ANCIENT MYSTERIES OF IF COMP is my attempt, in the run-up to the 2016 IF Competition, to go back over Comp entries which I missed the first time around.

primroseNolan Bonvouloir’s The Primrose Path was released in the 2006 IF Competition, taking a rather distant second place to Emily Short’s Floatpoint. It was nominated for two XYZZY Awards – Best Game and Best Individual PC. It’s the kind of game which has a pretty decent reputation, but doesn’t show up much on IFDB recommendation lists or in discussion.

It was also an Inform 7 game released the same year that I7 was released as a public beta; for a first-time IF author with “more or less nonexistent” programming experience to pick up the somewhat-immature I7, learn to code in it, and produce a game that placed second in the Comp within five months is a pretty amazing accomplishment.

If I was looking for a good counterpart to The Primrose Path… tonally, I might go with EurydiceBut it’s also firmly a member of the time-travel tangle genre, alongside works like All Things DevoursFirst Things FirstFifteen Minutes and Meanwhile. Continue reading

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ANCIENT MYSTERIES OF IF COMP: Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory

ANCIENT MYSTERIES OF IF COMP is my attempt, in the run-up to the 2016 IF Competition, to go back over Comp entries which I missed the first time around.

synfacLaid Off From The Synesthesia Factory, by Katherine Morayati, placed 30th of 53 entries in IF Comp 2015; it won the XYZZY Award for Best Use of Innovation, and was nominated for Best Writing and Best Implementation.

The prose of Synfac is a long way from the standard parser style: it’s chewy, dense, sprinkled with unexpected words. It’s not flowy writing. A lot of writing, you already know where the sentence is going as you begin it: this is not that.  It’s writing that’s extremely uninterested in commonplaces, that hurries over extraneous verbiage because it has an awful lot to fit in; it suggests a protagonist who has entirely too many associations with everything in her life, and can’t stop going over them. Sentences are broken up with colons, semicolons, em-dashes; phrases are abbreviated in the manner of bullet-point notes written to oneself. Continue reading

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The Interactive Fiction Competition kicks off in a little under three weeks. Since its inception in 1995, IF Comp has spurred the production – or at least served as a convenient platform for – over seven hundred works of IF, and has had a huge impact on the culture, craft and criticism of interactive fiction.

Minolta DSC

IF Comp represents an explosion of activity, and is very much a community event, with everyone playing and talking about the same games at the same time. There’s a corresponding post-comp fatigue. In the past I’ve generally tried to play, review and score every game in the Comp, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. And once the Comp is over, the sense of urgency diminishes, and the games I missed get abandoned in the midden of Things I Should Really Get Around To One Day. (Not that those games are particularly ill-served – they almost certainly received more critical attention than games released outside any comp.)

So ANCIENT MYSTERIES OF IF COMP is a silly title to motivate me to actually get around to going over some of them, in the run-up to IF Comp 2016. We’ll see how it goes. Continue reading

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Introcomp ’16: Spellbound; Some Exceptions for Reasons Unknown

Introcomp, a competition for the opening sections of interactive fiction games, is running through September 10. (Full disclosure: I am married to the comp organiser.) Today: a couple of fantasy parser games.

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CYOA structure: The Black Doll’s Imbroglio

Edward Gorey, the author and illustrator probably best-known for macabre alphabet book The Gashlycrumb Tinies, had a prodigious output and an immediately recognisable style, often imitated but almost never equaled. He published a number of books which are interactive in one way or another, usually in odd or incomplete-feeling ways; The Awdrey-Gore Legacy, for instance, starts out feeling like a murder-mystery story but steadily devolves into disassociated possibilities for weapons, locations, different versions of characters, dramatic twists and inexplicable clues, more like a set of prompts for a storygame or a Goreyish version of Clue than a particular narrative.

The Raging Tide: or, The Black Doll’s Imbroglio was published in 1987, and it bears the obvious mark of influence by Choose Your Own Adventure. It contains thirty nodes – small by any standard – each with a single page with one illustration. The accompanying text is always a single, one-clause sentence describing the action; this is always followed by two choices, except for in the two endings. Continue reading

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Guys, Listen, I Have So Many Opinions About Monsterhearts Skins

I’m preparing to run a Monsterhearts campaign again, and one of the players asked ‘did you ever write anything about the individual skins’, so, uh, this happened. Apologies in advance for prolonged opining.

(I’m keeping this to the basic, come-with-the-book skins. There are other good ones, but I personally think that the basic skins can’t be beaten for flexibility and solid design.)
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Introcomp ’16: Astronomical Territories, Narrows, Deviled Kegs

Introcomp is a regular minicomp for the beginnings of interactive fiction games, now in its fifteenth year. (Disclaimer: I am married to the Introcomp organiser.)

Like the Spring Thing, it has historically been a very variable bag. Sometimes it has been used as a launching-board for already-substantial works-in-progress like Cryptozookeeper; sometimes you see the opening sections of really hefty works like The King of Shreds and Patches or Scroll Thief. And on the other hand, sometimes you get half-implemented skeletons of prototypes of ideas from first-time authors. Like many minicomps, a lot of its value lies in offering a compact version of the release process, with the added benefit that you don’t have to come up with an idea tight enough to work at that scale.

Introcomp games are rated on one question: how much do I want to keep playing this game? A lot of Introcomp games go just as far as demonstrating that the author has an initial idea, when what I’m really looking for is evidence of the development of that idea. If you just want to pitch the premise of a game, an intro is honestly not all that good a way to do it. An intro’s most useful for giving the player some direct familiarity with what the actual experience of playing your game might be like.

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