IFcomp 2016 Thoughts

I generally don't write straight reviews when it comes to the annual IF competition. It would be more appropriate to say that I jot down my thoughts.

This is the paragraph where, each year some years, I find a new and creative way of apologizing for how few games I've played and then promise that I'll try to be a better geek next year. But life is busy and this year there are 58(!) games, and I have the self-confidence and sense to admit that however many games I end up playing? That's a sufficient number of games to have played. Besides, it's the first time I've posted reviews to this site in four years, so go me!

Should you be interested in how I assign the numerical ratings for each game, my methods can be found here.

You can find more information about these games and how to play them at the IFwiki.



Games reviewed:

16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds | 500 Apocalypses | Evermore | Fallen Leaves | Mirror and Queen | SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD | Theatre People | Toilet World: World of Toilets | Zigamus: Zombies at Vigamus


16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds
By Abigail Corfman

I'm not going to quote this game much or otherwise spoil much about it, because it's really good, and you should play it if you have not yet done so.

Corfman has thus far released two games, both in Twine, and both of them are interesting and innovative for the platform. If you're someone who really generally prefers parser-based IF, particularly because you like puzzles, I'd put forth that 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds rivals some of the better parser puzzle-light games I've played and enjoyed.

While playing this I kept thinking back to an old favorite of mine, Marika the Offering by James Webb. No doubt this is, at least in part, because it's another puzzle game about vampires, but also because it's well written and because it focuses on multiple iterations of the same puzzle.

I probably would not have played through to ALL SIXTEEN endings, were it not for the Unlockables, with which I was not disappointed. (Though admittedly, I preferred the first Unlockable to the subsequent two. Still, it's worth playing for them all.)

Rating: 8
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500 Apocalypses
By Phantom Williams

500 Apocalypses is the third game I've played in this comp that could reasonably be found in an IF Art Show. That's not to say it isn't a game, but it's definitely more experiential: the player cannot direct any outcome, and there isn't really an ending.

The experience is at times like floating, weightless, in a beautiful but melancholy world. At other times it is dark, or soiled, or absolutely filthy, and you want to look away... but you are then deposited back into the digital memorial, which is clean and neat and well organized and for a moment things feel okay again. The whole, however, is a tapestry of death, crafted of threads which at times feel far apart but are ultimately all woven together.

500 Apocalypses is well written and well designed. It's a memorable experience. It's worthwhile. But be forewarned: it is dark and at times may make you very uncomfortable.

Rating: 9
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Evermore: A Choose Your Own Edgar Allan Poe Adventure
By E.A. Poe & Adam Whybray

This. Was. A. Delight.

How the author kept up the voice throughout is beyond me—really admirable. This game is a splendid mix of Edgar Allen Poe and modern humor:

With the consummate care and delicacy appropriate to the lady's former beauty, you lower the obscene and frightful corps de la mort to rest upon the stone floor at the entrance of the Shadowed Chamber revealed through the tumultuous dissolution of the worm-blasted mahogany door.

CHOICES:

Perform an orracular interrogation of the body and reflect upon its former occupant's tragic fate.

Enter the Shadowed Chamber.
Many will no doubt comment upon the art (which is lovely indeed!), but it's the writing that really did it for me in this game. I played through a couple of times, both of them relatively short but superbly enjoyable. I had a smile on my face throughout. I could see myself revisiting this after the comp is over, just to see what other delights it contains.

Rating: 9
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Fallen Leaves
By Adam Bredenberg, Danial Mohammed, and Khan-Yousufzai

This one was hard to review and rate.

I wanted to like it a lot more than I did, particularly as it samples from the Confucian Book of Songs, and I am generally fond of poetry from early China. And I did enjoy that aspect of this work, for all the reasons that usually speak to me.

I guess I'm not sure how much of what's in here is from the modern authors, and what's from the Book of Songs, and I suspect much of my frustration with this work stems from my own lack of patience: Bredenberg himself cautions the player that the story takes awhile to develop properly.

This work defiantly and unapologetically pushes back against all the things I was likely (subconsciously) hoping to see because it's a 'game'. Fallen Leaves is an interactive poem more than it is a game. It has no end-condition and no objective.

This leads me to deduce that my dislike of Fallen Leaves has more to do with me and modernity and convention than it has to do with the intent of the authors...

...so much so that I 've decided not to rate it at all.

Rating: None
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Mirror and Queeen
By Chandler Groover

Here's another 2016 IFcomp game that makes me feel as if someone needs to resurrect the IF Art Show. Mirror and Queen is another goal-free game of the competition:

Type what you wish to discuss.
One word is oftentimes enough.
Your only goal is to reflect.
(By the way, Groover, I see what you did there.)

Nevertheless, Q&M held my interest for quite awhile, due mostly to the writing we've come to reliably expect from Groover. He's also cleverly fit the game within a mirror frame, a very nice touch. (A touch I rather wish I knew how to replicate...)

So if you love Chandler Groover's writing, check this out. It's cleverly-coded and polished, but it's more experience than challenge.

Rating: 7
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SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD!
By Xalavier Nelson Jr.

Wow. So. Where to begin? I almost hesitate to say this, but it's true, so I'm gonna go ahead and go here:

This game has a lot of nuance.

Sure, it's super silly. It's a romp. And it's kind of exhausting to play, but it has these moments where I was just like, Really, Mr. Nelson? Is this pseudo-autobiographical? If so, have you seen a therapist? Maybe you should see a therapist.

But maybe it's not at all pseudo-biographical. The author ends up thanking his parents in the credits, and the gratitude even seems genuine.1

Anyway, I had a nice little Twitter exchange with Mr. Nelson, wherein I complimented him on his writing and on how much I adored Carla, one of the NPCs. I'd share some of the writing and such here, but here's the thing: a lot of what makes this game work is the Twine interface. Nelson has a pretty good handle on pacing. But be forewarned: if the puns in this game don't wear you out, and it doesn't make you flash back to exasperating moments in your own life, then you may find yourself exhausted just from all the clicking on text. (But without clicking on tons of text, a lot of what makes the game work would be lost.)

_____

1 Then again, my father got on my case for switching majors too often in college.2

2 He called me unfocused.3

3 UNFOCUSED? SRSLY?! 4

4 Yep, unfocused, just like Bear Dad does to the PC in this game.5

5 I have forgiven my father for that and moved on, though.6

6 Honestly. I have.7

7 Perhaps Mr. Nelson can relate? 8

8 Hm. Maybe it's me that needs to see a therapist.9

9 Anyway, the game is a lot like reading all these footnotes.10

10 So if you enjoyed this, go play SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD!

Rating: 8
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Toiletworld: World Of Toilets
By Chet Rocketfrak

So, I was playing games randomly up until I saw Ade make a comment about Toiletworld in the in the Euphoria IF room. He commented that the text for an update to Toiletworld on the ifcomp site was so amusing that it made him snort coffee through his nose. That seemed worth checking out.

Indeed, it was an amusing update:

Toiletworld: Changelog

This lists all the changes the authors of this game have made to it since the judging period began, in their own words.
  • October 2, 1:02 AM (UTC): added a toilet
This inspired me to break from randomness and jump to Toiletworld post haste!

Sadly, the game itself is not very good, rather unplayable and full of weird recursive disambiguation issues, but I will give a whole extra point for this kind of writing:
You walk through the hallways. The hallways are like pipes, like the sort of pipes that connect a municipal waste disposal network to a home toilet. You can see mineral deposits on the walls, like the sort of mineral deposits that would result from years of flushing hard water with a mineral content at or above 0.5g/L, which is the typical sedimentary limit for residential water supplies.

Rating: 3
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Theatre People
By Michael Kielstra

I suspect that Theatre People was probably cathartic to write. I hope it was, anyway—the author seems to have some pent-up frustration from his days crewing amateur productions in various theatres! I suspected that this game was pulled from real life right off the bat, even before reading the game's ABOUT text... and really, anyone who's worked behind the scenes on a play of any sort can probably relate.

Theatre People is a generally solid game: limited in scope, with a clear primary goal, a less-obvious but relatively optional B-plot goal, and a constrained map that's easy to navigate. That said, the plot and puzzles of this game are not unique territory for interactive fiction, and Theatre People is quite standard in its approach.

I get the impression that the author enjoyed writing it, that those who relate to it may similarly enjoy it, but that it will generally receive a luke-warm reception in the competition.

Rating: 5
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Zigamus: Zombies at Vigamus
By Marco Vallarino

So, wow. In the opening paragraph we have two different references to the damsel in distress trope. Slow clap! Not a great way to get in my good graces from the outset. Then we get a reference to our boss, who is out like a light, and how he is probably dreaming about playing strip poker. Then I get a disambiguation issue...

>x zombies
The "Zombies Attack!" coin-op is the Troyan horse which the brain-eating monsters managed to enter the museum with.

The "Zombies Attack!" coin-op is currently switched on.

>turn off coin-op
I fear that switching off the coin-op will be no use. The zombies have already invaded the museum.

>kill zombies
I fear that destroying the coin-op will be no use. The zombies have already invaded the museum.
At this point I'm (perhaps unreasonably) surly. I'm not into zombie games, we've hit a handful of sexist tropes, and the game should be able to distinguish between the zombies and the zombie game. A few seconds later I found myself in a museum that tells the history of video games from its dawn in the 70s to the present, and I thought to myself, "That's weird, video games date back to the fifties..."

...and that's when I gave up on the game.

Which, in retrospect, makes me a little sad, since this is from the same author who wrote the Darkiss games. \_(ツ)_/ But hey, there's a Darkiss game in the IF Comp this year, so I have that to look forward to!

Rating: 3
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