IFComp 2009

Judging for the 2009 Interactive Fiction Competition is underway. There are twenty-four entries this year, and twelve prizes. I think I’ll have to submit something next year.

Anyway, everyone’s a critic, and I’m judging games. You can too – anyone who plays at least five of the games can vote. My analysis is not deep – I’m just trying to expose myself to as much IF as I can, and let my natural like or dislike of each dictate my ratings. I’ll be posting impressions here, and updating this post as I play more.

EDIT: I have now played all 24 games in this year’s comp. I’ve given them relative grades past the break.

Ratings and spoilers follow…

My Grades
A Broken Legs
The Duel In The Snow
The Duel That Spanned
    The Ages

Rover’s Day Out
Yon Astounding Castle!
    of some sort
Impressive, polished works.
B Byzantine Perspective
Earl Grey
GATOR-ON, Friend to Wetlands
Good games! Needs more polish or more content.
C The Ascot
The Believable Adventures
    of an Invisible Man

Beta Tester
The Grand Quest
Spelunker’s Quest
Star Hunter
Okay games. Needs more polish and more content, or I didn’t like it.
D The Hangover
zork, buried chaos
Nigh-unplayable due to language or implementation issues.
F Myself, who did not enter! How about next year?
? Gleaming the Verb
Trap Cave
Unable to compare to other entries.

Congratulations to all entrants this year! I really enjoyed playing your works, and hope every one of you will take the feedback you get and write more IF. I mean that, even to the people who got ‘D’s – by entering, you got further than I did. Write some practice games and seek advice from as many people as you can, so next year we can really see the creative genius in you. This year’s contest has me really excited about the whole IF thing, and I hope to be among the entrants next year, so I hope that’s a good reflection on what you all submitted.

My favorite games from this year’s comp were Yon Astounding Castle! and The Duel That Spanned The Ages. Hey, I put a lot of value on having fun. I think the most impressive/ambitious work in this year’s comp would have to be Broken Legs, which just boggles my mind. And the most thought-provoking would be The Duel in the Snow which, though less likeable than Snowquest, has brought the greatest number of different interpretations to my mind.

Apologies if the reviews below are too terse or harsh. They are simple brain-dumps as I finished each game, and it’s easiest to remember the flaws of a work. I would be happy to revisit games and supply more robust feedback to any author, at request. To everyone else, thanks for taking in the opinions of a rookie.

Reviews follow:

The Ascot by Duncan Bowsman
Choose your own adventure… sort of. More like twenty questions. And the whole tone of this work is just weird. I’ll grant that it’s complete, and not poorly done – I just don’t like it.

The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man by Hannes Schueller
While this seemed solid and had a more interesting premise than most of what I’ve played so far, it just felt very *ahem* vanilla. Maybe I have a poor intuition for revenge, but it felt a bit aimless for my taste.

Beta Tester by Darren Ingram
This isn’t cartoon logic – this is just not logic. Sorry, a game that’s going to play at being broken needs to be obviously not-broken… does that make sense?

Broken Legs by Sarah Morayati
This is another Wow! You play a ruthless musical theater kid trying to take out the competition. It reminds me of Varicella because you’re trying to outwit a cast of clever NPCs, and the game isn’t shy about becoming unwinnable. This work is incredibly complex, and it’s written and implemented superbly well. I only dislike it because I tend to shy away from ‘cruel’ IF, both in difficulty and subject matter, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a terrific work. I will be coming back to this one to play around with it some more after the competition.

Byzantine Perspective by Lea
That was a clever little diversion. Just a single puzzle, but a pretty original one and very well implemented. Cheers. Edit: I should add that I asked for just one in-game hint, and it was exactly what I needed to work out the puzzle. I don’t know if I was more persistent in this than the other reviewers, but this felt like a perfect balance of challenging and fair. I admire that.

Condemned by a Delusioned Teenager
Very well-implemented, robust descriptions (with a handful of typos and grammatical errors), with unwarned, but undo-able, deaths. But then I got to the ‘walking your sister home’ part, and started wondering why this is interactive at all? I’d rather read a transcript.

The Duel in the Snow by Utkonos
This was strange. I enjoyed the writing, but I can’t say I enjoyed the game. There is essentially one puzzle in the game, and it’s pretty much unhinted… even anti-hinted, in some ways. The in-game hints were useless, so I had to turn to the walkthrough. I have a feeling this game’s strength is in its atmosphere and its subtlety – the book of poetry seemed to explain the protagonist’s life as quietly as possible. The funny thing is, once I’d walkthru’d to the “good” ending, I felt like it wasn’t any better than the “bad” ending. Maybe this game’s hidden message is that without love, life isn’t worth living?

The Duel That Spanned The Ages by Oliver Ullmann
The title didn’t lead me to expect much from this game, probably because it evoked memories of The Duel of the Ages which was entertaining but would in no way produce a good work of IF. The opening is the weakest part of the game – once I got into the action, I enjoyed DtStA immensely. The atmosphere while you’re walking around the base infested with robot spiders is terrific. Here’s the moment that made the game for me: “A huge dome spans overhead; it is crusted with thousands of unmoving chrome spiders. They are twinkling down like stars through the dusty atmosphere… A battered desk is balanced precariously at the edge of the platform.” I did find one bug – once the autoturret was loaded, I left it in the storage room and it still shot things wherever I went. Then I went into surgery… and died because I didn’t have the autoturret with me.

Earl Grey by Rob Dubbin and Adam Parrish
I’ve got to say, this is a very impressive concept. It would take me a while to adjust my brain to this sort of lateral thinking. “Hmm, what object in this room could I add or remove a letter from to eventually turn it into something that will eventually help me solve this game?” I do think I put the game in an unwinnable situation, though, when I turned ions into lions and then the lions left and when they came back they were ions again. I will probably come back to this one and finish it at some point, walkthough-free if possible.

Eruption by Richard Bos
Oh my. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s a brief, solidly-implemented game with minimal plot. Of the five portable objects in the game, one may have been a red herring. I solved it very quickly without hints. The author freely admits that this was entered just because it would rise above the flotsam of broken and unpolished entries; sad but true. I’ve occasionally had the same thought, but I don’t think I’d feel right submitting one of my IF ‘exercises’ to the comp. After all, the exercises are supposed to get me ready to write something I would actually like to make comp-worthy. Well, I guess I can’t fault him for taking advantage of the reality of the comp. Also, kudos for the nice feelie.

GATOR-ON, Friend to Wetlands! by Dave Horlick
Well, that was cool. I’m afraid I wouldn’t have made it without the walkthrough… even the in-game hints rarely helped. But it’s not every day a work of IF starts with wandering aimlessly around a large area, and ends in an episode of Power Rangers. Big points for originality.

Gleaming the Verb by Kevin Jackson-Mead
Uh… what? Reminds me of JUMBLE, that puzzle that’s always taking up space on the comics page. I guess it does exactly what it sets out to do.

The Grand Quest by Owen Parish
A pretty straightforward framework of puzzling, with some rather tricky puzzles. I’m impressed by the puzzles; I wish they were wrapped in something more.

Grounded In Space by Matt Wigdahl
A brief, well-written game that consists of some direction-following, one terrific puzzle and a choice of endings (in that order). Up until the pirates appeared, this was a very simple game that would have bored me to death, but the writing was good enough that I actually found it enjoyable. I was a little bothered by my lack of agency between the pirate appearance and my ship being disabled. Then I ran across the gem of this game – the simulation of the ignition system. I’ll admit that I had to resort to the walkthrough, but was pleased to find that the puzzle would have been challenging even with a GUI. After fixing the engine, though, I again had to resort to the walkthrough to discover my options beyond “go home.” I couldn’t make sense of how the pirates were threatening me, and the asteroid, and this girl on her home planet all at the same time, and my inability to talk to anyone (or even “call home,” which the pirates seemed so anxious to prevent) was frustrating. Also, various verbs that seemed natural to me were unimplemented. All in all, it’s clear that the author spent a great deal of time on the writing, the ignition, and the game outcomes, and could afford to put another coat of polish on the game in the interest of world-building and hinting. I hope to play a release two of this!

The Hangover by Red connie
First on my random list. Three rooms in, I quit. This is simply offensive in grammar and content.

Interface by Ben Vegiard
Huh. Well, that was not bad. I don’t feel compelled to sing it’s praises, but it was well-implemented and concise, which I like. Lack of description for the pyramid harness was unsettling, as was the mysterious ‘property tage’. I don’t know what it is, the game didn’t feel like telling me, and I never used it. Odd.

Resonance by Matt Scarpino
I really enjoyed this game. I would never have solved it without the hints, but the hint system was very good so that got me through most of it. The brother’s death was the best “moment” I’ve experienced in the comp so far – terrific imagery there. Although I don’t think the game implemented anything like this, it had me looking over my shoulder, expecting to be mugged at any moment. It definitely got that conspiracy vibe right.

Rover’s Day Out by Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman
The portion of this that I got through was great fun. The writing was sharp, and the commentary on the player’s actions that gradually explained what was really going on worked well. I got a bit scared when I started wondering how much simulation the game was going to throw at me – am I expected to steer the ship to a tricky landing by manipulating the kitchen sink? Fortunately, the game guided me pretty well, until the morning routine was automatic.

Snowquest by Eric Eve
Wow! This is pretty good stuff. My first impression was of a kind of IF Ganakagok (which is already, technically, interactive fiction) and then the whole setting changed. I’m still trying to figure out how the different bits of it fit together, and I suspect there’s a great metaphor that’s going right over my head. Still, this is the first game I found to be compelling. It’s tight and polished.

Spelunker’s Quest by Tom Murrin
From the first room, I don’t think this person knows what spelunking is. Mostly default responses, unhinted unwinnable scenarios (restart!), a machine gun (?), and why does examining the miner reveal one item, but I have to search him to find another? Probably a first work. At least it can be completed, but this wasn’t worth my time.

Star Hunter by Chris K.
This is mildly interesting – some implementation hiccups, but I like sci-fi, so I’m pretty forgiving. As soon as I got to the robot flea-market, I knew this game was going to be difficult. Still, not nearly as compelling as, say, Piracy 2.0.

Trap Cave by Emilian Kowalewski
In German. I tried. I can’t honestly review this – NR.

Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort by Tiberius Thingamus
Okay, I know it’s silly and reading faux-middle-english the whole time gets old. But I loved this! Clever and genuinely funny (if only in a chuckle-this-is-silly sort of way), and hinted nicely to make someone like me feel accomplished for solving puzzles without getting me stuck. Bakery, cakery, dakery, flakery, lakery, makery, rakery, snakery, takery…

zork, buried chaos by bloodbath
I’ve never had an appreciation for Zork, so that didn’t help my impression of this game. As far as I can tell, it’s unwinnable – even the walkthrough led me to a dead end.

3 Replies to “IFComp 2009”

  1. Hmm… nine games in, and I can only say I *liked* two of them so far. Let’s hope these entries improve…

  2. A few more games along, and I can see that I managed to pick some of the simplest works first.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.