[More reviews here.]
Everyone knows about JayIsGames’s escape-themed interactive fiction competition, right? [That page makes sounds for a few seconds.] At least, everyone who is into the whole IF thing? It seems like it might be important to IF — it has the potential to introduce it to new people, both as players and writers. And the games tend to be short, and are playable online, both of which are I think extremely important to the casual player. (They’re important to me, anyway.)
I haven’t seen any reviews online, so there are some below the fold. The reviews should be brief, and any big spoilers will be encoded in rot13.com. I will occasionally mention that there is a puzzle involving an object, and say something about its solution, but usually it should be pretty obvious that there’s such a puzzle (for instance, when there’s an object that you can almost take). So, no spoiler spaces.
I’ve been playing the games in the random order generated by the comp page, and will review them in that order. (And post the first eleven reviews in this post as I write them, with more here.) And they actually haven’t taken that long — maybe four or five total hours play for ten games so far, and probably more than half of that on one game. I abandoned a couple pretty quickly (and may return to them). It took me a while to remember that I can ask for hints, and even longer to notice that there’s a walkthrough button for every game. Also, many of the games are being updated as the contest continues — often in response to complaints like mine! — and my review reflects the version of the game I played, rather than the one currently on the site. I mean, it has to.
A few general thoughts:
Some of the authors are clearly first-time authors, and there wasn’t a whole lot of time before the competitions. There was some discussion around the IFComp about being more welcoming to authors, and I’m going to try. In particular, I think it’s worth being forgiving about technical flaws that don’t interfere with gameplay too much, but also in pointing out flaws that do. I’ve enjoyed a couple of games despite the lack of polish. It also means I might be grumpier to people I know to be established authors. But hopefully not too grumpy.
Also, some bugs seem to happen because of the online interpreters — the Parchment illegal object disambiguation bug popped up at least once, and one author said he couldn’t reproduce my bug on his machine (but fixed it anyway). This is not a criticism of the online interpreters! They are the greatest thing since sliced bread. And I’m really happy to see that Parchment now has scroll bars [or, it seems like Jay added them to some, but perhaps not all, of the windows]. (Actually, I prefer to slice my own bread, but that doesn’t detract from the greatness of online interpreters.)
People are going to be playing online, which means less save-and-restore (Parchment allows one save file, which you have to bookmark the URL to recover; I couldn’t get Leaflet’s save-and-restore to work on my computer). This means I’m going to be particularly grumpy about timed death puzzles. Though I’m usually particularly grumpy about timed death puzzles anyway.
It’s interesting to see what some of the issues faced by new players and new authors. For new players, it seems like the biggest issue is not being able to find exactly the kind of syntax a game expects. For new authors, it seems like a big issue is often… figuring out what things people might try and changing the responses so they point toward something helpful. This isn’t necessarily the best mix. (More thoughts on that in the next paragraph.) Other common issues are inconvenient disambiguations, which seems like it’s probably a fairly fiddly thing to fix, and elements that don’t work well when the game isn’t gone through in the order the author expects (for instance, item descriptions that presuppose that the item is where you found it the first time). Those issues even arose in games by experienced authors. Designing and setting flags is hard.
Because new players often have problems with guessing the verb, and that often arises because they just aren’t familiar with the expected syntax, I think that a good way to make an introductory game would be to use a keyword-driven system, like Walker and Silhouette. But that wouldn’t necessarily help people make the transition to more traditional IF… so maybe something to do would be to accept the keyword and then print the command that it stands in for. As in:
You see a table
There is an inscription carved in the table. On the table is a pen.
Perhaps someone should sponsor a comp for games like this.
Also, I think people tended to go for puzzly games in this comp, even with the artier games — but remember, Small Worlds won the competition before this. Art games can do well in these competitions. (Admittedly, Small Worlds was really good.)
Future advice for everyone: Get your game tested! Especially for new authors, it’ll be worth seeing how people try to interact with the game; you’ll be surprised at how people try to do what you basically had in mind, but using words you didn’t plan for.
Last thought: I’ve never actually written a game myself, so you might want to ignore everything I say about coding.
Reviewed so far: The Blueprint, Roofed (sort of), Ka, I Expect You To Die, Lurid Dreams, Hoosegow, The Usher, The Cube, An Open Field, Dual Transform, Monday, 16:30. More here.