Friday, October 23, 2009

[IF Competition] Final Thoughts

Okay, I am going to give you my provisional scores (provisional because I might still change my mind) and write a short recommendation for all the ones I liked. So this post will contain quasi-spoilers for many of the games, but real spoilers for none.

But first some overal remarks. I think the average quality of entries was quite high this year: some games were deeply flawed, of course, but only a few were without redeeming qualities. I seem to remember that I felt more frustration than other years as I waded through one bad entry after another.

Emily tells us that "every year people gripe about the comp, to the effect that the best games are not as good as the best games of past years", and I must admit that I don't think there was a Nightfall or a Violet among this year's entries. (Though it is possible that the frustration that those games gave me--I'm particularly looking at you, Violet, game that I loved for the narration and story but hated for the puzzles!--has somewhat faded from my memory, I do think they were fun and broke new ground at the same time, which I haven't really seen here.) Still, there were enough recommendation-worthy games to make me feel positive about this competition.

Also worth mentioning again: I loved following all the blogs. I wonder how it is for the authors, but as a judge I must say that my feeling of being part of a community has been greatly strengthened by this communal experience. And I got to post about pumpkins and Tom Lehrer. How cool is that?

Anyway, here are the provisional scores:

Not rated: The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man; Beta Tester; Star Hunter.
Rated 3: The Hangover; Trap Cave; zork, buried chaos.
Rated 5: Eruption; GATOR-On, Friend to Wetlands!; Gleaming the Verb; Spelunker's Quest.
Rated 6: The Ascot; The Grand Quest; Grounded in Space; Interface.
Rated 7: Byzantine Perspective; Condemned; The Duel in the Snow; Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort.
Rated 8: Broken Legs; Earl Grey; Resonance; Rover's Day Out; Snowquest.
Rated 9: The Duel that Spanned the Ages.

And here, for all games that scored 6 or higher, a short recommendation, in alphabetical order.

The Ascot (6): Quirky CYOA with a bizarre sense of humour. Shallow, but short enough to be enjoyable.

Broken Legs (8): Varicella in musical land. Good writing, brilliant protagonist, but the puzzles are hard and hardly clued. Potentially a very good game, given enough patience and time. Should probably have been released outside of the competition.

Byzantine Perspective (7): One-trick puzzle game. Very satisfying if you solve it on your own; obviously rather frustrating if you don't. Be sure to use the feelies provided.

Condemned (7): Deeply flawed game, in terms of gameplay, fictional integration and writing. However, is has ambition and a seriousness and willingness to grapple with dark themes that I sorely miss in most IF.

The Duel in the Snow (7): A melancholy piece that raises the question why the protagonist would strive for survival at all. Mood and detail are often more developed than story and backstory, which is a pity.

The Duel that Spanned the Ages (9): Not terribly innovative, but solid puzzle design, great pacing and violence that often is the answer create a piece of IF that those of us who also enjoy Half-life will have a very good time interacting with. Especially if you don't worry about the backstory too much.

Earl Grey (8): This game needs a lot of tweaking before it becomes as much fun as it could be, but it is already interesting because of its central puzzle mechanic, and enjoyable because of its tone and the comments in the bottom window.

The Grand Quest (6): A sequence of puzzles, most of which you will probably hate. But I had fun with the playing cards and linear algebra, so I have a weak spot for this little game.

Grounded in Space (6): Geometry puzzles are not such a hot idea in IF, and the story makes me think I wouldn't like Heinlein, but it is a pretty capable game made with enthusiasm and technical proficiency (especially that geometry puzzle which almost everybody disliked).

Interface (6): Old-school but forgiving, this little solve-puzzles-in-a-house adventure is saved from being totally forgetable by the fact that the protagonist is trapped in a robot and cannot perform some of the most basic actions.

Resonance (8): A rather bad plot and some dubious design choices (a riddling police officer?), but the constant forward motion, the humour and the multiple paths make this a very entertaining if somewhat shallow piece.

Rover's Day Out (8): Innovative piece with some good story and implementation manages to surprise and impress, but often repetitive and frustrating gameplay mars the experience.

Snowquest (8): Almost certainly doesn't achieve what it sets out to do, but story, implementation and puzzles are still solid enough to make Eric Eve's latest piece easy to recommend.

Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort (7): Utterly silly piece has estranged a lot of people by its faux-medieval English, but is actually a well-designed and forgiving puzzle romp filled to the brim with silly jokes. Very enjoyable, but not when you're in a serious mood.

And finally, some wild predictions. I predict that the top three will be Rover's Day Out, Broken Legs and The Duel that Spanned the Ages, with the duel coming third. I also predict that the golden banana of discord will be won by Yon Astounding Castle!, with Condemned as a close runner-up. Snowquest will have most votes, and Trap Cave least.

I invite anyone to make alternative predictions. Could be a fun little contest of our own. ;)

9 comments:

  1. Thanks (and congratulations) for your work rating and commenting the games of IF comp. I enjoy it a lot.
    I even going to play some of the works in spite of my english is horrible and I'll need a dictionary every other minute.
    Best regards.

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  2. My feelings about this year's Comp pretty much echo yours -- but I do still have a handful of games to play, so that could change. But based on what I have played: no games this year that absolutely floored me, but higher average quality than in years' past.

    I agree that Rover's Day Out and Broken Legs will probably take the top two positions -- and, I would say, in that order. Both are not only very impressive games, but also very much in line with what Comp judges tend to "like to see." I think, however, that your own enjoyment of The Duel That Spanned the Ages may be blinding you a bit. ;) I think it will place in the top ten easily, but will have trouble cracking the top five, much less the top three. It's implemented competently, but not superbly; its rather overlong preamble will turn many judges off from the start; and this sort of gung-ho action SF is not really going to tug on too many judges' heartstrings. (None of which is to say its a bad game; I quite enjoyed it myself, although I suspect not quite as much as you.) I think Snowquest will round out the top three. It's not one of Mr. Eve's best games, but it is well-written and well-implemented, and (much as some may might want to deny it) the name recognition of Eve will help.

    All of this is subject to change should I stumble across a masterpiece in my to-be-played pile, of course.

    Nice to finally hear from someone else, by the way, who doesn't just forgive Violet its terrible puzzles due to all the other things it gets so right.

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  3. I feel kind of terrible about TDTSTA(E1TAOM). At first the draggy opening kind of put me off, so I wound up quitting just at the point when it was getting good. Then I started playing it again as I was reviewing it, and it did in fact get good there; but most of the best part fell outside the two-hour limit. So if I vote on the games (which I guess I will) I won't be able to give it as good a vote as it deserves.

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  4. I'm surprised by your predictions -- I think _Resonance_ will be the top scorer. Although I personally enjoyed _Duel That Spanned The Ages_ better, I'll be surprised if it rates in the top three.

    Conrad.

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  5. Update: The Ascot has a pretty cool winning ending that I didn't see earlier. I'm not going to change my score, but I thought I'd mention it.

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  6. My predictions were not entirely correct, but they came close. I had correctly predicted the number 1 and 2 game, and the game which I said would be number 3 turned out to be number 4.

    Jimmy predicted the top 3 correctly, but underestimated The Duel that Spanned the Ages; Conrad's third place suggestion came in 7th, although it is worth mentioning that the difference in score between 4th adn 7th is only 0.33.

    I claimed that Yon Astounding Castle would win the golden banana, with Condemned coming close behind it; it turned out to be the other way around, with a _very_ small margin: Condemned has a standard deviation of 2.22, Yon Astounding Castle of 2.21.

    Snowquest did not receive most votes, though it came close; Gleaming the Verb won this distinction. Trap Cave did receive least votes, but that was a rather easy prediction to make.

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  7. Byzantine Perspective actually got the most votes.

    Congratulations to Jimmy for winning the trifecta!

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  8. Yes, you are right, Byzantine Perspective got most votes. I wonder why?

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  9. Well, BP and GtV are both very short games that can be completed very quickly if you get the basic puzzle. (Though hitting the walkthrough really makes the game more unrewarding than average.) Perhaps people were particularly likely to finish them. Then Duel in the Snow was very difficult not to finish, and Snowquest was by the best-known author. But the fifth-most-voted game was Earl Grey, which is pretty much the opposite of the top two games with respect to single-puzzleness, and it's not even playable online.

    Probably the differences are too small to reflect any intrinsic difference. On the other hand, if you look at the top seven games (also including Condemned and Eruption), you may get a significant data set, and it looks to me as though Earl Grey is really an outlier; Condemned is much like Duel in the Snow (a story game that's on rails and easy to finish, at least from the gameplay perspective; at least that's what I gather, not having finished it myself); and Eruption is like the top two games in that it's very short.

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