[IFComp2010] Seven Games Reviewed

I played some more IFComp games. Behind the jump you’ll find mini-reviews of seven games. There will be some amount of spoilerage after the jump, so be warned. If you would just like to know whether I think these games are worth your time, here are the non-spoilery micro-reviews:

  • Rogue of the Multiverse: Highly Recommended
  • The Sons of the Cherry: Not Recommended
  • A Quiet Evening at Home: Not Recommended
  • Gris et Jaune: Recommended
  • The Chronicler: Not Recommended
  • Death Off the Cuff: Highly Recommended
  • East Grove Hills: Highly Recommended

Rogue of the Multiverse by C.E.J. Pacian
Even though this is an “odd-format” game (read, not Z-machine or Glulx), it’s by the celebrated author of Gun Mute, so I had high hopes for this game, and I wasn’t disappointed. You start off in prison, and I wasn’t initially entirely sure if I was just supposed to go along with things or try to escape. After getting killed during my first escape attempt, however, I figured this wasn’t that kind of game. The game as a whole is fairly linear, but the story is excellent, and there certainly is enough interactivity to make it engaging. What really shines about this game for me, and why I highly recommend it, is the writing. It’s humorous sci-fi, which I can sometimes like but which I sometimes tire of pretty quickly. This managed to hit the perfect tone of being humorous without being comical, and I certainly never got tired of it. Your interactions with the doctor are particularly fun. And, of course, the game is solidly implemented, so it’s really a nice way to spend some time.

I had two main problems with the game. The first was that I didn’t really know much about my character. I could assume I was some kind of “rogue” from the title, and I knew that I was a human currently in a world dominated by non-humans, but that was about it. My second problem was that I didn’t find the ending very satisfying. Near the end of the game, you are presented with a binary choice, and this seems to lead to the two endings (at least I didn’t find any more than two endings). Neither ending was very satisfying.

However, the problems I had didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the game, and it’s short enough that I didn’t feel too let down by the endings.

The Sons of the Cherry by Alex Livingston
The last of the odd-format games, this one uses ChoiceScript, a choice-based programming language (think Choose Your Own Adventure books with stat-tracking). I was not feeling very hopeful after the first decision I had to make was what color shirt I was wearing. It asks you a number of questions at the beginning to determine your various statistics. Not all of them are as bad as the shirt one, but it just wasn’t very motivational. But OK, I thought I’d give the story a chance. And it’s got some promise, but you’re very much railroaded along. You’re allowed to choose to refuse to go along with what the main NPC wants you to do, but then you’re told that you do it anyway, except that you’re not as powerful, so you end up dying early. Of course, the reason I didn’t go along with what the main NPC wanted was that it was obvious to me that he was a bad guy, responsible for my troubles. I decided to replay the game, going along with what he wanted (and what the author obviously wanted) just to prove to myself that the main NPC was in fact a bad guy. And guess what? I was right.

Unless you’re a big fan of choice-based narrative and want to see an example of how not to structure the narrative, you should definitely give this one a pass.
A Quiet Evening at Home by Anonymous
This is obviously the author’s first attempt at writing interactive fiction. You can check out the other reviews of the game to see all its problems. I don’t want to dwell on it, because it has all the sorts of problems you’d expect to find in a first game that has not been betatested. And that’s the main point I want to make. If you’re going to take your first game and put it out there for public consumption, please have it betatested to some extent. Try asking at the various online places. If you’re too shy for that, try asking people you know, even if they know nothing about interactive fiction. Just having the experience of watching someone else try to play your game, or reading a transcript of someone else trying to play your game, will help immeasurably.

I saw some real promise in here. There were some funny responses to various actions. I was impressed to see that the refrigerator door swings shut by itself if it’s been left open for a few turns. I liked the ending where I was sprayed by a skunk. I think just a little bit of polish would have let all these things shine a bit more, even if it wouldn’t have made this any kind of masterpiece. So, anonymous, please keep writing, and please have your next work betatested (I’d be happy to do so).
Gris et Jaune by Steve van Gaal
I was definitely intrigued by the beginning of this game, and up through about half an hour in I was totally into it. I loved the setting and the story, and even though it was fairly linear, I was enjoying the interactivity. If the beginning of this game had been submitted to IntroComp, it totally would have won. However, after the first act, the game opens up completely, and I was lost. I quickly learned what I shouldn’t do, but I had no idea what I should do. I did a few things. I resorted to the hints. I still couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t have the energy (or the time) to start over and use the hints from the beginning.

I totally recommend that you play the beginning of this game. It is very much worth it. And then just decide to end the game when you’ve escaped the house. Pretend that that’s the end of the game and call yourself a winner. It’s OK; you have my permission.
The Chronicler by John Evans
It’s not a good sign that the help says: “Unfortunately, due to time constraints it’s only half finished, or perhaps three-quarters. I can only hope that you’ll find some amusement from the manipulations of objects it affords, while apologizing for the shortness of the experience.” It has a standard sci-fi type of setting, but I never mind that, being a sci-fi fan. However, after not having much motivation, seeing various unimplemented things (scenery, verbs), and getting an error, I kind of lost interest. I really tried to force myself to play a little more, but I was unable. Given all the marks against it, I just couldn’t care about the game and certainly didn’t want to invest any energy in it. Maybe I didn’t give the game a fair shake, but if it starts out admitting that it’s unfinished, why should I put in the effort?
Death Off the Cuff by Simon Christiansen
I know that there are other murder-mystery IF games out there, but this is the first one I’ve played, and I have to say I really enjoyed myself. I really liked how it excused the fact that you the player don’t know what’s gone on. You are a detective with everyone gathered in the room to make the big-finish accusation, but the detective doesn’t have a clue who the murderer is. So you’re just making random observations about people, hoping that they will confess or in some way slip up.

The first time I was able to accuse someone, I didn’t because I didn’t think he did it. After playing some more and getting somewhere but still not able to accuse someone else (even though I’d started to figure out something of what was going on), I decided to save the game and see what happened if I accused the guy I thought was innocent. And it was a very nice ending. The guy is obviously not guilty, but you ruin his life with the accusation, which eventually causes him to commit suicide. The ending part that usually says “You have won” or “You have died” instead says “You have saved your reputation.” Awesome.

One thing I’ve learned is to definitely type “about” or whatever if the author tells you to in the beginning. Some of these games would have been a lot more frustrating without a bit of guidance. In particular, the about text for this game outlines what the interaction is going to be like (mostly just talking about people or objects, with just a little manipulating the environment), which helped me enjoy it more. I certainly would have gotten more frustrated if I went into it expecting to be able to search for clues around the room, move objects, etc. and then finding I wasn’t able to.

The other kind of losing ending I found (there are several versions of the “You have saved your reputation” ending, depending on whom you falsely accuse) was particularly great, too. I had run out of stuff to do, so I started talking about my own moustache. It lets me keep talking about it, which is usually a sign from the game that there’s something interesting there. But I was saying stupid stuff, and then I was shot from behind while pacing around the room pontificating about facial hair.

I highly recommend this game, and it makes me want to go look at some other murder-mystery IF games.
East Grove Hills by XYZ
This is another pretty linear game. There aren’t really any puzzles to solve, and there’s not much to do besides move the story forward. However, it really worked for me. The story jumps around in time, and it all revolves around an attack on your school. Most of how you advance the story is through conversations, and the conversations worked pretty well. I was a bit confused by the second conversation, though. You were given your conversation options, but then after those came some notifications about other things going on in the room at the time, and then you were able to respond. I wasn’t entirely sure if those things happening in the room were supposed to have happened before my response, at the same time as my response, or after my response.

This entry is pseudonymous (although it might as well be anonymous given the pseudonym XYZ), but that pseudonymity is essential to the fiction of the game. You find out during the game that this piece of IF started as a failed attempt at a school project and was later turned into the current game as a response to the tragic events. The narrator dropped in some references to IF games earlier (saying that he thought in compass directions because he had been playing too many games), but the revelation that this game you are playing is referenced in the fiction was just a really neat experience for me, and it’s a lot of what made me appreciate the game. I’m not that well-versed in the history of IF, so I don’t know if something like this has been done before, but having the actual artifact of the IF game itself be a part of the story is really, really cool. Go play this game.

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2 Responses to [IFComp2010] Seven Games Reviewed

  1. Emily Boegheim says:

    I’m not that well-versed in the history of IF, so I don’t know if something like this has been done before, but having the actual artifact of the IF game itself be a part of the story is really, really cool.

    Deadline Enchanter by Alan DeNiro does that too. It's a strange, flawed work - I can't call it a game - and you might hate it, but it's definitely worth trying. (Despite the name, it isn't an Infocom parody/homage, so don't let that put you off.) I can't think of any other examples, though.

  2. For what it's worth, Gris et Jaune was still undergoing heavy testing right up to the deadline; I think a lot of the early testers didn't make it very far in.

    but having the actual artifact of the IF game itself be a part of the story is really, really cool.

    If you want to get super-technical, I did this in a speedIF, Ugly Chapter, four years before Deadline Enchanter. It's, well, a speedIF, and the crucial part of the prompt was "this thing plays like An Interactive Suicide Note," so, angsty.

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