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Notes on IF Competition 2012 games

My notes on the IF Comp 2012 games.

There are unprotected spoilers. Usually I don't go into much detail, but don't count on it all the time.

My favourites this year are Escape From Summerland and Shuffling Around. I also recommend In a Manor of Speaking, Guilded Youth, Sunday Afternoon, Spiral, and Eurydice. Changes is worth a look if you're hardcore or ready to use a walkthrough. howling dogs is the best of the clicky games.


Irvine Quik & the Search for the Fish of Traglea

Duncan Bowsman

Why do I have to type prologue to read the prologue? Decide if I'm supposed to be reading it or not, and if I am, just show me it.

I ran into a lot of bugs. At one point I could climb on a crate, then later I couldn't climb on the same crate, or it told me I had climbed on it when actually I hadn't. Then I got it into a state where Grastor was appearing in every room I was in. And when I tried to use a keypad it thought I was talking about one in a different room.

This is annoying:

>ask for help
Unless you've heard otherwise directly from a character, the only useful asking that can be done is to "ask for help."

Also, why can't I loot bodies for their weapons?

Wackiness fails to be funny. It's not easy to draw the line between wackiness and real comedy, but when a game uses exclamation marks like this one does it's a bad sign. Using Standard Amusing Objects such as fish is a bad sign too. Although last year the excellent Beet the Devil had comedy vegetables, and Summerland is getting away with an out-and-out monkey. So actually I have no idea.

A Killer Headache

Mike Ciul

Meh, zombies.

I like your foot arrives from the west.

The tone varies wildly between horror and comedy. You have to do some highly unpleasant things, but there's also the comic foot, the severed head that talks to you, etc. The serious and funny bits seem to me to be too disconnected from each other to make it work as a black comedy.

I got fairly confused halfway when the goal changed from trying to eat brains to, I suppose, trying to not eat brains. It was somewhat clued but I didn't really grasp it.

Signos

M4u

You lost the consciousness!

Some of the pictures don't correspond to the words. For example

The small chappel is beautiful decorated with big windows with colorful glasses. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling. The place is almost empty.

but a picture showing a ruined chapel with most of the window glass missing and no roof on it. I can imagine a game doing this on purpose as an unreliable narrator thing, but in this game I think it's just amateurishness.

If you're going to use photographs to illustrate your game, I think you either have to hire a location scout to travel the world matching your descriptions exactly, or you have to be willing to let the available images dictate the descriptions to some extent.

There are no synonyms for anything—so for example you have to wake up, but wake doesn't work. You have to sit down but you can't sit on chair—in fact the chairs don't seem to be implemented at all.

You can't do completely obvious things:

>x bed
It is a nice bed. It looks very comfortable.

>get in bed
I can't see that.

Some further grumbles are to do with Quest rather than this game particularly. For a start I can't find any way to make a transcript.

For another thing I think the separate command entry field at the bottom of the screen is ugly. It could be a sensible choice if the game didn't display commands in the main text, but instead rephrased them—so instead of

>take hat
Taken.

>eat banana
Delicious.

in the main window, you'd have only

You take the felt hat.

You eat the banana, which tastes delicious.

My Angel did something like this, I think. But if you're going to stick with the traditional display model, it's clunky not to be able to type commands in place.

If you use a verb with just a subject and the game thinks it needs both subject and object, you get a jarring pop-up menu. This happens even when the verb is perfectly reasonable with just a subject, as in break mirror.

Andromeda Apocalypse

Marco Innocenti

It starts with quite a nice double-take thing where the sun is setting but it's said to be morning. Annoyingly it never explains what morning actually means on this planet. Unless it's explained later—I didn't finish this game.

Then, when you begin to think he's done, he says: "The wind is growing stronger. It's a hell of a storm, that one incoming."

Yes, the family always liked good old Uncle Oren and his subtle foreshadowing.

Ack, lamely-named achievements for doing nothing are infecting IF now?

Hmm. Two mostly-scripted introduction scenes before I'm really able to do very much.

You can see the universe. Sadly it won't let me take it.

Yikes, instadeath. It's almost refreshing to encounter this in a game that isn't crap, but I still don't like it. It isn't the death I object to, more the violation of Players' Bill of Rights thing about being able to win without experience of past lives. The things that kill you are in no way obviously suicidal.

SUDDENLY SPACE WHALES. I fear I lack the ability to take space whales seriously. Up to now the game has been deserted tunnels and lethal science experiments, and these space whales are an abrupt change for the wacky. It's nice that I can wave to them, though.

Another, stronger beep fills the room. All of a sudden, many of the dormant lights come to life and the whole room is turned into a dance floor. The air starts circulating -- probably the air conditioning kicking in -- and something appears above the large cubic device and on the small viewscreen.

>dance
That's not a verb I recognise.

Bah.

After two hours it feels as though I haven't done very much. I'm not sure how far I am from finishing, but I've only got about half the achievements. I've had two introduction scenes, and another flashback, and I've mapped 33 rooms. But the interesting content—like solving puzzles, or even just stuff to look at that's more interesting than corridors and tunnels but not immediately lethal—has been thinly spread.

Changes

David Given

This started well, with a populated and well-described landscape to explore, and some nice bits like this one:

>eat grass
One of the first rules of exploring a strange planet is never to eat anything ever.

However, once I'd finished exploring and tried to solve puzzles I was immediately stuck. I had some vaguely right ideas about some of the things I was going to have to do, but no handle to get started on anything.

For a start, since catch fish didn't do anything I assumed it wasn't possible to catch the fish. Then I was misled by the way the otter won't follow you into the burrow.

If you were trying to experiment with this stuff yourself you'd be having to dodge the fox all the time while doing it. It was painful enough when I was just trying to follow the walkthrough.

This is assuming you somehow guess that you want to be the otter first. A beaver might equally well be able to kill the fox, and it isn't even obvious that you need to kill the fox at all. Given the information you have, it looks like what you want to be first is the deer.

And the hints are useless, because you only get one hint, which gives you a vague goal but no specific information about how to set about it.

For later puzzles I was entirely using the walkthrough, so I can't be certain, but I don't think it gets any easier. For example, I don't see why you'd ever think the fox would be able to kill all the beavers when they could easily just jump into the lake.

In conclusion, a bunny rabbit should not have to solve hard puzzles. It is cruelty to animals.

Escape From Summerland

Jenny Roomy and Jasmine Lavages

The sixth game I've played, and already the third where I'm dead. Awfully morbid comp so far.

Some lovely phrases: a crank for turning the selkies and Tractable Surface Irrevocably Tracted.

I even got used to the emoticons. The first was a bit of a shock, and if there had only been a few it wouldn't have worked, but the game somehow manages to get away with making them a conventional part of monkey grammar.

I finished this game in an hour and a half, without needing any help, which is always nice. I like that it doesn't waste any time on an epic backstory about who's fighting who or how you came to join the circus, but nor is it a sterile puzzle-box—there's plenty of characterization and setting.

Splendid game, play it.

In a Manor of Speaking

Hulk Handsome

A problem that wordplay games have is that the scope of actions the player can take is no longer limited by reality, so it's harder for the author to cover everything. So there were quite a lot of things I tried that weren't implemented, like get naked, eat my words, mark my words (with the marker), throw words in face, open chest (the man's) and so on.

This wasn't a serious problem, but it made gameplay flow a little less smoothly than it does in the best games.

Plenty of wrong actions are implemented—I laughed at get club and kick bucket, among others.

I didn't find any of the puzzles too difficult, and some of them have the desirable quality that when you think of the solution you know it's right before trying it. For example, getting over the moat.

Good fun.

Guilded Youth

Jim Munroe

I don't have a lot to say about this. It's entirely railroaded but very enjoyable.

Minor glitches:

>x fork
It's only slightly tarnished, and will polish up nicely.

>polish fork
You achieve nothing by this.

>x dreadlocked man
I only understood you as far as wanting to examine the dreadlocked guy.

A general complaint, but still a fairly minor one, is that you can't use many conversation topics. But it's mostly because the game wants to get through its main dialogues rather than letting you chat about random things.

Living Will

Mark Marino

There are quite a few typos for the size of game, including some that a spellchecker would have caught.

Using double hyphens for dashes sticks out as ugly when the rest of the game has nice typography. This isn't the right thing to do any more even for games running on desktop interpreters, and there's surely no reason to be doing it in a browser-only game.

The amount you end up with (and thus the endings that are possible) seems to be dictated more by the random initial state than by what you choose to do. Maybe that's the point.

It feels odd that there's no interaction between the beneficiaries. The game might sometimes have other people steal my inheritance, or at least complain when I steal theirs. I suppose the difficulty is that main part of the text is supposed to have been written in advance, so if there was going to be anything happening later, a second narrator would have to be introduced somehow.

Worth playing once or twice, anyway.

howling dogs

Porpentine

The sanity room is in the east wall is an odd thing to say about a room. And what are the compass directions there for anyway?

I'd like a house with a sanity room, though.

flourescent, adj. - reminiscent of a bakery.

Has some lovely fragments, like the art of dying in the proper lighting and We have succeeded in making clippings from the church and are using them to grow new churches.

Worth a play. It's a lot better than you'd expect from reading the blurb.

The way you repeatedly come back to the initial location is a strong effect. Despite that, I still sort of want to play a full game about the sleep festival and dispense with the rest. This may be because I'm missing the point.

Shuffling Around

Ned Yompus

Great fun. I eventually won it without using any hints. It took about four hours, although that included the optional area.

Writing it must have taken a frightening amount of work.

Probably some people will hate it.

I have no huff and sourling for Shuffling Around. It is a lung of fun radish.

The Test is Now READY

Jim Warrenfeltz

Sigh, zombies again.

The implementation's pretty sloppy:

>shoot gun
You don't think killing the gun will do any good.

>score
You have so far scored 10 out of a possible 0, in 27 turns.

>x train
Which do you mean, the oncoming train, the train tracks or the train crossing?

>get violin case
That's hardly portable.

Undo is broken sometimes.

An epigraph for every chapter is excessive for a game this size.

You hear a small crackle in your ear, then a voice, low and deep, says, "We have reason to believe this man knows of an impending terrorist attack that may kill thousands. You need to get the date, method and collaborator's name from the prisoner."

So. You're saying I should ask prisoner for date?

(It doesn't work even in a boring way.)

I don't tend to go for Big Moral Choice IF much at the best of times. This game just jams a bunch of them together with minimal background, for no particular reason. Dull.

Sunday Afternoon

Virgil Hilts

Mother has a portrait just like this back home, hung in exactly the same place over the parlour fireplace. Everybody you know has the same. You figure that anyone who doesn't must be a spy, a heretic, a foreigner, or worse.

Anyone who uses You figure like that must be a foreigner, or worse.

Lots of jokes and references—I think too many, or at least they're in the wrong places. Making an object a joke or a reference is usually a signal that it's not important, but in this game that's not the case. At first I wasn't sure if I was on the right track at all. It wasn't a critical problem—I got through it soon enough—but it made for a bit of initial confusion that didn't feel like fair confusion.

(The stuff still made me laugh though.)

Alternatively, it's a missed opportunity, because the really sweet thing for this game to do would have been to have period references.

There's something weird going on with the walking stick in the closet:

It sounds as though Aunt Emma is having something of an argument with Uncle Stephen in the study, revealing a walking stick.

Anyway, enjoyable. I finished it in a sensible time without any help, which is always good.

There are matches and fireplaces, which are involved in the puzzles, but the player is (quite reasonably) never allowed to set fire to anything. You won't find a better-integrated red herring than that.

The Sealed Room

Robert DeFord

A very shallow conversation game. You can only ask about a few topics, mostly things that are immediately visible. So, for example, the dragon mentions a wizard but you can't ask about him.

There are very few synonyms: you can't ask dragon about dragon, you have to ask dragon about herself. Luckily you get told everything to ask about—in fact, everything to do—so you can't really get stuck.

Apparently Alan doesn't do proper disambiguation questions:

>x stain
It is uncertain if you mean the red stain or the purple stain.

>red
Your last command was not worded correctly or is trying to do something outside the scope of the game's understanding.

J'dal

Ryan Kinsman

It often mentions an object again after putting it in the room description, as in

An iron gate lies to the north, the mine's exit is south.

I can see an iron gate here.

There are extra blank lines all over the place, and words capitalized or uncapitalized wrongly.

It's confused about whether I'm using a pick axe head or a hammer head.

You can't do the most obvious possible thing with a lens, viz. look through lens.

At one point the rope I needed to solve a puzzle was no longer listed anywhere, although it was still in the room.

Behind the problems it's got a bit of interesting worldbuilding. It uses light and darkness in more original ways than usual.

Body Bargain

Amanda Lange

Surgery Room 2
This is surgery room 2. Like the first surgery room, it has a centralized cot, bolted to the floor, with room to walk around on all sides. This cot is slightly reinforced, for a larger-sized patient. The exit to this room is on the east wall.

Don't say Foo Room / This is the foo room.

>ask doctor about dragon
There is no reply.

…because it has to be white dragon.

It's annoying that you can't refer to a keycard as card.

The doctor is holding a marker appears in a room description when he's in another room.

To get one of the endings you're expected to examine a door which is only described as To leave the room, use the door to the west.

Tell savannah about doctor has an empty response even though the walkthrough tells you to do it.

The doctor never seemed as horrifying as he ought to have been. Perhaps it didn't help that he just hung around waiting for me to work out how to thwart him. It's hard to say how it could have been done better, though, without nasty time limits.

If you can ignore the problems, there's an interesting scenario in this game.

Spiral

Justin Morgan

How can I be a geek and a jock at the same time? It's against the laws of physics, or the laws of narrative anyway.

If I have a club, club should be a verb.

Don't know what I think of this one. I liked the puzzles. The first big idea you have to get to make things solvable was a good aha moment.

There's a lot of backstory to absorb, and everything is weird, and I'm lost by the end. I'm not sure how lost I'm supposed to be. I'm sort of hoping some intelligent reviewer is going to explain in detail what the hell was going on in this game and what it's all about.

Certainly worth playing, though.

Murphy's Law

Scott Hammack

It's obviously beginner work—lower-case room names everywhere, and distressingly un-customized messages like

You can also see your station wagon (closed) (in which is a garage door opener) here.

and

You can't get into the closed your station wagon.

It doesn't do automatic opening or unlocking of doors, which isn't really excusable any more.

It's mostly a standard game-set-in-a-house with the standard loser-protagonist. (You do leave the house for a while I suppose.) It's definitely towards the better end of that class, but that's not saying an awful lot.

I laughed at the holdup. That was nice comic timing.

Valkyrie

Emily Forand

Ooh, I can be a Mistress Thief. Let's steal some mistresses.

So the necklace is being hidden in one of 2 places the underworld or earth. Well, that narrows it down.

Gloriously blatant lampshading: The scene reminds me of multiple ones depicted in fantasy novels.

OK, just let me leave these quotes here and we'll move on.

One of Loki's hideout's on earth is a italian restaurant in Death Valley Californa.

Position yourself to assinate the person coming through the door

Transit

Shaye

Scrolling is wrong in at least three different browsers—it never scrolls far enough, so you have to do it manually after every move.

The bugs make it just about unplayable, and you can only win by luck or trying every path. Waste of time.

Castle Adventure

Ben Chenoweth

First room description:

Forest
You are in a forest.

Puzzle:

>d
You climb down the rungs into the gloom, but when you reach the bottom, the trapdoor suddenly grinds shut leaving you in pitch blackness, but not before you catch a glimpse of a torch.

Darkness
It is pitch dark, and you can't see a thing.

>get torch
You grope around but you can't find the torch.

>get torch
You grope around but you can't find the torch.

>get torch
You grope around but you can't find the torch.

>get torch
You got the torch!

Yup.

The Lift

Colin Capurso

You wake up a room with no memory of who you are or what you're doing there.

Futile CYOA where you pick a weapon and try to kill things. If you picked the right thing you survive, otherwise you die.

Eurydice

Anonymous

This game isn't scared to paint a scene:

Hinksey Park Gate
The gate to Hinksey Park is not far from your house but by the time you arrive the sky is already suffused by a greyness that has blotted out the potential glories of an Oxford sunset. Night is snapping at your heels. The park is the old fashioned kind, a basic arrangement of paths and benches, grass and trees. The nearest bench is over-hung by a willow tree, which has wept a burthen of withered foliage onto the seat. There is a lake, girdled by a path and an open air swimming pool.

I mean, yes, it's a bit over-the-top. Maybe on purpose, because nobody writes suffused or burthen by accident. But picking out that detail of the leaves on the bench is perfect.

Likewise:

Celine's Room
A small, perfectly square, yellow-painted room, probably identical to all the others on this corridor. The carpet is a greyish-blue, only slightly stained. There is a pine-coloured wardrobe and bedside table, a single bed and a chair. There are signs of occupation - the black cardigan hanging on the back of the chair, books and a radio on the bedside table - but it's not the kind of room you can personalise. It is a transitory space. Above the bed, the wall is splashed with a grid of cards and postcards, twenty, thirty, forty of them maybe, pinned up there as bright as butterfly wings.

I don't think you want to be saying It is a transitory space, and I'm not even sure about it's not the kind of room you can personalise. But the postcards are spot on.

The house and the housemates are believable. Most games would have given you a house with stuff in every room that reminded you of Celine, but no other people. This game cunningly avoids doing a lot of conversation by having the protagonist not want to talk to anyone, but it doesn't feel like a cop-out.

I like the sincerest tea you have ever drunk.

There is beginner-style stuff like lower case room names. There are a lot of typos, some that a spellchecker would catch. I was confused for a while because I couldn't go in to a door. There was a blank response to play lyre at one point.

I think it must have been finished in a hurry—at the beginning of the game everything was examinable, but at the end nothing was.

Pretty good, even so. It would definitely be worth doing another release of this with the obvious stuff fixed.

Lunar Base 1

Michael Phipps

Very scripted. Most things are implemented, there just isn't much you can do outside the script. That isn't necessarily a big problem, but it means you need a strong story and/or characters and/or writing. This game's plot is some weak conspiracy theory and a lift from 2001. The writing is matter-of-fact stuff:

The Moon
You are standing on the surface of the moon with your feet sinking a few centimeters into the regolith. Endless mountains and craters surround you in all directions. Above you is the vastness of outer space. Lunar Base 1 is visible to the east. The ETS lies here as well as the IECM. The lunar module is here.

Compare Guilded Youth, which does a highly scripted plot and gets away with it.

The endings: I don't understand why, if the obelisk does something in an earth environment, nothing happened when I brought it back with me. My bosses would at least have had to give me some story about what it was.

Fish Bowl

Ethan Rupp

Very beginner-style coding. You can see your shack door here all the time. Lots of extra blank lines.

> sleep
You should get up first.

There are lots of typos too.

I liked this:

The tape begins to play. There is a muted crackling noise, and then the message starts:
       "... You have no new messages. They have gone into the sea."

Hmm, I don't know about this game. It's not too bad. The bugs are shallow ones that could be fixed in another release. It's atmospheric—the descriptions get a lot done economically:

>x sneakers
You're wearing a pair of well-worn canvas sneakers. There's always sand in them.

>x bucket
A yellowing plastic bucket with an edge of green mildew around its lip.

I finished it in a bit over half an hour. There isn't all that much to do. Although there aren't any long cutscenes, it still felt like too much of the story was separated from the actions I was taking.

The Island

Old Andy

It's not a good sign when the blurb is about how to get a walkthrough.

Typos and missing punctuation. Although there's a certain splendid urgency you get from having upper case and no full stops here:

The first dial is set to HORSE The second dial is set to HORSE The third dial is set to HORSE

Implementation is awful:

Pit
A deep pit. A man is tied to a post screaming in agony. He is clearly insane. Screaming echoes through the air. There is a path leading north or back south to the clearing.

>talk to man
You cannot talk to that.

>man, hello
The screaming man is not something you can talk to.

>untie man
You cannot detach that.

>attack man
You cannot attack that.

>kill man
You cannot attack that.

>hit man with dagger
You can't attack anything with the dagger.

>throw dagger at man
You throw the dagger at the screaming man and it plunges into his chest stopping the screams instantly.

Kicker

Pippin Barr

I suppose you'd call it a slice-of-life thing. It's doing something dangerous: making a careful and detailed attempt to evoke the experience of being bored and generally having a bad time.

You know those games set in your office where you have to make a cup of coffee and then, I don't know, find a report and give it to your boss or something? This is like that except you don't work in an office.

I'm being a bit unfair, really. There is a lot you can look at. And the Zen coach was pretty funny. It may just be that it's hard for me to get into the goalless mindset after playing all these other games.

Perhaps there could be a whole series of games for the benefit of young people choosing careers. Learn interactively about the many ways your life can be dull in different jobs.

Last Minute

Ruderbager Doppelganger

A desperate attempt at a story about a desperate attempt to enter into the 2012 IFCOMP at the last minute.

This is actually very slightly better than you'd expect from that blurb. Obviously it's still crap.