FIFP Round 1, Division 1 (Voting/Fan Choice Commentary)

I just played Of Their Shadows Deep for the first time—so lovely and heartbreaking.


Lost Pig vs. Suveh Nux:

This is the only pair where I know both games. I voted for Lost Pig because it’s really funny.

Both games have a simple story (that’s positive for me), a nice beginning and interesting puzzles.

I’ll have to play more of them. Sigh…what a burden… :wink:


There’s a line from an old review by @Jacqueline that has always stuck with me:

Thanks for the tip. Has been put on my To-do/To-play list now.

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Interestingly, Of Their Shadows Deep has moved up 7 places (from #69 to #62) per the newest (June 10) version of the Top 100.


So far I’ve played two new games and been able to vote on 3 matches. How about you? Let everyone know on this thread – there could be “fan prizes” for most votes and most games tried at the end of the tournament. (Hopefully, mathbrush will recuse himself since he is otherwise almost certainly the automatic winner.)

Also, if you’ve voted on at least one entry (or plan to), head over to the (belated) event announcement post to register as a participating fan by clicking “I’m going”. Since I can’t see who voted for what, it’s hard to know who’s driving the action. (It’s OK to skulk about anonymously, too, if you prefer.)

That’s also where I’ve set up an infographic to show match progress during the segment; it will be updated daily. (It’s pretty much the same information as here, but hopefully nicer to look at.)


And with the first 50 votes tabulated, all eyes are on the unexpectedly hot race between Lost Pig and Suveh Nux, whose matchup has so far drawn 2/3 more votes than any other and remains very close.


Here at the end of the first quarter, with 100 votes tabulated, Lost Pig has taken a significant lead over Suveh Nux in a matchup that’s still drawing the largest crowd participation at a rate 2/3 higher than the next closest contest.

That match is Zozzled vs. And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One, in which the latter’s commanding lead has begun to erode slightly as the votes pile up.

With a recent spurt of scoring, The Impossible Bottle has now edged significantly ahead of A Long Way to the Nearest Star in a race that was neck-and-neck earlier today.

Meanwhile, The Wizard Sniffer has pulled even with City of Secrets, showing some life in a contest where the latter has until this evening held a commanding lead.


Just hours from the half-time mark, Lost Pig continues to hold an eroding lead over Suveh Nux in the hottest match of this round for Division 1.

City of Secrets and The Wizard Sniffer have both put points on the board but remain tied – if the former (#45 seed) keeps up the pressure against its rival (#8 seed), this match could result in the largest upset of the segment.

The most uneven match so far has proven to be Superluminal Vagrant Twin vs. Excalibur, where the former (#3 seed and highest ranked game in this segment) has so far easily maintained a large and early lead over its opponent.

In sharp contrast, Dr. Ludwig and the Devil and Midnight. Swordfight. have been in a virtual cage match, with the former currently holding a single point leader over the latter in a race that has been close since the starting bell.

In the slow-moving trench war that is Cryptozookeeper vs. Junior Arithmancer, the chaotic former’s narrow two-point lead over the orderly latter has been halved, and with such a slim margin it’s still anyone’s match.

And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One has been on a tear this quarter, notching up three points while rival Zozzled nets zero, leaving the 2021 IF Comp winner with the largest point lead of any current matchup.


Okay, I’m going to out myself.

I voted for Excalibur.

Superluminal Vagrant Twin is an amazing game and deserves its high place on IFDB ranking. These contests are between games which are some of the best ever created, and SVT is no exception.


When I read Excalibur, I felt like it could be real; I could suspend disbelief just enough. It felt like seeing echoes of another world. In contrast to Superluminal Vagrant Twin’s smooth and easy gameplay, it felt like work playing though Excalibur, but it was rewarding work.

Edit: I like stuff like this trivia page for a season 1 episode:

• The elaborate and expensive lab set is later re-used in the episode The Time Scientist.

• Dot Varney’s incidental music is used very sparingly in this episode. It is well known that director Hugh Goulding was not a fan of the young musician’s work.

Sanctuary was the first episode to feature the Grimoire.


I am not voting at the moment, but since Brian mentioned it: I love Excalibur. I think its narrative approach feels novel and rich, and the amount of fine detail work in the various branches of the wiki is really impressive.


Oh, who was I trying to fool? I started up The Impossible Bottle and played it to completion in one sitting. That’s gotta count for one vote. I’m certainly planning on finishing A Long Way To The Nearest Star but it didn’t pull me in like that.


This is very cool and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes!

Only voting on the ones where I’ve played both games:

  • Went for Suveh Nux over Lost Pig. Lost Pig has very good jokes and one of the very best player characters, but I’m a sucker for a language puzzle and I really enjoyed unwinding Suveh Nux when I played. (Suveh Nux also has good jokes - I love the MAP command.)

  • City of Secrets vs the Wizard Sniffer was a really really tough choice. City of Secrets is a game I grow fonder of the more I think about it, especially now that I’ve written my own games since then. Its conversation system has been a big influence on me, and its writing and worldbuilding are incredibly accomplished, with at least one line that will stick with me forever. But… I ended up going for Wizard Sniffer. The way it intertwines puzzle design, story beats and farce is something I want to be able to do someday, and I just can’t resist the punchline to the housemaid horror’s subplot.

  • I went for And Then You Come to a House over Zozzled. I was impressed with ATYCTAH’s metatextual elements (i.e. its linkages with Infinite Adventure) and the way its story builds and releases. That said, Zozzled is pretty damn good too - full of good jokes, and I adore that puzzle with the uninspired artist.


I’ll explain my decisions:

  • Lost Pig vs Suveh Nux: Having played both to completion, I can say for sure that they are both very good puzzlers. Suveh Nux’s central mechanic is brilliant (excuse the pun), and if it were a full-sized puzzle game, with more spells and obstacles, I would vote for it. However, I picked Lost Pig, which has become the yardstick against which other “modernized old-school” parser games are measured. It executes classic light and navigation puzzles in a way that newcomers and kids can easily understand (thanks to Grunk’s unique voice), but the challenges aren’t too easy for experienced players either. Also, the gnome is amazing.
  • The Wizard Sniffer vs City of Secrets: I’ll admit that I didn’t finish City of Secrets, but I played far enough to see the game’s general tone and gameplay style. As usual with Short, the writing is evocative without being overly “poetic”, and the setting is revealed just slowly enough to keep you hooked. The Wizard Sniffer is another modernized old-school game, with touches of humor everywhere and goofy puzzles that are still logical enough to be solved without resorting to trial-and-error. These two games aren’t really comparable in any way, but I voted for The Wizard Sniffer because I preferred its writing and puzzles to City of Secrets’s story and atmosphere.

As the minutes tick down to the end of the third quarter, the action seems to have slowed across the board.

Lost Pig has regained lost ground and returned to a comfortable four point lead over its opponent Suveh Nux.

Superluminal Vagrant Twin has extended its lead over Excalibur and now has what may be an insurmountable margin.

In A Long Way to the Nearest Star vs. The Impossible Bottle, neither side has scored since the first quarter, leaving the latter with a three point lead going into the final 42 hours of the match.

20th seed Junior Arithmancer has picked up another point, finally erasing 43rd seed Cryptozookeeper’s early lead and throwing the outcome of their match into doubt after a strong initial challenge by the tournament’s sole Hugo entry.

In Dr. Ludwig and the Devil vs. Midnight. Swordfight., the most recent IF Comp winner’s precarious one point lead has evaporated, leaving the closely-matched pair once again in a dead heat.

In City of Secrets vs. The Wizard Sniffer the newer pig-oriented entry in this segment has picked up another point, edging slightly ahead of its opposition.

Birdland and Of Their Shadows Deep both scored single points almost simultaneously, leaving the latter’s two-point lead unchanged.

In the segment’s final match, And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One has held onto its large lead over Zozzled, leaving the winner of 3 1/2 of 2019’s XYZZY awards with a lot of ground to make up as time begins to grow short.

Also FYI: Fan registration for Division 2’s Round 1 is now open at Free IF Playoffs: Round 1, Division 2 (Fan Registration). Matchups will be announced Saturday but have already been determined and delivered to mathbrush, so expect his informed commentary early when the next segment begins.


That’s the whistle!

I’ll have to flip a coin for one match, but results will be posted soon.

EDIT: OK, final standings and next round matchups are up, with Midnight. Swordfight. winning the coin toss. The tournament continues with Round 1, Division 2 – see you there!


UPDATE: After the surprising upset victory of Of Their Shadows Deep, coach Amanda Walker agreed to an impromptu post-game interview to field questions from fans. Here’s what she had to say when we caught up with her…

Q: In your initial reaction to learning about the Free IF Playoffs, you said that you thought Of Their Shadows Deep is “not in the same league” as Birdland. Those playing both apparently disagree. What are the strengths of Birdland that you thought made it unbeatable?

AW: It’s really well-written, of course, and it’s also a much longer game than mine. It’s one of those games that captures and crystallizes a moment in life, that of anxious adolescent helplessness. I remember immediately identifying with the PC’s anxiety and sense of difference. But it manages to be serious and funny and trippy and a slice of life and a detective story all at once. It clearly has staying power, probably because it manages to do so many things so well. It’s a top-notch game and it definitely struck me as a heavyweight champ.

Q: Which IF authors do you admire most, and why?

AW: Too many to list. Obviously I admire Emily Short a great deal-- she’s just phenomenal at weaving story with mechanic, and at melding old-school text adventure stuff with novel gameplay. Art DiBianca is a perennial favorite of mine-- I love how he is always refining his methods to fit that streamlined sensibility of his, and his games are always fun, which is something that a lot of IF isn’t (I don’t mean that pejoratively. A lot of my work isn’t “fun”). I tend to admire writers who experiment to realize some larger inner vision, and both Short and DiBianca are that type of writer. Ryan Veeder is on this list too, as is Autumn Chen and many others.

Q: You are open about your relative lack of technical expertise when it comes to programming, and it seems that you have chosen Inform as your primary tool. Why did you pick it over other options? Has it been harder or easier to use than you expected? Which other tool(s) interest you, if any?

AW: There really wasn’t any other option than to be open about it if I wanted help. It’s like a huge wart on my forehead. Everyone can see it, so I might as well acknowledge it, and everyone needed to know the extent of my computer illiteracy to be helpful. Pretending you know more than you do is a time-waster and I’ve found it’s better to be honest about my ignorance in a learning environment.

I picked Inform because it’s a parser tool and because I thought it was possible I could learn the natural language thing. The jury’s still out on that. One day maybe I’ll learn Twine, but with the upcoming choice-based tools in Inform, I might not have to.

Q: Of Their Shadows Deep is not a traditional “text adventure,” but it does adopt many structural elements that, at least on the surface, appear to draw from the well of traditional tropes from that style. Among these are: a multi-room map, an NPC animal, a light puzzle, a secret door and find-the-tool puzzle. How much of this structural analogy was consciously chosen, and why?

AW: I love traditional text adventures, but my favorite games usually take them to new places, like Short and DiBianca do. That’s the goal: to make text adventures that have more to them than just solving puzzles in a story-light environment. So it was all very consciously done that way.

Q: You have spoken before about the deeply personal nature of the subject matter of Of Their Shadows Deep. Did you feel that it was risky to release this game? If so, what convinced you to take the plunge and take the risk of sharing that with the general public? Is there anything that you would offer as advice to other writers who want to do something similar?

AW: It didn’t feel very risky, because I’m pretty immune to failure and criticism. I spent many years as a research biologist and that’s a job that trains you to fail with acceptance. And I’ve been a working artist for years and the amount of criticism in that gig is just stunning. So the idea of putting out a stinker of a game, even if it personally means a lot to me, isn’t that terrifying. The only way to feel less fragile about failure is to fail and get up again, so I encourage people to embrace the possibility or the reality of failure until they get used to it. There’s no other way. No matter how well you do your art, there will always be people who don’t like it and who will tell you so. And the biggest reason to take those leaps is that if you never take a risk, you’ll never do anything truly creatively innovative.

Q: Noted Infocom author Amy Briggs recently said in an interview shared on this forum that if she were to write any more interactive fiction, it would probably deal with dementia. Specifically: “I’d probably write something about my mother’s trip/journey [with] dementia, and how it affected me as a caregiver. I think there’s a whole world that people talk about about caregiving that, unless you’ve done it, you don’t really know what it is.” Would you say that your inspiration to write Of Their Shadows Deep was similar?

AW: Yes. Dementia is the worst thing. Watching it take my mother down was soul-crushing, and being her primary caregiver was an awful, scary, gross, miserable experience. I was trying so hard to find some grace or acceptance there. So I wrote a game pretending that I had found it and hoped I could convince myself that was true. It wasn’t, though. Still, it was a good effort to talk myself into a better mindset.

Q: Which of your games are you most proud of, and why?

AW: The first one! I didn’t really believe I could do it, and it was so amazing that I could-- with a giant support staff, of course. I think one of the reasons it did so well was that it was such a team effort to get it off the ground. So many people here had a stake in it.

Q: You have another game, The Spectators, that will be competing in Division 3 next week. Is there anything you would like to say about it before its first match?

AW: I hope it doesn’t go up against Spider and Web.

Q: Of Their Shadows Deep seems to be designed to be relatively easy to play through, with features like a built-in map and strong hints for relatively easy riddles. Why did you design it this way? Was it to place the emphasis on the emotional journey presented by the game?

AW: Yes, absolutely. OTSD is a riddle game, and you just can’t have hard riddles for a whole game, or players will get stuck and will quit. You don’t want to make your players feel dumb. The important thing was the writing and the journey, not doing gotcha stuff with players. So I made it as gentle as I could so that people would play the thing. I set aside a lot of games when I get stuck, and then I get distracted by shiny new games and never return to many of them. I don’t want that to be the fate of my games.

Q: The depiction of the cat is very life-like. Do you have a cat? Is the cat in the game modeled after it or any other particular cat?

AW: We don’t have a cat, and we’re dog people, actually. But I needed a companion in the game that would begin and end it and allow me to do some shameless emotional manipulation with it, and a cat was the better choice. A slobbery bouncing dog would not have the same mystique.

Q: Did you construct the “images” in the game yourself?

AW: Yes. Although later I realized I had accidentally done a fairly good job of copying the cat’s basic shape from the poet John Hollander, who wrote a fantastic book of concrete poems that I read maybe 20 years ago. It must really have stuck in my subconscious. It wasn’t intentional and I keep meaning to go back and tweak the cat a bit, although it’s hard to see another way to do a cat shape well in words. I’m pretty sure the rest are all me and not John Hollander, though.