My closing thoughts on 10 comp games judged

Afraid I could only judge 10 games this year. Very busy with Academic Writing Month, plus long-term ill, and what with one thing and another I couldn’t manage any more. But pleased to have made it into double figures. I thought I’d write up some quick thoughts on the games here, based on what I can remember.

In alphabetical order here are the games I judged and their votes. Comments in spoiler boxes.

7, Bell Park, Youth Detective

I liked this a lot. The main protaganist was a fun, spunky character, and I liked the whodunnit puzzle.

7, Blood on the Heather

Vampires! Scotland! This was going to have to fail spectacularly for me not to like it. On the downside I’m not sure it was too authentically Scottish, says me speaking as a Scot [emote];)[/emote] But I really liked the long story, and for a multi-choice click on HTML it felt remarkably interactive. I got right through the story to the end, and really enjoyed the journey. So big thumbs up.

2, The Challenge

Oh this and me did not get on well. On the plus side it started well, with the 3D rendered graphics, though I found the choice of on-screen text colour clashed horribly with the graphics, making the text hard to read. And I was getting on well. And then, after virtually no time, it stopped. So virtually no interactivity to speak of, and hardly any game. But I thought it had promise. Just needed much much more development.

4, Dad vs. Unicorn

From what I can remember - I think this was just about the first game I played - it was an easy play through, it felt quite interactive, but I wasn’t sure it was balancing the darker issues with the light that well.

5, Machine of Death

I enjoyed this quite a lot, but I found it didn’t seem to remember state all the time, so would present me with the same choices I’d already done. This was a particular problem when exploring the house, which I think would have been more effective, and more immersive too, in a parser based game. But I had fun, and replayed it a few times.

8, Mrs. Wobbles & The Tangerine House

This was the last game I played. And I liked it a lot. I think I would have enjoyed this a lot as a youngster of the target age. The implementation was superb. And although it wasn’t fully finished, in particular the main story I played through reached a not finished ending, I didn’t care too much. On the downside it was a little “click to move on the text” in a few places, particularly in the opening tutorial section, but despite this I thought it was well judged in interactivity terms for its target audience. Oh and the illustrations were superb.

1, Reels

Oh this was a real problem for me. For starters it would not play on any of my Mac browsers - I tried 3, all the latest versions of Firefox, Safari and Chrome. When I say it wouldn’t play I mean it would not check answers to the puzzle questions. I got the first question right, but couldn’t play any more, thought it was thoroughly bugged for not working on anything other than a possibly antiquated version of Internet Explorer (which modern Macs can’t run), and I didn’t like the whole concept of a logic/knowledge quiz. That’s not an interactive experience for me. Especially when the coding just does not work.

6, Robin & Orchid

I liked the basic premise, and exploring around and figuring things out. But I wasn’t convinced by the teen angst / explanation for what happened at the end. So I didn’t really buy that side of things. But I did enjoy much of it.

4, Their angelical understanding

I really struggled with this I’m afraid. I found it far too often a case of clicking on the next link to move the text on, and I didn’t feel like I was interacting at all. That may also be why I didn’t feel pulled into the story. And for a work of this ambition, aiming at the audience it was, I thought it should feel much more interactive than it did. More on that subject below.

8, Trapped in Time

Oh I liked this! I grew up in the 1980s playing CYOA and Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, so yes there was a nostalgia element for me. But I thought it used the CYOA paragraph mechanism incredibly well, incorporating it into the story, and using numeric adjusters to change the plot on reruns. I had enormous fun playing this, reading the PDF on my iPad.

So those are my thoughts on the games. I played quite a lot of the web based HTML games, some CYOA, others of different kinds. For judging purposes I liked that the CYOA games were generally quick and easy plays. I didn’t always find them as engrossing as parser games though, not as immersive. Though there were exceptions, such as Mrs Wobbles. Though that had an extra framing user interface, which packaged up what was really just a CYOA game into something more special.

I’m not sure how I feel about the shift away from parser games though. They’re what I’ve played for over 30 years, and I do find them very immersive. I also generally find them better for exploring a locale: for example the exploring of the scene in Machine of Death didn’t seem to work as effectively for me as in Robin & Orchid. Some CYOA/web games are also better at keeping track of state and what’s been done before. If you are presented with exactly the same choices, even if you’ve done one before, and it doesn’t acknowledge that past action, it breaks the immersion somewhat. But I do like the possibly more casual nature of playing CYOA/web games, even if that is, for me at least, at the expense sometimes of good immersion.

The technical problems aren’t limited to Macs. I tried to play this with Firefox on a linux machine, and eventually just looked at the page sources to figure out what comes after what. You’ve missed nothing by giving up after the first page.