Sunday, September 7, 2014

IntroComp Review Index

This is a review index for IntroComp 2014. It is post-dated to after the competition.

My expected rankings:

1. Appearance of Doubt
2. Cuckold's Egg
3. Going Down (though the other two entries I tested could get swapped for this)

Tester Comments:

Reviewer Comments:
1st and last of the Ninjas, by nmelssx
Bridges and Balloons, by Molly Greene
Cuckold's Egg, by Veronica Devon
Devil in the Details, by Jerry Ford
Mount Imperius, by Kaleidofish
Tales of the Soul Thief, by David Whyld

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Cuckold's Egg, by Veronica Devon

This was my favorite game of the ones I didn't test by a good way, and the title alternately grabbed me and worried me at the same time. When I was a kid, I heard the word and wondered if it was some sort of bird. Then I found out later. I'm not big on sex and sexuality in games, except for cheap sex jokes that don't offend anyone, or making fun of people who think they are risque and talking about sex too much. So I'm grateful this didn't have any of that nonsense.

I in fact managed to enjoy this game without looking up important terms in a book I'd started with, the Book of Lies. I didn't even realize I had a book. Somehow, I managed just to muddle around and get interested enough in the game without taking inventory, which says a lot (good) about its immersiveness. There's the Book, along with your notebook (which lists the tasks you need,) and working through the game without looking them up adds a bit of mystery. Nothing is too complex. But your power as a member of the Apostasy, which is very anti-religion and law-and-order, comes through. People act differently once they know who you are.

Then there's a dream sequence at the end. It's a bit different based on what you did, and I was interested enough, I looked through. In fact, I found two ways to get housing, and both were--well--forceful. It paints the character as dark, but also worried about the darkness of the Apostasy and whatever it opposed. This is good writing, which goes beyond straight fiction, and if it doesn't consider a multitude of possibilities, it gives the reader enough what-ifs to keep looking through.

The main thing I could think of is, list the subject so read in the Book of Lies. This is already getting pretty small, though.

Mount Imperius, by Kaleidofish

This work establishes itself quickly as an adventure, where you climb one of seven of the biggest mountains on various continents. I don't climb mountains and never will, but I like the concept immediately.

The author then establishes conflicts between the player and their expedition mates--some plan poorly, some are too bossy, and the player themselves almost got killed. This is all more than adequate, but I'd like to see more of it. The player never gets to do anything, only see the footnotes, and I was disappointed that the first real choice, where you must chase after lost mates, gave 'TO BE CONTINUED' both ways. Even different paragraphs before this message would've helped--as it is, I felt, well, my choices don't matter. And even if they don't, the player needs to feel that they do.

Seeing this left me feeling a bit ripped off. I'd have liked to see some sort of timing puzzle, or using inventory, or even a way to negotiate between squabbling expedition-mates. The characters, situation and tension are all there. It doesn't have to be something big. But it shouldn't be limited by what seems like the author not wanting to make any mistakes. I think the writing I saw was good enough, another paragraph summarizing what was ahead would've worked well.

Speculative ranting is ahead--the thing is, I'm partial to 'text adventure' as a term over 'Interactive Fiction.' The term IF has its own pitfalls. You can just say, I'll write some fiction, and oh, I'll add a few options I guess the player would like, and wham! It's interactive! Unfortunately I feel that that is as interactive as a gimmick book with pockets or whatever in its pages. And this effort falls into that trap.

The term text adventure, to me, nudges the programmer to give the player an adventure, a set of real choices, and most importantly, not the temptation of a cop-out just to read footnotes if they feel like it, where in this case the footnotes are not immediately visible. Text adventure has its own pitfalls, as in, the author can make the choices too obscure. But they're ones I'd rather see, although I have to admit, I'd like to have a walkthrough handy in that case. You can see what the author was thinking, even if it was something crazy, and you can get something from that. But in this case, the otherwise solid writing is, well, just solid writing.

1st and Last of the Ninjas, by nmelssx

Well, Spring Thing had 3 ChoiceScript games, and one included stats and pulled it off fairly well. That'd be the game that won Spring Thing, "The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost." And I liked how Through Time used some relatively simple variables to track your progress through a time paradox. In fact, I thought it made the best use of the three games.

This game tried for full-blown RPG stats, and I probably got bogged down in the RPG too much. I found a lot of bugs--infinite gold (I think I bought ramen before doing anything,) unexpected death, and also not being able to use the map after typing in a password twice after getting killed. I didn't really have any idea how good I was supposed to be before starting out, and the clicking around got frustrating. The "previous page" option did not work so well. It's frustrating as I often had to click on items and work in a certain order just to get things going. I also got into semi-traps where my only option seemed to be to break into a shop--I wasn't warned they were closed--but I could just click on the inventory, instead.

So the game allows itself plausible ways out, but people don't play games to say "Oh, that was frustrating, but I can see how something simple would've worked if I really thought about it." And I don't think authors want to have their players saying that, but that's what happens when the game design doesn't fit the tool.

I think this sort of game would be better off in Twine, which handles variables better. But even so, the double text and typos and lack of incisive text didn't leave me optimistic. I have to admit, I enjoyed writing an RPG, myself, way back when--I recognize it might not be so fun to play, now, and I think it must be tough to realize that the excitement over tools that -can- do something doesn't mean that they are good at doing something. It's also tough to judge how players will react to something you found easy to program, or you think you programmed as best you could. As someone who doesn't like clicking around that much, I found the game exhausting, and it fell into the same trap that A Game of Life and Death did.

This feels like a beginning effort, and the author shouldn't feel ashamed. It's tough to know where the players find pitfalls.

Bridges and Balloons, by Molly Greene

Games or books about talking animals are almost always fun, and this effort is, if a bit short. However, I think it uncovers one of the big problems I have with Twine, or with how it is now: there is too much linearity, and no real chance for mistakes, and everything can be funneled to an ending that makes me wonder if I wasn't better off just reading a book. I never get the chance to do something crazy (even having an obviously silly choice would be fun here,) and really, I like having some chance to make errors, because it does add a certain color to things.

I hope the game, if the author goes through with it, invokes rudimentary inventory or variables. I think Bound, by Starfinger X, does a good job of showing how variables work in Twine. I know there are others. But it is relatively simple, and while it's nice to be able to make something CYoAish with a clear plot and fun characters, I'd like to see a bit more given how powerful Twine is. Not using all the big features--but there are so many that are easy in Twine but tougher in a formal programming language, I'd like to see people risk it.

More seriously, I think things cut off before anything really serious happens. I mean, I like having the cliffhanger, but the choices I saw generally looped back to each other. The game was quick enough that I was able to check. So it's nicely inoffensive, and I like what's there. But it just feels like escapism now. My guess is that the author hemmed themselves in by the concept of an introduction, because I felt like the game just cut off.

Devil in the Details, by Jerry Ford

It's good to have a TADS game, and it's good to have a Trizbort map, too. The subject matter is interesting, as well.

But I found this game somewhat tough to get through. Part of this was due to the disambiguation problems (e.g. between the matrix of 300a, 300b and 300c, and the slot, door and doorbell,) and part was that--well, some of the details were devilish. So much so that I was reminded of the Terrible Trivium from the Phantom Tollbooth instead of the Devil him/her/itself. It took a while to SEARCH LEFT FLAP (I tried to open the flaps on my cargo shorts) to get going, and this cost time and effort.

The game picks up after that. The action at the bus stop is rather good. But it seems like an awful lot of detail is added to places that don't need it, maybe as an artifact of remembering what adventure games were like, or of not realizing the pitfalls players unfamiliar with the game can look into.

This game quite simply made it too difficult to do the necessary things to get it going in places. I know that, when I started, I expected I had to do this sort of thing, too. But I don't. Perhaps it would have been easier to go with, say, a multiple choice menu, or even to ASK LUCY ABOUT (whatever). I took several tries to get where I could take the bus, and while part of that was due to impatience before a deadline, the introduction to a game should be smooth, even if it discusses bumpy issues or plot.

That said, the major bugs can be fixed, and the writing and planning show enough talent that I believe the author can do this. Even if I can only read the walkthrough-flyby, I'm interested, darn it. I have the feeling the author made certain parts more difficult than they needed to be out of obligation to standards they guessed were the case and weren't sure why (from playing really old text adventures,) and not because they were trying to frustrate the player. It's a matter of finding ways to push the moral dilemmas you really want to discuss to the forefront. So, yeah, re-read the player's bill of rights and also maybe see Aaron Reed's Inform 7 book (even if you're a TADS programmer) or at least his Sand-Dancer code, which is understandable even without Inform knowledge, and that'll help a lot.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tales of the Soul Thief, by David Whyld

So, yeah, this may not be the most momentous thing to post to planet-if (I'll probably lump the other games I didn't test in groups of 2 or 3--or maybe all 5)--but seriously, IntroComp is worth looking into, if you haven't. You have about two more weeks. There are some good games. Even those that aren't, can be good.

I've been busy releasing Threediopolis and getting close to Shuffling Around thanks to some great work by Sean's taken a lot out of me, and in fact I even forgot to bump back my post-dated IFComp review index, but I find re-releases worth it, to get rid of obvious bugs and trip-ups.

I hope IntroComp authors find it in them to release something post-introcomp, even if it's not fully complete. It'd be nice to see results, small or bing--I know Akkoteaque had some good bug fixes and believe it will get done, and get done well--and speaking from experience, it's nice to know I've fixed bugs and worked to improve something I wrote, even if the bugs were dumb in the first place.

Like the header says, I'm going to start with David Whyld's Tales of the Soul Thief. It's more serious than most of his efforts. He entered Best Laid Plans last year, and I was hoping he would finish it, because it was amusing and had a lot of things to do, and a lot of places it could go, too.

Spoiler: this is a bit harsh on him as he has the talent and work to improve the game, but as it stands, there was a lot to struggle through. While the game was paced well, and the world was believable, the technical side comes up a bit short. Still, I'd be interested to see how, where and when you can use your skill--for good or evil. Even allowing both, or having a Cliff's Notes at the end for those who don't want to replay, would augment the story greatly.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

IntroComp Introduction

So there are ten games in IntroComp, which is the second-most behind 2011. Thanks again to Jacqueline Ashwell for organizing this and for regular communication with prospective authors--and for extending the deadline--and congratulations to those who entered. I had an idea for a game this year, but I didn't write enough for people to look at. It's the same game as last year, but fortunately, the reason it was delayed was...other games.

TL/DR: I want to make time to play and judge these games, and I hope you can, too, even if you cannot hit them all!
I see some familiar authors and some new authors, and there seems to be a good variety of genres, and the blurbs all look pretty strong.

I managed to test 4 of the games, and I'll discuss them with minimal comment, because I want to avoid seeming like I am canvassing for votes in the authors' places. I will review them once IntroComp is over. The usual vanilla things about authors getting back to me and improving stuff apply here--I think the process went well. These games are:

* Going Down, by Hanon Ondricek
* Hornets' Nest, by Jason Lautzenheiser
* The Scroll Thief: A Tribute to the Enchanter Trilogy, by Daniel M. Stelzer
* The Terrible Doubt of Appearances, by Buster Hudson

The last two were with people I hadn't worked with before, which is a valuable and good experience. I wasn't able to give Scroll Thief as much attention as I hoped, but that was more due to my managing time poorly. GD is an inklewriter game, originally written in Inform 7 (from a very early draft,) and the other three are Inform 7. I will have general evaluations after August 15th.

The six I plan to review during the contest are

1st and the Last of the Ninja, by nmelssx
Bridges and Balloons, by Molly Geene (Greene?)
The Cuckold's Egg, by Veronica Devon
The Devil in the Details, by Jerry Ford
Mount Imperius, by kaleidofish
Tales of the Soul Thief, by David Whyld

That leaves a review every five days.

When I test for an author, it often opens up ways to make my game clearer, or things to check on. And that helps, long-term. So I encourage anyone to make time to test at least one game for IFComp, or for sending feedback to anyone whose work supports scripting. For instance, TRANSCRIPT on an Inform game gives a transcript. For the InkleWriter game, you can cut/paste the entire text from the web browser. Authors (the ones serious about improving) do appreciate things, and the more feedback they get, the more IntroComp is likely to spawn a cool game.

One other thing about feedback--it helps you with your own stuff. To indulge in minor self-promotion. After the deadline, I cleaned up a lot in each of Shuffling Around, A Roiling Original and Threediopolis. (I've still got stuff to do. If anyone is interested in general abuse testing, I'd be grateful, and I'd be glad to trade testing efforts. I have a tester for ARO who is finding neat stuff and spurring a lot of features, but there can always be one more. You don't have to be terribly technical or adept to test things.)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Nova Heart: Don't Be Around While The Earth Dies Screaming, by Zenith J Clangor

Hm, a very big title that promises zaniness, and it gives that, but unfortunately without much meaningful interactivity. Telling the player what to type avoids guess the verb but immediately shrinks the world.

I like the fake journalism angle, and the editing scenario is evidence of technical ability and social snark. The looping end is also disturbing, but ... such a long title, such a short story. The absurdist trick has been done before and doesn't quite work, but it doesn't fall flat on its face.

More, by Erin Canterbury

This game is a one-trick (one-puzzle) pony, though I enjoyed the room names and descriptions. Another puzzle or two and some more memories of Tommy would've made it something very cool. I got sidetracked a bit digging the wrong noun, but eventually I found my way through. Given several songs inspired this, I was surprised they were so short.

Sequitur V1, by Tin Foil Jenny

This game disoriented me from the beginning. I was eventually able to figure you could HINT and learn which tracks should be placed in which slots. This was enough of a puzzle for me that, along with What Comes Next, I gave up. The logic puzzle took too long, and I was exhausted. I couldn't find the verb to listen to the tracks.

The random background text is interesting.

I hope this game has a post-release version that clears things up, as well as how to progress without the hints. But I was too confused for the time frame of the competition--having so many text dumps early on didn't help matters. But I like the combination of logical and (I assume later) intuitive puzzles the author tried to create. It feels like it SHOULD work, but it doesn't.

The Darkness of Mere Being, by a lost kitten

Wow! Heavy philosophy in the title, and emotional stuff with the name. That's a cross-up.

I hadn't looked at inklewriter much but this game uses the format pretty well. It starts innocently enough with you trying to fix up two friends--then bang, a terrorist incident, or maybe it's something even bigger. This game did a good job of capturing the mudanity before a Big Incident and swerved effectively into how the heck we survive with our infrastructure gutted--alone, or with people, or even hiding from them. It's not exactly cheery, but the different out-in-the-wild endings left me unnerved when I played them at 1 AM.

Then I went back and meaninglessly browsed the internet for 30 minutes because people are wired like that, not to get too close to disturbing stuff, & I didn't want nightmares.

So, yeah, I found this game simple but effective, although the character switch to part 2 was a bit jarring and made me have to reread to check what was going on.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Holy Roman Empire, by Ralph Gide

Hi Ralph. Your pseudonym was 10th in my top-9 poll. No name rec for you! Well, you wrote a fun game, so that's consolation.

This game plays on if people worshiped numbers instead of religion. It's a pretty grim world, and the satire generally works except for the room names grating on me a bit. I like "mathedral" as a portmanteau but I think the author was showing off a bit and didn't need to. Or maybe, being a math person myself, I wish the author had used more mathy terms to show off with!

Other than that the game is pretty smooth, and I liked how you had to skirt the crowd--perhaps trading with the hermit could be cleaned up--and getting the prayer helmet was clued well too. What to do with the bowling ball was an odd bit of slapstick I kind of brute forced, but it was the end of an inventory juggling puzzle I overall enjoyed. I guess I'm sometimes tough on things that I feel should work even better.

The game also mentions ways to get killed in ABOUT, which I looked for but didn't find. Well, except for the blatantly stupid act of attacking the Pope. It would be fun to retry to find them. Apparently there's a ClubFloyd transcript already up.

I recommend you play the musical instrument both ways, for fun.

Also, spoilers of my riffs on what you get when you win, below:

Cryptophasia, by L. Starr Voronoi

Smuggling pastries through space--or at least selling them for top dollar. Interesting concept, for sure, with a bit of humor even, and not too mad-libby. I like the random space port names too--makes me feel a bit more at home where sci-fi is not my thing, but I sure like cool names.

You apparently have memories of murdering your brother, and the various endings that appear slowly give the idea this isn't the case. However, the random names made it tougher to judge if they were in fact random or you could click through a certain way to get a certain ending. I mean, there are fixed choices, but they felt arbitrary too. The choice of ASMR, for instance, is rather neat, though it feels a bit too done-before.

I still feel like I stumbled on to the other endings by random mistake. Eventually I ripped oepen the souce and had a few aha moments but between the enforced pauses and unclear random stuff and repetition each time I played, well, I think the author wanted to sow some feelings of confusion and disturbing. but I got a little too much.

Still, this was worthwhile. And I'm not one for aesthetics but I did like the background. & text effects.

An Earth Turning Slowly, by Maeja Stefansson

Now this is a tricky one. It's five chapters, and you control someone different in each one. You are part of a research group that has found dinosaurs, and a data book comes up missing. The suspect is always the same, and so is the result.

This was a tough game to read but I'm glad I did. Trying to figure everyone's motivations is key to replaying, and I wanted to try to change the plot though I knew I couldn't. This echoes some of the characters' fears/worries.

The Undum controls are quite nice--thy provide you with useful verbs and give you a subject e.g. LOOK AT allows you to look at Morgan or Joanna. I only wish that this had been used a bit more e.g. a panel on the left shows all the verbs and also profiles the characters. As is I felt thrown in the deep end but the writing was clear enough that the scientific bits didn't elude me.

This is another game it would be tough to exclude from recommendation.

Mirrorwife, by Virgil Caine

This is an interesting mythical piece about a mirrorwife, someone the King had created and killed to punish his wife for infidelity--because he knew he could never kill her. How and why is revealed as you journey to the Queen's castle. though no names are given, there are plenty of other details worth following, and you can take side visits down the locations where you stop, e.g. a courtyard to observe a fountain or flowers. You can also do the whole click-and-change-the-link-name thing to somewhat alter your options when you visit the Queen. There are no ways to lose, only delay, and the game establishes your hesitance pretty well if you stand back and examine stuff.

This is straightforward and well-written and I can see it getting a recommendation.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Light My Way Home, by Venus Hart

In this game you're something that can't pick things up and with no memory. I think it's pretty clear what the author means, but it gets even clearer once you POWER various electronic things. You eventually find someone else. Manipulating them by POWERING this and that is key to narrative progress, and it's a good mechanic to keep the game simple.

This game has some don't-think-of-a-bear psychology I won't spoil. I'm glad one game in ShuffleComp did something like this, and while I usually don't like playing with the volume on, I recommend it here. I don't care if the tone doesn't logically fit. With your memory loss, this thing-you-shouldn't-do is especially amusing.

The end I got is a nice riff on the usual YOU HAVE DIED/WON. I wasn't able to get the person to go to the suburb in the end. I don't know if you can. It'd be interesting to know. But the ending I got makes emotional and logical sense as is.

This game felt like ...

Look Around the Corner, by Robert Whitlock

Given I hadn't used TADS much I figured I had to steel myself for the game. Maybe new verbs, new conventions, etc.

However, this game was short enough I didn't need to. You shouldn't, either. It's a two-room escape the room style game, to be reductionist. But I sort of need to spoil it to see what it's about.

A Summer's Rose, by Jed Brockett

This is a visually appealing effort that (to me) represented the best flow between the pseudonym and the title. In it, a woman tells her daughter how she met her father. That's the daughter's father.

The story itself is not long, and it's actually a retelling of the song which is a retelling of a fairy tale, itself. That loses a few points with me as I reflexively think back to Geoffrey Braithwaite, the main character in Flaubert's Parrot (which is a quick read that mucks around with lots of fiction elements. It's Ulysses without the pain, to me,) and his rules for books: knit your own stuff! Though the comp somewhat limited this, the writer's skill with just writing sentences left me hoping for more.

I liked how alternate choices believably funneled me back to the main path. I sort of wished there were more ways to derail things, or try to. And ending such as the Calvin and Hobbes strip where Dad changed the ending of Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie would've been tone-inappropriate, well, it would've been funny to have the mother sigh patiently and tell the kid she wasn't ready to hear it all, or something. This is probably me putting on my pedantic proofreading visor, though.

Truth, by John Earthling

This is an amusing game about Finding Truth. Or rather dispelling untruths. They're everywhere! There are 21 of them to get! The world isn't especially rich, and it's filled with easy targets like politics, religion and general silliness. You get a point for dispelling untruths, such as the stained glass in a church that depicts the beliefs of a sect you disagree with.

I got 19 of 21 and found the way to actually win amusing. (I also found it very quickly.) The game never quite gets too silly--I enjoyed the one puzzle (not really,) turning the radio on and the general tone of narrative self righteousness. And stuff like putting the batteries in the wrong way at first. Very good for a Z5 game.

This won't be my favorite game, but it will encourage me to try to go off the deep end a bit more often, as I wanted those last 2 points not just to win it all and be done with it but to have a couple last laughs.

UPDATE: I got all 21 a bit later. Though I think it's kind of a mean trick to (rot13) abg tvir n cbvag ng gur pebffebnqf gvy lbh unir gjragl cbvagf. THUS THE GAME ITSELF IS INCONSISTENT AND NOT 100% TRUTHY. AND THAT'S THE TRUTH. But given the game's tone, this isn't really a sin.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Invisible Parties, by Psychopup

This has a rather big map and some textdumping to start, and I got a bit swamped. The author admits to a lack of testing, and while the mechanic (USE ABILITY X) seems neat, I couldn't do much more than learn sign language and move on.

Being able to see a coffin and worry it wasn't you was cool, and with a walkthrough I'd like to evaluate more what there is to do, but I wound up muddling around and trying powers that never quite worked.

Little Bird, by Dick Dawson

Well, here's another effective reverse. I was expecting something much more sentimental bu got...a bizarre world where President Bastard has declared birds, and helping them, illegal. You can save the birds if you want, or you can be out for yourself, but either way you find out they're pretty nasty too. So are the cops, including a fat cop who didn't ask to be a fat cop.

The structure of this twine game is pretty straight-up CYOA with a new area unlocked once you get most of the endings (which it handily tracks,) and it has a number of just random choices coupled with a few that are obvious but amusing losers. It even has a helpful back button. That, plus "cussin' is rad/horrible" gives an overall helterskelter feel without being disorganized. I had lots of fun.

Bound, by Starfinger X

This wasn't what I was expecting at all from the author name or title--it's a timed puzzle where you are a cleaningperson who gets your employer's ring stuck on your finger. You need to use household items to take it off. The game map is nicely laid out below game text (much like Gregory Peccary's--ok, that's ABOVE, but no real difference,) with a separate screen for inventory, which makes for pleasing production values. And with the timed puzzle, yes, it's VERY good to have a map beforehand. And it makes sense that you know the house, since you cleaned it.

It took me two times to get through the game. Well, technically three. The in-game restart left the game thinking I had gotten the bowl when I didn't, which may've made it unwinnable, so be sure to use the manual restart. This isn't a mortal sin, but FYI.

I think I'd have been able to guess where to go and what to do first time through, which is a plus for the game because it's logically laid out, but I wanted to poke around all over. I also liked how you slowly remove the ring up your finger--it reminded me of trying to remove a too-tight shoe--and if the game doesn't vary items for maximum replayability, it still works as a puzzle and a riff on the standard "your apartment" game.

I was slightly disappointed your employer didn't totally lambaste you for not trying to get the ring off--but I WAS interested enough to check & I did enjoy the advice column on the coffee table too.

Fallout Shelter Deathmatch

Fallout Shelter, by Amadeo Voss

Who will, ha ha, survive?

Amadeo Voss's is a cute little riff where you have a security blanket (!) and not a whole lot to do, but it made me smile a bit. Maybe more items like this?

Histroy Gloam's is a bit more ambitious, where you explore the drain beneath your fallout shelter, and it took me a while to figure how to put the final crystal in the final slot. I eventually discovered it by accident but it was a bit obscure and I only figured it out due to lawnmowering. With some other disambiguation (I'd like PUT ORANGE IN ORANGE to work) and more implementation it might be better, so yeah, post-comp updates. A walkthrough or hinting how to get the alien to release the orange crystal would be nice too. I was messing with the red and yellow panels.

Well, I'll give it to the parser game, because that's how I tiebreak. Both have their moments, but each could be tweaked a bit.

1982, by Iblis Snowdottr

This is a relative quickie about a car you want to take for a spin--if you can find the keys and survive being zapped by a government eye. The puzzles are comfortably silly, and you have a few endings--successful and failing. I like the eye-killing vs non-killing, and the car chase is funny, too. It's a bit random, but it's not profound, but I like it, and I guess most people will, if maybe not quite enough to recommend.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Peccary Myth, by Pergola Cavendish

I'm not a big fan of music + text adventures--I play text adventures to isolate on the writing--but with this game I really wanted to listen to the song while playing. I've never really paid attention to Zappa's work, but it's always been something I'd probably liked, if they inspire something like this, I should. From what I know of Zappa, this game fits with the overall oddness that made him a critical success.

As for the game, first, I like how the map is laid out--it's a great use of twine, simple and effective--and I still had to click on the RESTRICTED links just to see things. This allows for a pretty straightforward clickfest to find what nonsense word to create to invite the aliens, but it's just fun to unlock the industrial sector, the secret tunnels, and the posher area, and even the nonsense words are fun to scroll through. Your superiors are quickly but nicely drawn up, and the only thing I object to is the game overusing LOL...I mean, this was probably on purpose when people say it to grate a little, but it did its job too well, and I'd have liked to see other acronyms for variety.

I'm not sure if this game will get an ultimate best-of-show recommendation, but it looks like it's easily going to be in the top half. It feels like it should appeal to just about everyone, but it still saves plenty of its own quirks.

The Legend of Wooley Swamp, by Elizabeth Jones

The writing here is good, but unfortunately this doesn't feel interactive enough. Which is too bad--I was up for a hunt the mugwump style game from what I saw of the start.

Lobster Bucket, by Lady Tallhat

Hooray for randomly-generated maps! This feels like Kerkerkruip light, where you can actually win quickly, but there aren't that many items. This is also the 2nd game with a specifically named item to find (see: 8 miles high.) Maybe there is a meta-puzzle like with IFComp 2011 and the man with the hat.

My first experience with the game, I won in 5 moves. I thought, is this a bad joke? Then I realized stuff was randomly generated and tried for an easy setup to get all 9 points. Nothing, alas. I may return to poke around, but the monsters do seem to be good at sitting and guarding important areas. Even save-scumming, I didn't get more than 8/9.

I think this is a nice experiment, though, and it works. It's a bit sparse, though.

Nothing but Flowers, by Crabby O'Crankypants

This is a pretty simple twine effort that pretty much goes through the lyrics of a song and ends. I like the effects of changing the chorus that repeats, though unfortunately there's not any conflict that might give an emotional jolt e.g. what led to there being Nothing But Flowers? You don't have to be perfectly faithful to the song.

Still, despite the simplicity, I found this more effective than I expected.

IFComp 2013 entrants may know/remember why this song title got a laugh from me. Or you may not.

Eight Miles High, by Lambert Lambert

This game seems a bit sparse, though the hyperlink/twine hybrid is intriguing. I actually gave up early on because I thought the street names might indicate a hueueuge grid. But there aren't many rooms (five, I think,) and I suspect I missed something before I found an item that seems an homage to Kingdom of Loathing.

The links seem a bit wonky...say you move east from room x to room y. Then, you can click on room x's "east" link to try going east in room y. I got a bunch of you can't go that way messages, though, so unfortunately the game has no easter eggs. Or seems not to. I didn't check everything, but I should have.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Out the Window by Bramble Bobonong

So, this is a Twine game where you--throw stuff out the window. It's good for a few giggles at first, but unfortunately I just think everything I see is second rate to this scene (profanity warning at start, extreme skeeviness warning at 45s) of which I've watched too many greatest moment compilations. (Yes, window glass should fall with the TV. No, that's far from the worst mis-step in the movie. Yes, the painting IS resting on the camera at the start.) It doesn't quite seem to work with the messy apartment angle for me, but I think it also has the good sense to stop at squalor and disillusionment before overstaying its welcome or getting into offensiveness. (Okay, the game recognizes throwing stuff out the window is a disturbance.) This is a good comp for this sort of work, though I'd guess more ambitious ones will move ahead of it.

50 shades of Jilting by Lankly Lockers

This is an amusing little one-mover jaunt about dumping your boyfriend Sam at a diner. I guess we most of us know Sam Barlow's Aisle was the first game to try this. This one allows a ton of ideas but the entries are a bit long-winded, and I wasn't able to get clues.

I liked other Apollo 18 one-movers better but I did enjoy the title, the idea, and the energy. It's just--brevity is the soul of wit, and I really enjoyed the responses AFTER you tried something that worked more than the initial responses. And though I had to plug this into the TXD disassembler to get the rest, I still had fun. It's good to see a new game like this every few months but it'd also be easy to overdose. Still, worth a look, even if it probably won't make my top 9 if I play all the games.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spring Thing 2014 Reviews

This will be my index post for Spring Thing 2014 reviews. If you don't know what it is, which is highly unlikely, it's a review of text adventures people worked hard to create. Go here to see all the games. (Note for people viewing this before 5/12: this is intentionally postdated so you see this post first and also probably avoid spoilers.)

Links to reviews (or reviews-to-be) are above the cut, and my own blather is below. Authors, feel free to contact me for clarifications. I hope to be sending out transcripts to people whose games support that, though in the games I've tested, y'all may have had enough. I may be open to replaying a game that's been updated, if it is not too long, as well. I know how mistakes are made--in stuff you thought you checked, no less. And while I can't drop everything to look at them, I do encourage people following up. Announce it on IFDB, too. It does get noticed!

Asterisked games are ones I beta-tested. I enjoyed my experiences with all of them.

As for my reviews, I want to give a combination of stuff I liked and stuff I'd like to see in an update. One of the big draws for IFComp, for me, is that there's an intense period of working to update my game, reacting to a wider group of reviews, and adjusting to what people saw or wanted or thought would be better. Now Spring Thing apparently has it too, and whether or not the authors take advantage, it will be neat to see what goes down.

You can filter my thoughts by actual reviews or testing thoughts.

Adventures of a Hexagon, by Tyler Zahnke
Bear Creek, Part 1, by Wes Modes
The Bibliophile, by Marshal Tenner Winter *
A Game of Life and Death, by Kiel Farren
The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost, by Briar Rose
The Story of Mr. P, by Hannes *
Surface, by Geoff Moore *
Through Time, by MC Book
Weekend at Ruby's, by Liam Butler and Jackson Palmer
The Wyldkynd Project, by Robert DeFord *

Surface, by Geoff Moore

Surface is probably the most intuitive games in the comp. The dual story is not hard to guess at, but not in an 'oh, DUH, obvious' way. You know, because the writing is more than competent, the two protagonists will meet. The question is how and why.

The Wyldkynd Project, by Robert DeFord

I tested mostly the first half of this game, leaving the second half open. Unfortunately I lost touch with Robert about when he solidified the first part, and I worried he wasn't going to get the second done. I was thrilled to receive a mail he'd entered the Comp, and I'm glad this game got an above-average score.

It's too bad the Mac Alan interpreter didn't work, because this game deserved more votes. Hopefully people weren't intimidated by An Unusual Language. I'd say I like ALAN a bit better than QUEST. It feels like a good lightweight Inform. I'd like to see more games with it as I thought Anssi Raisannen's Ted Paladin game was a nice success. While Inform 7 is in my opinion superior to ALAN and more flexible, there's a whole lot to be said for a lightweight language people don't feel they have to learn back to front.

The Story of Mr. P, by Hannes Schüller

Master P, who wrote the song I ripped off in this meme picture of Joseph Ducreux is probably best forgotten. But is this game? I really enjoyed being given the source to look for a German translation--a certain amount of trust there--and finding the eight different entries. It also got me looking at Inform 6, which is less scary now that I've worked with I7 and said, well, I7 is expedient but how do I do x, y or z which is more detailed?

One of the inherently difficult things in a game like this is, how do you evoke a feeling of frustration without frustrating the reader? I enjoyed it, because I enjoy games about frustration with everyday life, and I particularly enjoyed shuffling among the houses at the end through the passage which sort of mirrored things.

The Bibliophile, by Marshal Tenner Winter

I beta-tested this game...there was a lot of work and love put into it, and a lot of testing. The author has a good formula down for getting stories off the assembly line, but I'd like to suggest upgrading that assembly line. The "test X" command in Inform is valuable. So would expanding the "think" command to give hints every turn e.g.

section thinky - not for release

every turn:
  say "Current hint: ";
  try thinking;

Hints make a game more robust and also expose the more arbitrary or unclued puzzles e.g. "I did tell the player this, right?" & you have to go check. I've slipped, myself, forgetting to make an important hinting device visible, and hints don't prevent that, but they've made it less likely. They force you to pave over things. In a game this big and long, anything that can help the player keep on track is good, and I've also found that if my interest flags in my own game when I walkthrough, what does that mean for someone not as invested in it?

I really want to see the author throw away the Call of Cthulu-world style crutch he's relied on in previous efforts and to make the jump to write his own stuff, however crazy he worries it might be. Because I think that is what is most memorable about this game...the touches like the cat, or using the Psychognomy spell.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Shufflecomp Judging Intro

This is my intent to judge shufflecomp. And what better judge of a contest inspired by music than someone who hates hearing music at his athletic club and has finally stopped being annoyed by other people's music on trains or buses? Why, someone who has been distracted from writing his own text adventures by music coming from below, that's who!

I wound up testing 8 of the games, and as such, I don't really feel comfortable saying too much about them besides that every one of the authors got back to me more than once--probably more than twice--and made some really good fixes. If every author in ShuffleComp was able to do this, then this really will be quite an event. I'd like to mini-review the authors I tested for to give a point according to the judging rules, in alphabetical order. My nine votes for best game will likely be confidential.

In the all-important (or at least easy to evaluate) pseudonym department, I give my nine votes to:

Starfinger X
L. Starr Voronoi
Histroy Gloam
Amadeo Voss
Efrain Finnell
Bramble Bobonong
Pergola Cavendish
Jed Brockett (bonus point for best author name/song name mixing)
John Earthling

Sunday, May 11, 2014

How I broke into the scene

This is my first post that goes out to planet-IF, and I hope it's relevant, in that, if you want to start contributing, it can really be anything that helps you do so. I started in the most abstruse way.

There'll be other posts on this blog, too, to planet-IF, but they will probably be more summaries of a week's writing, so as not to detract from more serious and higher-level stuff. I'm glad to be accepted by the planet-if Big Man, and I hope you find my writings interesting and relevant.

More below the cut,
  Andrew Schultz

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lessons from Kingdom of Loathing

Kingdom of Loathing is a clever game disguised as a stupid game. It's even more than that! You may or may not have heard of it before, but I'm going to discuss how it's helped me with Fundamental Principles school failed to impress into me.

KoL's taught me a lot of things, from practical applications of economics to how people work together in projects to how to update a game or deal with feedback, to lessons of just plain generosity and decency. It's helped me build my own games, when it didn't suck too much time away. I was amused to see that someone else also quit because it took too much time.

Plus Mr. Skullhead, the head Funny Text Guy (IIRC) sent me a nice mail back after I told him basically this--that I needed to move on, and his going ahead with a comic book was way cool. But I was glad to support other projects, and I didn't regret my donations for those lovely Mr. A's that let you buy Items of the Month.

I came back. They added new gadgets. I remembered people, and people remembered me. I have to say that a full-blown MMORPG would be too much for me, but Loathing--well, it's quite a place. You can explore it without exploring it on the fan-maintained wiki. Or, if you like, it's on Here's the funny bits, or the best of them.

If you haven't played for a few years, it's a totally different looking game now, and not just because Jick's stick figures have gotten retouched extensively. The sea is (finally) complete.

Spoilers for KoL and Randy Pausch's Last Lecture are below the cut and potentially TLDR. It devolves into a story, but I hope the main point isn't lost, that--you have a funny cool idea and there's always room for development. Sharing that idea can inspire others to do so.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Miscellaneous e-readings

I'd meant to do more with this blog for Spring Thing, but ShuffleComp testing has taken up a lot of my time & I've enjoyed looking at what people did. There are still a few days left, though if you have seen this blog, you probably know about this link.

So I'll have to settle for mentioning a few e-texts I've been enjoying: Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey in e-text. It's probably one of the best CYoAs out there, and definitely the most ambitious--a detective story with relatively good internal consistency for a CYoA, but disappointingly hard to find in local libraries compared to others. The structure is unusual for a CYoA and it even goes left to right instead of jumping around. Best, you won't spoil things or get exasperated flipping through it due to the neat GUI.

Other books I poked at include Richmal Crompton's Just William and (for all the wrong reasons) Amanda McKitrick Ros's Irene Iddsleigh which is impossible to read in one sitting because...err.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Yes, you should write that small diagnostic.

A lot of times when I'm writing a text adventure, I think of how to write a test command a bit late. Part of that is that I still feel like I'm cheating to zip around the game, because it really is fun to poke holes in things, even my own. I recommend it to others, to have a "god mode" in your own game. Stuff you won't let the players do, or that you may only let trusted testers do.

The big problem is that I say, well, it'll only have so much impact. Part of the problem is me not planning ahead, but I've also found I was able to tweak a script or a player command to test other things as well. And even finding one bug it'd be a pain to track down again worked. It's nice that Inform allows a test command that lets you know there's a path through the game, but it's even nicer to be able to jump ahead or say "If this weren't broken..."

Because 90+% of the time, the small utilities I think up tend to grow or be cannibalized by other bigger ones, or they wind up being something I use without reservation.

It's just a lot of fun. And programmer testing often ISN'T. If you have powerful things to try, that bug that's driving you up the wall is less intimidating. And your testers and, down the line, your players will thank you for it. Spoilery examples for my IFComp 2012 game, Shuffling Around, follow.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Offensive Rebounds in Basketball

I'm a big sports fan. Not as big as I used to be. There's a lot of overexposure, ticket prices are up, etc. But on the bright side, people give real and cogent analysis, and we understand better what's valuable and what isn't, and how and why.

Offensive rebounds (OR) in basketball are, for those who don't follow, when a player manages to gain control of a teammate's missed shot. So if you like soccer, call it a tap-in. ORs weren't given much official credit, though coaches would often say, the wrong one at the wrong moment will kill a team tired from defending. Whether they have to defend for another 24/35 seconds, or the person that gets one is so close to the basket he can score easily, it's a big boost to a team on offense. Coaches go on and on about how ORs are about desire and preparedness. They weren't a big deal for a while, and if you remember Dennis Rodman, he was invaluable to his teams in getting these. He knew how to position himself or scramble for a miss, and while people remember his more visible head games, they were usually camoflague for the more practical stuff. (Lots) more below the fold.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Missing a Train, and Game Design

So here's my first non-review post. It may or may not be interesting.

I've been guilty of not cluing stuff well enough. And I've felt bad about that and tried to rectify it. I feel, to some extent, the responsibility of finding things lies with the player. They need to do a reasonably careful reading, and they should be rewarded for reading carefully to find a hidden clue. All the same, you shouldn't make them sweat it.

I've been on the other side of it and been able to brush this off and, in fact, I'm pretty forgiving if I notice that an author forgot to clue something, but other work they did makes it clear they did so generally. But an experience I had missing a train gave this a more emotional angle. I don't want this to be a shaggy dog story or lengthy complaint but rather an example of how mistakes get in the way of performing simple actions and how things can be exacerbated or dealt with.

Monday, April 21, 2014

6 down, 0 or 4 to go

I don't want to do much for a while. I've tested the remaining 4 games, and I think I'd like to hold off til the end so I don't bias people either way. But I don't feel comfortable reviewing games I'm somewhat emotionally attached to, and I'm not sure it's even within contest rules.

About the only thing I can add is a technical note: this post by Wade Clarke should help you to download the newest shiniest ALAN interpreter so The Wyldkynd Project works best. I think people are all a bit wary of non-Inform parser entries (as of 4/21 noon Central, Wyldkynd and Weekend have no IFDB ratings, but all other games in the ST2014 comp do,) and in this case, there are hoops to jump through. I know ALAN has been updated to be more stable, and hopefully this will people be able to base their experience of the game on the best update of out there.

So I may just be writing stuff up randomly for a bit--my experience testing, getting testers, and formulating ideas. Maybe it'll be interesting, and maybe it'll help people. Maybe it'll just be ignored. Thanks for reading so far.

The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost, by Briar Rose

The title in this effort worried me--the potential for full-on didactic screeds is high. Fortunately, there's not a lot of overt judgement in this game, where you are a Greek boy sold into slavery to the Romans, by your father, no less.

There are about 20 decision points in the game, and while most revolve around gaining (or losing) approval of the people you meet, some allow you to gain or lose strength and speed, which affects the result of the arena fight at the end. You get different endings based on how many of your band of six teens (or younger?) survive, although, yeah, you can die, yourself.

Emily Short already pointed out how different all three CYS games are in subject matter. Unfortunately none of them really *sang* though they all feel competent and all showed me something different. I suspect they'll do decently, and they made me curious about CYS. It's good to see a community like that I never knew about. It's good people are cranking out meaningful works. If these works are representative of the community as a whole, I'd say the next step is to have people give tougher criticisms of WIPs so there aren't big barren patches of bland exposition & so the games flow better. Because as of now it looks like Twine is quicker and more lightweight and has stronger authors, but CYS may well have a lower barrier to entry, and I was impressed by the forum activity.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Game of Life and Death, by Kiel Farren

Life is not a game. Death is not a game.

/drops some sort of double-negatives booyah

Enough tedious riffing. With a title like this, I was surprised nobody'd used it before, so that's kind of neat. The story matter also surprised me--this is by far the least serious of the three ChooseYourStory games. It also is the only one to make use of graphics and an inventory, but unfortunately, it has a lot of faults. I'm not sure if this is due to the author or due to the medium. But enough got in my way that even with a walkthrough, I wound up with the semi-decent ending and missed stuff I should have had several times.

This entry seemed to have the most potential of all three, but it fell flat.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Through Time, by MC Book

With only three games I didn't test left, I was faced with a choice of three Choose Your Story games.

Anyway. Through Time is, unsurprisingly, a time travel story. Everyone should write one, whether or not we publish it, because the paradoxes are interesting. And while reading too many leaves us feel like we've seen it all, there's always a possible twist or two. Even if we're analytical enough to see it coming, a good story can make us want to change it.

Side note: you've probably read Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder (if you forgot the title, it's the one you think it is) which is sort of the #1 changing-the-past story as it's quick and to the point. If you haven't read it, get an anthology of his early stuff. SoT is very economical about dealing with time travel issues. Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife is a good example of the long-form where, even if you can guess part of what happens, there are a couple time-threads but nothing gets confused.

But books/movies can only do so much. They ask "what if" but don't let you ask the next "what if." I mean, you can do that on your own, but you can't see what the author would've meant. At least, not easily.

This adventure makes good use of that, with four different people to learn about, and, yes, ways to goof up. And in this medium you can (except if you REALLY mess up in that Douglas Adams game) take things back without destroying the space-time continuum. If you succeed once, you have a chance at the Big Enchilada ending. So there's definite incentive to see about other characters.

I found the game to be good and workmanlike, if not spectacular. The PDF flowchart walkthrough was well-annotated. I'd have liked more detail in the writing style, but I know the writer is interested in fixing things. The only problem? It deletes save states to update, so known stylistic errors won't be fixed for a month. I hope the author finds time to add touches that will make this work more immersive or maybe do the same for their next work. They've certainly put in a lot of work and time at the Chooseyourstory forums, and they responded immediately and positively to a nitpick I found in their PDF walkthrough. It's good to see that and to see Spring Thing allowing that. People deserve mulligans when we probably know what they meant--it's not like they have paid, dedicated editors for this. And as a judge I don't feel like I get easter-egg points for finding a mistake when I know what someone meant. I've been on the other side.

Because Through Time has its faults, but for me, it worked.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Weekend at Ruby's, by Liam Butler

This is a Quest game about finding the phone number of a girl you met at a party.

It's a party in a big house, and that means lots of locations to search for said lost number. I have to admit that games about parties automatically start with me a bit biased, because I've put up with my share of parties upstairs and downstairs while trying to read. Nevertheless, the game does have some nice maps to help you get around and a relatively robust, if sticky, hint system.

I didn't complete the game, but it's obviously got a lot of care put into it. It's just the sort that doesn't have specific knowledge of how to write a game, which is more subjective than Writing Good Code.

And while it isn't just about being the life of the party (which would be vulgar) it does give the feeling of a Cool Bro trying to help you to be as cool as you can. And unfortunately the initial task of tracking down a girl's phone number gets pushed to the back by too much improbable stuff. I've long since given up any pretense of wanting to be a partying sort of guy, or even going to one, or of even feeling obliged to find Big-Party movies or sitcoms remotely entertaining. I'm not morally opposed to drug literature--I found Reefer Madness hilarious, and Martin Amis's Success and Money are two of my favorite books--but maybe those have turned me off to more earnest works even more.

I like a good unreliable pugnacious narrator--I just don't like him sounding like Dane Cook or Tucker Max. (Or like someone trying to sound like them.) And general subversion is a-ok with me, too. I've always found the process of getting and making fake ID's more interesting than actually using them. I just think that the audience for Spring Thing is not the audience for a game like this & it doesn't have much beyond the big party house to justify a deeper look if/when the player gets bogged down.

With issues below combined with Quest's slowness even playing off-line, I got fatigued. I think the author and programmer made a mistake not including a straight walkthrough, and if the competition rules allow, I would submit one. I hope they're able to fix the bigger bugs (as of 4/17,) too. I suspect the bugs are easy to fix but tough to find. That these bugs pop up despite obvious programming effort  may be a weakness of Quest in general (I don't know if it allows testing commands) or of people not having experience testing it and thus not knowing how to keep them under control efficiently.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bear Creek by Wes Modes

Bear Creek is by a new author, but if you check his website, he's not new to Creating Things --> has a list of what he's done, and it's impressive.

From the tester list, it looks like he's worked with Aaron Reed, and it's good to see a new author trying out Inform 7. It's also planned to be one in a sequence of stories, though it doesn't feel incomplete, and it stops at a good point. It's pretty linear, but there's enough to do anywhere that you never feel forced along.

It's one of those games that feel differently from anything I'd write, yet I enjoy looking at it without imagining the Well-Roundedness Police looking over my shoulder and nodding their approval. This indicates the game has a high level of immersion, and once I got out of playing mode, I said, I'd like to do this sort of thing in any future game I might write. But I think you will like it whether or not you have intentions of writing.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Adventures of a Hexagon, by Tyler Zahnke

Adventures of a Hexagon is a brief HTML game with maybe 20 choices. It features a polygon who jumps out of his geometry book. I have to admit I'd like to write an Inform game that is truly 2-d. I generally disable up and down without a good reason, but there's a lot of possibility to riff on mathematical stuff. For instance, I read a book once wondering how a square's digestive track would look, in response to Flatland.

By the way, Flatland really is a classic book, and it's a quick read. I think you'll like it even if you don't like math.

On googling the author, I'm impressed he has sat down to create as much as he has at his age despite his obstacles. It's a reminder to me not to let silly things get in my way.