Friday, July 25, 2014

IntroComp 2014 - "Bridges and Balloons" by Molly Greene

Okay, this review will be short but that is only because the story/game I just traversed, "Bridges and Balloons" by Molly Greene, was very short.  It was not, however, short on quality.  In fact, this is a very promising choice game.  It seems to feature a cast of mice characters, but this could be made a bit clearer for thick-headed pot smokers like me.  I think it's only mentioned once and through the rest of the descriptions and action, it is made a little clearer.  If I'm wrong and there are no anthropomorphic mice characters in this story, then I apologize for getting that high.

The writing is witty and the dialog is a throwback to gentlemanly upper-crust types; the kind that smoke cigars over brandy.  The character whose narration you steer is a captain of a merchant ship who takes upon an urgent shipment for a colleague.  The rest is high adventure and the story reads like a fun young adult's novel.  I enjoyed playing/reading this one.  Again, it's the shortest offering of the comp, I think, but once it is expanded, concluded, and the color and layout sharpened, it will be a strong effort that might steal a good amount of votes this year.

IntroComp 2014 - "Mount Imperius" by kaleidofish

This will be a short review.  Not that I dislike this game.  I dislike Twine.  It's just not for me.  So I'm not going to spend any time trash-talking Twine because it's just not meant for me.  It would be like me trashing Justin Beiber.  I'm not his target audience, so I shouldn't even complain really.  Twine isn't for me because, as a writer of interactive fiction, I need to allow my players to have real agency and a feel of immersion in a world.  Twine is good to immerse yourself in a story.  There's zero agency in it if you ask me.  But, again, that's not what Twine is for.  So I needed to place that line of thought firmly in my head while trying to get through "Mount Imperius" by kaleidofish.

I'm a big fan of Michael Crichton.  I'm a big fan of having a group of intelligent or skilled protagonists encounter a mystery or overcome obstacles that threaten life and/or limb.  "Mount Imperius" reminded me of a Michael Crichton novel.  That's a good thing.  You learn things when you read a Crichton novel because of his meticulous research and I learned a few things about mountains in kaleidofish's story.  (One has to keep in mind when Crichton's books were written and one must remember he was an author and not a scientist and must therefor take his information with a grain of salt.)

The reader plays the part of Rosa Sanchez; a mountaineer who is on an expedition to climb the eponymous protrusion.  She has a number of foul-mouthed but scholarly colleagues who are all part of this trek.  The writing is competent and I do like how I was able to peruse the story and its tangents and sidebars at my leisure and pretty much in the order I pleased.  Wait a minute.  Maybe Twine does allow a sort of agency when navigating a story, if not inhabiting a world.

Anyway.  I'm not a fan of Twine in general but this was a competent story told well and implemented almost perfectly for an intro.  I'm sure it will yield some votes.

IntroComp 2014 - "Going Down" by Hanon Ondricek

I don't like choice games.  In fact, I kinda hate them.  It has to be a superlative specimen of one for me to even get through part of it.  "Going Down" by Hanon Ondricek, while not the superlative specimen I've been looking for, is definitely a contender.  The writing is crisp and original, the setting is adequately described, and the story has the feeling of impending doom that I'm pretty much used to in my real life.  That's a good thing.  There's nothing that Ondricek clearly comes out to state is dangerous, yet that's the strange feeling one gets when reading/playing "Going Down".

Hanon Ondricek is a very capable writer.  This story felt more like reading a novel than playing a game, but thankfully, there were many choices offered to me with each move.  In fact, the first set of choices are my favorite I've seen in any choice game.  No spoilers given, you should definitely check it out.

The narrative involves the player character meeting, for the first time in real life, a friend from an MMORPG.  Most of this intro-to-the-finished-product takes place in the lobby of the friend's building.  Here, I was stuck trying to get on the elevator, but it's all part of Ondricek's sinister plan to heighten tension and increase suspense.  The player character is scared to death of elevators and this is perfectly illustrated in the choices afforded to you before board the lift, and especially once on there.

Once on the elevator, the juxtaposition of tension and humor is masterfully crafted and had me cracking up, despite the fact the player character is gripped with terror just being on the elevator.  More happens at this point, but I'm not one to give spoilers.  But, to me, it seems that the character's fears may, in fact, be justified.

A shorter review than I've been doing, yes, but I really don't want to give away too much on this one.  The other characters in it are solid and well-written, the dialog feels natural, and the setting is well-described.  My only quibble is that some of the choices remained after I've used them, and if I select them again, the same thing happens.  I'm sure this is either intentional or will be cleaned-up once the final product is released.

I hate choice games but I don't hate "Going Down".  It might just end up being a choice game I have to admit is a superlative specimen, but time will tell.




Thursday, July 24, 2014

IntroComp 2014 - "The Devil in the Details" by Jerry Ford

When I play a text adventure, I need some direction.  Don't leave me wandering around aimless with no motivation.  "The Devil in the Details" by Jerry Ford is well-written and implemented, but it appears to be no more than a textual tour of San Francisco.  Who in their right mind would try to take a portion of a real city to make a text adventure?  Ok, I did with one of my games, and I guess A Mind Forever Voyaging did and. . .ok, fine it's been done, but still, one needs to know why they are in the middle of San Francisco and where one needs to be.

I am thirty moves into this story and I still have no idea who I am, where in the city I live, or what I should be doing.  Worse still, upon checking my inventory, I am horrified to learn I am wearing flip-flops.  FLIP FLOPS!

Deplorable fashion-sense aside, I stopped playing due to boredom after forty moves.  If, after forty moves, no story surfaces, then I am forced to consider this one of those touristy art-IF pieces that are plotless explorations of a particular area; San Francisco in this case.  And despite the title of the piece, there aren't really many details at all to place me fully in the environment.  Each description is pretty much a list of exits.

Maybe if I played further, something more will surface.  If you are more patient than I am, then give this a whirl.  It has potential, but no hook.

IntroComp 2014 - "The Terrible Doubt of Appearances" by Buster Hudson

Okay, so now I come to the first game that didn't float my boat during my foray into IntroComp 2014.  "The Terrible Doubt of Appearances" by Buster Hudson is not a bad game.  It is actually well-implemented, well-written, and very interesting.  But, for me, there are a couple of things that keeps this from the top games in the comp this year.

One is that I'm too old-school to appreciate parser games that feel and act like choice games.  Instead of being allowed to explore via north, south, east, and west, I'm given a small handful of options.  ("You could follow the path, climb the hill, or escape the forest.")  Why not just make a choice game if you are going to limit my choices?  Also, in this vein, there isn't much interactivity.  There's some, yes, but compared to an actual parser game, there is much more prose than prompts.

The writing is adequate and this is the first game of the comp that I didn't see any dangling participles.  The tale itself is intriguing and made me want to keep playing, but that was buffeted by the trippy weirdness that the tale spins into almost immediately.  It is a Wonderland-esque journey into a strange landscape that left me as disoriented as I was baffled.  After awhile, I was unable to visually imagine the descriptions given to me.

All that said, "The Terrible Doubt of Appearances" has huge potential.  This is, after all, IntroComp, so I'm not expecting a polished product.  My quibbles are my feedback to the author, but at the same time, I say bravo to boldly going into strange new directions and landscapes rather than something I've played before.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

IntroComp 2014 - "The Cuckold's Egg" by Veronica Devon

So far, the games I've played and reviewed from IntroComp 2014 have been sharply implemented, imaginative worlds.  "The Cuckold's Egg" by Veronica Devon is yet another fantasy offering, but don't run away yet, for this is not some ersatz Frank Herbert, despite it being similar to "Tales of the Soul Thief" and, to a lesser extent, "Scroll Thief".

Before I delve into Devon's story, I need to tangent a second on the collective unconscious.  No worries, I'm not Junging out on you, just saying there are strange themes that crop up in the IF world's competitions.  To wit:  I've been trying to break my writer's block on a fantasy game in which the player moves north into a city and finds himself in the second location that offers passages in all directions, like a spider's web.  Then, I play "Scroll Thief" and find my character heading north into a library, only to find a spider's web of passages as well.  Then, I play "Tales of the Soul Thief" and my character heads north into a dying city, finding passages in all directions from the second location.  I began to wonder if "The Cuckold's Egg" does the same thing.  Well, no, it doesn't, but it almost does.  It's not until the third location.

Anyhooo, Devon's story does a splendid job allowing the setting to unfurl with each of the player's actions, rather than all at once.  However, I don't think it did it as successfully as "Tales of the Soul Thief".  At times my intrigue turned to confusion, but not a lot, and keep in mind, I'm high on mushrooms.  For instance, it wasn't until my donkey was stabled and part of the town explored before I learn that I'm investigating a murder.  Again, intriguing, but maybe hook me earlier with that is all I'm saying.

IntroComp 2014 apparently has some strong contenders and "The Cuckold's Egg" is one of them.  However, it does have a slightly more amateurish feel with its descriptions than the Thief games in the comp.  That being said, I still recommend this and I won't be surprised if I learn that this one is many people's favorite in the comp.  It just has that feel that I think people will enjoy.  Everyone loves a murder mystery.  At least in my world, they do.





IntroComp 2014 - "Hornets' Nest" by Jason Lautzenheiser

Slice of Life is a genre I've only heard of in IF, but there are, of course, equivalents in the world of print and film.  "Hornets' Nest" by Jason Lautzenheiser is in the Slice of Life genre that is an exercise in logic, persistence, and out-of-the-box thinking.

Not large in scope, the story involves a man who's been tasked by his wife to remove the hornets' nest in the backyard before her mother comes to visit.  The game allows you, as said husband, the chance to go about the task in the orthodox way one would, but then, as in a comedy-of-errors, things don't go as planned and you'll have to be smarter than the average hornet to get the job done.

So, I can't expand on this too much as the story is not as epic as some of the other offerings in this year's IntroComp, but I can tell you that this one, at least for me, is a thinker of a game.  It certainly had me scratching my head a few times.

This is another game I helped beta test, although how much help that was is debatable as I've yet to bring down the hornets' nest.  Rumor has it that there are more than a couple of solutions to this story.

Remember, honey bees are essential to our ecosystem, but hornets are just assholes.