Rovarsson's IFComp 2021 (Edit: playing style and rating criteria)

I started my IFComp by selecting five parser games with two hours or longer advertised playtime. The upside is that this is my favorite category of IF games, the downside is that the rules of the Comp are very clear: No matter how immersed you are in the game, or how much you are certain that it will become better in the next hour of playing, points must be awarded after two hours of playing.

The way I see it, this means two hours of actual playing, i.e. taking notes, drawing maps, brainstorming about possible solutions and maybe using hints sparingly. It does not mean flying through while copying a walkthrough.

I will have to turn my heart into stone more than once, I reckon…

Important edit: I’ll be scoring according to the guidelines posted on the IFComp website: IFComp - Best practices for judges

8 Likes

First game: D’Arkun.

I’ll have to judge based on the introductory chapters, of which I played seven (yes, 7). A vaguely Lovecraftian mood. Uneven writing, sometimes very evocative and unsettling, sometimes too matter-of-fact and straightforwardly descriptive to stir the nerves. A few locations gave me at least a bit of the frights. (The Candy Shop)

There was enough rising tension in the last chapter to recommend playing this game in full later on. However, I do not feel compelled to continue straight away.

5 Likes

The House on Highfield Lane

This game… This game

Wow. Amazing disorienting use of space, great historical setting, creepy unsettling atmosphere, splendid writing, well-considered aesthetic choices, a few thoughtful nods to literary classics, puzzles that are intuitive with a twist…

I cannot put this down. I have the day off (mostly), so I expect to keep playing another two hours at least. (I am a very slow player when I encounter a game this good. My expected playing time of at least four hours should not be taken as an indication of how fast someone else could solve it. I just want to see/read everything. Preferably twice.)

Really, this game

9 Likes

Finding Light

A very enjoyable classic text-adventure. Quite easy and straightforward. Great for children (depending on how much you care to expose your child to cursing and bloodshed toward the end. I didn’t feel it was excessive.) The animal-human transformation central to the game is well-executed. Cool NPCs with suggestions of interesting backstories. Intruiging hints to a bigger world with more adventures to come.

The game could use some more testing and polishing though. (UP and DOWN give inappropriate responses or no response at all. TOPICS (FAT RAIDER), which I consider an out-of-game meta-command, suddenly gave a bunch of completely unhinted information (having the player know that something’s up with Zakir’s tongue while the protagonist has just entered the room creates a very big discrepancy between player and PC…). There’s a dead-end {the maze} that could easily be avoided.) EDIT: These remarks are based on release 1.

I liked it. A lot.

5 Likes

The Corsham Witch Trial

Shit! That’s some powerful and heartwrenching story! Even more so because of the distanced way it is presented.
This piece brings up some hard issues and questions, and you don’t get off easy by having the answers spoonfed to you with some sugar on top.

Really, I need the IF-equivalent of a Disney-movie now to rinse my brain.
Molly and the Butter Thieves perhaps.

On the other hand, clicking a link in this piece is actually the same thing as taking the next form out of a case-folder. It brings up the next page of text to read. It does not alter a game-state, open up branching avenues in the narrative or do anything I would regard as more interactive than turning a page in a book.
Edit: Perhaps adding a scene with the meeting with the boss, which is mentioned several times throughout the game, would give the player more closure and add more interactivity and gaminess to the piece.

Very strong and well written story. Thought-provoking and emotionally challenging. Not much Interactive to the Fiction though.

5 Likes

Thank you for the review, and your time in checking it out. You’re absolutely right that I’m coming more from the fiction side rather than the interactive, and looking back that is likely to be to the detriment of the reader/players enjoyment in many instances.

I now, reading your review and your comments on some others, realise that I’ve missed a trick or two in not providing that final discussion with the head of the firm. I was perhaps too wrapped up in the case itself rather than the protagonist’s journey. Its wonderful to see the project through a fresh set of eyes and I cant thank you enough for your perspective.

P.S. I hope your next reviews are a lot more fun in the traditional sense!

2 Likes

Don’t get me wrong, I was well and truly engaged in your piece while reading it. It was only afterwards that I realized that that was exactly what I had done: read.

Apart from the meeting with the boss, there is another opportunity for a more diverging storyline: the romantic/erotic tension between the protagonist and Cerys. Depending on your choices, the late night at the office could end with the two of them going out for a drink to wind down, or having a fight over the protagonist’s sexism, or…

But that may distract too much from the central story.

In any case, I am very glad to have read this very strong piece.

2 Likes

For me so far this kind of conversation is the most valuable part of the comp, the perspective of someone that has more experience with IF (it won’t surprise anyone to learn that I’m a bog standard fiction writer and this was my first attempt at IF using twine) really helps highlight those other narrative threads and avenues that you can miss working in isolation.

I’m also really keen on your kind words don’t get me wrong, but the chance to learn and improve here is also extremely valuable to me!

3 Likes

Second Wind

I’ll have to wait until my initial disappointment fades before I rate this. I might downrate it more than it deserves otherwise.

Very cliché post-apocalyptic setting. I don’t mind, I like cliché post-apocalyptic settings. The story that happens in this particular setting has a much more personal and emotionally touching angle than most. I loved the juxtaposition of the dull, uncaring, desolate environment and the frantic, emotionally engaging race against the clock of the protagonist.

But then I encountered the puzzles. Distancing, offputting rote calculation and encyclopedic knowledge, both of which sent me to the nearest electronic calculator and encyclopaedia (which, it being 2021 and all, I both have at my fingertips on the very machine I’m playing the game on.)

No player-character knowledge needed, wanted or expected. No in-game resources like a library or an abacus. Just a completely out-of-game quiz where you coincidentally have to input your answers in a room where another guy is standing there slackjawed looking over your shoulder (why, it’s your PC!)

All the emotional immersion I felt with the initial setup of the story was drained by the choice of puzzles.

Keep the story, ditch the puzzles.

Edit: Oh, by the way, I had a losing ending because I took too much time exploring everything. I was planning on replaying to go through the game much swifter a second time and reach my wife in time, but then I didn’t.

4 Likes

(I’m putting off playing my last 30 minutes of Ghosts Within until I get some revelatory dream or hint…)

I played The Golden Heist this morning and I liked it very much.

I’m a sucker for Greek and Roman antiquity. This story takes place after the Great Fire of Rome, a very interesting period as the empire descended into decadence, but also welcomed Greek, Egyptian and Eastern influences. This is nicely reflected in the description of the palace and the party.

I would have loved to click a button to see a map of ancient Rome during Nero’s reign.

There are a lot of character-defining choices throughout the story. I went with the more cerebrial and peaceloving ones.

I loved the background music at the beginning, but the murmuring of the guests inside the palace sounded tinny. I also heard one woman say “Yeah!” in a very American voice. Perhaps a different source of background conversation? Also, the sound of pots and pans clanging and meat-cleavers chopping in the kitchens would drown out the murmuring from the feast, would they not?

The story is exciting, the protagonist relatable on his own but also malleable through choices. I enjoyed the company of the NPC of my choice, even though he was rude and sometimes downright demeaning.

I like very much that this game takes place during one of the defining periods of the later Roman Empire, but is also inconsequential to the flow of general history. Heroic/foolish/vengeful as your actions may be, they do not impede the greater history of Rome. You’re a bystander that gets involved for a brief moment.

Another round of proofreading wouldn’t hurt. I saw a few language errors along the way. (When standing up after the flyer-landing, apparently only one of my legs shakes?)

A very good game/story with good pacing and memorable characters.

PS: To anyone interested: The novel Neropolis by Hubert Monteilhet is set in this same time-period.
Kaeso, the protagonist (note the Greek “K”), embodies the changing Rome, the militaristic influences of the past through his father, the cultural finesse of Greece through his education and the voluptuous luxury of Egypt and the East through his adoptive mother and his proximity to Nero, and he is introduced to the more individualistic and introspective ethic through his acquaintance with two of Jesus’ apostles. It was great to have all this running in the back of my mind while I was playing The Golden Heist.

3 Likes

Ghosts Within

A very large game, especially for completionist players. There are three options from the starting location, presumably leading to three different playthroughs of the map. I started at the hut.

The pacing is relaxed to the point of being non-existent. There is no sense of urgency, instead letting the player explore the surroundings at leisure. The author has put a lot of attention into the NPCs. It’s a joy to talk to each one and get an impression of their characters, alongside the information and/or objects they have to offer. (I especially liked Dr. Hughes. Friendly but also almost brutally forthright. And Fay of course. Fay reminded me of a girl with Down-syndrome I knew in school. Simpleminded, enthusiastic, creative and nature-loving. I pictured her while talking to Fay.)

I spent so much time talking to everyone that I barely had time to tackle the puzzles. Those puzzles that I have solved were good, of the rather simple chain-of-fetch-and-lock&key variety. I saw intruiging hints to a lot of other puzzles as well, so I will continue exploring this game to discover the rest of the mystery.

Lastly: I would not have persisted with this game outside of the IFComp-context. There are still a lot of language errors. I strongly urge the author to have it proofread by as many people as possible. I would also recommend working with just one native English speaker as a final editor, so you can work together on fixing the linguistic errors while keeping a focused style and atmosphere.
A game that has the potential of being absolutely great does not deserve to be bogged down by grating linguistic flaws.

I enjoyed this experience, and I’m looking forward to choosing the other initial pathways.

6 Likes

The Last Doctor

As is my usual take on choice-games, I played through this story once, considering my choices final and seeing where they would lead me.

I tried to stick close to an idealistic (but perhaps short-sighted) interpretation of a doctor’s moral obligations. This lead to a very short playthrough. I thought I would have more chances to improvise field-medicine, perhaps boiling strips of ripped clothing to use as sterile bandaging or cauterizing wounds with a searing hot knife…
In my playthrough, I felt as if I were being punished for treating my first patient to the best of my abilities, with no chance, however MacGuyvery, to at least treat the next.
The writing was good for the most part, but I felt the author was trying too hard. There’s a good attempt at engaging the reader’s imagination with short and sparse declarative sentences. This is a great example:

“The streets are jagged and cracked. Washing lines tangle with electric wires overhead.”

Sometimes though, this gives an unintentionally comic result.

“The sky is small here. Your days are long. Your hair is short.”

I liked the use of singular links as beats in the pacing of the narrative. They often give you pause and a small insight into the protagonist’s character.

Difficult choices, mostly well-written, intruiging background.

2 Likes

@rovarsson thank you very much for your honest and honorary review of Ghosts Within. Indeed, my primary goal for this game was to create an intriguing plot with many secrets, wholesome distinct characters with varied backstories, speech patterns, and world views, and an ambient atmosphere. As far as the typos are concerned, in the last few days I have taken the time to fix many of them, and I’m planning on uploading the updated version of the game in a couple of hours.

2 Likes

The typos are a minor concern. They can easily (if time-consumingly) be fixed. What I think is more important is that the entire game text is reviewed by someone fluent in English, to fix awkward sentence-structure.

For a book, this would be the editor and/or translator. For an IF-game, maybe you could reach out to an English speaking IF-writer on this forum whose writing style you trust (or maybe a Greek-English translator with an interest in IF?) to go through the entire source text. I’m specifically saying “one editor” so you don’t get a mix-and-match of dialects and spellings. My English is good enough to notice these flaws, but nowhere near good enough to edit the whole game.

With this care, you could elevate your game from good to great.

1 Like

A Papal Summons, or The Church Cat

Quite unsettling atmosphere, very dark humour. Good prose, short and to the point (a few typos remain). The finale left me dangling between horrified and hilarious.

Very good short story.

2 Likes

Enveloping Darkness

There are probably a few good storylines to be teased out of this game-idea. However, the version I played felt like I was reading the author’s notes, not the actual game. Paragraph after paragraph of unengaging sentences, as if the author was reminding themselves to “Elaborate about sword here.” or “Insert tavern description here.”

Needs a few more rounds of revision.

4 Likes

Cyborg Arena

The repetitive (and frankly, boring) combat gameplay serves only to prolong the story enough to show bits and pieces of the background game-world. And a very intruiging world it is. The snippets of information raise questions about economy, humanity, self-preservation,… It got me thinking.

And now I’ll go play some Mortal Kombat.

3 Likes

The Song of the Mockingbird

Good writing, tone that varies from lighthearted to brutal, deeply implemented responses to many, many commands, interesting PC, small contained map with lots to explore nonetheless.

But most of all: fantastic puzzles.

This one’s going in my top three.

EDIT: I would actually have liked to die a few times in this game. A well-written death scene is always a joy.

9 Likes

Thanks for your review of Mockingbird, and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

2 Likes

Let’s play rhis game right now.