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posted by [personal profile] xenoglossy at 12:16am on 15/11/2017 under
I have in the past been in the habit of just posting reviews of the Interactive Fiction Competition to the Intfiction.org forums directly, but the format has changed this year and it seems to be less of a done thing, so I'm just going to dump them on this largely dead blog.


8 Shoes on the Shelves

This game had fantastic atmosphere, which made it all the more disappointing that I could never figure out how to do anything in it besides get killed by the monster and kill the monster. The walkthrough assures me that this means I am missing the bulk of the game's content, but doesn't tell me how to find the rest of it, nor are there in-game hints. I also had issues even getting out of the first room, as the verbs needed to get out from under the debris were a little obtuse.



Eat Me

I am particularly squeamish about the anthropomorphism of food (or at least the eating of things that have been anthropomorphized), so I possibly had a somewhat more uncomfortable time playing this game than I was supposed to--I know it's supposed to be somewhat uncomfortable, of course, but... if you're familiar with the concept of a squick, that's what I've got going on here. If not, uh, it grosses me out in a sort of visceral, knee-jerk way to such an extent that I have difficulty deriving enjoyment from works that contain it?

All that being said, this is easily one of the best games I've played so far this Comp. It's got a distinctive narrative voice that croons to the player with unsettling sweetness, and the puzzle design is fantastic. It's essentially a one-verb game, but manages to parlay that into some pretty complex puzzles without things feeling arbitrarily overcomplicated. And I always appreciate a well-integrated in-game hint system, though fortunately I didn't need to lean too heavily on it in this case.



1958: Dancing with Fear

I found this an enjoyable piece of interactive spy fiction, with a setting you don't see often in IF, which helped it feel fresh. A lot of its charm also rests on the strength of personality of its protagonist. Puzzle design was also pretty good, though there were a few implementation hiccups. For example, you can't "put record on player," only "play record," and when you're given a meaningful Bible passage, you can't "look up numbers in Bible," just "read Bible"--looking at these examples, the version the game recognizes is simpler and probably easier for someone without much IF experience to guess at, but veteran IF players are probably inclined to be more specific and granular and it's nice to make it so that either way works. But that's a minor quibble, really--I liked the game a lot.

I didn't manage to check out the multiple endings--I didn't realize either that there were multiple endings or that there was just one branching decision point before which I could've saved and then gone back to see all of them until I finished the game the first time, and at that point I didn't have time, within the two-hour limit, to start over and see more endings. I'll definitely come back to this after the Comp, though.



And When I Squint It Looks Like Christmas

I'm never quite sure what to do with games aimed at kids; I'm not a kid, I don't have kids, and I don't really spend a lot of time with kids, so I always feel like I'm lacking a decent metric to measure them by. Things that I don't like may very well be appealing to the actual target audience--for example, I find the huge, blocky text in And When I Squint sort of off-putting, giving the page a cluttered feeling, but that probably is preferable for the elementary-school students the game seems to be aimed at. (On a side note, if I'm not mistaken, the game uses a dyslexia-friendly font, which is a nice accessibility touch.)

Anyway, I found this game overall pretty charming, if a little draggy in the middle. Its world and story have enough original touches to keep the "child falls into a magical land and has to save it" plot from feeling too shopworn. I think the child first-person narrator is also, I think, a nice way of keeping the narration at the kid audience's level without talking down to the player.



Ultimate Escape Room: IF City, My Night, Temperamentum

I'm lumping these together, despite their wildly different genres, because ultimately they all have pretty similar issues. I don't want to be too hard on them, because they all seem to have been made by people who are pretty new to making IF, but they sorely lacked polish. The implementation was pretty thin, leading to some instances of guess-the-verb and synonym issues along with all the "You see nothing special about the ____." None of the games had really mastered the art of subtly shepherding the player in the direction of puzzle solutions, and Temperamentum particularly had issues in places with the player's goal being entirely unclear. (Okay, the old man wants me to give him a molimo before he gives me this vial that I need. What is a molimo? Where would a molimo be found? I don't know, and the game's not inclined to tell me, so I end up taking actions because they seem like the only thing I can do at the moment, without any sense of gradually building towards overcoming all the obstacles between me and the thing I want.) I'm not going to dissect their problems further because, again, it seems cruel, but I really think these authors would benefit from doing a few games outside the context of comps in general, or at least for smaller comps, before trying IFComp again. Also, more thorough beta-testing would go a long way.

Okay, okay, one more thing--My Night's description suggests it's set in the '90s, but the teenage protagonist not only has a cell phone, but has a cell phone that can be used as a light source. What's up with that?



Land of the Mountain King

This is a well-constructed little RPG, and it was a nice breather after going through a couple of the more unpolished games above; the only real issues I had were, first, that even if you type "music off" the music will start again when you enter another room, and, second, that it took me about five million tries to beat the ogre even though I was as prepared for the fight as it's possible to be. I beat the final boss on the third try and the ogre took me at least twice that, probably more, which seems like something that shouldn't be happening even with heavily RNG-based combat. Other than that, I didn't have any mechanical or gameplay issues with it. It is, however, a game that doesn't really distinguish itself in terms of mechanics or writing from a ton of similar RPGs that are out there. There's a ton of stuff in the same vein that's in some way more sophisticated or inventive than this is, so there's just not that much reason to play this particular one.



A Beauty Cold and Austere

I didn't quite manage to finish this in the time allotted, though I got pretty far. It's a sprawling old-school puzzler that also evokes things like Flatland and The Number Devil that illustrate mathematical concepts by sort of making them concrete/turning them into quirky worldbuilding elements. This being the case, it definitely spoke to me on a nostalgia level, but it's also just a damn well-constructed piece of edutainment. I don't really have any complaints, except perhaps the length--but that's not a bad quality, it's just a not-ideal-for-IFComp quality.



The Unofficial Sea-Monkey(R) Simulation

This is not what you would call My Kind of Thing, but it's well written, and there's a certain hypnotic quality to the sea monkey portions even as they spiral into inevitable failure. Without it ever being outright stated, I think you can really feel the PC's belief that if they can just keep the sea monkeys alive, everything will somehow be okay. If I had gone on much longer without getting the "true ending" I think I might have gotten fed up with it, but it ended up lasting just the right amount of time for me.
There are 3 comments on this entry. (Reply.)
sovay: (I Claudius)
posted by [personal profile] sovay at 06:10am on 15/11/2017
If I had gone on much longer without getting the "true ending" I think I might have gotten fed up with it, but it ended up lasting just the right amount of time for me.

May I ask? I'm never going to play this game, but I'm curious.
xenoglossy: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] xenoglossy at 01:49am on 06/01/2018
Sorry for the super late response! It was one of those things where I saw the notification, went "oh, I'll get to that later!" and then... didn't.

Anyway, the POV character is the child of an abusive father and an alcoholic mother and the game is framed as them recalling a period of their childhood in which their parents' marriage was deteriorating/ending. During this period, the POV character was also caring for some sea monkeys. The game has multiple endings in which the protagonist recalls the ultimate fate of the sea monkeys differently, most of which are followed by the protagonist's mother or father telling them that's not what happened or the protagonist themself going "no, wait, I don't think that's right, is it?" Getting the true ending involves the protagonist remembering what actually happened to the sea monkeys, providing the protagonist some degree of emotional closure regarding that chapter of their life and also leading to a sort of epilogue segment in which the protagonist has the chance (depending on choices) to sort of move on/reach some kind of peace regarding their difficult childhood.
sovay: (Claude Rains)
posted by [personal profile] sovay at 02:49am on 06/01/2018
Getting the true ending involves the protagonist remembering what actually happened to the sea monkeys, providing the protagonist some degree of emotional closure regarding that chapter of their life and also leading to a sort of epilogue segment in which the protagonist has the chance (depending on choices) to sort of move on/reach some kind of peace regarding their difficult childhood.

Thank you! That sounds like a really neat structure.

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