Writing a good blurb for your own work is really, really hard. Personally, I hate doing it: up until that point everything feels as though it’s in the comfortable territory of Artistic Creation, but blurb-writing is the first step into the uneasy land of Self-Promotion. Yargh. I do not envy you, comp authors.
That said, blurbs are important, and crafting them is a skill worth honing. The player’s expectations really, really matter for a game (here are some ways), with influence far beyond the question of whether they want to play at all. Blurbs, together with titles and cover art, have to simultaeneously sell your game and be very honest about what it can deliver; give the player a useful idea of what to expect without spoiling too much; and do so in a compact, enticing package. Here’s how I think this year’s games did.
Creatures Such As We. The text could be better-integrated with the art – I’d have gone with something hand-lettered, myself – but the overall effect is moody and evocative without spelling too much out. Good punchy elevator-pitch blurb (I am perhaps prejudiced because I’d like IF to tackle dating-sim mechanics more often.)
Jacqueline, Jungle Queen! My immediate reaction to this is ‘oh, hey, it’s Steph Cherrywell.’ I used to read a some of her webcomics a while back, and remember them being… irreverent, funny, knowingly trope-packed, focused on plump women with raging libidos and terrible impulse control. Unfair advantage, but I know the author can produce entertaining material.
Anyway: theme-appropriate art, blurb makes the kind of story this will be very clear. Mild concern: tropey jungle stories end up being mad racist so very often that I am edgy, even with a known-quantity author.
Raik. The blurb goes straight for the hooks and mood of the piece, but avoids giving too much away. Nice. I am highly in favour of more games drawing on the mythologies of specific cultures (especially if those cultures aren’t Vikings, because while Vikings are super-interesting, so many Viking games). Scottish magical realism is, therefore, an easy sell. The art’s almost good – I think what’s throwing me off is that it feels a bit too much like the CD cover of a second-rate graphic adventure from the post-Myst era.
Tea Ceremony. ‘An alien etiquette simulator’ grabs me immediately; the blurb could perhaps say the same thing in a little less space, but it gives me a strong idea about what to expect. I am willing to regard the MS-Paint-y art as a placeholder (but it’s not a bad sumary of the premise on its own).
Arqon: A Criminal’s Journey. No art is a missed opportunity rather than a strike against the game. Fantasy-garble naming and a blurb that closes with ‘and thus your adventure begins’ suggest unimaginative stock-fantasy.
The Black Lily: Wooooo meta *jazzhands*. The art would be better if I could figure out what the red bit was meant to be.
Building the Right Stuff. Half-assed art is no asset. A blurb should never pitch that the world is boring. Foreshadowing is well enough, but mystery is only interesting if we’re offered a taste of something.
Eidolon. A word I vaguely remember but have to look up a definition for; I am all for using obscure terms when there isn’t an equally good common equivalent, but this seems gratuitous. The blurb is OK, I guess – it wouldn’t be a bad first line – but it gives away far too little.
Enigma. Quick and dirty art, and the blurb suggests a vagueness-riddled amnesia game.
HHH.exe. Retrogaming and cracking culture are not things that fire my interest; I have no objection per se to niche-audience games, but if you want this to appeal outside that niche you need to be doing a whoooole lot more.
Hunger Daemon. The photo is OK, but the colouring, font and general layout make my eyes itch a little. A conversational-style blurb is perfectly legit, but it’d be nice if this had a bit more to grab me. (Full disclosure: I did some brief testing work on this.)
Inward Narrow Crooked Lanes. Essentially this takes a pass, but it manages to be kind of arsey about it.
Lanterna Magica. As you seat yourself and turn toward your inner light, you ask that one burning question. “What is laterna magica?” I dunno, dude, but it’s not a burning question to me, and it’s kind of your job to answer it. Nice art use, not sure it quite works in the square format.
Milk Party Palace. Zaniness ahoy.
Missive. The text is to-the-point, but manages to make that point seem really boring. ‘Missive’ is a really weak word.
Paradox Corps. No blurb, no cover art, but the title suggests the kind of four-colour action story (the Paradox Corps sound as though they must have crossover episodes with the Danger Patrol) that IF is tradtionally not strong at, so I’d like some more information here.
Slasher Swamp. Likely to do precisely what it says on the can, but that thing is not a thing I am very excited about. I’d quibble about the art, but I suspect that it’s aiming for precisely the kind of low-fi paperback feel that it accomplishes.
The Secret Vaults of Kas the Betrayer. Oy, what a mouthful. On the one hand, it’s good to be up-front that you’re doing a high-fantasy cave crawl, but on the other, damn this blurb does not inspire much confidence in the author’s ability to write concise, grabby prose. Less padding, more hooks, please. Art’s attractive but not interesting.
The Urge. Torture and awkwardly-phrased poetry? Sign me up! Or, y’know, don’t. I am not sure what the toothbrush has to do with any of this, but toothbrushes are not famed for their inherent drama.
Tower. ‘You wake up in a strange room and don’t know what happened’ is the shittiest premise. If you must use it, for heaven’s sake don’t lead with it.
Unform. ‘Waking up with no memories sucks.’ Yeah, tell me about it. This has a more concrete pitch than The Tower, at least, and interestingly retro-styled art.
AlethiCorp: clip-arty graphic, enh-ish title. The blurb gives a strong idea of what the game is going to be about, but that thing seems to be basically Dilbert jokes.
And yet it moves: attractive use of art, a blurb that clearly explains the premise, and a promise of strongly-located historical setting. Most obvious title possible, though, and the blurb’s style doesn’t get me as excited as the premise should.
The Contortionist: The rest of the blurb doesn’t really expand on the title in any useful way, but at least there’s a hook.
Excelsior: at least we know what we’re getting: unabashedly old-school puzzler.
Fifteen Minutes: Individually, time-travel and the career struggles of academics are topics well-worn enough in IF to not be immediately interesting. The cover art is attractive, though.
Following Me: really nice art, appropriately creepy title, but the text suggests rather ordinary slasher-horror. I am unable to suppress a pedantic snicker at ‘contains language’, though I’m not proud of it.
Hill 160: A World War I Adventure in Terror: Took a pass on blurbing. I am always interested in WWI games, but the title is meh.
Icepunk. Could do with being a little more to-the-point, but it manages to pack in a good deal of potentially-interesting hooks. On the other hand, I get a strong sense that it’s talking itself up to a degree that will be hard to match in the execution – experimental games are rarely good at this many things at once.
Jesse Stavro’s Doorway. Strong art choice. The Grateful Dead are not a promising sign; I should perhaps be less tolerant of ‘drug-addled-journey’ pitches than I am, but ‘the world is full of doors’ is precisely the kind of line you want in your blurb.
Origins. Pitches itself mostly on its experimental merits – so, potentially interesting, but I’m offered no real clues about the content.
Sigmund’s Quest. Anything that starts its pitch with ‘an homage to the [genre] games that inspired me so much as a child’ is already in trouble. Norse myth is cool (if really, really heavily done) but I’m not sure why you’d need to compare the Völsunga saga to King Arthur. I am uninspired by all but the most expertly-made pixel art; this is not that.
The Entropy Cage. Singularity SF mostly bores the crap out of me, but this does deliver a strong hook that locates the world, its concerns, the PC and what they’re doing. The cover and title precisely evoke the feel of a late-90s novel, back when the Internet was crazy futurism land and singularity SF was the coolest thing.
Transparent. This cover also resembles a SF book (this one, I think, an anthology from the early aughts). I am sort of intrigued because I know Ondricek as an author who comes up with interesting experiments, and I am fascinated by the possibility of art that focuses on the strange forms of I7 code, but… these are rather narrow reasons, and beyond that I really need more.
Ugly Oafs. This pitches itself basically as as straight-up pure-wordplay game. I have a mixed record with those.
Venus Meets Venus. Takes a pass, or close enough.
These mostly say ‘put off playing this until you are in a resilient enough mood to cope with it, because it’ll be emotionally taxing one way or another.’
Begscape: just having Porpentine listed as the author should be sufficient for inclusion here (see also: With Those We Love Alive), but there’s also consciously-grotesque MS Paint art and a clear Oppression Game theme.
Krypteia. ‘Since ancient times, the wise men explained to you, young warriors have learned to subjugate the Other in order to become men.’ Yup.
One Night Stand. Strongly genre-appropriate art, but the premise rather invites the question ‘is this going to be a wicked-sexist game in which the male author requires the player’s complicity in sneering at the female protagonist?’ Maybe, maybe not, but the possibility seems strong enough that I’m apprehensive.
Zest: A Management Simulator. Lemonade stands signify small-business economics, which could be totally interesting, extremely boring or annoyingly soapboxy. I would like more clues about which.