery or cowardice.

A sequence follows in a similar vein, where you have a sequence of essentially “yes” or “no” choices which involving choosing what the result of the abuse should be. This was, again, extraordinarily effective, and even with a narrow window of outcomes made for an effective moral choice. By that I mean — I’ve played plenty of games with “choices” that generate violence which is clearly imaginary and just a mass of pixels — here, when I picked a less fortunate result for the protagonist, I was actively wincing.

I highly recommend The Mouse, although take the “player discretion is advised” notice from the blurb seriously; this one can get in your head.

Posted October 12, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: Theater People   Leave a comment

By Michael Kielstra. Played to completion on desktop.

The stage left wing is your home away from home. It’s full of props that will be required onstage if the show ever starts. South is the left stage corridor, and east is that most glamorous of areas, the stage.

Mandy looks you up and down with the gaze she reserves for insignificant insects and junior tech crew members. “The curtain’s not going up. Find out what’s wrong.”

Theater People is a parser adventure game where, as a junior tech crew member, you are trying to help a play start. It’s fairly short; even with solving the optional puzzle I clocked in at somewhere around 20 minutes.

This could have been much nicer — the premise is solid, anyway — but the characters and puzzles were too barren to go anywhere.

Minor spoiler space ahead …


The puzzles have

a.) A trivial fetch-quest chain.

b.) A bit where you have to SEARCH an item you can pick up, which is quite non-standard.

c.) A part where SEARCH doesn’t work but LOOK UNDER does.

(Could we just call a moratorium on SEARCH and LOOK UNDER and fold everything under EXAMINE? I could swear that was a trend at one point but I guess it went away.)

d.) One legitimately good (although morally questionable) puzzle that is also optional.

In general the puzzle sequence fails the “if we think of the narrative as a compilation of the player’s actions, is it a narrative anyone would want to hear?” test. This could have been amply made up for by livelier characters but they are essentially plastic robots with one or two responses:

> look lola
You have known Lola for a long time. She still won’t let you have a free drink, no matter how much you compliment her long black hair or her brown eyes.

> ask lola about lola
Lola ignores you pointedly.

> ask lola about me
“Why should you ask me about yourself? You tell me all about yourself without me asking.”

> ask lola about drink
“Your sweet talk won’t get you anything round here! No money, no drinkie.”

There was easily room for snappy dialogue, or witty social commentary, or just some old-fashioned feeling of realism; except for some smart aleck attitude in the player character all opportunities were missed.

Posted October 12, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: Night House   Leave a comment

By Bitter Karella. Completed using desktop on the web application.


Night House is the first “traditional parser adventure” I’ve played of the competition. It uses the Quest interpreter (see above) which means that there is an auto-map and the ability to click on important items and select verbs. A *very important* detail to share: if you play the web version of this without logging in to first, you will not be able to save your game. Either log in first or download the Quest interpreter before playing. I do also recommend leaving on sound.

Night House is an atmospheric horror-fantasy. You play a child who has awoken in his house with the power out and the other family members gone.

You wake up with a start as a deafening thunder clap shakes the house. Your heart is racing but you lie frozen in bed, confused and disoriented. Where are you? What’s going on? All you hear is the steady patter of gushing rain against the roof above and the ragged wind rattling the windowpanes. After a few moments of blinking into the darkness, you start to remember. You’re at home, in your own room, in your own bed. You were having some sort of nightmare, but you can’t quite remember what it was.

This is out of the “slow build” school of horror, and due to what I’m fairly certain is an inability to die, the game is less about the jump-scare and more about the slow realization of what’s really going on.

I did enjoy myself through about 2/3 of this — the puzzles are tractable, and while the parser is fussy…

> in
You try to open the driverside door, but it’s locked. You aren’t getting inside unless you can find the keys.

> unlock door
I can’t see that. (door)

> unlock tercel
You pull out the spare keys and unlock the front drivers’ side door.

… the fact you could click on objects and get verb lists was enough that I got past issues quickly. (Still, would it have hurt to put in just a few noun synonyms?) While Night House uses the typical adventure-house architecture (including useless sinks and the like) there was enough world-building and tension I never was annoyed by it.

Then comes what is more or less the climactic puzzle of the game, which I’ll hide behind spoilers–


The finale puzzle is to make a decoy out of a set of objects to do away with a monster-thing that’s been prowling the house. There were issues piled upon issues:

1.) It is first not obvious that the monster really needs to be done away it; it doesn’t actually threaten the player past a certain point and the end result is merely to get an item.

2.) There is a hint about what goes into making the decoy but the connection with the monster is extremely vague.

3.) Constructing the decoy requires moving an initial object in a way that must be done BEFORE making the decoy; I assumed (after my initial attempt at making the decoy failed) I was using the wrong item, but it’s just the game is incredibly picky about when things get started.

4.) Once the decoy is started, objects need to be placed in the correct order. There isn’t really a good reason for this.

The resulting combination of all 4 problems plus the parser issues that plagued the rest of the game made what could have been a glorious end puzzle very frustrating. I would normally have recommended this game “straight,” without hints, but I’m going to have to revert to “play, but with walkthrough in hand for the latter parts.”

Posted October 11, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: The Queen’s Menagerie, Mirror and Queen   Leave a comment

By Chandler Groover. Both played on desktop to completion.

I’ve never written a dual-review for IFComp before, but this works as a pair. I believe they’re supposed to be the same Queen? First–

Edward Gorey once wrote a work of interactive fiction. The Queen’s Menagerie feels like what he’d write with modern tools.

You are (or are at least controlling) a zookeeper in charge of feeding a host of monstrous creatures. The story is a jaunt from one cage to another, where you click and drag the entree of choice to each of the creatures.


This prose is very good. There’s a nice balance between the minimal and the textured. I felt like there were no spare words.

Lanterns glow green with foxfire. Shadows glide behind bars. Creatures pacing. Let’s leave the lesser ones and concentrate on the prizes. No breath to spare. See to these locks.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t that sold on it as an experience. The only choices were to decide which food goes to which creature; I’m fairly sure it’s meant as a visceral gesture, like last year’s Taghairm. While I wasn’t a fan of Taghairm, at least I was moved in some sense. Here I was just bemused.

Mirror and Queen involves the titluar Queen with her magic mirror. It is interacted with via single words:

Cut a sparrow’s throat. Blood on the glass. O Queen, you consult your reflection again. Study the doubled details. Beyond the cauldron’s smoke, breathing blue fumes. Beyond the books that line the walls both within and without your mirrored room. Look closely and you’ll see what you’ve summoned. Look closely and you’ll see your image shift, bubbles behind the glass where the glassmaker’s art permitted this one crack to yawn as though it were a mouth. Words, words are what you want, and when you speak you will have words. What would you speak about tonight, O Queen?

Speak about: menagerie
Sparrow, magpie, bluejay, finch. Any bird will serve. Any bird has. You hold them in your hand. Sometimes they sing as though springtime were here. Music throbs in their throats and, when those throats are cut, their crimson voices drip onto the glass. They are better when they are killed young, before they ever learn what aging means. Mention another subject to discuss.

Speak about: death
Death comes to call, bidden or not. Throw wide your doors. Open your halls. Welcome it as you would welcome an ambassador. Install it somewhere private and provide it with what luxuries it would request. Freedom to walk the corridors. Souls at its disposal. What cannot be resisted should never inspire fear. Propose your next concern.

I confess to a soft spot for this format, given I used it in Renga in Four Parts. While the intent there was for every word to matter, Mirror and Queen has a dictionary that must be recognized for responses.

Speak about: torch
Your mirror knows what you would think, O Queen. Your concerns scatter but they must return to your reflection’s cracked center. Its crevice cuts your mind, permits your understanding to bleed out across the glass where you might study it with heightened clarity. Submit. These words would be your words could you but tame your tongue.

It recognizes a fairly wide range, but I did reach “you can’t do that” responses like the one above often enough the game played less like a conversation and more like arguing with a stubborn AI. In the context of this story, though, it was all part of the mimesis.

Even putting aside the interaction difference, I found Mirror and Queen more satisfying than The Queen’s Menagerie. I suppose it had more of a “point” to it? Not necessarily a “message” per se, but lurching more to art causing self-reflection. Throughout the interaction of Mirror and Queen there was the reflection of a deeply felt character, one with a clear and relatable source of anguish. The Queen’s Menagerie did not feel like it had characters at all, but more of a Mood, dressed up in gothic colors without a clear direction.

Posted October 11, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: Stone Harbor   1 comment

By Liza Daly. Played to completion on iPhone Safari.

A lot of web-based interactive fiction only play on mobile with, ah, difficulty, but this one I’d recommend mobile over desktop. This is nearly an “enhanced ebook” with very long periods of minimal interaction, and reads very well on a phone.

You play/read as Frank Petrio, a boardwalk psychic who inherited the gig from his mother. His routine is for ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY, at least until a detective investigating the suicide of rich business mogul Alan Healey arrives and Frank discovers he has real powers.

So unfolds what the author calls a short story but I think in word count might strictly speaking be a novella. It hits many of the plot points of the typical crime story but the psychic element ratchets the experience on a different vector.


There are some fantastic bits of character here, especially in the main character and the Healey clan. The excerpt above will likely remain one of my favorites of the competition.

On the downside, there were a couple bits where the plot flagged. I’d trim down a scene or two, plus I found a late fight scene confusing to the point I’m still not sure the full sequence of events.

I wasn’t sold on the interactivity. When it happened, much of it was to to pick an item that were then replaced by more descriptive detail. This is intended to simulate Frank’s powers of observation trained by years of being a fake psychic. In theory this sounds like an excellent blending of character and text but in practice I found it a headache to read and I had to reread from scratch every time some words changed.

Also, the interaction isn’t consistent. Sometimes you can (are in fact required to) click on every choice to move on, and sometimes there are choices such that after only one is picked the story moves on. I got frustrated not knowing what kind of interaction was happening next. I couldn’t get into the rhythm of it, especially given large chunks of text that were essentially “click random word to continue.”

Still, these glitches were somewhat minor and personal, and they don’t get enough in the way to block out readers: this is a solid yarn.

Posted October 3, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: Moonland   Leave a comment

By BillyJaden. Played to completion using iPhone Safari.

Moonland is a science fiction Twine game very much in the mold of Porpentine. I’d say a large part of the appeal is working out what’s going on, so I’m just going to say you are in love.


The structure is designed to return to the scene above multiple times, each time with another method of branching. I’ve seen this concept a few times but I’d say this is the best I’ve seen it work; while there isn’t anything I’d call a deliberate choice in the hub scene, the point is to add to the mystery and the obtuseness of the interaction makes total sense with the plot.

Unfortunately, when I said “in the mold of Porpentine” I also mean it tries a little too hard to be an imitation. Here’s an early bit:

Wasps crawl out of her mouth, exploding in your face, dripping mud, wet neon-black tears fill your stomach.

The propensity for squishy imagery is there, and the occasional vivid adjective, but the effect struck me more as comical than harrowing. Somehow the wasps “crawl” and then “explode” and “drip mud” and that all translates into “neon-black tears”. The sequence just isn’t coherent enough to be vivid.

You lost track of your steps. The darkness around you fills your body with butterflies, scribbling letters on your callow skin.

This bit doesn’t scan nearly as bad, but it does sound — scribbling letters on your callow skin — like it’s trying too hard. It’s the prose equivalent of horror vacui — every space needs to be filled with some sort of liquid or mucus or color.

This is made worse for three reasons:

a.) There are portions with dark green text that are very hard to read.


b.) There are often long … delays … in displaying … words. They did not add to the experience and I found myself distracting myself with other chores while waiting for text to show up.

c.) The end gets very repetitive. There is only so many ways to say that {plot spoiler here} is happening and there were at least 20 screens which had near-equivalent content. While there was a choice at the end I was very interested in, this factor and the other two I just mentioned meant I had no desire to replay to see any more ends.

Posted October 3, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: Prologue   Leave a comment

The Interactive Fiction Competition, or IFComp, is about to start. Unlike previous years, this blog now has a following outside the interactive fiction regulars, hence —

Q: What is IFComp?

IFComp has beeen running since 1995 and was intended to promote short (under 2 hour) interactive fiction. At the time this was synonymous with “text adventures,” although now pretty much anything that qualifies as interactive textual narrative is welcome. (Fret not, adventure gaming fans — a large chunk of entries still fall within the genre.) The first year ran with 12 entries, and this year will be along the lines of 50+. Some games run short and some run long, but I’d say the overall average is an hour per game. That’s over 50 hours worth of content.

The only requirement for entry is that the game be previously unreleased. The public then is welcome to cast votes in the form of ratings from 1 to 10. The judging period lasts from October 1st to November 15th, at which point winners are announced and prizes are allocated. Lots more details are on the website here.

Q: Are you reviewing all of them?

Last year I swore I wasn’t going to, and somehow it happened anyway. This year’s expected to set another record for most entries. I don’t know if a full review set can even be done. (Note to other reviewers: please don’t take this as a dare. Keep your health!)

Q: What’s your judging criteria?

A: I can’t use a rubric without feeling icky; somehow everything feels less pleasant to me if I try to slot it into little categories. I just pick on the most memorable parts, either good or bad, and let the words flow.

I appreciate good characters, good story, good prose, and good gameplay about equally well. Different works set up different expectations. I have greatly enjoyed some IFComp works with very little gameplay and others with almost pure gameplay. As long as the package as a whole makes sense I have a great deal of latitude in what I like.

Q: I’m an author! Can I comment on your reviews?

A: The rules of IFComp now allow public comment, although I will go on record as stating that author comments on public reviews are generally a bad idea. (Sam Kabo Ashwell’s essay here gets into detail.) I’m not turning on moderation just yet, but I reserve the right to filter comments until the competition is over.

However, I am perfectly happy to discuss anything via my email address; you can find it at my About page.

Last year's winner: Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! by Steph Cherrywell. Very much worth a play.

Last year’s winner: Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! by Steph Cherrywell. Very much worth a play.

Posted September 29, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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