IntroComp2015 is now open for voting!

IntroComp 2015 is now open for voting!

Please download the intros, check them out, vote, and give authors some feedback!

Neat, 6 entries! Not as much as last year, but a decent showing. Also, yay that I’m the first entry alphabetically.

Who is doing reviews?

Well, I’m excited.

Yay! I tested some of these so I won’t comment much on those, but I’ll try to write reviews of the others.

Yeehaw! Looking forward to playing everyone else’s intros.

Good luck to everyone!

I’ve done my first review for IntroComp 2015. Click my signature below to read it, if you’d like. [emote]8-)[/emote]

Yay, reviews!

I’m not sure if there should be a separate thread, but since it’s not a huge number of games, I’ll post some shortish thoughts here.

Beyond division. Joseph Geipel. Inform7.

[spoiler]Quite an intriguing premise: the world is being overwhelmed by some sort of alien sea-monster (“the Tide”), and some scientists have found a telepathic wolf, which might in some obscure way help with this. You play alternately as the wolf and one of the scientists. There are some interesting conflicts between their world-views: the scientist’s idea of what might help is quite at odds with the wolf’s, and the story is thought-through, not driven by cliche. The conflict operates as an effective story engine.

The story is framed with material describing how the game was made, apparently by a student, so that bits and pieces of that student’s life bleed into the gameplay through footnotes and the like. It wasn’t clear to me where this was going — whether it was real or fictional (which hardly matters), but more significantly what it is adding to the game. If it turns out just to be some semi-autobiographical author’s notes half-emulsified into the game itself, it’s not going to be helpful; if it turns out to be more than that — a real framing device — then it might be interesting. So the jury’s out, but I’m inclined for the moment — like any honest jury member — to give it the benefit of the doubt.

A second distinctive feature is that the action largely advances by keyword based conversation, which gives this a hypertexty sort of feel, or rather it’s positioning itself somewhere between the openness of the parser and the narrative drive of hypertext.

This sometimes worked well. The parser can get a bit monotonous. It seems to insist on small bites (“Wear coat. Take key. Open door. North. Close door. Lock door. North. West …”) instead of large gestures (“Go for a long walk in the sunshine.”), whereas hypertext can easily work at different levels of granularity. And there was something of that here. On the other hand, hypertext can’t help but lay out the options with flags and bells and whistles, so its hard for it to allow for the leap of comprehension, but the parser can. And there’s some of that here too.

But it didn’t always work. Sometimes it led to the sort of rather tedious play where you try all the switches till you find
the one that turns on the light. It’s as if the author is unwilling to give up much authority to the player, even in the fairly short term. A bit of loosening up would be nice, and a bit more that rewarded thoughtful experimentation rather than assiduous completism.

Still, I’m definitely interested in this, and interested in playing more of it. It’s well-thought out, well-written, and very solidly crafted.[/spoiler]

Deprivation. Michael Coorlim. TADS 3.

[spoiler]I didn’t get on with this. I’d like to think that it is more than a your-crappy-apartment game. I’m sure it is: it’s intended to have some sort of psychological depth — a your-crappy-life game disguised as a your-crappy-apartment game. It looks as if we come on the protagonist in the aftermath of some sort of relationship breakup, which the protagonist is taking really badly in the teetering-on-the-edge sense of badly. The more time I spent with the protagonist, the more sympathy I felt for his or her ex.

The implementation here (in TADS 3, hooray!) is pretty solid, and the writing above average without being sufficient recompense in itself. (But the implementation is not rock solid: if you must implement an oven and a toaster, shouldn’t one be able to turn on the oven and put things in the toaster? Or what is the point of them? But then, what is the point of them?) And to be frank it feels like a game written as an exercise in implementation. Which is fine. But the answer to the Introcomp question is a pretty clear “No” as far as I’m concerned.

It’s possible, to be fair, that I missed some twist in the tale which would have made this all worthwhile. But when the amuse bouche is unappetising, the diner may leave early.[/spoiler]

Voltage Cafe

Inform 7 by anjchang

[spoiler]Violet might, one would have thought, have exhausted the humour to be extracted from a game about trying to write a dissertation. But the author of Voltage Cafe thought that there was more to be squeezed, and the set up here is similar: can the protagonist, dismally behind with a doctorate, actually manage to get something done?

The charm of Violet lay not in the game’s occasion, but in the way it was handled. Violet, at its core, rang true to the human experience of procrastination. It overlaid that situation with elements of comic fantasy, and with an engaging narrative voice.

Voltage cafe gets almost each of these things wrong. Its understanding of what it means to write a PhD dissertation is not in the slightest bit true to life. The protagonist bears no real resemblance to an intelligent graduate student of the sort who might spend five years writing a PhD, but is a caricature of a wastrel loser. Indeed, the protagonist seems to have no real inkling of what writing a doctorate involves, seeming to suppose that it consists of jotting down a few notes and then waiting around for some flash of insight. Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I would be pretty surprised to find any institution of higher (or even lower) learning that would allow a person to get five years into postgraduate research and still think that a thesis can be written like this.

In fact this weedy premise is just the setting for a “get X … use X” game. Get a cup of coffee … write a paragraph. Get a cup of tea … have an idea. In this weird eating establishment, as you get each item, it disappears from the menu. “Coffee, Sir? I’m afraid the coffee’s gone.” They even take it off the menu, which is thoughtful. The server, whose attention you get by coughing repeatedly (note to other patrons: don’t come to this cafe if you don’t want other customers coughing all over the food), is a cipher, doling out comestibles with a cheery “enjoy” (and a punctuation error).

The text is a flat write. I’d like to suggest to authors that whenever they find themselves reaching for “nondescript” or “regular” as a description of something, they may want to think again. You have a backpack you can’t open; notes that you can read if you drink some tea, but not if you “X NOTES”; you are apparently surrounded by student “types” like you (oh, indeed, student “types”) who turn out not to be there; you must write without pen, pencil, or laptop. Cliche succeeds cliche: a “meager stipend”, “warn [sic] wooden tables” (which are not there), a debit card that is your “ticket to ride”. There are plentiful spelling and grammar errors, and many weird bits of spacing where the author has not managed to get to grips with Inform’s sometimes picky ideas about where to put (or not) a new paragraph.

The impression I have is of an early coding effort by an enthusiastic newcomer, who really needs advice and practice to get coding and writing right. In short: not my cup of tea.[/spoiler]

Lair of the Gorgonanth

Twine by Andrew Watt

[spoiler]This Twine piece runs in parallel the interior thoughts and fantasies of a secret agent, dreaming of success and the fruits of success, and the exterior actions as he (seems to) organise a band of peculiar criminal-types in some sort of action, designed it seems to result in their apprehension.

It’s all written in a sort of knowing, zany, fantasy-world way which isn’t really to my taste, but I know there are some people who like it. However, I’m not sure what the answer to The Introcomp Question would be, even in that case. Does this set up enough tension — enough narrative thrust — to make even the enthusiast ache for more? I guess the attraction (or otherwise) here is all in the narrative voice: you either want more, or you’ve had enough. Me, I’d had enough, enjoyed it moderately, but was perfectly content that it was over. But I expect there will be an audience with a much more positive view, and it’s a properly polished piece, not just a rough cut.[/spoiler]

Is it the 21st yet?

Is there any centralised place where I can hear from people who’ve played the games? I’ve been poking around Twitter, but to no avail…

The IFMud has #introcomp and #intro-spoilers channels.

I’ll probably post reviews on the IFDB.

I’ve started a review-listing post here.

I’ve written a few reviews but as an author I can’t post them until the comp is over.

Since I started posting shortish reviews in this thread, and it’s not getting too much action, I thought I’d continue.


David Whyld


Warning: some REAL spoilers in this.

[spoiler]My initial impressions of this were rather positive; they then went a bit downhill, and I end up (in Introcomp terms) with a qualified “yes” as an answer to the question.

Many of the elements here are great: a mysterious quest in an interestingly detailed city, with plenty going on (NPCs to talk to) and a real narrative. All this with a “consistent game mechanic”: the ability to “meld” and “unmeld” — to combine objects to make new ones, and to separate melded objects again. There’s enough of a strange fantastical background, a bit sinister, to give interest and flavour. The writing is good and for the most part (more on this later) the implementation is sound also, with properly implemented scenery objects, anticipated responses to actions, and so forth. All good stuff, in what is actually quite a long piece, certainly playable as it stands.

But, as the game progressed, I found myself sometimes irritated, sometimes annoyed, sometimes puzzled, sometimes disappointed, and ultimately sceptical about the central mechanic.

Irritated … by some silly implementation bits and pieces. Two examples:

  • The game uses “talk to” rather than ask/tell/show. But it doesn’t tell you this straight out, so that it LOOKS as if ask/tell/show is “working” but that the characters are just unresponsive. I have no problem at all with “talk to” as a system. It’s a price I am very happy to pay for plenty of NPCs and some narrative drive. And it’s well done. But it’s really only fair to let me know that that is how I should interact.
  • The game is (for reasons that will appear later) sometimes pretty tough. I was told there was no help or hints. Fine. There is no response to “About” or “Credits” either. Finally, after being stuck for some time, I frustratedly typed WALKTHROUGH. And there it was! Now a walkthrough is not a very kind hint system, and no doubt if the game was ever finished and released it would get a proper hint system instead. Still, it’s certainly a very reasonable thing for an Introcomp piece to give me a walkthrough instead. But please tell me that it’s there.

This, it should be noted, is in contrast to the very fair and well-executed way in which the game does introduce you to its central “melding” mechanism. So it’s not that the author can’t get it right. It’s just that in these cases he didn’t. But these are all minor irritations, which could easily be made good in a full release.

Annoyed … by some classic “guess the verb” problems, where the game (indeed) positively misdirects one. Let’s take two.

At one point it’s necessary to take a lightbulb. This is fairly though obliquely cued in the room description. The necessary command (according to the walkthrough) is “SMASH BULB”. Note that the (standard) “HIT BULB” does not work, although the message for a successful action actually uses that very verb!

Thats just unfair. You tell me I can’t hit the lightbulb, and then when I ask to smash it you have the temerity to tell me that what I needed to do all along was to hit it, only I had to find the (non-standard) verb to do so.

Similarly, there’s a point at which you have to probe into a crack. Again, the required action is fairly clued in the main description. But again a “standard” attempt fails misleadingly:

In this case, surely “PUT … IN” should at least fail informatively, and POKE … IN should work. Admittedly the true aficionado would realise that the parser had understood POKE, which in a way clues that one is on the right track. But this is not, on balance right. This crack should be responding in some way to all sorts of reasonable attempts to feel inside it, probe it with pointy-sort-of-objects, break it, open it, and so on. It should not be hanging on for the perfect verb and the exact preposition.

Note that these are key actions. Where an author requires non-standard verbs at critical places, it’s especially important to be liberal with synonyms and punctilious to avoid misdirection. Annoying.

Puzzled … by the way the world worked. Now I know a certain amount of illogicality and logic-leaping is to be expected in such a game. But (for instance) why, if unmelding is (as we are told) a unique skill, can one meld and unnamed objects in plain view and without comment? Why on earth would one imagine that talking to a famous author would help one escape from a library? Or that he would be interested in a particular book when the librarian is not? Why is a citizen, otherwise familiar with the city, unable to enter a particular gate, and apparently uninterested in doing so, until suddenly provided with a mysterious key?

Disappointed … by the bugs. It became apparent fairly early on in my first attempts that things were sometimes happening to me “out of order” — that my chosen route of explanation was triggering events at times other than those the author expected. I could live with that. But as the game went on, some things turned out to be positively broken. For instance, the plot is SUPPOSED to be that one arrives at a jeweller’s, sees a pearl, and then finds a way to upset the security system. But the message about the system being broken was present when I first arrived (at which point it made no sense, and rendered about a third of the game redundant). This was a straightforward bug. Similarly, in a later stage of the game, I was unable to move from the library but had no explanation of why. And I found that even following the walkthrough exactly, I failed to trigger some key event involving a man named Tobol, as a result of which I could not finish the game.

These, however, even the last, are all things that could be ironed out by thorough testing. They don’t stop me wanting to play the completed game, though they were frustrating. A complicated plot with lots of triggers like this is always going to need very thorough testing, though I think it’s fair to expect that someone following the in-game walkthrough will be OK.

Ultimately sceptical … about the central mechanic. The trouble is that melding is unpredictable (as the game proclaims). What you can meld or unmeld, and what you will get when you do, cannot be predicted. So whenever you get an object you have to try every possible combination (which is not fun) and then you have to remember how they work. The latter point could (and should!) be solved by making the inventory and descriptions properly informative: once I know that the duster can be unmelded to form a pen and a carburettor, I should be told that. Similarly, once I know that a mint humbug and a safety pin could be melded to form a homburg hat, I should be told that too. So my inventory should look something like:

But even with this change, I wonder if the mechanic has legs? Unlike the rather similar devices in Savoir Faire and Counterfeit Monkey, no sense of achievement arrives from discovering that you can meld X and Y to form Z and thereby solve a puzzle, because the formation of Z is a matter merely of chance. There’s no lateral thinking involved. And without such lateral thinking, the puzzle mechanic is just busywork.

This, in the end, is my biggest reservation about the game. In short, I think that it is necessary — if the game is to be ultimately satisfying — for the author to give some underlying logic to the way objects meld and unmeld. If he could do that, and solve the other problems, it might be a really brilliant game. As it is, I suspect it’s a dead end, albeit one that is, at least in parts, well-constructed.[/spoiler]

Thanks for the review of my game. There are a number of points you’ve raised which I’ll address once the comp is over.

Walker’s Rift

by Hope (Verity Virtue) Choicescript

[spoiler]The setting here is intriguing: a sort of mildly dystopian sci-fi setting in which you are in a leading position in some sort of organisation that, it seems, has something to do with investigating the paranormal. As the game progresses you are drawn deeper and deeper into investigating some troubling cases.

There are some overtly rough edges — but they are legitimate rough edges of the “to be continued” sort, rather than annoying rough edges of the “I couldn’t be bothered to get this right” sort. I’m not very experienced with Choicescript, and I’m not sure I got the most I could get from the various playthroughs I tried; I somehow felt that I was trying to explore everything, rather than making positive decisions about what path to take; where I had a clear an irrevocable decision, it didn’t really seem important. But I’m not sure this was just me; it felt that there was something a bit relentless or monotonous about the choices presented. Perhaps the problem was a certain lack of dramatic tension, or action. Of course there is in one sense an adversary (who-or-what-is-causing-this-trouble); but so far as the piece of the game that was presented is concerned, there wasn’t any very strong source of tension ebbing and flowing. I read someone somewhere recently say that in a well-constructed narrative every scene will serve either to build up or release tension in some way; that seemed lacking.

Now I daresay it’s a bit unfair to demand fireworks. One’s got to be allowed some establishing shots: this is after all Introcomp, and so the key question is whether, by the end of the introduction, there was enough at stake to want to play on, enough to want to see the game completed. That seems clear: there is. This is an interesting setting, going in an interesting direction. It’s well written. It shows real promise as a game: needing mostly expansion and perhaps a bit more in the way of narrative drive.[/spoiler]

Summary thoughts (spoiler free, I think)

Three games here stand out for me: Walker’s Rift, Meld, and Beyond Division. It’s really quite hard to pick a clear favourite out of those, because they are all quite differently good. I’d be really happy to see any of them completed, and I think I would play the completed game — or, perhaps more ominously, I can imagine versions of each of these games that I would love to play, and versions that might disappoint.

Given that Introcomp is not just an opportunity for us to see authors’ ideas, maybe it would help if I identified the things that seem most to need work. By this I don’t mean bits of detail such as bugs, but broader aspects of the gameplay experience.

Walker’s Rift, I think, needs to work on giving some sense of action, and making our choices matter as choices, rather than just as pacing devices. It’s reading quite like the start of an interesting story, for which the interactive elements are not carrying as much weight as they might. I’m excited to play a completed version where this preliminary investigation is building up towards some real confrontation, in which I can make real decisions which have momentous consequences. I’m a bit nervous that it might turn out to be just a decent story with some clicking, and that’s what the author needs to fight.

Beyond Division may need to clarify the relationship between the in-game aspects of the “framing” (footnotes, the idea of the Latin lesson, the stories about how the game was devised, whether or not they are also fictional). And it also needs to smooth the join between the parser-y exploration and the keyword-driven conversation (which may need some loosening up, as well as deepening) so that it’s not quite so clearly a jump from one trigger to the next. I’m excited to play a version where I can really explore the differences in perspective offered by multiple characters. I’m a bit nervous it might turn out that there is not much more of that to be explored, and that the author is going to keep insisting on getting too much in my way, both in the way the story develops, and in the way he comments on his own creative act.

Meld needs to think particularly about the central melding/unmelding mechanic, and see whether it can be made amenable to reasoned prediction rather than chance and (if it cannot be) at least make it as easy as possible to operate without making lots of notes. I’m excited to play a well-constructed puzzle game which rewards imaginative thought and planning, and a bit nervous that it’s going to become too much a “guess the verb, guess the object to meld” exercise, where I will get easily stuck because I’ve made some minor error, rather than rewarded for or with any real flash of insight.

It may also be worth pointing out the one thing that I think makes my three favourites stand out from the rest. It’s not so much the writing as the premise and setting. Each of them has a setting I’m interesting in exploring further, each presents a world that beckons me in, each of them makes me think that there might be something new (not earth-shatteringly new, but at least somewhat novel). I’ve cheerfully — you may think too cheerfully — pointed out flaws in implementation, but in the end these rough edges are not really what count.

Anyway, congratulations and thanks to all the authors — including those I haven’t mentioned here. I really appreciate the time and effort that goes into all your work; I’ve got a lot out of playing it, and I hope you got a lot out of writing it, and don’t mind seeing it criticised. I’m sorry if/when I’ve been unfair or unkind (which I surely don’t mean to be), and I hope your next work will be even better.

Reminder: today’s the last day of voting. (Votes close midnight US-Eastern.)