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IFComp - First 5 games COMPLETE - The Forbidden Codex of The Pink Beyond - A Sqrl's Journal

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October 6th, 2018

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07:55 pm - IFComp - First 5 games COMPLETE
IFComp. I can't believe I'm back at IFComp. Judging that ZZT thing reminded me it's possible to have a good time playing competition stuff, and I've been meaning to get back into text adventures.

It's important to remember the rules of IFComp. A judge bases their opinion on the first two hours of a game, no exceptions. I set a timer on my phone and propped it on my desk, so I'd know.

One thing I've noticed this comp is that many of the longest games are parser-based, but there's an absolute abundance of choice-based/web games made in TWINE or perhaps Choicescript or other HTML coding methods. I'm not the kind of parser-purist to be bothered by this... or I am, but NOT because grumble grumble twine games aren't real IF like some takes I've seen.

Rather, I'm bothered because several of the parser games this year are marked "more than two hours long". I know the authors hope I'll judge them fairly. I hope that too. The unfortunate reality is that it's already a barrier of entry to get people to type words into a prompt, after a couple decades of "you can't get ye flask" style jokes.

By entering a game you can't judge fully in the two-hour play window they're basically saying "Hey, I just want eyes on my game. I don't care if you can't complete it in time, just please look at this old-school thing I did."

What's the solution?

nyyhhhh. Answer unclear, consult alternate source. I just observe these things.


Many of these write-ups WILL CONTAIN FULL-GAME SPOILERS. You may wish to skip reading them if you want to play the games and particularly if you plan to judge these games.

10/3/2018, 5:15 AM

I clicked the "Random Shuffle" button. It was late, but I could see my way to a game or two (or six) before sleep.

GAME 1: The King of the World by G.A. Millsteed
Game Description from the IFComp Site: In this fantasy adventure, a boy discovers his destiny to become the legendary King of the World.

I say: A short and brisk-moving fairy tale that keeps changing styles.

Chapter 1 is an introduction to the setting and isn't terribly interactive. We're introduced to an elder and younger brother (Idris and Andras) of the Earth Kingdom and the central mythology of the piece: There are three elemental stones, three elemental kingdoms that keep the stones, and a crown, and if you put all three stones in the crown you become King of the World.

In this section of the game we're introduced to the fact that the game will tell us what we've done to affect the plot. Having "Because you chose [X]..." pop-up at the start of a paragraph is an interesting way of doing choice-driven gaming. I'm not sure if I like it or not. It feels very artifical but does make cause and effect absolutely transparent to the reader.

We're also introduced to Kari of the Water Kingdom, whose purpose in the narrative here is to fall for Andras instantly and then they make out like fifteen minutes later. Okay sure, fairy tale romance. This instant love turns out to be extremely lucky in Chapter 2.

Anyway Andras legit trips over his crown and becomes King. Time to unify the kingdoms by violent force!

Chapter 2 introduces a (much simpler) Banner Saga style resource mechanic as you march against the Water Kingdom. Morale, Supplies, and Time all matter as you work towards the ocean. In the end, Kari jacks the Water Stone and passes it over, well done to you.

Chapter 3 involves exploring an ancient library, which is a giant maze. This was easily the worst part of the game, as even the long sections which rely on clicking "Continue" repeatedly don't make you guess aimlessly at directions. It's possible to die in this chapter, which surprised the heck out of me and meant I had to speed-replay to this point. That's not a complaint, I just didn't realize it was that kind of story!

Finally, regardless of your choices up to this point, you get the Bioware Binary "embrace power/reject power" choice aaand then you win, hooray for you.

If I had to describe "King of the World" in brief, it would be "This is certainly a game all right." The text is fairly sparse and simple, but I think that fits the genre. It has some groaners but also a few evocative lines. The choices you make feel as if they matter within the narrative, I don't believe any are just choice-for-the-sake-of-it in that they all get remarked on, either at once or later. However, it feels like it has the bare minimum of interactivity I would consider to be "gamelike" as opposed to a purely linear click-for-next-page story or semi-interactive vignette.

It's fitting that this is the first game I played. This really is the baseline IF experience. Better than this is Actually Good, worse than this is Yikes Bad, but King of the World nets a very neutral score of 5.

Man, don't expect all my writeup/reviews to be this long. I'm still finding a groove here.

One more short one before bed.

GAME 2: Linear Love by Tom Delanoy
Game Description from the IFComp Site: And old-school love story set where else but in France.

I Say: Ooh, typo in the game description, never a good sign.

First impressions were weird on this one. A few paragraphs of text appeared and the words "Reader One" beneath them. I clicked experimentally and "Reader One" rocketed off the side of the page of text, which started wildly scrolling as paragraphs appeared and vanished rapidly.

Eventually I got it under control - clicks or arrow keys move Reader One around, but it really is a linear story, there's nothing that I can find hidden in the margins and if you try to skip around paragraphs, they just don't appear until you go back and trigger them all in sequence. So yes, this is the dreaded "completely linear prose" I alluded to last entry.

The tale itself is of a doomed summer romance, and a young man's embrace of loneliness as a way of cultivating mystery and allure. It's just not the kind of story that moves me, and being presented in a weird reverse 'scroll upward' sort of way didn't actually help it or accentuate it at all.

I tried reading the story in reverse order to see if there was a Clever Twist hidden, but no. This really is exactly what it looks like on the label.

This is TECHNICALLY interactive, in that you can scroll it. That's not really enough, in my opinion. What I look for out of interactive fiction is both that it be fiction (uh, usually) and that I be able to interact meaningfully with the text presented.

The Guidelines For Judges on the IFComp site suggest a score of 2 for "A work that technically qualifies as IF, but seriously misses the mark for one reason or another (or several)."

I am inclined to agree.

Anyway, then I got some sleep.

10/3/2018, 6:00 PM

So let's dive back in.

GAME 3: Dreamland by eejitlikeme.
Game Description from the IFComp Site:Dreams are fascinating, illogical, colourful, and some people just cannot live without them. Are you sleeping to remember or are you sleeping to forget?

I Say: Part of the problem with dreams is that they're very interesting to talk about and full of Meaning for the dreamer, and often not so much of interest or meaningful to an outside observer. You can try to intepret them and overlay signposted symbolism on the events of a dream but for the most part you're left going "Well. This sure was a thing that happened."

Well, this sure was a thing that happened.

Dreams are also great for slightly surrealistic not-quite-puzzle games, and this is one of those. After lounging around pre-bed doing various activities of your choosing (which you are assured is Very Important), you fall asleep and have weird dreams about books and plays and shopping.

The library section was somewhat frustrating to me. It starts off with a typo as you meet the librarian:

His stricking blue eyes look enormously big behind heavy round glasses.

From there he asks you to find the "correct" book for you, which led to me bringing him every book in the library and watching him toss it over his shoulder with a 'nah'. This sequence ran on so long for me I started to wonder if I was in a weird parody game, but I eventually did find the correct book.

I played the game through twice, once "to remember" and once "to forget" and didn't notice a great difference in anything save the library sequence. Still, that's replay value I suppose.

On the whole, I feel I didn't really understand the full meaning or intent of this one, but it was interactive, fictional, decently written aside from the odd typo (although I suspect the author's first language isn't English) and kept me interested. I recognize some of the books from the library, which was amusing but also led to a sense that they were perhaps randomly tossed in because they fit a theme. A hard-facts history of Nintendo is never going to seem very "dreamlike".

I'm going to go with a score of 5 here. Not great, not terrible, but decently done.

After that I took a few days off.

10/6/2018, 6:30 PM

GAME 4: Ürs, A rabbit odyssey by Christopher Hayes and Daniel Talsky of [[Rabbit, Rabbit]]
Game Description from the IFComp Site: You're a regular rabbit who's lived in the same warren your entire life. You have no reason to leave, but the THUD threatens to destroy all the baby kittens. Maybe something in the ancient places of the Ürs could help. A lushly illustrated adventure about rabbits, inspired by Watership Down, City of Ember, Skyrim, Caves of Qud, Super Mario Brothers, and Apocolypse now.

Well there's a fricking pedigree, now isn't it? Also I'm sorry, Urs, I'm not umlatting you every time I type that title.

All right, having just finished Urs, here's a list of everything wrong with it:

- Some typos and awkward grammar.
- The ending text made reference to some events I never saw on my first play-through because I was not quite thorough.
- The ending puzzle is perhaps a BIT learn-by-failing if you don't pick up on the contextual cues.

Aside from those things, I'm prepared to call this the first jewel of the Comp (that I've played). The writing here is vigorously rabbitesqe, the game text stays strongly in character at all times, the reveals aren't exactly surprising but were well-executed, and there was a heartfelt coda that gave me a warm feeling. This one is absolutely in my "yes, play this" pocket for introducing people to web-based/choice-based IF now.

That said, the typos and grammar mistakes were kind of really distracting. It wasn't a perfect game, and I feel like I should hedge my bets a little. I'm going to give this a score of 8 because scores of 9 and 10 ideally belong to even stronger games.

It's got a strong furry appeal. I know that was probably unintended, but it's right there.

Why the "Urs", anyway?


Let's wrap up this first journal post with a fifth entry.

10/6/2018, 7:40 PM

GAME 5: And You May Find Yourself - A Metaphysical Inversion by VPC.

Game Description from the IFComp Site: You awake one morning with a beautiful house, and a beautiful wife, and no idea how you got there.

And with that I draw nothing parser-based in my first five. The times really are a-changin'. Let's see what this is.

Well, what it is feels... slightly broken? You wake up, indeed, in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife, who is off taking a shower. You can join her and the narration favorably remarks on her nipples, at which point she may turn into a giant bird-goddess, except that probably didn't happen. Maybe.

The life you are in is not a life you recognize, but if you examine too many photographs the game forces a restart with a blank screen, and if you progress far enough the game reminds you that you forgot your phone upstairs. This is a dead end, you cannot go back upstairs, and you cannot find your phone before going downstairs.

It's an interesting premise and the text is somewhat better than the one-note joke I was expecting from the description, but this gets a flat score of 1 because unwinnable games bother me.

This is a shame, because I really quite like the interface, where you drag a verb to a noun or adjective to do things with it.

Scores so far, high to low:

Urs: 8
King of the World: 5
Dreamland: 5
Linear Love: 2
And You May Find Yourself: 1, unwinnable as far as I can find.

We'll see if I get to more.

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