Josh's (walktothesun's) IFComp 2022 Reviews

I am finding myself drawn to play through and review what I can of the IFComp 2022 cohort. I’m unlikely to play through all of the entrants by the time judging officially ends, but that’s primarily because of the pace that I prefer to take such endeavors. I do hope to play through a decent selection of them, but I can’t make any promises. I’ll do my best though.

I’m approaching these reviews as one still essentially new to IF, but with (hopefully) enough contextual understanding, experience, and appreciation of the history and tradition of IF such that I’m not completely grasping in the dark when I play these.

Lost at the Market
The Lottery Ticket

5 Likes

The Lottery Ticket, by Dorian Passer and Anton Chekhov

The blurb of this work was most intriguing to me, as it was its stated experimental nature that piqued my curiosity. I wanted to understand what it was like to experience something that combined “quintessential elements of parser-based, choice-based, chat-based, and templated-based works under a new theory of agency in stateful media.” Based on this description, I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I also didn’t feel like I had to either. So, I went into this with an open mind, receptive and open to the whims of the experience.

Before the story begins, an introduction is given, which provides some background to more concretely set the player’s expectations about the experience, as well as a brief note about the style of the prose. I feel like drawing attention to the introduction here mainly to note that it’s not terribly uncommon for games that are framed and advertised in the margins of experimentation to also be drawn to the allure of making the experience of playing it shrouded in abstraction and mystery. Perhaps a subconscious part of me was anticipating that kind of experience, but ultimately, I quite welcomed this introduction. It immediately grounded my expectations and it allowed me to be more receptive to the lessons of the format.

The crux of this experience for me wasn’t so much the content of the story as it was about the strategic placement of the prompts for input. Though to be clear, I’m not saying the content of the story was unnecessary or completely without meaning. The story felt like dressing and support in favor of a larger set of points being illustrated. Each prompt is a textbox in the middle of a sentence which asks the player for a single word: an adjective or a verb to contextually specify an emotional connotation. More of the story unfurls after the player chooses a word, usually a handful of paragraphs and sections before the next prompt. There were a total of four of these prompts in my playthrough.

While the amount of required interactivity is minimal to complete the story, the experience left me with several thought-provoking considerations about the nature of interactivity. The main idea I kept thinking about when I contemplated how these prompts were placed was in the contrast between non-interactive and interactive media experiences. This story by and large looks like, reads like, and still feels like a non-interactive short story. How did it achieve this? The prompts for words, minimal as they are, still fundamentally alters our interaction and relationship to the story. The story’s request for my input and the effort needed to advance and continue feel strangely similar to the amount of effort to choose to turn the page of a book. It feels natural for me to extrapolate and envision how our interactions to a story subtly morphs and changes as more prompts are introduced (in the direction of a more “traditional” parser-based or choice-based work of IF).

It seems to me like The Lottery Ticket is contemplating that there exists some inflection point where the experience of any story with interactive prompts starts to feel closer to what we expect when we pick up a more standard form of IF and departs from feeling like the experience of reading a non-interactive short story or book. I’m not entirely sure if it’s just a function of the number of prompts presented in the body of an interactive piece of work or if additional factors contribute to that feeling. My intuitive sense is that that number would need to remain considerably small relative to the entire body of work, somewhere close to where The Lottery Ticket seems to think it is.

Overall, I was delighted by the experience and the invitation for contemplation. Perhaps I was clouded or enamored by what I perceived The Lottery Ticket was asking me to contemplate about the possibilities and nature of IF, but as a result of how I framed what to expect once I understood the experience, the story-- an interesting slice-of-life peek into the corrosive nature of greed and envy-- wasn’t really the point of the experience for me. Which admittedly sounds awfully strange to say out loud. Why play a story-based game if the story isn’t really the point? More questions for me to ponder. Even still, I think the experimentation served a welcome, interesting, and thought-provoking experience for me.

5 Likes

Thank you so much, Josh! I really appreciate you reading through and understanding some of the questions that I’ve been asking myself for the past couple years. Sorry for the short reply, I’m on vacation until the middle of next week, after which I can give you a much better response.

In the meantime, please feel free to poke around my posts for more information about this approach, or try your hand at creating such a work yourself with the Stateful Narration Editor.

Can’t wait to continue this conversation with you next week. Thanks, again!

3 Likes

Lost at the Market by Nynym

I have a rather melancholic temperament-- at least that is how I perceive myself-- and so it’s easy for me to be drawn into works that explore topics like regret, pursuing one’s passions, and how we adapt as we embark on new phases in our lives. Lost at the Market certainly fits this description, a short peek into a slice of one of these transits.

First, some thoughts on the look and feel of the layout. The game’s interface is web-based, and the interface is presented on a pleasant and complementary color palette of pastels. Options are offered to change display preferences, such as font face and size, as well as options for how the current room and objects are displayed. For my playthrough, I opted to use the default display settings.

The upper third of the interface is a scroller that displays the commands issued at the prompt and their results, as well as room and object descriptions. The most recent command issued and its result is displayed on the bottom of this pane in black text, and previous commands proceed chronologically backwards in an upward direction with that text shown in gray. In my web browser, the latest version of Chrome as of this writing (version 107), the choice of gray text on the shade of sea green used as the background made it a little difficult at times to legibly read previous history. The following screenshot only shows the initial introduction and the instructions printed out:

The middle section contains a few horizontal bars with an assortment of buttons, used to interact with inventory, room objects, people, and movement options, as well as commands to save, restore, restart, undo, and viewing display options.

I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of the interface and what it afforded me during my gameplay. The way that the actions on things in the world were displayed made a lot of sense to me. I did appreciate that organizing the interface in this way allowed me to better immerse myself within this particular story and experience. I think this is largely due to the simplicity and limited selection of the actions that can be performed on the objects of this world. The same goes for the puzzles in this game, which are simple and few. I found it natural and easy to just focus on the message and experience of the game. I was able to complete Lost at the Market in about 20 minutes in my playthrough.

As for the central theme and message of the game, I certainly would count myself among those people who often reminisces and reflects on the various decisions I’ve made over the course of my life, from the portentous to the mundane. Regret can sometimes be a fickle subject, sometimes accompanied by platitudes of self-assurance, “Live with no regrets!” The reality is-- speaking strictly for myself-- that I do willingly carry varying degrees of regret and will choose to continue to do so. The most important part of my decision lies within how I decide to press on while I carry and hold my own previous experiences. The way Lost at the Market left me by the end of the game was a comforting mirror reflection of the same inevitable, ongoing challenge and confrontation in how I choose to take my own steps forward in the present day, the present moment. It’s a simple and familiar message, and Lost at the Market expresses this inevitability in a nice and compact way.

There’s one line in particular in the author’s walkthrough text after I had finished that really spoke to me and my inner being: Sometimes words are hard to find, the thing we want to say never quite reach, but every piece is written with the hope that someday they will. I often tussle and anguish over the words I write. Perhaps it’s lack of practice, perhaps it’s a reflection of making sure that I say things on my own terms and making sure I get that right. Perhaps it’s both of these and more. Whatever the case is, Lost at the Market reminds me that I always have the option in the present to search and find those words. Ultimately, I was pleased with this short choice-based experience.

2 Likes

Also, I’m now realizing that I must have crossed a time threshold between the last time I edited the OP and now that is preventing me from editing the OP with a link to the last review. That is a little awkward, but if it’s at all possible, I’d like to edit the OP with a link to this new review.

1 Like

I think once you move up the board software’s “trust levels” – basically just hanging around and posting for a while – the edit window becomes unlimited, but I think in the meantime the mods can help with that, so I’m tagging in @Draconis and @HanonO!

2 Likes

What @DeusIrae said is true - members unlock trust levels and gain more abilities through forum participation. Since you’re doing a great job on these reviews, I’ve gone ahead and bumped you up a level so you should be able to edit your own original posts for up to thirty days now.

3 Likes

Thank you to you both for the assistance!

2 Likes