IF Comp 2018: mini-reviews pt. 1

I am not going to have time to write up detailed thoughts about every game I play in the Comp; with a lot of games I don’t feel as though I have a huge amount to say about them, for good or ill, but it’s probably worth saying something. Most of these I’m going to be scoring in the 2-5 range – when I’m strongly engaged by a game I’m more likely to have things to say about it – but I may not have sorted out exactly where yet.

Brief notes follow on Ailiphilia, Anno 1700, Campfire Tales, Diddlebucker!, Dreamland, Escape from Dinosaur Island, Into the Lair, The King of the World, Linear Love, Re: Dragon, and StupidRPG.

StupidRPG feels more of a demo of the author’s web-dev abilities than a substantive story or game. It’s a light-comedy cave-crawl; I went to the walkthrough more out of boredom than difficulty. The writing’s warm and, while I wasn’t hugely interested in its world or story, it felt comfortable and welcoming overall. The music subtitles that you get if you choose not to play music are hands-down the funniest part.

Linear Love is a short story about a doomed romance that you interact with only through a somewhat awkward mode of scrolling. With exceptional writing it’s possible that this conceit could have worked, but it didn’t ring all that true to me. “She only loved me because I was so beautifully lonely and once we started dating I got all normie and boring” is a tough storyline to pull off; this doesn’t manage it.

The King of the World is a children’s fantasy with the sharp edges filed off and very light interactivity – a single choice in the first chapter. I found the plotting and prose way too bland to hold my attention given how little interaction was going on.

Diddlebucker! is a mild, bland, enthusiastic puzzler with no real substance other than a cosy Spielbergian-childhood retcon of the 80s as an innocent time when everyone got along cheerfully. It likes to use the word Gamer, capitalized, frequently. I am not here for this.

Flowers of Mysteria: That age-old motive, ‘I made a homebrew parser; it offers no advantages whatsoever over an established parser platform, and many disadvantages, but I wanted to make it anyway.’ A retro bare-bones text adventure which isn’t trying to do anything interesting. I don’t understand why characters called Rodney are so common in medieval-fantasy text adventures.

Ailiphilia: My basic feeling about Nord and Bert was that it was an interesting idea, but not really sufficient to support a good piece of IF unless it was developed into something with more attention to narrative coherence and naturalistic worlds. Andrew Schultz’s approach is that it’s enough to support an entire genre, and that narrative coherence and real-feeling environments are basically inconveniences. Every sentence reads like a cryptic crossword clue. This has its audience, but I am absolutely not it.

Into the Lair is a serviceable but not particularly striking story about being a newly-formed vampire who sets out to thwart the vampire that made them a thrall; you walk around an atrocity-soaked underground lair, killing or turning thralls until you fight the master vampire or flee the lair, the end. It’s OK – there’s not a great deal that’s obviously broken in terms of writing or implementation – but it’s taking a standard kind of vampire story and not really going anywhere with it. There’s a great deal of combat, which is tough to make compelling in text games. There’s also a fair bit of wandering around aimlessly in cave passages, but to its credit it does funnel you forwards in the story pretty well. Ends a bit abruptly; I felt it could have used some kind of epilogue.

Anno 1700 is a game that’s mostly about poking around in secret passages with medium-size dry goods; in theory you are uncovering a pirate romance mystery, but it really takes its time about getting around to that part, and is way more interested in tampering with the hard furnishings in fiddly ways I would absolutely never have thought of without the walkthrough. I gave up towards the end of a puzzle about clearing an obstacle by loading a centuries-old cannon with inexplicably well-preserved gunpowder. Doesn’t do a great job of describing its Attractive Female NPC.

Campfire Tales is a very short game designed to be read aloud in a group; I suspect that most comp judges will not play it as intended, and I’m guilty here. It has some light and not very consequential procedural elements, probably storing elements from some players to use in other players’ narratives; none of this is hugely novel and I didn’t feel it was deployed particularly well in the story, which is essentially the same thing each time. I thought that perhaps it might be intended for mobile, but trying it on a phone browser was, if anything, worse. Feels like a tech demo; not an impressive one.

Dreamland: The problem with dream games is that they can easily feel arbitrary and incoherent, especially when they’re not closely tied to strongly developed character. Thus Dreamland. I was held up quite quickly by a puzzle which I didn’t have the patience to brute-force (puzzles are very undreamlike; dreams move forwards without you having to understand them).

Escape from Dinosaur Island: Implements the feature absolutely nobody wanted: a web-based bare-bones parser that plays clicky sounds as you type. Its entire purpose is to feel like a mediocre 80s children’s game.

Re: Dragon: Very linear light IF-inside-joke comedy. Has capable presentation and writing, but neither really sparkled enough to lift the thing, and the pacing feels ponderous; I can absolutely see this working as a short story, but the main thing the interactivity accomplishes is to slow it down. Possibly the joke would have landed better if I had played The Dragon Will Tell You Your Future Now, or if bureaucracy-but-magic! was more novel; but it feels like a joke that takes too long in the telling.

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One Response to IF Comp 2018: mini-reviews pt. 1

  1. “Its entire purpose is to feel like a mediocre 80s children’s game.” Actually I think that was its whole purpose 🙂 I think Richard did a very good job in getting this across.

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