Introcomp 2014 – 1st And Last of the Ninja

1st And Last Of The Ninja, by nmelssx, is an attempt to emulate a CRPG in the chooseyourstory format. It classifies itself as fan-fiction but doesn’t clarify of what. Something anime-ish? My guess was Naruto, since that is the ninja-related thing that all the durn kids are into these days; I eventually confirmed this when a shopkeeper greeted me as Naruto, which seems like the wrong point to mention it. It falls into the category of fanfiction that does nothing to explain itself: it assumes that you’re already very familiar with all the elements of the story.

The Rules section suggests that this is meant to work as a fairly orthodox CRPG oriented around combat, with leveling, magical techniques powered by ‘chakra’, bartering, theft, and equippable armour and weapons. This immediately makes me apprehensive, because there are a lot of people who show up in the IF world wanting to make complex, ambitious CRPGs in platforms which aren’t really designed for it, often without any prior experience of game design. Typically, they set themselves goals heavily influenced by major commercial CRPGs, far in excess of what a lone, inexperienced amateur can hope to accomplish; refuse to compromise their vision; and fade out of existence. (There are people who have made successful CRPG-influenced games in IF formats; universally, they’ve adapted the CRPG model to make it work better as IF.)

So it’s mildly surprising that the intro seems to have most of the stuff that the designer envisages. Partly this is because it’s emulating a style of CRPG that is kind of choice-based anyway. There are stores for food that restores HP, a training ground for combat, some woods where you can go for slightly different combat, and so forth. At the beginning of the game, most of these options are way above your abilities, but it’s pretty straightforward to level up with judicious use of techniques.

The writing has a lot of errors: there are basic grammar mistakes, the style is awkward, and there are regular problems with clarity that I think go beyond those caused by its fanfic nature. I don’t know that the author is very interested good writing, one way or another. My expectation is that anybody making IF should be enthusiastic about text, should have text as a preferred medium, should consider good writing one of the most important things in a game; here it feels as though it may be being treated as a medium of last resort. If that impression’s incorrect, then the author should probably start by making a habit of recruiting proofreaders to catch errors, and testers to point out where the writing’s unclear.

The chooseyourstory interface is not really designed for the kinds of interface that the game wants to use. At one point you have to enter a four-digit password, which you do by clicking through four successive sets of hyperlinks. The game has an ‘inventory’, but really this means ‘all the submenus that the game needs to keep available at all times’, one of which is your actual inventory. Whenever a submenu gets added to that list, it appears as an item that you have to pick up. When you’re in shops, you don’t know how much money you have to spend unless you go into your backpack, hit ‘use’, then hit ‘previous page’ to get back to the shop text. More or less everything you do is affected by similar jankiness in the interface; it works, mostly, but it’s very clearly a kind of game that is not native to this medium.

Do I want to continue playing? No. This is intended for a fandom audience of which I am not a member, and it does not do much to explain itself to outsiders. It obviously represents a nontrivial effort, but that effort is not aimed at me.

Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with fanfic that relies on having an audience that’s very familiar with the original work. That’s pretty normal, in fanfic. But if you’re presenting your fanfic for a more general audience – by, for instance, entering it into a competition – you need to make it accessible and comprehensible to people outside your fandom. You need to assume that your audience doesn’t know or care about Naruto. That’s a much harder thing to do, and if you’re not interested in doing that, that’s fine; but if so, you should make it clear that your game is Naruto fanfic and not try to get people who aren’t Naruto fans to play it.

Great Evil: A substantial amount of effort has been put into implementing this. Not being fully familiar with chooseyourstory, I’m not sure how much of the interface awkwardness is to do with the limits of the platform and how much is implementation. There are definitely bugs, though. At one point I got stuck in my house; I wasn’t allowed to use the map to leave, for some reason. There’s inconsistent use of art, most of which appears ganked. And the writing is in bad shape.

Again, I dunno. I’m from a community which expects high standards of polish and professionalism from amateur works, that expects that authors who enter comps are doing so in large part to solicit critical feedback. That is not the norm in other places. It’s kind of unfair to have authors who come from that kind of expectation competing against authors who are perfectly happy with being amateurish, or people who are learning out loud, or kids.

Little Evil: Really pretty good: we know basically what the game is going to involve and how it’s going to work.

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