ParserComp Summary

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And with that, I’m done with the ParserComp games (except for actually voting. I should do that).

My favourite games of the comp:

  • Chlorophyll, a traditional Space Base Adventure Game with charming writing and a distinctive (adolescent plant-alien) protagonist.
  • Oppositely Opal, a one-room magic game with mildly twisty puzzles which create a fun mood of gleeful, troublemaking chaos.
  • Six Gray Rats Crawl Up The Pillowa Gothic insomnia vignette with a strongly-suggested world, enjoyable writing and some effective frustration-comedy.

And because the category-by-category thing makes for a really pretty chart, and you will have no statwank to pore over when the results come out, here’s the big chart of all my scores:

(edit: and of course my pretty HTML-colour-coded table, which looked super-nice in the preview, loses all its colours in the actual post. Rassum frassum. Until I figure out this fancy 21st-century technology, here is a quick and dirty caveman-HTML version.)

Writing Story Puzzles Theme Tech Overall
Chlorophyll 4 5 5 5 3 5
Oppositely Opal 4 4 5 2 5 4
Six Gray Rats… 5 4 3 3 3 4
Delphina’s House 3 3 4 3 4 4
Terminator 3 1 4 3 4 3
Terminator Chaser 4 3 3 4 3 3
Down/Serpent/Sun 3 3 3 4 4 3
Sunburn 3 3 3 3 3 3
Endless Sands 2 2 3 4 3 3
Three Days… 2 2 2 3 3 2
Lockdown 2 2 2 2 3 2
A Long Drink 2 2 2 2 1 2
Mean Streets 2 2 2 1 2 2
An Adventurer’s… 1 1 2 1 2 1

(I have tweaked my scores a little bit from the ones posted with reviews – really just to pick a winner in the Tech category, which is a little skewed towards the middle.)

Not to read too much into this, because this is just my set of votes (and I have a proven record of being out of step with the IF voting public), but one obvious thing jumps out: there’s a lot of correlation between one category and another. Partly this is to do with my own preferences (I like puzzles a lot more when they’re integrated with strong writing and narrative) and partly author expectations (authors who are more confident in their technical abilities may be more willing to tackle ambitious puzzles).

Anyhow! Many thanks to Carolyn for running this thing, and to everyone who entered – comps can be tough, creative work is hard, and even if I didn’t like your game very much you did put a whole load of work into it basically for the love of the medium.

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6 Responses to ParserComp Summary

  1. busterwrites says:

    The chart comes correct on the Planet-IF main page, so I think it’s safe to blame WordPress.

  2. For authors who have strong writing and strong puzzles integrated in a game, I wonder which comes first. I can’t imagine them being developed simultaneously, which isn’t to say anything about whether that’s possible, but rather to say something about my current mindset. A central mechanical conceit being conceived in tandem with a story, yes, I can imagine that, but as to specific puzzles and specific stories, it seems to me that one must precede the other in inspiration. But such an absolute statement also seems unlikely to be true. What do you think?

    • I think that one of the most important higher-level skills in game design is the ability to conceive of puzzle and narrative elements in the same breath, as it were – in much the same way that a fluent bilingual speaker can have the same thought in two languages at once.

      But that’s a pretty advanced (or fortunate) level of proficiency, and there are definitely plenty of authors whose process is either “OK, I think I have a cool mechanical idea, how can I justify it in story terms?” or “this is where I want the story to go next, how can I make this work as a puzzle?” My own process tends to alternate: I have an idea on one side, work on it a little, think about what that implies for the other, adjust accordingly, and so forth.

    • Andrew Schultz says:

      Oops, this may’ve gotten TLDR.

      Whether or not I qualify as a strong writing/puzzle writer, I’ve tried to combine them a lot. And I have noticed that it’s tough to develop them simultaneously, but there’s no shame in just trying for a puzzle when beginning. I’ve never had a brain dump of both at once, but I’ve often had a couple of hours saying “oh, this bit fits, and so does this.”

      I’m not sure if you’re asking if one in particular precedes the other more often, but I find my writing comes from my puzzles. I expect I’m the exception. And I think it’s more practical to rephrase the question as “how do we help one follow the other quickly?”

      This is a cheap motivational trick, but saying “What would this puzzle be if it had strong writing?” helps, as does the reverse. So does time–you need faith you’ll have a “duh/a-ha” moment, from paying attention to your own transcripts and faithfully plowing through your game and setting foundations.

      I don’t worry about which comes first–I often may just have 2 pieces of writing I like, or 2 puzzles, and I wonder how to bridge them. I want to have them both in, and even if I have to force the connection at first, I’m confident I can smooth it over a bit.

      I find it tougher to fit a puzzle into a story than a story into a puzzle. I also find that when I start to write a story from a puzzle, I find ways to clue it. I also try to keep track of what is too literal and abstract and figure ways to round off the edges.

      I think testers’ feedback is really valuable, too–they say “this doesn’t work with the story” or even “why don’t you use/clue this?” & when 2 people say it, you have to sit and think. It’s good motivation, and it pulls “how do I make a good puzzle” into “how can I make this work for my tester the next time?” Which is a less abstract question.

      If you’re planning your own puzzles, you may be relieved to know puzzles have rough drafts just as writing does. They’re simplified, or that extra neat twist is added in.

    • leeloodm says:

      For me the puzzles are almost a byproduct, because I just like to put a lot of stuff to mess around with in the world, and after a while ways to combine it will occur to me. Like, the example given in the review for Chlorophyll was the trouble tank that you need to get enough demerits to get thrown into — I was having the station giving demerits just as a cosmetic thing, and I thought it’d be neat to track them so you could see how many you had, and then I thought, what if something happens when you get enough of them? You might get put in jail, or something. And from there it’s not hard to think of the idea that maybe something important could be in the cell and you have to go in to get it. I’m still working on learning how to make a cohesive game that really focuses on one strong mechanic and exploits it to its full potential, because so far I’ve just been learning so they kind of go all over the place and fall into some beginner traps. (I had no idea that ‘abandoned space base’ was such a common setting! It kind of makes sense, though…the areas are sharply defined, there are lots of natural barriers, there’s an obvious reason why you can’t leave the game area, and robots and computers are easier NPCs to make.)

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