IFcomp 2015 reviews of all parser games from a new revie

The King and the Crown -

This is a deliberately short and silly game with some vulgar elements, but it amused me more than it annoyed me. I didn’t feel I could rate this very highly, but I enjoyed my time with it. I remain curious what the optimal outcome is and how to achieve it.

Pit of the Condemned -

I like the premise as a jumping off point for an old-fashioned adventure puzzler, but this game seemed underwhelming. I wandered the city a bit, I solved about 1.5 puzzles, and then I won. Nothing I had found was compelling enough to make me want to put much time into replay and exploration to see if there was more meat here. I still enjoyed the game for a decent, if shallow, implementation of a nice old fashioned adventuring concept.

Gotomomi -

I wanted to like this game more. The slightly confusing blurb [later changed to be more straightforward] seemed to promise a philosophical and symbolic game, but what I got seemed to be a fairly dry errand-running simulator. I explored and earned a bit of money, but I didn’t discover whatever larger idea the author wanted to communicate. When the character conversation became philosophical, it felt stilted and unnatural to me. Did not complete partly due to issues with randomness in the money system. It seems to be a well-implemented largish game with some nice writing (with the occasional awkward phrase) but which failed to draw me into its world. (Not completed)

Final Exam -

If you like a strong puzzle focus, this game might be perfect for you, but I have grown slightly tired of elaborate “mess with machinery” puzzles. Even though the implementation and writing is solid, I enjoy a more emotionally involving story where the puzzles are on equal footing with narrative and exploration. I found the opening section of the game more compelling than the central puzzle sequence. Recommended for people who enjoy “make the equipment work” games. (Not completed)

The Sueno -

This was an interesting narrative with just the right level of puzzles for me. There are many things to like here - a fresh take on a solid premise (dreamstates may be a cliche of IF, but for good reasons), strong overall writing quality, and well-integrated hint system all helped my enjoyment a lot. A few puzzles and solutions do seem slightly under-motivated, but I only needed a few minor cues from the walkthrough to finish. A mark of how involved I was in the game was that I was careful to not spoil anything by seeing any future commands when I needed to check the walkthrough. A few issues like an ending that I felt was too abrupt keep it from ascending to the level of an all-time classic, but for me this game did a good job of mixing the right ingredients in the right proportions.

Midnight. Swordfight. -

Cool, weird, and quite a bit WTF. A strange mix of sensuality, philosophy, and vulgarity. I may return to this game to play it more, it claims to have a wide variety of outcomes. The unified space-time navigation system is a fascinating twist, even if it is more stylistic than substantive, and the game as a whole reminds me that I have still seen only a slice of the infinite possibilities of IF.

Nowhere Near Single -

This web-choice game was well-written and even though it was not very open-ended, I felt that the choices I had to make mattered, I cared about my decision and felt internally conflicted about the best course of action.I felt more invested as a “player” than I sometimes do when trying to figure out how to open Locked Door #7. I really enjoyed this work, and with just a tiny bit more interactivity/open-endedness it would have been one of my overall favorites.

Life on Mars? -

The scenario is compelling and the emotion in the backstory is impressive. When I played this, I didn’t realize I could enter ‘speed up’ more than once to increase the rate of text display. Also, the laptop I am using as a terminal doesn’t work well with the request for a 160 character width display window to format the output properly. Without going into specifics, the ending was also unsatisfying to me, a sudden halt which happened right when I thought the main plot of the game was underway. If I would have managed to figure out the text speed control, if the text formatting wasn’t so awkward, and if the ending wasn’t just a sudden unresolved stop, I would have enjoyed this game much more.

5 Minutes to Burn Something! -

This game did not work for me at all. The premise is risible, it’s a lot of contrived puzzles within a small apartment, and it gets more implausible as it goes on. I think the tone is an attempt at cynical, dark humor, but it didn’t gel for me. I also ran into implementation and parser problems. I suppose a fan of setpiece puzzles might enjoy working through this.

Darkiss -

I don’t have much personal affinity for the vampire genre, but this game exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed the deliberately over-written manner of the translation. It is overall a quite traditional game of IF with puzzles that I found mostly solvable, with a few exceptions. A nice exercise in style and genre atop a solid puzzle structure foundation.

Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box -

In another review, I mentioned I have become tired of elaborate machinery manipulation. This is about the most purely abstract machine puzzle imaginable, where all the actions are fundamentally arbitrary, but it is executed with enough charm to work. It also sidesteps the challenge of choosing what verbs and prepositions to use to describe actions. As short as it is, it perhaps extends its one gag a bit long without revealing any deep structure to be understood. An enjoyable novelty.

Untold Riches -

This game was apparently made as a teaching tool for students, which explains both its competence and its blandness. It is a short treasure hunt with instantly familiar shipwrecked-on-an-island tropes. Pleasant enough, but as independent entertainment or literature, I feel it needs more edge, or at least a stronger hook. As an introductory teaching piece however, it seems to fulfill its goals perfectly.

TOMBs of Reschette -

I wish I could say I loved this web-based tribute/parody of the Olden Dayes of Adventuring. I spent my childhood with software like Temple of Apshai, typing in listings from the David Ahl BASIC games collections, and playing early BBS games. There were several moments in this game that made me smile, but overall it felt predictable. I feel that parodistic treatments have already been overdone in relation to the source material for this game. I would much rather see a game like this done seriously, with an effort to capture the best of 80s adventuring.

Birdland -

Completely weird, frequently funny and sometimes touching, my main issue with this story was it seemed a bit overlong, with the dream sequences dragging. The “dreams into stats” system is a nice concept but seems to be mostly window-dressing. In fact, given the tone of the piece, I thought it might almost be intended as parody of gaming conventions. I enjoyed this work a lot, but I would have scored it higher if it trimmed the length of the dream sequences and had more meaningful choices.

Pilgrimage -

I wish I could like this game more. There are nice things about the concept and writing, but the puzzles seemed poorly designed. I liked the feeling of moving across a larger geographical expanse than usual. Many of the puzzles simply baffled me, and the puzzles which I could figure out how to solve, the parser didn’t understand me. I feel this game is a mirror image of the problems of some other games which are well implemented but without a compelling story. In Pilgrimage the story is undermined by the implementation. I actually think this game might have done better as a Twined click-story rather than a parser game.

Brain Guzzlers from Beyond -

A perfect game! The writing, puzzles, pacing, feelies, absolutely everything is done excellently. I can’t say enough good things about how fun this was to play. I especially enjoyed the writing in the excellent menu-based character interaction. The humor works, the story works, and the characters become increasingly likable as we get to know them. The social commentary and satire of 50s gender roles is well-considered and never spoils the fun. A legitimate instant classic, a must-play.

Unbeknown -

A nice twine fic with an intriguing premise. It is hard to know how dynamic the story really is without more playthroughs than I felt like investing. I got ‘ending 2 of 2’ which suggests a mostly linear structure. Definitely more of a “I enjoyed this story” than “I enjoyed this game” feeling at the end for me, but I am ok with that.

Summit -

This story didn’t work for me. I have enjoyed other works with some stylistic similarities (Porpentine’s pieces) but nothing here spoke to me personally. I did not like the multiple clicks on geometric elements to advance towards the next bit of text. I also grew tired of rereading a particular repeating section of the story.

Recorded -

A short game of amnesia in a symbol-laden space, I feel this game needed to focus its narrative and imagery more. Vagueness is not the same as deep meaning. This game seemed to aspire to being philosophical and thought provoking, and there is some nice descriptive writing. Maybe something went over my head, but I couldn’t find the message or ideas or emotion that I think the author wanted to convey.

The Problems Compound -

A nice game in the language-manipulation genre that spans from Nord & Bert through Counterfeit Monkey. Clever, well written, well implemented. I enjoy this kind of thing, but still had a few issues. The premise is perhaps a little too one-note to sustain an entire largish game. Also, I wished the language premise tied into the puzzle mechanics more. I felt like I should be actively creating my own compound transpositions. I am intrigued enough by the game that I am currently still working through it following the review period, so I may find some additional material to make me even more enthusiastic about my already positive experience with the game. (Not completed)

Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory -

An interesting experiment; the story responds to your actions, but a large amount of the text simply spools out each turn without depending on your inputs. The world seems barely implemented. The semicyberpunk setting focuses the reader on subjectivity and interiority. I wanted it to be longer. This game is stylistically unusual for a parser game but gave me a lot of what I want from IF, the feeling of a dynamic experience of a different reality than my own.

Map -

A moving and powerful exploration of life and choice. An excellent use of the medium for emotional storytelling. Some of the best writing I’ve seen in the comp. Almost completely puzzleless, but understanding what is going on with the story and how to explore it is like a simple meta-puzzle. Very highly recommended, this is a must-play.

Kane County -

This web-based game almost seems like a throwback to The Oregon Trail. It has a simple stat/resources system, and gives you options like making camp for the night or pressing onward. The only story seems to be ‘survive the desert’. I found nothing particularly exciting or innovative here and the writing is servicable but not very expressive. A decent game but a stronger story and writing could elevate this framework to something much more compelling.

Ether -

This game was absolutely delightful to play. The prose is beautiful, the puzzles are really more “activities” than puzzles, and the implementation is novel and well-done. Highly recommended. If it developed its mechanics a bit more, it would have been one of my absolute favorites. Perhaps the author might expand the game or release a sequel, I am expecting the overall reaction to this game to be quite positive.

The Baker of Shireton -

This is a weird game. It feels like an attempt to recreate “root-beer tapper” as interactive fiction. Maybe there is great stuff that happens as you master the baking system and progress, but it wasn’t very clear to me where the goalposts were. I had one game that crashed with a glk/glulxe error, and my second game I scored 1 out of 999999 in 115 turns. I think there is more here than I was able to get from it. (Not even close to completed)

Sub Rosa -

an impressive, sophisticated, well-written and well-implemented game. It is hard for me to know exactly how to score this, because to some extent I feel like I let the game down. The puzzles were simply too hard for me, and perhaps I have a blind spot about games with a heavy library-research mechanic. I think this game might be a home-run with the lovers of intricate and challenging puzzles. For me, I had to rely on the walkthrough heavily and I respected this game more than I loved it.

Koustrea’s Contentment -

This seems to be an elaborate and intelligent game with a lot of effort put into it. Perhaps I am reaching burnout point after about a week of intense play and I am unable to give this game its full due, but I felt unmotivated to jump through the hoops the game set up for me. I spent my two hours wandering around, gathering a few unsatisfying scraps of information, solving a puzzle or two, and feeling like I hadn’t actually accomplished much and it was going to be a long slog with uncertain payoff for further time invested. This is another case where I feel I may have let the game down as a player. (Not completed)

Second Story -

This was a short and simple game, but I enjoyed it. It was not a deep or complex story or world or puzzles, but it had an action-movie style narrative which moved along well. As personal preference, I wish the game was in a format which could be downloaded and played in a traditional interpreter.

Onaar -

This game impressed me a lot. I feel like I only scratched the surface in my playtime, but it seems to be a very well-done implementation of a traditional fantasy RPG. The game world feels rich, the alchemy system is well-designed. This captures the feeling of tabletop roleplaying better than almost any other IF I have played. This is a highly recommended game if the genre and setting appeal to you. (Not completed)

Growbotics -

A fun little toy game based on combining essences via an imaginary machine. The combiantions are intriguing and the framing story and outcomes maintain a consistent tone. Quite good within its limited ambitions.

Cape -

I enjoyed this deconstruction of superhero mythos. A single read/playthrough took my full review time so I am not sure if there was significant branching. It felt fairly linear. It’s hard to avoid the long shadow of Watchmen when a work interrogates the ideology behind costumed vigilantes with superpowers. The writing is strong.

There were more games that looked interesting but I wanted to write up reviews of the parser games and felt I didn’t have the time and energy to do justice to also trying to complete all of the web-based games.

Parser game recommendations:

My two overall favorites were Brain Guzzlers from Beyond and MAP. Both of these games are some of my favorite works of IF ever. Brain Guzzlers was perfect as pure fun with a side of social commentary, and MAP made brilliant use of the medium for emotionally intense storytelling.

Many other games of the competition are also highly recommended: Ether for alternative reality exploration, Onaar for traditional fantasy role-playing, Sub Rosa for well-motivated and implemented puzzles, The Sueno for dramatic narrative, and The Problems Compound for playful cleverness with language.

I’d recommend several other games if you find the premise interesting. If you are looking for a bemusing and absurd novelty, Midnight. Swordfight. is probably perfect. If you like working with complex machinery, Final Exam should suit you well. If you want to be a gothic vampire, Darkiss might be your cup of evil. Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory might be ideal for someone who enjoys psychologically focused twine games more than conventional puzzle focused parser games. Of the non-parser games I played, Nowhere Near Single was my favorite. I felt the most emotionally invested in its story and cared the most about the choices I had to make. Several other parser and non-parser games were also enjoyable and might be exactly right for the right player. I hope that the competition helps every game find its audience.

Thanks to the game authors, competition organizers, and other reviewers. IFcomp2015 has been fun and memorable for me. Thanks for reading!

Thanks for posting these!

[spoiler]I was also initially surprised when it ended, but when I backed away a bit from some of my expectations about mystery/SF structures and regarded it more as an arty short story, I felt like there was actually a complete emotional arc here. (Not to say that you should feel the same.)

But the reason I comment is that I had the same experience with several of the games I tried from the French IF Comp 2015 (reviews here). This leads me to suspect that there is in fact something going on here to do with the expectations of French IF vs. anglophone IF, such that French IF may have more of a tradition of unresolved endings and mood over hard plot. But I’d be curious to see more data points here; I’m extrapolating heavily on the basis of four or so games that seemed to end suddenly from an English IF perspective.

I also did find the slow auto-printing a pain, though.[/spoiler]

Life on Mars? -

To speed up the display you can hold down a key or enter the “speed up” command multiple times.

The Baker of Shireton -

mycroftiv, I recommend you re-visit this game and use the built-in hints if necessary. This game is certainly more than a bread baking simulator. Unfortunately, a non-obvious puzzle prevents many players from making any significant progress.

Thanks for those tips! I hadn’t realized that entering ‘speed up’ multiple times had a greater effect than just entering it once. That helps a lot. I will be returning to “The Baker” and a few other games to try to explore more.

[spoiler]I think it’s probably a coincidence. Or, at least, I played many modern French IF games and the unresolved endings of Life on Mars? and Comédie did seem unusual to me (and I found them disappointing, even if I liked these two games, especially Life on Mars?). Most of the other French IF games have more satisfying endings, I feel.

What were the other two or so French games with similar endings you played? I can’t think of very many ones. There was certainly Brume from the 2008 competition, though. According to your review, you were probably thinking about Sourire de bois, too, but personally, I didn’t find its ending too sudden: it was rather unexpected, but in a good way.

On the other hand, you’re definitely right in your reviews when you write “One of [the conventions of French IF] definitely seems to be a love affair with “press any key to continue””! Many French IF authors indeed use it a lot. If you’re interested, there was a thread on the French IF forum about it some time ago: the replies there suggest that it’s not going to end anytime soon![/spoiler]


[spoiler]I definitely was thinking of Sourire de bois. And I didn’t find it unsatisfactory exactly, but when the end arrived I had to readjust my expectations about the shape of the game.

Anyway, thanks for the comment. I definitely need to play more French IF [emote]:)[/emote][/spoiler]