IFComp 2014 – Reviews – And yet it moves

Next up is “And yet it moves” by Orion.  Again, be aware that I may have spoilers in this post, so read at your own risk.

This is the first parser game I’ve played out of this years batch and as I typically gravitate towards those, I was excited to see what this would bring.  When I start a new parser game, I usually do a few things right off that can quickly give me a feel for the quality and depth of the game.  They are simple things that while not universally true, in my experience, there tends to be some validity to them.  First I checked the credits looking for testers.   This game had two, which I’m glad it had some, but they were listed as “my Dad and my Brother”.  Ok…perhaps Orion’s dad and brother are good testers, but whenever I’ve had a family member test my game, I usually don’t get the best of feedback.  It’s family, it’s tough to be truthful with a family member, when you need to be tough…..but who am I to judge the quality of their testing this early on.

Next I tend to try out some simple commands, just to see if they respond with the standard responses or if some effort went into customizing them a bit to add to the atmosphere of the game.  I try “xyzzy” which in this case led to a standard response (no big deal, a lot of good games have gotten away from providing a response, but I like to try anyways).  Then I try going in a direction that is not valid…again standard response (this is just a great opportunity to add to story and atmosphere, instead of thinking, “well why can’t I go north” and the parser responds, “because I said so”)…OK, not a deal breaker, but would have been nice.  At this point I just dive into the game and see what I get.

Well right from the first sentence describing the starting location, I see a small error that sometimes I can overlook.  The first letter of the sentence was not capitalized.  The problem was, it was the very first sentence you see in the very first location you are in.  Something that during testing and development, was probably seen thousands of times.  I’m surprised no one before myself had seen that.  The second problem is that it wasn’t an isolated incident.  This happens throughout the game.

The other big grammatical issue that was everywhere, was improper capitalization of items.  For example, when listing the contents of a location, the game often lists the items with capital letter when it is not a proper-named item.  For example, when in the kitchen:

You can see Virginia, Kitchen Table, benches (on which are geese and vegetables), a cupboard (empty) and ramp here.

That is just awkwardly worded and can be fixed quite easily in code.

I also had a problem with lack of synonyms.  One example is when you are in the Chamber in the initial house, there is some Holy water (again odd capitalization)

Here is a list of commands that I tried:

>drink water
There's nothing suitable to drink here.

>x water
the bottle reads:

Holy water
Bottled in Venice by Holius Waterus Inc.

>open bottle
You can't see any such thing.

>take bottle
You can't see any such thing.

>take water

It’s described as a bottle, I should be able to use bottle as a synonym. I never did find a usage for the holy water, so perhaps it was just some scenery that wasn’t that important so didn’t get the attention that other critical items might have received.

What about the story?

Well enough nit-picking on the technical issues, let me talk about the story a bit.  I actually found the premise, at least in the beginning, somewhat intriguing.  Here we are playing a contemporary of Galileo, trying to help him get his book published without the church finding out.  Some rich historical context here to use and this could have been great.  In fact, the first and second scene were actually decently done (despite the above mentioned technical issues).  There were some minor puzzles that needed solved, nothing too difficult, but I felt like perhaps I was being eased into it.

However, once you get past that, the game devolves into a simple, talk to someone, they tell you to go somewhere else, where you have to talk to someone else or pick up an object (pretty much in plain sight) and then take that to someone else.  A simple A to B to C type of linear game.  In fact at the end of I think Scene 4, it had me gather up different food stuffs for a journey which the journey was entirely in a cut scene, but when I got to the end of my long journey….all those food-stuffs were still in my inventory….I guess I wasn’t so hungry after all.

The final scene was not much more than move a location or two.  Give someone something and watch a cut scene.  So the ending was a bit of a let down and had a rushed feel to it….almost as if time was running out and the author just wanted to get it down in time.

Now, perhaps this review sounds overly negative, so I want to point out some positives. The story and setting has a lot of potential.  I think with a bit of work this author could turn this, perhaps in a  post-comp release, into something much better.  I think it could use some more testing and some attention to little details as there were plenty of areas where the little things were bothersome while playing.  The author tackled some more advanced things, it multiple numbers of similar items, a money system and multiple scenes, that may seem easy, but can throw a lot of gotchas at you if you’re not careful.

Final thoughts

Final thoughts on this….it’s not ready for prime-time yet.  Needs more testing, more polish on the little things which give a richer and fuller feel to the world.  I feel that the story could be expanded on and especially in the later scenes more attention to the puzzles.  While I won’t be scoring this real high in it’s current state, I would look forward to a post-comp release as I did enjoy the historical minded story and would enjoy seeing this expanded and fixed.

IFComp 2013 – Machine of Death – Review

Now this one was fun.  This one deals with the self-fulfilling prophecy in which you try to avoid an outcome you know is coming, but the outcome is reached often through ways you did not expect and could not avoid despite your best efforts.  This one kept you coming back as there are many different scenarios that you can play though (I won’t spoil any of them for you as the experience and surprise is most the fun in these kinds of games).

This was a well written both textually and execution wise.  There is a fair amount of decisions to be made and each do seem to make a difference.  I doubt I’ve reached all the different scenarios even after playing for a bit.  None of the scenarios are very long, so a single play-through shouldn’t take more than a 10 minutes or so.

What would be interesting here is if the author continues to expand on the scenarios as they could be endless and would continue to bring be back from time to time.

I’m still more of a parser / puzzle fan, but this is how CYOA is done correctly and makes me a believer that the platform has great potential in the correct hands.   Well done!

IFComp 2013 – Bell Park, Youth Detective – Review

Another CYOA style game.  This one I actually sort of enjoyed.  We play as a Bell Park, a youngster that is put in charge of solving a murder so that the police don’t need to be involved.  OK, the premise is pretty far-fetched, so many problems with that.  Why would someone entrust a murder investigation with a youngster.  Also, what do we do with the body?  At some point, the police will need to be involved.

So let’s set that little suspension of belief aside and just accept that little plot point.  The story then becomes a matter of interviewing the different suspects and attempting to solve the mystery.  Unless I’ve missed something, it seems to matter little what your choices are for investigation.  The questions simply reveal the story and the background of the characters, but really offer little in the way of helping you solve the actual mystery.  The ending appears to be fairly static and while interesting (and I won’t give too much away), the solution to the mystery is really pretty fantastical; in fact so much so, that it was actually a bit of a let down for me.

Now having said all that…and it appears that I’m coming down on the game pretty hard….if you can look past the unrealistic premise and solution and see it for what it appears to be, a crazy story aimed at the pre-teen audience, I could actually see where this has some appeal.  The writing is actually pretty good and the characters, while not deeply developed, give it enough variety and depth that your interest is held for the short time they are on scene.

Bell Park, in my opinion is actually a decently likable character.  She seems to have her self-doubts on whether she can solve the mystery, yet presses on so as not to be seen as, just a stupid kid.  Her initial incorrect conclusions she makes seems to be within that character of what a young person would react if put into a difficult situation that she is not equipped to handle.  So actually her character was pretty believable.

Overall, decently done.  While many parts of this are over the top, it actually works well if taken in the complete fantastical style….reminds me of some of the Goosebumps style stories.  No puzzles to speak of, and since I’m more of a puzzle person, that was a disappointment, but as a story….not bad.

IFComp 2013 – Autumn’s Daughter – Review

Another CYOA style game, but much to my surprise I enjoyed this one.  Not only did I find the story compelling, IAutumnsDaughter found the extra polish that was given to the interface made it stand out from others.  I find that many of these style of games often get lost in poor writing (a problem with all styles of IF), poor interface or just an overload of text with a few hyperlinks to click just to move the story along.

Autumn’s Daughter did not fall into these traps. It was well written, had a great interface and offered enough choices that made slight differences in the endings, that it made me come back and play it.  In fact I played it once more through before writing this review and managed to stumble upon another ending that I hadn’t come across before.  None of the paths take more than a few minutes to progress through, so there is no reason not to keep coming back.

The story is geared around telling us the plight of young women in Pakistan and it succeeds in getting that point across.  However, there is not real character or world building which leaves it lacking some and I never really felt much empathy for the specific characters in the game.  In fact, the first time or two through the game I didn’t realize what the underlying theme or setting were, so the whole story was lost on my at first.  But, I was intrigued enough and the effort to play again was minimal that I kept coming back.

Overall, a solid effort for the CYOA genre, nothing spectacular but still a solid effort that was well done, which in my mind puts it ahead of most other similar games.

IFComp 2013 – Review – 100,000 Years

Life got in the way so I’m a bit late on the reviews….but I’ll try to remedy that here soon.  Here’s the first one, for 100,000 years by Pierre Chevalier.  As I’m typing this, I am realizing that I’ve invested more time in creating this review, than I did with actually playing the game.

I guess some people may like this short of thing, but to me it was just a web page with a next and previous button with a small bit of text.  Perhaps some can appreciate the recursive nature of the “story”, if you want to call it that.  And i guess it fits the definition of Interactive Fiction, but to me I just didn’t see the point.  Very short, so not much time was spent on this, so give it a shot if you like this sort of thing….just not for me.

Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 by Aaron Reed – A Review.

When I got back into the IF world and wanted to start authoring my ownnote-1 I voraciously scoured the internet in search of all the information I could find….and there is quite a bit between the forums, some of the leaders in the field and having many games released with source code. Having spent a few days reading all I could, I stumbled upon Aaron Reed and his blog. Not only did I see he was an accomplished IF authornote-2, but also was one of the leaders in educating others in developing with Inform 7, but also in using interactive fiction as a tool to educate on other subjects. So of course when I noticed he wrote a book, Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7, I had to order it right away.

514a8837j6L._SL160_This book is a great introduction to creating interactive fiction in Inform 7. Aaron does a fine job of easing you into creating things by introducing us to interactive fiction, familiarizing ourselves with the Inform 7 application, and begin development of a sample game that we build upon throughout the entire book.

Aaron covers most of the important areas of Inform 7 that you will use in almost every game. From the basic creation of rooms, creating things and placing them in locations and creating custom kinds and properties to making things happen with rules and actions. He also covers some more advanced logic, scenes, conversation models and character interaction. He covers things in just enough detail to understand, often presents areas where we could improve or expand on what he has shown, and gives exercises to show off what we’ve learned by customizing his central game. Again, not everything is covered, or some topics aren’t covered in great detail, but the technical side of the book gives us more than enough to get started and often leads us to learn more.

In addition to the technical side of the book, Aaron often covers aspects of story design and authoring. Everything from creating good descriptions and creating atmospheric text, to story pacing and good conversation and character interaction. Often a book or article will cover either the technical side well or the artistic side well, but rarely both. Aaron does a fine job on both and blends them together nicely.

Regardless your level of expertise with Inform 7 or with interactive fiction creation, I believe Aaron’s book gives great insights for both novices and experts alike. I still refer to it at times when I’m looking for some specific aspect I recall being covered that I’m not remembering or for inspiration on a story element. Price is reasonable and there is a Kindle version available. Well worth the cost. I hope to see more works like this from Aaron or others.

1 – Back around 2002, I played with Inform 6 and created the stereotypical first game, a layout of my house, but real life got in the way and I never went much further. Jump to 2013 and I look to see what has been going on over the last few years and I discover Inform 7. It was a natural choice for me as I was already somewhat familiar and the natural language syntax intrigued me as a programmer.
2 – See Blue Lacuna, billed as the largest work of IF ever written…but the source code is available as well. Great learning available here.