IF Comp 2019: Blurbs

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IF Comp 2019 is here, and once again I want to do a bunch of reviews, and there are over eighty entries. It’s a lot of games? It’s still a lot of games. I’m going to triage them more or less how I have in the past few years: splitting them up into three buckets based on how appealing their blurbs and art are, and then working through them at a 2:1:1 ratio.

I wrote up a thing about how to write a good comp blurb recently. In the past it’s been a bit of a slog to rate all the blurbs in one go, so I thought that adding some more structure (yes, yes, to my already overfussy system, I know) might help. (It did, in fact, make things a lot more efficient.) I’ve ranked the blurbs from 1 to 5 on three criteria:

Clear: Do the blurb, title and cover art give me a strong idea of what this game is about and how it’s going to play? Does it give me information about both genre and distinctiveness, about the game’s theme and its mechanics? Does its premise leave me with niggling questions that I’d like to have a better idea about before playing the game?

Competent: Do I get a sense that this author has their shit together? Having confident, efficient, impactful writing in your blurb helps, and I like evidence of smart design choices. (Partly this is going to be a reputation effect: if you’ve already made games that have their shit together, I’m going to expect more of the same.)

Subjective: Am I interested in what this is offering? Everyone’s got tastes and gut feelings, and those matter when you’re choosing what to play.

(I have done some testing on Night Guard / Morning Star and on Turandot, so those are out of the running. I am on the comp advisory committee; opinions purely my own.)

These Are Good

Zozzled: This is a Steph Cherrywell game and the blurb does Steph Cherrywell things: good art of saucy ladies, over-the-top period argot, tropey mashups. I expect this to be fun, have a solidly-designed puzzle structure, contain an exuberant profusion of Stuff, be silly but contain a seasoning of more serious character development, to be actually funny, and to finish in the top three. Clear 5, competent 4.5, subjective 4.5: 14.

heretics.pngHeretic’s Hope: Now this is a really strong cover: nice palette, lots of texture. There are some small things which I’m mixed on – the text overlapping the foreground image is neither one thing nor the other, and the no-iris-or-pupil glowy eye kind of says ‘I wanted the facial expression to feel ambiguous, but it’s really difficult to pull that off, so I went with a Fantasy Cop-Out.’ But overall it’s solid. The blurb is good work, too: we’ve got theme, situation, problem, worldbuilding that doesn’t feel rote, and evidence of strong writing. Clear 4.5, competent 4.5, subjective 4.5: 13.5.

Poppet: This seems firmly in Bitter Karella’s wheelhouse of Tim Burton-y light trad puzzlers, so I have a really good idea of what to expect here. The art’s strong and fits the tone – the text could be clearer but it’s honestly big enough that the trade-off for aesthetic is worth it. Clear 5, competent 4, subjective 3.5: 12.5.

Limerick Heist: The art reads clearly and has a decent colour scheme, and frankly that’s pretty good going for a No Art Skills Cover. Normally, when I hear ‘poetry game’, I expect things to be terrible, because poetry is hard and failed poetry is painful. Limericks are a positive indicator, though, because they enforce a scheme of rhyme and metre that’s easy to work with, while still requiring care and attention to get right. People still manage to fuck up limericks all the time, but the one included here has not been fucked up, so I have immediate warm feelings about this. I’m not sure that this will be sustainable, but I’m happy to give it a shot. Clear 4, competent 4, subjective 4: 12.

The Legendary Hero Has Failed: This is clear about content and tone; I feel like I have everything I need to know here. Getting a lot of mini-storygame-TTRPG vibes here, honestly. Hints at social mechanics, although I might be disappointed there. Clear 4.5, competent 3.5, subjective 3.5. 11.5.

skybreakSkybreak: Boy, that’s some cover. It doesn’t work too well at size, for a start, and the comping’s pretty janky, and the focal-point planet looks like a child did it in MS Paint, and there’s this weird combination of esoteric ritual symbols and a garish colour scheme and a font that screams ‘it’s 1999 and I’m sending out invites to my suburban margarita party.’ It’s horrible but it’s interestingly horrible. I am prima facie interested in more William Dooling games, but this seems like a big departure from Six Silver Bullets; this is pitched as, uh, pretty much Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom but with rayguns. That premise could turn out fun or ditchwater-bland, but I’m curious. Clear 4, competent 3.5, subjective 4: 11.5.

Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: The Text Adventure: Consciously bad run-on title, but a concise premise that gives a lot of ideas about content and some about tone. The art’s fine – not pretty, but it contributes to the mood. Clear 4.5, competent 4, subjective 3.5: 11.5.

Río Alto: forgotten memories: The font maybe isn’t perfect but overall I really like this cover a whole lot! The blurb gives us a fair amount – this is going to be a memory-exploration game with a focus on character – although it’s a tiny bit light on specifics, and the phrasing could be a bit stronger, I think. Clear 4, competent 3.5, subjective 4: 11.5.

Dungeon Detective 2: Devils and Details. This is pretty much a repeat of the first game’s elements: capable artwork with less-capable lettering, writing that’s competent and informative but not particularly grabby, a mystery premise. I don’t expect this to be a departure from the first one, which was decent work. Clear 4.5, competent 4, subjective 3: 11.5.

enceladusEnceladus: ‘Aw man, a Robb Sherwin game’ with a side of ‘hunh, this cover does not give me typical Robb Sherwin vibes.’ It’s a good cover except for some elements being too small (the subtitle is hard to read, the thing that’s probably a spaceship is easy to overlook) – it suggests a mood and a hard-SF genre, has simple but strong composition, the ’00s-rough-and-edgy font works here. It’s really at odds with the wacky-sounding goofy-space-adventures blurb, though! Knowing Robb Sherwin games I can maybe see a way that the two might be reconciled, but that might not be as easy for a fresh reader. Clear 3, competent 4, subjective 4.5: 11.5.

Remedial Witchcraft: This is a simple cover but I kind of like it: it’s clear and has a unified palette and the font, while not super pretty, is clear. We’ve had a lot of Worst Witch games, and the blurb here isn’t making this one stand out: the main bit of data I’ve got to go on here is that the author wrote Transient Skies last year, and boy that’s a big departure but it kind of interests me. Clear 3.5, competent 4, subjective 4: 11.5.

eccentrics.jpgThe Four Eccentrics: I really want to like this cover: the very full frame and the strong, narrow palette and the font make me think of paperback cover art from the 60s or 70s. The main issue is that the white text – while totally right for the aesthetic it’s going for – just doesn’t have enough contrast to stand out. Blurb: dreams are usually a negative for me in IF, but this comes off as a little more promising than the average Story About Dreams. Clear 3.5, competent 3.5, subjective 4: 11.

De Novo: The art almost achieves elegant simplicity, but the text is way too small. This is a good compact blurb that offers really good information, but the prose stumbles a bit: ‘players are given the power to decide fate on who lives and who dies.’ Clear 4.5, competent 2.5, subjective 3.5. 11.

Break Stuff: Gives us information about theme and player action. The art isn’t pretty, and the image isn’t immediately readable – it’s not clear what that object is, exactly, and it looks abandoned and derelict rather than smashed in anger – but it does give a pretty good idea of this as a zine-like, writing-focused piece. Clear 4.5, competent 3, subjective 3.5: 11.

These Are Fine

Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir: I’m here for some dick jokes, generally speaking, but getting the register right can be tough: an emphasis on ‘cannot unsee’ isn’t my favourite, here. Could go either way. The art’s got a sort of Phil Foglio vibe going on – which, appropriate – but a lot of the details are a bit indistinct, especially around the face. The text is readable enough, but at the expense of rather crowding the image. Clear: 4, competent 3.5, subjective 3. 10.5.

goodpeopleThe good people: This is a nice visual idea that falls a bit short in the execution. Pseudavid makes interesting things; but this gives mostly a lot of hints about theme and fewer about situation and plot. It’s probably going to be Heavy Stuff, though. Clear 2.5, competent 4, subjective 4: 10.5.

Dull Grey: I like the art, but it relies on details – the bridge – the foreground building – which are a bit unclear at this size. The blurb could use a tighter edit both for length and for language, but it gives us lots of interesting information. This isn’t boring – it’s a mixture of strong elements that are being undercut. Clear 4, competent 2.5, subjective 4: 10.5.

Black Sheep: For a blurb this is too long to be impactful: it gives me a lot of plot information – probably more than I need right away! – but it kind of loses tone and style along the way, and it seems to be aiming at Generic Cyberpunk. No real art, but that gives a better impression than doing something ugly. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 3.5: 10.5.

Citizen of Nowhere: I like the colour scheme of the artwork a lot, although as a four-panel composition it could have been stronger – I’m not wild about the blurry rabbit statue thing and I suspect the beer coasters (?) would have been better if there was just one of them at a larger size. The blurb gives us a lot to go on.

(‘A dry sense of humour’ is one of those Phrases Never To Use. When people use it of someone else’s work, it usually means what it says; when people use it of their own work, it usually means ‘I think that being a cynical asshole makes me funny.’) Clear 4.5, competent 3.5, subjective 2.5: 10.5.

Each-uisge: The cover has good instincts – evocative photo and colouring, blurry Eerie Horror font – and I like the framing of the horse face. But that text isn’t quite there: the line break is awkward, and the hyphen gets lost. I like folklore-based stuff, so points there. The blurb is going for something good but fails in the execution: ‘however that particular piece of advice does not always hold true’ feels fussily-phrased rather than ominous, so it doesn’t give me the impression that this will have the delivery needed to make eerie horror work. Clear 3.5, competent 3, subjective 4: 10.5.

Abandon Them: This is a clear statement of what the work’s about and what it’s . And I like works that burrow into fairy stories. The phrasing, though, is kind of off-putting,  -‘what exactly happened’ is a sort of category-error question when you’re talking about folk-tales, I think. The cover is readable but the retro-videogame aesthetic seems a weird choice. Clear: 4.5, competent 3, subjective 3. 10.5.

Pas De Deux: There are lots of things about this – music-based, parser/choice hybrid – which raise some questions about how this is all going to work, and which could be great or disastrous. So I’m curious but not confident about it. Cover: boring but does the job. Clear 3.5, competent 3.5, subjective 3.5: 10.5.

Mental Entertainment: This looks like the cover of an academic publication in either digital humanities or psychology – which is pretty close, turns out. Getting some Human Errors vibes off this, and I’m into conversation-driven things in general, but I’m also not feeling super hype about it: it just feels a bit bland overall. Clear 4, competent 3.5, subjective 3: 10.5.

Skies Above: The cover has a very bright, crisp, rounded feel that conveys Cheerful Children’s Game effectively but doesn’t have a lot of personality. The blurb – concise, informative – tends to confirm that impression. I like children’s fiction but I like it with lots of personality and without all the jaggedy edges microsanded away. IF doesn’t have a great record for good children’s games – my default expectation here is that this will be capably, diligently made but plain-oatmeal bland. Clear 4.5, competent 4, subjective 2: 10.5.

Under the Sea: This is a kind of murky photo even at full size, it doesn’t really have a strong subject, and the text is OK colour-wise but that means it’s got the same sort of grainy greyness as everything else. The blurb is informative but a little on the bland side: for as cool a subject as wreck-diving this could have been a lot more grabby. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 3.5: 10.5.

Roads Not Taken: This feels like a memoir piece and/or bildungsroman. Or just a memory of scout camp. The cover isn’t visually strong, exactly – meh font, that awkward Photoshop-filter attempt to make a photo feel generic that’s virtually a trademark of low-rent game art – but it conveys a mood: this is an old photo of an awkward youth about to embark on a journey, and who must be a different person now. So our genre is very well-fixed, at least! Clear 3.5, competent 4, subjective 3: 10.

pirateship.jpgPirateship: I feel like I really ought to have played some Robin Johnson games by now, but somehow I always seem to miss them every comp – partly because they’ve come out in very big comps when I was very distracted, but also because they’re pitched in a way that suggests that the goal is to pick a pulp genre and handle it in as generic a way as possible, which just is not my scene. Everything about this seems calculated to that objective: there is nothing in here which indicates anything other than stock pirate tropes, and the mid-century bricolage design of the cover basically proclaims it. There’s not even the sketch of a generic plot. Clear 4, competent 4, subjective 2: 10.

Iamb(ici): boy, this cover is giving me some 90s Cyberfuturism vibes. From the blurb this is clearly a Dystopian Tech Game – the Ironic Tech-Optimism Blurb is a real standard mode at this point, and this takes a bit too long over a familiar trope, and could do more to make this particular thing compelling. Poetry: could be a blessing or a curse, unclear which. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 3: 10.

Chuk and the Arena: The MS-Paintish art isn’t technically strong – those little insect-things really confuse the visual impact – but it does convey something about character and tone. The blurb’s a nice tight pitch about narrative and setting, which is helped a lot by the tags – the only question I’ve really got is about whether this is actually a combat game or not. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 310.

Hard Puzzle 4: The Ballad of Bob and Cheryl: This feels like a pitch for a short puzzle-piece, but it seems like it’s going for a bit more narrative context than that might imply. Clear 4, competent 4, subjective 2: 10.

Slugocalypse: Boy, it didn’t take long for the goose game to get into things, did it? This is a cover by someone who can obviously draw, but at size there are some problems. The slugs, ostensibly the stars of the piece, kind of fade into the background: they’re a lot smaller, more mid-toned and less detailed than the houses they’re rampaging over. The setting does a really good job of evoking a very-ordinary British town, and it gets the idea across when you look closer at it, but it could have so much more impact than this. The blurb is fine: informative but not really attempting to be punchy or – I’m assuming this is a comedy, because giant slugs – funny. This does the job but doesn’t get me excited. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 3: 10.

Saint City Sinners: The pitch here is Noir But Goofy. It takes way more text than necessary to establish this. The photo is a pretty nice photo at full size – but reduced, with all that white text over the top of it, it sort of turns into an indistinct pyramid of smoke. I have a strong idea about what we’re getting, though! Clear 4.5, competent 2.5, subjective 3: 10.

The Sweetest Honey: I like the general design idea of this cover a lot, but the detail on the wreath is kind of muddy at scale and the Photoshop glow makes it worse. The writing is clearly second-language – conversationally fluent but not fully proficient. The blurb’s concise but could be much more so without losing information; it gives a good idea of theme, and the character and plot are clearly in service to that. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 3: 10.

omnivore.pngExtreme Omnivore: Text Edition: The title’s kind of consciously at odds with the cutesy artwork and blurb – ‘extreme’ and ‘omnivore’ are both words that tend to signal a certain register of masculinity, but this is also a game with pastel colours and childlike fonts and cupcakes and a dog protagonist. So this is giving me plenty of signals but I don’t trust ’em: I’m half-expecting this to pull some kind of Happy Tree Friends move where it starts out cute but actually you eat your dead owner’s face, or something? Either way it’ll get cleared up quickly. Clear 2.5, competent 3.5,  subjective 3.5: 9.5.

Faerethia: Over-the-top fantasy-land titling. The layout on the title isn’t terrible but the script font, while not bad on pure aesthetic grounds, is hard to read. The blurb gives off a vibe of C19th children’s fantasy, which could… be good or end up feeling like a patronising and faintly creepy great-uncle. I have a pretty good idea of the tone the author wants to hit; I’m not convinced he’s going to accomplish it. Not a lot of clues about how it plays. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 2.5: 9.5.

Lucerne: The cover is going for a particular style of eerie silhouette art – long-associated with sinister tellings of fairy-tales – but the elements don’t really hang together. The blurb is informative but kind of blander style-wise than I’d expect from dark fantasy. Clear 4, competent 2.5, subjective 3. 9.5.

The Milgram Parable: I am meh about Stanley Parable fanfic, and further meh about things which rely on the Milgram Experiment, which is, if not exactly debunked, then certainly among those classic psych experiments which are looking pretty wobbly of late – certainly not at the level of confidence where it can be relied on to present Uncomfortable Facts. The art’s clear and works as a tribute; I have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. Clear 4.5, competent 3, subjective 2. 9.5.

Planet C: This offers a management game with an environmental bent – so far so good, but management games are somewhat difficult to pull off, so I’m not getting my hopes up too high. The blurb gets the idea across but it isn’t great writing – most obviously, it skews rather towards the ‘a game where YOU decide’ style, which, y’know, not a big selling point in a management game. Clear 4, competent 2, subjective 3.5: 9.5.

Truck Quest: We’ve got one ironic Simulator title, so obviously we need an ironic Quest title. The cover is hideous but it’s very legible. The blurb suggests that we are in full-on gonzo mode, where Edgy and Zany collide; it’s a mode that can work but I generally expect it not to. Mechanically I expect some kind of Taipan trading-game shell, but I have no idea how fully realised it’ll be. Clear 4.5, competent 3, subjective 2: 9.5.

URA Winner! This cover has a cohesive colour scheme, crisp readable text, and an image that conveys information, but it’s still pretty boring. This feels like it’s going to be a one-note cyberdystopia satire; it might develop into more but we’ve got no hints about that. Clear 4, competent 3.5, subjective 2: 9.5.

Alice Blue: This is confusing to me because someone in the IF community was going by that name for a while there. In general I am slightly negative on Alice in Wonderland-inspired works; it suggests ‘just slightly too hype about Godel, Escher, Bach‘. The blurb focuses on the thing’s thematics and tells us pretty much nothing else about it, so this gives vibes of Let Me Expound To You About My Philosophy Thoughts more than anything else. The art’s almost pretty but the icon-like bits at top and bottom area bit blurry and unreadable. Clear 2.5, competent 3.5, subjective 39.

Winter Break at Hogwarts: The cover’s really just some text slapped on someone else’s image, and the text isn’t slapped on well: it’s a good colour but it’s too small and spidery to read clearly against that detailed background. This is presenting itself as a fairly orthodox parser game – deserted space, possibly some magic mechanics, light mystery plot – in a Harry Potter setting. So, I tested Flourish Klink’s Muggle Studies back in the day, and I think that a big part of why the response to it was fairly muted was: it’s a hard-mode move to take a well-known setting that’s mainly beloved for its familiar characters, and then take all the characters out of it. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 2: 9.

For the Moon Never Beams: this really isn’t a strong title. The art looks capable – possibly a commission, although I’m not quite sure what that open hand is doing – but the Infocom box-art framing makes it waaay too small, blurring details (particularly the face and text). The blurb suggests by-the-numbers B-movie horror with a touch of nostalgia (with the art, a lot of nostalgia): this is conveying its touchstones pretty well but not setting itself apart. Clear 3.5, competent 3.5, subjective 2: 9.

The House on Sycamore Lane: I like this cover mostly because it feels so much like a horror novel of a particular era. Considered purely as a watercolour painting it’s nothing special, but as a cover it hits the feeling just right: and the text is more well-integrated than it has any right to be. The blurb is less fortuitous: it’s aiming for a very standard genre and not offering much that’s special about it; but at least it’s concise. Clear 3.5, competent 3.5, subjective 2. 9.

caroline.jpgThe Mysterious Stories of Caroline: This cover was designed as a book cover, no question – and as a book cover it’d be really good! It’s pretty! But it is very poorly adapted to its context: the text is much too small and in a hard-to-read script. The blurb is information-oriented and blandly styled. Content-wise, though, oof – this is a difficult subject and there are lots of ways it could be mishandled in an interactive format. It’s pretty clear about the subject, but not in a way that gives me more confidence about the thing. Clear 3, competent 3.5, subjective 2.5: 9.

The Chieftain: The art is hella ugly; it’s mostly readable, though, although the choice of what look like 3D rendered spears is not the best for that. This is a long, poorly-structured and not very well-written blurb, which gives me concerns about how well the game will communicate information in general. I enjoy management games, but this isn’t telling me a lot about how this is different from a thousand other management games. Clear 3.5, competent 2, subjective 3. 8.5.

Eldritch Everyday: The Third Eye. This is just the title and the content warnings, although those actually give you everything you need to know as far as theme goes. Clear 2.5, competent 2.5, subjective 3: 8.5.

Valand: The title makes me think of rugged Nordic coastlines, so the tropical beach is a bit of a contrast. The cover’s OK: no huge missteps, it’s a nice enough photo that does some setting work, the text’s legible, but it feels pretty generic. The blurb opens on a really awkward clause arrangement – “When you, a ten year old called Sam, fell into the ocean…” This seems like it’s going to be a children’s fantasy adventure, but it’s also giving off vibes that suggest it’s going to be a very bland one. Clear 4, competent 2.5, subjective 2: 8.5.

Flygskam Simulator: Boy, it’s been a while since we got a title using ‘simulator’ to mean ‘a game about.’ Did not miss it. Did not know the word prior to this title; strongly suggests that it’s an Earnest One-Issue Take Game, but if I hadn’t searched it this might not have been all that clear. Clear 3.5, competent 3, subjective 2: 8.5.

Flight of the CodeMonkeys: Everything about this suggests that it’s (what I think of as) Server Room Comedy, a genre written by tech professionals for tech professionals and amusing to nobody else – the cover even suggests that sort of badly-drawn early-00s webcomic. I’m kind of interested in the idea of a game where the mechanic is interacting through code, but the presentation doesn’t draw me in. Clear 3.5, competent 3, subjective 2: 8.5.

Bad Water: This signals a little about mechanics, but some of what it’s conveying (‘puzzle’) is hidden away in near-unreadable blurry text. ‘A tribute to an obscure early 2000s indie game’ doesn’t tell me much at all unless I recognise the game immediately, which I don’t. ‘Surprising’ is one of those words you probably shouldn’t use about your own work. Clear 2, competent 3, subjective 3: 8.

Clusterflux: The art is simple but effective – maybe the text’s a little confused by the reflection beneath it but it’s not awful. But the idea it’s illustrating – pick a door! – is just not very appealing in an IF context. The blurb offers interesting details but not much about gameplay, and there are writing missteps (‘happens to be’ is usually worth editing out). Clear 2.5, competent 3.5, subjective 2: 8.

Frenemies: This is giving off strong vibes of ’80s movie about jocks and nerds’, which, enh. Communicates itself fairly well, but I’m not interested in what it’s offering. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 1: 8.

Island in the Storm: The cover’s OK, I guess: nice visual idea, so-so execution, boring but legible text. Blurb: I’m OK with this premise but the delivery is kind of flat. I’m a little sceptical about the platform – its page seems to suggest that the main thing it offers is a convenience for Python coders, rather than anything notable on the player side, and making a good parser platform is a huge task that’s often underestimated. Clear 2.5, competent 2.5, subjective 3: 8.

John Doe – Wildcard Nucleus. The cover and the blurb are slightly at odds. The blurb basically just says ‘yer standard James Bond’, which, yawn. The cover suggests… maybe something more like edgy/ironic late-C20th pop-lit? And ‘wildcard nucleus’ gives me nothing except for feeling like one of those phrases that comes into an author’s head and sounds kind of cool in spite of being meaningless so they use it as a title to get rid of it. Clear 3.5, competent 3, subjective 1.5: 8.

Language Arts: This is a pretty ugly cover image, and another Ironic Tech-Optimism Blurb that goes on for too long. It also doesn’t give a lot of clues about play – given that it’s parser I’m kind of expecting a Shitty Office Game with elements of mystery, but I dunno! Clear 2.5, competent 3, subjective 2.5: 8.

the secret of vegibal island: This is going to be a parody of Monkey Island, but it’s not clear whether it’s just going to be goofs or some kind of satire about tourism. The one joke in the blurb – ‘boredomness’ – isn’t funny, which doesn’t bode well for its comedy writing. Clear 3, competent 2.5, subjective 2.5: 8.

Sugarlawn: The cover is OK – it’s a decent enough photo, likely taken by the author, with some text that prioritises legibility. It does some setting-establishing work and that’s it. It’s a cover that says ‘I need a cover, and all I need to do is not fuck it up.’ And it doesn’t fuck it up! The blurb, now – that’s going for a ‘this is weird, what the hell is going on?’ effect, and it gets that effect, but it’s not an effect that makes me want to play the game. My assumption is that it’s going to be a low-narrative puzzlebox just because that’s Mike Spivey’s usual deal, but I don’t get that from the blurb at all. Clear 2, competent 3, subjective 2: 8.

Treasure Hunt in the Amazon: The art here feels as if it’s taken from a mid-century cartoon – I can’t remember which, but it sure feels familiar. It reads well, in any case. The title, cover and blurb are all delivering much the same message: this is a tropey light comedy old-school puzzle adventure; it stresses that ‘old-school challenges are optional’, but I’m not sure quite what that means – does it mean I can skip puzzles, or is it a matter of removing things like hunger and inventory limits and combat? It’s unlikely to address the genre’s colonialism, at any rate. Clear 4, competent 3, subjective 1: 8.

These Have Got Some Problems

robotsexpartymurder: I feel like a game that’s about hypothetical robotics ethics that immediately goes into ‘and also you fuck them’ is pretty much impossible to pitch without seeming real uncomfortable. Still, like, Choice of Robots managed it; but this is leaning into the edginess. There’s a lot of different elements going into this and I’m not real clear where the focus is going to be. The cover’s intentionally a bit of a messy juxtaposition, and it sort of works but also the focal point doesn’t really feel like anything. Clear 3, competent 3, subjective 1.5: 7.5.

summernightSummer Night City: OK, here’s a digital painting that really works at size. It provides mostly mood, though. I’m getting a sort of overwrought C19th-gothic vibe off this; the author can clearly write in that mode but I’m not convinced that they can make it compelling. We have lots of clues about style, mood theme, and very little about plot or mechanics: I’m expecting a heavy emphasis on the former and very little of the latter. Clear 2.5, competent 3, subjective 2: 7.5.

Eye Contact: The cover’s fine but it doesn’t add a lot of information to the title, and the text is much too small. This is going for a lot of ambiguity: even if this was just a tech demo I’d want to know more about the narrative elements. I would like there to be a developed conversation system here, but I kind of expect a fairly standard menu-based or choice-tree thing. Clear 2, competent 3, subjective 2.5: 7.5.

The Call of the Shaman: Clearly aiming at generic fantasy-adventure, and probably in a classic parser style. No art. Princess rescue and potential for Fantasy Cultural Appropriation. Clear 4, competent 2.5, subjective 1. 7.5.

aarramArram’s Tomb: MS-Painty art with hideous barely-legible Gothic font just sort of jammed over it. For what’s basically a D&D party, this looks real boring, too: axe barbarian, rogue, Gandalf surrogate, and the token woman is a cleric with big tits and humourless ice-maiden demeanour. The blurb, too, is basically just ‘this is a post-D&D cave crawl’, with some awkward phrasing. Clear 5, competent 1.5, subjective 1:  7.5.

Bradford Mansion: This cover might have pulled off the so-so 3D render if not for that title font: the boring Gothic font and the glow effect are exactly what you’d expect in something from the aughts with a lot of ugly 3D renders, so the font makes me see the artwork as much worse than it is. The text tells you everything you need to know, but offer nothing distinctive, and the rhetorical questions waste space. Clear 4, competent 2, subjective 1.5. 7.5.

Out: Is this about the queer sense of coming out? Probably, maybe? The cover is really boring but at least legible well-composed. Clear 2, competent 2, subjective 3: 7.

For the Cats: This is a cute photo but a bad cover: too grey and indistinct. Points for effort for doing your own script, but it doesn’t pop enough to be easily read. From the blurb, I feel like I already know everything I need to about this, theme and tone-wise – but to the point where I don’t necessarily feel I’ll gain much more by playing it. Clear 3, competent 2, subjective 2: 7.

 Randomized escape: This is some pretty nice cover art, but the text is both boring and a bit hard to make out, plus it’s a terrible title. On the one hand, I love me some procgen. On the other hand, the Modron Cube was a brutal satire, not an aspirational model: procgen does not excuse you from boring content, and this is a very boring Amnesia Premise. Clear 2.5, competent 2, subjective 2.5: 7.

 Randomized escape: This is some pretty nice cover art, but the text is both boring and a bit hard to make out, plus it’s a terrible title. On the one hand, I love me some procgen. On the other hand, the Modron Cube was a brutal satire, not an aspirational model: procgen does not excuse you from boring content, and this is a very boring Amnesia Premise. Clear 2.5, competent 2, subjective 2.5: 7.

Rip Retold: This is a very pretty image that gives us very little information. ‘A twist on a sleepy old classic’ – I guess from outside information that this is Rip van Winkle, but ‘rip’ has enough senses that I don’t get that from the blurb. (It’s not thought of as so much of a Classic Story outside the US, also.) Clear 1.5, competent 2.5, subjective 3: 7.

Fat Fair: Well, this is odd, at least. The art is fine – not great, but it does the job. Offers a lot of information about the mechanics, but I’m not confident about where the tone is going. ‘Contains crass humor. And worse‘ in a game with ‘fat’ in the title suggests South Park-ish douchebag comedy, which is off-putting. Clear 2, competent 3, subjective 2: 7.

Meeting Robb Sherwin. Nice enough photo, text kinda jammed on there but at least you can read it. It doesn’t give me very much else to go on except that it’s slice-of-life. Clear 2, competent 2.5, subjective 2: 6.5.

The Shadow Witch: This cover does not work: I kind of get the eye conceit, but the figure within it is indistinct even at full size. The blurb itself is a good concise delivery that gives some idea about character and objective. But I’ve got questions about the combination of a content warning for ‘abuse’ when this is pitched as a fantasy comedy – not that these are incompatible, it’s more that the combination makes me feel less certain about what either categorisation means. In totally subjective territory, I really dislike the RPG Maker old-school JRPG idiom and think it’s a really cumbersome format for IF. Clear 2, competent 2.5, subjective 1.5: 6.

A Blue Like No Other: This blurb is nothing but questions; the art manages to make a simple-text cover difficult to read with low-contrast colour choices and a boring but less-legible script font. It gives us some idea about theme, but that’s about it. Clear 1.5, competent 2.5, subjective 2: 6.

The Untold Story: This uses the default I7 cover, which is somehow more half-assed than using no cover. The blurb’s prose is weakly-constructed to the point where it’s not smoothly followed, and the plot it conveys relies kind of heavily on Mysterious Vagueness. I expect a fairly standard parser explore-the-family-home-to-remember deal, though, so it gets something across. Clear 2, competent 1.5, subjective 2: 5.5.

Ocean Beach: Minimalist-awkward cover; almost no information; I was expecting this to be a 15-minute Twine reflective thing, maybe, but dang, it’s an hour-and-a-half parser game! Needs something to draw me in, here. Half a point for being concise, I guess? Clear: 1, competent: 2.5, subjective 2. 5.5.

Old Jim’s Convenience Store: See, here’s the thing: in 2019, if the One Thing That Makes Your Game Interesting is a secret plot twist, I’m probably not going to play your game. Clear: 1, competent: 2.5, subjective 2: 5.5.

Gone Out For Gruyere:What would YOU do if you were bullied by a huge wheel of cheese??” I dunno; this is either a silly question or a very niche fetish. Next. Clear 2, competent 2, subjective 1.5: 5.5.

The Ouroboros Trap: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: You wake up alone in a room with no memories of how you got there and no way out. Oh, you have heard that one? Well, okay. Well, I guess you’ll just have to trust me on this one.” My dude, if Emily Short, Jon Ingold and Kentucky Route Jake descended on a beam of sunlight to pitch me this premise I might trust them on this one, but I would make sure they noticed my performative side-eye. Clear 1.5, competent 2, subjective 1.5. 5.

Very Vile Fairy File: This is a wordplay game that is making me flinch at the half-rhymes right from the outset. That’s all the information I’m really given, and I hate badly-constructed poetry in games. Clear 2, competent 2, subjective 1: 5.

The Surprise: It’s autobiography, and that’s the only thing you get. This basically just takes a pass on everything. Clear 1, competent 1, subjective 2: 4.

 

 

 

 

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8 Responses to IF Comp 2019: Blurbs

  1. dfabulich says:

    Some of these blurb reviews incorporate the author’s previous work into your review of whether the blurb is clear/competent. I’m not sure that makes sense as a “blurb review.” I mean, sure, Bitter Karella *is* likely to deliver yet another very competent Quest game, but I don’t think the *blurb* demonstrates that.

  2. matt w says:

    In defense of VVFF, there are a lot of (esp. American?) dialects in which “very,” “fairy,” “wary,” and “Kerry” are all true rhymes. I’ve had people tell me I wasn’t pronouncing “Mary,” “marry,” and “merry” differently while I was doing it.

    OTOH the game’s introduction does do “Crawl” and “Fall” among other things, and I know your feelings about Andrew Schultzian IF, so…. Mostly what this makes me wonder is how “Billy Boling” fits in with the theme.

  3. Andrew Wright says:

    I am a teacher of English as a second language for primary age students. While experimenting with RPGs in the classroom, I recently rediscovered IF. I have tried using Lost Pig and Hitchhiker’s guide and a couple of twine-based games, but am looking for others.

    Do you have any recommendations or suggested places to look for IF with very simple language and non-adult themes? I know this is a big ask but I would appreciate the help.

    • No problem! I think the first place to look would be the IFDB: it isn’t a perfect or fully comprehensive resource (in particular, a *lot* of Twine works have probably eluded listing on there), but it does have tags like kid-friendly that you could use to cast your net.

  4. Pingback: Mid-October Link Assortment – Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

  5. Pingback: IFComp 2019 review: A Blue Like No Other (Dan Cox) – Comfort Castle

  6. chrisnordlander says:

    I usually enjoy your IF Comp articles, and this one is no exception. Will go on to read your reviews now.

    Feel the need to point out that “For the Moon Never Beams” comes off as odd to me as well, but it sounded familiar, so I checked and confirmed that it’s a line from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee”.

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