Thursday, August 20, 2015

IntroComp reviews, part 1: Lair of the Gorgolath, Voltage Cafe, Walker's Rift

I should've gotten through IntroComp earlier, but at least I got around to it, eh? We'll start with these three, and I'll post the other tomorrow.

Hopefully my reviews will have something new to say or, if they don't, help act as a deciding vote/deciding motivation for an author to say "I need to do this, or that."

I've avoided other reviews, so there may be repetition, but I think I'll be less biased that way. In the past, I sometimes poked at reviews to see how long/short a game is, to organize my own time, but that spoiled a lot more. (Note to IFDB admins or anyone: I think this would be a good feature to put in for a game. Have people vote on how long a game seems to take. I know lots of times I'd like to sit down with a game but I have no clue how long it is.)

If you haven't gotten through IntroComp, you have one more day. No game is terribly long, except for one that has a walkthrough anyway. (Note: walkthroughs are a good thing, in-game or not. Authors, even if you want people to see the bad ending or not be spoon-fed, maybe put the "right" path at the end? Or say so to start?)

I hope it's not rough to say these missed the cut for my top 3, but they had enough that it's worth saying a bit. I'd have said a bit more if I'd have started earlier.

Lair of the Gorgolath seems to have been miscast a bit. It's an introduction, yes, but a sequel to three parts. I mentioned to the author I wanted to read the first three, and I didn't, and that left me a bit mystified as to what was going on. And when you try to put zany humor on that, there's the additional bit that the player is missing a joke, or several jokes, which is a poor first impression.

Nevertheless the death I reached seemed to be about midway through of an actual story, so that was a good cut-off point. The problem was that I wasn't able to look back through what I did to see if I could've done better, because it was all a bit random. Still, I have a bit more motivation to try the previous games in the series, finally, so that is not a total wash for the author.

Voltage Cafe--well, one problem with writing an inspiration-for-thesis game is that people will compare it to Violet. And here the character doesn't have enough motivation beyond you're hungry, eat, and you're thirsty, drink. I started hoping for some insights or cleverness, but it's mostly WRITE a lot. And the writing about what you're writing seems very dry. And there's someone named Maru who it took a bit of time to figure was my waitress.

X ME is rather funny and shows potential, but then TAKE STICKER doesn't work. So it could use a lot of proofreading. X DEBIT card--well, it's a bit more than standard "my crummy life/work" but it has a way to go.

Also, in the bloopers department, X MARU.X HER notes that Maru is defined as male by Inform. I've made that mistake too, but in my sort of not really defense, most of the characters were male.

I'm sort of curious how to get that last point, but not enough. Obviously the game can continue with you going to your advisor, but unfortunately it's missing a good bit of detail. While you slowly learn what your dissertation is about, it's buried beneath some pretty general stuff to start.

Walker's Rift--confession, I'm not a huge fan of ChoiceScript. The interface doesn't work for me, even though I've mastered the tabs, and it takes the interactive out of interactive fiction because I don't even have a transcript to go back through--and there are times where I say, hmm, I'm missing something, I need to go back and check. Of course, allowing too much loop-back has its own pitfalls, but CS kind of slams it shut.

So that probably soured my view on this game, especially one that gave options that, if they didn't affect mechanics, provided interesting contrast. Such as hating being so public vs loving it.

Unfortunately there are games where I grit my teeth and say "this was competently done" or "Im sure others will like this" and it sounds like I'm patting the author on the head and giving them a cookie. Or I'm giving them a nice report card full of checks and check-plusses. But in this case, I wasn't really involved in the story. Part of that is, I don't like playing as Hugely Accomplished People, whether or not they're opposed to Big Powerful Politicians. So while I appreciated that you can choose how you made your way up in the world, and there's a realism that you're not a shiny knight, well...administrative stuff puts me to sleep! The game understands and addresses this, but not enough to grip me.

But as someone who likes plain straightforward writing that doesn't show off, I felt this could've used a few boosts. I wasn't caught up enough to suggest where. But if the author has any places where they felt they skated along a bit, that's a good place to focus.

Still, the overall pace seems right, and a Short Ending is clearly flagged as such, so the reader can try again, and in the main one, after interviewing a few victims of the sickness in the Walled City. And I found myself curious about what the other interns would do, since the game said the choice was critical. But ChoiceScript being ChoiceScript, I got fatigued before clicking through again. I hope it's just me missing an obvious save feature, but I doubt it.

Also the author is to be commended for having a development log. I assume it's locked until the competition is over. More of us should do this! It's not just the "If we build it, they will come" philosophy. It's helped me check off on big and small things. And it's hardly showing off, especially post-release.

So I think it's fair to say the piece is well beyond competent. I would not be surprised or disappointed to see it in the top 3. I could see it going to #2 or #1, actually, and I'd be more than okay with that. For all my criticism, this effort seems both worth completing and on track for completion. It feels organized and robust.

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