Monday, 17 October 2016

IFComp 2016: It's a third of the way through.

IFComp is about one third of the way through and I've reviewed one sixth of the entries. I started suddenly this year (ie no thoughts even the day before about reviewing entries) and defaulted to doing what I did the first time I reviewed IFComp, which was in mimicry of what everyone else was doing – trying to review everything. I review partially for all of me, authors and reviewing (judgement).

Reviewing everything used to be more doable because there were far fewer entries. Now there are almost 60, and pausing to take stock of what I'm doing, I think that continuing to adhere strictly to my randomised playlist and then just stopping suddenly when the comp ends with a big, randomly determined unplayed/unreviewed list remaining is not going to satisfy me. Aiming to be satisfied is a carrot that helps you keep reviewing at speed, especially in any kind of time fight.

So I'm going to break off the randomised list and prioritise playing and reviewing more things I expect I want to play and review. In reality this makes little difference to onlookers because they haven't seen my list and they don't know what I want to play and review. It probably favours returning entrants, since there are a lot of authors whose second+ game I want to check out because I liked something they did before.

Maybe it's more useful to list a few things I'm deprioritising or know I won't review:

  • Where someone entered two games and I know it's them because they didn't disguise themselves with more silly pseudonyms, I'll only review one, just to spread reviews around.
  • Steampunk games are deprioritised because I just don't like steampunk. I'm still interested in playing Felicity Banks's alt Australia game because I'm Australian, but I give no commitment right now. I promise nothing!
  • I'm not reviewing Rite of Passage because I helped test it, and re: Slicker City, as ASchultz is a friend of mine I'll probably hold on his game until after the comp.
  • I'm not interested in Manlandia. And I think I am probably not interested in This is My Memory… based on other reviews. But the latter is also short.

IFComp 2016 review: Tentaculon by Ned Vole

Here's a joke:

"I met Tentaculon today but we got off on the wrong foot."

The joke is only for people who know that the game Tentaculon contains squid-related material and that squid have eight tentacles, like octopuses.

I had to look up all of the following in order to make the joke:

  1. The number of tentacles a squid has.
  2. What's the plural of octopus?
  3. What's the plural of squid?

Because of the quality of the resulting joke (low) I feel in retrospect that I put too much time and effort into its creation, and then into writing about it. I apologise to the author of Tentaculon, whose game this is supposed to be a review of.

Tentaculon is a link-driven Twine game that initially appears to be an eat-or-be-eaten squid simulator. Its prose is keen, a bit gooey and very slightly uncomfortable-making as one cruises around trying to kill and eat stuff while not being subject to sudden spasmodic jerks at the same time. I admit I feared some kind of cheap game-ending blow to the back of my head was iminent, for instance a message saying 'HA! You killed to live! You lose!' – but this was unfair misapprehension on my part based on some past negative experiences.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: You are standing in a cave... by Caroline Berg... ! ... ?# ...!

You are standing in a cave... is a parser-driven adventure of perennial adventuring. Stuck in the title cave with only a random collection of stuff in your pockets, you, the viewpoint adventurer, must unstick yourself and escape. The environment is full of props and clues designed to speak tantalisingly to each other in the language of puzzles via your adventuring brain. The climbable, the ignitable, the combinable; they're all here.

This is plainly not a game for people who dislike puzzles. There will still be a dropout rate amongst people who do like puzzles based on either roughness of implementation or lack of upfront glamour / hookiness. Also, there's the issue that the game's title could as easily be read as a joke about the banality of some old adventure game as the unremarkable but straight-shooting meat and potato entity that it is. Though it is a more versatile statement than it first appears to be. Consider this existential juggernaut of a title: You are standing in a cave / You are dying in a sewer.

While cave's first room looks dull and prototypically cavey, things quickly become more involving if you give it a room or two.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: The Little Lifeform That Could... by Fade Manley

I thought I recognised the 'blob of goop evolves to starflight via all the stages inbetween' premise of Little Lifeform from somewhere. I've not played Spore but I've read about it, and that's the game. But I don't think Little is 'just' doing Spore via prose and the Choice Of Games engine. It has a particular aesthetic slant that is somewhat cute, somewhat dapper (hat-orientated) and generally encouraging. Simultaneously, it seeks to avoid throwing any eggs into particular baskets of peril. It presents a version of the universe that equalises all paths. Frankly this is not something I am used to, and in some bizarre way, I found it a little sinister. The most violent way through life turns out to be as good as the most arty, which is as good as the most capitalistic or the most dapper. That said, I don't think my subtextual reaction is worthy of any great dark spin. The goal of the game is obviously to let you play any way you want, give you a corresponding experience via its cute aesthetic, and allow your way to work. Then, if you like, you can try another way and see what humourous take the game offers on contrasting modes of behaviour.

Your stats in categories like Charm, Defensiveness and Patience are tracked, checkable at any time, and don't seem to lie, though I found the game's ultimate prose assessment of some of my performances a little off (one said I'd leaned on trade when all I remember doing was being the greatest artist and aesthete in the whole universe.) The game is otherwise pretty perfect at what it does, and it's charmingly written. I just missed having some emphases somewhere, because that's how I've always liked my games.

The Little Lifeform that could is certainly not the amoral spectacle of violent death in an uncaring universe that it could have been.

Or is it?..

No, it isn't.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles. Book I: The Departure --- Part I: Prelude to Our Final Days on Kyzikos by Hippodamus & Company

(I wrote this on an iPad over a few days while on holiday on an island where I occasionally had 1G/GPRS, and no signal the rest of the time. It made me glad that good old text-based IF requires very little bandwidth to function.)

Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles. Book I: The Departure --- Part I: Prelude to Our Final Days on Kyzikos is an extraordinarily long title for a game, or for anything else. Its multiple clauses of descending magnitude promise tons of episodes, galactic-scaled adventuring, locally-scaled adventuring, sci-fi societal sculpting, a cast of thousands (or at least dozens) and the highly agreeable portentousness of prolonged high fantasy. This is a set of promises no single IFComp entry can keep within the context of its IFComp; the two hour rule makes that physically impossible. Folks can, have and will continue to use IFComp to introduce punters to their big multi-part IFs, and I expect a cross-section of judges will continue to be bemused by these introductions – some of which end in really weird places – as they try to interpret them as standalone experiences for scoring purposes, and regardless of whether or not the judges want to play more of them.

Aether is one of those introductory games that ends in a really weird place. And it starts in a confusing one. The end is not inherently weird, but it's weird in light of the experience it just spent all its time imparting. That experience is a link-based sci-fi / fantasy adventure with a scaffolding of Greek idylls, philosophers and mythology. The first screen, a page of prose from a log, indicates rhetorically that the narrator is or was something like a familiar of the eponymous Zephyra, then confuses by setting the scene with a series of nested geographical relationships (paraphrasing: the moon with the woods orbiting the planet surrounded by the clouds in the Propontis system) and raising the spectre of a great many groups of people and other entities with unusual names involved in Zephyra's story. Plus there's a quote from Plutarch. It's a tad overwhelming.

Zephyra turns out to be a space pilot in the now...

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: All I Do Is Dream by Megan Stevens

Short, existential Twine game in which you specify the manners in which you will veg out in the house during your girlfriend's next night shift at the pickle factory. This is an experience hailing from the drab end of the slice of life cake. You can think about the bedclothes, fiddle a bit with the bedclothes, clean objects in several boring stages. Your character is clearly depressed, as the prose is insistent about the pointlessness of any activity. A few prose studs of specificity about the characters' shared life don't make up for the more macroscopic lack of specificity that prevents any insight into their plight over the short duration.

Perhaps this is the Twine equivalent of the parser world's 'My Crappy Apartment Game'. The apartment is still there, but the focus shifts to the immediate crappy existential rather than the immediate crappy physical. 'All I Do's...' observations of fiddly-stuck depression make for better writing than that of most My Crappy Apartment games, but its small catalogue of anxious domestic activity didn't interest me because I knew almost nothing about the characters, before or after.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: Letters by Madison Evans

In Letters, you're a teenaged girl reading, tracing and clicking your way through a pile of letters from your ostensibly cool school friend Cadence after certain events have occurred.

Both main characters have solid writing chops and some wisdom beyond their years, and they communicate everything to each other by handwritten letters in the year 2008, give or take a few years. I felt this setup was a bit of a contrivance, the kind of thing that is outrageously possible in real life yet which takes a certain amount of feinting or explaining when delivered as fiction to get people to buy it. I decided to accept the premise and move on once I acknowledged I was enjoying Letters's sparky, emotional teen writing, and that I was also being prompted to think about how I was interacting with this IF. It worked for me both as emotional writing and as something with a bit of a puzzly feel, an experience I've rarely had with similarly presented IFs in the past.

I spent about twenty minutes with Letters and felt that I had satisfactorily experienced most of its content by that point, though probably not all of it. It's not easy to track which links you've previously clicked, unless perhaps you lawnmower them, or have a better memory than I do. It was a testament to the game's effectiveness that I had no interest in mowing the lawn. I was clicking particular links I wanted to click for reasons I possessed or imagined in relation to the story. Contrivances accepted, I liked Letters a lot.

More detail, with spoilers, beyond.