Dgtziea IFComp 2020 reviews

Late start on judging! Hope everyone’s doing okay this year.

This first batch I did play earlier this month, so maybe some of them have been updated since.

Congee

Summary

Short slice of life Twine story about homesickness and belonging. It’s an immigrant story that centers around a cultural comfort food, so you’ve might’ve seen something like it before, but that’s because many of us have associations with food from our childhood. And this does a very good job of it. Very nice presentation, with text effects, careful use of timed text, a smattering of images, calming music, all the different types of Twine interactions, and a spiffy messaging app UI fascmile. There are some very nice small details here, like your mom not answering the phone because she’s watching cantonese soap operas, or the list of cultural differences,, though it did take a surprising amount of time before I was clued in to where I moved to. You’ve moved from Hong Kong to the UK, but you’re not given too much more than that (small town? Middle of London?), and I did wonder about the specifics of the location, in a story about adjusting to living in a different country from the one you grew up in. This seemed more interested in exploring a mood more than detailing the setting. Some of the dialogue parts also felt a bit non-interactive, presented just as a bunch of back-and-forth quotes.

But Congee is simple and nice and provides warmth, just like its namesake. I also learned that some people call scallions (or green onions) “salad onions” so it’s educational too!

Equal-librium

Summary

A Twine choice-based narrative. It lists its genre as “A social critique.” Told from the POV of an investment firm CEO, you’re given a series of moral choices with cascading effects. You check your email a lot, and there are short scenes as well. Could use more proofreading, the most basic issue being the tenses aren’t consistent. Also has what I feel is a common issue with writing in second person (at least to me), which is overusing “you” especially at the start of sentences. The moral of the story is explicitly spelled out in the competition blurb, though I don’t feel like the choices I was given really sold it to me in the game itself. This feels like it’s supposed to be played multiple times, which I did, but I hit broken links in one path and I’m not sure it culminated in a bigger picture overall. I’m also not sure I quite understood some of the story, specifically a fairly important anonymous mass email which is apparently bad for your company. There is some thought put into how this was structured and what it’s about, which is nice. But it needed more testing/proofreading, and the choices and consequences were a bit too black and white to explore the themes it’s purporting to.

The Cave

Summary

A seemingly semi-randomized cave crawling adventure game. You’re lost in a dark cave, trying to find your way out, and you’re moving through a bunch of locations where you’re given scenarios (you hear someone in the darkness, or you feel around and find a puddle on the ground, or there’s a huge pit…). You’ll find items which you can use in other places, and certain choices seem to give you increased attributes like wisdom. It seemed bug free, and quite competently put together.

The basic structure seems to be a semi-randomized loop, which makes sense for a maze-like cave where you’re lost. You’ll stumble across locations you’ve found before, but perhaps this time you’ve picked up a coin from elsewhere that you can use somehow. Here’s the only thing with that; the beginning starts off well, with a lot of feeling around in darkness and uncertainty. Eventually it starts looping, and though in this setting it makes sense to go around a bit in circles and to get a sense of deja vu, when you’re repeating specific details within scenarios (the exact same dialogue with an NPC, or the same reaction to the same dead body) it stops feeling real, especially since I was just hitting too many of those repeats before reaching an ending, and by then I’d stopped feeling a sense of danger since I wasn’t ever punished for my actions (though I did choose the more cautious options for the first half, so maybe that makes sense).

I think this is fine. Everything seems to work as intended, including the randomization and the inventory system and the behind-the-scenes stats counting. The setting and story is pretty indistinct though, so the title is fittingly generic on that front. There’s some philosophizing at points after you make some choices which didn’t quite seem to match the broad cave adventure stuff and which is what makes me wonder if there’s some sort of metaphor this is going for, but the passages musing about life didn’t really stick with me, and they also felt a bit choppy to read since they used a lot of super-short sentences.

What I got at the end:

Your final scores:

STR 10 INT 10
DEX 15 WIS 15
CON 9 CHA 12

Items Carried: a long stick, a black leather corset, a rusty iron key, a mace, an unknown book, some ashes.

Spells Learned: none

Rooms Explored: 10/10

Accomplishments:
You spared the life of the ravenous wolf

Amazing Quest

Summary

A space adventure setting, lots of randomization of flavor text to this it seems, with a bunch of short yes/no prompts. Ambiguous choices: raiding colonies, giving gifts, asking for help. Nothing seemed to really matter on the surface, and eventually I just started hitting memory errors, which I couldn’t tell if it was some sort of meta aspect to this, or just an actual error, but I gave up. I know Nick Montfort (assuming it’s the same one) wrote a book about IF, so I feel like I could be missing something. I’m seeing a thread about it so other people have questions too. It’s supposed to be written in Commodore 64. There’s a separate introduction that is very nicely presented, but taken at face value, I’m not getting from these choices what it says I should be.

9 Likes

How did you manage to do that?

I just kept playing. I chose all “good” choices, so no raids if that matters. Sorry I didn’t take a screenshot in case there is some meta thing there… I remember the repeated prompt I got at the end once it ran out of memory was something like

*some error text*
Ready!
>

I tried a couple of commands but I got out of memory errors for everything I tried typing in.

It doesn’t matter what choices you make – the game just ignores them and generates random responses!

I think that the errors you saw were probably “syntax error” messages. When the game ends, it just drops you out to the BASIC language prompt of the emulated Commodore 64, and if you keep typing “Y” or “N” (or pretty much anything that isn’t a valid statement in the BASIC language), you’ll get a “syntax error” message. So it’s not a meta-game thing!

1 Like

Entangled

Summary

Parser game mostly about exploring a small town. You’re given some explicit goals and some puzzles, but the real meat of the game is just wandering around and talking to people, or at least that’s the impression I get after finishing it. There are alternative solutions, a huge map, a lot of NPCs, and an in-game clock with events that happen at different times. This is actually very deeply implemented, impressively so! With the issue that the… the ostensible goals of your player-character didn’t properly point me in the right direction towards a lot of that deeply implemented stuff, so it took until the last quarter of my playthrough until that stuff became more noticeable. A lot of the depth here seems to have been hidden too well for me to find.

Going in, I think it might help a lot if you know that for example, “finding Sam” isn’t really what the game is about, and then maybe you’ll uncover more than I did. The rest of this is going to go more into why I think I missed what it was trying to do because I think it’s interesting to think about, but just know that this game has a lot of strengths and a lot of work put into it. I’m very curious about what other people uncovered, and part of me wants to go back in at some point and poke around some more too. If you’re someone who finds the idea of poking around a decent sized map and piecing together backstory fun, I think you might really enjoy this.

At the beginning, your character returns from work to your home, and apparently “Sam’s wife” isn’t letting you into your own home in the trailer park until you retrieve Sam from the bar at the town’s bowling alley. I was never given much more backstory than this about those two, but I’m pretty sure there’s some way to find out more about them, but you have to dig for it somehow, and I never found out where or how, which is much of my experience. A bit more backstory at the start would’ve been nice, but okay, clear objective, great.

Then I start moving around the map. The map is pretty large. I don’t want to call it barren exactly, because there’s actually a lot of NPCs, but there are also some locations where there’s only one seemingly non-interactive building to look at. I think the game starts at something like 6PM, but the general atmosphere feels a bit more like midnight. The map’s size makes more sense once you get deeper into the story, but the map is another clash between player and player-character, which is I figure my character wants to find Sam and go home ASAP after a long day’s work, but even though my character should know how to navigate his own hometown, I didn’t have much clue about which direction to go to get to the alley, so I’m wandering around town, into tattoo parlors, talking to the artist there who apparently doesn’t know me either, and I’m not understanding why all this stuff is there yet. NPCs re-iterate the same basic backstory points for Sam if I ask about him, or tell me he’s often at the bowling alley. I ask about the alley, and what I actually want to know is where the alley is, but instead they tell me they don’t like bowling.

I think one of the parts that also doesn’t communicate the actual core of the game are the locale descriptions. Here’s an example of one:

Main Street
Along the north side of the street, among some other buildings, sits the town hall. Across from it is a small park to the south. Main Street runs east to west with the library on the east side and the post office on the west.

I don’t know the alley is from this, and the location descriptions seem fairly utilitarian, so maybe I look at the town hall and maybe I try entering it but I’m blocked, so I move on. What I got from something like this description, really (and this turns out to be partly wrong), was that this could be one of those games that wants to lovingly craft a “realistic” town setting, and so there’s all these places and all these NPCs but they’re maybe just there for flavor, so I’m still mostly focused on finding Sam or identifying traditional IF puzzle things across the map, but the game, it turns out, isn’t about those things. The NPCs are differentiated well (though they could be named more interestingly; too many one-syllable names!), and they did respond with different shades of personality, but I never got deep in with many of them, because I was trying to “win” the game and so I was asking about Sam, or how to get past obvious “here’s a puzzle” barriers like a dog blocking access to a junkyard instead.

Later, I was given a big “find three items” quest, which is the major traditional puzzle of the game, and this last part is where the depth became noticeable. There were some fairly obvious “person hoarding a quest item” indicators, but I never solved a bunch of them even after I beat the game, so there are alternate paths here. There were some events that were triggered at different times (you’re wearing a watch). Even more NPCs, with more hints of backstory and personality. I just kept exploring the map though, and then I started finding the items I needed until I had everything, and then I just finished the game. I was presented at the end with 30/50 points and a huge list of the things I missed, including epilogue summaries for what happened to all the NPCs, so it seems like I’d missed a lot, and trying to directly solve that puzzle meant I missed a lot of those side stories in this section.

So I think there’s a whole lot of interesting depth to explore here, and this is an ambitious and polished game, but the objectives and the descriptions and the map coerced me into playing the game in a way differently from how it could’ve been.

Also your character doesn’t ever seem to react to anything, like they don’t seem to notice any differences at all, like fashion choices? Very stoic!

4 Likes

Deelzebub

Summary

A satirical parser game with some puzzles. It’s about Reginald, a guy who’s in a cult but doesn’t realize it. Early on, he gets called into the leader’s office and tasked with summoning a demon. And it continues from there. The game’s pretty large, with a comedic tone that somehow makes me think of the late 90s (that it’s in written in TADS could contribute to that feeling). Not a bad thing! (Is eviloverlord.com still up? It is! Reminds me a bit of that).

The writing is quite strong, although there could perhaps be a bit less of it; specifically, the thing is the game has a lot, a lot of “scenes.” Like, you do a small task or you walk into a room, and then you get a page and a half of jabber. Generally it’s zippy enough that I wasn’t too bothered by it, but really early on, it slowed the pacing down. Especially since the game knows to break up the long scenes, but where I might’ve put a prompt in Inform, this just stops the scene and silently eats the next entered input before continuing. I didn’t realize that early on, so I was a bit confused about when I was in a cutscene section, and when I actually had control. And although the dialogue is strong in those scenes and you get a good grasp of their personalities, the NPCs don’t do much outside of them, when you’re actually trying to interact with them. Lot of standing around, not very helpful to any of the things you’re trying to do.

What’s really surprising though, is that this turns out to have a genuine story to it with a genuine story arc, and though some of the puzzles seemed a bit rote, I really wanted to find out what happened by the end. Actual intrigue, with characters you want to root for!

The game itself has a few frustrations to it, the biggest being the ask/tell convo system. It was hard to hold conversations, and the transitions into the scenes mentioned above also felt sometimes a bit unexpected. Occasionally I think I hit some errors where it would repeat those on-rails conversations when I tried to ask more stuff, and there’d be overlapping responses: the initial one that I think was supposed to fire when I enter the room, and the specific response to what I was asking (I remember this happening once with Balthazar, once with Wayne). Other times it was hard to find the specific wording of what they’d respond to, even though I knew they must (or should, at least) have a response. this was when I wanted to find someone willing to be possessed.

So some implementation issues, although this is a fairly large game so I can understand it. There’s some guess the verb here, and a large amount of items just respond with generic “the isn’t important” msgs when I try to interact with them. The map was a bit hard to get familiarized with because of the diagonal directions. “search bin” hit a run-time error for me. I’m pretty sure I did run past 2 hours, and during the final task I still really wanted to see the ending but I couldn’t find a cucumber (though I never needed it apparently?) and got a bit impatient, so I just looked at in-game hints, which seemed quite helpful.

The puzzle part, conceptually (looking past any implementation issues) is I think mostly fine, with maybe a bit too much linearity in the first half (baking cookies especially) and some unevenness in terms of puzzles/text/story, and how they flow with each other. The humor feels almost separate from the experience playing the game, if that makes sense, since it takes place mostly in dialogue scenes, and the scenes aren’t predictable. If they took place mostly after solving a puzzle then they’d feel like rewards, but sometimes they’re just when I walked into a room. The other conventional way humor is done in parser IF, I feel, is in funny responses to actions (especially failed actions), which this one doesn’t do too much of.

So generally good and sometimes great comedic writing, surprisingly great story, and sometimes frustrating. Maybe just check the hint system if you hit a wall. But I enjoyed it!

1 Like

Happyland

Summary

So this is another impressively huge parser game, this one brower-based. It’s a murder mystery, reminding me quite a bit of Make it Good; you’re a police investigator called in look into the mysterious death of an employee at a hybrid hotel/theme park (I was a bit skeptical about some of the realism of the finances of the scenario, but anyways…).

For what seems like a custom engine, this one’s pretty darn robust, and hey there’s a list of understood commands in HELP anyways so I didn’t try to mess around too much with LOOK UNDER or PUSH or commands like that. But shortcuts like “x” and " it" work which is great. The actual look of the interface gives me a pre-web 2.0 vibe, mostly because it looks like old HTML frames, but it’s clean and readable, with the logo at the top left and the time and location in the top right. There’s a really nice map in the game (I dunno how customizable the engine is, but I almost would’ve liked a hover option or some easier way to bring it up).

This is also, like Make it Good, very deeply implemented, with the clock, NPCs moving around constantly, different pieces of evidence and things that they’ll react to if you show it to them, and a lot of really specific details in the simulation that were especially surprising considering the custom engine. If you ask a person about someone else and they’re in the same room, they’ll whisper their response to you. There’s a whole fingerprint system with stats about the size of whorls and things like that which you have to match up with suspects. You get a magnifying glass and an analyzing kit. ARREST is an action.

The mystery itself is sprawling, with almost too many people running around for me to keep track of. I’d recommend a notebook, physical or software-based, to write down names, or maybe you have a better memory than I do, but I had to keep scrolling back to refer to names early on. Because, as you might expect, you can ask every single person about every other person, and you can shove every piece of evidence in everyone’s faces and ask them about a whole bunch of various things. I could sort of tell what clues lined up where, or what things would become important later just off of suspiciously or specifically described or modeled things in the background, or in the way some people responded to things I asked, but that’s fair enough if I noticed them; that’s the point of doing that after all. You can break the order a bit at points, because I think I did shortcut some things (I found the shears early). The NPCs are generally straightforward, but I think that’s fine in this sort of game; you want people that are easily filed away as “Ivan, the gardener who only cares about his flowers” without much other clutter. There’s already a lot to track.

This thing can definitely take beyond the 2 hour limit. I ran out of in-game time my first time without paying attention (this game does make sure to warn you about some specific deadlines and timed events near the start which was nice), but I restored and at least arrested one of the people involved and pinned them on something, and it felt like I’d played for around that. At the end, you get a newspaper clipping instead of a score which basically tells you how well you solved the case, which was a really neat touch.

I want to play this again later, but for now I’ll keep playing other entries. Also though I know what the next info I want to find out about is, I don’t have much idea exactly where to go look for it. But overall a well done, robust detective game.

2 Likes

Where the Wind Once Blew Free

Summary

A lore-heavy, stats-based Twine RPG with a cast of anthropomorphic animals. Not an expert on subgenres, but if I had to try to describe it… Maybe southern gothic fantasy? It’s split into a bunch of chapters with multiple POVs, and at the start you’re asked to distribute a bunch of stat points (examples: Quick Wit, Muscle, Shake Down). What does Shake Down do? I don’t quite remember; maybe it’s my unfamiliarity with both the game and story genre conventions this is using, or maybe it just overloads too much at the beginning both in terms of gameplay and the story, but there’s a lot of stuff to learn about. Lot of focus here on world building, and your primary goal seems to be just making choices and using your stats specializations in order to find out more about the world, as you collect both minor and major arcanas and go through the story.

For a taste of what you’re in for, here’s part of the summary I got after the first chapter:

Minor Arcana:
You unlocked:
War of Ten Dogs.
The World Tree.
The Windless Prairie.
Werekind.
Spirit of Snapping Turtle.
Night in the Red Sands.

You failed to unlock:
City of Mythicus.
Evil Taint.

I can’t say I could tell you much about any of these things right now, but it definitely seems deeply thought out. Nothing really “happens” in the first chapter, and it’s a bit of a gradual start; you’re following a character, a friend has entrusted you with a mission, and it’s almost all inner monologue and deep contemplation. Keywords are embedded throughout the text which you can click on to think about certain topics more, there are certain things you can pick up or examine closer as well, and then there are these “puzzle” screens which seem to require you to click on the links in the passage in a certain order. Sometimes there seem to be stat-gated actions, and other times I seemed to be gaining or losing stats:

FAILED. -1 Lore.
⚿ Pink Belly has a secret..."
but he is too scared to tell you.

The UI is very fancy, split down the middle into two sections, with a bunch of glowy symbols and text. The font selection and the glowing text (more 80s neon) did feel a bit off vibe-wise.

I hadn’t quite gotten my bearings yet going into chapter 3, and the story still seemed to be gearing up, but that lore stat check above is also where I hit a broken link unfortunately <tw-broken-link passage-name="35. Pink Belly peers inside the slaughterhouse" data-raw="">✦ Continue</tw-broken-link>. Restarting the chapter and choosing different choices didn’t seem to matter, and I’m not going to restart the whole game. Too bad! Lot of work in this one, enough that I can’t imagine this hasn’t been run through a bunch of times, so this might be a rare bug and I just wasn’t good enough at collecting enough Lore to pass a check.

If you look at that list of minor arcana and it seems enticing, then maybe try it out. This entry is supposed to be Book 1 of a series according to the cover art, and just from what I’ve seen, this should have more than enough lore to fill a book series, and there’s a pretty good chance the story will turn out to have just as much thought put into it.

From what the author has written, I understand that he was trying to reverse engineer one of the infocom mysteries, and ended up writing this one. I am not aware if he knew that Graham Nelson had already successfully reverse engineered infocom, twenty seven years ago, but he has indeed created a game engine with that same familiar look and feel. I rather enjoyed Happyland.

1 Like