The deadline for IFComp voting is tomorrow. I haven’t finished posting my reviews, but I’ve played all the ones I’m going to vote on, and I’ve submitted my scores. So here’s the scores, with a brief non-spoilery explanation.
My base line is that a solid, substantial game that I generally enjoyed playing and that sent me to the hints a few times gets a 7. As Sam and I said, there doesn’t seem to be any clear front-runner this year; I thought a lot of the games were either very short or hugely ambitious but flawed. Anyway, scores and mostly spoiler-free explanations below the jump; full reviews here for elaboration on what I’m talking about.
A word on the two-hour time limit. Unlike the other year that I thoroughly played the comp, this year a lot a lot of the games were long enough that I couldn’t finish them within two hours, or even close. I don’t time my playing (partly because I tend to play for a few minutes, leave the game open, do something else, come back for a few minutes), but I made a good-faith effort to discount everything that happened in my playthrough after around two hours of play. Some of those are noted below. If a game gets me to play for two hours, that’s generally something of an accomplishment.
Games are listed in order of their score; games with the same score are not listed in any particular order.
PataNoir: 9. A great gameplay idea, lots of puzzles, the writing isn’t absolutely top-notch and some of the puzzles are a bit confusing which keeps it from a 10. The most confusing puzzles came after the two-hour limit.
The Play: 8. An excellent choice-based game with a good mechanism and with some things to say. Again, the writing is good but not enough to put in the top bracket; if Christine Love had written it it’d probably be a 10. (Well, that’s true of anything.) As Carl observed, the slapstick doesn’t really work in the medium; slapstick can work in IF (more in my Death of Schlig review) but this particular slapstick doesn’t have the “a bunch of little disasters piling up on the player” mechanism that makes that go. The author has other things to do.
The Hours: 8. I’m not sure I can justify this vote, but this may have been the playthrough I enjoyed most. The forward momentum of the play was enough to take me past its polish issues, and as I said that was part of the charm for me. Still probably should be a 7, but I’m rounding up because no one else seemed to like it. (Also, Carl says that your seemingly inconsequential dialogue choices affect the ending, which is kind of innovative and done subtly enough that I didn’t notice it.)
Cana according to Micah: 8. Makes it for the great atmosphere and the NPCs. And the hint system; most of the puzzles seemed pretty much unsolvable to me (I’m going to have to think about whether there’s a single one I solved on my own), although that may be partly because of my unfamiliarity with the details of the Bible story. But I enjoyed playing through with the hints.
Taco Fiction: 8. Funny and engaging. Basically starts off with a 9, gets two points docked for a timed puzzle that wound up being out of sync with the spirit of the playthrough, gets a point back for implementing a hilarious action (though that was part of the reason that I didn’t expect the timed puzzle to bite me).
Would probably lose something more for the best ending either being completely bugged or inadequately clued and hinted, but I found that out after more than two hours. [UPDATE: I am informed that the ending is working as intended, but that setting it up requires doing some stuff that I had done in my first playthrough but not my second, which provides the PC with the necessary motivation. Apologies, Mr. Veeder! More details in the updated review. This doesn't affect the score I wish I'd given, since as I said I didn't take it into account in my original score.]
Cold Iron: 7. The best of the short games. I’m going to guess Eric Eve as the author (though the college whose members he thanks isn’t at Oxford — yes, I looked it up).
Sentencing Mr Liddell: 7. The game I’m most conflicted about. Hugely ambitious, a lot of emotional power if most of it’s unpleasant, but some polish issues and some incomprehensible puzzles take it back to a 7.
The Binary: 7. A solid puzzler implemented as a choice-based narrative, with a little more going on besides. I should play the other game in this series, too.
Escape from Santaland: 7. Another solid puzzler, well-written and with a lot of stuff implemented. The room-to-interesting-stuff ratio is pretty high, but basically a 7 through and through.
Beet the Devil: 7. Another paradigmatic 7, one per deadly sin. Some of the puzzles seem perfect to me, some make no sense to me, you’ll probably have a different set. A couple of issues (man do I hate unwinnable states) might push this below Escape from Santaland, but the puppy and the distinctive voice push it back up, and we’d be talking about shades of 7 anyway. Having the walkthrough easily accessible in-game helped, and the linear order was also a good idea (if I have to solve every single puzzle anyway, you may as well have me focus on one at a time).
It: 7. Slight but solid, and some interesting things with multiple endings.
Six: 7. Much more substantial, and all the bells and whistles should perhaps push it up to an 8, but in the end the gameplay wasn’t involving enough for me to rank it higher. I realize that this is partly because it’s for kids, but I reserve the right to judge it as a non-kid. I’d like to combine it with It to get the Australian hide-and-seek game of my dreams, which is a dream I didn’t know I had.
Ted Paladin And The Case Of The Abandoned House: 6. A self-conscious, fourth-wall breaking puzzle box, and the puzzles are clever, but I wish there’d been more to them — especially the last one, which could’ve been a spectacular tour de force but which was basically a proof of concept. Also one of the puzzles was mistakenly clued, although in a way that didn’t waste too much time.
Last Day of Summer: 6. The second-best of the short games. Not as evocative as Cold Iron, for me.
Keepsake: 6. Might also be the second-best of the short games. I liked the idea, not sure it would be possible to develop it into more than a sketch, a sketch is what it is.
Calm: 6. Should be utterly awesome after a leisurely revision. For now, various polish issues keep it below 7 level (am I illegitimately docking it for the game-breaking bug I encountered after more than two hours?) Also, Yoon is right: Don’t insult the player in the hint file.
Tenth Plague: 6. Short, kind of massively unsubtle with a moral message that perhaps doesn’t need to be delivered, didn’t involve me emotionally in the way it ought to have for reasons that will be explained in my review. But solid and well put together. Might just be not to my taste.
Blind: 5. My review of this was probably too mean; despite a couple unclued interactions it does work as a puzzle game, and apparently there are mutliple ways through in a way that might be interesting. I still don’t think the author has really inhabited the perspective of a blind person or a woman, and that’s a problem in this game, but that aside there’s nothing much wrong with it.
Playing Games: 5. This game is there. What writing there is is fine, I enjoyed playing through it, but it’s almost aggressively insubstantial.
How Suzy Got Her Powers: 5. Short! Contains dubious fire safety lessons, I suspect.
The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor M: 5. Objectively may be better than this, but got knocked down to a 6 for annoying gameplay that made me unable to get very far into it in two hours, and then another point off for the factual distortions that I discuss in my review.
The Guardian: 5. Another short one. Mostly about moving through large spaces and reading descriptions. The writing is decent but perhaps needs to be awesomer to sustain it, especially given the vagueness of the plot. (See Cold Iron for how adding more detail to both those things can get you two more points.)
Cursed: 5. Hugely ambitious, another one I got about halfway through in two hours. As many others have observed, there’s far too much prose, but some neat puzzles (more when I review it), and the dialogue section at least helps you through it by bolding the topics. But in the end, the verb-guessing (on timed puzzles!) makes it too hard to play. Also, the hints were sometimes actively unhelpful; I would be in a situation where I knew I needed to do X to Y but couldn’t guess the verb, and would dutifully page through the hints, which would would end “Maybe you should do X to Y” and ho for the walkthrough.
The Ship of Whimsy: 4. So, so slight. Docked a point for the obnoxious ending.
Death of Schlig: 4. Not actually fun to play. Needed to be fun.
Andromeda Awakening: 3. The ambition and world-building are commendable, but playing it gave me a blinding headache. Much venting in my review.
Awake the Mighty Dread: 3. The polish issues make this pretty much unplayable, since an (apparently) crucial NPC must be reached by interacting with an object that refuses all the obvious ways to interact with it.
Professor Frank: 3. Is genial and up-front about how messy it is, but I can’t actually recommend it.
Vestiges: 1. Problematic in many ways.
Gigantic run-on sentence explaining why some games aren’t rated: I beta-tested Kerkerkruip and Fan Interference, can’t play Dead Hotel on my computer, got booted out of the online server for the Myothian Falcon and never found a block of uninterrupted time to play it all the way through (especially because rumor has it it’s pretty long), had a hang-up on the first turn of online play of Return to Camelot, gave up on Luster after a few turns (“these jewels will bring you fame and fortune” is not a good hook — I do all the work, the PC gets the fame and fortune — also, a typo in your blurb doesn’t inspire confidence), was turned off Fog Convict by the other reviews (I know this is irresponsible), never went back to Operation Extraction after it turned out to be very complicated (but it’s an interesting idea!), and never got back to the revision of the Elfen Maiden after having trouble on my initial playthroughs (kudos for responding to feedback, though the particular revision may have been way too ambitious for an intra-comp update; really I was just hoping for more time for the initial puzzle, which I may have got.)