Archive for November 2017

IFComp 2017: Summary and Mini-Reviews   Leave a comment

Voting has closed although as of this writing results have not been released for the 23rd running of the Interactive Fiction Competition.

I did “full” reviews of 18 games, which I’ve linked to below. I have added 6 more games to the list which I didn’t do a full review of (mainly because I didn’t finish the game or at least didn’t feel like I was “done” yet) and I’ve put mini-reviews of those games below.

Highly Recommended

10pm by by litrouke
Guttersnipe: St. Hesper’s Asylum for the Criminally Mischievous by Bitter Karella
Harmonia by Liza Daly
Unit 322 (Disambiguation) by Jonny Muir
The Wand by Arthur DiBianca


A Beauty Cold and Austere by Mike Spivey
Black Marker by Michael Kielstra
Bookmoss by Devon Guinn
The Cube in the Cavern by Andrew Schultz
Day of the Djinn by paperyowl
Deshaun Steven’s Ship Log by Marie L. Vibbert
Queer In Public: A Brief Essay by Naomi Norbez
Salt by Gareth Damian Martin

Not Recommended

1958: Dancing With Fear by Victor Ojuel
A Castle of Thread by Marshal Tenner Winter
The Fifth Sunday by Tom Broccoli
Haunted P by Chad Rocketman
a partial list of things for which i am grateful by Deon Guinn
The Richard Mines by Evan C. Wright
Run of the place by WD\x{1F479}K
TextCraft: Alpha Island by Fabrizio Polo
Ultimate Escape Room: IF City by Mark Stahl


1958: Dancing With Fear by Victor Ojuel: Possibly the greatest setting / premise of the entire competition (you’re in a Caribbean country during a revolution, the game is framed around it being a 50s era movie) but I got bogged down by the parser and had to use a walk-through for nearly every action. There’s a “THINK” command which is essentially a built-in walk-through but I think the main game could use some more nudges. Probably the one most likely to bump up a level if the technical issues are resolved.

AND WHEN I SQUINT IT LOOKS LIKE CHRISTMAS by Norbez: The closest I played to a straight CYOA-book style experience. Written for children; maybe a little too much on that end for adults to completely enjoy. (“Wizards are real?! I think to myself, trying not to say it out loud. Just like in my fairy-tale books?!”) Still a solid yarn in general, although I want to stop for a brief rant about the font. It uses OpenDyslexic. I know people try to be well-meaning, but the idea that OpenDyslexic helps with dyslexic readers is not backed up by science: see this 2013 study, or this more recent one from 2016. Dyslexia is not in the eyes, but in the brain. The best thing you can do for a dyslexic reader is maximize readability in general; as a bonus, this will make things easier on all your other players too.

Bookmoss by Devon Guinn: A story about entering books through magic moss. I kept worried there would be some horror element but everything stayed pretty light. Good with afternoon tea. Could probably use some more substantial characterization.

Day of the Djinn by paperyowl: Your sister has left you a curse, and your goal is to break it. This is an adventure game in Twine and it suffers the typical-to-Twine issue of reducing what should be gleeful discovery into Just Clicking Stuff. Still, this is very solidly made and has potential to bump up to Highly Recommended once I check more of the endings.

Deshaun Steven’s Ship Log by Marie L. Vibbert: You steer an underachiever on a space ship; the story is told through his diary entries after the action happens. I felt like I was bouncing around at random like one of the crazier choose-your-own-adventure books even though there clearly was some undercurrent of agency, but I was never able to figure things out. It was funny enough that this didn’t really matter to me, though.

Guttersnipe: St. Hesper’s Asylum for the Criminally Mischievous by Bitter Karella: Super sharp characterization, as “Lil’ Ragamuffin, the roughest toughest urchin” tries to escape a brainwashing asylum. I love the companion sewer rat Percy (who went to Oxford, who in addition to being a fun conversationalist can read things for the illiterate main character). Unfortunately I also got very stuck with the puzzles once things opened up, and I’m worried the design might have some flaws later.


Posted November 16, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2017: A Castle of Thread   3 comments

By Marshal Tenner Winter. Finished on desktop using Gargoyle.

This parser game is technically standard-issue fantasy, but still has a cool premise: you are one of the few people who speak the obscure language Ixteesh, and due to your talents you have been invited (for mysterious regions) to the distant town of Badushizd.

Don’t be a damn fool while you are away from the village. Remember, you are representing House Kober. Also, be sure to stay near Venkath Mock. He is there to protect you on this errand.
As for that, when you reach Badushizd, seek Deviah at the Vulgar Unicorn tavern. She is the go-between and will take you where you need to be.
Be swift in this task and return home safe, son.
-Headman Phandaal Kober

The opening has you on board a vessel bound for your destination when you find a note slipped under your door that says you are in danger.

This is ambitious: there’s all sorts of NPCs to interact with, including major action scenes where they try to kill you. Unfortunately, the technical demands here exceed the author’s capability; each NPC has only two or three things to say, and it’s fairly easy to run into issues that break the solidity of the world. (Get used to seeing “There is no reply.” quite a bit if you’re not using the walkthrough.) The puzzles are difficult enough that it’s unlikely a player will simply zero in on the right solutions, but there is very little helpful feedback when taking the wrong approach to things.

Even when you have the right solution the parser can be a struggle. Here’s two examples:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted November 6, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2017: Salt, a partial list of things for which i am grateful, Run of the place   1 comment

Salt by Gareth Damian Martin. Finished on desktop.

a partial list of things for which i am grateful by Deon Guinn. Finished on desktop.

Run of the place by WD\x{1F479}K. Not finished.

A triple review! These happen to share a minimalist vibe, although they don’t share the same levels of quality.

Salt places you in the water, swimming to the sea, in a lightly-defined fantasy universe (lightly defined enough everything might be going on in the player character’s head).

Text is displayed in short spurts of 12 words or so at most. You start “above the water”, where there is no interativity other than to wait as messages slowly go by.

The beach is a strip of heat.

You stand knee deep in the water, facing out to sea.

Familiar voices shimmer behind your head.

You take a breath, and then begin.

The main interactivity after is to “swim”, which involves hitting the space bar. The space bar needs to be timed, however; there’s a meter that moves inward, and to get maximum swim distance you should hit the button the moment the meter goes away. Wait too long and the swimming ends.


…impossibly tuquoise…

…and warm, like no sea you’ve known.

Every once in a while you can make a choice by picking “up” or “down” but for the most part these are for flavor. The fact you can end swimming at any moment does lend itself to more agency than it initially appears. (I have a suspicion there are at least three endings and possibly more.)

The atmosphere (and music) are solid enough this is definitely worth the 15 minutes or so it takes to play through once, but of course I have a few quibbles:

a.) Even 15 minutes is possibly too long, given the interface; I went from interested to immersed to irritated from having to press the space bar every second in order to keep reading the underwater text. I could easily see a player having trouble altogether and quitting early. Perhaps an “accessibility mode” would help (one where you can just switch swimming on or off at will)?

b.) There’s a high pitched whine when going from underwater to above-water. For people with sensitive ears it is painful. The game recommends headphones; I recommend not using headphones.

c.) There’s not enough clues to really get a handle on who the PC is, who the other figures are, where this sea is located, and what’s really happening to the PC. This is clearly Intentional, but that’s also literally the entirety of the Plot, so I found it too vague to be fully pleasing.

d.) The above-water message speed was slow enough that I found myself doing chores while the game was playing, which is a definite sign the message speed could be bumped up a little.

a partial list of things for which i am grateful is a quite literal title. This isn’t some story where a list is included, or an ironic work where no such list exists. This is just a list of things.

You navigate from one thing to another by clicking one of the letters of the previous thing. The links are essentially at random so there is no agency. This isn’t even like one of the McSweeny’s lists where there’s humor or a story arc involved; this is just stuff the author likes, given in random order. Entered into an interactive fiction contest.

>> deep breaths << I guess I can, er, write about how it holds up as a list?

I've done this before with non-fiction entered into the contest, and what was essentially static fiction, but I have no idea what sort of aesthetic values to even use here. I guess, as an activity, it’s nice to reflect on good things. I get the “private game” vibe and I gather there might be lots of meaning here for the author and people who know the author. This doesn’t do anything for me, though.

In Run of the place, you pick one of 6 vague options (shown above) and then are treated to a random cavalcade of text by holding down the space bar.

That’s it. You hold the space bar, text keeps going. You let go, text stops.

I never ran into any “racist language” but I easily believe there might be some. The text appears to be scraped from somewhere and mixed up in a random generative sense. I’m curious what the source was; it reads like Twitter filtered through a madman-crazy writing style like The Time Cube.

I guess if you’re into that sort of thing, you can put on some space music, set the window to full screen, put a rock on your space bar, and zone out for a while. However, I don’t think free-form political ramblings are the healthiest thing to do this to.

There is a timer that goes for 2 hours exactly. I have no idea if something special happens at the end. I’m not curious enough to know.

Part of the now-gone Time Cube website. Via Know Your Meme.

Posted November 3, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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